Knysna: the 8 best things to do in this popular destination on the Garden Route

Knysna is one of the most popular destinations on the Garden Route. The city is spread over a large area with lots of nature. You come to Knysna to enjoy the water, the forests and the beautiful beaches. In this blog you will find the 8 best things to do in Knysna and the surrounding area.Knysna Green Garden Route South Africa 4


Knysna on the Garden Route: popular holiday destination with beautiful nature

We have been to Knysna twice now. The first time in transit to Plettenberg Bay and the second time with the purpose to really get to know Knysna and the surrounding area better. That’s why we stay in Knysna for almost a week this second time. It took a while before we can appreciate Knysna and feel like we have a grip on the city. Why you ask? Well, Knysna is a huge and spread out city, including two islands connected to the mainland by bridge.

The center of Knsyna (south of Main Street) is not really our thing. If you drive through the city there are plenty of “dodgy” places and we also thought the famous “waterfront”, a kind of boulevard, was a bit of a faded glory. Not much fun and atmosphere.

Yet Knysna is extremely popular. Among South Africans but also among travelers from other countries exploring the Garden Route. And after a few days we start to understand that. You don’t go to Knsyna for the shops or a vibrant center. You visit Knysna because of its beautiful nature.

Knysna, city and Thesen island

Knsyna is surrounded by a lagoon, sea and forests.

Knysna is located on a huge lagoon, with 5 rivers that flow into the sea. In between there is a lot of “wetland”, a kind of swamp-like ground that fills with water during high tide. And around it you see green hills and mountains everywhere. Because it rains more often here, it is beautifully green here, just like the Garden Route is intended. In the water you can find multiple species of shark but it is also one of the only locations in South Africa where there live sea horses. 

Where the river flows into the sea, there is a narrow passage with rocks tens of meters high on either side. They call these the “heads”. In the lagoon itself there are two large (inhabited) islands and a few more uninhabited islands. We thought Thesen was the nicest island, where there are many restaurants and shops. In addition, there are large luxury houses in the gated community of Thesen.

The second island is Leisure Island, a sleepy island with large houses where there is not much to do except the beautiful beach that you find here. Everywhere on the lagoon you see sailing boats, yachts and small motor boats. At the riverbanks you see people mountain biking, running or bird watching.

Knysna, city and Thesen island 1

Is Knysna worth it?

In any case, you really should drive to the “Heads” in Knysna. This is so beautiful, definitely worth a detour. If you have enough time, Knysna is a nice place to relax and enjoy the beautiful nature. But if you have to choose between Knysna or Plettenberg, we would recommend Plettenberg because it is slightly more diverse in terms of hikes. From Knysna you can reach Wilderness in 45 minutes: our favorite place along the Garden Route. Plettenberg Bay is also only a 45-minute drive away.

Conclusion: yes Knysna is worth it, provided you have enough time!

Knysna Green Garden Route South Africa


The 8 best things to do in Knysna and surroundings

Knysna is a very diverse destination. Below we describe the 8 best things to do in Knysna and the surrounding area. Point 6 and point 7 are especially for when you travel with children.

1. Admire the “Heads” of Knysna

We already mentioned them above, but a must when you are in Knysna or nearby is to admire the Knysna Heads. These meter-high cliffs provide a narrow passage from the lagoon to the sea.

East Head is the easiest Head to visit. You simply drive up and park your car here. You can then walk to one of the many viewpoints within a few minutes. Below you you can see the sea crashing violently against the rocks. Take a stroll around to admire the different viewpoints! If you’re hungry afterwards, visit East Head Café, where they serve great brunch dishes with a beautiful view. Reservations are not taken, so be prepared to wait a while for a table.Knysna Green Garden Route South Africa 2Knysna Green Garden Route South Africa 3

It is also possible to visit West Head, but that is a little more complicated. The Featherbed Nature Reserve is located on the west side. To visit this nature reserve you must book the Eco Experience where you explore the area by ferry, jeep and then hiking. Unfortunately, we did not do this. More information can be found here.


2. Visit the beautiful beaches around Knysna:

There are several beautiful beaches around Knysna, most of them are a short 10-20 minutes drive from the center.

Bollards Bay Beach:

This beach is located on Leisure Island. It is a narrow stretch of beach but with wonderfully calm water. Perfect for children to play in. There are no facilities here, so make sure you bring a parasol, chairs and something tasty to eat and drink.Knysna, Leisure Island

Brenton Beach:

On the other side of the Knysna lagoon lies the sleepy holiday village of Brenton at sea. Here you will find a beautiful rugged and extensive beach with high waves. There are some facilities such as showers and toilets and on top of the dune you will find a deli with good food and a restaurant.

Extra tip: on the way to Brenton Beach you will pass The Urban Girl Farmstand restaurant. Really nice place! We took food to go here for our boat trip.Knysna, beaches 3

Buffels beach and Grandee Beach:

Buffels Beach is the most popular beach in Knysna. You can swim here relatively safely and there are many facilities. This means that it is super busy here. You will be stumbling over the parasols when walking to the sea. The beach is beautiful, but too busy in our opinion. Parking is very limited.

A lot quieter is Giandee Beach just around the corner. Here you are close to a riverbed in the middle of the Goukama Nature Reserve and it is really beautiful. The only disadvantage: the wind can be strong here. Wildside Beach Restaurant is located exactly between Giandee Beach and Buffels Beach. It can hardly be called a restaurant, with some simple picnic benches under a tarpaulin. But the food is delicious here! We went for a fresh pokebowl and prawns from the braai. Recommended!

Knoetzie Beach:

We have not visited Knoetizie or Noetziestrand. You reach it after a long flight of stairs, which is less ideal when traveling with a child. It seems to be a beautiful raw beach.


Tip: here you will find our Garden Route itinerary!


3. Enjoy the lagoon with a boat trip

The Knysna Lagoon is best discovered from the water. By boat you sail past the various islands and towards the Knysna Heads. The water is very calm in the lagoon so you don’t have to worry about seasickness. You can do this boat trip during the day, but you can also opt for a beautiful sunset trip.

In addition to a lagoon cruise, it is also possible to take a dolphin or whale-watching boat trip (June-November). Or go on an oyster trip by boat where you learn everything about oysters and of course taste some while enjoying a glass of white wine.

Knysna, boattrip

4. Go paragliding in the Knysna area

A dream for Ries that finally came true: paragliding. There are several places along the Garden Route where you can enjoy paragliding. Near Knysna this is best done in Sedgefield or a little further in Wilderness.

And so we drove towards Sedgefield on a cloudy morning. It was still questionable whether the flight would go ahead because there was a lot of fog in the morning, but luckily the clouds lifted around 11:30 am. And so Ries was lucky enough to float above the Sedgefield lagoon and feel as light as a feather for a moment.

It was amazing! So beautiful, quiet and peaceful. Floris and I watched from the side and after a ten-minute flight the landing (quite exciting) went very smoothly. Ries made this flight with the Dolphin Paragliding company, the price is 1400 rand for a simple flight.


Read our South Africa travel tips blog, full of tips about traveling and tripping through South Africa!


5. Hike in the beautiful forests behind Knysna

Knysna is surrounded by enormous, ancient forests. In the past, thousands of elephants roamed freely here, but nowadays the chance of encountering one is slim to zero. But you can still hike here very well. We did two hikes of both three kilometers. We did this in the Knysna indigenous Forest, about a 25-minute drive from Knysna. Here you will find several walks of 3, 5, 7.5, and 9 kilometers, but you can also have a picnic, swim in lakes, or go mountain biking on the trails.

Jubilee Creek & Circles in the Forest

With Floris in the baby carrier, we start with a hike along the “Jubilee Creek”. This is a small river that meanders through the forest. The linear walk is beautiful and easy to do until we have to cross the water. Because it has rained heavily in recent days, the water is high, and with a child in the baby carrier it does not feel very pleasant to wade through the fast-flowing water, so we go back. Unfortunately, we miss the waterfall and the lake at the end of the route. This route is 3.5 km there and back.

Because we are not tired yet, we also decide to do the “Circles in the forest” walk. This is a circular route of 3 km that goes through the dense forest. It is a lot of walking up and down, but not difficult. Along the way, we sometimes walk on ramps and occasionally have to walk close to water. It is a fun route, perfect for children.

The location of the Goudveld Entrance to these hikes can be found here. Entrance to the Knysna Indigenous Forest costs 190 Rand per person.

Knysna, hikes 2


Tip: Do you want to rent a car without hassle? Then rent a car through SunnyCars. We often book rental cars with Sunny Cars within and outside Europe because they have you fully covered in terms of insurance and you can contact them 24/7 with all your questions!


6. Visit Knysna Elephant Park

Oooo we loved this so much. On a drizzly New Year’s Eve we drove to the Knysna Elephant Park. This is located between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, you can get there in 25 minutes. After a long sandy path you arrive at the Knysna Elephant Park. It is good to know that this is not a zoo where you walk around independently and the elephants are confined in large enclosures. The Knysna Elephant Park is a place where injured elephants, or orphaned baby elephants, are cared for, protected and continue to live as natural a life as possible.

Walking with elephants and feeding elephants

You can choose from two activities here to see the elephants: a walk with the elephants (book in advance, it was already full when we arrived), or a moment where you can feed the elephants and then stand at a distance walk with them. We did the latter. After an instructional film, we get into large wagons that are pulled over the rough landscape by a tractor. In the distance, we see the silhouettes of five huge elephants against the horizon. Once we arrive, we can carefully feed the elephants. Floris is extremely impressed and takes his job very seriously. When all the food is gone, the elephants wander off in search of tasty grass. We walk behind them with rangers and admire the beautiful animals. There is an option to take some photos with the elephants, but always at a safe distance and without disturbing the animals.

This activity is great fun with, but also without, children. Afterwards, you can have something to eat at the café. Everything shows the enormous passion that the rangers and park employees have for elephants. Highly recommended! You pay 460 Rand per person (285 Rand for children aged 5-12 years), and a snack bucket of the elephants costs 50 Rand. Booking in advance is not necessary. More information here. It is also possible to spend the night in a nice room at the Elephant Park, click here for more information.


Planning to taste wine in the Cape Winelands? We wrote several blogs about this: the nicest wineries in Paarl, the 9 best wineries in Stellenbosch and the 9 most beautiful wineries in Franschhoek!


7. Let your kids run wild during breakfast or lunch at The Farm

We were pointed out to The Farm by locals. What a great tip if you are in Knysna with kids. In the hills of Knysna you will find this large children’s playground with restaurant. And this is honestly one of the nicest playgrounds we have ever seen. There is a bicycle circuit with mini obstacles for future mountain bikers, there are rabbits, a sandbox and a number of houses where children can “bake” sand pies or play shop. Really great fun!

The food is good and the prices are very reasonable. The playground itself is free. Every Friday they bake fresh pizza in the wood-fired oven. Click here for more information.Knysna, kids playground 2


Montagu should also not be missed during The Garden Route. Read more about this lovely place in our Montagu blog.


8. Walk around Thesen island and have breakfast at the famous Île de Païn!

In need of some shopping or fancy a nice restaurant? Then go to beautiful Thesen Island. And you should actually go here anyway, even if it’s just to have lunch at restaurant Île de Païn! Here they serve the tastiest breakfast and lunch in all of Knysna. But you can also buy fresh bread or tasty pastries here. This is super popular in the high season and you have to be there a little before opening time to be able to join straight away. Really worth it!

Unfortunately, Île de Païn is only open for breakfast and lunch, but don’t worry, the owners recently opened Nest Food Bar if you want to eat something tasty after 3 p.m. We enjoyed a delicious brioche burger, salmon tartare and a delicious espresso martini here. From the terrace, you have a view of the lagoon.

It is also fun to stroll along the rest of Long Street to the water, where you will also find several restaurants. Along the way you will pass a number of boutiques and interior design shops. Near the water is restaurant Flo & Co, with a large children’s playground, so you can enjoy a quiet meal and drink while the kids run wild.


Read our South Africa hotel guide here with a selection of the nicest hotels along the Garden Route!


The best accommodation in Knysna: hotels and apartments

Below we describe three nice accommodations in Knysna. We recommend staying on Thesen Island if you want to be close to the water and facilities, or heading to the hills of Knysna for peace and quiet and a relaxed atmosphere. Click here for an overview of all hotels in the Knysna area.

Thesen Harbour Town €

Thesen Harbour Town Apartments

The compact studios of Thesen Harbor Apartments are simply but conveniently furnished. They are centrally located on Thesen Island and all have air conditioning and a washing machine. They are one-bedroom apartments, the largest apartment also has a nice roof terrace. From €55 per night (low season).

Book here

Narnia Guesthouse €€

narnia guesthouse

Narnia Guesthouse has two beautiful apartments with phenomenal views of the lagoon, Heads and green hills of Knysna. There is a saltwater swimming pool, a beautiful garden and the apartments are spaciously furnished. With a braai and fireplace. We felt completely at home here. From €130 per night (low season).

Book here

The Lofts Boutique €€€

The Lofts Boutique hotel

This beautiful luxury hotel is centrally located on Thesen Island. It is from the same owners as restaurants Île de Païn and The Nest and therefore has the same quality. There are rooms and apartments with their own kitchen. There is also a nice but small pool and a spa. From €180 per night (low season).

Book here


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