Gardens to visit in South Africa

Mathews Rockery, showing autumn aloes and euphorbia. Credit Alice Notten

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden was one of the key reasons I wanted to visit Cape Town. I’d long heard of the famous gardens, and their importance to horticulture worldwide, so the chance to explore them for real was a dream come true. There’s so much to do and see in Cape Town and, with only a few days to fit it all in, my wife and I had to carve out dedicated time to visit Kirstenbosch, but we’re so pleased we did.

A magnificent June morning in the Kirstenbosch. Photo: Alice Notten

The landscape surrounding the garden was the first thing that grabbed our attention – dominated by the spectacular backdrop of Table Mountain, the gardens are set against the mountain slopes. The landscape alone is breathtakingly beautiful, and it’s worth visiting the gardens just to experience Mother Nature at her best. But of course, the gardens are all about plants and there’s so much to see. From collections of proteas and other South African natives, to gardens dedicated to fragrance, water conservation and more, the variety is incredible. It’s also fascinating to see so many of the plants we grow in our own gardens thriving in their natural habitat – I hadn’t realised how many of the things we grow in the UK originate from South Africa.

Ursinia calenduliflora. Photo: Alice Notten

While cultivated plant collections are at the heart of all Kirstenbosch does, like many botanic gardens it offers much more. The gardens are vast, covering around 1,300 acres, and in parts they feel much more like a national park or nature reserve. If you can dedicate some time to exploring, there are several hiking trails which take you off the main footpaths – they range from 15 minutes to three hours to complete, and really are worth it. There’s also a mountain biking route if you’re feeling adventurous. We enjoyed one of the longer trails, which took us into the beautiful landscape and past waterfalls and countless natural beauty spots – it was easy to forget that you were in a garden close to a major city! We also loved the treetop walkway, which takes you high about the tree canopy with even more beautiful views.

Lesser double collared sunbird on Leucospermum oleifolium. Photo: Alice Notten

Beyond the plants and landscape, there’s everything else you can expect from one of the best botanic gardens in the world. We enjoyed a drink from the café and eyed up Moyo, the restaurant that serves African cuisine and entertainment – but sadly we didn’t have time to enjoy a meal. And that brings me onto the one piece of advice I’d give when visiting Kirstenbosch – allow as much time as you possibly can! We loved what we saw, but feel we only scratched the surface of what this historic and important garden has to offer.

KIRSTENBOSCH spring afternoon in the Dell Erythrina abyssinica ALN 234c
The Dell, Kirstenbosch. Photo: Alice Notten


  • Getting there: Direct flights take around 12 hours, but there’s no time difference and jetlag to deal with
  • Where to stay: We stayed in a small hotel in Camps Bay, a short journey along the coast from the centre of Cape Town. The beach and mountain backdrop are beautiful with plenty of great places to eat
  • When to visit: Spring is best for seeing the most in flower at Kirstenbosch with temperatures around 20-25C. This is autumn in South Africa

Other highlights

Table Mountain

Take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain that dominates the Cape Town skyline and you’ll be rewarded with incredible views. Be prepared for it to feel chilly at the top and only venture up on a clear day. We took the trip on an overcast day, and it was foggy by the time we got to the top!

Robben Island Museum

Hop on the ferry from the V&A Waterfront to take a tour of Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was held for much of his life. We found the trip challenging and thought-provoking, but agreed it’s one of the most important places we’ve ever visited.

Boulders Beach

Don’t miss the African penguins at Boulders Beach, which is an easy drive from Cape Town. We loved seeing these beautiful creatures in the wild and felt it was one the best free sightseeing opportunities we experienced while in South Africa.








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