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12 Best Things to Do in South Africa

From safaris and beaches to hiking and history - South Africa has it all
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Published on: September 5th, 2017

Last updated: September 7th, 2023

Renowned for its Big Five Safari offerings, cityscapes like Cape Town and Johannesburg, excellent wine regions, whale watching and outstanding dining, South Africa spoils visitors for choice.

As we’ll explore below, this incredibly diverse country offers visitors of all ages a plethora of activities to do, places to stay, and local delights to eat. Here are 12 of our favourite things to do in South Africa:

1. Go on a Big Five safari in the Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands Reserve

It should come as no surprise that Big Five safaris feature among the top things to do in South Africa. Traversing the country’s beautiful landscape, spotting elephants, lions, buffalos, rhinos and leopards along the way. As one of Africa’s premier national parks, Kruger National Park remains one of the oldest and largest wildlife reserves in the world.

Elephants crossing water in Kruger National Park, South Africa

For premier game spotting, a visit to Sabi Sands is a must. World renowned for its abundant leopard population, Sabi Sands private reserve spans over 60,000 unfenced hectares and borders Kruger Park. For an up close and personal stay, Lion Sands Narina Lodge sits within a private concession in Kruger National Park, allowing you to admire nearby wildlife roaming the grounds from the comfort of your own private suite.

Leopard in Sabi Sabi

2. Enjoy a family-friendly safari in Madikwe

Madikwe Game Reserve awaits you with ample opportunity to spot the Big Five while embarking on your family-friendly safari. Bordering the Kalahari Desert and Botswana in the country’s northwest corner, the reserve is malaria-free, making this the ideal locale for families.

For a secluded getaway, Molori offers five expansive suites featuring splendid views of the Dwarsberg mountains and surrounding bush. Spend your days going on personalised game drives and bush tracking, and your nights stargazing. 

3. Savour delicious food and wine in the Wine Region

The rolling hills of South Africa’s wine country give way to a vast expanse of pristine vineyards, ranging from small boutique wineries to larger estates. Perfect if you’re looking for a true ‘sip and savour’ experience as part of your luxury travel in the Winelands.

A vineyeard sitting at the base of a mountain in the evening sun.

One of the most famous hotels in South Africa, La Residence features 11 suites within the main building, each with its own unique theme and featuring an eclectic mix of antiques and artwork.

4. Hike up Cape Town’s Table Mountain

Forming the backdrop of beautiful Cape Town, Table Mountain dominates the horizon, flanked by pristine waters of the Cape and the city’s waterfront. Climb aboard the cable car ascending to the top for breathtaking views.

Cheerful young woman on top of table mountain enjoying the view from high up. Shot in Cape Town, over the clouds view. People travel achievement concept.

Alternatively, the famous Lions Head hike can take as little as 30 to 45 minutes one way if you’re short on time, or longer if you want to slow it down and take time to appreciate the incredible views of Camps Bay and the cityscape below.

5. Learn about South Africa’s history in Johannesburg

If you’re interested in delving more into South Africa’s culture, then add in a visit to Soweto, Johannesburg. Offering insight into one of South Africa’s most important historical areas, here you’ll be inspired by the legacy of Nelson Mandela and learn of other activists who shaped the anti-apartheid movement.

Johannesburg has also see a considerable amount of regeneration in recent years, with an abundance of projects and industries run by local artists and creatives.

Expand your exploration of the culture and history of South Africa with a moving visit to Cape Town‘s Apartheid Museum District 6. It takes a sobering look at apartheid affected the country and its people. 

art-scene-johannesburg-south-africa

6. Explore Cape Town’s foodie highlights

Savour a variety of flavours as you explore Cape Town’s foodie scene. Local spots like Biesmiellah showcase traditional South African dishes such as braai, while Mariam’s Kitchen churns out delicious curry and gatsbys – Cape Town’s signature sandwich.

Snack platter of Cape Malay food, like samoosas, meatballs and mini pies

Looking for a one-of-a-kind culinary experience? Get ready to roll up your sleeves for a private cooking class under the watchful eye of a  professional chef. You’ll learn some useful tips to take home to your own kitchen to impress your friends. 

Family cooking a meal together in a kitchen

7. Witness breaching whales on the Whale Coast

Considered one of the world’s premier destinations for viewing nurseries of southern right whales, Whale Coast also offers splendid views of wild surf and pristine white beaches. August is the best month to visit South Africa for whale watching, as whales start to migrate from Antarctica to South Africa for calving season during these winter months.

A whale breaches above the surface of the ocean off the Whale Coast in South Africa.

Climb aboard a boat trip for an up close and personal experience with these beautiful giants. Or, if keeping your feet firmly planted on land is more your thing, a stay at Birkenhead House is a must, where you can sometimes see whales from the property.

Early morning coastal view from Gearing’s Point of the rocky Hermanus coastline and Old Harbour.

8. Take a luxury train ride on Rovos Rail

Indulge your inner romantic and travel back in time with luxury train travel on Rovos Rail. Travel in comfortable luxury aboard one of Rovos Rail’s fleet of four trains, restored to their Edwardian-era splendour, as South Africa’s rolling savannah and rugged coastlines greet you outside your window.

A couple stands beside a Rovos Rail train in Pretoria, South Africa.

Featuring elegant suites, observatory cars and silver service, the 55-hour trip suits perfectly if you’re seeking slow travel at its finest. Rovos Rail offers several weekly to annual journeys across South Africa, including the weekly route between Pretoria and Cape Town.

The elegant Club Lounge of a Rovos Rail train in SOuth Africa.

9. Take it easy on the Garden Route

Lush and laidback, the Garden Route spoils nature lovers for choice. Green scenescapes blanket valleys and hillsides, as indigenous forests cascade down picturesque mountain sides teeming with exotic birdlife.

A beach in Knysna, South Africa.

For a fantastic stay in the heart of the Garden Route, The Plettenberg features stunning ocean vistas from each of its 35 beautifully-appointed rooms and two family-style villas.

A beautiful sea view from The Plettenberg on the Garden Route in South Africa.

10. Go on a Peninsula tour and see penguins on Boulders Beach

For a family-friendly activity that will appeal to all ages, spend your afternoon spotting cute African penguins on Boulders Beach in their natural habitat. Or, take in crisp waves and rock formations by boarding a Peninsula tour.

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A group of penguins on Boulders Beach in Cape Town.

Other jaunts outside the city centre worthy of a day trip include Cape of Good Hope and Chapman’s Peak Drive, both of which offer stunning views of South Africa’s majestic coastline.

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The winding Champman's Peak Drive overlooking the ocean in Cape Town, South Africa.

11. Go hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains

Affectionately known as ‘the Berg’, the Drakensberg Mountains are widely considered to be South Africa’s outdoor playground. The highest mountain range in South Africa will surely satisfy any thrill-seeker in your group, with excursions like zip lining, white water rafting and horseback riding.

Beautiful scenery in the Drakensberg, The Battlefields, South Africa

Join a private guide for a half-day hike in Giant’s Castle Nature Reserve. The area takes its name from the mountain formations which resemble a sleeping giant with its foot propped up against its castle. There is fascinating rock art to discover, and a variety of local wildlife and birds to look out for.

Dramatic view of the hills of the Drakensberg Range in the Giants Castle Game Reserve, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.

12. Take a boat trip to Robben Island

For history enthusiasts, a trip to South Africa won’t complete without a visit to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in imprisonment. An easy day trip from Cape Town, the boat ride to Robben Island offers scenic views of the Atlantic, alongside spectacular shoreline views on the island once disembarked.

The view of Table Mountain from Robben Island.

On this fascinating tour you’ll visit various historic sites around the island, including the limestone quarry, the graveyard from when the island was a leper colony, army and navy bunkers, and of course, the prison itself. The tour culminates with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell.

The limestone quarry on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town.

Luxury accommodation in South Africa

There are many incredible places to stay in South Africa. Here are some of our favourites, handpicked by our travel designers:

Whatever you want from your trip to South Africa, our team of expert travel designers are ready to help.