Vast mountain views, gorgeous natural surroundings and old-world charm await any traveller seeking solace in Clarens. Situated in the heart of the Eastern Free State Highlands, this nature lover’s haven and artistic hub is certainly one of South Africa’s top tourist destinations. That’s why TravelGround is hitting you with the top spots in Clarens, giving you ample reason to pack your bags and hit the road to visit this magical mixture of South African splendour!

1. Walk the walk 

The Clarens Village Conservancy has an array of hiking and MTB trails, as well as fishing spots. You need to buy a permit to partake in these activities, which is available on their website. Another option is to explore SANParks’ popular Golden Gate Highlands National Park near the border of Lesotho. This area is home to game and an abundance of birdlife. You can enjoy lunch at Meriting Picnic Site or tackle the hiking trails that are suitable for beginners and experienced hikers. Be on the lookout for Cathedral Cave – a stunning cave carved by wind and water over millions of years.

Fairview Cottages Clarens
Image: TravelGround

2. Adrenaline shot

Calling all the adrenaline junkies! If you’re looking for an activity that will get your heart racing and your blood rushing, look no further than Clarens Xtreme. They’ve dubbed themselves the “great adventure people”, offering abseiling, archery, enduro trails, mountain bike trails, paintball, putt-putt, quad biking, wall climbing, white-water rafting and Zipline. With the majestic Maluti Mountains as your backdrop, a Free State stay can’t get more adventurous than some Clarens Xtreme fun!

Image: TravelGround

3. Home-brewed

This brewery, cidery and distillery set in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, is the perfect spot to catch your breath after some thrilling adrenaline fun. Clarens Brewery’s brewer, Stephan Meyer, found his beerspiration during a visit to the UK in die 90s. Meyer built most of the brewery himself using reclaimed vessels from the dairy and chemical industry. Both whiskey and apple brandy are also distilled at the brewery, and an array of craft gins, ciders, juices and liqueurs are produced yearly under their Red Stone Cider label. Visitors to Clarens can stop by the brewery for free tasters and a brewery tour, and enjoy a delicious German-style lunch at the Clarens Brewery’s restaurant. This is definitely an experience that will delight each and every beer lover.

Clarens Brewery
Image: Provided

4. For the love of art

Clarens has over twenty art galleries and visitors are invited to follow the Art Route, or simply enjoy strolling from gallery to gallery. If you’re looking for a visual stimulant in the art epicentre of the Free State, you needn’t look any further than Robert Badenhorst’s Main Street art gallery. Badenhorst’s father, Francois Badenhorst, was a well-known painter and his mother, Kathy, a gallery owner. His own gallery houses an amazing array of paintings, sculptures, hand-blown glass candles and centrepieces, photography, ceramics and candelabras. So, if it’s a feast for your eyes you seek, be sure to pop in at Robert’s gallery. You might even leave with a few collectables! 

Image: BigStock

5. Local gems

Speaking of art, Clarens is also known for its local presence all around the town, anything from pottery and leatherwork to traditional blankets. Here you’ll find one-of-a-kind vintage pieces and handmade goods to take home. Bibliophile, a cute, local bookstore, offers a selection of fiction and non-fiction books, as well as audiobooks, travel guides, maps, puzzles, games and activities for all ages. 

Many of the local eateries have live music and are also family-friendly. Be sure to pop into Noah’s Cheese, a boutique cheesery situated on the farm Node. What started from humble beginnings in 2012 when the founder, Marietjie Crowther, received a cow from her father as a birthday present, has developed into a cheesery that has now been participants in one of the world’s biggest cheese festivals in Italy.

Noahs Cheese Clarens
Left: Chilli and herb string cheese. Right: Their signature Kashkaval.
Image: Provided

6. Head in the clouds

Feeling romantic? Clarens has got you covered. Experience the breathtaking views and scenery of the Maluti Mountains and surrounds with a trip to the clouds in a hot air balloon. Suited for any occasion, like a birthday, wedding anniversary or surprise engagement, this adventure is another unmissable experience when visiting Clarens. The balloons have been colouring the air for more than eighteen years and offer an experience with spectacular photographic opportunities. Please note that this outdoor activity is weather dependent.

Image: Provided

7. Quench your thirst

Highland Coffee Roastery is a micro-roastery that takes great pride and care in roasting 100% Arabica coffees in small batches to absolute perfection and top-notch taste. The roastery, shop and espresso bar is located in On The Square Centre, where visitors can sit, relax and unwind with a freshly-roasted and perfectly-prepared cuppa Joe while enjoying a beautiful view of Mount Horeb. There’s certainly nothing like a cup of hot Mountain Blend to kick off a day in Clarens.

Image: Provided

8. Stay like royalty

Feast your eyes on the décor and art that was carefully handpicked from all over the world. Castle in Clarens offers a royal experience for up to four people and is based on the Rapunzel fairy tale. The garden is especially designed to fit in with the fairytale – thorns trees, small pathways, and a vegetable garden. The castle’s lounge contains a small library, as well as a fireplace. Guests can prepare their braai in the Chamber of Angels, or watch the sunset behind the Maluti Mountains from the Sunset Corner.

Castle in Clarens
Image: TravelGround

9. Close to Afriski

Afriski is one of two ski resorts in South Africa and only a little over two hours from Clarens. This resort is located 3050 metres above sea level in the Maluti Mountains near the northern border of Lesotho. The resort is also suitable for kids. They can practice some snow skills before trying the bigger slopes and in the summertime, other activities include abseiling, mountain biking, paintball, quad biking, fly fishing and 4×4 trails which makes this destination an all-year favourite.

Image: TravelGround

10. Starry, starry nights

Accommodation in Clarens deserves an exclusive reason to visit. Synonym with the artistic atmosphere of the town, the accommodation blends in with unique finishes while keeping it comfortable and classy. 

The Nelsbells Cottage

The Nelsbells Cottage

This rustic Victorian-style homestead accommodates six guests in the main house and two adults in the garden flat. It is a beautiful house, offering self-catering accommodation within walking distance of the heart of Clarens and is perfect for travellers looking for a small-town escape within easy reach of shops and amenities. 

Lola’s Luxury Self-Catering Accommodation

Lola's Luxury Self-Catering Accommodation

Lola’s Luxury Self-Catering Accommodation offers quality accommodation for six people on their next trip to the Free State Highlands. This colourful house boasts spectacular mountain views from the patio and has braai facilities you can enjoy. The town square is only a two-minute walk away and it’s perfectly safe to venture during the day and night. This house offers luxury lodgings for weary travellers wanting to bask in the bliss of Clarens’ beauty.

Ridge Road Estate

Ridge Road Estate

Ridge Road Estate offers accommodation in a six-sleeper cottage or a twelve-sleeper country house just ten kilometres outside Clarens along the R711. The country house is an award-winning French-style farmhouse with a natural rock pool and pets are also welcome by arrangement! Have a braai and take in a view of the lush surroundings from the pool area. The Karoo-style cottage is just as charming and sports a covered braai, and a pool and pets are allowed by arrangement.

With so much to enjoy during a Clarens visit, it’s no wonder this quaint little town is known as the jewel of the Eastern Free State. Come winter rain or summer sun ─ Clarens is the place to be all year round!

Feature image: Bigstock

This blog was originally written by Gerriline Fouché and revised by Bea Lingenfelder in 2023.