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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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Chapman’s Peak Drive
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232 Tours and Activities

Chapman's Peak is a mountain on the Cape Peninsula, with a 5.5-mile road known for its scenic beauty. The road winds from Hout Bay to Noordhoek, clinging to the side of the steep mountain almost the whole way. The road was built in the early 20th century, and boasts 114 turns in its short 5.5-mile distance.

The road itself may not be long, but you'll want to take your time – not just because of the many curves, but also because of the gorgeous views. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the scenery along the way.

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Constitution Hill
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58 Tours and Activities

Perhaps nowhere is South Africa’s transition to democracy more vividly apparent than on Constitution Hill. For over a hundred years, buildings here functioned as a much-feared prison complex, holding everyone from common criminals to activists Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, even Winston Churchill (briefly) during the Boer War.

Since 2004, this site has been home to South Africa’s Constitutional Court, partially built with bricks from one of the old prison buildings, complemented with lighter contemporary elements. Visitors can see the court in session after a tour which takes in Mandela’s cell as well as a permanent exhibition dedicated to Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violent protest.

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Carlton Centre
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Johannesburg has most of Africa's tallest buildings, and the building that's held the title of Africa's tallest office building for nearly four decades is the Carlton Centre.

The Carlton Centre is a combination office building and shopping center. The 50-storey building stands at 732 feet, but almost half of its floor area is below the ground level – that's where the majority of the shopping is located, in an underground shopping mall that's one of the city's top shopping destinations. Until 1997, the Carlton Centre was connected via this underground mall to the luxury Carlton Hotel. The top floor of the Carlton Centre is known as the “Top of Africa,” and offers some of the best views overlooking Johannesburg.

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Apartheid Museum
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118 Tours and Activities

The injustice, cruelty and day-to-day absurdities of white minority rule are impressively detailed in Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum. “Apartheid”, meaning “separateness” in Afrikaans, was officially in operation from 1948 to 1994, though segregation had been a cornerstone of South African politics since the birth of the Union in 1910.

Apartheid turned South Africa into a pariah state, shunned by much of the international community and almost torn apart by internal tensions, including the infamous Sharpeville riots of 1960. This excellent museum tells that story through photos, documents and film footage, as well as interactive features which bring the reality of racial classification alive.

South Africa’s belated emancipation following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 is celebrated by the seven pillars of the constitution you will see in the courtyard: democracy, equality, reconciliation, diversity, responsibility, respect and freedom.

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Soweto
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116 Tours and Activities

Soweto (short for South-West Township) was synonymous with resistance to Apartheid in South Africa, particularly as repression was stepped up in the 1970s and 80s, a time when images of the sprawling district on the edge of Johannesburg were rarely far from television news. The area has traditionally housed black workers who commute to more prosperous white areas of Johannesburg, and overcrowding has always been an issue.

But this is also a place of amazing cultural richness and a trendsetter for the whole country: South Africa’s heart beats to the rhythms of Soweto. Take a guided tour to discover the truth about life in Johannesburg’s most famous district and savor the taste of the township in one of the huge array of restaurants, offering everything from barbecues to modern variations on traditional Zulu dishes.

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Newtown
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Newtown is a neighborhood in the center of Johannesburg, and it has been the focus of redevelopment efforts in recent years. Originally called “The Brickfields,” as brick-making was the primary industry, the neighborhood was burned to the ground in 1904 – on purpose. The reason given was to stop the spread of the plague. Later that year, as the area was being redeveloped, it was given the name of Newtown.

Today, Newtown is home to some important Johannesburg attractions, such as MuseumAfrica, Market Theatre, and Mary Fitzgerald Square.

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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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SAB World of Beer
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Johannesburg's SAB World of Beer is a museum dedicated to beer, run by South African Breweries. Opened in 1995, the World of Beer is an interactive beer museum tracing the history of the drink in Africa. The exhibits begin with the earliest known references to beer, roughly 5,000 years ago in Egypt and Mesopotamia. In addition to the history of beer, visitors also learn about the beer-making process in different parts of the world. Tours end in the Tap Room, where visitors can sample South African Breweries' beers and enjoy some snacks while looking out over Newtown.

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More Things to Do in South Africa

Sir Lowry's Pass

Sir Lowry's Pass

14 Tours and Activities
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Durban Botanic Gardens

Durban Botanic Gardens

13 Tours and Activities
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Jordan Wine Estate

Jordan Wine Estate

10 Tours and Activities
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Kragga Kamma Game Park

Kragga Kamma Game Park

8 Tours and Activities
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Gold Reef City

Gold Reef City

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The Gold Reef City complex is built on the site of an old gold mine, and visitors can still descend into the pits and see how the precious metal is extracted. Those in search of their own windfall should head for the casino, where roulette, baccarat, black jack as well as slot machines are on offer round the clock. First time flutterers and hardened high rollers are well catered for. The theme park component of Gold Reef City offers thrills for all ages, with rides including the Anacaonda, the Tower of Terror and a roller coaster which provides a great view towards central Johannesburg on its exhilarating journey.

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Durban City Hall

Durban City Hall

8 Tours and Activities
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Donkin Reserve

Donkin Reserve

7 Tours and Activities
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Victoria Street Market

Victoria Street Market

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Moses Mabhida Stadium

Moses Mabhida Stadium

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Phansi Museum

Phansi Museum

6 Tours and Activities
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Franschhoek Motor Museum

Franschhoek Motor Museum

6 Tours and Activities

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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Durban Golden Mile

Durban Golden Mile

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The Golden Mile is where Durban dips its feet into the rolling surf of the Indian Ocean. The wide expanse of sand which gives the stretch its name is one of the most popular playgrounds of South Africa, known particularly as a surfing centre but also a great place for sunbathing and year-round swimming.

There are numerous attractions nearby, including uShaka Marine World, the Surfing Museum and Mini Town, a miniature replica of Durban. Numerous nearby shops compete for your rand, though if you’re looking for souvenirs the Zulu craft market offers great value and variety.

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Old Fort Prison Complex

Old Fort Prison Complex

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One of the attractions in the Constitution Hill area of Johannesburg is the Old Fort Prison Complex, which date from the late 19th century. The prison buildings were built by the Boers (Afrikaans speakers) starting in 1896 as the place to put any British invaders who were captured. During the Second Boer War, the tables were turned when the British took over the Old Fort and used the prison to hold (and execute) captive Boers.

Later, during apartheid, the main part of the Old Fort was a “whites-only” prison. An exception was made for Nelson Mandela, who was held here briefly in 1962 before his Rivonia Trial. Gandhi was also among those held in another part of the prison complex.

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