There are a lot more places to visit in South Africa than the game reserves and coastal towns. South African tourists are promised a feast of entertainment at any one of the modern and cosmopolitan cities of South Africa.
1. Cape Town, Western Cape
Affectionately known as the Mother City, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The central business district and harbour lie nestled between the majestic Table Mountain (recently named a World Heritage Site of UNESCO) and the ocean. Looking out a few miles past the famous Cape harbour, you’ll spot Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated.
The city grew from its early roots as a harbour town and is rich in history. Its architectural style is a blend between high-rise and contemporary office blocks and shopping centres to Edwardian and Victorian buildings that have been meticulously preserved. Cobbled streets of the Bo-Kaap area and quaint flea markets add to the appeal of this truly Rainbow city.
The V&A Waterfront is one of the most popular tourist destinations in South Africa and is an exciting mix of entertainment; everything from top-class shopping to pubs, fine-dining restaurants, boat trips and world-class hotels. The rest of the city offers a wide array of art galleries, street markets and antique shops. The prestigious Civic Theatre in the heart of the city offers outstanding entertainment.
The choice of restaurants in the city centre and the suburbs are endless but you’ll want to hunt down the best establishments that pay homage to the cities Malay influence.
Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa and has a cultural heritage spanning more than 300 years. Whether you head to the southern suburbs and the beautiful coastal towns along the Cape Peninsula or you point your car towards the Cape Winelands, make sure you give yourself enough time in this magnificent city to enjoy all it has to offer.
2. Johannesburg, Gauteng
This impressive city is the financial, business and shopping epicentre of the country. Otherwise known as Jozi or Egoli (Place of Gold), it is the economic powerhouse of Africa.
It grew out of the dust and drama of the gold rush. A special place to visit in Johannesburg is Gold Reef City that captures the spirit of the old mining days as well as provides fantastic entertainment for the whole family. Another place to visit is the Apartheid Museum in the Johannesburg CBD. Experience first-hand the trials and suffering of a nation subjected to the brutal apartheid system.
The suburbs that make up greater Johannesburg are a cosmopolitan, multicultural mix of people and experiences. It is also the entertainment capital with world-class restaurants, shopping malls, and sport and music venues.
Sandton City is the most important financial and business district in South Africa. It’s a shopping mecca and home to the majority of major financial institutions and business headquarters. It is known as ‘Africa’s richest square mile’ and comfortably competes with any first-world shopping and business centre in the world.
3. Durban, KwaZulu-Natal
Durban is a hot destination in more ways than one. For the majority of the year the temperatures are scorching hot and this thriving coastal city offers an abundance of sport and recreational highlights.
The city is built around one of the busiest ports in Africa and is known for its sun-kissed beaches and stunning tropical scenery. The inner city is a vibrant mix of African culture while the suburbs offer more genteel living. It truly is a rainbow destination with an eclectic mix of Indian, African and European cultures. ‘Durbanites’ are fiercely proud of their beautiful province and are warm and welcoming.
4. Pretoria, Gauteng
Pretoria is known as the Jacaranda City because of the spectacular purple-blossom trees that line the streets in early summer. It is a stately South African destination and home to numerous international Embassies, monuments and museums.
The quiet, leafy suburbs of Pretoria are nestled in a sheltered valley surrounded by the Magaliesberg range of hills. The weather is slightly warmer than Johannesburg and the tempo is a lot more relaxed.
The buzz in Pretoria is mainly generated by the students that descend on the city’s to attend the prestigious local university. Pubs, top-class restaurants and entertainment facilities cater for their needs and tourists who prefer a more sedate holiday experience.
5. Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape
Located on the south-eastern coast of South Africa, Port Elizabeth is known as the “Friendly City”. For good reason; locals are very chilled and heartily welcome tourists to their sunny shores.
Port Elizabeth is a bustling metropolitan city tempered by a very relaxed coastal vibe. A drive in either direction of the city is spectacular with stunning views of white-sand beaches and a diverse array of vegetation on coastal hills.
It is a very popular destination for families as the water is warmer and there is so much to do; from scenic nature trails to countless water sport activities. The region boasts of having the fourth best summer weather in the world which is why it’s known as the ‘water sport capital’ of South Africa.
Algoa Bay is regarded as one of the best sailing venues in the world while scuba diving is world-class. Beautiful reefs, shipwrecks, exotic fish and coral species are just a few of the main attractions in the Nelson Mandela Metro (which includes Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch).
6. Bloemfontein, Free State
Welcome to the “City of Roses”. Bloemfontein is an oasis of fertile agricultural land and city splendour in a province known for its dry and arid landscapes. Located in the central region of South Africa, it is a popular pit-stop for tourists travelling from Johannesburg to the Cape. It is also the judicial capital of the country.
Thousands of rose bushes line the city streets. More than 4 000 rose trees have been planted in the rose gardens in Kings Parks and locals pride themselves on their annual shows.
Things move a bit slowly in this Free State city and many stressed-out executives have chosen to settle in the area because the city offers a relaxed and peaceful lifestyle.
The city played an important role in historical events and there are several graceful museum buildings and historical homes that capture the essence of days gone by. A popular place to visit in Bloemfontein is Naval Hill, a relatively small nature reserve set in the middle of the city. It provides tourists to South Africa with a bird’s eye view of the beautiful city. Next stop is Orchid House which boasts the world’s largest collection of orchids.
The city is geared for holiday-makers who are making their way to their holiday destinations. Accommodation is plentiful and visitors have a wide choice of restaurants and entertainment facilities to enjoy.
7. Nelspruit, Mpumalanga
This thriving city in the north-east part of South Africa – otherwise known as the Lowveld – is the gateway to the magnificent Panorama Route, Kruger National Park and a selection of premier game reserves. However, it is known for so much more. It is a thriving business and trading centre and offers top-class entertainment and tourism facilities.
The region is much-loved for its sub-tropical climate and stunning scenery. It is renowned for the tropical fruit that is grown on massive farms in the area and impressive timber plantations. The fertile soils of the region produce export-quality mangos, bananas, avocados, and macadamia and pecan nuts.
A popular place to visit in Nelspruit is the Lowveld Botanical Gardens. Here you will see a fascinating collection of rare plant species and the first man-made rain forest. For outdoor enthusiasts, the towns of Kaapsehoop, Sabie, Graskop and Hazyview are popular for hiking, mountain biking and scenic walks. There is a good selection of top-class restaurants in the city and the surrounding areas for those much-needed pit-stops.
Some affectionately refer to the area as the ‘Slowveld’ because the lifestyle is relaxed and things take slightly longer to happen than in the big cities. But don’t be fooled; Nelspruit is a hive of activity. Annual festivals celebrating everything from the Maroela fruit to the avocado season are always a highlight. Emnotweni Casino and Entertainment brings down the top national artists so there is little need for the locals to leave town to catch the big acts.
8. Kimberley, Northern Cape
This historic city was founded on diamonds and is affectionately known as the ‘Diamond City’. It is best known for the Great Hole of Kimberley which is the largest hand-dug excavation in the world. The big hole was created 150 years ago when thousands of prospectors descended on the town in the fevered diamond rush.
The city is characterised by period buildings that have been preserved or restored to their original glory. This includes a church built in Europe and shipped to Kimberley.
Tourists visiting Kimberley enjoy a guided tour of a once-operational diamond mine that descends a staggering 840m below the earth’s surface. Back on top, visitors have a glittering choice of jewellery stores, excellent restaurants and shopping malls to work their way through.
A few kilometres from the city centre is Kimberley’s oldest residential suburb, Belgravia. The suburb dates back to the 1870s and was the home of many of the great mining magnates. They say there once was more millionaires in this area than anywhere else in the world.
Kimberley is particularly popular for battlefield buffs. The Boers besieged the town for several months during the Anglo-Boer War and many battles were fought in the vicinity. The large local museum captures this historical era.
9. Polokwane, Limpopo
Polokwane, which means ‘Place of Peace’, is located in the Great Limpopo Transfronteir Park. The city is a vibrant mix of people and cultures, with the mystical Venda tribe being the largest population group.
Meaning place of peace, Polokwane opens the way to the Great Limpopo Transfronteir Park and the mystical, eco-adventure landscapes of Vhenda.
On the one hand, it is a modern city with all the popular restaurant, hotel and entertainment amenities. On the other hand, it is the gateway to a diversity of natural attractions from mountains to wilderness areas.
Polokwane is closely located to many of the premier game reserves in the northern region of South Africa. The region is geared for tourism and visitors have a choice of open-air ‘living’ museums that showcase traditional Sotho culture and you can even walk with lions at a local tourist facility. The Polokwane Game Reserve is a short ten minute drive from the city centre.
Meropa Casino & Entertainment World is located on the outskirts of the city and rises up like an ancient African palace under modern skies. Visitors have a choice of clubs, conference venues, restaurants and top-class accommodation at the resort. It is the city’s main attraction for those not too exhausted from a day’s excursion in the wonderful countryside.
10. Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal
Pietermaritzburg, or Maritzburg to the locals, is cherished for its history, colonial character and picturesque countryside. Set amidst forested hills and the rolling fields of the Natal-Midlands, this is one of the best-preserved Victorian cities in the world.
The city is the administrative capital of the province and centrally located to Durban and the Kwa-Zulu Natal coastal towns. The Drakensberg is an exceptionally beautiful region to visit when on holiday in South Africa and not far from the city of Maritzburg.
The city is charming and pretty. It is best visited in springtime when masses of azaleas burst into bloom. The countryside is one of the prettiest in South Africa; flourishing in the warm, sub-tropical climate.
Many of the Victorian and Edwardian buildings have been lovingly restored and there are many other landmarks that reflect the substantial British contribution to the development of the town.
The streets are lined with lush trees and the tropical vegetation lends the area a completely different look from other cities in South Africa. Pietermaritzburg is affectionately called “The Last Outpost of the British Empire”. A trip into the city is like stepping back in time although there are enough modern restaurants, shopping centres and entertainment facilities to remind us that it is a significant business and trading centre.
Experience the sights and sounds of South Africa. Lekker Adventures specialises in providing you with the complete travelling experience to South Africa. Click here to find out more about travelling to South Africa with the assistance of Lekker Adventures.