Top highlights in and around Cape Town, South Africa

Cape-Town-South-Africa header

This post is contributed by Tony Plowman; my ex-boss, good friend, and a proud South African. For years Tony’s been telling me to visit his homeland (which we hope to do in the near future!). This is the first of several posts he’s writing on South Africa.


TOP HIGHLIGHTS IN AND AROUND CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

Increasingly, Cape Town is the first destination of visitors to South Africa. As the country’s oldest city (1652), and with one of the world’s most iconic and spectacular physical settings at the foot of Table Mountain and the northern end of the beautiful Cape Peninsula, this multicultural, cosmopolitan “Mother City” of 4.6 million is at  the centre of the nation’s rich, multi-stranded history and heritage, offering a wealth of culinary experiences, unique shopping and – not least – a palette of activities and adventures second to none.


ESSENTIAL MUST DO’S:

 

01 | Walk through the downtown core

A  promenade through the city centre, the Gardens (where the National Library, several museums as well as the Houses of Parliament are located), the Waterfront and the Castle. You should also visit the incredibly colourful Bo Kaap neighborhood (see this post on Bo Kaap).

(photo credit for Cape Town castle: commons.wikipedia.org)

Cape-Town, south africa

The_Castle_of_Good_Hope, cape town

02 | Table Mountain

A cable car trip to the top of  Table Mountain – and a hike once there. You can even hike down. Table Mountain National Park stretches from Signal Hill in the city to Cape Point in the south (60 odd kilometers) with numerous access points for walks at Tokai, Cecilia Forest, Constantia Nek, Rhodes Memorial and Silvermine. Be sure to bring along a map,  good walking shoes and lots of water. More on Table Mountain.

Cable-car-Lions-head, cape town, south africa

 

03 | Hop-on, hop-off bus tour

A fascinating introduction and orientation to the city http://www.citysightseeing.co.za/. In addition to the city tour, they have an itinerary covering the Cape Peninsula. (photo credit: viator.com)

cape-town-bus-tour, south africa

 

04 | Cape Point

A visit to Cape Point – leave along the False Bay coast, return along the Atlantic coast (or vise versa).

Cape_of_Good_Hope, south africa

cape-point, south africa

Sign_of_the_Cape_of_Good_Hope, south africa


05 | Robben Island

Visit Robben Island – the notorious and infamous prison (since the late 1600s) in Table Bay. More on Robben Island.

Robben Island, south africa

 

06 | The Winelands

Tour The Winelands – with obligatory stops in Stellenbosch, Franschoek and some of  their vineyards.

Stellenbosch-Vineyards, south africa

 

07 | Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. More on Kirstenbosch.

Kirstenbosch-Gardens

 

08 | The Clifton Beaches

Visit The Clifton Beaches on the cold Atlantic Ocean side, for the beautiful people, if not the swimming.

Clifton-4th-beach, cape town, south africa

 

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OFF THE BEATEN PATH SIGHTS AND (SOME EXTREME) ACTIVITIES:


09 | Hermanus and Shark diving

Take the beautiful drive through Somerset West to Gordon’s Bay and along the coast the 120 kms to Hermanus – especially during the winter months when it is the Whale Capital of the world – or  anytime, to dive with the sharks at nearby Gansbaai! http://www.sharkcagediving.co.za/  Diving with the sharks or not, it’s an easy days outing along an incredibly beautiful coastline. (shark photo credit: noxrentals.co.za)

Hermanus-east-of-Cape-Town, south africa

Shark-diving

 

10 | Hike up Table Mountain

There are several routes of differing difficulty – or Lion’s Head where the last section to the top is with the use of chains! Stupendous views and adrenalin rushes guaranteed. If a hike up Table Mountain or Lion’s Head seems a bit of a chore, explore the mountain walking and contour trails – a lot easier, with still fantastic views.

Cape-Town views,  south africa

Lions-Head-Signal-Hill-+-Robben-Island1

 

11 | Paraglide or Abseil from Table Mountain

Paraglide from Lions Head – or abseil (also called rappelling) from the top of Table Mountain after a trip up in the cable car. Weather permitting there is  a crew offering the service at both places. Preferably reserve ahead.  http://www.paraglide.co.za/   and  http://www.abseilafrica.co.za/ . My paragliding Experience.

Cape-Town-paragliding, south africa

 

12 | Mountain walk at Ou Kaapse Weg

For probably the most beautiful mountain walk (not hike!) drive to the top of Ou Kaapse Weg (also a great drive) above Tokai and Constantia suburbs, entering the nature reserve through the gate just beyond the view-site. The area is a wonderland of forest, fynbos, spectacular views over the entire peninsula – with caves and even waterfalls. There is a network of walks, which especially in Spring (August to October) are ablaze with indigenous flowers and bushes including the famous proteas. (Photo credit: vimeo.com)

Ou-Kaapse-Weg


13 | Labyrinths

Cape Town offers three labyrinths, open to the public for meditation, contemplation and fun. The Oude Molen classical labyrinth can be found in the Oude Molen Village in Pinelands. The St George’s Cathedral labyrinth is situated in the city centre, at the top end of St George’s Mall, and the Kalk Bay medieval labyrinth on Main Road is located at the junction of the suburbs of Kalk Bay and Clovelly. (Photo Credit: flickr.com GoodHope MCC)

St-Georges-Labyrinth, cape town

 

14 | Kalk Bay

Visit Kalk Bay, one of the prettiest, funkiest, eclectic and quirky suburbs on the Peninsula. Easily reached by train it offers a wonderful range of markets, boutiques and shops, terrific restaurants and bistros, good surfing – and not least a fishing harbour where freshly caught fish can be purchased right off the boats. Nearby is the very small but popular St James beach with its antique, colourful changing cabins on the beach.

Kalk-Bay, cape town

 

15 | Simonstown and Boulders Beach

The charming end-of-the-line town and South Africa’s main naval base of Simonstown is home to dozens of historical buildings, an array of cafés and hundreds of the small fluffy African Jackass penguins at Boulders Beach. Take the train to Simonstown on one of the most scenic rail trips around. As you leave the city, you are whisked through a succession of coastal suburbs, along beautiful beaches, fishing boats and even the odd whale before arriving in Simonstown. Tours of the naval base can be arranged on site and the SA Naval Museum is well worth a visit .

penguins-on-boulders-beach, cape town

 

16 | Go to a concert

In the summer months take in a weekend concert at Kirstenbosch (the botanical gardens). The offerings are varied, different and superb – a wonderful and magic place to have a picnic dinner and ‘sundowners’ as the sun sets behind Table Mountain. Very romantic! (photo credit: colourworks.co.za)

Summer-Sunset-Concerts in cape town

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Wherever you go in Cape Town you’ll be met with beautiful views of mountains and ocean. Here are a few more photos to inspire you.

Bantry-Bay-Cape-Town, south africa

Above: Coast along Bantry Bay.                         Below: Twelve Apostles (Atlantic Coast).

Twelve-Apostles-Cape town

Below: ‘Tablecloth’ on Table Mountain.

Tablecloth, cape town

 

Next: What to see and do along the Garden Route and Little Karoo, South Africa


Much more on South Africa HERE.
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Have you been to Cape Town? Please tell me about your experiences. I would love to hear what you think about this beautiful city!

 

 

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Comments

  1. Awesome! South Africa has been on my list for so long (as well as other countries in Africa) and this is a fabulous introduction to the country. It sounds like there is no shortage of scenery and adventure! Thanks for sharing.
    Jessica J. Hill recently posted…Gypsy Safari in Rajaji National Park, IndiaMy Profile

  2. Cape Town, I had no idea you were so beautiful with so much to see! The landscape looks different from anything I’ve seen, as are those cabins on St James beach. These photos, and the amount of stuff to do in Cape Town just bumped this place WAY up on my to-visit list! Thank you for the great photos and suggestions.
    Heather recently posted…The Best Livingstone Hostel: Jollyboys Backpackers vs Fawlty TowersMy Profile

  3. Great tips, I’ll have to remember them for my trip in January! I’ll only be there for a couple days, so I’m going to try to fit in Boulders Beach and hiking Table Mountain. I was thinking of taking the train to get to the beach, but I’ve heard mixed reviews about the safety of trains (especially for a solo female traveler) and plus, some of the tours go through Chapman’s Drive which looks amazing. What do you think?
    Chelsea recently posted…Picture of the Week: Sunday Brunch at the Luxurious Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, VAMy Profile

    • Hi Chelsea – you’re going to have a great time! Check out the Destination Guides section of the blog for more info – in the South Africa section there’s a large section on safety as well a link the Adventurous Kate’s site on solo woman’s safety. In the Cape Town section there are some links at the bottom about Table Mountain and Boulder’s beach. I had a solo woman friend who went a few years ago who absolutely loved it, no problems at all.

  4. Great list! These days I feel adventurous, so I would definitely go to check out these great places…
    Cipri recently posted…The New airberlin Christmas Aircraft & My 5 Seconds of FameMy Profile

  5. Great travel minds think alike! Cheers 🙂

    http://www.thetriparchitect.com/three-days-in-cape-town-south-africa/
    Alena recently posted…Three Days in Cape Town, South AfricaMy Profile

  6. This is a great article. I’ve included it in the January edition of myWanderlist Best Travel Experiences. Thanks for sharing!
    Brad recently posted…The myWanderlist Best January Travel ExperiencesMy Profile

  7. Cape Town is on our bucket list! We especially want to drink wine, see the penguins on the beach, and hike Table Mountain!
    Jennifer recently posted…Ballooning Over BaganMy Profile

  8. I can’t wait to make it to South Africa someday soon – especially in the wake of Mandela’s death. Robben Island and Kalk Bay would be musts for me!
    Dana Carmel recently posted…Colonial Williamsburg’s Storied PastMy Profile

  9. Lovely pics, my friends who’ve been to South Africa tell me Cape town is the best.

  10. How lucky am I to be living here. Thanks for sharing this great article about my city.

    • Thank you so much Nesa, always nice when a local likes one of my articles. If you have anything else that you recommend while in Cape Town feel free to write again!

      • Eileen Stahli says:

        Fortunately my husband and I have almost 5 days to explore Cape Town. Already have 2 full mornings planned but I guess I would most like to know what place(s) you feel cannot be missed and will impart a glorious mental picture to bring home with us? Photos are great but those images you have ingrained in your brain also bring forth scents and sounds. Additionally, where would you go for your favorite meal? So looking forward to our visit in November.

        • Hard question Eileen particularly for “scents & sounds” Where does one start ? But here goes .although seemingly, my suggestions are largely detailed above ….
          – When you visit the Kirstenbosch..Botanical Garden (which you will – and must !) take one of the several hiking trails up – and across Table Mountain ( http://www.tablemountainwalks.co.za/walks.html ) which range from easy to tough.
          – Try and make one of the weekend summer concerts in Kirstenbsoch Gardens themselves – bring a good bottle le SAfrican wine for a wonderful & unique experience (the CT Tourist Office at the Main Station downdown will have full details)
          – a trip down to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope going down one side of the Peninsula and coming back along the other side (circular tour) and again taking a hike down to both ‘Capes” with the iodine and algae smells and sounds of the crashing breakers where 2 of the world’s great Oceans meet
          – Neighbourmarket in Woodstock, (Saturdays) with tons of local flavour, scents and selections of local produce, spices, products you are probably not familar with and never seen – exotic curries, waterblommetjies, biltong, bobetjies etc.and some of the best espressos anywhere !
          – Definitely a day out in the Stellenbosch and/or Franschoek winelands for obvious reasons , 50 kms north of the city centre.
          – Hout Bay on the Atlantic Coast to meet the fishermen coming in with their catches of delicious Kingklip, Kobbiljou, Butterfish or Roman as well as lobsters, squid etc, all in a spectacular setting., and then dine at one of the several – on the harbour – restaurants

          But Eileen, forget all of the above . CapeTown is a sleek mistress, and she will lead you to whatever temptation she so decides – maybe some of the above, maybe not – but wherever it is, you will not lack for the local sights, sounds and scents of this beautiful , seductive and unique part of the world. 5 days seems to be a lot but you are guaranteed to leave not having had sufficient time to do anything close enough to what you wish to do, or what CapeTown offers ! I hope the above helps a bit though . Whatever have a glorious and gorgeous visit. You will ! And you will leave with incredible and indelible memories (and their scents and sounds) imprinted (and ingrained) into your brain. Bon Voyage !

          • Eileen Stahli says:

            Thanks so much Tony. We call these our “Russell Stover Sample Box” tours. Go in and taste a little of this and see a little of that and then plan a more encompassing trip later on. But we are so excited about visiting Cape Town as part of our 50th wedding anniversary celebration and you contributed to us looking forward to it with even more enthusiasm. Thanks again for your response.

          • Frank (bbqboy) says:

            Hi Eileen. Glad Tony could help you, I forwarded him your comment yesterday as he’s the South Africa expert (although it’s a place we may be going to very soon).
            Please feel free to comment when you come back – would love to hear your impressions of Cape Town.
            Happy 50th anniversary 🙂

          • The Russel Stover Sample Box sounds a lot better than Forrest Gump’s approach – and it sounds like a terrific way to travel – first an ‘orientation tour’ and then back for the more intense “real” visit and trip. Its a bit like I like to do on my first visit to a city – one of the by now ubiquitous “hop-on, hop-off” bus tours – first time round , the introduction and orientation tour – and then the real thing afterwards – choosing amongst all the interesting chocolates (sorry Sights) !

            Congratulations Eileen, for your 50th – no mean feat at all by any measure ! If this trip is just “part” of your 50th celebrations it would be interesting to know what the other ‘parts’ are ….

  11. Unfortunately, I only had a day in Cape Town to catch my flight when I was there, but I can’t wait to go back and do all of these activities and more!
    Lizzie recently posted…Getting Inspired in the Artistic Town of Clarens in South Africa’s Free StateMy Profile

  12. Seems like everywhere you look it’s nothing but gorgeous views, those mountains, the coastline, the penguins! I need one of those jackass penguins as a pet, although that would probably not be the smartest thing, for me or the penguin heh.
    Devlin recently posted…Comment on On Turning 34, Living Abroad, Finding Love, Enlightenment, and Never Looking Back by T.W. AndersonMy Profile

    • Hey Devlin – great minds think alike. A penguin would be cool, add a touch of class to everything you do. Imagine walking into a fancy restaurant with your penguin. I always thought I’d like a river otter as a pet – friendly and always playful. Maybe one day;)

  13. That is why Cape Town is ranked as one of the top three destinations in the world to visit.

  14. Mallory Johnson says:

    Thank you so much. I will be taking a trip for my birthday there in March. I am so happy to have found this article. I saved it so I could revert back to it while making my itinerary. I see that a lot of things can be done for little to nothing out of pocket. Thanks again!

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