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The quaint town of Knysna with its shimmering lagoon, quirky shops, and delicious oysters might not be a secret anymore, but it remains one of the most picturesque highlights along South Africa’s Garden Route.
Neatly tucked away along the N2, Knysna is home to a plethora of amazing things to do. While most visitors rush through Knysna rather quickly en route to the likes of Plett, Storms River Mouth, and the Addo National Park, it’s worth spending a couple of days here to really get acquainted with all this beautiful South African town has on offer.
Here are 14 of the best things to do in Knysna.
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Knysna Itinerary Travel Tips
Before we dive into the best things to do in Knysna, here are a few tips to make your trip all the easier.
- Knysna is a popular getaway destination among locals, especially over the December holidays and special holidays like Easter. If you must visit during peak season, book accommodation a couple of months in advance.
- If you’re planning on seeing more of South Africa, this Lonely Planet guidebook offers a great introduction to the Rainbow Nation’s best bits. For those only visiting Cape Town and the Garden Route, this guidebook is a great alternative.
- The best way to see all of Knysna’s best attractions is independently. If you don’t have your own set of wheels, rent a car to explore the area at your own pace.
- If you’re a first-time visitor to South Africa, these travel tips for South Africa will also come in handy.
- While Knysna is a safe destination to visit, it’s best to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances. Get comprehensive travel insurance from World Nomads so that you and your belongings are covered.
The Best Activities & Things to do in Knysna
Visit the Knysna Waterfront
There are loads of amazing attractions in Knysna, and the Knysna Waterfront is one of them.
The waterfront is a lively area chock-full with Knysna’s best restaurants and an array of shops selling everything from clothes to jewelry to souvenirs. It’s a lovely place to do some retail therapy, take a relaxing stroll, eat the freshest seafood imaginable, and of course, admire all the lavish yachts in the marina.
For the best seafood, don’t miss 34 Degrees South. The restaurant has an incredible selection of sushi, seafood, and lip-smackingly delicious treats on offer at their gourmet deli. If you’re looking for more great seafood, Drydock Food Co is another excellent option. The calamari is to die for! It is also a great spot to watch the sun melt away over the Western Head!
Take a cruise on the Knysna Lagoon
Another fun thing to do in Knysna is to take a cruise on the gorgeous Knysna Lagoon. There are several departure points, but the waterfront is the main base for some of Knysna’s best lagoon tours, and you’ll find several tour operators here.
The John Benn (a double-decker floating restaurant) is one of the oldest and most famous cruise liners in Knysna. The tours are 90 minutes long and take you across the Knysna Lagoon to the Knysna Heads.
However, for something truly magical, opt for a sunset cruise on board a luxury yacht. While it is definitely more pricy than other lagoon tours in Knysna, it won’t disappoint! Watching the changing skies as you cruise along the estuary into the Indian Ocean is undeniably a memorable experience! The best part? You’ll get to enjoy all the sights and sounds and abundant marine life with a glass of bubbly in hand!
See the Knysna Heads
No Knysna itinerary would be complete without seeing the town’s most iconic sight – the Knysna Heads. The Heads are a set of two soaring cliffs separated by the Knysna Lagoon, which spills into the Indian Ocean.
Both Heads offer equally fantastic views over the tranquil lagoon and raging sea below, but the Eastern Head is the most accessible. In fact, it only takes a quick drive through suburbia to get to the phenomenal East Head Viewpoint. Here you’ll find a lovely trail with well-maintained walkways all along the cliff. The views are simply breathtaking, so don’t forget your camera!
Further afield, pop into the East Head Cafe, sitting right at the cliff’s base. The views here are really special and it’s a great place to sit back and enjoy the scenery. If you’d rather have a picnic, lovely Coney Glen Beach is just around the corner. Here you can braai, splash around in the rock pools, hunt for seashells, or simply take in the beautiful surroundings!
If you also want to visit the Western Head, you’ll need to join an organized tour. This is because the Western Head is actually a privately owned nature reserve known as the Featherbed Nature Reserve. The 150-hectare reserve is revered for its fynbos-lined trails, stunning coastal views, and incredible wildlife. For more info on available tours, see their website here.
Stroll around Thesen Islands
Thesen Islands is a cool area in Knysna that definitely deserves a spot on your Knysna to do list!
Located on the Knysna estuary and linked to the mainland by a bridge and causeway, this chic marina development area holds 19 human-made islands, right next to the Knysna Waterfront. While the residential area, which contains more than 500 colonial maritime-styled houses, is closed off from tourists, you’re free to stroll around the main square. Here you’ll find stacks of boutique shops, galleries, quirky eateries, and amazing scenery right at its center.
Besides browsing, shopping, and grabbing a bite to eat, Thesen Island is also the best place in Knysna to get a close-up look at the endemic Knysna seahorse. It’s one of only two endangered seahorse species in the world. The Turbine Hotel organizes free tours, and you can drop by any time to book a spot.
Enjoy a Spa Day at Pezula
If you get tired of exploring Knysna town, book a pamper session at the uber-luxe Pezula Spa.
With lakes, mountains, forests, and pristine beaches on your doorstep, the Pezula Nature Hotel & Spa is surrounded by the most beautiful scenery imaginable. Located on the Eastern Head of Knysna, the resort is home to an incredible spa and just the place to spend a relaxing day away from it all. The Wellness Quarter offers a range of spa treatments, including facials, massages, tinting, waxing, body wraps, and more. You can even book a consultation with the onsite Homeopath to reconnect with your inner zen or soak in a luxurious Wood Fire Hot Tub!
Afterward, make a point of strolling through the luxurious resort boasting a Championship Golf Course and a fabulous restaurant using only the finest locally sourced ingredients. If you feel like spoiling yourself, book a night’s stay in one of the dreamy suites for the ultimate getaway!
See the castles of Noetzie
Knysna is probably the last place you’ll expect to see castles. But just on the outskirts of town, you’ll find Noetzie – a charming cove home to a beautiful beach and several cool-looking castles.
Noetzie is a unique place to visit in Knysna and quite a hidden gem. With the castles and thick forest of the Sinclair Nature Reserve behind you and the sandy beach and blue waters of the Indian Ocean in front of you, the setting here is absolutely breathtaking.
There are only a handful of castles along the pristine beach, creating a really romantic atmosphere. Unfortunately, the castles are actual residences, so you won’t be able to have a peek inside. Nonetheless, it’s still a great place to have a wonderfully unique experience and see the castles for yourself. Although the beach is not very big, it’s perfect for basking in the sun, enjoying a picnic or cooling off in the water. Just a heads up, don’t go in too deep as the currents are very unpredictable here!
Insider’s Tips: To get to Noetzie, you’ll need to drive on a gravel road through a shackland. Please lock your car’s doors and roll up the windows while passing through this stretch. Noetzie is a very isolated place with no security, lifeguards, or cafes! Therefore, it’s best to visit Noetzie in a group, and I really wouldn’t recommend coming here solo. Once you reach the parking area, get ready for a steep climb down to the beach along a narrow path and stairway hewn into the cliff. Be ready to break a sweat!
Wander through the Garden of Eden
Garden of Eden, just on the outskirts of Knysna, is a wonderful place to get lost in the sublime forests of the Tsitsikamma.
The walking site comprises two low-key walking trails following well-maintained boardwalks through thick forest and across gentle streams. While the trails are hardly the longest (or toughest) in the area, it’s what lies within these forests that make it such a must-visit Knysna attraction.
Here, you’ll find abundant plant and animal life, as well as towering trees – some even centuries old. There are also loads of benches and picnic tables scattered along the way, perfect for taking a breather or enjoying a picnic in the woods!
If you’re looking for something a bit more challenging, this 4-hour Diepwalle Forests guided hike offers a fully immersive experience in Knysna’s ancient forests. The trail leads you through indigenous forests filled with giant sacred trees, serene streams, and tons of incredible wildlife. If you’re lucky, you might get a chance to spot the elusive Narina Trogon!
Eat the famous Knysna Oysters
If you happen to visit Knysna during July, then you’re in for a real treat! Every year, Knysna hosts a 10-day long oyster festival celebrating the town’s famous home-grown oysters and love for seafood.
The Oyster Festival is a BIG deal, with people from all over South Africa and abroad attending this special Knysna activity. With oyster tastings, live music performances, buskers on street corners, and numerous themed activities, it’s undoubtedly one of the best festivals in Africa!
While you’d be able to taste Knysna’s incredible gourmet oysters just about anywhere at the harborfront, for something really fun, book this oyster cruise instead. That way, you can sample Knysna’s fine oysters, sip on South Africa’s best wine and enjoy incredible views – all in one go!
Go swimming at Buffels Bay
The Garden Route is home to so many beautiful beaches that it’s hard to keep track of them all. But if you’re looking for a pristine stretch of white sand, then Buffels Bay is the place to be!
Buffels Bay (also known as Buffelsbaai or Buffalo Bay) is located in the Goukamma Nature Reserve, roughly 21km from Knysna and surrounded by rolling hills covered in fynbos and a great beach perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and hunting for seashells. It’s a great place to relax, soak up the vibes and even grab some grub. The Buffalo Bay Waterfront Restaurant makes a lip-smackingly delicious cheeseburger, and if you sit outside on the massive wooden deck, you’ll get a fantastic view over the entire bay!
If you’re into hiking, the Buffalo Bay Trail is a low-key hike that offers fantastic views. The trail is about 4km long and ends near the Goukamna river mouth.
Since visiting Buffels Bay is one of the best things to do in Knysna, the beach is almost always packed. Don’t come too late if you want the best spot! If you’re visiting from July to October, it’s not uncommon to spot dolphins playing in the waves.
Catch the sunset at Brenton-on-Sea
Another must-visit place on your list of things to do in Knysna is the sun-drenched shores of Brenton-on-Sea. Located only 15-minutes drive from town, Brenton-on-Sea is a tiny seaside hamlet best known for its laidback vibes, spectacular scenery, endangered blue butterflies, and epic sunsets.
It is a great place to spend a leisurely day, and you should definitely visit for more than just the sunset! Besides slipping into all the quirky cafes and posh eateries, make a point of visiting Brenton Beach. This stunningly beautiful 7km strip boasts soft golden sand and azure-colored waters. It’s the perfect spot for sunbaking, swimming, or enjoying a long stroll along the pristine coastline that makes this part of South Africa so famous. If you’re up for it, you can even walk all the way to Buffels Bay!
Go Whale Watching
Every year from May to December, Knysna’s shores welcome some very special visitors; humpback whales. If you’re lucky enough to be here during whale season, you’re almost guaranteed to spot these gentle giants frolicking along the coastline.
Since whale watching is one of the top things to do in Knysna, there’s no shortage of excellent whale watching tours on offer. Tours usually last for 2 hours, and is a great way to see these beautiful creatures up close!
Hit the surf at Victoria Bay
Victoria Bay is a beautiful cove and one of the best surfing spots along the Garden Route. Although it is closer to George, the stunning scenery is more than worth the odd 45-minute drive to get here.
If surfing is not your thing, then opt to take in the scenery, bask in the sun, splash around in the waves, or bring a couple of steaks to braai at the onsite facilities near the cafe. Just a heads up, Victoria Bay is tiny, so don’t expect loads of things to do here. But, definitely drop by for the scenery and laidback vibes!
Go shopping in town
Shopping might not be on your Knysna activities list. Still, you’ll find an excellent collection of quirky shops and craft stores selling everything from handmade jewelry and tie-dye clothing to home decor and African handicrafts within town.
Most of the shops are centered along Main Road. But you’ll be missing out if you didn’t also explore all the nooks and crannies further afield. If you’re specifically looking for African arts and souvenirs, the stores near the rear of Woodmill Lane Shopping Center are a great starting point.
Take a day trip
As you can see, Knysna has loads of amazing things to do. But did you know, the Garden Route is absolutely littered with amazing places to see? If you’re keen to see a bit more than just the town, here are some great day trips options.
- Monkeyland: Located just outside Plett in The Crags, Monkeyland is a sprawling multi-specie primate sanctuary. Here you can learn more about various species and walk among all kinds of free-roaming monkeys. It’s a great activity and a fun place for the whole family. Grab your entry ticket here.
- Plettenberg Bay is one of the most beautiful coastal towns along the Garden Route. Best known for its swanky beachfront eateries, dreamy white-sand beaches, and excellent hiking trails in the Robberg Nature Reserve, Plett makes for a great day trip from Knysna. For more info, read my detailed Plettenberg Bay travel guide.
- Storms River Mouth is a world-famous nature reserve right in the heart of the Tsitsikamma. It offers stunning hiking trails and varied adventure activities like snorkeling, kayaking, and river tracing. Read all about the best things to do in Storms River here.
- Nature’s Valley is the Garden Route’s best-kept secret, and most people only know it as the finishing mark of the famous Otter Trail. However, this scenic bay is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in South Africa! You can read more about what to do in Nature’s Valley here.
- Wilderness: Another excellent place to visit near Knysna is Wilderness. This beautiful seaside town boasts wide pearly beaches, a nature park home to leopards, and one of South Africa’s most incredible hilltop lookout points – The Map of Africa.
Where to stay in Knysna
Knysna is a popular holiday destination, with heaps of great accommodation options to suit every budget. However, if you’re planning to visit during peak season, make sure to book accommodation well in advance. Here are my top picks on where to stay.
LUXURY: Head Over Hills is a gorgeous 5-star retreat right on top of the Eastern Head. The rooms are simply sublime. Large glass doors open up to broad wooden decks, allowing you to wake up to the most stunning views imaginable! With the crashing waves of the Indian Ocean below you and the towering cliffs beside you, it doesn’t get much better than this! Check rates and availability here.
AFFORDABLE LUXURY: With the Knysna Waterfront right on your doorstep, the Protea Hotel by Marriot Knysna Quays is a great base if you want to be right in the thick of it all. What’s more, this 4-star hotel offers beautifully decorated rooms at surprisingly affordable rates. Check rates and availability here.
MID-RANGE: Aha The Rex Hotel is a lovely 4-star hotel within walking distance from the waterfront and town center. The rooms are spacious. clean and modern. What’s more, the amazing outdoor pool is just the place to cool off after a long day out exploring Knysna’s best attractions! Check rates and availability here.
How to get to Knysna
The best way to explore all of Knysna’s best bits is by car at your own pace. Most people drive down from Cape Town, but flying into George Airport is a great alternative if you’re coming from elsewhere in South Africa. The airport is located only 70km west of Knysna, and you’ll find a good mix of car rental companies here.
Baz Bus also has frequent hop-on-hop-off buses at affordable prices down to Knysna for backpackers on a slightly tighter budget. Book your seat here.
What to do in Knysna in Conclusion
Whether you’re coming to soak up the epic scenery, indulge in the delicious oysters, or encounter wildlife, a visit to Knysna will surely be an unforgettable one!
Well, that wraps up this guide on what to do in Knysna. Have you visited this beautiful little town? Feel free to share your top tips, favorite activities, and anything in between in the comments!
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