If you are looking for things to do in Port Elizabeth, look no further.
Characteristic to its many names: Gqeberha, Bhayani, Die Baai, and more descriptively – the friendly city, the windy city, are many amazing things to do in Port Elizabeth. It receives all its affection because it is a captivating coastal metro along the Indian Ocean. And it is sandwiched between two of the most beautiful seaside destinations in South Africa – Durban and Cape Town.
In addition to being a popular tourist destination along the flawless shores of Nelson Mandela Bay, it is the centre of the South African motor industry. Port Elizabeth has moderate warm weather all year round with scattered rain throughout the seasons, which is an ideal atmosphere for leisure, relaxation, and a great time.
Algoa Bay shares ownership of the city, with the neighbouring towns of Kariega/Uitenhage and Despatch; making up the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Municipality. The appeal of Algoa Bay is its reputation as the world capital of the Bottlenose dolphin because pods of thousands of dolphins may be spotted at any time in the bay. It is also well-known for year-round whale-watching.
Like most of South Africa’s heritage sites, Port Elizabeth is exquisitely natural. It is brimming with wildlife and scenic vegetation. This article will elaborate on how this expresses itself in the city as we run through fifteen of the most memorable things to do in Port Elizabeth. These will be split into two categories: things to do and things to see.
So please strap in… this is going to be a thrilling ride…
Our list of Things to Do in Port Elizabeth
Visit Hobie Beach
Addo Elephant Park Safari Shore Excursion
The Addo Elephant Park on a guided shore excursion is a discovery of the third-largest national park in South Africa. It is an exploration of vast and luscious greenery and has the most captivating views of the best location the continent has to offer.
The tour kicks off from the cruise terminal where guests will board an air-conditioned vehicle for a memorable 35-minute drive through the park’s landscape. Visitors can make a day of spotting animals such as Lions, Elephants, Rhinos, Buffalos, Leopards, Zebras, Warthogs, and Antelopes. The guides will stop on location to provide better and more careful animal spotting as well as allow guests to stretch their legs at a lookout point. This time will also be ideal to tuck into a few snacks.
The tour is an informative acquaintance with the incredible wildlife and biodiversity of the reserve.
Guest will be given a final opportunity to purchase lunch at the park restaurant, and spend some free time at the souvenir shop, before continuing to the end of the safari. Thereafter, guests will complete their luxurious journey on a cruise ship.
Addo Elephant National Park All-Inclusive Full-Day Safari
Credit: Agoda (Addo Elephant Park Tours, Safaris, Game Drives)
The original elephant enclosure of the park was established in 1931 when there were only eleven elephants in the area. But recently, the well-maintained Addo National Elephant Park ecosystem is home to one of the strongest elephant populations on earth, with over 600 Elephants. The park is also home to Lions, Buffalo, endangered Black Rhinos, Spotted Hyenas, Leopards, some species of Antelopes, Zebras, and the unique Addo flightless dung beetle, found exclusively in Addo.
The park is distinctive because it is the only national park in the world to conserve the “Big Seven” – the Big Five together with the Southern Right Whale and Great White Shark off the Algoa Bay coast. The conservatory also plans to accommodate a proclaimed 120 000 ha (296 500 acres) of Marine Protected Area. This is an area of islands that are home to the world’s largest breeding groups of Cape gannets and the second-largest breeding population of African penguins.
Tours depart daily from demarcated spots in Port Elizabeth and surrounding areas.
A visit to this park is like a real-life contemporary Jurassic Park, an unforgettable part of any Port Elizabeth to-do list.
Roof Bar Garden
The Roof Bar Garden is a roof top bar with the skyline of Port Elizabeth’s bay side as a backdrop. It is the hip and happening place to be in PE. Cocktails and craft beer are served while you enjoy live music and great food. Whether during the day or for an after work drink, it is a nice place to unwind. The bar is located in PE Central at 33 Winston Ntshona Street. The venue is semi-open, with a covered area for events or when it rains. From a jazz event to a poetry evening, it is the perfect hangout spot for an alternative vibe.
Whale, Dolphin, and Penguin Boat Cruise
Credit: Southern Right Charters
This unbelievable tour takes place off the Port Elizabeth Harbor, on a catamaran, sailing through the waters of St. Croix Island and Brenton Island amid the most beautiful marine life. Tourists will catch sightings of Whales, Dolphins, and Penguins.
The tour departs from Port Elizabeth Deep Sea Angling Club early in the morning. The guide will take guests around the coastline, pointing out the plethora of marine life that emerges from the waters, and providing explanations about mating and migration patterns.
The ideal time for whale spotting begins in June when humpback whales head up the east coast of Africa towards their breeding grounds, moving along the coast. The Humpback Whale season in Algoa Bay continues into early January, peaks in July/August, and then again in November/December when the whales make their return journey after the birth of new calves.
Southern Right Whales can also be seen near the harbor from July to October as they enter the safety of the bay to give birth. They are the most common whales along the South African coast.
The playful Indo-pacific Bottlenose Dolphins add to the show and can be noticed all year round in groups between 10 and 400. They are mostly found in shallow waters either near the beaches or around St. Croix Island and enjoy thrilling their spectators by coming right up to the boat and riding along in the bow waves.
Common and Humpback Dolphins also make their appearance on the species of marine wildlife in the Port Elizabeth waters. Common Dolphins are a spectacular sight, travelling in groups of 1000-2000 and swimming at terrific speeds. Algoa Bay Humpback Dolphins move in smaller groups, between 1 and 20, and are commonly seen during the summer months.
St. Croix Island is the residence of over 20,000 breeding pairs of African penguins, the largest breeding colony found in Africa. The tour will make its way past these amusing birds. In addition to African Penguins, both St. Croix and Brenton Island are inhabited by the endangered African Black Oystercatcher, White-breasted Cormorants, and Cape Cormorants.
Valley Market / Goodnight Market
River Cruise on the Sundays River
No peace compares to that on a lovely boat ride on a river in warm temperatures. Guests are invited to take in the fresh ocean humidity on the gorgeous Sundays River, under some indigenous birdlife, and the gigantic Alexandria Dune Sea, the largest and most pristine coastal dune field in South Africa, close to the Addo Elephant Park.
The Sundays River Cruise includes a rest at these glorious dunes, from which travellers can enjoy one of the most splendid views of Nelson Mandela Bay – the expansive blue of the sea and sky as well as the islands of the coastal segment of Addo National Park.
These renowned river cruises are perfect for groups both small and large, and for every special occasion. Visitors can bring their own snacks or order a platter at the ‘A Taste of Africa’ restaurant on-site.
Sandboarding with Short Boat Trip
Sandboarding or Sand Sledding happens down the famous Alexandria Dune Field – the largest and most preserved coastal dune sea in Africa. The electrifying ride starts at the top of the dune and into the Sundays River.
Guests depart from the Colchester, Addo dock, with a short boat cruise along the Sundays River to the dunes. The boat ride creates anticipation as tourists make their way along the river, sailing through stunning scenery.
Sandboarding is suitable for both beginners and experts, and the guides will be on hand to help where necessary. The excursions are available in two- or three-hour tours, giving participants enough time to get into practice and master their sand riding skills.
The trip requires a minimum of two people. There will be an extra charge for single-guest participation of R150.
Hlosi Game Lodge – Half-Day Safari with Optional Boat Cruise
The half-day safari tour is hosted by the Hlosi Game Lodge, on the Amakhala Game Reserve, about an hour’s drive away from Port Elizabeth.
A knowledgeable and skilled ranger will take guests around the malaria-free reserve and give them a drive into the incredible surrounding wilderness from the back of an open safari vehicle.
Tourists may also opt for an hour boat cruise on the stunning Bushman’s River, the lifeblood of the reserve that abounds with dense birdlife. Keen guests may spot Hippos in the water and the members of the Big Five on the riverbanks.
Welcome drinks will be served during the morning game drive. Guests are advised to arrive at least half an hour before the tour is scheduled to start and should expect it take between four and five hours.
It is a tour that cannot be recommended enough.
Scuba diving welcomes its participants to discover the majestic and vibrant reefs of Port Elizabeth beach. Divers can meet with Ragged Tooth Sharks in their natural habitat, enjoy the annual Sardine run, and pet the Dolphins, Whales, Seals, Penguins, Sharks, and Birds.
Algoa Bay contains a Marine Reserve that includes two island groups. It also has a Wildside on the South of Port Elizabeth’s coastline, and together there are large amounts of reef and wreck dive sites.
The glamorous reefs, drop-offs, pinnacles, deep gullies, and an extraordinary diversity of soft corals and marine life makes Algoa Bay a satisfying scuba diving destination. Evans Peak is especially outstanding because it is close to St. Croix Island and provides some of the best diving in the area.
Algoa Bay is also on the migration route of many large mammals, including Humpback and Southern Right Whales, Dolphins, Seals, and Jackass Penguins.
Visitors can experience the wonderful Sardine Run when the Dolphins, Whales, Seals, Penguins, Sharks, and Birds try to catch the biggest shoal on the South East Coast of South Africa during the months of April and May.
The Spotted Ragged Tooth commonly referred to by the locals as “Raggie’s” often swim through a network of gully formations at various dive sites. Guests can get up close to these frightening yet friendly sharks in their natural environment without bait or cages. The best location is just a five-minute boat ride from Hobie Beach at a maximum depth of 18m, which is an ideal dive for beginner divers.
The professional and personal care of the instructors ensure that diving is a pleasurable endeavour.
Central Wildcoast – Five-Day Backpacking & Hiking Tour
This five-day tour is a special experience of the depth of rural South Africa. It covers the spectacular central wild coast region of South Africa. Here is a glimpse of the itinerary to whet the appetite:
Day 1: Port Elizabeth to Chintsa
The first stop on the adventure takes guests to the coastal village of Chintsa, which is a small piece of heaven that lies at the start of the rustic wild coast at the mouth of the Chintsa River. The overnight location is on a hill that overlooks an eye-catching lagoon that meanders into the sea. On arrival, guests can spend some time exploring the beach.
Day 2: Chintsa to Lubanzi Village
After an optional morning activity, the tour departs from Chintsa to Lubanzi Village. Lubanzi is a small Xhosa village in the wilderness, where visitors can get an immaculate view if where the sea and the sky meet.
Day 3: Lubanzi Village to Coffee Bay
The morning takes on a leisurely start before the camp hikes to “Hole in the Wall”, a nearby attraction in the area with flawless views of the coastline. Hiking will then continue to Coffee Bay. Once the group has settled into the overnight accommodation, it will be greeted by the local village residents. And in the evening, guests will dine on favoured South African cuisine followed by drinks around a fire and some games.
Day 4: Coffee Bay to Mdumbi
After breakfast, the camp heads out for an early hike to Mdumbi, through the villages and parallel to the scenic coastline. Guests can take photos of the secluded ‘Mapuzi’ beach and enjoy getting their feet wet in the clear river as they make their way towards the Mapuzi cliffs. Once there, the camp can dip into a natural Jacuzzi hidden within the caverns of the cliffs. After trekking a little further, guests will reach the next destination, Mdumbi. Mdumbi was once voted the most beautiful beach in South Africa. Guests will receive the opportunity to cool off in the Indian Ocean, sunbathe, go for a surf lesson, or chill-out for the rest of the afternoon.
Day 5: Mdumbi to Port Elizabeth
The last day begins with some paddling in the Mdumbi river with some calming morning bird viewing on. Departure to Port Elizabeth takes place afterwards.
Things to See…
The Donkin Reserve, Pyramid, and Lighthouse include a Stone Pyramid Monument with a heartfelt inscription by Sir Rufane Donkin in memory of his wife, Elizabeth, after whom the city, the palm-lined walkways, and benches were named.
Donkin Reserve is located off Belmont Terrace, Central, and overlooks the city. It was proclaimed an open space in perpetuity by Sir Rufane Donkin.
The Pyramid is approximately ten meters high, and the base’s sides measure about eight meters each.
The stone pyramid on the hill towers over the bay and its harbour, create a grassy reserve around it. The Donkin lighthouse that towers over the pyramid was built in 1861. And in 1938, the pyramid was declared a National Monument.
The Donkin Reserve was completely revamped in 2010 and now proclaims gorgeous mosaics, metal artwork, modern benches that reflect contemporary graffiti art, a chrome statue of an African woman, as well as plenty of abstract art. There is a restaurant with breath-taking views of the city centre and the harbour.
Formal tours of the Donkin Reserve are conducted regularly; the Lighthouse is open to the public on request between 8 am & 4:30 pm during the week and from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm on Saturdays. Patrons can climb to the top of the lighthouse and catch the mesmerising views of the city and the bay.
The Lighthouse also houses Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism, the official Tourist Information Centre. Guests must visit the Tourism Office for access.
Tour of the Nelson Mandela Bay City
The Bay offers an impressive variety of coastal, and nature walks within the city limits on well-marked trails which can be self-guided or accompanied by expert trail guides.
There is also an assortment of exclusive and compelling day tours and excursions on offer. The city tours incorporate historical attractions and insightful information about the Bay. Tour guides are flexible and willing to accommodate any request. An example of this is guided tours of the townships that paint a dynamic and authentic picture of South Africa. The tour operators and guides strive to give tourists the opportunity to meet the real people to get a closer glimpse of the country’s diversity. And the visit to the local shebeen has been raved about as one of the highlights of any township tour.
It is rumoured that Nelson Mandela Bay has a population of “ghosts” lurking in Central Hill, the city’s oldest suburb and historical heartland. Visitors can experience a “ghostly” historical tour to test the validity of these murmurings.
All tour guides in South Africa are registered with the government regulatory body, Tourism South Africa, so that guests can be assured of professional services. Qualified tour guides can be identified by a badge as proof of their certification and tourists are entitled to ask operators to present their badges or registration certificate before traveling with such a person. Guides must pass rigorous nature, history, first-aid tests, and advanced driving lessons before registering.
For a list of accredited tour guides based in Nelson Mandela Bay, visitors can contact Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism at 041 585 8884 / 583 2030. E-mail: email@example.com.
City Sightseeing and Guided Safari Tour
This guided sightseeing tour around the city begins with a morning crammed with the rich history, culture, and art of Port Elizabeth. It is supplemented by an exhilarating and instructive safari through a private wildlife reserve with a master guide.
Guests start the tour from their accommodation at 9 am. They will make their way past exquisite Victorian-era buildings dating back to the early 1900s to Fort Fredrick, built during the Napoleonic wars in 1799 to learn about its pivotal role in securing British rule in South Africa.
The tour then heads to the Donkin Reserve, one of Port Elizabeth’s most important historical attractions, and continues to an African craft shop where travellers can grab a cup of locally roasted coffee and purchase the available arts and crafts.
Guests culminate their sightseeing at a nearby wildlife reserve for a guided safari adventure. Giraffes, White Rhinos, Waterbucks, Buffalos, Nyalas, Impalas, and many more animals may be spotted along the route. There will be a stop at the Cheetah and Lion enclosures to see these majestic cats in higher definition.
South Africa Airforce Museum
The Port Elizabeth Branch of the South African Air Force Museum, Forest Hill Drive, Southdene, is located on the southern side of the Port Elizabeth Airport.
The Museum hosts nine aircraft, including helicopters, a supersonic jet fighter, two of the world-famous Harvard trainers among others, and the oldest surviving jet fighter in South Africa.
There are ongoing restoration projects by a team of dedicated enthusiasts, who are members of the Friends of the South African Air Force Museum. There is also a display of aircraft memorabilia and a fine collection of models and pictures in the main exhibition hall. Keen visitors can view the restoration work being carried out in a refurbished World War 2 hanger.
The greatest delight to participate in at the site is the flight simulator, which is dedicated to the force’s Buccaneer 415, piloted by Maj. S. Odendaal and Maj. P. Webb. The plane disappeared on October 16, 1969, off the coast near Eshowe in Natal during a training exercise. It is a life-size simulator.
Bookings can be made through Frans van Wyk at 0828799107.
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum
The Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum is located at St George’s Park, on the corner of Rink Street and Park Drive. It contains a lovely and comprehensive collection of South African art and craft and focuses on the art of the Eastern Cape Province. There are three exhibition halls that are re-hung throughout the year to accommodate the collections as well as an annual programme of special exhibitions.
Because of limited exhibition space, the constant rotation of works of art from the permanent collection is required. Patrons wishing to see specific works not currently on exhibition are requested to do so by appointment. The permanent collection is complemented by an active series of temporary exhibitions. Admission into the museum is free, except for events with advertised fees.
Art and craft exhibit categories include:
- Africana 1800 – 1900
- Art of the Eastern Cape
- Contemporary Art
- South African Art
- International Print Making
- British Art
- Asian Art
The Art Museum is open to the public between 9 am and 4 pm on weekdays but is closed during the weekend and public holidays.
The museum prohibits the touching of the art as well as smoking, eating, and drinking in the building.
No 7 Castle Hill Museum
No 7 Castle Hill was finalised in 1825 as one of the oldest surviving Settler cottages in Port Elizabeth. It was opened as a museum, after being renovated, in 1965.
This charming family lodging is located on Castle Hill Road, Central, and has Yellowwood floors and beams, and a restored slate roof. For intrigued tourists, the interior captures the mid-19th Century Port Elizabeth domestic life of an English middle-class family. It is a nostalgic look into the past.
Guests can interact with the old furniture, and kitchen equipment, collect water from the well, old toys, and dolls, and the fairy garden and complete a treasure hunt and make friends with the No 7 family in the display room.
Opening times are:
Monday to Thursday 10 am to 4:30 pm. Friday 10 am to 4 pm. Closed from 1 pm to 2 pm
The list of things to do covered in this article is the best of the endless potential of Port Elizabeth. This surprising coastal city unravels so beautifully for guests that are open to exploring it fully. It has an elaborate history and an eccentric set of experiences that cannot be found anywhere else in the country.
A travel through South Africa is entirely incomplete without a multi-day stop at the enthralling Port Elizabeth. Make a plan to visit as soon as you can!
Please be sure to visit our post on things to do in Bloemfontein here.