Best Places to Live in South Africa
Thinking of moving to South Africa? It’s one of the most beautiful countries in Africa, full of breathtaking landscapes and stunning wildlife. With a deeply multicultural population of over 57 million people, “The Rainbow Nation” has long been a home for expats.
However, you still need to know where in South Africa you’ll be living. The country has nine different provinces and many different major cities to choose from. It all depends on your tastes; some places are very relaxed and coastal while others are fast-paced and central. Check out our run down of the best places to live in South Africa, from the Western Cape to the Free State.
Cape Town is one of South Africa’s three capital cities, and is the most popular destination for expats. Known as “The Mother City”, this is where urban living and natural beauty blend together perfectly. The Telegraph named Cape Town the best city in the world in 2020, and there’s no wondering why; it’s truly stunning.
There’s the South Atlantic Ocean on one side, mountains on the other, and a spine of hills running right through the centre of this southwestern city. There aren’t many backdrops more unique than the flat-topped Table Mountain, which overlooks the whole city. It's one of the natural wonders of the world, and about 3.5 million Capetonians get to live right next to it.
Unsurprisingly, all this scenery means there’s a lot to do in Cape Town. The hills and mountains are perfect for hiking and cycling, while the gorgeous stretch of coastline is full of opportunities for diving and surfing. There are also local wineries, the flowery Cape Floral Kingdom, and the colourful Cape Malay district of Bo-Kaap.
What’s more, the weather is unlikely to ruin your plans; it’s nice and temperate, meaning it’s rarely too hot or too cold. Winter temperatures range around 7-18°C, while in summer they’re generally between 15-25°C. The coolest thing about the Cape Town weather is the layer of cloud that regularly forms on top of Table Mountain, known as “the tablecloth”.
The cost of living in Cape Town is 60% lower than it is in London, according to Numbeo. You get a sweet dose of natural beauty and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to live there.
Over in northeast South Africa is Johannesburg, or “Joburg”, or “Jozi”, or “Joni”, or “Jo-whatever you want”. It’s also known as “The City of Gold”, because it all started with a gold rush back in 1886. While Joburg is not one of South Africa’s three capital cities, it is South Africa’s largest city (with around 4.4 million people). It’s not beside the sea or anything, but you do get some of the best career opportunities that South Africa has to offer. Cape Town is all about the magnificent scenery and the laid-back atmosphere, but Joburg is all about the lively hustle and the fast-paced bustle. The city’s central business district (CBD) - known as “the African Manhattan” - is the heart of South Africa’s financial and entertainment industries.
The shopping scene in Joburg is world-class. Not only are there lots of fancy malls full of designer boutiques (e.g. Sandton City) and glitzy casinos, but there is also a wide range of multicultural markets. For example, Yeoville Market is full of treasures, bursting with colourful textiles, spices and food from all over the continent. Meanwhile, nature lovers can still get their fix; Joburg’s got some stunning botanical gardens and Lion Park (full of lions) is only a 45-minute drive away. There’s also the nearby town of Soweto, where you can hike, bike, bungee jump and generally just get away from Joburg’s intense city vibes.
The city experiences fairly mild and pleasant weather, aside from the famous thunderstorms that tend to hit the city in the summer (they make incredible viewing). Summer temperatures range between 14-26°C while winter temperatures are generally between 2-18°C. According to Numbeo, living costs in Joburg are about 41% lower than in London, making it more expensive than Cape Town, but the salaries tend to be higher too.
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Pretoria (technically called Tshwane) is the second of South Africa’s three capital cities. It is so close to Johannesburg (about 34 miles northeast) that people think the pair will form one big megacity by 2030. The name change to Tshwane in 2005 was a controversial attempt to break with the country's Apartheid history, but it hasn't really stuck.
One name that everyone's happy with is “Jacaranda City”, which is inspired by the sheer number of bright purple jacaranda trees all over the city. As the country’s administrative capital, Pretoria is full of important government buildings. Most of them are are a nice sandstone colour, so they go well with the pretty jacarandas.
Pretoria is also a very academic city, home to three universities and numerous research centres. This means a hearty chunk of the 2.1 million people in Pretoria are either civil servants or students. Depending on which group you end up with, bars can either be very civilised or rather rowdy. Beyond all the impressive government buildings and museums, Pretoria also has some cracking wildlife on offer. Not only are there botanical gardens and a zoo, but there’s also the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre. This place is famous for successfully breeding African wild dogs, brown hyenas and Cape vultures - just try and name a more attractive trio of animals. Don’t worry, they have cheetahs too.
Being so close to Joburg, the climate and living costs in Pretoria are basically identical to those of its sister city.
Over on the east coast of South Africa is the scorching city of Durban. Its main draw is undoubtedly the tropical weather, which means it’s warm all year round. The 3.1 million people who live there have got the best beaches and nightlife in the country. The Golden Mile promenade (which actually measures about four miles) is basically South Africa’s answer to the Miami Strip. People party all night and then watch the sunrise over the Indian Ocean in the morning, probably a little bleary-eyed.
Sport is big in Durban. The city’s fierce rugby team (one of the best in South Africa) are known as “The Sharks”, and they play in a 52,000-seat stadium nicknamed “The Shark Tank”. Fitting with the shark theme, along the Golden Mile you’ll also find uShaka Sea World, an incredible 16-hectare water park where you can be dropped (safely) into a shark tank. You don’t need to love sharks to live in Durban, but it might help a bit. The city is also famous for its huge Indian community - so huge, in fact, that people joke about Durban being “the largest Indian city outside India”. The Indian markets here are very colourful affairs, and you’ll struggle to find a bad curry.
In Mercer’s latest Quality of Living report, Durban proudly scored the highest of all African cities, ranking 88th in the global table. The cost of living is distinctly cheaper in Durban than Johannesburg or Pretoria, being about 48% lower than in London (according to Numbeo).
Port Elizabeth sits on the south coast of South Africa, known as “The Friendly City” or “The Windy City” because the people are friendly and the weather is windy (not the other way around). You’ll also see it referred to as “The Bay” or just “PE”. The 970,000 people who live in The Bay are famously hospitable and chilled out. While Durban is South Africa’s most tropical city, Port Elizabeth wins the sunshine trophy; PE gets 300 days of sunshine each year on average, making it the sunniest city in all of South Africa. This means outdoor activities are very popular here, and there’s no better place for them than the 16 km of coastline along Algoa Bay. Life here is as easy-going as it gets.
If wildlife is your thing, you’ll regularly spot dolphins and whales swimming past Algoa Bay. Meanwhile, Addo Elephant National Park is only 72 km north of PE, which started in 1931 with the last 11 South African bush elephants and now has over 600. PE is also a very arty city, the highlight being Route 67. This is a series of 67 artworks (e.g. colourful mosaics, sculptures, murals) made to represent the 67 years that Nelson Mandela dedicated to public life. The city is a particularly wonderful place for families, with The Boardwalk seaside entertainment complex capable of keeping families busy all day. There’s an array of boutique shops, a five-screen cinema, an amphitheatre, adventure golf and a full-service spa (plus loads more). Stick around until it gets dark and you’ll see a dazzling musical fountain show.
The Friendly City is more affordable than any city we’ve mentioned so far. According to Numbeo, the cost of living there is over 50% lower than in London. Temperatures are warm in PE and they stay fairly consistent all year round, ranging between 17-23°C in the summer and 10-18°C in the winter.
The last of the three South African capitals, Bloemfontein sits right in the middle of the country. Its name literally means “fountain of flowers”, which makes sense because the city is bursting with them. Particularly in the beautiful 300-acre King’s Park, where over 4,000 rose bushes grow. They even have an annual Rose Festival, which draws in people from all over the country. You won’t be surprised to learn that Bloemfontein’s nickname is “The City of Roses”.
With only 463,000 people, Bloemfontein has a fairly low population for a capital city and consequently quite a small-town feel. As South Africa’s judicial capital, it’s got lots of important people living there and some fancy buildings like the National Court of Appeal. Bloemfontein isn’t beside the sea and it isn’t very mountainous, but there is a fantastic nature reserve that’s on everyone’s doorstep. In fact, Franklin Game Reserve is the only one in the world to be situated within a city centre. Inside the reserve there are lots of giraffes, blue wildebeest and zebra. Plus, Naval Hill gives you a wonderful view of the city.
Living costs in The City of Roses are around 45% lower than in London. The weather can get rather extreme in the summer and winter months, with summer temperatures getting as hot as 30+°C and winter temperatures often dipping below freezing. Naturally, people tend to visit Bloemfontein in the shoulder seasons.
As you can probably tell, South Africa’s cities have a serious amount of variety. They each have their own identity (and their own special nickname), and now you need to decide which one suits you best. Perhaps the tropical weather of Durban is a no-brainer, or maybe you need somewhere fast-paced like Jozi? Once you’ve decided, we can help you move your stuff there. Fill in the form at the top of this page and our suppliers will get back to you with their best prices. Good luck!