19 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in South Africa
South Africa offers a fascinating landscape for travelers of all interests. Its regions of mountainous terrain, deserts, national parks, and wildlife parks are extremely diverse, with more than 10,000 species of plants and animals (not to mention more than 500 bird species).
The combination of all these treasures is a big draw for tourists, and South Africa has the top attractions in the world for every visitor.
Here is a sampling of some of the country's top tourist attractions. See them with your own eyes by adding them to your list.
Explore the many wonders of South Africa with our list of the best places to visit in South Africa.
If South Africa has the wine and, even more, the deserts, Cape Town has the charms of a world-famous city with an expansive coastline that takes in both the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. There is history and culture aplenty to enjoy in Cape Town, from being one of the oldest European settlements, through to the many World Heritage sites where the country's reputation for being the 'rainbow nation' is celebrated. The city is set on a peninsula on Table Bay, and most of the sights can be reached by car or public transport. Tourism is still a fledgling industry in the city, but interest in exploring its popular wine routes, hiking and climbing trails, diving and beach opportunities are increasing steadily.
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Cape Town
Table Mountain is Africa's third-largest mountain range and makes a perfect day trip from Cape Town, the country's vibrant capital. The mountain's lower reaches, in a dramatic canyon carved through deep blue shale, lie close to the warm Indian Ocean; as the mountain ascends through the last of the Karoo Desert, it becomes increasingly exposed to the fickle Atlantic. One of the few major mountains in Africa to be free of snow, the plateau of Table Mountain (871 meters above sea level) is densely forested, with a network of walking paths and cables traversing the slopes for hikers and climbers. At its southern end are some of the highest mountain viewpoints in the country. With free entrance, these vantage points include the dramatic Lion's Head, which rises 2,048 meters above the town of Kogel Bay and overlooks the wide, sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean. Other good viewing points include Signal Hill and Devil's Peak. To visit the mountain, take the Suncoast Express tourist train from Cape Town, the scenic Blue Train from Port Elizabeth, or a bus.
Robben Island is a small, windswept island (it's a part of Table Mountain National Park) in the Cape of Good Hope, just off the tip of South Africa's southwestern coast. To view the island you can take either a short cruise from one of the towns along the Cape coast, or opt to go for the more authentic way by heading for Cape Point and the spectacular views of Table Mountain. The island, just over an hour's drive from Cape Town, was the prison island for many years, and was the site of several historical events, including the murders of President of the United States John F. Kennedy and South African leader Nelson Mandela. As a result of its historical importance it has been declared a World Heritage site. Although Robben Island can only be visited with a special pass, many people spend a great deal of time hiking around and exploring the island. Its strategic position close to the coastline has left the island covered with a maze of passages, some of which were used for storing food and supplies, others used for hiding from apartheid police. You can visit one of these tunnels or one of the world's largest crannies in the bedrock which can be reached from the surface. Many people who live on the island make their living by trading in the area.
Kruger National Park
Kruger is Africa's most famous and largest national park. Located on South Africa's eastern border with Mozambique, the park is covered in seasonal bush and woodlands, but best known for its vast open plains and dry veldt. The major population center in the park is the small township of Punda Maria, which sits at the northern edge of the park and borders Mozambique. Most people visit Kruger in a two- or three-day trip from Johannesburg, which includes a safari across the southern border into Mozambique. Visitors travel by four-wheel-drive open-air safari vehicles or bush air taxis, landing by helicopter at Punda Maria or nearby Pafuri. However, a number of operators offer "tours" around Kruger, including trips to villages and regions outside the park. Two things to see in Kruger include the Chiweta, a large grouping of large rocky hills surrounded by patches of tropical vegetation, and the Buffalo Back Game Reserve, located north of Punda Maria on the border with Mozambique. At the edge of the park is an hour-long nature trail around Pongolapoort Dam. Kruger, named after Ernest (a freed slave and outlaw) and Louis (an Afrikaner) Kruger, was declared a national park in 1911. It has a world-renowned wildlife population, and the main animal species are lions, elephants, buffalo, leopards, rhinos, cheetahs, giraffes, crocodiles and hippopotami.
Cape of Good Hope
Cape of Good Hope is the southernmost point of Africa and is as far south as mainland Antarctica is north. It was named by European sailors in 1652 after a Dutch vessel in which they had been rescued. The cape has always been a site of great fascination for those visiting the area. Although the Cape has been the site of settlement since around 30,000 BC, when it was first populated by humans, there are still many spots around Cape of Good Hope that are a mystery to even the most experienced history buffs.
Durban, once a rather unfriendly town, has been reinventing itself as a visitor destination. Today the charm of the Durban beachfront has given way to a busy, densely-populated downtown. It has an impressive number of museums and galleries to explore, most notable is the small but very impressive art museum. Among the city's old colonial buildings are the Bo-Kaap and the City Bowl, full of historic neighborhoods and local boutiques. It's also a great place to stroll and enjoy the rich variety of fruit and vegetable stands along the river. Durban is a city that's well worth at least a day to visit and on which to base yourself, to experience this colorful, exciting, and buzzing city on the southern tip of the country.
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Durban
Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
Situated in the country's southwest, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is one of the world's largest reserves. It covers the area from the Kalahari Desert, where it has a unique rock formation called the Kalahari dunes, to the escarpments of the low Kalahari range. This vast park is home to more than 500 species of bird, seven mammals, and 118 reptiles and amphibians, with more than 100 species unique to this area. The park's desert features, such as the sand-spitting dunes and sun-baked rock formations, provide a stunning backdrop to the park. Some of the rock formations include Lady Musgrave's Petroglyphs, a rock engraving site that was once visited by the Musgrave family, who are credited with introducing the marula fruit to the country. Other activities include sand-surfing, camping in the park, and visiting the reserve's center to learn more about the desert's desert environment.
SOUTH Africa's largest metropolis and its most exciting city, Johannesburg was established in 1886 as a trading post and is best known as the first capital of both South Africa and the Union of South Africa. A maze of skyscrapers and cosmopolitan malls, it is also the political, social and economic heart of the country. The best way to explore the city is by foot. The five-star safari resort destination of Sandton, the recreational area in the north of Johannesburg, is easily accessible from the city center via the N1 and the M1. Here, you can drive golf carts, take horse-drawn carriage rides and ride on a steam train. The well-appointed office parks in Sandton are perfect places to get work done. You can take a number of tours of the city's sprawling suburbs, which include Saxon, Parkwood, Gauteng and Alexandra, which include vast natural wilderness areas that offer some of the best views of Johannesburg.
Read more 👉 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Johannesburg
Table Mountain National Park
Table Mountain is one of the most famous natural features in South Africa and a must-see for any visitor. Though this crater, which reaches more than 2,000 meters above sea level, formed long before the eruption of nearby Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79, its shape has been greatly altered by the weather and movement of the earth. Table Mountain sits on the southwestern edge of Cape Town and, of course, one of the major tourist attractions in the city. An excellent route to get to Table Mountain is via the Lion's Head, where many of Cape Town's colonial-era buildings and churches are located. One of the most interesting of these is the Dutch Reformed Church, which has an impressive stained glass window depicting a major flood that struck Cape Town in 1755. Atop the mountain, the V&A Waterfront is one of South Africa's major tourist destinations. The Cape Town Aquarium, The Boulders' Sea Spa, and the V&A Waterfront's Boulders Spa are among the attractions offered at the area's various water-front hotels. Boasting the city's highest peak at 1,039 meters, Signal Hill has more historic attractions that include the 18th century Africa House and the Old Military Hospital. Additional highlights in Table Mountain National Park include Silvermine, which features the original mines at the heart of Cape Town's industrial history. The usual views from Table Mountain include the city below, the Twelve Apostles and Green Point.
The Drakensberg mountain range, which spans almost the entire length of South Africa's border with Lesotho, is of cultural significance as it is the site of the heart and soul of the Zulu people. Here, on the edge of the massive massif, Zulu culture goes back thousands of years, as the place was a stronghold of their trade routes in Southern Africa. The highest peak, Brandfort Mountain, climbs to a height of almost 11,000 feet and is visited every year by Zulu and tour groups. The mountain is also the name of a town located near to the base of the mountain in the middle of the range. Other important sites in the region include Twyfelfontein, a rock art site in the mountains that date back up to 7,000 years, and Belvidere, the old "white man's grave" (near Johannesburg) where a number of people including Cecil John Rhodes and famous photographer Anton Knegtse were buried. This mountain range has made South Africa famous for its hiking, climbing and trekking. St. Lucia in the Eastern Cape is one of the most popular spots, while more adventurous visitors should take a side trip to Lesotho to see spectacular mountains and volcanoes. Drakensberg and Mpumalanga regions are also known for their game lodges, and are home to many bird species and mammals.
Hout Bay is situated just 30 kilometers outside Cape Town in the southwest of South Africa. The quiet township of Oranjezicht, a 30-minute drive from the picturesque town, was established in 1871 as a fishing village. Now a small, bohemian beach town, the village is located near the N2, 2 kilometers from the town of Van Rhynssel. Hout Bay's beachfront property covers around 1,400 hectares of land, which is divided into many areas, and is approximately 18 kilometers long. The town consists of quaint restaurants, bars and small shops. However, the main activities are centered on the harbor where small boats sell fresh fish and crab. There is also a walkway that takes you to a mangrove swamp and a historical dock.
The Tsitsikamma Mountains, a part of South Africa's Mpumalanga province, are a world-renowned hiking destination, particularly in the winter months when the wildlife and beautiful scenery are at their best. The wide variety of terrain and fauna can be explored by hiking, cycling, skiing and other activities. The area is dominated by the Himba people, a tribe closely related to the Zulu, and include traditional Himba huts that have been turned into first-class hotels. The climate is warm, with highs of 22 degrees C in the summer and lows of 8 C in winter. If you don't feel like trekking into the mountains, take a private tour from Sabi Sand Wild Coast Park.
Cape Point Lighthouse
Just seven kilometers from Cape Point, the lighthouse is one of the tallest on the entire African continent, and it's not the easiest to reach. Hike the approximately four-kilometer trail through coastal bush or spend a day on one of the small game-viewing safaris available in the area. The Cape Point Forest Reserve is well-known for its spectacular views and the possibility of seeing an elephant, antelope, and a number of bird species such as the Cape eagle-owl, Cape and brown chacma baboon, rock hyrax, and vervet monkey.
Nature's Valley is set in South Africa's Eastern Cape. Pronounced "nah-TESS-ville," the town is a place where "Bushman and Indian meet... to stroll the trails of the white-sand beaches and lose themselves in the thrush of Cape Floral Kingdom." The town's main attraction is its wonderful beaches, especially the Indian Ocean beach. Travelers who enjoy spending time outdoors can check out Cape Point Wild Coast Park, a large area of coastal dunes and forests that contain the South Africa's highest cliff, with views of the Atlantic Ocean. Hiking is popular in the park; visitors may even be lucky enough to spot seals, penguins, and African penguins. Transportation to Nature's Valley is by air from Cape Town International Airport, about 250 miles to the south. It takes about an hour and 45 minutes from the airport to the village.
Located on the coastal plain about 70 km north-east of Cape Town, Grahamstown is best known as the site of the 1834 Boer War and of the third great National Congress of the ANC, which began in 1913. The town also became the headquarters of the Boer Resistance from 1900 to 1902, and this is most clearly demonstrated by the large concentration of military memorials scattered across the peninsula, with the result that many have fallen into a state of extreme dilapidation. Grahamstown's principal historic buildings and places of interest include the new University, the two-and-a-half-century-old Iced Spaghetti Factory, and the Voortrekker Monument, built in honour of the first missionaries to South Africa. The many hilltop viewpoints give visitors a panoramic view of the town and surrounding regions. The town itself is also attractive, with tree-lined boulevards and attractive homes in a range of styles. While it is well connected by public transport to Cape Town and other South African towns, the best way to enjoy Grahamstown is by car or bicycle.
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (VAW) is Cape Town's famous waterfront area, a bustling, modernized version of Cape Town's old trading port. Opened in 1997, the area features a long, spectacular waterfront promenade with cafes and restaurants, shop-lined shopping malls and cinemas. Although some residents lament its loss of Cape Town's unique flavor, VAW is one of the best spots in Cape Town for many tourists and locals alike. The promenade has some great bars, cafes and restaurants, as well as some beautiful art galleries and shops. Close by is the Victoria & Alfred Clock Tower, a somewhat lackluster'modern' twin of Cape Town's twin tower buildings, but with a rooftop café that is a good place to eat while waiting for a ferry. For a refreshing break from the heat, visitors can cool off in the shady outdoor gardens of the Simon's Town Town Hall, across the harbor from the V&A building. Afterwards, climb the Thembelani or Llandudno Towers for amazing views of the city.
Stellenbosch is a sleepy, university town of about 30,000 residents, nestled in the low hills of the western Cape. It's best known for its excellent wine, especially the eponymous Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon, which goes down a storm at lavish wine festivals around the country. As Stellenbosch does not have any real sights, tourists tend to visit for lunch and a day trip from Cape Town, or just to explore the nearby Robben Island and enjoy the sea. After visiting the town, spend time hiking the nearby Botanical Gardens and Riviersonderend Nature Reserve, which has an array of flora and fauna indigenous to the region.
Oudtshoorn, the smallest town in South Africa and the fifth largest in the country, lies in the Oudtshoorn region, well known for ostrich farming. It's not on the radar of most tourists, though, and unless you are an avid consumer of ostrich, there isn't much to see or do. The town is located along the R310 highway, close to Hogsback, which offers further ostrich-breeding sites, and Jansenville, which has a resort and camp site. There are a number of stores in town that sell ostrich food and other products.
Garden Route National Park
South Africa's Garden Route National Park is situated south of Cape Town and extends along the southwestern coast. It is a spectacular area with incredible beaches, verdant mountains, sparkling fjords, and world-famous wine estates. This national park includes the strands of Victoria and Alfred bay, which are flanked by rugged, snow-capped mountains, including Table Mountain. It is said that the "Garden Route" appellation has been coined due to the view of the hills and valleys from the bay. South Africa's Garden Route is a paradise for hiking and horse riding enthusiasts. Many trekking trails take visitors into the depths of the country's nature reserves, while cyclists can set off on a journey past the country's most significant wine estates. Birdwatchers are able to witness an abundance of exotic and beautiful species while adventure junkies can explore the unspoiled wilderness of the coast and enjoy the thrill of abseiling.