I get pretty excited when I talk about Cape Town. We spent 3 months there in 2016. It’s the most beautiful place I’ve ever been.
It is South Africa’s oldest city (1652) – but it is the geographical setting at the foot of Table Mountain and at the juncture of 2 oceans that makes it so spectacular. This post covers the highlights of this incredible city.
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 (more here on Bo Kaap).
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 (All you need to know about going up Table Mountain).
Get the Cable Car ticket/Hop-On Hop-Off Bus combo, it’ll save you a lot of time.
03 | Hop-on, hop-off bus tour
A fascinating introduction and orientation to the city is the Hop On Hop Off Bus. It has 4 routes that you can take over 2 days, including one to the vineyards of Groot Constantia. I tell everyone who wants to listen that you HAVE to take the Hop-on, Hop-off in Cape Town – it is a city perfectly suited to it and the 4 routes take you to all the major city attractions as well as to some of the highlights along the coast. Plus it’s inexpensive. You can pre-buy the standard 4 routes here (it’s good for 48 hours), or purchase the bus and Cable car combo here.
04 | Cape Point
A visit to Cape Point – leave along the False Bay coast, return along the Atlantic coast (or vise versa). All about the highlights of the Cape Peninsula. This tour takes you there. It also takes you to see the Penguins at Boulders Beach (see 13 below).
05 | Robben Island
Visit Robben Island – the notorious and infamous prison (since the late 1600s) in Table Bay. All about Visiting Robben Island.
06 | The Winelands
Make sure to visit Stellenbosch, Franschoek and some of their world-famous vineyards. Great wines and food, at some of the wineries you can even stay overnight in beautiful accommodations. The Best Wineries in Stellenbosch and Franschoek.
07 | Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. Visiting Kirstenbosch. It’s covered by the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus so it’s easy to get to.
08 | The Clifton Beaches
Visit the Clifton Beaches on the cold Atlantic Ocean side. Great beaches and a beautiful coastline. More here on the entire Atlantic coastline of Cape Town.
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! Diving with the sharks or not, it’s an easy days outing along an incredibly beautiful coastline. This is the tour to take.
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 (see detailed information on hiking Table Mountain and Lion’s Head by clicking on the links). Cape Town is hiking heaven.
11 | Paraglide or Abseil from Table Mountain or Lion’s Head
Paraglide from Lions Head – or abseil (also called rappelling) from the top of Table Mountain. Weather permitting there is a crew offering the service at both places. My Cape Town paragliding Experience.
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.
13| 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. This tour will take you to Boulders Beach as well as the Cape Point (#4 above).
14 | 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!
15 | Go for drinks and dinner at Camps Bay
Super cool and trendy with gorgeous views of ocean and mountains. Lots of very nice restaurants (and it’s another place covered by the Hop On, Hop off bus).
Accommodation. If you’ve got BIG bucks, Camps Bay is the place to stay. 51 on Camps Bay is great value for its location. But you have to book really early. The Bay Atlantic Guest House is equally popular. We really liked the Oranjezicht area of town (safe, trendy, and gorgeous location at the base of the mountain) and there are are some good value places there like Esperanza Guest House, Glory Guest House, and Abbey Manor Luxury Guesthouse (this is expensive. It’s for a special stay). Prices in Cape Town are generally very high.
Car Rental. A car is the best way to get around South Africa. I don’t drive much but I felt very comfortable driving in South Africa where the roads are good and the traffic sparse (outside of the major cities). We use Rentalcars.com, they dig up the best prices from all the car rental companies.
Hop-On Hop-Off Bus from Cape Town to Johannesburg. If you don’t want to drive. the famous Bazbus can get you anywhere in South Africa. This ticket is good for a year and lets you get on or off the bus anywhere between Cape Town and Johannesburg. There’s a bus every day in each direction and the bus stops in over 40 cities and towns along the way. The best and cheapest no-worry way of getting around.
Flying in. Most people will arrive at Cape Town International Airport (airport code: CPT)
Related: The Most Beautiful City in the World? Our candidates…and winner
Related: The Ultimate Guide to South Africa
Related: Avoiding Europe in the summer…and other places to go instead.
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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!
Thank you Mallory. I’m jealous, we spent 3 months there earlier this year and loved it. One of the most stunning places we’ve ever been.
This post was contributed by my ex-boss. If you have a chance, browse through the South Africa section for a whole bunch of posts I wrote on Cape Town and the region: https://bbqboy.net/category/south-africa/
Enjoy Cape Town!
That is why Cape Town is ranked as one of the top three destinations in the world to visit.
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.
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;)
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!
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!
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 !
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.
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 ….
Lovely pics, my friends who’ve been to South Africa tell me Cape town is the best.
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!
Thanks for the comment Dana, hope you make it out there!
Cape Town is on our bucket list! We especially want to drink wine, see the penguins on the beach, and hike Table Mountain!
This is a great article. I’ve included it in the January edition of myWanderlist Best Travel Experiences. Thanks for sharing!
Fantastic Brad! Always love your blog and happy to contribute.
Great travel minds think alike! Cheers 🙂
I checked out your post – very nice! We basically cover all the same places.
Great list! These days I feel adventurous, so I would definitely go to check out these great places…
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?
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.
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.
Jessica J. Hill
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.