South Africa is perhaps best known for its spectacular landscapes and wildlife. The “Big Five” of wild animals can be seen in their native habitats in the country’s national parks, and the diversity of environments to be found across the nation is truly impressive.
However, the cities are also not to be underestimated. From bustling cosmopolitan metropolises to soothing provincial towns, South Africa boasts an abundance of vibrant urban destinations. Here, we’ll take a look at six unmissable South African cities.
Nestled beneath the imposing Table Mountain on a peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, South Africa’s legislative capital is one of the world’s most instantly recognizable cities. Besides being one of the world’s most Instagrammable places, it has a whole world of activities to offer to tourists.
You can literally walk from the heart of the city to the top of a 1,000m mountain using one of Table Mountain’s several trails—or if you don’t have the energy, take a cable car and be there in five minutes. Big Five safaris are also available, as well as an impressive range of other activities for such a large city, from snorkeling to cycling.
Sound too strenuous? If you just want to relax, Cape Town has you covered. The city’s many restaurants showcase a truly diverse gastronomic scene, from local specialties to steakhouses, to the Mediterranean and other international cuisines. There are many beaches on which you can relax, including the world-famous Boulder Beach, as well as bus tours and museums such as Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) and Iziko South African Museum. Cape Town truly is tourist heaven and one of the best South African cities.
Situated on the east coast of South Africa looking out onto the azure waters of the Indian Ocean, Durban is well worth a visit, being a cosmopolitan city with a strong Indian influence that offers a significantly different experience to Cape Town, the Rainbow Nation’s other major coastal city.
In the city itself, Durban Art Gallery is well worth a visit and offers a unique mix of tribal artifacts, modern African art, and historic European works. Durban’s beachfront, known as the Golden Mile, is a great place to stroll, with great views of the Indian Ocean and bars and restaurants along the way.
Speaking of restaurants… Durban’s culinary scene provides a great bang for your buck. As well as being one of the best South African cities for Indian food, the local steakhouses and seafood restaurants are undoubtedly some of the best in the country.
The executive capital of South Africa is best-known for its jacaranda trees, which blossom in the spring with stunning violet flowers. In fact, these beautiful blooms are so well-known that Pretoria is nicknamed “Jacaranda City.” Time your visit for October or November to see the jacarandas in their full glory.
It’s perhaps best-known as an academic and governmental city, but Pretoria has plenty to offer the discerning tourist. It also provides a relatively relaxed atmosphere that might come as a welcome respite from nearby Johannesburg (although the nightlife is surprisingly vibrant). Don’t forget to check out the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa and tour some of Pretoria’s numerous museums—and if you’re into fine dining, Pretoria’s upscale restaurants will definitely satisfy you.
Another capital city—in case you didn’t know, South Africa has three—Bloemfontein is relatively small but definitely worth the trip. South Africa’s legislative capital has a very pleasant, small-town feel to it, especially in comparison to cities like JoBurg and Cape Town, which can be overwhelming for the unprepared.
The best time to head out to the Free State and visit Bloemfontein is during October when the Manguang African Cultural Festival, an unmissable showcase of culture, arts, crafts, and sport, is in full swing. While you’re there, enjoy the city’s fancy restaurants, museums, and botanical gardens. It’s also the perfect jumping-off point to explore the landscapes and wildlife of the Free State.
Port Elizabeth, or Gqeberha, to give it its new official name, is the quintessential modern seaside resort city. If you like beaches, restaurants, casinos, hotels, water sports, and generally having a good time by the sea, head on down—although if the quaint olde-worlde charm is your thing, you can probably give Port Elizabeth a miss.
Port Elizabeth is also an excellent jumping-off point for safaris, with several nature reserves in the vicinity. In addition to spotting the Big Five, you can also hop on a boat and enjoy a marine life cruise with the opportunity to see penguins, dolphins, and humpback whales.
The megacity of Johannesburg is the bustling, sprawling heart of South Africa. Its nightlife, culture, museums, restaurants, and malls make it a must-visit for anybody who loves urban living—and the fact that it has some of the most opulent hotels in the country, including the truly stunning Westcliff Four Seasons, certainly doesn’t hurt.
The City of Gold is also a great place to discover South Africa’s history and culture. The Apartheid Museum provides sobering insight into a traumatic era of South African history, and tribal village tours enable you to experience the country’s traditional rural life in a day trip from its biggest metropolis.
These six cities are just a sample. Want to discover more great South African cities? Check out CrowdsourcedExplorer.com, where locals from more than 5,000 cities worldwide provide insights and tips for those looking to visit.