Some towns are just naturally artsy. South Africa is no stranger to these, and there are numerous places, from the coast to the arid soil of the Karoo, where artists dip their paintbrushes into the town’s ambiance – a pot of inspiration – before they splash their talented souls onto a canvas or other mediums. Some find a muse in the waves, the mountains or in the peace and quiet while others find it in the dusty roads as the donkeys rhythmically clip-clop-clip-clop by.
But it is not only artists who find inspiration here; visitors are equally drawn to these towns.
There’s something intrinsically romantic about artsy places, especially small towns, as it forces you to slow down, breathe in fresh country air, walk, watch, listen, learn and perhaps tap into your own creative side as it comes at no surprise that these towns, and their resident artists, often host art festivals or share their artistic talent and skills in location-based workshops.
5 South African ARTSY towns to paint red
Here are only 5 towns, but it is not the “top 5”. I know there are more. Much more. So there will be another blog post about 5 more artsy towns. Please feel free to leave a comment and share which South African ARTSY towns hit you in the feels, there is a good chance I haven’t visited it yet OR perhaps I have but I feel a second more in-depth visit will allow me to do more justice to the town/area when writing about it.
Well known for the outside art of Helen Martins at the Owl House, Nieu Bethesda is also a retreat, home and inspiration for artists from all walks of life. The ceramic work of Charmaine Haines has been to international exhibitions, Martin Haines’ craft as a studio potter, is to specialise in flatware and Frans Boekkooi is a sculptor whose work is in private collections all over the world, as well as in the President’s Collection (“A Long Walk”). Then there is the Bethesda Arts Centre where a group of artists of /Xam tell stories of Bushman mythology through needle and thread. And of course there is also the crafters in front of the Owl House who have not only inherited the art and style of Helen Martins and Koos Malgas, but who also use tin and other materials to create their artworks.
Don’t miss: Visiting the artists’ studios, the Owl House, Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre, Brewery and Two Goats Deli and Dustcovers Bookshop.
Where? Eastern Cape, 277 km from Port Elizabeth.
Also read: Beyond Nieu Bethesda’s Owl House.
If you ever visit Nieu Bethesda, you have to stop for a chat when you see Vellies. He sits opposite the Owl House and sells his crafts and has the most incredible stories.
The whole town of Prins Albert is an art gallery, an exhibition without walls, without doors. It started years ago when the Khoi San painted their messages in caves and on rock faces and today the town is the playground of numerous diverse artists and the host of anything from photography to calligraphy workshops. There is Beadkidz, a community art project, the jeweller Di van der Riet-Steyn, Die Letterhuis Studio of calligrapher Heleen de Haas, Handmade Karoo Handegemaak another community project, the Prince Albert Gallery and the Karoo Looms Weavery. Even the dustbins in Prince Albert are artsy.
Don’t miss: Attend a workshop, explore the Swartberg Mountains, learn more about history, do stargazing, go hiking or mountainbiking or visit the small village of Klaarstroom.
Where? Western Cape, 172 km from George.
Also read: Going off the Grid in Gamkaskloof.
Clarens has often been described as an artist’s heaven, or South Africa’s art mecca, and if you stroll around the small town it is as clear as daylight why artists and art lovers flock to this town that is situated in the Free State at the foot of the Maluti Mountains. With more than 15 galleries visitors can go the Smudge Contemporary Art Gallery, the modern and stylish Blou Donki Art Gallery, take in the landscape art at Johan Smith Art Gallery, visit the Addy Hoyle Art Gallery, the Artefunto Contemporary Art Gallery and the list goes on and on and on again.
Don’t miss: A drive through to the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park, the Basotho Cultural Village, adventure tours such as white water rafting, hiking trails, horse riding, Clarens Brewery and nearby 4×4 trails.
Where? Free State, 280 km from Bloemfontein.
Also read: Golden Gate Highlands National Park.
Ribola Art Route
Even though close to Louis Trichardt, the Ribola Art Route is not in one specific town, but rather a way to navigate and meander through the works of talented Tsonga and Venda artists at their respective arts and crafts outlets in Limpopo. The area is known for its creative flair with art, traditional dancers, singers and creatives such as the late Jackson Hlungwane, Noria Mabaso and Sarah Munyai. You can get a guide and visit the Mukondeni pottery village, stop at Twananani Textiles and DIY your own textile design, visit a wood sculptor, metal artists and listen to music all in one day.
Don’t miss: The community project Madi a Thavha Design, the sacred site of Mashovhela Rock Pool, a hiking trail or two and Soutpansberg.
Where? Limpopo, 110 km from Polokwane.
Also read: Birdwatching in Magoebaskloof.
When you step foot into McGregor you feel something, something special, and the something can actually be scientifically explained. The town is known for its creative community, but also for holistic healing for mind, body and soul and many explain that it derives from the converging ley lines which result in a high level of natural energy. Even the bushmen paintings confirmed this. Visit Millstone Pottery, they specialise in stoneware, porcelain and wood-fired terracotta (and more). Go to Manara where you can see the meditative clay figure of Barbara Sowter, a renowned sculptor. Dragon Fly specialises in all that is brass, silver, copper and precious and semi-precious stones, the Edna Fourie Gallery is exhibits ethereal oil paintings and the Lion House Gallery will inspire you with its Karoo landscapes and fabric collages. View the jewellery made from glass beads and jacaranda pods at African Queen Studio and go to Victoria Dyden to experience expressionistic art works. Take note that there is a dedicated Art Route in McGregor, stop by the tourism office for more information.
Don’t miss: Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary, wine tasting at one of the wine farms in the Robertson area, nature reserves, hiking trails and a massage.
Where? Western Cape, 170 km from Cape Town.
Also read: Glamping with Africamps at Pat Busch.
And then of course there is Knysna, Greyton, Baardskeerdersbos, Nottingham Road, De Rust, Bathurst, Hogsback… the list can go on and on. Which South African artsy towns are your favourite?