Things to do in South Africa: Attractions and places to visit

Cape Town (Kemal Kestelli)  [flickr.com]  CC BY-ND 
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The Republic of South Africa, at the head of which, the “Cape of Good Hope”, the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet, is one of the most fascinating travel destinations on earth with its diversity. Whether on day trips in the game parks, in hilly wine-growing areas, on hikes in the mountains or along the long white beaches the lush nature inspires. Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban do not lag behind European cities with their cultural offerings.

A species-rich animal world as well as an exuberant wealth of flowering plants are among the natural wonders to be discovered. A single holiday can therefore only give a first impression of the beauty of the country. But South Africa’s joie de vivre and colourful splendour remain in the memory and many return for this reason.

In the following we present you the most exciting tours, the most beautiful attractions and the best sights in South Africa.

Cape Point - HDR (Nicolas Raymond)  [flickr.com]  CC BY 
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Wild Africa (Pedro Albuquerque)  [flickr.com]  CC BY 
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Löwin auf einer Safari in Südafrika (daskleineatelier / stock.adobe.com)  lizenziertes Stockfoto 
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1. Cape Town: Waterfront, Bo-kaap, 12 Apostles, Zeitz MOCAA

Anyone who has ever been there will confirm that Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. In addition to the breathtaking surroundings, the pleasantly mild climate and the culinary and cultural offerings are also impressive. The historic old town with its Victorian houses is just as inviting for a stroll as the historic Bo-Kaap and the flea market in Greenmarket Square.

One of the special sights is the newly opened “Zeitz Museum for Contemporary Art Africa”. A converted grain silo with glass elevators and spiral staircases houses 80 exhibition rooms in which all contemporary art from South Africa is exhibited. Those who have been tired of so much culture might want to relax after visiting the museum in one of the bars of the neighbouring “Victoria & Alfred Waterfront” with a view of the harbour.

2. Table Mountain with Table Mountain National Park

Of course, the Table Mountain is one of the most important sightseeings of South Africa, not only because it is the landmark of Cape Town. Table Mountain and Table Mountain National Park comprise more than 6000 hectares of forest, watercourses, cliffs and wild vegetation with about 1400 plant species. Those who want to climb up to their plateau at an altitude of approx. 1000 metres can take one of the differently difficult hiking trails or more comfortably go up in a few minutes with the cable car.

Once there, the view to the end of the continent is breathtaking: across the metropolis of Cape Town, over Robben Island to endless beaches and the vastness of the sea. Often, however, the view is clouded or foggy. In order to avoid disappointment, it is advisable to take sufficient time for the trip and pay attention to weather forecasts.

3. The wine regions around Stellenbosch & Franschhoek

The maritime climate of the Western Cape Province is ideal for the cultivation of internationally recognised white and red wines. With well over 100 vineyards, the region around Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl has made a name for itself. The excellent restaurants and the local wineries invite you to visit them. In small wine museums one learns a lot about the history of South African viticulture.

In addition to tastings, many wineries also advertise their own cafés and restaurants, which surprise with the excellent quality of their food. There is a generous selection of picturesque small hotels on site, available in various price categories. It is advisable to stay overnight here, especially if you have been a guest at a wine auction or wine tasting.

4. The picturesque Garden Route

If one drives along the south coast, one does not get out of the astonishment any more. The route along the Indian Ocean is so picturesque that it is difficult to limit ones tips to just a few sights. Picturesque small bays alternate with dense rainforest.

The idyllic towns of Mossel Bay, Knysna, Wilderness and Plettenberg Bay offer a wide range of hotels and restaurants. With a little luck you can observe whales, especially in September/October. Nowhere should the marine mammals come as close to land as with Hermanus. The Tsitsikamma Nature Park or the Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn in the hinterland are also worth a visit.

5. The impressive Drakensberg Mountains

Nearly 3500 meters measure the highest elevations, making the Drakensberg the largest mountain range in South Africa. It stretches from the Kruger National Park in the north to the eastern Garden Route in the south and forms the border with the Kingdom of Lesotho. Especially spectacular is the amphitheatre located in the Royal Natal National Park in the northern part of the mountains.

Another attraction is the rock painting in Giant’s Castle Park. On a guided hiking tour you will learn a lot about flora, rare fauna and the geological formation of the mountains. Thanks to its particularity, UNESCO declared the entire area a World Natural Heritage Site in 2000.

6. The unique Kruger National Park

In the northeast of the country lies the “Kruger National Park”, the largest game reserve of the country. Founded in 1898 as a protected area, the area was granted national park status in 1926. Here live 147 mammal species, over 500 bird species, 114 reptile species, 49 fish species and 34 amphibian species and demonstrate in this biodiversity the richness of South Africa’s fauna.

The African winter is recommended as the best safari season, because the thinned out foliage gives a better view of the animals. Tourists can either book complete packages with travel, accommodation and meals or customise their programme and choose between hotels, lodges and small camps. Our tip: One of the luxury lodges in the neighbouring Sabi Sand Reserve!

7. The Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn

The widely ramified stalactite cave system of the Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn is definitely one of South Africa’s sights. For about 10 000 years the caves have been used by humans for cult rites, but also as a shelter. Of the three cave sections below the Swartberg Mountains, only one is available to visitors. Cango 2 and 3 were only discovered in the 70s of the last century.

Today we discuss the possibility of further undiscovered forks in the cave. The approx. 1 km long guided tour through Cango 1, on which 416 steps have to be climbed, takes approx. 30-45 minutes and can be booked all year round.

8. Diving Paradise Sodwana Bay

A paradise for lovers of diving and snorkelling is Sodswana Bay, located in the “isiMangaliso Wetland Park” on the northern east coast of South Africa. Between the beach and the coral reef, crystal clear water offers amazing insights into the underwater world. Diving courses, including equipment, are offered all year round.

Along the Elephant Coast, north of Sodwana Bay, sea turtles lay their eggs at night during the summer months. Rangers organize tours to this impressive natural spectacle. Accommodation is offered in basic accommodation from Sodwana Bay Restcamp, more comfort is provided by the private Mseni Lodge.

9. The flower magic of Namaqualand

In the South African winter the northern Cape Province on the border to Namibia is worth a detour. In one of the driest regions of South Africa, the arid landscape turns into a sea of flowers after the rains. Approximately 2000 species of succulents and 1500 other plant species, of which between 60 and 70 percent are found in no other place in the world, awaken to a breathtaking carpet of flowers.

South Africa’s flower garden is a paradise, not only for botanists and insect researchers, who can admire all kinds of insects, especially exotic butterflies, in droves.

10. Durban and the Indian Market

The townscape of Durban is characterised by its inhabitants: the indigenous people, the Zulus, the descendants of English colonialists and Indians, who came to the country in the second half of the 19th century to harvest sugar cane from the fields. So it is not surprising that the city on the southeastern coast feels at home on the rickshaw road. Durban is known for its superlatives, beside the most important port of Africa there is also the biggest mosque of the southern hemisphere.

One of the special sights is the “Indian Market” in Victoria Street. In addition to numerous Asian shops and souvenir shops, the colourful Indian spice stands are a real feast for the eyes. There are countless variations of curry alone, some under imaginative names such as mother-in-law destroyers.

More things to do and activities for your South Africa holiday

Best time to visit South Africa

We recommend the following months as best time to travel for exploring the attractions and acivities of South Africa:

January, February, March, April, May, September, October, November, and December

You can find more information about the weather, including all climate data, on our climate page for South Africa.

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