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10 Best Things to Do in Cape Town

Cape Town is truly one of those ‘have-it-all’ cities. Residents are surrounded by beautiful mountains, beaches, vineyards and historical landmarks, all bathed in over 3 000 hours of sunshine a year – compared to London’s 1 500 or New York City’s 2 500. Most visitors spend at least three to four days (five or six are even better) exploring South Africa’s oldest city, enjoying its plethora of activities, and being immersed in its incredible natural beauty.

Looking over the Atlantic Seaboard and Robben Island from the top of Table Mountain.

It’s very hard to whittle down a Top 10 list of must-dos and must-sees, as Cape Town caters for everyone from rough-and-tough adventure travellers to art-and-culture lovers. The Mother City offers so much to her visitors – no wonder it's continuously voted as one of the best holiday destinations in the world! We’ve compiled a list of our best things do to in Cape Town on a holiday:

Visit Kirstenbosch

1. Visit Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

'The Boomslang' (tree snake) is a tree canopy walkway through the gardens.

Kirstenbosch is one of Africa’s most beautiful public gardens and highlights the incredible diversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom, a World Heritage Site plus the smallest and richest of the world's six floral kingdoms. Everything from protected prehistoric cycads that date from the time of the dinosaurs to masses of different indigenous fynbos are found here. The grounds are immaculate and are flanked by the back slopes of Table Mountain, making for gorgeous photographs. If you have enough time, enjoying a picnic in Kirstenbosch is one of the most relaxing things to do in Cape Town, as you watch hadedas (a species of ibis with a very iconic cry) root around on the lawns.

Best time to go

The Cape's dry summer months stretch from about November to April, with hot days and balmy evenings. Spring (about September and October) and autumn (about May) can have lovely days in between cooler and wetter ones.

Capetonians flock to live music concerts at Kirstenbosch in the summer. Tickets are reasonably priced, making this a fun way to discover South African bands and experience local culture.

Explore the city centre

2. Take a Walking Tour Through the City Centre

A typical street in colourful Bo-Kaap.

Bordered by Table Mountain, its two peaks and the Atlantic Ocean, Cape Town’s city centre is small, compact and easily walkable in a day, even without a guide. Historic buildings sit cheek-and-jowl next to sleek modern high rises, and sculptures, mosaics and street art dot the city.

Top places to visit include:
  • Bo-Kaap – known for its candy-coloured houses and fragrant Cape Malay spice shops.
  • Company’s Gardens – Cape Town's 'green lungs', flanked by the national museum, national art gallery, and fascinating planetarium.
  • Greenmarket Square – an historical square known for its African crafts market.
  • Bree, Long and Kloof Streets – discover a trendy array of eateries, boutiques shops, and art galleries.
Best time to go

Summer reaches its peak between December and February, which is the most popular time for a Cape Town holiday. Expect busy streets, a vibrant nightlife, and gloriously sunny festive cheer. Cape Town’s fierce south-easterly wind can be rather gusty during this time of year. By February the wind calms and most visitors head home, making late January to April absolutely fantastic.

Shop & dine at the V&A

3. Shop and Dine at the V&A Waterfront

Cape Town's V&A Waterfront.

The V&A Waterfront is one of Africa’s most visited sites.  Travellers and locals flock here for upscale shopping, a wide variety of dining options, and activities that run the gamut – from sunset cruises and boat rides to visiting museums and galleries. It is part of a working harbour and boasts some of the best views of Table Mountain, especially from its many restaurants, bars and pubs.

Head to the Watershed Market for excellent gifts and souvenirs – from pottery and jewellery to toys and handbags – all crafted by South African artisans. The Two Oceans Aquarium is right opposite, giving you the chance to experience the incredible diversity of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Tip: time your visit to coincide with the shark feeding times! And last but not least, we highly recommend a visit to the architecturally marvellous Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa.

Best time to go

Visiting the Waterfront is one of the best things to do in Cape Town any time of the year, with plenty to see and do indoors and out. It is busiest over Christmas and New Year’s.

Hit the beaches

4. Bask on Sun-kissed Beaches

Camps Bay

Cape Town’s beaches are among the most beautiful on the planet. Although the Atlantic Ocean is braved only by the most determined swimmers and surfers, do not allow the water’s chilliness to put you off – there is a beach for every type of sun worshipper.

Top beaches include:

Camps Bay is ideal for families and has the benefit of shops and restaurants right across on the famous Camps Bay Strip.

Each one of Clifton's coves attract eclectic groups of people of all ages:

  • First Beach is an off-leash dog-friendly beach and perfect for escaping the crowds;
  • Second Beach is a playground for a laidback younger crowd;
  • Third Beach is a popular rendezvous spot for gay men, but is open to everyone;
  • and Fourth Beach is the biggest and most popular, a classic Cape Town beach.

The city also has other, more low-key stretches of coastline like Beta Beach in Bakoven and Llandudno – both local favourites.

If you really prefer warmer water, then drive out to Muizenberg (perfect sets for surfers), St James, Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek for old-fashioned tidal pools and brightly coloured beach huts.

Back on the cooler Atlantic side and even further afield, you could also opt for Noordhoek Beach's horse riding paradise.

For one of the most unique things to do in Cape Town, head to the famous Boulders Beach to meet the resident endangered African penguins.

Best time to go

The summer months from November to April obviously offer immaculate beach weather, but winter should not be overlooked – there are often sunny days perfect for a stroll or picnic, and surfing conditions are sublime. Note: it is illegal to drink alcohol on the beach in South Africa.

Go wine tasting

5. Go Wine Tasting in the Cape Winelands

Delaire Graff Wine Estate in Stellenbosch.

Cape Town’s Winelands are arguably the oldest in the southern hemisphere, dating back to the 1700s. The oldest vineyards lie in the leafy Constantia, a stretch of forests and twisting mountain roads, an easy drive from the city centre. Here you can relax in an old Cape Dutch manor house, savour superb vintages and nibble on snacks from top chefs. Plus, there is no reason to drive yourself – we can arrange a private driver-guide who will create a bespoke tour that takes in the varietals you prefer.

You could also head out a little further from the city to the bottle-green valleys of Stellenbosch (the capital of the Cape Winelands with a staggering 200+ wine estates) or the gorgeous town of Franschhoek, known as the gourmet capital of South Africa.

Best time to go

If you're looking for some of the best things to do in Cape Town any time of year, this is it. Summer sees you swilling slightly chilled white varietals and MCC (Methode cap Classique, the South African version of champagne) on manicured lawns under umbrellas, while winter has you tucked up in old-world cellars with cosy log fires roaring like distant freight trains.

Tour of Robben Island

6. Understand History on Robben Island

The view from Robben Island.

Visible from the city and Table Mountain, Robben Island (which translates as ‘Seal Island’ from the original Dutch) is a small place with a massive history. At various times it has been a leper colony, a thriving village and, most notoriously, a prison harbouring luminaries such as former president Nelson Mandela. Today you can tour the prison grounds, see the minuscule and bare-bones cell in which Mandela was incarcerated, and get a feeling for South Africa’s tumultuous and moving past. The island is also home to considerable bird and marine life, like endangered oystercatchers and African penguins, tortoises, gannets and darters.

Best time to go

The ferry to the island runs year-round but is heavily dependent on the weather, so it's a good idea to keep an eye on the forecast and chat to our Africa Safari Experts for on-the-ground-advice.

Visit Table Mountain

7. Hike or Take the Cable Car up Table Mountain

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway station.

Often mistakenly called ‘Tabletop Mountain’, Table Mountain is thought to be one of the oldest on Earth, about five times older than the Rockies and six times older than the Himalayas. Over millennia, its sandstone sides have gradually eroded, leaving an outcrop that is big enough to be impressive but small enough to hike in a day.

You can also take the revolving cable car to the top where spectacular views, pretty fynbos and comical ‘dassies’ (rock hyraxes) are to be found. The vistas encompass Camps Bay (the side for brilliant sunsets), the Durbanville hills and surrounding mountain ranges, Robben Island, and the never-ending blue yonder.

Best time to go

The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is weather dependent – it will not go up when there are mist, excessive cloud cover, rain or high winds. Check the mountain’s website for an immediate indication of whether it is open or not. Parking is limited and visitors flock here over December and January – it's one of the most popular things to do in Cape Town! To avoid the queues and heat at this time, try to go first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Explore Cape Point

8. Explore Cape Point

Cape Point Nature Reserve

Although is it not the southern-most point of Africa (that honour belongs to the far less impressive Cape Agulhas) nor the exact point where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet (that is also technically defined at Cape Agulhas), Cape Point is a magnificent craggy strip of land that juts out into the crashing waves below. Located in a national park, you can easily spend a day strolling to lookout points, enjoying a picnic, cycling around and spotting eland, zebra, antelope, baboons and plenty of pelagic bird species.

The Flying Dutchman funicular takes you the old lighthouse, which gives you views of False Bay (so-called because it is the ‘wrong’ bay that sailors often ventured into when looking for Table Mountain, which is on the aptly named Table Bay). The Flying Dutchman is connected to the legend of a ghost ship that is doomed to wander the oceans endlessly, never finding rest in port. It is thought that the spooky effects created around Cape Point when thick fog rolls in off the Atlantic partially fuelled the myth of the otherworldly vessel.

Best time to go

Cape Point Nature Reserve is open year-round but is busiest over December and January when visitors flock to Cape Town. If you are visiting then, it is worth waking up early to be there when the gates open and skip the queues. September is also extremely busy as the eruption of millions of spring flowers carpet the reserve in brilliant swathes of colour.

Enjoy the outdoors

9. Go on an Outdoor Adventure

Tandem paragliding from Lion's Head.

Capetonians love the outdoors and are blessed with scenic spots of great natural beauty close to the city. If you love hiking, then bring your boots to tackle Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak. If you want to soar, sign up for tandem paragliding off Lion’s Head, which gives you a bird’s-eye view of the Atlantic Seaboard. Kiteboarders should head to Bloubergstrand for some of the most perfect kiting conditions in the world, while mountain bikers are spoilt for choice with multiple trails in Table Mountain National Park. If you want to hit the water, go snorkelling with Cape fur seals for a low-key activity that's one of the most fun things to do in Cape Town.

Best time to go

Being outdoors, many are weather dependent so keep an eye on what the wind and rain are doing when you book. Private guides and transfers can be arranged to maximise your outdoor experience.

Take to the skies

10. Take a Scenic Helicopter Flight

An aerial view of the city.

Take to the skies on an exhilarating private helicopter tour for the ultimate bird's eye view of Cape Town. Fly around iconic Table Mountain to see the Cape Peninsula's gorgeous coastlines, marvelling at the beaches, rolling hills and rugged cliffs. This a great way to see the city and its surrounding landscapes, and certainly one of the most breath-taking things to do in Cape Town on your holiday.

Best time to go

This activity is very much dependent on the weather, so keep an eye on the forecast and chat with our Africa Safari Experts about the ideal helicopter tour for you.

Ready to Start Planning your Cape Town Holiday?

Chat with one of our Africa Safari Experts to help tailor-make a South Africa itinerary that includes a visit to Cape Town and a Big 5 safari in Kruger: