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It is almost impossible to fit South Africa into a mold because of its rich history and diverse culture. We are talking about a country with an area of 1,222,813 square kilometers and a coastline that is almost 3,000 km long. Within such a vast territory, each of the nine provinces has an entirely different personality, so it is very challenging to decide which of the tourist attractions in South Africa you really should visit.
Any itinerary in South Africa will depend on your interests, whether you want to learn about the country’s history, be in nature, or see wildlife. In this article, we will try to cover them in an organized way.
Tourist Attractions in South Africa: Cities
Cape Town Attractions
District 6 is the symbol of the struggle during the Apartheid years and one of the most significant historical tourist attraction in South Africa. Once a lively and colorful neighborhood with people from all races, it soon became a white-only area, forcing many non-white people to locate elsewhere. The District 6 Museum takes you back to those years through powerful illustrations.
Resembling the St.Pier in San Francisco, the Waterfront is one of the most vibrant tourist spots of Cape Town. Many South Africans and tourists alike visit the shopping center, eat at the gourmet restaurants, and watch the talented street performers until late in the evening.
Table Mountain National Park
It is impossible to visit Cape Town and not to fall in love with the iconic Table Mountain. The national park is a paradise for hiking and there are more than 20 different trails, each offering unique glimpses of diverse and rare flora and fauna accompanied by breathtaking scenery.
Bo Kaap is best known for the bright-colored houses that street photographers tend to worship. However, it is the story of the Cape Malay people that makes the neighborhood so special and important. Once brought as slaves from South East Asia, the people only adapted but were also freed and built their distinct cultural heritage.
Understanding South Africa’s more recent history means getting to know Nelson Mandela’s life. One of Cape Town’s top tourist attractions, Robben Island, is the ideal place for that, as Mandela spent 18 years in prison here.
Cape Point National Park
The southern tip of the Cape Peninsula has huge historical significance being the place where the Dutch settlers docked and started building their lives. It is perfect for scenic coastal hikes, whale watching, and even camping.
This picturesque coastal town is home to Boulders Beach, where you can see some of the cutest creatures you will ever see in Africa: Southern African Penguins.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
Nestled on the outskirts of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch is an excellent choice for a relaxing afternoon walk among colorful blossoms and indigenous trees.
Lion’s Head and Signal Hill
The hiking trail along Lion’s Head is quite easy for the beginners, yet it is nothing short of scenery compared to Table Mountain.
Long Street, Loop Street, Bree Street
These are the three central streets on which Cape Town’s nightlife thrives, with nightclubs, souvenir shops, authentic restaurants, and a wide range of stores.
Cape Town’s Atlantic coastal stretch has many scenic beaches, from Sea Point to Clifton, Camps Bay, down to Llandudno, and up the West Coast from Blouberg. If your body can adjust to the freezing temperatures of the water, you will never want to leave the beach.
Tourist Attractions in South Africa: Johannesburg
Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum is extremely informative and thought-provoking when it comes to the Apartheid years. The illustrations and exhibitions clearly depict life in those years with all its brutality. One of the go-to tourist attractions of South Africa to learn its back story.
Gold Reef City
The discovery of gold made Johannesburg the financial hub of Africas. This is why there were a lot of gold mines in the20th century. Gold Reef City is an amusement park that imitates a typical South African gold mine perfectly.
The constitutional court in Johannesburg was once a prison, where significant figures such as Mandela and Gandhi spent many years undergoing torture and oppression. You can visit the old prison, as well as the various museums and galleries at the site.
Imagine a township with more than a million inhabitants. Soweto is not only the largest township in South Africa but also the most lively. It is also known for having the only street in the world with houses of more than one Nobel Prize winner – Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. You can explore Soweto by joining full day township tours.
Rosebank and Sandton
These two adjacent neighborhoods make up the new central business district in Johannesburg. Don’t let the word business fool you, there is a lot of entertainment in and around the shopping malls.
Cradle of Humankind
Have you ever wondered where the human race originated from? The caves just outside Johannesburg contain thousands of fossil findings from the hominids, the earliest versions of the human race. Guided tours the best way to explore and understand the discovery of the fossils, and how they got into the cave in the first place.
Found in the old central business district, the Carlton Center is still one of the tallest buildings in Johannesburg. Taking an elevator to the top floor, you can view the landscape of Africa’s concrete jungle from above.
A lot of tourist attractions in Johannesburg can be found in the gentrified neighborhoods, the previously-abandoned areas that are slowly regaining their livelihoods. Braamfontein is one such neighborhood, with a thriving student population because of the prestigious Wits University.
The university campus is open to the public, and you can visit the Wits Origin Museum and the Wits Art Museum.
South Africa Tourist Attractions in Other Cities
Voortrekker Monument, Pretoria
This magnificent monument is the ultimate symbol of Afrikaner Nationalism. It represents the struggles the former Dutch Settlers faced against the British rule in the Cape Colony, as well as the Zulu tribes in the east.
Freedom Park, Pretoria
Nestled on a hill called Voortrekker Monument, Freedom Park creates an interesting contrast. The park was dedicated to the people who lost their lives during the anti-Apartheid struggle against the nationalist government up until 1994.
Golden Mile, Durban
Durban has a special place in South Africa as the third-largest city in the country. It is home to the largest port in Africa and the largest Indian population outside India. Each of these factors has created a distinct local culture. Yet, the most beautiful area of the city is along the coast of the Indian Ocean. The 5 km-long promenade is full of restaurants, souvenir shops, and a sea breeze coming from the warm oceans.
Ushaka Marine World on the south end of Golden Mile is the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere and the fifth-largest in the world.
The Big Hole, Kimberly
Before gold was discovered, diamond-mining was the primary economic activity in South Africa, thanks to the diamond mines discovered in Kimberly, Northern Cape. Kimberly has the largest and the deepest man-made opencast mine in the world, and it is massive. Visiting here will educate you about the complicated science and history of diamond mining in South Africa.
South Africa’s Points of Interest: Hiking
Did we mention that South Africa is a paradise for hikers? Here is a list of the most iconic hikes in the country.
The escarpment on the Lesotho border is home to some of the highest peaks in Africa. The multi-day hikes in this region are strenuous but equally rewarding.
The coastal stretch between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth is home to the best coastal hikes with breathtaking scenery, the most popular one being the multi-day hike in Otter Trail
The Cederberg mountain range in the Western Cape is a popular spot for people visiting from Cape Town. There are several hiking trails that meander through iconic sandstone formations.
The Mpumalanga province bordering Mozambique has an incredible variety of nature, with many waterfalls and nature reserves, Perhaps the most impressive spot is Blyde River Canyon, the third-largest canyon in the world.
There are hundreds of other nature reserves in South Africa, containing hiking trails of various lengths and levels. The list is endless when it comes to hiking trails.
South Africa’s Points Of Interest: Wildlife
The fertile grounds of South Africa have become a magnet for an abundance of mesmerizing wildlife. The national parks and game reserves of South Africa are considered some of the best in the world due to the population and variety of animals, as well as the top-quality service and luxury provided. Here are our top picks:
- Kruger National Park
- Pilanesberg Game Reserve
- Hluhluwe-Imfolozi National Park
- Madikwe Game Reserve
- Addo Elephant Park
- Shamwari Game Reserve
- Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park
We have covered the safari parks of South Africa in greater detail in this article, so don’t forget to have a look.
Tourist Attractions in South Africa: Conclusion
As you can see, it was quite difficult to fit all the tourist attractions in South Africa into a single article. South Africa is a country with a brilliant fusion of diverse cultures, spectacular nature, delicious food, and a surprise that pops up on every corner. You have to come and see it with your own eyes, but we can guarantee that one trip will not be enough.
For more travel guides, refer to our posts on:
- Botswana national parks
- Is Johannesburg safe?
- Tarangire national park
- Islands of Mozambique
- Kenya national parks
Tourist Attractions in South Africa: FAQ
Everything about South Africa, from the beaches to the savannah, from the food and wine to history, makes it a top tourist attraction.
According to statistics, V&A Waterfront in Cape Town is the most popular tourist attraction in South Africa, with over 25 million foreign visitors each year.
Amongst many other things, South Africa is famous for Cape Town (especially Table Mountain) and Kruger National Park. It is also well known for having the highest number of gold and platinum mines in the world, as well as the earliest signs of human activity.