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Things to Do in South Africa

One of the largest countries in Africa by area and population, South Africa entices travelers with stunning landscapes, incredible diversity, unique cuisine, and unforgettable experiences. Johannesburg is one of the main international gateways and home to the acclaimed Apartheid Museum, which is not far from Soweto township. You can visit both on guided tours, which include transportation and provide insider information from a guide. Cape Town on the western coast of the country is one of the oldest cities in South Africa. The iconic Table Mountain looms over the city, and the famous winemaking towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are in the nearby Cape Winelands. Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, sits just off the coast from Cape Town and is reachable by ferry. Durban, on the eastern coast, offers another look at South African life with its Zulu and Indian influences. Garden Route tours during the spring give visitors a chance to see a profusion of local flora in bloom. And safari tours are one of the most popular activities in South Africa, from the enormous Kruger National Park to smaller game reserves all over the country. Choose to visit on a day trip or opt for longer multi-day tours to enjoy game drives in search of Africa's “Big Five.” South Africa is also a common starting point for tours that visit other nearby countries, such as Zimbabwe or Zambia to see the mighty Victoria Falls, or Botswana to explore Chobe National Park or the Okavango Delta.
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Union Buildings
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South Africa's national government is split between three cities, and in Pretoria, the government is housed in the Union Buildings, which were built in the early 1900s after Pretoria became the administrative capital of the newly united Union of South Africa. The two wings of the structure represent English and Afrikaans, with the court between the two representing the Union of South Africa.

The offices of the president of South Africa is still in the Union Buildings, and the country's flag flies over the left wing if the president is there. The amphitheatre was renamed in 2013 as the Nelson Mandela Amphitheatre, and a 29.5-foot-tall statue of Mandela stands in front of the Union Buildings now.

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Kragga Kamma Game Park
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The forests and grasslands of Kragga Kamma Game Park on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth provide a place for white rhino, giraffe, buffalo, and other South African wildlife to roam freely. Get the classic safari experience as you enjoy the park’s game drives, picnic areas, restaurant, and overnight accommodations.

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Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve
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The Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve holds the third-largest canyon in the world, which boasts cliffs that rise nearly 2625 feet (800 meters) from the river bed below. Adventurous travelers can explore the canyon’s lush green scenery, waterfalls, and wildlife on hikes, boat excursions, and rock climbing adventures.

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Delaire Graff Estate
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The Delaire Graff Wine Estate, near Stellenbosch, is a beautiful winery destination in the Cape Winelands region

Laurence Graff, a diamond dealer of many years, bought the Delaire Estate in the early 2000s. The estate was re-opened as Delaire Graff in 2009, and now features not only the winery but also world-class dining, luxury lodges, a spa, an excellent art collection, a diamond boutique, and picturesque botanic gardens.

Delaire Graff Estate is a luxury destination where you're tempted to stay for a few days, but you can also visit for a day to sample the estate's wines. Sip Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, rose and sparkling wines, and both white and red blends.

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Cape Agulhas
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Plenty of Cape Town visitors head for the Cape of Good Hope thinking it's the southernmost point of South Africa, but that distinction belongs to Cape Agulhas. It isn't quite as dramatic as the Cape of Good Hope, nor as picturesque, with more of a gently curving coastline rather than a point, but there is a small rocky beach, and a geographical marker in Agulhas National Park indicating its status as South Africa's southern tip.

A shipwreck is still visible on Cape Agulhas, but many ships were lost in the difficult seas off the coast. The lighthouse in the national park was built in 1848 to help cut down on the number of wrecks. In addition to being the country's southern point, it's also off Cape Agulhas that the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet.

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Kruger National Park
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One of South Africa’s premier attractions, Kruger National Park is famous for the extent and diversity of its wildlife. The “Big Five” of game are all there—lion, elephant, buffalo, rhino, and leopard—and a world-class conservation program means you’ll also encounter wildebeest, giraffes, zebra, big cats of all stripes, and diverse bird species.

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Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
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With its huge sea cliffs, bays, and valleys, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve—situated at the very tip of the Cape Peninsula—is one of the most scenic spots in South Africa. A trip to Cape Point and the reserve, part of Table Mountain National Park, is an easy must-do when visiting Cape Town and highlights include animal sightings, scenic drives, and deserted beaches.

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Voortrekker Monument
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The granite Voortrekker Monument towers 200 feet (60 meters) above Pretoria. The monument was built to honor the Great Trek—a 19th-century exodus from the then British-ruled Cape Colony to central South Africa. The monument depicts the treacherous journey in the Hall of Heroes, and an empty tomb represents the lives lost on the trek.

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Soweto
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For most, Soweto (short for South West Townships) is synonymous with resistance to apartheid, South Africa’s former policy of racial segregation. The township’s complex past is visible in Soweto’s moving museums, historical monuments, and strong traditions.

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Robben Island
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Robben Island—where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years—was a place of isolation for nearly three centuries, housing many political prisoners and serving as both an asylum and leprosy colony. Today, the island remains a tangible symbol of political freedom and a reminder of the difficult road to South African democracy.

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More Things to Do in South Africa

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park

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Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park (formerly known asHluhluwe Game Reserve), in the north of KwaZulu-Natal state, is the oldest game reserve in South Africa, drawing visitors for over a hundred years. Careful conservation ensures an amazing array of wildlife such as rhinoceroses (including the rare white rhinoceros), elephants and Cape Buffalos, as well as big cats including lions, leopards and cheetahs.

The landscape ranges from flat savannah to steep hills, criss-crossed by rivers and dotted with water holes, where you may well spot the Nyala, or South African antelope. There is also a huge range of birdlife, with many species unique to this area.

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Nelson Mandela Capture Site

Nelson Mandela Capture Site

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On August 5 1962, on a stretch of the R103 just outside Howick in South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal province, armed police flagged down a car and arrested the driver, Nelson Mandela. The former president had been on the run from the South African apartheid government for 17 months and his capture marked the beginning of his 27-year imprisonment and what he called “the long walk to freedom.”

Until quite recently, this unassuming spot was marked only by a simple bricked zone with a plaque, but in 2012, on the 50th anniversary of this historic event, the significance of the area was marked with an impressive steel sculpture and a newly created visitor center.

Designed by artist Marco Cianfanelli in collaboration with the architect Jeremy Rose, the sculpture is the centerpiece of the new memorial site. It is made from 50 steel columns of varying heights. At first glance, the poles appear to be randomly suspended, but on approaching the sculpture, they merge to form an image of Mandela’s face.

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Knysna

Knysna

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Surrounded by warm-water lagoons, sandstone cliffs, and dense forests, Knysna is one of the most popular towns along South Africa’s renowned Garden Route. The coastal town welcomes tourists with a blend of natural beauty, quaint accommodations, seafood restaurants, and outdoor adventures. Plus, the estuary’s oyster farms provide the chance to indulge in fresh oysters while cruising the lagoon.

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Jordan Wine Estate

Jordan Wine Estate

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Because of the climate that’s needed to grow wine, vineyards are often located in areas with exceptional natural beauty. In the case of the famous Cape Winelands, however, the rolling hills and jagged mountains provide an awesome sense of wonder that’s stronger than most other wine regions. Of all the wineries in Stellenbosch, the Jordan Wine Estate is one of the more scenic, luxurious, and storied places, and has been family-owned since 1982 well before the area had become famous.

In addition to the spectacular natural surroundings, Jordan Wine Estate owes much of its success to the area’s mineral-rich soil, which tour guides discuss and explain in depth while strolling the vineyards before heading down to the impressively engineered cellar. As a winery that focuses on blending methods from the New as well as Old worlds, Jordan Winery has stainless steel tanks as well as wooden barrels, which along with the fresh, flavorful grapes and decades of winemaking knowledge, help create the distinctive flavors that Jordan Wine Estate is known for.

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Boulders Beach

Boulders Beach

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With pristine white sands and calm turquoise waters hemmed in by gigantic granite boulders, Boulders Beach is one of the Cape Peninsula’s most magnificent beaches. Located just outside Simon’s Town, the beach is protected as part of the Table Mountain National Park and renowned for its African penguin colony.

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Harties Aerial Cableway

Harties Aerial Cableway

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The Harties Aerial Cableway transports visitors to a mountaintop viewing platform and activity area and offers panoramic views of the Magaliesberg mountains and Hartebeespoort Dam. Located just 50 miles (80 kilometers) outside of Johannesburg, the gondola offers an experience similar to a trip to Cape Town’s Table Mountain.

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Franschhoek Motor Museum

Franschhoek Motor Museum

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On the grounds of the L'Ormarins farm in Franschhoek, home to Antonij Rupert Wines, is the Franschhoek Motor Museum. This collection of more than 200 cars is the personal collection of Johann Rupert, who runs the wine estate. The cars span more than 100 years of car-making history, and the models on display (a selection that rotates periodically) are in impeccable condition.

In addition to the cars, the Franschhoek Motor Museum also showcases some historical motorcycles and bicycles, as well as motoring memorabilia. There are four buildings on the estate which hold cars, each grouped by its make.

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Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap

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Lined with brightly colored houses and lively streets, Bo-Kaap is as vibrant as it is culturally rich. The historic neighborhood, set just outside central Cape Town on the flanks of Signal Hill, is a dynamic melting pot of Malaysian, India, Sri Lankan, and African culture. It was one of the first settlements of freed slaves and Muslim immigrants in South Africa.

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Apartheid Museum

Apartheid Museum

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The Apartheid Museum details the injustice, cruelty, and absurdities of white minority rule in South Africa. Apartheid, meaning “separateness” in Afrikaans, was officially in effect from 1948 to 1994, though segregation had been a cornerstone of South African politics since the country’s inception. The museum is dedicated to helping South Africa overcome its oppressive past and look toward the future.

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Chapman’s Peak Drive

Chapman’s Peak Drive

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Chapman's Peak is a mountain on the Cape Peninsula with a 5.5-mile (8.8 kilometers) road, said to be one of the world’s most scenic drives. The road winds from Hout Bay to Noordhoek, clinging to the side of the steep mountain almost the whole way. Traveling this road’s 114 turns is a must-do in Cape Town.

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Tsitsikamma National Park

Tsitsikamma National Park

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Trails, waterfalls, and wildlife draw visitors to lush Tsitsikamma National Park. Set along South Africa’s scenic Garden Route and spanning 50 miles (80 kilometers) of coastline, the park stretches from the mouth of the Storms River to Nature’s Valley. Embark on various adventures here, from a multi-day hike along the Otter Trail to one of the world’s highest bungee jumps.

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Cape Point

Cape Point

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Panoramic ocean views, towering cliffs, and 100-year-old lighthouses define Cape Point, located at the tip of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula. Set within the Cape Floral Region (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and Table Mountain National Park, the reserve is a haven for hiking, wildlife viewing, and photography.

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Oudtshoorn

Oudtshoorn

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Best known as the ostrich capital of the world, Oudtshoorn has more to offer than just a chance to visit ostrich farms. Set in the Little Karoo—South Africa’s semi-desert—the town is the gateway to the Swartberg mountains, the Cango Caves, and innumerable nature reserves and trails. Visitors can also enjoy local restaurants and wineries.

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Table Mountain National Park

Table Mountain National Park

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Table Mountain's distinctive plateau is the backdrop for iconic Cape Town views, but that's just the beginning of its namesake national park. Stretching the length of the Cape Peninsula, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to hiking trails, diverse flora and fauna, and—of course—South Africa’s most famous coastal and mountain vistas.

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