The town was founded by the
Dutch east India Company in 1745
in order to exercise control over independent
frontiersmen who migrated over the Hottentots
Holland Mountains at the beginning of the 18th century. A landdrost was appointed and a Drostdy and other building were erected. The district and town
were named after the reigning Governor of the Cape, Hendrik Swellengrebel, and his wife, Helena Ten Damme.
In time, a village was established opposite the Drostdy, across the Koornlands River, where artisans, including numerous wainwrights, and traders settled.
To travellers and explorers, the services of these village folk were indispensable, as Swellendam was the last outpost of civilisation on the eastern frontier.
By the middle of the 19th century, the eastern districts had been colonized by the British settlers and Swellendam was a thriving metropolis. The town served as a
useful refreshment station on the long, slow journey up the coast.
Swellendam has many old buildings; some of which date from the 18th century, but many more were built during the town's boom years in the mid-19th century.
There are also several interesting buildings dating from the beginning of the 20th century, the most noteworthy being the Dutch Reformed 'Moederkerk' with its
eclectic architectural features, including Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and vernacular Cape elements.
The open-air complex of the Drostdy Museum consists of several historic buildings including official, town and country dwellings. The Drostdy itself reflects the
official history of the district from a Dutch East India Company outpost to a prosperous town under British Colonial Rule. It is renowned for its fine collection
of late 18th and early 19th century Cape furniture.
The rare and beautiful Bontebok antelope and other small buck species can be seen at the Bontebok National park, which is only 6km out of Swellendam. Situated
along the southern slopes of the Langeberg Mountains, the Marloth Nature Reserve is a botanist's dream with an abundance of wild flowers and fynbos. Hiking trails have been
established and a permit, available at the office, is required. For those who wish to undertake the entire 81km Swellendam trail are welcome or there are also several
day walks. Other activities are horse-riding, gliding, 210m long and 40m high fuffi slide - Flying Fox / Death Slide / Zip Wire (one of the longest ones we know of),
canoe hire and waterskiing.
Several well-known artists have settled in Swellendam and their studios may be visited. Swellendam is the largest Youngberry growing area in the country and there are
a few farms out of town that may be visited for liqueur tasting. Other Youngberry products are also for sale.
Continent of Sulina is a local attraction drawing people from all over the country - it's a Faerie Sanctuary! Faeries of various shapes, sizes, colours and styles are
beautifully displayed in 4 rooms and then there are those that peep out from behind the foliage in the flourishing garden with its mini-jungle of indigenous trees,
plants and herbs (many with healing properties). Bukkenberg Studio is a great addition to the local potting fraternity creating high quality pottery.
Restaurants in Swellendam still live up to its reputation as a foremost "refreshment station" and there are many restaurants and coffee shops in the town catering to travelers.