things to do in south africa - map

This article will explore the best things to do in South Africa. Whether you’re looking to bungee jump off a bridge, go on safari, dive with great white sharks, or soak up the stunning scenery, South Africa has it all. 

Let’s go! The Best Things to Do in South Africa

1) Explore Cape Town

Things to do in South Africa - Cape Town

Oh Cape Town, where do we even begin? This stunning city located on the southwestern coast is undoubtedly one of the country’s top destinations. With its breathtaking natural beauty, rich history, and vibrant culture, it’s no wonder Cape Town is such a beloved city.

One of the must-see attractions in Cape Town is Table Mountain, a towering landmark that offers sweeping views of the city and the ocean beyond. Take a cable car up to the top and soak in the spectacular scenery. For the more adventurous, hiking up the mountain is a popular activity.

Another iconic spot is the V&A Waterfront, a bustling hub of restaurants, shops, and entertainment options. 

Cape Town is also known for its incredible beaches, such as Clifton and Camps Bay, where you can soak up the sun and watch the waves.

For a more unique beach experience, visit Boulders Beach, where you can swim with penguins! Check out this small group tour that includes a visit to the penguins, Table Mountain, & Cape Point.

And let’s not forget about the food scene in Cape Town – it’s a foodie’s paradise!

From traditional South African cuisine to international flavours, Cape Town will deliver. So make sure to try some of the delicious seafood that the city is famous for.

RELATED POST – African Food Guide – 10 Best Food Countries in AFRICA

2) Visit Robben Island 

Take a boat ride from V&A Waterfront in Cape Town to visit Robben Island and see how political prisoners were treated during the apartheid. 

This is where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years and is now a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a powerful and sobering experience. But, it’s a must to learn more about the apartheid era in South Africa, and you’ll come away with a deep appreciation for the country’s struggle for freedom. 

Today, ex-prisoners are tour guides who shed light on what life was like during apartheid. For example, view Mandela’s cell and see how the prisoners had to sleep on stone floors and endure the harshest conditions. 

Things to do in South Africa - Robben Island

Take a bus ride around the island to see the prisoner’s graveyard and the quarry where all prisoners, including Mandela, were forced to work.

Whilst in Cape Town, I also recommend visiting the District Six Museum.

The museum is a remembrance of the people who lived in the area in the 1970s and were forced to relocate so white citizens could move in. It’s both a sobering and informative place.

And, if you visit Johannesburg, I recommend you visit the Apartheid Museum. This is one of the most memorable museums I have seen worldwide. It does a remarkable job of highlighting apartheid’s history. 

3) Safari in Kruger National Park

south africa Kruger
We loved the Kruger National Park – easily one the of the best things to do in South Africa

South Africa is a wildlife lover’s paradise, and it’s no surprise that many visitors come to experience the thrill of a safari. With some of the world’s top game drives, you can’t miss the chance to explore the country’s diverse national parks. 

Spending a few nights in one of these incredible parks is an experience like no other – the sights and sounds of the wilderness will leave you in awe. 

Kruger National Park is undoubtedly the most famous destination for safaris in South Africa. The park boasts an impressive array of wildlife, including the renowned “Big Five” – lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalo. 

With its exceptional diversity of fauna and flora, Kruger National Park offers an unforgettable safari experience. You can hire a car (starting from just $12 per day) and drive around the Kruger National Park yourself.

Alternatively, reserve a guided safari tour. View some popular options below.

While Kruger National Park is the most popular safari destination in South Africa, there are plenty of other options. 

Here are some of my top suggestions:

  • Pilanesburg National Park & Game Reserve: Home to the Big 5, this park is an excellent option for a day trip from Johannesburg if you need more time.
  • Hluhluwe and iMfolozi National Park: Situated in the eastern part of the country, this park is famous for its thriving rhino populations.
  • Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park: Located on the northern border with Botswana, this park is renowned for spotting black-maned lions.

4) Drive the Garden Route

The Garden Route is a scenic coastal drive that stretches for around 200 km (124 miles) between Mossel Bay and Storms River, or right along the southwestern coast of South Africa. 

It’s a road trip that offers a little bit of everything, from natural beauty to adventure, wildlife to culinary delights. 

It is without a doubt one of the great drives in the world, offering breathtaking views of the Indian Ocean and the rugged coastline. 

I recommend you take your time to enjoy the many highlights along the way. From game drives to diving, and mountain adventures to world-class wineries, there is something for everyone. 

The region is also known for its pristine beaches, including the famous Victoria Bay and Wilderness beaches.

Things to do in South Africa - Drive the Garden Route
Enjoyable things to do in South Africa include road trips like this one.

The Garden Route is home to several national parks, including the Garden Route National Park, Tsitsikamma National Park, and Wilderness National Park. These parks allow visitors to spot some of the country’s incredible wildlife, including elephants, lions, and giraffes.

The region is also known for its culinary offerings, with several world-class wineries and restaurants dotted along the route.

Be sure to sample some of the local delicacies, such as biltong (dried meat) and boerewors (sausage), which are staples of South African cuisine.

Driving the scenic Garden Route is one of the best things to do in South Africa. So hire a car, set your eyebrows to WOW, roll down the windows, and let the beauty of the Garden Route take your breath away!

5) Cage Dive with Great White Sharks

Diving with great white sharks is popular in South Africa because it offers an incredible and unique experience for thrill-seekers and nature lovers alike. The country’s coastline is home to one of the world’s largest populations of great white sharks, and diving with these majestic yet fearsome creatures is a bucket list item for many.

Shark cage diving is the most popular way to experience great white sharks up close and personal. Visitors are lowered into the water in a specially designed cage, which allows them to observe the sharks safely from a close distance. 

The experience is often described as exhilarating and awe-inspiring, as the sharks can grow up to 6 metres (20 feet) long and weigh up to 2,000 kg (4,400 pounds).

Things to do in South Africa - Dive with Sharks
Are sharks on your list of things to see in South Africa?

There are several locations along the South African coastline where visitors can go shark cage diving, including Gansbaai, Seal Island, and Mossel Bay. 

Many tour operators offer shark cage diving packages, including transportation, meals, and wetsuit rental.

We recommend this Shark Cage Diving Tour in Gansbaai.

Despite their fearsome reputation, great white sharks are an essential part of the ocean’s ecosystem and play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of marine life.

By experiencing them up close, you can gain a newfound appreciation for these magnificent creatures and the importance of conservation efforts to protect them.

6) Hike the Drakensberg Mountains

Hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa is an experience like no other, and there are several reasons why it’s one of the best things to do in South Africa.

The Drakensberg Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, meaning they are recognised for their natural and cultural significance. For nature lovers and adventure seekers, the stunning scenery and unique geological features are a major highlight.

There are various hiking trails in the Drakensberg Mountains, ranging from easy walks to challenging multi-day hikes, so it’s suited for all levels of fitness. 

Things to do in South Africa - Hike Drakensberg mountains
Things to do in South Africa – Go hiking in the Drakensberg mountains.

The trails take you through breathtaking valleys, past cascading waterfalls, and up to some of the highest peaks in South Africa.

The Mountains are home to abundant wildlife, including baboons, eland, and various species of birds. As you hike through the mountains, you’ll have the opportunity to see these animals in their natural habitat.

Some of the most popular hiking trails include:

  • Ploughmans Kop: This is a half-day trail with an initial steep climb. There are stunning rock pools to dip in and cool off on the way.
  • Rainbow Gorge: Easy and beautiful 2-hour trail in the Cathedral Peak area.
  • Chain Ladders Hike: A challenging one-day hike, including ladders attached to the rock face. Best suited to experienced hikers.

7) Go Wine Tasting

Things to do in South Africa - Wine Tasting

South Africa is known for producing excellent wine, thanks to its diverse climate and unique geography.

The Cape Winelands, located just outside of Cape Town, is the best region for wine tasting in South Africa. This area is renowned for its stunning natural beauty, historic towns, and world-class wineries. 

My tip is to join this Wine tour to Stellenbosch & Franschhoek, which includes tastings & lunch – it’s sure to be a great day out!

If you’re not joining a wine tour, I recommend exploring the historic towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. These towns offer some outstanding gourmet cuisine at some of the region’s top restaurants, and no doubt you’ll get to taste some wonderful wine too.

8) Explore Beaches in South Africa

South Africa’s stunning coastline is perfect for soaking up the sun, sand, and surf. Here you will find some of the world’s most beautiful and diverse beaches.

So why are the beaches in South Africa so amazing? Well, for starters, the country has over 2,400km (1,500 miles) of coastline, so if you’re looking for secluded coves, world-class surf breaks, or bustling beachfront towns – you’ll find them easily enough. 

Furthermore, the beaches are surrounded by breathtaking scenery, from towering mountains to rugged cliffs and pristine forests.

Things to do in South Africa - Beach
So many beaches and things to see in South Africa

My Top 5 best beaches in South Africa to visit:

  • Camps Bay Beach – Located in Cape Town, Camps Bay Beach is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike. With its white sand, crystal-clear water, and stunning views of the Twelve Apostles mountain range, it’s easy to see why.
  • Umhlanga Rocks – This beach in KwaZulu-Natal is a favourite among families thanks to its safe swimming conditions and picturesque setting. The beach is also home to the iconic red-and-white lighthouse, which is a great photo opportunity.
  • Clifton Beach – Another famous beach in Cape Town, Clifton Beach is a series of four beaches separated by granite boulders. The sheltered coves and turquoise waters make it an excellent spot for swimming and sunbathing.
  • Muizenberg Beach – This beach in Cape Town is known for its colourful beach huts and excellent surfing conditions. It’s a great spot for beginner surfers, and the beachfront promenade is lined with shops and restaurants.
  • Ballito Beach – Located on the Dolphin Coast in KwaZulu-Natal, Ballito Beach is a beautiful stretch of golden sand perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and surfing. 

9) Join a Soweto Tour

A Soweto tour is recommended on my list of things to do in South Africa because it offers a unique and fascinating glimpse into the country’s history and culture. 

Soweto, short for South Western Townships, is a large and vibrant township just outside Johannesburg.

It played a significant role in the struggle against apartheid, and visiting it allows you to learn about the country’s turbulent past and its journey toward democracy.

Things to do in South Africa - Soweto Tour

During a Soweto tour, visitors can explore the township’s streets, markets, and historical sites, including the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum commemorating the Soweto Uprising of 1976.

You can also see the former homes of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who were key figures in the fight against apartheid.

In addition to its historical significance, Soweto is a lively and colourful place that offers a glimpse into its residents’ daily lives and traditions. You can sample traditional foods, visit local markets, and enjoy live music and dance performances.

Visiting South Africa’s most famous township can be challenging to do independently, so I recommend you book this half-day guided Soweto tour, which includes pickup and drop-off from your Johannesburg hotel.

This Soweto walking tour with lunch is another great half-day tour that includes a typical South African lunch and some great information from your local guide.

10) Explore Bo Kaap

Bo-Kaap is a neighbourhood located in the heart of Cape Town, South Africa. It is known for its colourful houses, steep cobbled streets, and rich cultural heritage. 

The area was originally established in the 1760s as a residential area for the city’s slave population. Today, it is a vibrant community home to a blend of cultures, including Muslim and Cape Malay communities.

Book your place on this fascinating walk with a local in Bo Kaap to learn more about its past.

Things to do in South Africa - Bo Kaap

The tradition of painting houses in bright colours is said to have started in the 19th century when formerly enslaved people were finally allowed to own property and chose to celebrate their newfound freedom by painting their homes in vibrant colours.

My favourite thing about Bo-Kaap is the delicious food available here. The neighbourhood is home to many Cape Malay families, who have preserved their traditional recipes and cooking methods over generations. 

You can enjoy a variety of dishes such as curries, samosas, and rotis, and learn about the history and traditions behind these dishes. 

If you’ve only got a short time to explore Cape Town, consider booking this half-day tour including Table Mountain and Cape Town City & Bo Kaap.

As you can see from reading this post – there are so many amazing things to do in South Africa! What experience or must-see place would you add to our list?

Travel Tips for Africa

We’ve got some comprehensive blogs about travelling in Africa – what a massive continent this is! Have you ever wondered, how many countries in Africa are there? 54 or 55?

We cover them in depth in our Ultimate Africa Bucket List, which covers the best things to do in every country in Africa.

Don’t miss our recap of our travels across West Africa in 2019 for more helpful tips.

If you’re not familiar with the cuisine in this region, we wrote a post about the 8 most delicious West African foods we tried along the way. But for the food lovers out there, don’t miss our Africa Food Map – An African Food Guide to every nation!

But if you’re wondering which countries have the best food, then our Top 10 Best Food Countries in Africa are for you. Honestly, it’s not an easy list to compile when there are so many nations to consider, but we finally narrowed it down to just ten.

It’s worth reading these 17 ESSENTIAL Things to know before travelling to West Africa, and our ESSENTIAL Packing List for Africa has you covered for exploring anywhere on this massive continent.

If you’re searching for information about a specific country in Africa, then head to our AFRICA page and select the country you’re curious about.

Stay connected in Africa and get an eSIM. If you’re planning to visit multiple countries in Africa in one trip, consider buying a Regional Africa eSIM.

Finally, to read about our best-ever travel tips, the travel gear we use on the road, and the website we recommend, visit our Travel Resources Page.