10 of South Africa’s favourite small towns

Posted by Chloe Cowley on 18 May 2022

There are countless places to explore across the country, but we all love a beautiful small town. Each has its own character, quaint shops and usually, the kindest people you’ll ever meet. Whether it’s food, antique shopping, the beach or the mountains you’re after, South African dorpies have it all.

So, we asked our readers what their favourite ones are, and the answers were each more lovely than the last. Here are ten of the most popular destinations in South Africa. If we’ve missed yours, let us know on Facebook!

1. Haenertsburg, Limpopo

Picture: Mia Louw

This dainty village is perched on the slopes of the Wolkberg and Drakensberg mountains, also known as the Great Escarpment, in Limpopo. Due to its high rainfall levels, this town harbours some of the country’s most stunning indigenous grasslands and forests. With one main street, only about 350 families live here.

READ: Any excuse for a festival in Haenertsburg

For adventure seekers, it is the perfect spot to visit. The nearby George’s Valley will leave you spoilt for choice, offering everything from abseiling and rock climbing, to tubing and hiking. The Magoebaskloof Canopy Tour is another perfect way to enjoy the beautiful wilderness of Haenertsburg. Situated in a location untouched by urbanisation and home to many animals, you can expect to glide through peaceful forests and past misty waterfalls.

2. Clarens, Free State

Picture: Melanie van Zyl

This small town was established in 1912 and is found in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains. Dubbed ‘the jewel’ of the Eastern Free State, it has scenic views, a mild climate and a tranquil atmosphere which makes Clarens the perfect getaway.

If you love visiting art galleries, many well-known artists live in Clarens and so there are many lovely galleries to enjoy. Situated in the heart of Clarens, the Blou Donki Art Gallery is just one of them. If you’re brave, you can also go white water rafting down the Ash River or enjoy a delicious craft beer from the Clarens Brewery.

3. Franschhoek, Western Cape

Franschhoek makes TripAdvisor world destination list

Picture: Getaway gallery

Three centuries ago, this small town was founded by a community of two-hundred French Huguenots who settled in the Berg River Valley to escape religious persecution. Having realised the area’s potential for growing fruit and wine production, many vineyards were established throughout the valley, making this town the perfect place to visit if you have a taste for fine wine.

One of the best ways to discover the beauty of the Franschhoek valley as well as experience the taste of a variety of local wines is to take the wine tram along the wine route. Known as ‘the gourmet capital of the Cape’, Franschoek also boasts some of the best fine dining experiences in the country.

Plus, if you are interested in learning more about the rich history of the town, you could pay a visit to the Huguenot Memorial and Museum which provides a plethora of information and research on the Huguenots and their descendants.

4. Graaff-Reinet, Eastern Cape

Picture: Groot Kerk Dutch reformed church/Getaway gallery

Located in the heart of the Camdeboo National Park in the Great Karoo, this is the fourth oldest town in South Africa. If you love history, this is a great place to visit. Founded in 1786 by the VOC Dutch East India Company, the town has close to 220 heritage sites which are magnificent examples of Cape Dutch architecture.

READ: Stoep sitting in Graaff-Reinet, a town on a mission

There are plenty of museums to visit, most notably, Groot Kerk, a Dutch reformed church that was the first Christian church built in the Cape. The church was modelled on the Salisbury Cathedral in England.

The diversity of the fauna and flora in the Camdeboo National Park as well as the breathtaking rock formations in the Valley of Desolation make for beautiful sight-seeing attractions.

5. Dullstroom, Mpumalanga

Nestled in the Mpumalanga Highlands, Dullstroom is a charming town conveniently situated halfway to the Kruger National Park. At an altitude of 2100 meters above sea level, it is the highest village in South Africa which makes it a popular training spot in summer for top European Athletes.

READ: Dullstroom: Life on High

If you love to cast a rod, its crystal clear dams are perfect for trout fishing. If you are more of a golfer, then you can play a few holes on the Ernie Els-designed championship golf course. There are also plenty of cultural experiences to enjoy such as delicious restaurants, coffee shops and even a world-renowned whiskey bar.

6. Mtunzini, KwaZulu-Natal

Mtunzini Simon Kirby

Picture: Flickr Commons/Simon Kirby

This charming residential area is perched on a hill that overlooks the Indian Ocean. Between the town and the sea, on a strip of coastline, lies the Umlalazi Nature Reserve with scenic hiking and mountain biking trails. Here, you can walk through one of South Africa’s most spectacular mangrove forests.

If you’d prefer to lounge in the sunshine and enjoy the warm sea water, then Mtunzini Beach is perfect. Surrounded by sand dunes, it’s a great place to try your hand at dune surfing.

7. Greyton, Western Cape 

Greyton Axel Bührmann

Picture: Flickr Commons/Axel Bührmann

Greyton lies at the foot of the Riviersonderend Mountain range in the Overberg area. The town has plenty of quaint thatched cottages and grand gardens, and some buildings date back to 1860.

With some of the most beautiful fynbos in the Western Cape, the 17 km Greyton-McGregor Hiking Trail winds through the most picturesque areas of the town. Well-marked walks range from easy strolls to three-day hikes if you are up for a challenge. You can also go on 4×4 trails, try horse riding or enjoy fishing and swimming in the river.

If you’d rather have some retail therapy, you can explore Greyton’s quirky stores where you can buy antiques, silk quilts, art, homemade delicacies and designer clothes.

8. St Lucia, KwaZulu-Natal

Picture: Wikimedia Commons/Ossewa

This small yet charming village is the only private village that is surrounded by a World Heritage Site, which was awarded in 1999. Since then, St Lucia has become a top tourist destination.

The estuary boasts a range of different natural habitats, from coral reefs and beaches to coastal forests, and salt and fresh water marshes. The area is protected because it has five ecosystems, some of which home hippopotamuses and crocodiles.

Activities on offer include night drive safaris, hippo and croc boat tours, bush and beach safari, deep-sea fishing and Zulu cultural tours.

9. Swellendam, Western Cape 

You're invited to a mouth-watering gourmet weekend in Swellendam

Picture: Schoone Oordt Country Hotel/Getaway gallery

This town was established in 1745 and is the third oldest in South Africa after Cape Town and Stellenbosch. It lies at the foot of the Langeberg Mountain range and has over 50 national heritage sites. Steeped in history, the Drostdy Museum is a great place to visit if you want to be transported back in time, seeing artefacts of the town’s history that have been delicately preserved.

There are also plenty of beautiful hikes to do in the Marloth Nature Reserve.

10. Hogsback, Eastern Cape

Picture: The Edge Mountain Retreat. Picture: Teagan Cunniffe

Hogsback is famous for its three flat-topped mountains. With magical views, romantic waterfalls and thick indigenous forest it is one for the bucket list. If you want to relax in nature, this small town is perfect for you. You can even expect to see Cape parrots, Samango monkeys and Knysna louries.

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