South Africa is unquestionably one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Studded with awe-inspiring landscapes, crammed with wildlife, and blessed with some of the most diverse, vibrant cities on the continent, it offers an excellent lifestyle for expats. But for all its perks, it also has areas that are dangerous, disadvantaged, and downright disastrous for people who don’t do their homework before making the move. If you’re planning on making South Africa your home, don’t call the realtor before checking out our round-up of the 20 best places to live in South Africa.
Very few people have heard of Gariepdam, let alone visited it. And that’s part of its charm. Small, low-key, and friendly, it’s the perfect antidote to the 24/7 lifestyle of the big city. While it’s not the place to head for thrills and spills, the astonishing beauty of the surrounding coast is a delight, as is the lovely selection of shops and cafes and the very inclusive community. As places.co.za notes, it’s also very well connected, with an excellent road network connecting the town to the Eastern Cape, North and South Namibia and Botswana.
Pietermaritzburg is a modern college town that might be a little small and sleepy, but still has plenty to offer. Located in the foothills of the Drakensberg mountains, it’s a hot destination for nature lovers. Those who prefer shopping malls to hiking trails will be pleased to know Durban is just a 40-minute drive away. Housing is affordable and despite the city’s small size, there’s enough variety between the neighborhoods to give you plenty of choice. While attractions and amenities are fewer on the ground than in bigger cities, there’s still a good selection of restaurants, stores, and bars to keep you entertained, not to mention some very fine art galleries.
18. Graaff Reinet
If the big city attractions of Cape Town, Johannesburg, and the like leave you cold, you’ll find no end of attractive small towns to consider. Graaff Reinet is one of the most charming. South Africa’s fourth oldest town is a gorgeously preserved delight, with wide, leafy streets, quaint stores, and an array of enticing restaurants and cafes. If you want to make the most of South Africa’s natural beauty, the nearby Camdeboo National park and the Valley of Desolation won’t disappoint.
17. Coffee Bay
Coffee Bay may be tiny, but it’s big on attractions. Located on the Wild Coast (an area of coastline completely untouched by commercialization or industrial development), it’s astonishingly beautiful, with acres of fertile green hills dipping into the sparkling turquoise ocean. If you’re into clubs and bars and 24/7 entertainment, you might want to give it a miss. If you’d willingly sacrifice the thrills of the urban for the attractions of the rural, you’re going to love it.
16. Cape St. Francis
According to Expatica, the seaside town of Cape St. Francis ranks as one of the best places to live in South Africa. Small, friendly, and relaxed, it’s a popular destination with people looking for affordable waterfront living. The crime rate is low, with most people feeling content enough not to bother with the gated compounds and 24/7 security that are a necessity in many parts of South Africa. It’s not the biggest or most happening place around, but if you’re willing to trade nightclubs and casinos for safe streets and chill vibes, you won’t be disappointed at making it your home.
15. East London
Known for its stunning location on the Indian Ocean, East London is the ideal destination for people who want to combine urban living with natural beauty. At face value, it’s a not particularly attractive industrial city and a major commercial port. Dig just a little under the gritty surface, however, and you’ll uncover a laid-back seaside town with a great selection of beaches, some excellent opportunities for wildlife spotting, scores of natural attractions, plenty of fine restaurants and bars, and to top it off, one of the best natural history museums in South Africa. If you want to live by the waterfront but don’t have a ton of cash to spare, it’s a great option.
According to tulbaghtourism.co.za, Tulbagh is the fourth oldest town in South Africa, with a history that dates back to the early 1700s. Crammed with beautifully preserved historical architecture and set in one of the most scenic regions of the country, it’s a safe, welcoming community with a lot to offer. Single young things looking for 24/7 action might find the slow pace of life dull, but for families and retirees looking to enjoy the benefits of living in one of the safest, prettiest towns in South Africa, it’s hard to fault.
13. Jeffreys Bay
If you dream of living by the sea, the surfing paradise that’s Jeffreys Bay makes a great option. Stuffed with surf shops, trendy cafes, and hip bars, it has a youthful, chilled vibe that’s perfect for young couples and singles. Accommodation is affordable, with plenty of reasonably priced accommodation right on the seafront. It’s not without its downsides (safety at night can be an issue in certain spots, public transportation is lacking, and its small size isn’t going to be for everyone) but if you can overlook the slight negatives, it makes a very decent option.
Located just 100km from Cape Town, Langebaan is a small, friendly beach town famous for its pristine beaches and sparkling turquoise lagoon. Named as one of the best small beach towns in South Africa by sa-venues.com, it’s a great option for people looking for waterfront living at a price that won’t break the bank. Although it’s a popular tourist destination, it never feels overwhelmed, offering a peaceful way of life for singles, couples, and families alike.
Known as ‘The Capital of the Garden Route,’ George combines city living with small-town charm. Located just 15 minutes from the ocean in between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, it offers easy access to the area’s stunning beaches. Despite being relatively small, it provides plenty by way of recreation, with a good range of clubs, bars, and restaurants and more than enough stores and local businesses to keep shopping addicts happy. The community is close-knit and welcoming – if you want to live in the kind of place where people know your name and are happy enough to use it, this is it.
Located just 34 miles northwest of Johannesburg, Pretoria serves as the country’s administrative capital, a status that, as you’d expect, brings plenty of job opportunities into the city. Its also a hub of education, boasting three universities, various research centers, and countless students, all of which combine to create a lively, vibrant atmosphere that’s hard to resist. With over 2 million people to its name, it’s not necessarily going to appeal to people in the market for a small, quiet hometown, but it’s guaranteed to be a hit with homebuyers looking for a place with good prospects, good amenities, and good vibes.
With the gorgeous Cederberg mountains on its doorstep, Clanwilliam offers a spectacular base for exploring some of the most awe-inspiring scenery South Africa has to offer. Small, friendly, and very affordable, it makes a great choice for people who are happy to eschew the attractions of the city for a slice of the good life.
Named as one of the 11 best places to live in South Africa by Nomads Nation, Wilderness is exactly what it says on the tin. For outdoor lovers, it’s pure heaven, with tons of unspoiled beaches and hiking trails to explore. The vibe is laid back and relaxed, and while the lack of big-city attractions might leave some people bored, the quantity (and quality) of natural attractions on its doorstep won’t disappoint. If small, safe, and friendly float your boat, it’s definitely one to consider.
Durban is big, cheap, and bristling with goodies. The weather is glorious all year round; the food scene is incredible (especially if you like Indian food – the Indian community in Durban is so huge, it’s known as “the largest Indian city outside India”); the people are friendly; the attractions are legendary (the awesome 16-hectare water park, uShaka Sea World, being just one of them); the culture is infectious, and the cost of living is very affordable. All in all, it’s a great place to live.
6. Port St. Johns
South Africa may be a beautiful place, but it’s not necessarily the safest country in the world. If you want to live somewhere where peace of mind is guaranteed, you’d do well to take the advice of eafeed.com and consider the small town of Port St. Johns. Located on the Transkei West Coast (one of the most beautiful and untouched regions of the country), the town offers a slow, relaxed pace of life with minimal crime, minimal fuss, and minimal stress. In fairness, there’s not a whole lot to do, but its stark beauty and superbly peaceful lifestyle make up for it.
5. Port Elizabeth
Known alternatively as “The Friendly City” or “The Windy City” (both for obvious reasons), Port Elizabeth is a relaxed, outdoorsy kind of place where the living is easy, the sun is always shining, and people always have time to stop and chat over a coffee. Its location on Algoa Bay is perfect for spotting dolphins and whales – travel just a little north of the city, and you’ll get the opportunity to spot the elephants at the Addo Elephant National Park too. Recreationally, it’s a dream, with The Boardwalk seaside entertainment complex providing plenty by way of family-friendly fun in the shape of a five-screen cinema, adventure golf, scores of boutiques, a full-service spa, and even an evening musical fountain show. Rounding off the list of attractions is a cost of living that ranks as one of the lowest among South Africa’s major cities.
If small towns float your boat, Franschhoek could be your ideal match. Historic, serene, and blessed with some stunning Cape Dutch architecture, it offers a relaxed pace of life in an exceptionally safe environment. If you love wining and dining, you’re in for a treat: widely considered a gourmet capital, food and drink are a vital part of the community – so much so, in fact, there’s even a wine tram. The cost of living can be a little hard to swallow at times, but if you don’t mind blowing the budget in return for a superb quality of life, you’ll find it an excellent place to call home.
MoveHub considers Bloemfontein to be one of the best cities to live in South Africa. It’s not hard to see why. Located right in the heart of the country, it’s a beautiful city that, despite being one of South Africa’s capitals, manages to retain a small town, friendly feel that’s perfect for people who want the convenience of the city but the charm of the town. As befitting of a city whose name literally translates to “fountain of flowers,” it’s bursting with flora, boasting over 4000 rose bushes in the oasis-like King’s Park and hosting an annual Rose Festival that draws thousands of people from around the country. While it might not have the scenic location of Cape Town, there’s still plenty for nature lovers to enjoy, including Franklin Game Reserve, the world’s only city-center nature reserve. The one downside is the weather – summers are roasting and winter temperatures regularly dip below freezing. Even so, it’s still a great place to live.
Whether you call it Johannesburg, Joburg, Jozi, Joni or the City of Gold, Africa’s largest city is an exceptional place to live. It might not have the magnificent location of Cape Town, but what it has instead (endless job opportunities, superb entertainment possibilities, a world-class shopping scene, pleasant weather, low living costs, and a delectable food scene) more than compensates. If you’re after a relaxed pace of life, look somewhere else. This is a fast-paced, dynamic city that’s fizzing with energy. Crime can be a problem but if you avoid the seedier areas and apply common sense, it shouldn’t detract from the pleasure of living in such a pulsing metropolis. If you ever do feel overwhelmed by the constant action, the city has some gorgeously serene botanical gardens to retreat to.
1. Cape Town
Cape Town regularly ranks as one of the best cities to live in South Africa, and there’s no wondering why. It’s a stunning city – flanked by the south Atlantic on one side and the flat-topped Table Mountain on the other, its location is unparalleled. Unsurprisingly, it offers 101 opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts: whether you’re into diving, surfing, hiking, or biking, you’ll find no shortage of ways to indulge your passion. The weather is another boon, rarely getting too cold or too hot to pose a problem. Outside of natural pursuits, the city has a ton to offer, from world-class shopping to excellent career opportunities. Even better, the cost of living won’t leave you struggling to put bread on the table.