South Africa is a country of dramatic landscapes, vibrant cities and flourishing wildlife. It is considered one of the most beautiful countries in the world and offers a huge variety of unique things to do.
Of all the countries we have visited in Africa, South Africa surprised us the most.
Never in a million years would we have guessed how developed, how diverse, and how beautiful South Africa was until we spent 2 months in this vast country in late 2019.
From chasing the Big Five on safari in Kruger National Park and hiking amongst otherworldly landscapes in the Drakensberg, to road tripping along the picturesque Garden Route and enjoying cosmopolitan life in Cape Town, there’s no such thing as having too much time to explore the tourist attractions in South Africa
Whether you’re after a sunny beach holiday or an active outdoor adventure, you can find South Africa attractions for every type of vacation in this all-year-round destination.
So, if you’re planning a holiday in the southernmost country of Africa and wondering where to visit in South Africa check out our ultimate list of the best things to do in South Africa.
Most travelers visiting South Africa arrive in the country’s biggest city, Johannesburg. It’s also known locally as Jozi or Joburg. It may not be as famous for its stunning cityscape like Cape Town further south for example. However, Joburg was at the heart of the country’s turbulent history. Also, exploring the city will help you to discover much of the history of this country.
Two of the best things to see in South Africa in Johannesburg are the Apartheid Museum and the township of Soweto. The museum is considered the primary exhibition in acknowledging and educating people on what it was like in South Africa during the 20th century and is simply a must-see in South Africa. It’s easy to combine a visit to Apartheid Museum with a tour of Soweto, which was once the largest designated Black city in the country and where many of the pivotal riots broke out against the Apartheid regime. A visit to this part of town will help you gain a deeper understanding of the country’s turbulent past and to learn more about Nelson Mandela and his incredible impact on South Africa’s history.
If your South Africa itinerary allows, we recommend spending up to three days in this huge, urban sprawl as there are plenty of things to do in Johannesburg, South Africa to hold your attention.
Don’t Miss: For a more upbeat experience, head to Maboneng, an area east of the Central Business District. What was once a place of high crime and destruction, has been transformed into the city’s most creative and exciting neighbourhood. It’s the best place to visit for quirky cafes, nice restaurants, exciting nightlife and good shopping and is one of the most unique places to visit in South Africa.
Blyde River Canyon & Panorama Route
The so-called Panorama Route, stretching between the Long Tom Pass and the border of the Mpumalanga and Limpopo provinces, along the road from Johannesburg to Kruger National Park, is a spectacular self-drive journey through the highlands.
One of the top South Africa landmarks along the Panorama Route is the Blyde River Canyon. It is the third largest canyon in the world and an incredible sight to behold. It’s rugged rock formations with forested slopes and incredible views over the north-eastern section of the Drakensberg Escarpment makes it a worthwhile stopover on the way to Kruger National Park.
One of its most stunning features of the Blyde River Canyon is the Three Rondavels or Three Sisters, an incredible trio of peaks. It’s becoming one of the main tourist places in South Africa.
The most popular section of the Panorama Route is the R532 that begins from the town of Sabie and passes by a number of waterfalls. Also, it include viewpoints like God’s Window for example. In which you can see across the canyon to the Three Rondavels. This road trip is certainly one of the top 10 things to do in South Africa. Many of these stops within the Nature Reserve area will have a small entry fee.
There is almost far too much to take in for one day, so if you have the time it’s best to spend an extra day in the area so you can explore the canyon on foot. There are a few self-guided hiking trails within the reserve such as Belvedere Trail which is a decent day hike or the longer Waterval trail which can take up to three days to complete.
Greater Kruger Area
A highlight of South Africa travel, of course, is a safari in the Greater Kruger Area. The area is certainly one of the country’s top attractions, with an area of 3 000 000 hectares of national park brimming with wildlife and a world-renowned reputation for being one of the best places to see the Big 5 (elephant, leopard, rhino, lion and buffalo).
Most travelers head to the famous Kruger National Park where self-driving is possible. Many tour operators also offer full-day and half-day tours to Kruger National Park at reasonable prices. However, it’s wildly crowded in high season and the marked roads in the parks do not offer the best safari experience, as chances of animal sightings are not very high. For a better experience in the Kruger area, we recommend a visit to some of the private game reserves where you can enjoy closer sightings and a more secluded game viewing experience.
We recommend a 3-4 day safari at one of the private game parks. For example, Sabi Sands Game Reserve, Klaserie Private Nature Reserve or the Timbavati Nature Reserve. These are generally unfenced wilderness areas with a low density of lodges and camps. Also, there’s more freedom to explore with expert local guides that know these areas like the back of their hands.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park
If you’re wondering where to go in South Africa for incredible nature then exploring iSimangaliso Wetland Park is one of the things you must do in South Africa.
This incredibly diverse national park was the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of its largest designated park areas. It spans across 332,000 hectares from the town of St Lucia in Kwazulu-Natal province to the Mozambique border.
iSimangaliso Wetland Park offers everything from coastline and coral reefs to wetlands and forests at a unique intersection of the subtropical and tropical ecosystems. It also boasts over 6,500 plant and animal species, including over 500 types of birds, making it one of the best places to visit in South Africa for wildlife spotting.
In order to take in all that the park has to offer, we recommend spending anywhere between 2 days and 1 week exploring the park. There are activities for every type of traveler available. For instance, you can take your pick from lying on the beach, bird watching and scuba diving. Also, horse riding, kayaking and game drives. Also, don’t forget whale watching, guided walks and turtle nesting tours.
The most accessible gateway to the park is at St Lucia, from where you can easily explore the south and east of the area. Each gate has its own hours of operation and entry fees, so make sure to check them before venturing out.
Don’t Miss: A visit to Kosi Bay, a remote part of iSimangaliso Wetland Park, located close to the Mozambique border, with wonderful beaches, unique fishing experience and beautiful untouched nature!
South Africa’s unofficial surfing capital, Durban in KwaZulu Natal province, is also the country’s third-largest city. Surfers congregate in Durban thanks to its sunny, subtropical weather and sandy beaches with waves to match Cape Town’s more world-renowned white caps. There are also plenty of things to do in Durban, South Africa aside from surfing.
The promenade is the most vibrant area of the city with talented sand sculptures, food vendors and street performers spread along the beachfront. It’s also the perfect place for a morning jog or paddleboard with the cool ocean breeze to start your day.
For one of the area’s best seaside getaways, head to Umhlanga Rocks, a thriving holiday village north of Durban city center. Surfers flock there for the warm water, but it’s also popular for diving and snorkelling with its tropical fish and coral reef just off the coast. It’s a more relaxed and friendly town than the city center and is becoming a more popular escape for many.
Durban is also home to a unique Afro-Indian culture, as the city is home to the largest concentration of people of Indian-descent outside of India. So, when you’re exploring the city’s streets, you’ll find some excellent and authentic Indian food as well as bustling markets that appear as though they belong more on the Asian subcontinent rather than South Africa.
Don’t Miss: Get a taste of India in Durban at the all-you-can-eat Curry Buffet at the Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks, with astounding views over the Indian Ocean to match.
If you are looking for a chance to spot the elusive rhinos, the Hluhluwe Game Reserve, located just an hour outside of Durban is worth a visit.
The park is known for its population of white rhinos, which is the largest in the world, as well as its diversity of wildlife which includes over 80 other species of mammals. You can do a self-drive safari within the park as a day trip from Durban, or opt to stay overnight for a better chance to spot wildlife in the early hours of the morning.
If you’re an avid hiker or are in search of beautiful landscapes, then the Drakensberg’s green, jagged peaks and otherworldly valleys are one of the best places to go in South Africa. The 200km stretch of escarpment forms the natural boundary between South Africa and the tiny kingdom of Lesotho and offers perhaps the best place in the country for hiking and outdoor activities. It’s one of the main points of interest in South Africa for tourists as well as locals.
The peaks of the mountain range average just under 3,000 m and reach up to nearly 3,500 m at their highest. A must-do in this area is a hike to Sentinel Peak at the edge of the Amphitheatre in the Northern Drakensberg region, which offers one of the best viewpoints in the entire area.
Staying for at least a couple of days in the foothills of the Drakensberg will allow ample time to explore more of the mountains.
Don’t Miss: Tugela Falls, the second-highest waterfall in the world is another highlight, especially in the wet season, when the waters tumble down into the bottom of the valley.
Addo Elephant Park
If it’s the majestic elephants you came to Africa to see, then Addo Elephant Park is one of the top things to do in South Africa. As the country’s third-largest nature reserve, Addo is considered one of the best things to do in Port Elizabeth at just over an hour away from the city center.
The national park is one of the densest populations of the African elephant on earth, but it is also home to the other Big 5 animals plus the southern right whale and the great white shark as the park boundaries have been extended down to the coastline and into a nearby marine reserve.
Most people visit Addo Elephant Park on a day trip and join organized safari game drives or take to the marked trails on foot. However, for an even better experience, you can stay overnight in one of the lodges or tented camps. You can fall asleep to the sounds of hyenas and lions and wake up to a sunrise game drive which makes the chances of seeing the Big Five that much higher
The Garden Route is possibly one of the most iconic things to do in South Africa.
This ultimate South African road trip along the Western and Eastern Cape encompasses many of the best things to do in South Africa in one manageable and relatively short trip.
Officially, stretching from Mossel Bay to Storms River the route is named after the lush vegetation and a sheer number of National Parks that can be found along the way. However, people now often consider the Garden Route to be the combination of landscapes, activities and culinary experiences.
For many travelers, the road trip between these two big cities is all about food and wine from around the Cape Winelands. Some noteworthy stops on the Garden Route include Mossel Bay, Knysna, Plettenberg Bay, and Storms River.
Don’t Miss: Our favourite activity along the Garden Route was canoeing and hiking to the waterfall in Wilderness. Our favourite culinary stop was at Bramon Wine Estate in Plettenberg Bay where you can enjoy lunch and their award-winning wine.
Sampling some of the Cape’s incredible wines against the backdrop of beautiful landscapes is certainly one of the best things to do in South Africa.
The area known as the Cape Winelands, located just an hour outside of Cape Town, is vast and is home to hundreds of wineries and wine estates. The towns of Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are the hubs of wine tasting in this region.
The Franschhoek wine route is around the village of the same name. Also, it is known for its French-inspired sparkling wine, art galleries and boutique hotels. There is also the incredibly fun vintage Wine Tram hop-on hop-off tour that trundles its way through the vineyards. It has stops at some of the oldest and most distinguished estates in the country.
The most famous of the wine routes, is in Stellenbosch. It has nearly 150 vineyards and a well-traversed route connecting travelers to the main wineries. There are beautiful Cape Dutch manors, fine-dining restaurants and of course, hotels. Just in case you plan on extending your stay amongst the manicured vineyards.
Don’t Miss: Our favourite wineries in the region include Babylonstoren in Paarl and Villiera Wines in Stellenbosch.
Out of all the best things to do in South Africa, Cape Town is the true jewel of the Western Cape. You’ll need at least five days to explore the city and all the fun and interesting things to do in Cape Town.
One of the main South Africa tourist attractions, seen from almost anywhere in the city, is Table Mountain. This flat-topped mountain is one of the most famous landmarks in South Africa as it towers over the sprawling city. The best way to experience its sheer greatness is by taking the cable car up to the top for stunning panoramic views. You can also climb for 90 minutes to the top of the nearby Lion’s Head mountain. You can look back across the city and stunning backdrop.
Another one of the top things to do in Cape Town, South Africa, is to visit V&A Waterfront. It’s an upmarket wharf area with delicious seafood restaurants and plenty of shops. It’s one of the best things to do in Cape Town at night. It sees the most visitors out of any attraction in the metropolis.
For the most photographed neighbourhood, head to Bo-Kaap. It is famous for their brightly coloured houses and cobble-stone streets. It was a Muslim-only area under Apartheid and the unique architecture dates back to the 18th century. Wondering the streets there is certainly one of the most interesting things in South Africa.
For more edgy neighbourhoods, Woodstock has emerged as the city’s creative and vibrant hub, with hipster cafes and art galleries, some of which are housed in former factories.
Cape of Good Hope
If you’re wondering what to do in Cape Town for a fun day trip, you can head further south to the Cape of Good Hope. It is the most south-western point of the African continent. This rocky peninsula cascades into the ocean and is a striking place to enjoy natural beauty. Furthermore, it’s only just an hour and a half away from the city.
The weather is notoriously unpredictable and windy here. But, the visit is well worth it. Moreover, there’s also a lighthouse you can climb the stairs to see. It offers impressive views down to the furthest point where the land meets the sea.
On the way down to the Cape Peninsula, stop at Muizenberg Beach, famous for its colourful beach huts. This stretch of white sandy beach shoreline is considered the main surfing spot in the Greater Cape area. The buzzing international and local surfing community that resides there makes it a cool place to hang out for a day on the beach. In just over an hour’s walk along the coast, you can also reach Kalk Bay, a small, trendy fishing village with eccentric shops and restaurants with spectacular views.
Don’t Miss: A stop in Simon’s Town and a visit to Boulders Beach, famous for its large colony of African penguins. You can watch the colony from the boardwalk or climb a few boulders to join them on the beach.
Essential Travel Info
Best time to Visit South Africa
When it comes to tourism in South Africa, it’s really a year-round travel destination.
According to the South Africa Tourism Information, for the game parks and Big Five viewing, May to October is considered the best period as the dry winter months make spotting animals easier in the Greater Kruger Area and Addo National Park. However, for keen bird watchers, it is the opposite, as the warm and wet summer brings a huge migration of birds to the country’s northern parks.
For a vacation in South Africa’s Cape, the warm summer months between November and March are the best time to visit the stunning city of Cape Town and the beaches along the coastline.
However, for whale watching on the south-western Cape, the months between July and November are when numbers are highest.
How to Get to South Africa
O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg is the main air transport hub of the country and Southern Africa region. There are direct flights from London and a couple of other European capitals into Johannesburg as well as from New York in North America. Otherwise, connecting flights to Johannesburg through Dubai or Singapore are more common.
There are also a small number of flights that go direct to Cape Town. However, most services will touch down in Johannesburg first before continuing further south.
How to Get Around South Africa
South Africa is a fairly large country and most of the best tourist destinations are scattered around the countryside. You can book a tour that handles much of the logistics for you. Also, you could opt to use the extensive public bus network that connects most of the main towns and larger cities.
However, for the ultimate freedom and ease of traveling, the best option is to rent a car. Do a self-drive tour of the country. This will give you more flexibility to explore more places. For example, the Drakensberg, Blyde River Canyon and the Garden Route which are difficult to access using public transport.
Is South Africa dangerous?
The country does have a relatively high crime rate. It pays to be more cautious than in most European or North American countries. However, during our 2 months in South Africa, we never felt unsafe or threatened. As long as you remain vigilant of your possessions, you will likely not come across any trouble on your trip. Also, avoid areas known for being precarious after dark.
What’s Famous in South Africa?
In South Africa, the most famous landmark is the stunning city of Cape Town with its impressive Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and beautiful beaches. Cape Winelands and the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are also known for great wine!
South Africa is also well known internationally for its wildlife and nature reserves like Kruger National Park. Its dark history of Apartheid is also a huge part of its identity. Also, the life and struggles of Nelson Mandela has inspired many.
Where Can you Go in South Africa for a Week?
If you’re wondering what to do in South Africa with just a week to spare, you could arrive in Cape Town first. See Table Mountain and then take a trip along the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth. Along the way, you can sample award-winning wines and enjoy the beautiful coastline. Then, stop off to explore some of the national parks on foot.
Also, if you prefer to fly into Johannesburg, you could take the week to explore Blyde River Canyon. You can do a safari in the Kruger National Park area after spending time in the country’s largest city.
Where is the most beautiful place in South Africa?
Although debatable, the most beautiful place in South Africa is generally split between the Garden Route and the Drakensberg mountain range. It depends on whether you prefer the calming coastline of the south or dramatic ridgelines of the escarpment.
In our opinion, Cape Town is by far the most beautiful city in the world. Undoubtedly, Cape Town is one of the best holiday destinations in South Africa as well.