There are many fantastic, adventurous things to do in Knysna and on the Garden Route: it’d be a pity to miss this part of South Africa.
Knysna was one of my favorite stops along the Garden Route, and in general one of the nicest places to visit in South Africa. To be fair, I didn’t know much about it before going, but once I got there I realized there are so many things to do in Knysna that I regretted not having planned to stay longer.
Going to South Africa? Make sure to read my post “20 Fabulous Places To Visit In South Africa.”
With around 70000 inhabitants, Knysna is blessed with incredible natural beauty, and counts on man made attractions to add even more fun to it. Forests, beaches, art galleries and delicious restaurants: it almost is a mini version of Cape Town (which is 500 km away), and an unmissable stop on any Garden Route itinerary.
Check out my post “15 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Cape Town.”
I have spent a week in Knysna and the Garden Route, and truly enjoyed it. This post highlights all the unmissable things to do in Knysna, and a few extra things to do on the Garden Route. I also shares some tips to make the most of this beautiful part of South Africa.
13 Fantastic Things To Do In Knysna And The Garden Route
Admire Knysna Heads From above, below and distance
Of all the things to do in Knysna, the first one you have to do is getting a view of the mighty Knysna Heads. These massive sandstone cliffs separate Knysna Lagoon from the ocean, in what is one of the most dangerous ocean mouths in the world.
The Heads can be seen from various points of view: you can walk or drive all the way up to the viewpoint on the eastern Head, from where there’s an incredible view of the ocean and the beaches below (and you may be even so lucky as to see some southern right whales); or you can see them from below, taking the footpath that starts behind the parking lot and takes to the rock pools and lovely beaches. You can go on a boat trip around the lagoon, or you can even see them from the hills on the inner side of town.
Go on a boat tour around the lagoon
Among the things to do in Knysna, one of the most fun ones is going on a boat trip around the Knysna Lagoon. This actually is the estuary where 5 different rivers coming from Outeniqua Forest meet to then head to the ocean through Knysna Heads. Part of the lagoon is actually private, and that bit is known as Featherbed Nature Reserve and is on the Western Head of the Knysna Heads.
Knysna Lagoon can only be visited by boat, on a tour that gives insights on the incredible biodiversity of this part of South Africa. Living in the lagoon there are several macro species, which include the endangered Knysna seahorse.
These are some of the best tours of Knysna Lagoon:
If you are up for some sports, kayak, sail and even stand up paddle board around the lagoon is what to do in Knysna.
TIP: Try to be as flexible as possible if you want to take a boat tour around Knysna Lagoon. The winds can be quite strong and when that’s the case, boat tours are cancelled and you may have to reschedule.
Go sailing (preferably at sunset)
One of the nicest things to do in Knysna is sailing. A sailboat tour around Knysna Heads gives incredible views of the rugged coastline and a sunset cruise is a fantastic way to end the day. From the boat, you may be able to see dolphins and a great variety of birds too.
These are the best sailing cruises in Knysna:
Go to the beach
The entire Garden Route is packed with gorgeous beaches. Needless to say, going to the beach is what to do in Knysna for a day of sunbathing, walking, relaxing and even swimming. There are several stunning beaches in the area.
I recommend heading to Buffalo Bay for stunning coastal views and if you have a thing for long, white and sandy beaches. Coney Glen Beach is on the eastern Knysna Head. It’s a small, rocky cove with incredible blue waters, where you can climb on the boulders for photos. Swimming isn’t recommended, as the currents are quite strong.
Go whale or dolphin watching
One of the greatest things to do in Knysna is whale watching, provided it’s the right season. If you are lucky and have really good eyes (and good binoculars) you may be able to spot the southern right whales even from Knysna Heads. Otherwise, you may want to join a guided boat trip for a chance to see this mighty and beautiful animals.
These are some good boat tours for whale watching:
Whale and dolphin watching are also among the things to do on the Garden Route. Plettenberg Bay is an excellent place for whale watching trips. This is a selection of the best excursions in Plettenberg Bay that allow you to see dolphins and whales:
Go for a walk on Thesen Islands
One of the nicest things to do in Knysna is going for a walk around Thesen Islands, which are linked to the mainland via a bridge and a causeway. This marina development located on Knysna estuary is one of the nicest areas in Knysna, and an unmissable stop on a proper Garden Route itinerary. The marina is composed of 19 islands, all linked by bridges, and over 500 gorgeous homes built in colonial maritime style.
TIP: For a beautiful sunset view, make sure to visit Thesen Islands in the late afternoon. There are several bars where you can sit for a drink. Tapas and Oysters is a very friendly one and they do a great 2 for 1 happy hour deal on cocktails that you wouldn’t want to miss!
Try the famous Knysna Oysters
Knysna is famous for its oysters, which are sold all over South Africa (we had them at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town). They are extremely good value for money, and most importantly they are absolutely fabulous. You can get normal, large, extra large and extra extra large ones – so big, that you won’t be able to actually scoop it out from the shell, but you’ll end up asking for knife and fork! There’s even an oyster annual festival! Eating oysters is definitely one of the things to do in Knysna.
Eat in one of the lovely restaurants
Speaking of oysters and seafood, I should actually mention that eating is one of the things to do in Knysna. This small town is packed with good restaurants that go from the upscale 34 Degrees South to the more and very casual local Freshline Fisheries, which is right by the causeway connecting Knysna to Thesen Islands.
TIP: Portions at Freshline Fisheries are beyond huge. Consider sharing to save food from being wasted, or else opt to take away your left overs!
If food in Knysna is good, rest assured that eating is also one of the things to do on the Garden Route. Good restaurants can be found anywhere on the Garden Route – small villages and larger towns. In Wilderness, Girls on the Square is always packed with a crowd of both locals and tourists: make sure to make reservations and do try the fabulous shrimp thai style curry or the mixed fish grill. In Plettenberg Bay, The Fat Fish has an incredible selection of fish and seafood dishes: the chowder is creamy and earthy; the white fish and mango curry pure perfection.
The Garden Route is all forests and fantastic hills, all packed with great hiking trails. Needless to say, among the things to do in Knysna there’s hiking.
The best hikes are in Tsitsikamma National Park and Nature’s Valley: the most famous trail is the Tsitsikamma Mountain Trail, a fantastic 6-day hike. The Otter Trail is another fantastic and challenging long distance hike.
If you like the idea of hiking or multi-day hike but aren’t quite confident to do it alone (I actually never recommend hiking alone) you can join a guided hiking expedition. These are just a few:
- Tsitsikamma mountain explore: 3 days hiking
- Guided Robberg Peninsula hike
- Full day hike, bike and kayak in Knysna / Wilderness
Wilderness Natural Park has just as many beautiful trail. If you don’t have time for a long distance hike, one of the best things to do on the Garden Route is opting for a shorter trail like the Giant Kingfisher Trail (also known as the Waterfall Trail). The overall hike takes around 3 hours hike and reaches a beautiful waterfall. The trail splits in two at some point, so you can walk one trail to get to the waterfall, and the other to get back.
TIP: Before you go hiking, make sure to check whether the trails along the Garden Route are open as there have been massive fires in the last two summers and some are still being restored.
See the Map of Africa
Right above Wilderness, an unmissable stop on any Garden Route Itinerary, there is a viewpoint from where you can see the Map of Africa. It is just a mountain formation in the Outeniua chain, with the river Kaaimans going around it, giving it the shape of Africa as you’d see it on the map. On the other side, you can see the Indian Ocean.
Jump off Bloukrans Bridge
One of the coolest things to do on the Garden Route if you want an adrenaline rush is bungee jumping. Here you’ll find Bloukrans Bridge, a 216 meters high bridge from where you can bungee jump. I don’t think I can ever work up the courage to do that, but at least I know that I can go zip lining in Tsitsikamma instead for my adrenaline rush.
If bungee jumping is not your thing, you can try these other adventurous activities:
- Kayak excursion in Storms River in the Tsitsikamma National Park
- Waterfall zipline tour over the Kruis River in Tsitsikamma National Park
- Canopy tour in Tsitsikamma National Park
- Salt River Canyoning in Plettenberg Bay
- Kaaimans river canyoning and upsail
Visit an animal sanctuary
If you don’t have a chance to add a safari to your trip to South Africa, the Garden Route may have some good options to quench your thirst for animals in their natural environment. Several animal sanctuaries found in the surroundings of Knysna and on the Garden Route do an excellent rescue and even conservation job, to the point that they have even won the World Responsible Tourism Award.
One of the best things to do in Knysna is visiting Knysna Elephant Park, which is a home for elephants that have been rescued from zoos or from exploitations, and even orphaned elephants who lost their mothers as a result of poaching and culling.
I recommend including in your Garden Route itinerary at least another sanctuary. If you like the idea of supporting a sanctuary that does an amazing job in rescuing animals from situations of exploitations, captivity and in general not suitable for their well being, visiting Jukani is one of the top things to do on the Garden Route. The park is located at around 14 km from Plettenberg Bay and houses around 70 felines, including lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, hyenas and even pumas and caracals, which are kept in enormous enclosures that try to mimic the environment where they should be naturally living.
7 km up the road from Jukani there is Monkeyland, which houses primates that were rescued from zoos or kept as pets. Among the primates you will be able to see there, there are squirrel monkeys; vervet monkeys; gibbons and even lemurs.
Both Jukani and Monkeyland offer guided tours, departing regularly from the reception area and lasting between one and one and a half hours. These guides tours are among the nicest things to do on the Garden Route if you are keen in knowing more about the animals and their social behavior.
Finally, if you are into birdwatching you may consider visiting Birds of Eden, which is located right by Monkeyland and is the world’s largest free-flying aviary. In this case, there are no guided tours but visitors have the option to buy a small booklet with pictures of all the birds living in the sanctuary, and can take as long as they want (the typical time is one hour) to walk through the various ecosystems that have been recreated to house the birds.
MONEY SAVING TIP: If you are considering visiting all animal sanctuaries, opt for a combo ticket which for R 520 (less than $37 USD) for adults will give you access to Jukani, Monkeyland and Birds of Eden.
Taste the fabulous wine
The most famous place to do wine tasting in South Africa is Stellenbosch. However, wine tasting is also one of the nicest things to do in Knysna and the rest of the Garden Route, and there are some good wineries that you can include in your Garden Route itinerary. Most wineries are open daily and they offer a variety of tours, which often also include cheese tasting, and they usually have a very good restaurant where you can have lunch. There are good wineries in Mossel Bay, between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, and right outside Plettenberg Bay towards the Crags.
Check out my post about the best places to do wine tasting in Stellenbosch.
Practical Information About Knysna And The Garden Route
Where to stay in Knysna and on the Garden Route
Knysna has some excellent accommodation options, and there are good hotels, family run bed and breakfast, boutique hotels and even hostels even on the rest of the Garden Route.
This is a selection of places to stay in Knysna:
- Overmeer Guesthouse, in Knysna, is on the hills and has lovely views of the lagoon and Knysna Heads. The only downside is that you really need a car to get there. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Turbine Hotel is located in Knysna Lagoon; it’s a converted power station. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Knysna Inn is an excellent budget option in the center of Knysna. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
The following are good accommodation options in Wilderness:
- Waterside Lodge is right across the river. There are a couple of beautiful cottages all facing a well kept garden. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Dune Beach House has gorgeous views of the ocean. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Fairy Knowe Backpackers is an excellent option for budget travelers. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
These are some recommended places to stay in Plettenberg Bay
- Jaydees B And B is a nice bed and breakfast in a safe area, within a lovely home. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Nothando Backpackers Lodge is an excellent option for travelers on a budget. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Bayside Lodge is a lovely boutique hotel near the beach. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
How to get to Knysna and the Garden Route
The Garden Route is the perfect place for a road trip, as you can make several stops along the way. Driving is by far one of best things to do on the Garden. I recommend picking up your car in Cape Town, from where you can start driving all the way until Plettenberg Bay and beyond if you want. You can check the prices of car rentals here.
If you are traveling alone or driving is just not your thing, you can opt for the many hop on hop off buses that leave from Cape Town or Johannesburg and go all the way to Plettenberg Bay or Port Elizabeth. They have varying prices and validity, so you can select whichever is the best for you.
This is a selection of the best hop on hop off options to visit the Garden Route:
- Hop on hop off bus between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth – this is the plain and simple option.
- Hop on hop off bus between Cape Town and Johannesburg – this option includes stops in Durban and goes all the way to Johannesburg.
- 21 day hop on hop off bus travel pass – there are several departure points, including Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Durban. It’s a nice long pass, so you have plenty of time to spend in each place.
When to visit Knysna and the Garden Route
Though the Garden Route is bound to be gorgeous any time of year, I recommend visiting in late spring or early summer to make the most of all that it has to offer. The best time to see whales is between June and December.
How long you spend on the Garden Route is a matter of choice. Personally, I regret not having factored in more time, and I suggest spending a minimum of a week to make the most of it.
Have you ever been to Knysna? What are your favorite things to do in Knysna?