The cities of Western Cape are distinguished by original architecture, called the Cape Dutch, and you will easily fall in love with them from the very first glance. This province has a mixture of cultures gathered in one territory: ancient Christian churches, mosques, Victorian-era chapels, and town halls decorated with Venetian glass, Dutch-style white houses of Afrikaners (found only in Western Cape), and fishing cottages. Today, all this architectural diversity coexists with skyscrapers and modern buildings.
When you find yourself in South Africa, go beyond Cape Town and visit these underrated places in the Western Cape. These 5 must visit cities in the Western Cape Province are known for its natural beauty and there are iconic sightseeing spots and historic landmarks worth exploring.
5 Must Visit Cities in Western Cape
Bredasdorp, South Africa’s first “dorp” (Town)
The pleasant agricultural town of Bredasdorp is situated in the heart of the Overberg Region, and lies about 25km from Agulhas, the southernmost region in Africa. Cape Agulhas, a sub-region of the Overberg stretches from Gansbaai in the west, through Buffeljachts, Die Dam, L’Agulhas, Struisbaai, and Arniston/Waenhuiskrans up to the Breede River in the east.
History: Bredasdorp can rightly be called South Africa’s first “dorp” (town), as it was in 1838 that Michiel van Breda, Cape Town’s first mayor, laid out the foundations on his farm Zoetendals Valley. Van Breda is also regarded as the father of South Africa’s merino sheep industry, a legacy that continues today, as Bredasdorp is still the commercial center for the wheat, wool, and dairy industries of the entire Cape Agulhas region. The town of Bredasdorp developed on the slopes of the Preekstorl (pulpit), a 368m high hill on which giant proteas grow profusely.
Arts and Culture: The grand old church still remains at the heart of the historic town. It forms part of an excellent museum complex that also contains the restored Rectory, with its period furniture made from shipwreck salvage.
Although the town is some 20km inland, it is home to an excellent and fascinating museum, the Shipwreck Museum, which has displays of large chunks of famous wrecks, tales of disaster as well as an interactive lighthouse which is great for the kids to play around in. The town is home to lovely churches, including the impressive Dutch Reformed Church (1911), the Reformed Church (1996), and the beautiful little stone All Saints Anglican Church (1861).
Those travelers interested in the history of the Merino sheep industry can check out the Merino Ram Statue in honor of Michiel van Breda at the farmers’ co-op near the silos on the Swellendam Road. Be sure not to miss the delightful creations of the local women at Kapula Candles factory and their gallery in Kapula Road. The company is famous for its more than 1 000 different candle designs.
Science and Nature: Visitors to this part of the Overberg Region will marvel at the serene natural beauty. This area reminded me of so many natural wonders found in Germany but here everything is just more exotic and unusual.
The massive milkwood tree on the farm Rhenosterfontein, considered to be one of the largest of its kind, has been named a provincial heritage site. The milkwood trees are well-regarded for their tough timber, used in the past for building boats and bridges. The flora in the Overberg is simply amazing, and at the Heuningberg Nature Reserve, situated at the foot of the Bredasdorp Mountain, there are spectacular sightings of many species of Protea and Erica species. The red Bredasdorp lily can be seen during April and May.
Entertainment: The Cape Agulhas region is a wonderful place to unwind and let nature entertain you. Bredasdorp is a gateway to a fascinating historical and cultural area, as well as to long white beaches, picturesque coastline, unique fynbos and rich bird life. Although very rural in nature, tourists can breathe easy, as all essential services are available. As for food, you can enjoy a hearty “potjiekos” (traditional stew). It reminded me of a traditional German dish called Eintopf.
Sport: For the active tourist, the Heuningberg Nature Reserve offers various 2 – 15km hiking trails.
Where to stay:
De Hoop Nature Reserve And Marine Protected Area – you can choose to stay in cottages, suites or campsites and explore local floral variety on foot, bike or by taking a scenic drive. Around here you can spot bontebok, mountain zebra and Cape vultures.
Hangklip-Kleinmond, in the Whale Coast of Western Cape
The Hangklip-Kleinmond coast is only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, and its massive mountain range runs along False Bay. Within this unique area lie the towns of Rooiels, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond.
History: The picturesque area has a long history, and archaeological evidence shows that the early inhabitants were the Khoe. Hangklip was often the refuge for runaway slaves in the 18th century, while sailors often referred to it as the “False Cape” because of its resemblance to Cape Point.
Arts & Culture: Local arts and crafts can be seen at a few galleries and shops at Kleinmond Harbour and Pringle Bay.
Science & Nature: The area is so important due to its natural beauty and botanical significance that it became the first UNESCO-declared Biosphere Reserve in South Africa in 1998. In January 2005, the people of Kleinmond celebrated as Blue Flag Status was granted to Kleinmond Main Beach.
Entertainment: One of the most amazing marine drives can be taken from Gordon’s Bay to the Cape Hangklip, where the road dramatically brushes the mountains on one side and steep cliffs drop to the Atlantic Ocean on the other. Kleinmond Lagoon is the end point for the annual Totalsports Challenge. This demanding seven-discipline event makes its way from Gordon’s Bay and eventually ends up at the Lagoon.
Sport: The outdoor enthusiast will find this piece of coastline amazing for water activities. Many of them can be enjoyed around Europe and, of course, at the most beautiful lakes of Bavaria in Germany. However, many of them are unique to the region such as scuba-diving, crayfishing, river-rafting, and shell collecting, as well as plenty of activities to do in the mountains.
Interesting fact: South Africa was the first country outside Europe to win Blue Flag status for its beaches. The towns of Hangklip-Kleinmond, Hermanus, Stanford and Gansbaai in the Western Cape are collectively called the Cape Whale Coast since they are some of the best places in the world to see the whale. The best time for viewing is between June and November.
Where to stay:
Whaler’s Point Accommodation is a delightful ocean-front country inn, situated on the beach of Sandown Bay, overlooking pristine Cape coastline, in the heart of the world’s richest floral kingdom.
Arniston, a Picturesque Place in Western Cape you wouldn’t want to leave
Picturesque Arniston, also known as Waenhuiskrans, is 25km southeast of Bredasdorp and just two hours’ drive from Cape Town. It is best known for neighboring Kassiesbaai, a quaint 200-year old restored fisherman’s village. The entire village is a provincial heritage site that has stolen the hearts of many writers, artists, and photographers who come for peace and inspiration and who love the whitewashed thatched cottages.
History: Interestingly, the town of Arniston has two names. The original Afrikaans name is Waenhuiskrans, which literally means “wagon house cliff.” This derives from the town’s huge tidal cavern, which is easily accessible at low tide for anyone wanting to explore. The English name, Arniston, is in memory of the 372 people who drowned when the British East Indiaman transport ship “Arniston” ran aground in May of 1815. About 12km northeast along the coastline at Marcus Bay, anyone interested in shipwrecks can go and check out the remnants of Clan McGregor, yet another ship that was wrecked off the coast.
Arts and Culture: For the visitor interested in arts and crafts, there is a craft center at Kassiesbaai displaying and selling local arts and crafts.
Sport: Clambering over the rocks and walking around the naturally eroded cliffs is a pleasure for fishermen looking for a good angling spot.
Interesting fact: If you like Kassiesbaai so much that you’d like to make it your home, here’s a bit of bad news: you actually have to be born there to be able to live there!
Where to stay:
Arniston Spa Hotel – with the Indian Ocean on its doorstep, set in the beauty of white limestone cliffs, giant sand dunes, pristine beaches, alongside a charming 100-year old fishing village on South Africa’s southernmost coastline, the Arniston Hotel is known as one of the world’s great getaways. Enjoy a multitude of activities, including whale watching from June to November.
Stellenbosch, on the Wine Route in Western Cape
Known as the Eikestad (City of Oaks), the historic town of Stellenbosch is 46km east of Cape Town. An interesting fact about Stellenbosch in the Western Cape it that it was the first town to market the idea of a Wine Route. The drive from Cape Town to the wine region is so scenic and it is a city you must visit in Western Cape, South Africa.
History: Stellenbosch is second only to Cape Town in the “oldest town in South Africa” stakes. One of Simon van der Stel’s first missions, when he arrived as governor in the Cape in 1679, was to explore further up the Eerste River. He came upon a magical little valley and named it Stellenbosch (Stel’s Bush). By 1687, sixty freehold grants had been made, and within 25 years, Stellenbosch was well established and thriving.
Arts and Culture: Dorp Street consists of one of the most extended rows of old buildings in the country, and the attractive frontages and well laid out town center encourage casual walks. The highlight of the town is the Stellenbosch Village Museum, which consists of four homesteads and gardens ranging from the late 17th to mid 19th centuries.
Further down Dorp Street, you will come across the now-famous Oom Samie se Winkel, a Victorian-style shop dealing in antiques and trinkets. Left into Strand Street, visitors can check out the Rembrandt van Rijn Art Museum chock full of South African art and at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre that inspires creativity.
Science and Nature: Situated in the fertile Jonkershoek Valley, the famed wine route of Stellenbosch consists of over 100 wine estates and produces some of the Cape’s best reds.
Entertainment: Festivals include the Simon van der Stel Festival, which takes place in October every year to commemorate the birth of the founder of the town, as well as the Stellenbosch Food and Wine Festival. The Spier Summer Arts Festival also livens up summer nights at the Spier Wine Estate near the city.
Sport: There are two excellent golf courses in Stellenbosch; the Stellenbosch Golf Course and De Zalze at the Spier Estate.
Where to stay:
Crofters offer charming, spacious, fully-equipped, self-catering garden suites in a unique setting. Every apartment has a separate kitchenette. A sparkling salt-water pool and deep chairs invite guests to relax while the staff provides a friendly and personalized service.
We stayed nearby the lovely Virgin Limited Edition property Mont Rochelle in Franschhoek, another beautiful wine region.
Swellendam, an underrated city in the Western Cape on the Garden Route
Lying 97km from Caledon at the foot of the Langeberg, Swellendam is an attractive historical town. This underrated town in the Western Cape makes for an excellent stop along the N2 between Cape Town and the Garden Route.
History: Swellendam was established in 1745 by Baron Gustav von Imhoff as a sub-magistracy of the Stellenbosch district, which had become a little too out of control for the powers that be. The village that grew around the drostdy (magistracy) was named after Governor Swellengrebel and his wife Helena Ten Damme. Later, in 1865 a huge fire destroyed many of the village’s gracious homes and razed much of the town center.
Arts and Culture: Swellendam is the third oldest magisterial district in the country and as such has some wonderful examples of Cape Dutch, Cape Georgian and Cape Victorian buildings. Included in these is the old Drostdy, now part of a museum complex that contains a huge amount of period furniture.
One of the few buildings to escape the blaze of 1865, the Oefeningshuis, has an interesting history as a place of worship and schooling for freed slaves. Other places of cultural interest include Suurbrak, an old mission station and the old jail building, where the jailer doubled as the postmaster! Several well-known artists and potters have settled in Swellendam and their studios may be visited.
Science and Nature: Bontebok National Park, 7km from Swellendam is a wonderful excursion for the whole family. The park provides sanctuary to the threatened bontebuck, which was hunted so intensely by colonists that in 1830 only twenty-two remained.
Entertainment: A very popular activity in Swellendam is the cruise on the Buffeljags Dam, at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains. Once on board the fully decked out double-decker wooden raft, visitors can take in the magical scenery, have a swim or catch a fish.
Sport: Tourists who bring their golf clubs can have a round at the 9-hole course, while the outdoor enthusiasts can be kept busy by canoeing on the Breede River, or immersing themselves in the many water activities at the Buffeljags Dam.
Where to stay:
Adin And Sharon’s Hideaway is the First B&B to be awarded 5 Stars by Tourism grading council of S.A. This country guest house has rooms that are spacious, well-appointed, elegant, and air-conditioned en suite rooms.
Written by Inna Nedostupenko from the Executive Thrillseeker, an adventure travel blog that will teach you how to travel smarter, cheaper and longer!
I hope this list inspired you to visit some of these underrated cities in the Western Cape near Cape Town when planning your next trip.
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