cape town, table mountain, south africa

Top Things to Do in South Africa

This is the list I used when planning my trip to South Africa. Scroll through it and see what jumps out at you. Enjoy your trip, and ping me with any questions!

Johannesburg 

Two days is plenty of time to see all that Joburg has to offer. Tack on an extra day to do quirkier trips and explore the city. Uber is the best (and cheapest) way to get around if you’re new to the city and unaware of its good/bad areas, especially since there aren’t that many sidewalks for walking. Make sure your cell phone works overseas without crazy fees because there’s very little free wifi in this city!

  • Soweto
    • “For real insight into post-apartheid South Africa – a visit to the township of Soweto, home to an estimated 3.5 million people – you need to hire a guide. Besides providing a glimpse into how millions of black South Africans live today, Soweto is historically fascinating. Nobel Peace Prize-winners Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu both lived on tree-lined Vilakazi Street and Mandela’s former home is open to visitors. Left as it once was, Winnie’s military boots stand next to a bed with a jackal-skin throw, and old photos line the walls. Just down the road, the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, named after the 13-year-old whose murder by police sparked an uprising in 1976, is another hard-hitting reminder of the horrors of apartheid.” –Condé Nast Traveller
    • The guided tour of Mandela’s home is simply a memorized speech of significant dates. It’s interesting, but don’t expect it to take more than 20 minutes at the maximum.
    • The Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum was fantastic. It did a great job of explaining the uprising and its aftermath. All the feels.
    • I was skeptical of paying $70 to take a tour of Soweto, especially when I’d been told that it’s fine to walk around in the daytime. But I’m really glad we went with Township Travel (Siphiwe Kumalo info@township-travel.co.za sowetour98@gmail.com). The tour offers perspectives, not only from the tour guide, but from residents in their early 20s who take you around their neighborhood and answer all your questions. I highly recommend it!
  • The Apartheid Museum:
    • Built by the casino next door, this museum is pretty awesome. It’s also incredibly overwhelming (the layout is like a labyrinth!) and crowded. It’s worth a visit to learn some basics, but I think you’d get much more out of reading a book.
    • This place is difficult to get to. You can call an uber from where you’re staying, but there’s no wifi at the museum or the museum’s cafe to help you get back. Luckily, the pawn shop next to a gas station down the street has wifi. Ask an uber driver (they pull up to the museum all the time!) to take you to the gas station, ask for the pawn shop’s wifi and then request him/her on the app from there.
  • BOOKS!
  • Sporty Things
    • “If you can, try and watch a Premier soccer league game at the FNB stadium- kaizer chiefs (most famous and loved soccer club in SA) play there (world cup stadium finals were played and biggest stadium in south africa) tickets should be no more than $5 usd.  Sit in the heart of the crowd and get in the mix of their singing and dancing all game long. Another good PSL game to go to is Orlando stadium- for Orlando pirates (second most popular team in SA) –sit in the heart of the crowd to gain full experience.” -Emily Chow
    • “If you care to watch cricket games–you can watch at the wanderers stadium—warning: games can take up to 8 hours… or 3 hours for a “t cricket game”” -Emily Chow
    • “You can also go to Ellis Park, now known as emirates airline park to catch a rugby game. world famous stadium– where invictus was filmed and where mandela unified the black and whites thru sports.” -Emily Chow
  • Witchcraft
    • https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/museum-man-and-science
    • Kind of a letdown, actually. It’s only fun if you go with a tour and can have everything explained to you. The proprietors of the shop won’t take the time to point out all the cool stuff, (unless you show up at around 7 a.m. and ask for the owner’s son) which is understandable.

Click the link below to read more:

  • Sterkfontein Caves
    • “When was the last time you went underground? The Sterkfontein Caves are a World Heritage Site and home to fossils over 4 million years old. That’s ancient. These guys tell us about the precursors to modern humans and the Maropeng Centre offers insight into the development of the world as we know it using world-class interactive displays (my favourites are the boat ride through time, and the meticulous original fossil display). For more thorough information of the displays and history available read these excellent exhibition guides. Be sure to wear comfy shoes and practical clothing.” –Getaway Magazine
    • Locals (and Internet photos) said this place wasn’t all that. AND, unless you have a rental car, it’s really tough to get to. I skipped it and wasn’t upset.
  • Gandhi’s South Africa Connection
    • The Satyagraha House was once home to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (later known as Mahatma Gandhi) and his Orchards home is now a fascinating living museum-cum-guesthouse. The gorgeous home was named ‘The Kraal’ by Gandhi and his dear friend (who was also the architect) Hermann Kallenbach. The museum is filled with the intertwining history of these two men and is called the Satyagraha House after the passive-resistance movement of the same name. It is said that Gandhi began working on his principles of Satyagraha in this very house (although this could be more romantic thought than truth), which were later adopted by Nelson Mandela in the form of mass civil protest and passive non-compliance with the South African apartheid government as opposed to violent resistance. The house is fascinating and the gardens peaceful, it’s well worth an afternoon look. You can read more about the house and find photographs here.” –Getaway Magazine
  • Theatre
    • “Joburg has always had a lively theatre scene, dating back to the long-defunct Theatre Royal, which opened shortly after the city’s founding. The past decade has seen new theatres opening, including the Teatro at Montecasino and The Lyric, and the reopening of the Alexander Theatre, rounding out the mix of dozens of performance spaces and theatre complexes. The state-of-the-art Soweto Theatre opened in Jabulani two years ago, adding another 420 seats to the city’s estimated tally of about 17,000, and the historic Market Theatre in Newtown is getting a £6million refit.” –Condé Nast Traveller 
  • South African Lipizzaners
    • “Other than Vienna, this is the only place you will ever got to see performing Lipizzaners recognized by the Spanish Riding School. Booking can also be done via computicket.” 1 Dahlia Road, Kyalami (Follow the N1 towards Pretoria, take exit 108 Midrand, R561 Allandale Road towards Kyalami. Kyalami Road and Main Road intersects at the entrance to the Kyalami racetrack, turn right here. At the second traffic light, turn left and follow Main Road, look out for Maple Road to your right. Turn right into Maple Road and right again into Crocus Road), ☎+27 (0)11 702-2103 (lipizzaner@hixnet.co.za, fax: +27 (0)11 468-2718). –Wikitravel
  • Visit a gold mine,
    • “…such as the Old Kromdraai Gold Mine. The Kromdraai Gold Mine was one of the first gold mines on the Witwatersrand (the Johannesburg area today) and is situated in an unspoilt rural setting about 40 minutes drive from Johannesburg International airport and 20 minutes from Johannesburg city. R 1165-00 single ticket.” –Wikitravel
    • Since Joburg’s sole reason for existence is mining, it might be cool to check this out!

What (and Where) to Eat in Joburg

  • Masonja: “These are fried Mopanie worms Mashonzha Mashonzha is a traditional dish of the Zulu people. Mashonzha is basically mopane worms: mopane worms look like caterpillars but are non-poisonous. These worms are usually fried or grilled. They are usually served with peanut or chili sauce to enhance their flavor.” –Buzz South Africa
  • Waterblommetjiebredie: “Waterblomettjie is a vegetable stew made from some edible form of water lilies. This stew is regarded as the best company for pap and is usually spiced to enhance its flavor. Waterblommetjie is very popular in South Africa and as such, can be considered as one of the staple foods of South Africa.” –Buzz South Africa
  • Make a reservation! 
  • Top 5 Most Interesting Foods in South Africa
  • Stink bug

Kruger Safari (aka “Game Drive”)

  • Safari
    • Here’s the info for the tour we took (below). The price was reasonable, there were lots of animals and the lodge was absolutely fantastic! They were SO great that they offered to make me special meals to accommodate my food allergies. I was so, so happy with the whole trip!
    • Tour: 3 Day Greater Kruger Park Safari  
    • Mohlabetsi Safari Lodge
      • Balule Nature Reserve, Hoedspruit, 1380, South Africa
      • +27-82-503 -8863
      • www.gosafari.co.za
    • Company

Cape Town

  • Contemporary art museum in an old grain silo building
  • Walking Tour
    • Loved each of these tours! There are more than two. Get there in the morning and stay for the second tour after lunch!
    • “Cape Town Free Walking Tours will open your eyes to a fascinating world right under your nose that includes history, architecture and culture. The tours are free (tip-based) and all you have to do is pitch up and look out for their yellow umbrellas. Tours are every day (rain or shine) and leave from Greenmarket Square (corner of Burg Street and Shortmarket Street). The Historical City Tour starts at 11:00 and the Bo Kaap Tour (http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/bo-kaap) leaves at 14:00.” –Cape Town Free Walking Tours
    • Greenmarket Square offers a full range of African folk art plus well-priced CDs and souvenir clothing) for a real-deal bargaining experience.” –Time Out
      • This market is right next to the walking tour. It’s where we got all our souvenirs.
  • PENGUINS!
    • Check it: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/boulders-beach-penguin-sanctuary
    • Bring a bathing suit, towel and goggles if you want to go for a dip on one of the beaches
      • “Catch a train from Cape Town Station all the way to Simon’s Town (be sure to buy a First Class ticket). The train runs along the Kalk Bay coastline, an incredibly scenic train ride. From Simon’s Town you can either take the 30 or so minute walk through the historic little naval town, or catch a taxi. (source)
        • Airbnb to main train station: Uber calculator says roughly $7 (~R82)
        • Simons Town station to Beach: Uber calculator says roughly $6 (~R66)
        • Simons Town station to Beach: walking Google Maps says ~42 mins
      • “There’s a conservation fee of around R65 per person (bring some cash) (source)
      • “Take a MetroRail suburban train from Cape Town to Simon’s Town. The station at Simon’s Town is about 3 kilometres from Boulders Beach ; you can walk there by following the Main Road (M4) southwards until you get to Bellevue Road or take a Riki’s taxi from the station. (source)
      • “Best to go early or late (i.e. 1 hr before closing) to see most penguins” (source)
  • Table Mountain
    • Don’t hike it without a guide. There are poisonous snakes and the risk of getting lost and dehydrated is real. Every year, people die on this mountain.
    • You can take the cable car: make sure to buy your tickets beforehand online AND get in line VERY early or you could be waiting for a hour in the hot sun.
      • Last car down is 8:30 p.m., but the cafe closes at 8 p.m. and the wifi (I’ve heard) is shut off at 8:15 p.m.!
    • Call the Table Mountain park services before you go—the lifts are often closed if its too windy or cloudy.
    • If there’s too much traffic and uber/taxi lines are long, you can walk down the mountain and get a lift at the intersection right after the “information” hut. It’s about a ~25 min walk.
  • SHARK CAGE DIVING
  • Go Tobogganing 
    • “Whizz down Africa’s only toboggan track at Cool Runnings. Cost: R40 – R45 for a ride It’s hard to imagine tobogganing without snow, but Cool Runnings in Tygervalley offers exactly that. The stainless steel track has 17 s-bends, corners and a tunnel. Adrenaline junkies will love this experience, as you get to regulate your own speed and boy can things get speedy if you want! Sleds accommodate up to two people, so the little ones can go with Mum or Dad. It’s also a really popular venue for kiddies parties.” Website: www.coolrunnings.capetown  –Capetown Travel
  • Romantic Stuff
    • ZOMG GLOWING PLANKTON!!!!! “Glowing Plankton Of Kogel Bay Beach|Opt for a nice walk along the beach of Kogel Bay with your significant other (or imaginary girlfriend). On a clear night, the plankton along with phosphorus will light up the water when disturbed by feet trudging through. It’s truly a sight to behold as the water lights up blue beneath you. Just remember the rip tide and bull sharks.” –Keep Calm and Travel
    • Muizenberg moonlight meander: “In Cape Town, we make the most of the full moon. The …meander happens at 6pm on the Saturday closest to the full moon and brings together family, friends and loved ones for a leisurely stroll along the beach by moonlight. The walk starts in front of Knead bakery. Website: www.safertogether.org” –Cape Town Travel
    • “Marvel at the magic of our Milky Way at the Planetarium. This popular cultural institution hosts themed shows, the schedule of which is available on their website.” –Cape Town Magazine
    • “The South African Large Telescope, four hours north of Cape Town” –Atlas Obscura
    • Astronomical observatory
    • Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
    • SQUEE hahaha
  • Robben Island: Nelson Mandela 
    • Buy the tickets before you head to South Africa because they often sell out.
    • Call before heading over to the departure point to check and make sure the weather conditions allow for the tour.
    • Come with questions! There will be a former prisoner there to answer them.
    • “If you’re visiting by boat sit on the upper deck on the port side on the way out. If you can’t manage that (because space is limited) use the middle deck. That allows you access to the outside. Avoid the enclosed lower deck if you can.
    • “When you reach the tourist buses on Robben Island try to get seats on the right. All the best photo opportunities lie to your right (though you will be taking them through an open window so luck is involved).” –Andrew M.
  • Animals!
    • Cheetah Sanctuary
    • Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve has antelope, bird watching and baboons—keep your car locked and your purse under your arm because these buggers will steal anything!
    • Addo Elephant National Park
    • Rondevlei Nature Reserve has hippos,Cape Grysbok Porcupine, Cape Clawless Otter and Large-Spotted Genet.
    • SANCOBB “…is a non-profit organisation that aims to preserve and conserve seabirds and other sea life. SANCCOB allows visitors in for a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility where you can get a look at how a seabird hospital works and see how the penguins are treated and fed.”
  • Sporty(ish) Stuff
    • “Sandboarding on the dunes of Atlantis or Silversands in Betty’s Bay” –SAVenues
    • Climbing Lion’s Head at Full Moon: My all-time favourite activity despite having still to do it (which is probably why it’s still a favourite; once I’ve seen the heights I am to scale, I may change my mind). Lion’s Head is renowned for the incredible views out over Robben Island, the Atlantic Seaboard and the Blouberg beaches. The hour-long walk is extremely popular during the full moon. The climb though is pretty strenuous, and there are sections where your fear of heights and your rather tenuous grip on the mountain may result in early termination of said climb. But by all accounts it is worth it.” –SAVenues
    • Underground Tunnel Tour of the City: “If you are not claustrophobic and love adventure mixed with history, then take a tunnel tour and explore the labyrinth of tunnels under the city. These underground canals and rivers date back to 1652 when they supplied fresh water to the Company’s Garden, as well as to passing ships. As the years passed and the city expanded, the tunnels were created as a convenient way to divert mountain water to the ocean. For a while they were also used to transport sewerage, but have been carrying clean storm water since 1895. Armed with gumboots, a hard hat and a torch, you can now discover these underground canals with a qualified guide. Tours can range from 1-3 hours and you need to be reasonably fit. From R175 per person (depending on how many in the group).” -Getaway Magazine
    • “City Walk Saturdays event happens once a month starts in the Company’s Gardens, continues down St George’s Mall to Waterkant Street and progresses up the Fan Walk to St Andrew’s Square. It connects significant places in the urban heart of Cape Town through storytelling, public art, walking tours and retail offerings.Expect a wide variety of fun things to do and participate in. This includes free walking tour, photo exhibitions, an Instawalk, an outdoor library with book readings for kids, a jumping castle, face painting and SO much more!” –Cape Town Travel
  • Pretty Pictures
    • “Cape point: Roam the treacherous rocky promontory south of Cape Town and experience one of the most dramatic viewpoints in the country.” –Rough Guides
    • “In the Western Cape, towering sand dunes run to the edge of the sea and you examine a stunning and extensive collection of ancient rock art. The awesome vastness of the Kalahari Desert and its unique collection of wildlife is like an entirely different country stuck into South Africa.” –Forbes
  • Culture
    • “Established in 1994, the District Six Museum commemorates and educates visitors about the people of District Six.” –US News
    • “PechaKucha Night was devised in Tokyo in 2003 and draws its name from the Japanese term for the sound of ‘chit chat’. It was started as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public, but is now a massive event taking place in hundreds of cities around the world. PechaKucha Cape Town takes place every second month on a Tuesday evening and is usually held at The Assembly, or occasionally at The City Hall (you really want to go to that one for the venue alone). Each event has a selection of different speakers from all walks of life who present their talk in 6 minutes and 40 seconds, along with slides comprising 20 images displayed for 20 seconds each. Speakers range from artists to songwriters, to clowns and everyday people making a difference. Topics range from shark-spotting and travelling the world, to how to survive a robot uprising. That’s the great thing about PechaKucha, you never know what you are going to get. But you will always leave feeling inspired! And it’s free.” –Getaway Magazine
    • To do on Monday nights
    • On the first Thursday of every month, arts and culture in Cape Town has a late night, with dozens of art galleries and cultural events showcasing the wealth of talent that the Mother City has on offer. The event is completely free, with no structured tour, and no schedule to follow, you are free to absorb it all at your own leisure. To ensure your First Thursday can be catered to your own specific preferences, organisers provide a map and highlights of what is on show. From there it is all up to you.”-Cape Town Travel

What (and Where) to Eat in Cape Town

  • Science Café at Truth Coffee Join Truth Coffee in Buitenkant Street for interesting science talks on the last Thursday of every month from 18:00 to 20:00. The topics range from chemistry to physics to botany and the speakers make an effort to present them in a simple format (i.e. you don’t have to be a science boff to understand what they are talking about). Entrance is free and while you are there you can enjoy Truth’s famous coffee, along with pizza and light meals in a steampunk environment.” –Getaway
  • “On the last Saturday of each month, this family-owned (and run) traditional Greek restaurant prepares a set menu, and invites patrons to enjoy an unforgettable evening of traditional Greek dancing and plate smashing. While keeping things laidback and festive, the restaurant serves simple and delicious mezze, moussaka, and everything in between. Why you’ll love it If you’ve ever thrown a plate, you’ll know how cathartic and fun it is. Just give it a smash, and you’ll be hooked. Cost R220 per person (excludes drinks and 10% service charge) Contact 021 439 2106, info@mykonostaverna.co.za Location 343 Main Road, Sea Point, Cape Town” –Inside Guide
  • “Brandy and coke is a favourite local tipple, known colloquially as ‘Klippies and coke’, after popular local brandy Klipdrift. Another local name for it is Karate Water (because consumption is said to induce drunken bravado).” –Time Out
  • “Try the springbok shot—their national shot—[it] tastes super good, like peppermint!” -Emily Chow
  • Kingklip is an absolutely DELICIOUS local fish, which you can get at most restaurants.
  • Eat dinner at a prison! Pollsmoor Mess Prison in Cape Town
  • “Try a Gatsby – Cape Town’s signature super loaf, which is usually stuffed with slap chips and a range of other fillings like polony, steak, atchar, and much more. It’s delicious.” –Cape Town Magazine
  • Pop up restaurants
  • “The Alexander Bar, Café, and Theatre is a cosy and nostalgic, yet sophisticated and rather sexy establishment. If James Bond were ever to visit the Mother City, one would imagine that he’d look right at home sipping on a martini at one of the intimate corner tables. Visitors to Alexander Bar often come for cocktails and drinks prior to hitting up the Long Street party scene or will stay for dinner and theatre, the latter of which Alexander Bar has a rather risqué reputation. It’s a popular place without being rowdy and you’re guaranteed to meet fascinating ppl. While there, be sure to try the antique rotary dial telephones: you can use them to call up a waitron or chat to complete strangers across the bar. Where: 76 Strand St, Cape Town City Centre Contact: 021 300 1088 or info@alexanderbar.co.za Web: www.alexanderbar.co.za” –Southern Vines
  • Happy hour at the foreign exchange bar: “Starts at R25 The Foreign Exchange Bar in Observatory is a place where locals and internationals hang out for drinks and lots of fun times. There is everything from beer pong nights to salsa classes. The famed happy hour runs from 17h00 to 19h00 (happy two hours) where you can pick up a refreshing drink from as little as R25. Website: www.the/foreignexchange.co.za” –Cape Town Travel
  • Try traditional South African food

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