Things to Do in South Africa
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.
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.
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.
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.
In 1964, an anti-apartheid revolutionary named Nelson Mandela was arrested and brought to South Africa’s Robben Island, just west of Cape Town. He would spend the next 18 years imprisoned in an 8x7-foot cell, forced to do hard labor, and permitted only one visitor a year. Even so, Mandela went on to become his country’s first black president, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, and known globally for his significant contributions to human rights and social justice.
Robben Island—where most of Mandela’s 27-year prison sentence was served—was a place of isolation for nearly 300 years, housing many political prisoners and serving as both a lunatic asylum and leper colony. Today, the island remains a tangible symbol of political freedom and a reminder of the difficult road to South African democracy. Read on to learn more about how to visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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.
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.
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.
Cape Town's Kirstenbosch gardens may be more famous, but Durban's Botanic Gardens hold the title of Africa's oldest surviving botanical gardens.
Founded in 1851, Durban's Botanic Gardens were a response to Kew Gardens' challenge of creating botanic gardens around the world. The goal was not only to furnish Kew with new plants, but also to help raise global awareness of potentially valuable plants. The first garden in Durban was established in 1849 in a different location – it has been at its current location, closer to the city, since 1851.
The gardens cover more than 37 acres and are known for their collection of cycads, ferns, and orchids. There are also several events held in the gardens throughout the year, including concerts, tea parties, and an indigenous plant fair in September.
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.
More Things to Do in South Africa
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.
With its huge sea cliffs, bays, beaches, and valleys, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Moses Mabhida Stadium, built to host the 2010 World Cup games, is one of the country’s top sport and concert venues. Its modern architecture and massive arch set it apart on the Durban waterfront. Overlook the city from a viewing platform at the top of the arch and push your limits on the world’s largest stadium swing.
Set at nearly 10,000 feet (2,865 meters) above sea level, Sani Pass is the gateway between KwaZulu-Natal and the landlocked mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Via 4-wheel-drive, experience the rugged dirt road cut with hairpin turns on a steep climb to the top of Sani Pass. Your reward is a bumpy adventure along with panoramic views.
Howick Falls is a waterfall in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, some 63 miles from Durban. It falls roughly 310 feet from the river into a pool before the river continues on.
The Zulu name for the falls is KwaNogqaza, and legend is that a huge serpent lives in the pool beneath the falls. Sangomas, or fortune tellers, are said to be the only ones who can go near the waterfall safely.
Whether you believe the stories or not, the truth is that many people have died attempting to cross the Umgeni River just above the falls. Howick Falls remains a popular tourist destination, perhaps as much due to the legends as to its natural beauty.
Durban's Phansi Museum is a treasure of South African artifacts, both historic and contemporary, and is known as one of the world’s largest collections of South African arts and crafts. Originally located in the basement of a private home, the museum’s name Phansi translates to “below” or “beneath” and serves as a nod to that meager beginning. Today, the collection occupies three floors of a converted Victorian house.
Among the exhibits at the Phansi Museum are examples of beadwork, baskets woven from telephone wire, wooden serving platters, snuff boxes and pipes, carved statues, blankets and fertility dolls. The top floor has a display of life-sized marionettes wearing ceremonial costumes.
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.
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.
Lined with brightly colored houses and lively streets, the Malay Quarter (Bo-Kaap) is as vibrant as it is culturally rich. The historic nighborhood, set just outside central Cape Town on the flanks of Signal Hill, is a dynamic melting pot that was one of the first South African settlements of freed slaves and Muslim immigrants.
The Donkin Reserve introduces visitors to the early history of Port Elizabeth by way of a small park, stone pyramid, and lighthouse overlooking the South African coastline. Built as a touching memorial to Elizabeth Donkin—wife of 19th-century Cape Colony Governor Rufane Donkin—the hilltop memorial commemorates the woman for whom the city is named, with an inscription that reads: “In the memory of one the most perfect of human beings who has given her name to the town below.”
While you won’t likely spot much wildlife in this reserve, you will find excellent views from atop the lighthouse, as well as walking trails and the terminus of the larger Route 67 Art Trail—a walking tour of 67 pieces of public art representing Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of service to end apartheid in South Africa.
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.
- Things to do in Cape Town
- Things to do in Johannesburg
- Things to do in Durban
- Things to do in East London
- Things to do in Pretoria
- Things to do in Port Elizabeth
- Things to do in Stellenbosch
- Things to do in Hermanus
- Things to do in Franschhoek
- Things to do in Botswana
- Things to do in Zimbabwe
- Things to do in Gauteng
- Things to do in Western Cape
- Things to do in Windhoek
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