If there is one city in the world I am dying to return to, it’s Cape Town. It’s a city too beautiful for its own good. Where one can get easily lost in the depths of nature and still have dinner at any sushi, tapas, or bistro they want at night.
There are so many things to do in Cape Town, it’s hard to optimize your time there unless you have a full year. We spent two months there and felt we barely scratched the surface of what the city has to offer.
Still, we like to think we hit many of the tourist hot spots, and were still able to delve a little deeper into the city. From activities like climbing the iconic table mountain, to sipping some delicious Pinotage while overlooking the tip of Africa Cape Town will have enchanted.
If you find yourself in the South African city,
don’t tell me because I will be jealous, here are a few amazing things to do.
Best Things To Do in Cape Town
1. Robben Island
If a place that has been a fort, leper colony and mental institution pique your interest, then a trip to Robben Island is one of the things to do in Cape Town that you won’t want to pass up. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the place where anti-apartheid crusader Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, probably no other place like it captures the essence of South Africa and its troubled past.
The museum will give you a fascinating and macabre look into South Africa’s history; some of the tour guides are former prisoners, so their accounts will be all the more chilling. Since it’s an island, you’ll need to take a ferry to get there, but it’s included in the cost of admission, which is R360 for adults and R200 for children. The tours take about 3 ½ hours and start every two hours, beginning at 9:00 AM and ending at 3 PM.
2. Camps Bay
After a day spent contemplating heavy issues like imprisonment and apartheid, perhaps a day at the beach would be a nice change of pace. The sun and sand will enthrall you, but don’t bother bringing your swim trunks, because the icy Atlantic water at scenic Camps Bay may be too cold for swimming unless you’re a penguin. It is, however, a great place to relax, take a long walk, or enjoy some refreshment while indulging in a little sunset or people watching.
There’s no fee to use the beach, and it’s easily accessible from Cape Town. Camps Bay is one of the ritziest areas of Cape Town and is definitely one of our favorite spots to relax in the whole city.
3. Table Mountain
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, watching the sunset from Table Mountain is one of the most romantic things to do in Cape Town. Cape Town’s iconic landmark, Table Mountain, is a magnificent feature that hovers over the city, making it another one of those things to do in Cape Town that shouldn’t be missed. For those fit and fearless travelers who relish a challenge, it’s possible to hike to the top of Table Mountain, although the weather on the cape can change without much warning, so take a few spare items of clothing and a windbreaker just in case.
For those not interested in burning calories, there’s the unique Aerial Cableway, on which the compartments rotate 360 degrees so that everyone gets the panoramic view of the dramatic city, sea, and mountain. Due to its magnificence, the Cableway can be crowded and it may be a long wait just to buy your ticket especially during peak times, so book ahead of time online if you can.
4. Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
A hive of activity night and day, the V & A Waterfront was built by Queen Victoria’s son Alfred – hence the name – in the late 1800s, and was an important port, especially during the colonial era. It’s also a wonderful place from which to view Table Mountain, the ocean and sunset, and really take in the vibe of Cape Town. As the sun fades, the waterfront comes alive with music, laughter and tasty adult beverages served at the many bars and cafes you’ll find here.
There are roving street performers that are sure to fascinate and enchant, and plenty of shopping too. The V&A Waterfront is where we enjoyed many date nights together. There is a movie theatre here as well as a plethora of amazing restaurants. Heading to the V&A waterfront is one of my favorite things to do in Cape Town at night.
5. Constantia Valley
Let’s face it, in years past, South Africa wasn’t exactly known as a place where great wine was found. But as far back as the 1800s, grapes were transplanted here specifically for the country’s blossoming wine industry. The valley is about 10 miles from Cape Town and is as rich in charm and history as it is in wine. The oldest winery is Groot Constantia, which offers tours of its stunning grounds, a glimpse into its history, and a post-tour tasting that’ll make you wonder why you haven’t tried a South African wine before.
All-inclusive, guided wine tours are available, or if you’ve rented your own car, you can drive around the area and see what interests you. Remember that each winery has its own schedules and entrance fees if you’re not part of a tour. If you want to get out of the city a bit more we highly recommend visiting Stellenbosch for a few days.
6. District Six Museum
In the city’s center, The District Six Museum – like Robben Island – is one of the things to do in Cape Town that you shouldn’t skip as it provides insight on the cities past. Giving another glimpse into the country’s apartheid years, District Six is a part of the town that was declared ‘all white,’ in the ’70s, and from which over 60,000 blacks were forcibly relocated to Cape Flats – an impromptu settlement of rag-tag shanty homes that was not surprisingly a hotbed of anti-white sentiment among the persecuted blacks.
Although it’s possible to tour the museum on your own, you may get more out of it with a local tour guide, many of whom will be able to give you first-hand accounts of what life was like during apartheid. The hours of operation vary on different days, so check out their website. The cost of entry is about R40 per person.
7. Boulders Beach
What if I told you there was a place near Cape Town where you can watch thousands of penguins waddle, dance, and talk to you? Well, there is! Okay, they aren’t really “talking” to you, but they do make that noise that penguins make. A half-hour drive from the center of Cape Town is Boulders Beach, a beach where humans can observe wild African penguins at a ridiculously close range. This is one of the most fun things to do in Cape Town for couples!
Boulders Beach – named for the massive rocks that dot the sand – consists of wonderful, semi-private areas formed by the giant boulders. You’ll find the water here pleasantly warm when compared to those beaches on the Atlantic coast. For wildlife and nature lovers, Boulders not only offers great swimming and scenery but is home to a colony of penguins that alternate between basking in the sun and catching fish in the surf.
If you’d like to take a photo or two with them, fear not, they are pretty accustomed to people, but please don’t try to feed them or get too close, they are wild animals after all. Since it is part of Table Mountain National Park, there will be a small entrance fee of about R60 for adults with most of the money going back to the conservation of the penguins. The beach opens bright and early and closes at different times depending on the season. In my opinion, this is one of the most things you can do in Cape Town for under R100.
8. Bugz Playpark
Finding kid-friendly activities can be a challenge, especially when in a strange place. As if they were reading your mind, the people at Bugz Playpark have created a one-stop shop where your kids will get exercise and smiles on their faces all at once. Brimming with hoops, balls, swings, boats, bells and jungle-gym equipment of nearly every make and model, Bugz has a little something for everyone.
At eight o’clock that night, when they’re zonked out in their beds leaving the hotel room perfectly quiet, you’ll thank your lucky stars that you took them there in the first place. Snacks and refreshments are available, and there’s a restaurant too if you want to replenish all those expended calories. This is one of the best things to do in Cape Town for families. Check their website for opening hours.
9. Le Bonheur Reptiles and Adventures
Don’t let the French-sounding name fool you, this place is South African to the core. Full of crocodiles, snakes, and lizards, if the hairs on the back of your neck don’t stand on their end, you need to check your pulse. There’s even diving with crocodiles available for children nine and older, but if it sounds dangerous don’t worry, only 1 out of 17 children is eaten.
There’s even a place you can fish for bass once you’ve had your fill of hanging around deadly reptiles. This is one of the more unusual things to do in Cape Town and is great for all ages!
10. National Botanical Gardens at Kirstenbosch
Boasting nearly 100 acres of beautifully cultivated gardens, the National Botanical Gardens hosts thousands of visitors from all over the world.
Near Table Mountain, and with nearly 7,000 species of plants, trees, and flowers, you’ll be amazed that so many different species can all grow in the same place. Scattered through the grounds are seating and viewing areas, explanatory plaques and of course the many insects, birds, and critters that are drawn to such a place.
Remember to get a map, as the grounds are extensive, and plan on setting aside at least a few hours which will be ample time to get your fill. The hours of operation change with the seasons, so ask around or check online before you go. Admission is cheap at R70 for adults for the day!
11. Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope
Named by mariners who hoped that good fortune lay beyond its treacherous waters, the Cape of Good Hope is part of Table Mountain National Park, and one of most iconic things to do in Cape Town. There are plenty of walking trails leading throughout the park, and lots of interesting African animals that call the park home, like ostriches and baboons.
Cape Point is a narrow isthmus of land protruding into the Atlantic, which isn’t officially the southernmost point of the African continent, but standing on it experiencing the view, wind, and surf, it’ll sure feel like it. The drive from Cape Town is nearly an hour, but the breathtaking experience will more than speak for itself. There’s a relatively small conservation fee to enter the park, but when you see where the money goes, you’ll be happy that you could do your part to contribute.
12. Greenmarket Square
Conveniently situated only a short walk from V & A Waterfront, Greenmarket’s disturbing beginnings were as a market for slaves bound for the New World. The square’s old streets are home to many vendors selling all manner of goods for locals and tourists alike. There is also a band of roaming street performers who’ll keep you amused between stalls.
13. Go Canyoneering
If you haven’t heard of canyoneering, it is a must for any outdoor sports addict. It’s one of those great Cape Town experiences that can’t be missed. The basic premise is to find a canyon full of water and follow the flow. We went with Frixion Adventures who operate around the Cape Town area. Brett, the owner has been doing this for over two decades. It’s seriously impressive how fast he can move down a waterfall, which you’ll be doing a lot of.
Canyoneering involves cliff jumps, hiking, swimming, and lots of abseiling. Dropping off the face of a waterfall with a rope is an experience we’re not likely to forget anytime soon. When you lean back in your harness and jump off a 65m tall waterfall you won’t forget either. I can’t think of a better way to experience a waterfall. Descending one with water pounding into your chest and your feet on the rock wall. It rocks, literally!
The canyons around Cape Town itself make for a beautiful day of hiking. On a personalized tour, everyone will get a light breakfast, lunch, and plenty of hot soup to warm back up from the chilly river water.
14. Play Mini-Golf
Nothing captures the soul of South Africa more than a good game of glow-in-the-dark mini-golf, right? OK, I just made that up, but if you’re inclined to give it a try, you’ll never again think of one without the other. Glowing Rooms SA, in the town of Milnerton, it’s open to everyone regardless of age, and it isn’t too expensive either.
15. Hike Lion’s Head
Also part of Table Mountain National Park, and sitting squarely between Table Mountain and Signal Hill, Lion’s Head Mountain is one of the most popular things to do in Cape Town for locals and visitors alike. The view from the top will take your breath away – and getting there will burn some calories too. Rising 669 meters above sea-level, it’s a popular place to hike, especially at sunset and during a full moon.
In the summer it gets crazy busy, and sunrise is the best time to avoid crowds. The vistas, rock formations, and varied plant life will make the trip more than memorable, and you may see colorful paragliders circling about, as the mountain is a favorite departure area for these brave souls.
16. Bo Kaap
If you’re on Instagram, then chances are you have seen photos of the Bo-Kaap neighborhood of Cape Town. The brightly colored buildings of this Cape Malay neighborhood makes it a popular stop for tourists with cameras and one of the best places to go in Cape Town for a few hours. Bring your camera and a cute outfit as you’ll likely go photo crazy here. This is a residential neighborhood so be respectful.
17. Snorkle with Cape Fur Seals
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but there are some serious adventurous things to do in Cape Town. From Seal Snorkeling to Canyoneering, and even bungee jumping off the world’s highest bungee bridge there is no way you will go bored in this city. Out of all those adventures in Cape Town, one of our favorite days when we went swimming with Cape Fur Seals.
The Cape Fur Seals are massive, smell pretty bad, and can out swim a boat. Regardless any marine fan and even divers will love the experience of snorkeling with them and having a great adventure in Cape Town. Hout Bay has long offered tourists the chance to take a big boat out to a small island just outside the harbor where 15,000 Cape Fur Seals reside. The brave can now jump into the chilly waters of the Atlantic and go swimming with the furry animals. Wetsuits are provided as the water is generally bone-chilling cold.
18. Bay Harbour Market
Every weekend at 31 Harbour Rd the town of Hout Bay takes on some of the finest bakers, artisans, artists, and food creators in Cape Town. You can come here to get just about anything to eat, but perhaps the fish is what many of the booths specialize in. Don’t come full or with an empty wallet because everything in sight looks delicious, and the handicrafts are unique.
19. Drive Chapman’s Peak
If you are without a car in Cape Town, I highly recommend renting one for at the least the day so that you can drive Chapman’s Peak. This is one of the world’s most scenic drives and is definitely worth the R42 toll to drive on this beautiful road together.
One of the most romantic places in Cape Town is the Tintswalo Atlantic hidden along Chapmen’s peak. It’s definitely a splurge-worthy stay for a romantic weekend getaway in Cape Town.
20. Woodstock Street Art Tour
Woodstock is a hip neighborhood in Cape Town undergoing some serious gentrification right now. What does that mean? Amazing street art in the city!
We enjoyed an afternoon of walking around and snapping photos of all the impressive street art in the area together. There are plenty of cafes to duck into including the Old Biscuit Mill, which is best visited on Saturdays.
21. Surf in Muizenberg
Muizenberg is right outside of Cape Town and is the heart and soul of surfing culture in South Africa. The vibe is even more laid back here than in Cape Town. There are dozens of cafes, yoga shops, and beach shacks to wander into.
If you’re feeling adventurous then rent a surfboard and wetsuit and try a hand at surfing together. Be sure to check out one of the many yoga studios for some yoga on the beach!
22. Take a Helicopter Ride
Cape Town is such a beautiful city, we just had to explore it by air. We’ve each have been wanting to ride in helicopter ever since we were teased in the Seychelles earlier in the year so we knew we had to book with NAC Helicopters.
NAC offers a few different routes. We went with the Atlantico tour that took us around Hout Bay.
The mountains, city bowl, and crystal clear waters all together barely look real and are something that should be seen in person by everyone traveling to Cape Town. I’m not sure there is a better city in the world to splurge on a helicopter ride in.
23. Bungee Jump (Day Trip)
This adventure is not in Cape Town, and in fact, it’s pretty far. However, at just six hours drive outside of Cape Town sitting on the famous Garden Route we’re still adding it to the list. The drive itself is stunning and an absolute must when visiting South Africa. This is also one of the most thrilling things you can do in Africa. The experience of bungee jumping will give even the bravest an adrenalin rush. No “manning” up here – the jump is high.
Face Adrenalin has been throwing people off of the Bloukrans bridge since 1997 and has every intention of remaining fatality free after 25 years as a bungee company. You’re in safe and capable hands, unlike here. The bridge is 216 meters high, or 708ft, making it the highest bungee bridge in the world and at one point it held the world record for the highest commercial bungee in the world. If doing a bungee jump has been your dream there is no better place to do it than with Face Adrenalin off of this bridge.
Be forewarned! The moment you jump off the bridge and see an open 216m below you, the thought “I’m going to die” will cross your mind. It is terrifying, but it is followed by an overwhelming rush of adrenalin. Just live by their motto when you’re standing on the edge, “fear is temporary, regret is permanent.” I’m scared of heights, but if given the opportunity 100% jump again.
24. Abseil Table Mountain
Standing on top of Table Mountain and looking down on Cape Town is an experience every visitor should have. The cable car up to the top is the most visited tourist attraction in Africa, after all. However, for those who like an adventure standing near the edge and looking down on the city isn’t going to cut it. Abseil Africa will happily “throw” tourists off of Table Mountain from 1000m up.
Abseiling off of Table Mountain offers some of the best views possible. The abseil is about five to ten minutes of dizzying heights as you look down on the Atlantic Ocean and Camps Bay. It’s a much different experience than canyoneering seeing as it is a dry rope at a much higher altitude for a shorter amount of time. We loved the experience even if we were scared out of our minds leaning back with no hands.
How to Get Around Cape Town
We came to Cape Town thinking it would be a big city with big city transport options available. This was NOT the case and there really is no efficient way to get around Cape Town.
The best way to see all of the amazing things this city has to offer is by car. There are many options to rent in South Africa for an affordable price. A rental car is a great way to see South Africa and Cape Town.
Trust me you will want a car if you are visiting the city and want to get to places like Cape Point and Muizenberg. Check out a few of our rental car tips here. Thinking about diving around South Africa? Here’s a perfect South Africa road trip itinerary.
Uber is also a really popular and safe option in the city and is incredibly affordable. If you are on a major budget then the MyCiti bus is always available to get you to your destination. Is it your first time driving abroad? Check out our tips!
Where to Stay in Cape Town
We’ve given a full tour of Cape Town and have a number of great places we can recommend staying from luxury to budget. It all really comes down to what you’re looking for. With a full day, you need accessibility, high-speed internet, a quality night’s rest, and some good food. After a long day of adventure sports, we aren’t always in the mood for the party atmosphere of a hostel or the work involved in a self-catering apartment.
The Tintswalo Atlantic
Due to its charm, class, level of service, intimacy, character, and stunning location, The Tintswalo Atlantic takes our top accolade. We loved our room so much we never left them except for a quick dip in the heated pool and to have dinner. With only eight individually designed rooms the hotel is charming and intimate. Rooms have features such as tubs with views over the bay and a wood stove for when the winter winds blow. Evenings at the Tinstwalo feel like a dream with sunsets over in Hout Bay, bubbles, plush bathrobes, and some evening canapés. See our full review here.
The Capital Mirage
The Capital Mirage is one of the newest hotels in Cape Town. The modern digs are studio apartments and perfect for business travelers. The studio apartment allows for a more like home for those needing to stay a week or more. Amenities like real high-speed internet (our tests got 26mbps), washer and dryer, full kitchen, multiple restaurants on site, and a TV that connects to your laptop set it apart from other hotels. When finished with the day guests can head to the roof where The Vue bar offers stunning views of Table Mountain and a rooftop pool.
Travel Tips for South Africa
- Languages Spoken: The most widely spoken language is Zulu, then Xhosa, followed by Afrikaans. However, just about everyone speaks English.
- Capital: South Africa has no legally defined capital city. Instead, there are three South African capitals. They are Pretoria (executive capital), Bloemfontein (judicial), and Cape Town (legislative).
- Currency: South African Rand 4 (ZAR) – $.
- Visa: Some nationalities are issued a 90-day visa on arrival. Check with your embassy for the best information. The visas are consecutive, not concurrent, don’t be like us and get kicked out.
- Weather: Hot and humid especially during the summer months.
- What to Pack: Depends on the season and where you are at. Definitely bring hiking shoes, a bathing suit, and a jacket.
- Malaria: Not a major threat in South Africa. In the rainy season, areas around Kruger and the north are at mild risk of malaria.
- Stay Connected: Vodacom, Telcom, OneCell, and MTN are the cell phone and internet providers. Check here for more information.
- Adaptor: You’ll need this adaptor in Southern Africa.
- Tipping: This is a tipping country and visitors should expect to tip for anything from a lunch out, to gas station attendants, to security guards in parking lots. Tips to car guards can be anything between 2 and 10 ZAR while 10% is the norm for waitstaff.
Book A Safari Near Cape Town
Traditionally if you wanted to book a safari you’d have to go to a travel agent and have them book your safari for you. They made suggestions for camps and lodges then presented you with a large bill. Most of the industry still operates in this fashion.
However, Timbuktu is a new platform that allows you to select the lodges you’d like and see the pricing per day that way you can select the best itinerary for yourself. They will then contact the lodges and help you through booking your safari. With experts on staff, they can also provide suggestions and arrange the little details much like a travel agent.
When is the Best Season to Travel South Africa?
High season (November and March): This is the high season in South Africa, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the best time to visit South Africa. The weather in South Africa really starts to warm up starting in November, some may say it gets unpleasantly hot in some places. December and January are particularly busy because of the holidays. If you can manage it I would generally try to avoid travel during this time.
Shoulder Season (April-May and September-October): The weather throughout most of South Africa is pleasant during this time. Not too hot and not too cold. April and May is one of the best times to go on safari in South Africa. Crowds are low and the wildlife still gather around the watering hole making easier viewing.
Low Season (June-September): This is South Africa’s winter season meaning low numbers of tourists and cooler weather. We traveled around South Africa in August and September and still had a fabulous time. The weather was cool, but only really at night did we need a jacket. Winter means the middle of the dry season making game viewing on safari generally quite good. This is also the time when you’ll be able to score deals across the country!
Plan and Pack for Cape Town
Make sure to protect your eyes from the sun in Africa since you’re near the equator. There are a lot of options for sunglasses and everyone should own at least a pair. It’s best to make sure they do have UV protection for the health of your eyes.
We made our first investment in quality polarized sunglasses with a pair of SMITH Optics Lowdown 2. Truthfully, not everyone needs to invest $150 in a pair of sunglasses, but they do make a huge difference from the crappy $10 ones.
Skin cancer is for real! Don’t forget your SPF when traveling around Africa. We recommend ordering some online before leaving the house as you will need it underneath the African sun and it can be very hard to find outside major cities.
We highly recommend getting an eco friendly sun cream that does not contain harmful chemicals. They’re mineral based and usually only cost a few dollars more to help protect our oceans. If you’re not going to swim in the ocean just go with a reliable name brand.
Hiking Shoes or Boots
If you’re wondering what necessities to bring to Africa then sturdy shoes are perhaps the most important thing you will need before you get to Africa.
For those Cape Town summers, it’s a tremendous idea to have a comfortable sundress. Not only is a dress more comfortable, but it’s also cute and can bring you from day to night easily.
It’s even possible to take easy hikes in dresses, like along Table Mountain. You can check out the best safari dresses here.
A good pair of sandals is great for being comfortable on any day in Cape Town. The city is super laid back and relaxed and a sturdy pair of flip flops is well worth the investment.
I travel with my Rainbow leather flip flops which have gotten me through 80 countries so far. We spend 90% of our time in a pair of sandals when traveling around Africa. The only time we opt for our boots is on bush walks, long hikes, and in busy dirty streets. You can always try hiking sandals like Tevas or Chacos too!
I love my buff. I usually wear it for keeping my hair back, but it’s also served its purpose as a scarf and wet rag too. Buffs last for years and aren’t only helpful in Africa. I actually wear mine every day when I’m snowboarding in the mountains. It’s been one of my top travel accessory investments ever!
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