So you want to visit South Africa? From breathtaking scenery and incredible wildlife to rich, deep-seeded culture and exhilarating nightlife, there’s so much to do and see in South Africa, it’s almost impossible to fit it all in. I’ve created a list on unique things to do in South Africa to help you plan your itinerary.
Things to know about South Africa
- South Africa has three capital cities: Pretoria (executive capital), Bloemfontein (judicial), and Cape Town (legislative).
- Currency: ZAR (South African Rand). Debit and Credit cards are widely accepted.
- Vaccinations: You won’t need any, unless you are coming from a country where Yellow Fever and Malaria are prevalent.
- Plugs: 15 amp 3-prong, with round plugs.
- South Africa often ends up in the news for the wrong reasons. Yes, it’s safe to visit South Africa but there are a few things to know before you come and who better than a local give you tips.
Suggested Reading: Tips for staying safe in South Africa.
Things to do in Gauteng
The smallest and most crowded province in the country is Gauteng – which translates to “The City of Gold”. While in Gauteng you have to visit Pretoria (now known as Tshwane), this city boasts the second-largest concentration of foreign embassies in the world after Washington, DC.
1. Visit the Cradle of Humankind
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is where some of the world’s oldest humanoid fossils have been found.
2. Visit the Constitution Hill
site of the constitutional court, but also the location of the old Fort Prison Complex which was use until the early 1990’s.
3. Learn about our sad history at the Apartheid Museum
The museum tells the story about how in 1948 the white elected National Party government initiated a process which turned over the lives of non-whites, damning them to a life of servitude, humiliation and abuse. Their liberation in 1994 with the election of Nelson Mandela, the prisoner who became he first black president, after spending 27 years in prison. You will walk out of the museum with an understanding of what South Africa was really like – the rise and fall of apartheid.
4. Visit the Union Buildings
The Union Buildings is the official seat of the national government, house the offices of the South African president. This 285 metre long sandstone building was designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1910 to mark the Union of South Africa. Unfortunately, you cannot go inside the buildings themselves, but visitors are free to explore the gardens that look out over the city. Popular place for family picnics or to have wedding photos taken.
5. Stroll trough Freedom Park
This award-winning architecture showcases breath-taking views of the capital city of Tshwane and a wall with a list of the names of those killed in the South African Wars, World War I, World War II as well as during the apartheid era.
6. Visit Tswaing Meteorite Crater
One of four known impact craters in South Africa. Tswaing, lies surrounded by a ring of hills – the walls of the impact left by an asteroid that hit here 200 000 years ago, leaving a crater 100 metres high and a kilometre in diameter.
7. See the Big Five at Dinokeng Game Reserve
The Dinokeng Game Reserve is 18,500 hectares of pristine African bush and is the only free roaming Big Five reserve in the Gauteng province.
8. Say a prayer at The Hector Pieterson Memorial
On June 16, 1976, Soweto high school students took to the streets in a peaceful protest against learning in Afrikaans in black secondary schools. While protesting, they were met by the police who started shooting at them. Hundreds of students died including then 12-year-old Hector Pieterson whose picture was captured.
Picture by Sam Nzima
Today June 16 is a national holiday (Youth Day) where we remember the Youth of 1976.
9. Visit a Nobel Street
South Africa is the only country in the world to have two nobel peace prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu) who had houses on the same street. The street in question is Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Johannesburg.
Did you know: South Africa produces 80% of the world’s platinum.
10. Learn about the Anglo-Boer war at The Voortrekker Monument
A homage to the Voortrekker Pioneers and their 1835 to 1854 journey of discovery from the Cape into South Africa.
Things to do in Mpumalanga
Mpumalanga which means “Place where the sun rises” is home to 6.5% of South Africans, incredible landscapes and wildlife. Bordered by Mozambique and Swaziland in the east, and Gauteng in the west, it’s the second-largest citrus-producing area in the country and is responsible for one-third of the country’s export in oranges. Mpumalanga is an essential destination for any visitor!
11. Visit the largest national park in the world- Kruger National Park
Established in 1898 and spanning 19,485 square kilometers (that’s almost the size of Israel), Kruger National Park is the largest and oldest national park in Africa. One of the many reasons it is so popular is because it’s a practically guaranteed that you’ll see the “Big Five”: elephants, rhinos, buffalos, lions and leopards. The best safari experiences in the world are said to be found here.
12. See the world’s largest underground coal-mining complex in Secunda.
13. Visit God’s Window
God’s window is a viewpoint, from where you can see the beginning of the Blyde Canyon landscape.
Just one look down and you will understand why it is called “God’s Window”.
The panoramic view of the Lowveld more than 900 m down into lush indigenous forest-clad ravine.
14. Admire The Blyde River Canyon
The third largest Canyon in the world, with its depth of 750 m and length of 25 km.
15. See the Bourke’s Luck Potholes
Named after Tom Bourke who discovered alluvial gold in the are during the late 1880’s.
The potholes were formed millions of years ago by the swirling of sand and pebbles, which resulted in the carving of the potholes into the underlying riverbed.
16. Learn about the 1873 Golf Rush in Pilgrims Rest
In 1873 Alec Patterson found alluvial gold in the stream that flows through the valley. Mining continued until 1972 and today Pilgrim’s Rest is a living museum, preserved in the exact architectural style of the gold rush period, boasting various buildings that has remained unchanged externally for more than a century.
17. Stroll through Adams Calendar
With the shape of a circle and a diameter of 100 feet, the stones of Adam’s Calendar were built-in alignment with Orion’s Belt, which follows a 26,000 year long cycle around the Earth. It’s known as the oldest megalithic site in the world, and referred to as the “African Stonehenge”, it predates both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza by tens of thousands of years.
18. Have a pint of beer at Sabie Brewing Co
Read about my experience HERE
19. Buy a Ndebele Doll
The Nguni tribe can be divided into four categories: Central Nguni (Zulu-speaking), Southern Nguni (Xhosa-speaking), Swazi (from Swaziland and adjacent areas), and the Ndebele (of Limpopo Province and Mpumalanga).
The Ndebele people have always been known for their artistry. The women adorn themselves in jewelry, clothing and ornaments that become more beautiful the higher their status in the tribe. Take a journey into the colorful world of art, history, and culture through the eyes of the Ndebele.
20. Swim in the Mac Mac Pools
a shallow rocky river which drops into a series of naturally formed swimming pools. These crystal clear, cool water pools make for refreshing swimming and splashing after a hot day’s sightseeing.
Things to do in North West
21. Go on a boat cruise at Hartbeespoort Dam
22. Go fishing at Taung Dam
Taung” means place of the lion, and was named after Chief Tau of the Bataung people. The dam is a great fishing spot and it’s famous for its bass fish.
23. Swim at the inland beach at the Valley of the Waves
Located inside Sun City Resort – casino, four hotels and a water park with two international 18 hole golf courses.
24. Learn about elephants at the Elephant Sanctuary
25. Find rare birds at Madikwe Game Reserve
Not only does this park have more than 300 species of birds but you can see the Big 5 and endangered African wild dogs, hippos and cheetahs.
27. Count the windmills of the Karoo
28. Go on a hot air balloon ride at Pilanesberg Game Reserve
This is a big 5 destination where hot air balloon rides, self-drives or guided game drives can be arranged.
29. Get up close and personal with baby monkeys
Visit the Bush Babies Monkey Sanctuary nestled in a gorge in the Magaliesberg mountains range.
30. Visit Mafikeng Museum
Displays include the tribal origins of Mafikeng, old tools, crafts and herbal medicines used by ancestors. An entire room in the museum is dedicated to the 1899-1900 siege of Mafikeng during the Anglo-Boer War.
Things to do Limpopo
Known for its diversity, beauty and the grand river that flows through it, Limpopo is the northernmost province in SA.
31. Drink Amarula
Limpopo is the home of Amarula Cream Liqueur. The fruity, caramel flavor comes from its main ingredient, the fruit of the indigenous marula tree (also known as the “marriage tree” or the “elephant tree”). You can visit the visitors centre 10km from Phalaborwa for a taste of this drink that made its debut in 1983.
32. Visit the Turfloop Nature Reserve
Here you can go on a game drive like no other. Giraffes, wildebeest, impalas and ostrich are easily spotted (without the crowds of Kruger), as is the southern bald ibis and numerous other birds who flock to the Turfloop Dam.
33. Visit the Modjadji Cycad Reserve
Named after the Modjadji Rain-Making Queens who lived in complete seclusion, deep in the forest where they practiced secretive rituals to make rain. It remains in a pristine condition due to the strict protection by local tribes. Its home to over 170 species of birds and plants. People often describe the Reserve experience as being like “Alice in Wonderland” due to the giant plants.
34. See Lake Fundudzi
one of the most sacred and only true natural inland lakes in the country. It is safeguarded by its people, and visits are only possible with permission.
35. Find a Baobab Tree
The largest (22 m high and 47 m in diameter) ever recorded baobab is thought to be the Sunland Baobab, in Modjadjiskloof.
36. Visit The Cave of Hearths
The Cave of Hearths is one of two places in the world that is home to a range of Stone Age artifacts and even older fossils. The cave, which is located in Makapan’s Valley just northeast Mokopane, consists of multiple layers, some of which are not accessible. But the ones that are make this cave a worthy stop on your travels. A human mandible found there represents one of the earliest known ancestors of Homo sapiens.
37. See the Makapan’s Caves
These caves show evidence of wars dating back 150 years. They also offer clues to the origins of our hominid ancestors and the evolution of modern-day man. There’s an on site museum which illustrates the history of the town, caves, and surrounding areas.
38. Visit Thulamela
Thulamela translates to “place of birth” and is regarded as one of the most important archaeological sites in South Africa. Lying west of Pafuri, Thulamela was once a stone-walled city ruled by African monarchs from 1200 to 1600 AD. Archaeologists have recently excavated the tombs of a king and queen. It’s estimated that about 2,000 people lived here and evidence shows they were skilled goldsmiths and traded in gold.
39. Visit The Soutpansberg
This mountainous area, designated part of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO because of its unique, rich biodiversity, is a natural wilderness with approximately 580 species of trees, great birdlife (including raptors) and some small mammals.
40. Eat Mopane Worms
Scientifically known as the Gonimbrasia Belina, the mopane worm is in fact the brightly coloured spiky caterpillar of the Emperor moth. These edible insects High in protein and
Things to do in Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN)
The coastal province of KZN is known for its beaches, and being the warmest place all year round. The old British colony of Natal is home to the Zulu nation and also one of the largest Indian populations outside of India itself.
41. Eat a bunny-chow
This dish originates from Durban a spicy curry ladled into a hollowed-out loaf of bread.
42. Visit Zululand
The name Zulu originally meant people who were migrating southward, towards the area around the Tugela River in the late 19th century. Led by King Shaka Zulu
IsiZulu is the most popular language in South Africa.
Today the area is dominated by Game reserves and villages. If you don’t know the story about Shaka Zulu, watch the series on Netflix.
43. Visit Beachwood Mangroves Nature Reserve
This 76 hectares of land consists of swamp forest that are one of the last remaining fragments of protected mangrove habitat on KZN’s coast,
44. Surfs Up eThekwini
The city of Durban is one of the country’s top surfing spots.
45. Visit Nelson Mandela’s Capture Site
In 1962 Nelson Mandela was captured and arrested in the town of Howick and consequently began his 27 years of imprisonment. Mandela returned to KwaZulu-Natal to begin a new journey when he chose to cast his first vote in Inanda, Durban as a free man in 1994. Inanda is also the home and burial site of the founder of the African National Congress, Dr. John Dube.
46. Spot a Hippo in iSimangaliso Wetland Park
iSimangaliso means miracle and wonder which aptly describes this exceptional UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Zululand coast. With grasslands, forests, wetlands, mangroves and ancient dunes, magnificent beaches and coral reefs this is one place you need to see!
47. See sharks at uShaka Marine World
The fifth largest aquarium in the world, the building of uShaka was pivotal in the revitalization of the Point area. Expect water rides, penguin, seal and dolphins.
Did you know: Mahatma Gandhi called Durban, South Africa his home for nearly 21 years. While Gandhi is perhaps most famous for his work in India, he also played a pivotal role in civil rights for South Africans.
48. Visit Nkandla
The controversial Nkandla is the private home of South African President Jacob Zuma, situated about 24 km south of the rural town of Nkandla in KZN. To date no one is sure if the president paid back the state money ($19 million) he was found guilty of “taking” to build his personal residence.
49. Visit The Whale Bone Pier in Umhlanga
Picture by: Andrew Havard
50. Bungee Jump at the world’s tallest swing at Moses Mabhida Stadium
Built for the 2010 FIFA soccer world cup, this stadium is now used for other sports, concerts and bungee jumping.
Things to do in Free State
51. Get engrossed in the history at the Anglo Boer War Museum
52. Have a picnic at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park
The park derives its name from the brilliant shades of gold cast by the sun on the park’s sandstone cliffs, especially the imposing Brandwag rock, keeping vigil over the main rest camp.
53. Take pictures from Naval Hill
Picture: Bloemfontein Tourism
It got it’s name from the two Naval Guns that were on the hill during the Anglo-Boer war. They have been replaced with a Nelson Mandela statue.
54. Discover ancient history at Vredefort Dome
This is the oldest and largest (larger than Table Mountain) meteorite impact site (Asrobleme) in the world. Formed an estimated 2000 million years ago when a gigantic meteorite hit the earth close to where Vredefort is today.
55. Visit the Sterkfontein Dam
56. Admire art at the Oliewenhuis Art Museum
Housed a former presidential residence that welcomed King George VI and his family during their brief stay in the city in 1947. The museum boasts a collection of top works by classic and contemporary South African artists.
57. Learn about Basotho Culture
The Free State province borders on Lesotho and there are many Basotho in the province with the Basotho Cultural Village straddling the border between the Free State and the kingdom of Lesotho. Pop in to learn more about indigenous culture in the area.
58. Visit the capital city of Bloemfontein
The sixth largest city and South Africa’s judicial capital.
59. Visit the Cheetah Experiences
60. Go on a day tour of Parys
Learn more about the history and heritage of this unique town.
Things to do in Western Cape
61. Watch the sun set at Lions Head
Hike up the trails to see the sun set and soak up views of the city and mountains.
62. Visit Robben Island
Political prisoners (including Nelson Mandela) were exiled to this Island now turned museum/wedding venue. Read about my experience HERE
63. See one of the Seven Wonders of the World – Table Mountain National Park
Did you know that Table Mountain is older than the Andes, the Alps, the Rocky Mountains and the Himalayas.
64. Play with Penguins at Boulders Beach
Penguins in Formation!
Boulders Beach in Simons Town is home to a colony of African penguins. You can watch them flop and frolic on the shore. Don’t feed them or get too close though—they can bite.
Also Read: How to spend two weeks in Cape Town
65. Go on a tour of The Parliament
66. Smell the roses at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
About 9000 of Southern Africa’s 22,000 plant species are grown here.
67. Cape of Good Hope
the southwestern most point of the African continent.
68. Go wine tasting in Stellenbosch
Did you know that South Africa produces 7% of the world’s wine?
Head to Stellenbosch Wine Route for some of the best wine experiences in the country.
69. Have a photo shoot in BoKaap
These brightly pained homes reflect ways of life specific to the Malays who live here
70. Go shark cage diving in Gansbaai
Get up close and personal with the most feared animal in the sea. Growing up to 7 meters long and weighing over 3,000 kg, these great white sharks can breach out of water and soar into the sky. It’s important to follow all instructions from the guides and stay safe.
Things to do in Eastern Cape
One of the province’s greatest traits is that it is home to all seven of South Africa’s biomes – grassland, savanna, succulent karoo, nama karoo, forest, fynbos, desert, and thicket.
71. Get lost in Hogsback
The mountains of Hogsback is said to have inspired South African born J.R.R Tolkien write his Lord of the Rings trilogy.
72. Visit the Nelson Mandela Museum
This is his home town, of cause there will be a museum in his honor.
73. Have some umngqusho
This is a traditional South African samp and beans dish which is also known as Nelson Mandela’s favorite meal.
74. Admire art at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Museum
75. Feed ostriches in Oudsthoorn
A visit to the farm will teach about how the birds are bred and the various ways in which ostrich products are marketed and fashioned.
76. Take a selfie with a Pineapple in Bathurst
Located on a Pineapple Farm, “The Big Pineapple” is a 16.7 m tall pineapple-shaped building that has three floors. The first floor is a gift shop where you can buy fruit and other pineapple-themed souvenirs. The second floor is …
77. Zip line at Tsitsikamma National Park
See one of the oldest indigenous forests in South Africa.
78. Visit Addo Elephant National Park
South Africa’s third largest park that protects the remnants of the huge elephant herds that once roamed the Eastern Cape. With more than 600 elephants, you’d be unlucky not to see one!
80. Spot the Big 7
The Big 7 can only be found at Addo National Park.– elephant, rhino, lion, buffalo, leopard, southern right whale and great white shark.
Things to do in Northern Cape
Northern Cape is South Africa’s largest yet least populated province.
81. See the eye of Kuruman
This phenomenon is the largest natural fountain in the Southern Hemisphere, delivering an astounding 20 to 30 million litres of fresh water every day.
82. Visit the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO)
83. Visit the Big Hole in Kimberly
Kimberly Mine covers 170,000 square meters, reached a depth of 240 meters, and yielded three tons of diamonds. The mine was closed in 1914.
In 1866, Erasmus Jacobs found a tiny white pebble on the De Kalk farm on the banks of the Orange River near Hopetown in the former Cape Colony. That pebble turned out to be a 21.25-carat diamond.
Today the Big Hole is a unique open-air museum with viewing platforms and a wide selection of original houses, offices, and shops. The museum boasts Kimberley’s oldest house (imported from England in 1877), the diggers pub, a reconstruction of the De Beers’ homestead, and much more.
84. Go on a mine tour
85. Stargaze in Sutherland
Northern Cape is home to the famous Southern African Large Telescope (SALT). SALT can be visited Monday-Saturday from 10h30 – 14h30 and tourists can book a guided tour at the visitor centre.
86. Go river rafting on the Orange River
the longest river in South Africa.
87. Admire the Cathedral Church of St Cyprian the Martyr.
88. Play golf at Sishen Golf Course.
Ranked as one of the top 30 golf courses in the country. Facilities include: a driving range, practice and halfway house as well as tennis, squash, bowls and swimming facilities.
89. See the first diamond found in SA at the Kimberly Mine Museum
On display are the “616” (616 carats), the largest uncut diamond in the world, and the “Eureka”, the first diamond discovered the country.
90. Have a drink at the 2nd oldest pub in the country
Open since 1870, Diamond Girls (previously known as the Star of the West Pub) has had uninterrupted service for 147 years.
91. Canopy Tour
These tours are available all across the country.
92. Go on a horse safari
93. Ride the Rocks Rail
A luxury train throughout Africa. It’s a bit expensive though. Picture by Kiersten, Read about her experience HERE
94. Go sand boarding on the beach
95. Watch whales in Plettenberg Bay
96. Go to a braai
The name for a South African BBQ is braaivleis in Afrikaans which translates to “roasted meat. Pronounced as “bry” and rhymes with “cry”. There’s nothing like it anywhere in the world. It’s acceptable for any occasion- winter, Christmas, housewarming, graduation, you name it and we braai. We use wood or briquettes (charcoal) and not gas like Americans. If you’re not lucky enough to be invited to one, you can head to a “shisa nyama” literally meaning ‘burn meat’ – used to describe a popular ‘buy-and-braai’ style of venue/restaurant found across the country.
97. Meet the people
We are extremely friendly and multilingual (11 official languages) ♥️??.
No other country in the world has its own public national holiday dedicated to a braai.
98. Ride the Blue Train
Take a 1,600km journey from the capital city of Pretoria to Cape Town.
99. Go to a Rugby match
100. Visit a diamond mine In Cullinan
The first time I went on this tour I was in the 5th grade and it’s an experience I will remember forever. This particular mine is famous because in 1905 they unearthed the largest rough gem-quality diamond ever found, at 3,106.75 carats!
If you’ve ever been to the British Crown Jewels at the Tower of London, UK you’ve seen one of the stones that were cut from the Cullinan diamond – the 530.4 carat Great Star of Africa, mounted in the head of the royal scepter.
101. Buy a Vuvuzela
I recently saw a lady holding one on a flight from Dubai to Dublin. It made me so happy!
Get Insurance before visiting South Africa
Use travel insurance while visiting South Africa so you are covered for theft and medical expenses. There are a lot of adventurous activities to do in South Africa, and it’s best to have peace of mind while hiking and exploring.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
Writing this post made me realise that there are many unique things to do in South Africa and our country in truly amazing.