10 of the Most Exciting Cities in South Africa ~ South Africa is vast…
The cities in South Africa are, by default, large too (Johannesburg alone has over 500 suburbs and covers an area of over 520 square kilometres).
South Africa’s the 24th largest country in the world; five times the size of the UK, 3 x bigger than Japan and twice that of France. In fact it’s bigger than every country in Europe, except Russia, and every state in the USA, other than Alaska.
The cities in South Africa are many. Some are politically important (South Africa has three capitals – Cape Town, Pretoria and Bloemfontein) others are more like big friendly towns (Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein).
This list of the most exciting cities in South Africa includes some of the largest cities in South Africa – by default they’re also the most exciting – but it isn’t size alone that serves as a criteria for this list – these areas and cities in South Africa are exciting to visit, colourful and full of cultural and outdoor attractions, and an outdoor lifestyle.
It’s been labelled the best city for opportunity in Africa, voted as the best city in the world by British tourists, five times in a row (!), it’s featured in Fodor’s Go List and Conde Naste’s readers regard it as the second best overseas city in the World.
The multi-cultural, cuisine-rich, landscape abundant Cape Town is a headline act as far as cities in South Africa go. From its flat-topped mountain, popular, surf-ready beaches, generous outdoor spaces and basin-based city to its food markets, restaurants, craft breweries, fascinating cultural landmarks and fantastic weather, there is little here to interfere with a first-rate visit.
Known as the cool capital of the southern hemisphere (GQ) Joburg, like its sister city down south, is vibrant, sprawling and creative. It’s been ranked as one of the top African cities for investment and future growth, and the most popular city to visit in Africa based on its international overnight visitors.
It might lack a beach or two, but you’re hardly likely to notice given the frenetic pace of life, the rush of commerce, and the heady party scene. There are cultural attractions, art galleries you can visit at night (First Thursdays), rooftop bars and cinema, live music and clubs, urban-renewal projects, markets, museums and hipster neighbourhoods.
Port Elizabeth has been called the Friendly City or Windy City since forever, but it easily rates as the country’s most underrated city, with East London not far behind (the two are also reasonably close to one another, give or take 300 km).
From its historic downtown centre’s incredible architecture and powerful, albeit small, art scene to its trendy food scene suburb (Richmond Hill) Port Elizabeth is easily one of those cities to which you’ll lose your heart and wonder how you could have missed the incredible swimming beaches, the laidback lifestyle, the lighthouse, the seemingly endless dunes or the people!
It’s no surprise that Durban was voted best SA city in which to live in South Africa, with the highest quality of life (Mercer’s quality of Living survey), or that it’s rated the Second Best City in Africa, nudging in behind Port Louis in Mauritius.
The third largest of the cities in South Africa Durb’s’ revamped waterfront, skycar views from the top of the World Cup Soccer stadium, easy to swim in beaches, foodie markets and neighbourhoods, strong Indian influences, cultural routes and beachside suburb cum commercial hub, Umhlanga, make it a rather attractive alternative to its more animated sister cities.
East London is slowly earning a reputation as South Africa’s next-to-be-discovered city. Fondly known as the Buffalo City (East London has four rivers – and the best milkshakes in the country, according to locals), or Slummies (no-one’s sure where the name comes from but it might refer to the use of a very distinctive ‘slang’).
East London has its share of stunning, sandy beaches, boardwalks (Nahoon Point), historically rich architecture and an attractive laid back culture. Don’t miss a stop in Gonubie, just outside East London.
When it comes to natural beauty this 200 km drive between Mossel Bay and Storms River you’ll not find quite the same combination of ancient indigenous forest, mountains that crowd a shoreline littered with bays, sandy beaches and a feast of little towns in a hurry.
Touted as the Greatest Road Trip by CNN and other news providers, the Garden Route lies in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom with fynbos on all sides and a feast of outdoor activities that include anything from hiking and paragliding to fishing and swimming. It’s easily on of South Africa’s most popular regions.
South Africa’s Whale Route is one of the best places in the world to spot the southern right whale. It also has some of the best land based whale watching in the world.
All the way between Cape Town and Witsand between July and October you’ll find whales. The heart of the route is the Overberg’s Walker Bay (listed by WWF as one of the top 12 Whale viewing locations in the world).
The Eastern Cape’s Sunshine Coast (called such for its high number of annual sunshine hours) is 450 km of coastline that manages to effortlessly combine rivers, lagoons, blue flag beaches, malaria-free game reserves, top-notch birding and the only national park in the country to host the Big 7. That’s no small claim to fame.
It’s no mistake that it makes it onto our list of most exciting cities in South Africa, for its a coastline popular with adventurers and those after an escape from it all.
Head inland of Cape Town for an hour or so and you’ll find the Boland (upland) in amongst soaring mountain peaks that combine with cool breezes to create a microclimate so perfect for vines that the local towns of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Paarl and others have become famous for their wine estates, pavements strewn with foodie hangouts, coffee shops and some of the best wine in the world.
The winelands are awash with trendy B&Bs, boutique hotels and Cape Dutch manor houses.
Inland of Durban, en route to the Drakensberg, you’ll find an area rich in art galleries, guest houses, cheese and trout farms, potters, weavers and painters. Like its central England counterpart it’s a picture of countryside health with swaying grasslands, roadside cattle, undulating green hills that have inspired composers, sand roads and mountains off in the distance.
It’s also a well-mapped road network of routes to explore – we recommend you pick up a map at the nearest Visitor Centre.