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11 BEST Places to live in South Africa [2019 GUIDE!]

Without a doubt one of the coolest countries on the planet – how can anyone pick the BEST places to live in South Africa?

Well we at Nomads Nation have taken on the challenge!

Whether you are looking for beautiful mountains, modern cities, or gorgeous beaches – South Africa has some of the best places to live.

With the help of this guide, you’ll be able to figure out which of these South African cities best suits you and your personal needs. 

 

Staying Safe in South Africa

South Africa has a reputation when it comes to safety – namely, that it isn’t very safe. That reputation is not unfounded. It can be very, very sketchy.

That said, it’s all about where you are. Even then, there are gated communities within so-called safe neighbourhoods. People here are on high alert.

And you will have to be too. You’ll have to be aware of your surroundings. And get used to not walking around by yourself at night – ever.

But having said that, millions of people visit and move to this amazing country every year! 

If you are visiting or moving to South Africa (or anywhere!) you NEED to have travel insurance. 

Our favorite insurance provider is World Nomads, and they have some of the most affordable and comprehensive policies for South Africa. Fill out the form below to get a quote!

Check out our ultimate guide to Digital Nomad Insurance!

#1 Cape Town

Cape Town

A vibrant coastal city with tons of culture, Cape Town is also the place to go for beach adventures, mountains and wildlife.

Monthly cost of living in Cape Town

$790/ month 

cost of rent
in Cape Town

$673/month

Lively and never dull, there’s plenty of things about Cape Town that make it a city that’s always going to have your interest piqued.

There’s everything from top nightlife and a load of history, to hipster cafes and a phenomenal dining scene. All of this in the enigmatic shadow of Table Mountain.

Being a big city there’s a whole lot of different neighbourhoods to choose from – and you’ll want to choose wisely.

The best (and safest) ones are suburbs such as Camps Bay and Cliffton, which boast wealthy expat communities. For something a bit more central, try out the colourful, historic and multicultural Bo-Kaap.

Pros of Cape Town

  • Relatively laid-back for South Africa
  • An interesting mix of cultures
  • Hiking opportunities on your doorstep

Cons of Cape Town

  • It can be more pricey than other cities
  • Certain areas can be very sketchy at night
  • You'll end up spending a lot on taxis/Ubers

Spend your evenings in Cape Town watching the sunset over the sea, hit the bars in Woodstock, and then hit the hay. Mornings can be spent surfing, penguin watching or just shopping.

Cape Town is also a great spot to head out on road trips along the famed Garden Route; stop off at the charming towns this part of the world has to offer, or just spend your days sipping on the good stuff at one of the dozens of vineyards and wineries.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

There are loads of places to set up for the day in Cape Town. Alongside cafes with good wi-fi, coworking spaces like Greenpoint Coworking and Seedspace Cape Town make for a great office.

#2 Durban

Durban

South Africa’s third largest city is the place to base yourself for some of the best surf spots in the world.

Monthly cost of living in Durban

$1390/ month 

cost of rent
in Durban

$288/month

Durban is not only great for its surfing, quite possibly the best spot in the country for that, but it has some of South Africa’s best beaches, too.

The weather here is pretty much always on the good side and it seems like the sunny climate and surfer atmosphere has made its way into the laid-back ambience of the city, too.

This is a relatively small city, area-wise, so where you live isn’t totally crucial. But if you want to be by the beach, stop off in Amanzimtoti for fishing, surfing and swimming.

Or if that isn’t your vibe head to Durban Central, complete with parks, its own beach and popping nightlife.

Pros of Durban

  • Get some of the best surf you could imagine
  • Live by the sea with tons of beaches
  • A cool mix of cultures

Cons of Durban

  • Could be too quiet for your liking
  • The city is relatively small
  • The beaches get crowded in high season

Durban comes with a mix of cultures and subcultures, with a strong Indian community rubbing shoulders with hipster kids, surfer dudes and the indigenous Zulu people. It’s an intriguing hotch-potch of its own making.

In fact, that Indian community is one of the largest outside of India – so ready yourself for a ton of curry and expect to spend your days in a pair of board shorts and flip flops. Durban awaits.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

The Corner Office is a coworking space that feels very – a great place to get your head down in a quiet environment that still has social spaces. Or try out The Sett, a cooler option in Umhlanga boasting lightning wi-fi and good joe.

#3 Pretoria

Pretoria

Right in the north of Gauteng Province, Pretoria is a flower-filled metropolis that’s fast becoming a fun student city.

Monthly cost of living in Pretoria

$476/ month 

cost of rent
in Pretoria

$216/month

With its wide boulevards and government buildings, Pretoria is a fairly new city with Boer farming origins. There are leafy suburbs, universities, black students and civil servants, which has given the city a new multicultural lease of life in the past decade. The city has even changed its name.

You might want to consider living in Pretoria East, close to the National Botanical Gardens; areas such as Waterkloof and Boardwalk are safe and green.

Elsewhere in Pretoria North, try out suburbs like Wonderboom and Capital Park, close to the Wonderboom Nature Reserve.

Pros of Pretoria

  • Much cheaper than other big cities
  • Flowers, trees and nature everywhere
  • Close to an international airport

Cons of Pretoria

  • Some areas are notorious for crime
  • Affluent areas could really price you out
  • Occasionally there's bad traffic

Pretoria has actually officially changed its name to Tshwane, to honour the original Tswana-Ndebele chief who ruled the area before the Boer arrived.

There’s plenty of things to do in town, with weekend markets selling a variety of crafts, and things like Freedom Park and the National Zoological Gardens to wander around.

It’s also a pretty safe place to traverse on foot – in general; that doesn’t mean that Pretoria, or Tshwane, is 100% safe. Some areas are best avoided at night.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

The Workspace at The Club is a cool, centrally located co-working space; it’s beautifully designed, got a great vibe, and is a good place to meet other nomads.

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#4 Port Elizabeth

Port Elizabeth

This coastal city is all about its heritage trails, Victorian architecture, beaches and even whale spotting.

Monthly cost of living in Port Elizabeth

$467/ month 

cost of rent
in Port Elizabeth

$339/month

For somewhere you can easily get right into nature, Port Elizabeth is the place for you. Just outside of the city are a number of nature reserves, including Kragga Kamma Game Park, perfect for spotting rhinos, elephants and rare birds.

For more nature, spot the marine life: whales, dolphins and seals can be spotted throughout the year along this part of the coast.

Summer Strand is a nice place to base yourself in Port Elizabeth; close to the university as well as the beach, it also boasts less crime than other areas.

There’s also Walmer, a pretty affluent neighbourhood that’s still practically a stone’s throw from the beach.

Pros of Port Elizabeth

  • It's a small, friendly city
  • Living near so much nature
  • Relatively clean for a city

Cons of Port Elizabeth

  • The traffic can get really bad
  • Gang culture in some areas of the city
  • Not a ton of culture going on

There’s a ton of beautiful beaches to splash around on and sunbathe in Port Elizabeth. There are even some top surf spots and places for watersports.

For non-active, non-natural pursuits, your days can be spent here exploring the centuries-old heritage buildings that have undergone regeneration projects in recent years. Your new cafe could be in a Victorian building!

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

Head over to Co-working Space 585 for some wi-fi and a quiet environment for getting some work done. Then there’s the cool WERK_ which offers desk space, craft beer and good food.

#5 Johannesburg

Johannesburg

A sprawling city with a lot going on, Johannesburg is a friendly, hipster-ready buzz of culture and regeneration.

Monthly cost of living in Johannesburg

$578/ month 

cost of rent in Johannesburg

$382/month

Johannesburg may not have the best of reputations in the past, but it’s slowly becoming a safer place to live. Urban regeneration projects around areas like Maboneng have seen the cool kids move in and take over operations, with cool cafes, bars and boutique popping up.

There are also a ton of museums where you can learn more about the country. When it comes to finding a place to live, Linden and Greenside are known for their nightlife, but these areas are also popular with families and young couples.

There are a ton of great restaurants here, too. The bohemian area of Melville is where you’ll find terraced cafes, narrow lanes and second-hand bookstores.

Pros of Johannesburg

  • Huge city to explore
  • Loads of interesting areas
  • Domestic and international transport connections

Cons of Johannesburg

  • Still a high level crime in the city
  • Could feel too big for some
  • The traffic is bad

One of the largest urban areas in the world, the unfussy city may seem rough around the edges, but there’s definitely an exciting buzz going on underneath the surface.

Years of decline have finally turned around and you’ll find plenty of places to hang out and explore.

Graffiti galleries, adventure theme parks, and the option to soak up outdoor food and music at the weekends.

It even boasts one of South Africa’s tallest buildings, the largest mall in Africa, and Nelson Mandela’s former home.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

The popular and very chilled Kohoots is a coworking space with private offices, too; just outside Sandton and pretty affordable. The Workshop 17 is another good option on West Street and boasts an outdoor terrace.

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#6 Wilderness

Wilderness

Wilderness by name, Wilderness by nature, this city is set along the Garden Route and boasts untouched beaches and hiking galore.

Monthly cost of living in Wilderness

$623/ month 

cost of rent
in Wilderness

$415/month

This coastal resort town sits right on the edge of the Outeniqua Mountains and is the place to base yourself if you want a peaceful place to live for a while.

There’s also a ton of outdoorsy stuff you can get up to, with its 18 kilometre stretch of coastline and incredible natural scenery.

There are a lot of holiday homes in Wilderness, but in Hoekwil you will find farm cottages to live in.

Or you could bag yourself a place that overlooks the sea itself. It’s a relatively small and safe town with accommodation options scattered along the coast.

Pros of Wilderness

  • Very chilled place
  • Perfect if you like hiking
  • Lots of nature on the doorstep

Cons of Wilderness

  • Not a lot to do
  • Not many nomads to mix with
  • Can feel like an isolated place

In the summer you could spend time swimming in the sea, sipping a coffee at a terrace cafe, or dining at one of the town’s many restaurants. You’ll find a lot of rare birds in the lagoons and estuaries of Wilderness, too.

All of this surrounded by rolling hills that are just ripe for getting to grips with the natural environment of the Western Cape.

Here is where you’ll find Wilderness National Park as well as the Map of Africa, a stunning lookout point with far-reaching views.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

There aren’t any coworking spaces in Wilderness, so head to a cafe. Green Shed Coffee Roasteries is the perfect place to sit with your laptop for a few hours over a cup of delicious coffee. BeeJuice Cafe is another great option.

#7 Jeffreys Bay

Jeffreys Bay

A veritable surfer’s paradise, Jeffreys Bay boasts great surf and good living by the sea.

Monthly cost of living in Jeffreys Bay

$571/ month 

cost of rent in Jeffreys Bay

$378/month

With its Blue Flag beaches and designation as the home of ‘the perfect wave’, Jeffreys Bay is definitely the centre of surfing in South Africa.

This famous spot has been on the map since the 1960s and today is awash with surfers from all over the world, surf shops and cool cafes galore.

The aptly named Wavecrest, with its restaurants and shops, is where you’ll find all the main beaches and iconic surf spots.

Here you will also find some affordable places to rent along the seafront itself! Aston Bay is another good option: a small village outside of town with, you guessed it, more beautiful beaches and affordable accommodation.

Pros of Jeffreys Bay

  • Literally one of the world's TOP surf spots
  • A stunning array of beaches
  • Super chilled vibe

Cons of Jeffreys Bay

  • No taxi or bus service here
  • Not always safe to wander alone at night
  • Quite small

Even if you’re not into surfing, there’s a lot of other watersports to get involved with along the amazing beaches of Jeffreys Bay. Even then, just chilling out on the white sand is a good way to spend your free time.

It’s a small town, meaning it’s easily walkable. You’ll soon become best friends with the local baristas and restaurant owners if you base yourself in this surf mecca.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

With no coworking spaces, find yourself a cafe here. Machine Coffee House is somewhere you can spend the whole day working: friendly staff, great coffee, tasty waffles. Fifth Wave Coffee has amazing coffee and a fun atmosphere.

#8 Franschhoek

Franschhoek

With its reputation for good cuisine and wine, tiny Franschhoek is a foodies’ paradise.

Monthly cost of living in Franschhoek

$759/ month 

cost of rent in Franschhoek

$667/month

One of the oldest towns in the South African Republic, this town got its name because it was originally settled by French immigrants 300 years ago: Franschhoek means ‘French Corner’! Holding onto their culture, the residents still celebrate Bastille Day here.

Wine is a big part of Franschhoek, so prepare yourself (there’s even a wine tram). The food is amazing, too. Renting property in Franschhoek doesn’t necessarily come cheap.

That said, most places you can choose to live are in walking distance to the centre of town anywhere – nothing is really too far away. Find yourself a room in a guesthouse or farmhouse in the area, or rent something if you’ve got some cash to spare.

Pros of Franschhoek

  • Stunning natural environment
  • Very charming old buildings
  • Wine, food, and more wine

Cons of Franschhoek

  • Relatively expensive
  • Quite small
  • Little to no digital nomad presence

Something of a desirable place to live, Franschhoek is regarded as a capital of wine and food in South Africa; in a wine-producing country, that’s no mean feat!

Here you can spend time exploring incredible eateries, Belgian patisseries and some of South Africa’s best wine. Surrounded by rolling hills, the nearby Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve also offers up some great hiking.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

Check yourself into a cafe like The Hoek Espresso Bar, with its friendly staff and good coffee, or Big Dog Cafe (complete with friendly onsite canine) for a good place to get some work done.

#9 George

Often called ‘The Capital of the Garden Route’, George is a city in its own right with a small town charm.

Monthly cost of living in George

$546/ month 

cost of rent in George

$417/month

A welcome change to South Africa’s busy cities, George offers a high quality of life to residents. Living here means being a 15 minute drive from the ocean, but there are also amazing views of the Outeniqua Mountains.

The city itself has a surprisingly assorted collection of clubs, bars and restaurants that make up its nightlife scene.

With its small atmosphere, you’ll get to know the local people of George quite easily. For the most lively area, choose to base yourself in George Central to be near shopping, dining and eating opportunities – as well as near George train station.

Pros of George

  • Friendly small town feel
  • Easy to get out into nature
  • George has good transport connections

Cons of George

  • Not the most happening city
  • Lack of cheap accommodation
  • Not right on the sea

You may not have even heard of George, but this is one of the best cities in South Africa for quality of life. There’s shopping galore, cafes, historic churches, and even a cathedral.

Being situated on the Garden Route, halfway between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, you’ll be well placed to explore the other charming towns and settlements along this beautiful stretch of road.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

There’s a coworking space in George! Hit up Amiici Co-work, a friendly a coworking space with good wi-fi and good coffee to match. Carloroso Cafe serves up delicious food, great coffee and has a strong internet connection, too; you won’t want to leave.

#10 East London

East London

Sat on the Indian Ocean, this small city is on the up with its stunning beaches, a forest valley and even ancient history.

Monthly cost of living in East landon

$692/ month 

cost of rent
in east london

$302/month

Located on the estuary of the Buffalo River, East London may have an industrial core but there’s more to this town than first meets the eye.

The town acts as the gateway to South Africa’s Wild Coast and aside from being a busy port, has a selection of sandy beaches with ample chance for a spot of whale watching.

East London is an affordable seaside town and a great choice if you want to live by the ocean but don’t have a ton of spare cash.

The easy going safe suburbs of Beacon Bay along with Nahoon Valley park have a number of places on offer at low prices.

Pros of East London

  • Great Nature Trails
  • Feels safe
  • Good transit hub

Cons of East London

  • Spread out city
  • Not the most beautiful city
  • Still quite industrial

The current which runs through this part of the country is fairly warm which makes for some pretty excellent swimming conditions.

Orient Beach is a family friendly hang out close to the city’s shops and restaurant, and there’s also top surfing to be had a nearby Nahoon Beach.

For an injection of culture, East London’s natural history museum which is meant to be one of the best in South Africa.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

There may not be any coworking spaces in East London but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a selection of cool cafes for you to get some work done. Try out the very friendly Mugg & Bean Vincent Park where you can often see business meetings taking place. For something a little more laid back, take a trip to the beach side cafe Reef Cafe.

#11 Pietermaritzburg

Pietermaritzburg

This provincial capital is a contemporary city well known for its layers of cultural heritage, interesting history and charming architecture.

Monthly cost of living in Pietermaritzburg

$808/ month 

cost of rent in Pietermaritzburg

$507/month

A modern city with a thriving student community, Pietermaritzburg is made up of a sizable Zulu community, along with a large Indian population.

The attractive but fairy sleepy city offers a good quality of lifestyle, and being close to the awe-inspiring Drakensberg mountains nature is never too far away. For those who want a dash of energy, all of the action and night life of Durban is a quick 40 minutes by car.

When it comes to livable areas of the city there’s a selection of leafy suburbs to base yourself in. Boughton has a choice of old renovated houses and apartments that are an excellent budget option.

If you want to be among the action, stay in the city center and be surrounded by shops and restaurants housed in Victorian buildings.

Pros of Pietermaritzburg

  • Close to country side
  • Mix of cultures
  • Easy access to Durban

Cons of Pietermaritzburg

  • Not a lot of nightlife
  • Small town feel
  • Traffic can be bad

The city’s CBD is where you can find a host of heritage architecture and while the city might not be as attractive as in its heyday, the City Hall still holds the title of being the largest Red Brick building in the entire Southern Hemisphere!

There’s also sites such as the Tatham Art Gallery with a selection of fine art on display. Towards the outskirts of the city there are fringed with fields and rivers which lend themselves to countryside walks.

Nomads Nation - Digital Nomad Tip

WORQ is a cool and cultural space in Pietermaritzburg  which provides the perfect place for digital nomads to work. Run by a friendly group of people, there’s plenty of space for everyone and fun events to take part in too.  The Workspace Pietermaritzburg is another great spot where you can work with views of the surrounding nature scenery.

Final Thoughts on the Best Places to live in all of South Africa

There it is! With so many cool cities to live in Cape Town – it’s going to be hard to choose just one!

But as many options as there are, we know that our list will help you find something that suits your style.

Travel on Nomads!

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Written by Aaron Radcliffe

City dweller. Noodle crusher. Aaron is a serial entrepreneur, and the founder of Nomads Nation. Connect with Aaron Radcliffe -