23 Top Attractions & Things to Do in South Africa (+Map)

One of the continent’s most popular countries to visit, South Africa boasts loads of epic scenery and amazing wildlife. Asides from safaris and nature spots, some parts are just as famed for their wines and whale-watching or surfing and shark cage diving.

Occupying the southernmost end of Africa, the ‘Rainbow Nation’ is bordered by the Atlantic and Indian oceans. A biodiversity hotspot, it includes everything from dramatic deserts and gorges to savannahs, mountains and wine lands. Dotted all about the huge country are gigantic game parks and nature reserves home to the Big 5.

While Cape Town and Kruger National Park dominate most peoples’ itineraries, almost every corner of South Africa has new and interesting things to do to offer. Visitors quickly discover that the rich history and colourful inhabitants ideally complement the top tourist attractions in South Africa, which creates an unforgettable experience.

23. Sabi Sands Game Reserve

Part of the Mpumalanga province, the sprawling Sabi Sands Game Reserve lies nestled in the northeast of the country. One of the most luxurious safari experiences you can have, its top-end lodges almost guarantee up-close encounters with incredible animals.

Named after the two rivers that flow through it, the park was founded as a private game reserve in 1938. Now dedicated to conservation, it has hundreds of species of animals, birds and reptiles residing within its confines. The most sought after and special to see are, of course, the Big 5.

As the upscale lodges employ expert guides and trackers, guests return raving about all the elusive animals they’ve seen. Thanks to their efforts, you can often watch leopards, elephants and lions roam about, right beside the jeep. It is these superb safaris and the five-star service that make the considerable outlay well worth it.

22. Cape Agulhas, Western Cape

Cape Agulhas

The southernmost tip of the African continent, Cape Agulhas is where both the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. Oft-overlooked in favour of Cape Point, which is much closer to Cape Town, it contains some absolutely stunning scenery. In addition, there is also a charming old lighthouse and a photo spot to prove you’ve been here.

Fittingly named ‘Cape of Needles’ by Portuguese navigators, it overlooks a rough patch of sea renowned for winter storms and rogue waves. To protect the sailors and ships rounding the cape, a lonely lighthouse was built here in 1849. Its red-and-white striped tower now makes for some fantastic photos as does the large metal relief map of Africa nearby. There is also a scenic boardwalk to stroll along and rock pools to explore.

Although it is nowhere near the country’s most impressive bit of coastline, we were still happy we stopped by while driving along the Garden Route. It was quite special seeing the oceans meet and their glittering waves stretching away endlessly into the distance.

21. Surfing in Jeffreys Bay

Surfing in Jeffreys Bay

One of the best surf spots in the world, the laidback town of Jeffreys Bay can be found in the Eastern Cape, about an hour’s drive from Port Elizabeth. Known for its consistent swells, breaks and big waves, it hosts top-class surfing competitions each year.

Since The Endless Summer surf documentary came out in the sixties, both expert and amateur surfers have flocked to J-Bay. It is most famed for its fast right-hand point break that sometimes continues for over a kilometre. At times, its waves also reach up to three metres in height with the Super Tubes stretch being the most popular.

Even if you’re not into surfing or are fed up with falling off your board, Jeffreys Bay is still a nice place to spend some time. It has beautiful beaches full of pretty shells to lounge on before trying some of its delicious seafood restaurants.

20. Addo Elephant National Park

Addo Elephant National Park

Also lying near PE (or Gqebera as the coastal city is now known) is the Addo Elephant National Park. One of the most popular places to visit in SA, it houses over 600 of the enormous animals. Whales and white sharks can also sometimes be spied in its waters.

Established in 1931 to protect the area’s last eleven elephants, it is now the third-largest park in the country behind Kruger and Kgalagadi. Besides herds of zebra, antelopes and Cape buffaloes, you can also see rhinos, lions and leopards amidst the bush. Cute African penguins and Cape gannets form large breeding colonies along the coast and on its two offshore islands.

Hiking and horseback riding about the park is a truly epic experience as is taking a night safari to see its nocturnal creatures. The only park in the world that boasts the ‘Big 7’, Addo definitely isn’t to be missed out on.

19. Wildflowers of Namaqua

Wildflowers of Namaqua

A natural phenomenon like no other, the semi-desert area of Namaqua is transformed each spring when thousands of succulents seemingly shoot up over night. Watching the colourful wildflowers bloom in the remote region is now an increasingly popular activity.

Spread across a large part of the Northern Cape, the biodiversity hotspot contains roughly 5,000 species of plant. Many of these are endemic to the area and can survive amidst all its dry and dusty landscapes. In August and September of the year, the biome changes dramatically for just several weeks thanks to the winter’s rains.

During this period, succulents paint the desert a mesmerizing mix of colors with daisies and lilies seen next to aloes and even quiver trees. Cool rock formations and a diverse array of animals can also be seen from Namaqua’s scenic roads and trails.

18. Sun City Resort

Sun City Resort

If after all the sightseeing and safaris you’re looking to kick back and relax in style, then Sun City Resort is the place to go. At the ‘Las Vegas of South Africa’, guests can enjoy fun water parks, golf courses and a casino.

Long a popular holiday and weekend destination, the resort opened in 1979 amidst the rolling mountains outside of Rustenburg. Nowadays, its four high-end hotels offer up all kinds of exciting family-friendly activities and exhilarating watersports.

Asides from rides and water slides, you can quad bike and water ski or try your luck at the casino. It also has plenty of fine dining options while scintillating shows and events take place all the time. As it only lies two hours drive from Pretoria and Johannesburg, the luxury resort makes for a great getaway.

17. Boulders Penguin Colony

Boulders Penguin Colony

As Boulders Beach is located so close to Cape Town, you must go and see its adorable African penguins. Here you can watch the entire colony nest, feed, play and swim about without a care in the world.

Since the first two breeding pairs arrived at the beach in 1982, the tiny birds’ numbers have swelled considerably. Around 3,000 now inhabit its sheltered sands and hulking great granite boulders. From its boardwalk, you can see the colony of black-and-white birds bustle about bask in divine views over False Bay.

Although a bit pricey for international visitors, the fee does go to protecting their natural habitat and raising awareness about the endangered African penguins.

16. Ride the Blue Train

Ride the Blue Train

An unforgettable (yet expensive) way to see more of the country is to book a lavish suite aboard the Blue Train. As it is advertised as a ‘five-star hotel on wheels’, expect to pay top dollar for its elegant lounges, fine dining cars and butler service.

One of the world’s most luxurious train journeys, the 1,600 kilometer-long line connects Cape Town to Pretoria. Since 1923, countless presidents, politicians and even members of royal families have ridden along the historic route.

While relaxing in its carpeted compartments, you can see some of South Africa’s most spellbinding scenery outside the window. In some suites, guests can even sit and soak in a bubble bath as the train trundles along the tracks.

15. Cradle of Humankind

Cradle of Humankind

For those interested in history, the Cradle of Humankind on the northeastern outskirts of Jo’burg is an absolute must-visit. As well as cool caves and a splendid museum, its site contains the largest concentration of human ancestral remains in the world.

Since the first finds were unveiled in 1936, numerous fossil sites and 200 caves have been discovered at the paleoanthropological site. Many of these remarkably old stone tools, skulls and skeletons are now displayed in its visitor center. Informative texts also explain the history of the Earth and human evolution.

After enjoying its exhibits and short underground boat ride, you can brave the deep, dark reaches of the Sterkfontein Caves. Amidst its atmospheric tunnels and caverns, some of the oldest human fossils like ‘Little Foot’ and ‘Mrs. Ples’ were uncovered.

14. Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Straddling the border between SA and Botswana is the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park; one of the world’s largest wildlife preserves. Its endless desert landscapes and golden grasslands are home to massive herds of wildebeest and springbok. Here too you can also spy some of the cunning lions, cheetahs and leopards that prey on them.

As it lies largely within the southern Kalahari Desert, the park is quite arid. Only sparse vegetation and dried out river beds punctuate its rolling dunes and open plains. Despite its inhospitable nature, KTP is a haven for local wildlife. This is thanks to its hundred or so waterholes that giraffes, gemsbok and eland all congregate around.

The only park of its kind in Africa, it was founded in 2000 to protect animals and birds migrating between the two countries. Although you may not see as much wildlife as in Addo and Kruger, the park is still well worth visiting. This is because its bleak but beautiful scenery makes sightings even more special.

13. Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg

Apartheid Museum

A harrowing place to visit, the Apartheid Museum covers a hugely important yet horrific part of South Africa’s past. The well-done displays and oral testimonies really highlight the daily atrocities and inhumanity of the racist system.

Only opened in 2001 (just seven years after multiracial elections were finally allowed), it occupies a concrete complex in the center of Johannesburg. Once you walk through its racially-segregated entrance, you’ll find rooms packed with photos, videos and artifacts to explore. These chronicle the rise and fall of Apartheid, how races were classified and just what the country’s constitution now includes.

Its exhibits will evoke a wide range of emotions, leaving you exhausted but upbeat at the end. As Apartheid’s impact is still sadly seen (and felt) wherever you go in SA, you really have to spend at least half a day here. This will help you better understand all the peoples and places you visit.

12. iSimangaliso Wetland Park

iSimangaliso Wetland Park

Another spot to enjoy for completely different reasons is the iSimangaliso Wetland Park along the east coast of KwaZulu-Natal. After two and a half hours drive from Durban, its idyllic bays, beaches and reefs really are a treat to explore.

Home to Africa’s largest estuarine system, its name fittingly means ‘a miracle’ or ‘something wondrous’ in the Zulu language. We certainly found its beauty captivating as savannas and mangrove forests border pristine beaches and waters teeming with life.

Here you can see huge numbers of hippos and crocodiles as well as the odd leopard, white rhino and elephant. Playful dolphins and pods of whales can sometimes also be spotted just offshore.

11. Whale-Watching in Hermanus

Whale-Watching in Hermanus

If you want to see more of the majestic mammals, then Hermanus is one of the best places to head. From atop of the popular seaside town’s craggy cliffs, visitors often see whales migrating all along Walker Bay. Memorable boat trips and sea kayak excursions to get an even closer look are also popular things to do in Hermanus.

Located just off the Garden Route, the cute little town lies around ninety minutes’ drive southeast of Cape Town. From as early as June through til December, southern right, humpback and minke whales can all be sighted. Watching them slowly swim along its dramatic coastline is an amazing experience you won’t forget anytime soon.

Other than sightseeing cruises and walking along its surrounding cliffs, you can visit the Old Harbour Museum and Whale Museum. The town also hosts the annual Hermanus Whale Festival. This celebrates the start of the calving and mating season that occurs in its shallow waters and sandy coves.

10. Robben Island

Robben Island

Certainly the most famous historic site in South Africa, Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Now a museum, it offers up a fascinating look at the lives of the inmates during Apartheid. On tours, it is usually ex-prisoners themselves who actually take you around the cell blocks.

Discovered by Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, the isolated island was later fortified and used as a prison by the Portuguese, British and Dutch. From 1961, the South African government kept political prisoners here who opposed Apartheid. They were sadly often beaten, fed poor food and forced to work in quarries, particularly in the early years.

While the tours conducted by the former political dissidents sound super interesting, we didn’t manage to make it ourselves. On our last day in Cape Town, bad weather meant our short ferry from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront was unfortunately cancelled. Just be aware this can happen if you’re on a tight schedule.

9. Blyde River Canyon

Blyde River Canyon

In a country awash with stunning landscapes, scenery and nature, the Blyde River Canyon still manages to stand out. Part of the Mpumalanga province, it is often visited alongside the nearby Kruger National Park by tourists traveling up from Johannesburg.

Stretching 26 kilometers in length, the colossal canyon is named after the winding river that runs through it. Coating its steep sides and sweeping slopes are vast swathes of subtropical forest. Twinkling waterfalls also course their way down its stupendous rock formations. For the best panoramas of the canyon and river, head to either the Pinnacle Rock or God’s Window viewpoints.

From up high, you can look out over distinctive rocky outcrops such as the Three Rondavels and Bourke’s Luck Potholes. For a different perspective, hike and horseback ride along the canyon floor or enjoy a relaxing cruise along the river.

8. Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve

Just inland from both St. Lucia and the iSimangaliso Wetlands is another popular park to hit up: the Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Game Reserve. Mostly hilly, it boasts the Big 5 and one of the largest remaining white rhino populations in the world.

The oldest nature reserve in Africa, it was established back in 1895 in what is now central KwaZulu-Natal. Thought to be a royal hunting ground during the days of Shaka, Hluhluwe-Umfolozi is renowned for its rich wildlife and world-class conservation efforts.

Much less crowded than Kruger, it contains large numbers of lions, leopards and cape buffaloes. The stars of the show though have to be its wonderful white rhinos. Staying at the rustic Mpila Camp or luxury Rhino Ridge lodge overnight enables you to see even more amazing animals. Wake up early and head out to see everything from hyenas and hippos to crocodiles, cheetahs and wildebeest.

7. Cape Winelands

Cape Winelands

As South Africa is famed for its reds, whites and roses, make sure to take a trip around the Cape Winelands. Covering a large part of the Western Cape, all its fertile farms and vineyards produce some absolutely superb wines. At the heart of the picturesque area is the historic university town of Stellenbosch which is also well worth visiting.

Thanks to its hot dry summers and cool wet winters, the region is perfect for growing grapes. Countless top-class wineries coat its plains with tours often taking you around a handful in one go. These allow you to enjoy your time at the attractive estates and not have to worry about driving back.

The chic J.C Le Roux pairs some fine sparkling wines with creative food combinations, as does the award-winning Beyerskloof. Wherever you go, you’re guaranteed delicious drinks in a gorgeous setting. On top of all this, you can enjoy outstanding views of the Cape Fold Mountains rising above the region in the distance.

6. Drive the Garden Route

Garden Route

After seeing Cape Town and Stellenbosch, many people spend about a week driving along the delightful Garden Route. One of the top things to do in South Africa, it takes you past magnificent coastal scenery and peaceful little seaside towns.

From Mossel Bay in the Western Cape, the perfectly paved road meanders its way 170 kilometres to Storms River in the Eastern Cape. While the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma Mountains border it to one side, the other looks out over the ocean. Lining its shores are beautiful beaches, lagoons and tidal pools.

As there is so much to do, everyone has a different itinerary. Stops at Plettenburg Bay’s beaches are almost a given though as is whale-watching and ambling around charming coastal towns. Knysna and Nature’s Valley are pretty popular as are shark cage diving trips and hiking Tsitsikamma National Park’s numerous trails.

5. Durban’s Golden Mile

Durban's Golden Mile

A legendary stretch of sand, the Golden Mile is one of the main places in Durban where people relax and enjoy some exercise. Lining its long promenade are dozens of hotels and eateries as well as swimming pools, skate parks and surf spots.

Bordered by the central business district, its wide, sandy beaches extend six kilometres or so in length. Overlooking them are lots of high-rises that mostly date to the seventies. Some arresting Art Deco architecture can still also be spied however alongside the busy boardwalk down below.

For decades, tourists have flocked here for its flashy entertainment complexes and fun, family-friendly attractions. These include the excellent uShaka Marine World aquarium and Durban Funland amusement park. There is also the Suncoast Casino if you want to try your luck at some table games of slot machines.

4. Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town

Victoria and Alfred Waterfront

In contrast to the Golden Mile, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront positively sparkles before your eyes. Immaculately maintained, the shopping and entertainment complex has a lively yet laidback feel. Adding to its appeal is the shimmering sea before it and iconic Table Mountain rising in the background.

As one of Cape Town’s largest tourist attractions and most visited destinations, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront invokes images of the earliest days of the harbor. Located right in the heart of Cape Town, you’ll find hundreds of upmarket shops and restaurants along with an excellent art museum, aquarium and African crafts market.

Besides shopping, dining and enjoying some of its live entertainment, you can watch the boats come and go or snap photos of its picture-perfect waterfront. From here, you can hop on harbour tours and take trips to Robben Island.

3. Drakensberg Mountains

Drakensberg Mountains

Reaching between 2,000 and 3,482 meters in height are the massive and majestic Drakensberg Mountains. One of the most rugged and wild parts of South Africa, it is known for its jaw-dropping peaks, buttes and death-defying drops.

Meaning ‘Dragons’ Mountains’ in Afrikaans, the absolutely enormous escarpment stretches over a thousand kilometers in length. As well as encircling the central South African plateau, it forms the border with the landlocked Kingdom of Lesotho. Countless trails crisscross its steep slopes and sweeping valleys. Some of the most popular places to head are the awe-inspiring Amphitheater cliffs and Cascades series of waterfalls.

The ginormous mountain range is also home to Tugela Falls which is impressively the second-highest waterfall in the world. Its dramatic 947 meter drop and all the stunning views make the arduous hike more than worth it.

2. Table Mountain

Table Mountain

One of the most recognizable landmarks in South Africa, the marvelous Table Mountain towers over Cape Town and its coastline. Famed for its distinctive flat-topped plateau, it offers up some great hiking, rock climbing and wildlife viewing. The panoramas from its summit are also out of this world.

Now protected as a national park, its prominent plateau is flanked by the equally arresting Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head. Together with Signal Hill, they form the colossal City Bowl which creates a breathtaking backdrop to the coastal city.

Getting the cableway down is an even more memorable experience. As it actually rotates, you enjoy unrivaled views over Cape Town, Table Bay and even Robben Island in the distance. Although it descends over a thousand meters to the city below, the ride only lasts five minutes in total.

See also: Where to Stay in Cape Town

1. Kruger National Park

Kruger National Park

Another of South Africa’s most popular attractions is the incredible Kruger National Park in the very northeast of the country. Its confines contain a staggering number of animals with the Big 5 regularly sighted amidst its scenic savanna, woods and grasslands.

Now one of Africa’s largest game reserves, it was established in 1926 with Zimbabwe and Mozambique both bordering the park. It encompasses fourteen different ecozones, each of which have their own fauna, flora and landscapes for you to explore.

On unforgettable hikes and safaris, you are almost sure to spot some of the thousands of lions, leopards, elephants and rhinos that inhabit its territory. Crocodiles and hippos can also be seen in its reflective lakes and rushing rivers. Dozens of camps are dotted about the park should you want to stay even longer.

Map of Things to Do in South Africa

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