Looking for the best small towns in South Africa? If you’re into quirky little towns, off-the-beaten-path traveling, natural settings, and stargazing, this list is for you!
South Africa is a country rich in diversity. With its majestic landscapes, vibrant cityscapes, the friendly nation, and ‘lekker’ local food, it’s easy to fall in love with this beautiful country.
Situated at the tip of Africa, South Africa spans an impressive 1.22m km², which might make choosing exactly where to go (especially with limited time) extremely difficult. Added to that, no visit to South Africa would be complete without spending time in Joburg, Cape Town, the Garden Route, and of course, the Kruger National Park.
However, beyond the bustling cities and excitement of the Kruger, there’s so much more to explore. South Africa’s real character and charm lie, in fact, in its small towns. So, if you want to get a taste of South African culture and hospitality, visiting the charming small towns of South Africa is an absolute must. Before jetting off to South Africa, it’s also a good idea to see these handy travel tips for visiting South Africa.
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The best small towns in South Africa
Paternoster is a beautiful seaside village roughly 145km north of Cape Town. It’s one of the oldest fishing villages in South Africa and ideal for travelers looking for a romantic getaway. Apart from the stunning jagged cliffs and boulders on display here, Paternoster is also well known for its great seafood, excellent hiking trails nearby and tiny white-washed fishermen’s cottages lining the bay.
If it’s your first visit to Paternoster, this detailed guide on what to do in Paternoster highlights everything you need to know for your trip. It includes lots of tips like where to eat in Paternoster and where to stay in the village. Don’t leave Paternoster without:
- Eating fresh lobster and Cape Bokkoms (dried fish).
- Taking long romantic strolls on the beach at sunset, and lastly
- Having a picnic at the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve
More info: Find the perfect place to stay in Paternoster.
De Rust is so small that you’ll barely even notice it driving along the N12 on your way to Oudtshoorn. But, what makes this little town so unique is its quaint Victorian architecture. And of course, it’s close vicinity to Meiringspoort – one of South Africa’s most beautiful gorges and an absolute must on any South Africa itinerary. Don’t leave De Rust without:
- Stopping in at Tolbos, famed for its beautiful glasswork,
- Sampling the locally crafted dessert wines and cheeses, and
- Driving through Meiringspoort.
More info: Find the perfect accommodation in De Rust here.
Another great town to add to your ‘best small towns in South Africa’ list is Nieu-Bethesda. This isolated village in the Karoo lies roughly 60km from Graaff-Reinet and is an excellent choice for travelers looking to escape South Africa’s bustling urban life.
The town is not very big, but what it lacks in size it makes up with its quirky and charming vibes. Nieu-Bethesda is the perfect spot if you’re looking to wander around dusty roads, gaze at the stars, admire the rustic architecture or enjoy small-town vibes. Don’t leave Nieu-Bethesda without:
- Checking out Helen Martin’s weird yet unique art at the Owl House,
- Making a pit stop at the Brewery and 2 Goats Deli, and
- Gazing at the stars.
Cape Agulhas lies only 170km southeast of Cape Town, making it ideal for a quick weekend getaway. The sleepy town marks Africa’s southern tip, and it is also here where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. The town is notorious for its rugged coastline, rocky beaches, and shipwrecks dotting the coastline.
Add Cape Agulhas to your list if you are looking to enjoy laidback vibes, gentle strolls on one of the many hiking trails nearby, and stunning natural scenery. So, what shouldn’t you miss? Don’t leave Cape Agulhas without:
- Seeing the gorgeous view on top of the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse Museum,
- Visiting one of the nearby vineyards, and
- Trying your hand at deep-sea fishing.
When the hustle and bustle of city life get too much, locals from Joburg, Bloem, and even Durban flock to Clarens. And for very good reason. Clarens is a picturesque small town in South Africa, set at the Maluti Mountains’ foothills in the Free State. The village is well-known for its scenic views, cherries, and up-and-coming art scene. Don’t leave Clarens without doing at least one of these:
- Checking out the local art galleries.
- Trekking down dinosaur fossils on a Dinosaur Tour, and
- Taking a closer look at the sandstone formations at the Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
More info: Find the perfect accommodation in Clarens here.
Napier lies between Caledon and Bredasdorp in the Western Cape. Its unique blend of quaint cottages and modern housing makes Napier a must-visit small village in South Africa. But apart from this, the town is surrounded by rolling wheat and barley farmland, while the Soetmuisberg serves as its backdrop, making it even more appealing to locals and tourists alike! Don’t leave Napier without:
- Taking a selfie at the town’s giant sundial,
- Admiring the beautiful solid yellow copper pipe organ at the Dutch Reformed Church,
- Sampling some good old fashioned ‘karringmelk beskuit’ (buttermilk rusks) at one of the farm stalls,
- And lastly, visiting the Napier Brewery nearby is another must for avid beer enthusiasts.
Cullinan is only a 20–minute drive from South Africa’s capital city, Pretoria – making it ideal for a quick day trip. It’s home to one of the biggest diamond mines in South Africa, and most noteworthy, it is here where the Cullinan Diamond (the biggest diamond in the world) was discovered.
Besides stopping by the mine for a quick tour, there are many quirky shops and terrific restaurants well worth your time. To make the most of your visit, I highly recommend visiting during the week – especially if you want to escape the crowds who flock here to enjoy gentle strolls along the main road and gourmet food at one of the many eateries on weekends. Here are our top choices to do on your trip:
- Taking a tour of the mining area,
- Zip-lining through the Moningy Gorge,
- Marveling at the quirky art at Jan Harmsgat se Agterplaas, and
- Feasting on ‘damn’ delicious Greek food at As Greek As It Gets
More info: Find the perfect accommodation in Cullinan here.
Dullstroom is yet another amazing quaint South African towns. Besides being one of the country’s top fly fishing spots, Dullstroom also boasts a rich history dating back to the Dutch settlers. If you are on your way to the Kruger, don’t miss the chance to stop by here. It’s the perfect place to feast on trout and soak up the fantastic natural surroundings nearby. Here are our top picks for things to do in Dullstroom:
- Exploring the countryside on horseback,
- Giving fly fishing a go, and
- Trying the local beer at Anvil Ale House.
Graskop is a small forestry town on the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga. Although most people rush through Graskop rather quickly to explore the Kruger National Park, the village and surrounding area are well worth your time.
With magnificent views over low-lying valleys, hidden waterfalls, and lush forests nearby, Graskop is the perfect choice for nature enthusiasts. Some of the Lowveld’s most prized scenic wonders, such as God’s Window, the Blyde River Canyon, and Bourke Potholes, are also just a short drive away. Here are our top picks on what not to miss on your Graskop visit:
- Taking the Graskop Gorge Lift, where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic vistas before being transcended down into the lush gorge,
- Enjoying ice-cream with chocolate sauce pancakes at Harrie’s Pancakes, or
- Admiring some of the local art at one of the many stores in town.
Insider’s Tip: For those heading to the Kruger after exploring Graskop, these tips for a self-drive Kruger safari will also come in handy.
More info: Find the perfect accommodation in Graskop here.
Kaapsehoop is a short 30-minute drive from Nelspruit, the capital of Mpumalanga Province. This quaint town boasts an ancient gold rush history and oozes with rustic charm.
Besides the dusty roads and cute shops, Kaapsehoop is also an excellent choice for hiking enthusiasts. There are so many wonderful trails where you can immerse yourself in lush forests and even spot a few waterfalls along the way.
However, one of the biggest draws to Kaapsehoop is undoubtedly its free-roaming wild horses grazing peacefully in the pastures nearby. As a rule of thumb, please remember that the horses are wild, so it’s best not to approach them. Instead, admire them from a safe distance. Here’s what not to miss on your trip:
- Catching a glimpse of the wild horses,
- Devouring the pancakes at Koek’ n Pan, and
- Drinking a glass of wine next to Salvador’s fireplace.
For more things to do in Kaapsehoop, read my Kaapsehoop day trip from Nelspruit post.
There’s no doubt that South Africa has something to offer all traveling styles and interests. Whether you’re traveling with friends or loved ones, there are plenty of hidden gems and quirky small towns waiting to – be explored within its wide-open spaces.
Here are some great options for the best child-friendly hotels in South Africa for those of you who are exploring the country with your family. Make sure to check out the best destinations in South Africa if you’re traveling further afield.
Have you visited any of these small towns in South Africa? What tips do you have for fellow travelers wanting to see the best small towns in South Africa? Let us know in the comments below.
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