The Best Restaurants in Knysna, South Africa

We had grand plans to cook in our villa and chill in the evenings during our three week Garden Route trip, but with so many great places to eat in Knysna, we ended up eating out almost every night.

I have quite a diverse preference on where to eat depending on my mood; sometimes it’s all about casual dining and other times I fancy dressing up a bit. My guide to the best restaurants in Knysna reflects this and isn’t an exhaustive list of every restaurant we ate at, just the ones that gave us such a pleasant evening that we returned (or plan to return).

Best Restaurants in Knysna: Sunset at Knysna Waterfront
Watching the sunset at Knysna Waterfront
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Thesen Island Restaurants & Cafés

The restaurants on Thesen Island are among the top places to eat in Knysna and it ended up being my favourite place to come for dinner. Here is a lovely little cluster of bars and restaurants, most of which are located by the dinky island marina, with great views over the Lagoon and Heads.

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Sirocco

Sirocco restaurant is a slightly more upmarket place and the closest you will get to formal dining in Knysna. Shorts and flip flops are still acceptable attire, although the setting and ambience does encourage you to dress up a bit.

Sirocco is a big restaurant with a lively vibe situated right on the Thesen Island waterfront, with lovely views across the Knysna Lagoon and Heads. Call in advance and request an outdoor or Lagoon view table for the best seat in the house. There is also a relatively hidden outdoor terrace out the back with only half a dozen tables; there is no view, but it’s quite secluded nestled under the fairy lit trees and so is a great spot for a quieter evening.

Tapas & Oysters Restaurant on Thesen Island in Knysna
The view of Sirocco restaurant taken from Tapas & Oysters

We had excellent service here, among the best of all the restaurants we visited in our three weeks in Knysna. As you would expect, seafood features prominently on the menu and doesn’t fail to disappoint; I went for a combination of excellent sushi and super fresh oysters served with a red onion salsa on each of our visits.

For those that don’t fancy seafood, the menu is nothing short of huge, there is everything from burgers to pizzas, salads, pasta and more, even the fussiest of eaters will find something to love on this menu.

Address: TH 28, Thesen Island, Long Street, Knysna
Opening Times: Midday to 10:00pm every day for lunch and dinner
Contact Details: +27 44 382 4874, reservations recommended.

The Project

Those that are regular readers will know how much I love a rooftop vantage point; there aren’t many in Knysna but this was by far the best. Located just upstairs of Sirocco, you have an uninterrupted view of both sides of the Lagoon and is probably the best place to watch the sunset in Thesen Island.

The Project is a cocktail bar and like Sirocco, is about as upmarket as you get in Knysna, which means it is still pretty relaxed! The interior is lovely though, my favourite bit (apart from the rooftop view, obviously) being the huge chess board table in the window seat.

Top Tip: There are two terraces, one at each end of the bar, head to the one on your right as you walk up the stairs for best view of the sunset.

You can eat at The Project too, there is a smaller version of the menu from Sirocco and and if you are wondering where to eat oysters in Knysna, try their Oyster and Champagne Experience, superb.

The only thing I would say is the cocktails were only average, they kind of tasted like fruit juice.

View of Knysna Lagoon from The Project Bar on Thesen Island
View of the Knysna Lagoon from The Project outdoor terrace

Address: TH 28, Thesen Island, Long Street, Knysna
Opening Times: Everyday, 5:00pm to 10:30pm
Contact Details: +27 44 382 4874, reservations available but generally not required.

Ile de Pain Café

I loved this place; beautifully decorated, with an outdoor shaded terrace and most importantly, absolutely delicious food. Make sure you visit here on any trip to Knysna and at the very least, buy some fresh bread or patisseries from their on site bakery.

We had both breakfast and lunch at Ile de Pain (on different days); the former has a great range of both traditional (think French toast with berry compôte and mascarpone cream or muesli, yogurt and fresh fruit) and more inventive dishes such as Trout Tartine with rainbow tout, soft boiled egg, horseradish mayo and seasonal salad (bloody lovely).

Ile de Pain Café on Thesen Island in Knysna South Africa

Lunch offers an array of flatbreads, toasties, salads and some epic burgers (among other things); the sticky pork belly burger in a steamed bun was a favourite. I am a sushi fanatic and opted for the Hoke Poke bowl; salmon sashimi with Japanese salad and a roll of sesame seed covered sushi rice that had been toasted; utterly gorgeous and I’m still thinking about it now.

Address: 8-10 The Boatshed, Thesen Harbour Town, Knysna 6570
Opening Hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays, 8:00am to 3:00pm
Contact Details: artisans@iledepain.co.za, operates on a first come, first serve, no reservations available.

Tapas & Oysters

Sister restaurant to Sirocco and The Project (which are also located right next door), Tapas & Oysters has a more casual and laid back vibe and is the place to go if you want to watch the sport, there is lots of it on multiple TVs around the bar.

They have a very lovely outdoor terrace under the shade of the trees and the tables at the back overlook a play park if you have kids with you.

Tapas & Oysters Restaurant on Thesen Island in Knysna

Their menu is quite casual and has a bit of everything (as their menu states, this is “Tapas of the World”) from Jalepeno Poppers to Chicken Salad. We chose from the sushi and oysters menu which was excellent (although it would be hard to do these two things badly in Knysna); definitely try their tempura oysters, even if you’re not a usually a fan.

Like Sirocco (or The Project), the cocktails tasted a bit watered down (although I’m starting to wonder if I just like a strong drink, as I had this same problem in Istanbul recently) and unlike Sirocco, the service was slow and patchy when it came to drinks orders, the servers seemed to have preference of bringing out all the drinks for people sitting outside en masse, rather than as they were ready.

Address: TH 29, Thesen Island, Long Street, Knysna
Opening Times: Everyday, 11:00am to 10:00pm
Contact Details: +27 (0) 44 382 7196, reservations available but not required.

Leisure Island Restaurants

Knysna’s sleepiest neighbourhood, Leisure Island is mostly residential, but is home to the lovely Bollard Bay Beach and Steenbok Nature Reserve, as well as just two places to grab a coffee or a bite to eat. Because of this, it is actually one of the nicest places to eat in Knysna as it tends to fly under the radar.

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Nadine’s Corner

Also known as the Leisure Island Coffee Shop, Nadine’s Corner is a relaxed and rustic setting with lots of indoor and outdoor seating options, the latter in the shade of two huge fig trees.

Come here for breakfast and choose from options such as the exotic sounding Island Breakfast, or at lunchtime there are a range of sandwiches, salads and classic home comforts like mac and cheese or cottage pie. Their desserts are excellent as well, I went all British and treated myself to jam and cream scones. I can also attest the carrot cake is rather delicious as well….

Antiques shop next to Nadine's Corner on Leisure Island in Knysna South Africa
The antiques shop attached to Nadine’s Corner

Inside you’ll find the walls lined with vintage cake tins and there is an array of local crafts on sale, from prints to ornaments. The café is also connected to a rather charming antiques shop that is great for a wander around.

Address: 12 Kings Way, Leisure Island, Knysna 6570
Opening Times: Tuesday to Saturday 9:00am to 8:00pm and Sundays 9:00am to 4:00pm.
Contact Details: +27 44 384 1746, reservations available but generally not required.

Bodega Café

Bodega Café was a late but very pleasant discovery on our Knysna holiday. With simple décor and a bright and airy vibe, it is quite small and was absolutely packed out during our visit.

Best Restaurants in Knysna: Bodega Café on Leisure Island
Bodega Café

They have an all day menu serving both breakfast dishes and a selection of lunches with names such as “Nourish”, a West African Peanut Stew, to “Grazie”, a daily changing homemade pasta dish. I went for “Amor,” a naan style taco bread stuffed with pulled pork and coleslaw, it was as delicious as it sounds! The service was also excellent, our host was very personable and friendly with a cracking sense of humour.

Address: 5 Kings Way, Leisure Island, Knysna 6570
Opening Times: Monday to Friday 8:00am to 3:00pm
Contact Details: +27 76 496 1600, reservations recommended.

Pezula

If you choose to rent a villa, there is a decent chance you will end up on Pezula Golf Estate or Pezula Private Estate (right next to each other). With beautiful homes, lots of security and fantastic views across Knysna and the Lagoon, it was the location we chose to stay (plus the guys all love golf, so practically living on a golf course was wildly appealing to them).

There isn’t a lot up here except Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa, which was the only place within walking distance of our villa, so we ended up here a few times.

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Zachary’s Bistro at Pezula Resort Hotel & Spa

“Slightly” frazzled from a fairly difficult trip from London, Zachary’s was the first place we had had a meal not on a plane in the last two days.

It’s a nicely done, classic golf hotel with great views of the sun setting across the golf course. It is slightly on the formal side, but not stuffy in any way and as you are in a hotel, it tends to be those on (a golf) holiday that you will be dining with, rather than locals.

The food is good with a range of options, not a lot of difference between the portion sizes of the starters (a little larger) and mains (a little smaller), although I have to admit, I’ve had bigger problems in restaurants.

The menu has a range of burgers, pizzas and local specialties such as ostrich fillet, bobotie spring rolls and the ever excellent seafood; I had some absolutely massive grilled prawns in a lime marinade for my main, which they also very kindly shelled and deveined on request for me.

Just the other side of the lobby is Noah’s Bar, perfect for a sundowner on their outdoor terrace.

Address: Lagoon View Dr, Sparrebosch, Knysna 6571
Opening Times: Everyday, 6:00am to 10:00pm
Contact Details: +27 44 302 3410, reservations recommended.

Knysna Waterfront Restaurants

Slightly controversially maybe, I wasn’t massively enamoured with Knysna Waterfront (except the sunsets), or the restaurants on it. It kind of felt like a family friendly version of Magaluf (yes, I have been there, don’t ask); noisy and generic. We ate and drank at several places along here during our stay and honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference between them.

The service I found to be average (at best), maybe we had been spoilt a bit as everywhere else we had been had just been so fantastic. There was one notable exception, Drydock, where we stopped for drinks one evening after dinner, who had the loveliest hostesses.

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In short, nothing hugely wrong with Knysna Waterfront, but it wasn’t really my cup of tea. If you like to have a livelier evening, you may well prefer it here.

Knysna Waterfront on the Garden Route in South Africa

Freshline Fisheries

Not quite a restaurant on Knysna Waterfront as it is the other side of the road, you may well think you have taken a wrong turn when you first pull into it as it looks like an industrial estate. Our taxi driver knew where he was going though and drove right to the back, where we found the very unassuming entrance to Freshline Fisheries, often touted as the best seafood restaurant in Knysna.

Once inside, you feel a bit like you are in a beach bar, there are “beach shacks” around the edge and sand on the floor, it’s very lovely, casual setting. The food is (unsurprisingly) mostly seafood based; the company Freshline Fisheries operate as both a fish wholesaler as well as restaurant and even have their own boat.

Best Restaurants in Knysna: Freshline Fisheries at Knysna Waterfront
The unassuming entrance to Freshline Fisheries

They don’t have an alcohol licence but will happily serve you your own if you bring it and there is no corkage charge. The food is simple, but so well done and I warn you now, the portions are absolutely huge; our starters were the size of mains and the mains were…a feast.

This restaurant gets really busy and isn’t the place to come for a long drawn out meal, we were informed on booking that we only had the table for an hour and a half. Our main meal was only served 20 minutes before we needed to be done (although we were five minutes late to our reservation) so it was a little rushed towards the end.

With two minutes to go until we had to give up the table, our very lovely waitress was still waving the card machine in the air trying to get the transaction to go through, the table wasn’t cleared and no word of a lie, the people due to have our table after us tried to sit down before we had even started getting up.

Address: Railway Siding Dockyard (Behind Tait Marine), Cnr Long & Waterfront Drive, Knysna
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday, 11:30am to 10:00pm (kitchen closes as 08:00pm) and Sundays 11:30am to 3:00pm
Contact Details: +27 44 382 3131, reservations recommended.

The Best of the Rest

When considering where to eat in Knysna, the three areas above are definitely the heavy hitters in terms of density of places, but head off into some of the lesser known areas and there are some absolute gems.

East Head Café

What a discovery this was! I am quite amazed that Knysna’s Eastern Head doesn’t have more places to eat on it, given the spectacularly dramatic views. While the Lagoon is nice and all, there is something about the Heads that the Lagoon just doesn’t have.

East Head Café is the only place to eat up here (with the exception of in some of the hotels) and it’s not even open for dinner. If you’re looking for a business opportunity, I’m sure you could make a killing here.

Anyway, back on track, East Head Café is just lovely; the interior is all light and bright and airy and the outdoor decking has the most fabulous views of the Lagoon to the right and the Heads to the left. It has a canopy, but it can get a little breezy, however the guys here are prepared with lots of blankets for you to wrap yourself in if you get a bit chilly.

View of Knysna Heads from East Head Café
The view of Knysna Heads from the terrace at East Head Café

The menu has all the classic brunch options, with some completely decadent and indulgent choices thrown in; my favourite was the bacon, fig preserve and camembert french toast, honestly, total heaven. I would have brunch for every meal (unless sushi was on offer!) so never tried any of the lunch options, but they had the obligatory seafood choices (including the very British fish and chips) as well a selection sandwiches, curries, burgers and steaks. Their dessert menu was also alarmingly tempting….

Great place for little ones as well, they have a kids corner outside to keep them entertained.

Address: 25 George Rex Dr, The Heads, Knysna, 6571
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday 8:00am to 3:30pm and Sundays 8:00am to 3:00pm
Contact Details: +27 44 384 0933, operates on a first come, first serve, no reservations available. It can get very, very busy here, so it may be worth calling and checking how big the queue is before you go.

The Olive Tree

A wonderfully rustic and very romantic little place set on Knysna’s Main Street, The Olive Tree has an ever changing menu on a blackboard that is wheeled over to your table and read out by one of their very attentive servers.

It has a very cozy and intimate vibe and the food is just delicious; South African comforts and Italian classics feature heavily and the babotie spring rolls were the best we had anywhere on our three week long trip.

Our starter was out lightening fast, which was much appreciated, but then we had a nice gap to chat and enjoy our wine before our man course came. It was a bit of a revelation actually, as I am usually a bit edgy until after I’ve had my starter as I’m usually pretty hungry by then!

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The service was excellent here and the owner is a lovely lady who is very much front and centre of the whole operation and clearly very passionate about both her staff and the quality of the food.

This is the one place we went to that had security outside the front door. They will escort you to and from your vehicle as it can be a bit of a sketchy area after dark, although nothing to be overly concerned about in my opinion.

Address: 21 Main Street, Woodmill Lane Shopping Centre, Knysna 6571
Opening Times: Monday to Saturday, 6:00pm to 9:30pm
Contact Details: +27 44 382 5867, reservations recommended.

Final Thoughts: Best Restaurants in Knysna

You won’t struggle to find places to eat in Knysna and you certainly won’t struggle to find some absolutely amazing seafood. I had a few people ask where to eat oysters in Knysna but honestly, you’ll struggle to find restaurants that don’t serve them and all of the seafood restaurants I have mentioned in this article did them excellently.

If there are any other places that you thing are among the best restaurants in Knysna, let me know as we are planning a return trip next year!

Visiting other places on the Garden Route? You may well find my travel guides to Wilderness and Plettenberg Bay helpful for you.

Travel Resources

Check flight routes and prices with Skyscanner. The nearest airport to Knysna is George, which has lots of flights from South Africa’s major cities everyday (it’s a domestic airport only). 

– From the UK, British Airways fly from London Heathrow to Cape Town and Durban (three times a week to each) and Johannesburg (twice every day).

View and book accommodation in and around Knysna with Booking.comAgoda or Hotels.com.

Buy a Lonely Planet Guide for South Africa for the best planning and information resources.

– You can check out my full list of tried, tested and recommended Travel Resources here.

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5 Comments

  1. Jacquie
    March 7, 2020 / 11:49 am

    There are some great looking restaurants here, especially the boatshed. We love the Garden Route and will be checking these out when we next go!

    • Rachael
      Author
      March 8, 2020 / 8:10 am

      The Garden Route is just brilliant isn’t it! Hope you have a fab time on your next trip 🙂

  2. Giddy Guest
    March 8, 2020 / 11:27 am

    Wow looks like there is some lovely places to eat, I especially love the look of ILE DE PAIN CAFÉ and the restaurants on the waterfront – very relaxing!

    • Rachael
      Author
      March 8, 2020 / 11:46 am

      That was one of my favourites as well, I love a good brunch place 🙂

  3. Curls en Route
    March 8, 2020 / 5:24 pm

    Too bad I didn’t have enough time to see the garden route when I went.. I’ll definitely go next time I visit!

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