As Namibia is sparsely populated, there aren’t many big cities in the country. If you have the chance to visit one of them, make sure to put Swakopmund on top of your list. For a small city, there are actually plenty of things to do in Swakopmund that are fun and unique.
It’s one of the largest towns in Namibia – though it’s still village-like small with a population of 44,725. Swakopmund is not your typical African city, with plenty of culture and beautiful views you are spoilt with attractions here. Thanks to its characteristic architecture and charming streets, mixed with a coastal location Swakopmund is one of the best places to visit in Namibia.
How to get to Swakopmund
Swakopmund is located at Namibia’s coastline, so in the west of the country. It’s about a 3.5-hour drive from the capital of Windhoek.
As Swakopmund is one of the few cities in Namibia, there is a connection by public transport between Windhoek and the coastal town. Public transport isn’t the best way to get around this remote and sparsely remoted country though as there just aren’t that many options. So self-driving is a popular way to visit. Swakopmund should be including on any Namibia road trip itinerary.
A German town in Africa
The name of the town of Swakopmund might already give away that this isn’t the typical African town. It actually isn’t African at all. When driving into Swakopmund, you might feel like you are traveling to another continent. It looks extremely European – German to be exact.
Namibia has a strong connection with Germany, as it used to be under German rule in colonial times. This might not be the best way to start a strong bond between two countries, but German tourists still flock to Namibia in high numbers and it’s likely you’ll run into many on your travels there. Many descendants of the old German occupiers still live in Namibia, especially in Swakopmund.
The result is a town with a German name and many other German references like restaurants with German cuisine and European architecture. Swakopmund has half-timbered houses and even a ‘Brauhaus’ with German beers and ‘schnitzels’ in its menu. Some citizens still speak German and we’ve been told there is a small German newspaper as well.
best things to do in Swakopmund
As there aren’t many cities in Namibia, Swakopmund is one of the few tourist destinations in the country with a restaurant scene, exciting tours, and facilities that cater to visitors. It’s worth your time to stay here for three or four days and absorb this different side of Namibia. These are the best things to do in Swakopmund on your visit!
1. Indulge in the Swakopmund restaurant Scene
Swakopmund has many restaurants with great food. When traveling around Namibia, you’ll rarely get to choose between restaurants. Much of the time you may have to resort to cooking your own meal or dine in the lodge’s restaurant most of the time. So make sure to take your time to indulge in Swakopmunds restaurant scene.
The German and international cuisine is very well represented. The iconic Brauhaus will serve you typical German ‘schnitzels’ and sausages – ‘bratwurst’ – with German beers. Even the menu and staff are German. It’s located in the heart of Swakopmund in a half-timbered buildings that make you feel like you’re walking in Europe.
If you’re looking for seafood, this coastal town has got you covered as well. Popular places to go are The Tug and Jetty 1905. Both are located at the ocean, offering you a great sunset spectacle each evening. Highly recommended for breakfast are Raith’s Deli, Village Cafe and Cordes & Co. The pancakes at Cordes & Co are the best.
2. Enjoy Namibia’s Speciality Coffee
Swakopmund has a coffee scene as well. You might not expect it from a country like Namibia – sparsely populated and not a modern well-developed destination – but it has some great specialty coffee roasters. Most of them are located in the capital Windhoek, but Swakopmund has some must-visit coffee spots as well.
Slowtown is one of the most well-known coffee roasters in Namibia. It has multiple shops in the capital Windhoek, but one in Swakopmund as well and that’s also where the roastery is. It’s located in the center of Swakopmund, on a street corner close to Raith’s Deli and Cordes & Co. This isn’t the place for breakfast though, it is all about coffee and perhaps some sweets to go with it. If you’re looking for a place to work or sit down with your laptop after some long days road tripping across Namibia, this is a great spot.
Two Beards is another specialty coffee roaster in Namibia. It’s located a bit outside of town and has both a roastery and coffee shop at its location. You can buy roasted beans to bring home with you as well.
3. Stroll around the old town
To absorb the German atmosphere and be amazed by the European-style houses in Africa, you’ll just have to stroll around Swakopmund for a while. Some of the most iconic buildings are in the old town, like the train station, Woermannhau, and the old prison.
The Hohenzollern Building is also quite hard to miss, as it’s located in the heart of Swakopmund. This yellow structure with a red roof is on a street corner, with a remarkable statue of Atlas holding a globe exactly on the corner.
4. Make a half-day trip to the Welwitschia Drive
Just south of Swakopmund is the Namib National Park. Part of it is the Welwitschia Drive, about 30 minutes driving from town. The scenic drive will show you some of Namibia’s finest landscapes and the Welwitschia plant it is named after.
The Welwitschia is one of the rarest plants in the world and this area south of Swakopmund has a very high concentration of them. They can grow hundreds of years old and survive the harsh Namibian desert. To survive under these circumstances, the plants grow an extensive network of roots under the sand. This makes them very vulnerable as well and you shouldn’t come too close to them to avoid any damage to the roots. The largest and oldest Welwitschia plant is one of the last stops of the Welwitschia Drive and its root system is protected by a fence.
Other stops along the drive will show you the orange lichen plant – very rare and fragile, so there are fewer of them each year – a ‘moon landscape’, a South African camp from the First World War, the Swakop River Valley, and much more.
As the Welwitschia Drive is part of a national park, you need a park permit from the state-owned NWR (Namibian Wildlife Resorts) to enter. You should buy it at an NWR office in advance. You will receive both your park permit and a small explanatory guide of all 13 stops along the Drive.
5. Explore the Namib National Park
There’s more to see in the Namib National Park than just the Welwitschia Drive. Head out for a one-day road trip or look for one of the great hiking spots.
The best place to go near Swakopmund is Bloedkopje Mountain. You can climb up the mountain for a view of the desert landscape of Namib Park, or bring some food for a picnic at one of the camping spots at the base of the mountain.
Another place nearby is Tinkas. You might have seen Namibia photos of rock arches in the Namibian desert. This is where you’ll see one of them. There is a hiking trail at Tinkas for a small hike and there are camping spots to stay overnight.
After mentioning all those camping spots, you might get that the Namib park is a great place to go camping as well. There are camping spots all over the park. They all have a braai, trash bin and concrete seat, but no other facilities like running water or electricity. Most of them aren’t located close to each other, giving you the wild camping experience though they are official camping spots.
The NWR park permit you need to visit the Welwitschia Drive, is also your permit for the rest of the park. You can drive around the park using the main roads without a permit. But if you want to leave the main roads to see attractions like the Welwitschia Drive, or if you want to go camping or hiking, you’ll need the permit. A permit is valid for 24 hours, so it includes one night of camping.
6. Go sandboarding Down the Sand Dunes
Swakopmund is close to some of the highest sand dunes in Namibia. Sandboarding down those dunes is one of the best things to do in Swakopmund. You can join a tour, but it would be a more budget-friendly option to rent a board and head out there yourself. You can simply drive towards one of the dunes south of town, close to the coast.
It’s quite an exercise, climbing up the steep dunes over and over again. But the trip down is the best reward. Make sure to bring enough wax and wax your board each time you go down for the top speed if you’re a speed demon that is.
7. Book a desert quad riding Trip
Quad riding is also a popular thing to do in Swakopmund. The vast desert landscape with its sand dunes offers a beautiful backdrop for this activity. You won’t drive your quad alone in the desert, but a tour guide will lead your way. That doesn’t make this activity less adventurous though, as he won’t take it as slow or fast as you are comfortable with. Book a Tour!
8. visit the seals at cape cross
North of Swakopmund is the NWR-protected Cape Cross Seal Reserve. Cape Cross has the largest seal colony in Africa, creating the most intense smell and noise you can imagine. There is a boardwalk above and between the seals, so you can see them from very close, don’t try and get too close though – they have sharp teeth and bite.
If you’ll visit Cape Cross in December-January, you’re right on time to see all the babies tumbling over each other and trying to manage the ocean waves.
You’ll need an NWR permit for Cape Cross as well. You can buy it at a small office, you’ll pass by after leaving the main C34 road to drive to Cape Cross.
9. Drive the Skeleton Coast up north
North of Swakopmund is another national park: The Skeleton Coast. If you’re in Swakopmund already it’s worth it to continue driving north at least for a few hours to see the Skeleton Coast. One day would be enough for a mini road trip along this stunning coastal strip.
The area’s name is inspired by the many stranded ships here for over centuries. If any sailor would survive, he would soon die in the remote desert landscape. One of the highlights of the drive is those old shipwrecks. As they slowly decay in the desert, they are disappearing.
One of the more recent and therefore best-visible shipwrecks at the Skeleton Coast is the Zeila shipwreck. You can find the Zeila between Swakopmund and Cape Cross. Others are more up north, like the Winston and southwest sea. At the northern tip of the Skeleton Coast are the state-owned Torra Bay Campsite and Terrace Bay Resort. The location at the empty beach is stunning, so you might want to stay there for one night. Check-in advance if they are open, as they’re not all year round.
Be forewarned, There are no services available so it’s important that you are self-sufficient if you travel on the Skeleton Coast. That means a 4×4 vehicle, enough gasoline for your trip, food, water, and you should know how to change a tire.
10. Relax at the beach – but don’t go for a swim
Though Namibia is located on the coast, it has only a few beach destinations and Swakopmund is one of them. Don’t expect tropical white sand and palm tree-dotted beaches, as the sea is quite rough in Namibia and the coastal areas are windy. But there is a beach and you can definitely hang out and relax there. The best place to go is the Tiger Reef Beach Bar. It has a sand beach and places to relax while ordering a drink or two at the beach bar.
11. Visit Walvis Bay
Another coastal town very close to Swakopmund is Walvis Bay or Walvisbaai. Walvis is ‘whale’ in Afrikaans, referring to the many whales that used to live in this area. It’s a 31-kilometer drive from Swakopmund to Walvisbaai, so this town makes a great half day trip from Swakopmund.
Should you go sandboarding, the dunes you’ll be on are right in between Swakopmund and Walvisbaai. You’ll pass Dune 7 on your way to Walvisbaai and it’s the highest sand dune in the area. Though it’s a tough climb to get up, you’ll have splendid views of the area as a reward.
Walvis Bay is the country’s chief port town. The waters here are rich in plankton, drawing in many southern right whales each year. While the whales are amazing, Walvis Bay is most well known for hosting 35,000 flamingos on its shores. You can’t miss them as you drive along the coast. We enjoyed watching and taking photos of them for a good portion of time.
If you keep driving past Walvis Bay you’ll hit the tip of Pelican Point, a natural sand spit that stretches out into the ocean and offers the chance to see pelicans and more marine life!
When is the Best Time to Visit Namibia?
Winter is the best time to visit Namibia as it’s the dry season. This generally starts in May and is best between July and October. However this is high season in Namibia so prices will be at their highest and you will have to book in advance.
Quick Namibia Travel Tips
- Languages Spoken: There are nine major indigenous languages including various San languages. The most popular native language is Oshiwambo. English, German, and Afrikaans are all widely spoken as well.
- Capital: Windhoek. (Pronounced WIND HOOK)
- Currency: Namibian Dollar (NAD) On par with the South African Rand.
- Visa: Many visitors can enter Namibia visa-free for 90 days. Check with your specific embassy.
- What to Pack: Lightweight tan color clothing. A Safari hat. A good pair of boots and at least one jacket. See our full Africa packing list.
- Stay Connected: MTN and TN Mobile are the main service providers. Read more about the internet here.
Plan Your Trip to Africa
- Travel Insurance: We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.
- Travel Waterbottle: When we’re uncertain about the water supply we use our Grayl Purifier. It’s come in exceptionally handy around Africa.
- Camera Gear: Chances are you’ll want a camera for your trip to Africa. We love the Sony RX100V for a pocket-size camera and the Fujifilm XT-4 for a professional camera. Check out our favorite cameras for Africa.
- Safari Clothes: Lightweight, beige, and moisture-wicking clothing are great for traveling Africa. See our favorite safari clothing here.
- Safari Hat: A good hat is both stylish and functional.
- Safari Bag: A durable bag is ideal for traveling around Africa.
- Safari Pants: We recommend neutral-colored pants as they’re great at hiding dirt and can match most shirt colors.
- Safari Shirt: Shirts like these are lightweight and keep the bugs away!
- Boots: While you don’t need to wear sturdy shoes every day, at least one pair of safari boots will make your trip nicer!
- Travel Adapter: You’ll need a special travel adapter for traveling Africa. Get one before you get there so you don’t pay a premium on the ground.