South Africa may be home to big cities known to many around the world, but the heritage and culture of this melting pot of a country can be best seen in the many villages and small towns scattered in the valleys and plains of its vast countryside, known as the ‘karoo’.
Dutch settlers, French refugees, British colonists, many other Europeans as well as the indigenous people of this country have contributed to a whole host of pretty settlements, some known for their incredible natural landscapes, others known for their relics of South Africa’s colonial past.
Farmland, national parks, vineyards, open wilderness, mountains and the majesty of the Atlantic Ocean are not only the backdrops to but also the beating hearts of these towns and have defined their populations from foundation to present day. Here are some of the most charming small towns in South Africa.
One of the oldest towns in South Africa, Eastern Cape’s Graaff-Reinet earns a place on this list because it is packed full of heritage buildings for you to admire on your visit. Relatively large compared to many other towns that we have featured, the residential buildings here are whitewashed and screaming for photos to be taken of them, particularly those on Parsonage Street and Somerset Street.
The Dutch Reformed Church, built in the late 19th century, towers above everything and is an impressive sight.
A coastal town in Eastern Cape province, Jeffreys Bay (more commonly known as ‘J-Bay’) has made a name for itself as something of a surf mecca; in fact, it’s known as the prime surfing location anywhere in South Africa.
There’s even a Surf Museum in town, complete with exhibitions and surfboard displays, tracing not only just the history of the sport but the development of surfing in the town itself; this grew out of the town’s hippie community of the 1960s and ‘70s, and now J-Bay finds itself one of the fastest growing urban areas in the country: surfing fans should visit now!
This town is the place to come if you want to learn more about the gold rush in South Africa, being the second (after Mac-Mac) to attract prospectors to find their fortunes in 1873. Not very much has changed here, so Pilgrim’s Rest – located in Mpumalanga province – is a very charming place to visit.
It’s practically a living museum, but there are also some quirky things to see here – one being the Royal Hotel, with a bar located in an ex-
church which was transported here from Cape Town.
Located on the edge of the Great Karoo – an unimaginably vast wilderness area like Australia’s Outback – the town that would become Prince Albert was founded in 1762. Its
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long history means there are fine examples of Cape Dutch, Karoo and Victorian architecture scattered around town, with 13 of them designated as National Monuments.
Good quality restaurants, art galleries, and the very famous art deco Showroom theater. It’s not far from here to extremely scenic Swartberg Pass, a road which has run through the mountains of the same name since 1881.
This Western Cape town is famous for its wine, whale-watching and beaches. The most well known beaches in town are Voëlklip Beach and the broad Grotto Beach, which look out onto Walker Bay – a protected area that’s where up to 70 whales a time can be spotted.
Each year between August and September hundreds of whales travel to the shallow waters of Walker Bay, which has a place on the Top Ten Whale-watching Locations according to WWF.
Combined with its dramatic coastal scenery this makes Hermanus a great place to visit.
The old town of Tulbagh (it was founded in 1699) is a veritable mecca for those interested in being surrounded by historical architecture; having been home to an equal number of Huguenots and Dutch settlers, there are a mix of styles at work here and as such a long list of heritage buildings to discover and admire.
This town is something of a hidden gem, being as picturesque as it is with dramatic mountains looming in the distance – and it’s also a wine-producing region, which makes this beautiful town even better!
Primarily famous for its centuries-old vineyards is the town of Franschhoek, but it’s the unspoilt Cape Dutch architecture that make this settlement one that is very charming to visit. The town gets its name from the Dutch ‘Fransche Hoek’ meaning ‘French Corner’, due to the fact that many French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in Europe made their way here from 1688; the town is also one of the oldest in South Africa.
On a visit to this town, filled with pretty architecture, you can learn about the history of the French and Dutch colonial settlers as well as go on wine tours.
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