South Africa’s Garden Route, Knysna is a small but spirited town whose streets are lined with cafés, galleries, independent shops and seafood restaurants. The town edges onto a sheltered lagoon fed by five rivers and the Indian Ocean. Guarding the entrance are the Knysna Heads — two steep-sided headlands that protect the lagoon from the ocean’s crashing waves.
Cruising the lagoon gives you a chance to visit the Featherbed Nature Reserve, where you can follow trails through milkwood forest. Alternatively, take guided hikes or cycle rides through Knysna Forest. Rising behind the town, it’s a mere pocket of what was once a vast tract of montane forest covering much of the continent.
Once central to the timber industry, Knysna’s forested surroundings meant it was able to profit from supplying yellowwood and stinkwood for the construction of railway lines in the late-19th century.
You’ll still find woodwork shops and stores selling handcrafted furniture as you wander its streets, along with intimate art galleries and cafés. Many of the restaurants face the water, and you can sit facing the lagoon while dining on fresh seafood (oysters are a specialty).
Time here is usually focused on outdoor activities, thanks to the town’s position between forest and water. You can take to the lagoon’s glassy waters on a cruise that gives you views back over the town to the distant hills and mountains behind.
You could time your cruise for sunset, dining on a three-course meal while watching the sun sink into the orange-tinged ocean. Or, during the day, a cruise can take you over to the Featherbed Nature Reserve, which spreads across the top of the western head.
You can only visit the reserve with a guide, who’ll lead you along forested trails to sea caves once used as shelter by the indigenous khoikhoi people.
As you explore, listen out for the ‘kow-kow-kow’ call of the elusive Knysna turaco (or loerie) — a vivid green-and-blue bird with a tall crest, which is only found in South Africa and Eswatini. You might also see the endangered blue duiker — a tiny antelope species.
It’s also possible to drive up to the top of the eastern head, where you can take short walks to viewpoints looking out across the ocean, the lagoon and the wave-battered coastline.
For something more active, we can arrange for you to join a three-hour cycle ride with a local guide. You’ll follow a circular route, taking in the town and its waterfront at a leisurely pace so you can hear your guide’s tales about life in Knysna, its history and its nature.
You’ll also pedal over a bridge to Thesen Island, a residential marina in the middle of the lagoon. You can hear about the marina’s boat-building heritage, as well as stop by the aquarium to see and find out more about the endemic Knysna seahorse.
The hills behind Knysna are carpeted in indigenous milkwood, stinkwood (aptly named for its pungent smell) and Outeniqua yellowwood trees — the remnants of an ancient montane forest that once covered much of Southern Africa. You can explore Knysna Forest’s many trails independently on foot or by mountain bike. Alternatively, meet a local guide for a three-hour walk.
With the dappled shade keeping you cool, you’ll follow boardwalks and dirt tracks while your guide tells you about the forest’s ecosystem, pointing out flora, fauna and birdlife. Keep an eye out for bushbucks, baboons, porcupines and the Knysna turaco, as well as tall ferns that have been growing here for millennia.
Your guide will also help you scour the ground for animal tracks — elephant are known to reside here. Although you’re unlikely to see them in the flesh, you might see their footprints or piles of dung. You’ll stop for refreshments by a waterfall, while listening to the sounds of the forest.
Best time to visit Knysna
Knysna experiences a mild climate all year, but the best months to visit are between September and April, during the dry, warm summer.
Suggested itinerary featuring Knysna
This sample itinerary will give you an idea of what is possible when you travel in Knysna, and showcases routes we know work particularly well. Treat this as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of Knysna
Places & hotels on the map
Places near Knysna
- Plettenberg Bay 18 miles away
- Wilderness 28 miles away
- The Klein Karoo 44 miles away
- Tsitsikamma Forest 49 miles away
- Oudtshoorn & Surrounds 58 miles away
- The Cango Caves & Swartberg Pass 66 miles away
- Calitzdorp 86 miles away
- Sanbona Game Reserve 145 miles away
- De Hoop Nature Reserve 146 miles away
- Port Elizabeth 148 miles away
- Swellendam 150 miles away
- Addo Elephant National Park 161 miles away
- Montagu 169 miles away
- Amakhala Game Reserve 178 miles away
- Shamwari Private Game Reserve 180 miles away
- The Overberg 186 miles away
- The Eastern Cape Game Areas 191 miles away
- Pumba Private Game Reserve 197 miles away
- Kwandwe Private Game Reserve 212 miles away
- De Kelders 214 miles away
- Hermanus 220 miles away
- The Whale Coast 221 miles away
- Franschhoek 226 miles away
- The Winelands 234 miles away
- Paarl 235 miles away
- Stellenbosch 241 miles away
- The Cederberg Mountains 251 miles away
- Constantia 266 miles away
- The Cape Peninsula 266 miles away
- Cape Town 266 miles away
- East London 289 miles away
- Langebaan 297 miles away
Photos of Knysna
Accommodation choices for Knysna
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Knysna. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
Ideas for experiencing Knysna
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Knysna, and which use the best local guides.
Oudtshoorn & Cango Caves Tour
Oudtshoorn & Cango Caves Tour
Oudtshoorn & Cango Caves Tour
This taster to the Karoo Desert is a beautiful place, not quite as harsh or barren as the Karoo, but still stark and impressive. The climate proved ideal for rearing ostriches, and thanks to the Victorian craze for ostrich feathers, the town of Oudtshoorn flourished.View details
These ocean safaris are quite exciting as they involve beach launches and landings, crossing through the surf.View details