9 Best Things to do in Cape Town

9 Best Things to do in Cape Town

Cape Town is one of those ‘have-it-all’ cities. Residents are surrounded by mountains, beaches, vineyards and historical landmarks, all bathed in over 3 000 hours of sunshine a year (compare this with London’s 1 600 or New York City’s 2 500). Most visitors spend at least three to four days exploring South Africa’s oldest city but five or six is even better, especially if you’re travelling over Christmas and New Year’s when heavier traffic and longer queues are ubiquitous.

It’s very hard to whittle down a Top 9 list of must-sees – Cape Town caters for everyone from rough-and-tough adventure travellers to art-and-culture lovers. These are the big hitters among a wide variety of options – your Africa Safari Expert will be able to guide you on others that relate to your special interests.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

#1 Stroll through Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

 
Kirstenbosch is one of Africa’s most beautiful public gardens and highlights the incredible variety of Cape’s Town ‘Floral Kingdom’. Everything from protected prehistoric cycads that date from the time of the dinosaurs to masses of different 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 time, spend an afternoon having a picnic, watching hadedas (a species of ibis with a very iconic cry) root around in the lawn.

Best time to go

The Cape summers stretch from about October to April, with very hot afternoons. It is least rainy then – go in the morning or late afternoon for the cooler parts of the day. Spring (about September) and autumn (about May) can have lovely days in between colder and wetter ones.

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

Best for

Families, couples, kids, solos

See also:

Why go to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

The Boomslang ('tree snake') is a sinuous walkway just above the tree canopy in Kirstenbosch that gives you a wonderful view of the back Table Mountain.The Boomslang ('tree snake') is a sinuous walkway just above the tree canopy in Kirstenbosch that gives you a wonderful view of the back Table Mountain.
The city centre

#2 Taking a walking tour through the city centre

 
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 the Bo-Kaap (known for its candy-coloured houses) the Company’s Gardens (which is flanked by the national museum, art gallery and planetarium), Greenmarket Square (for its African crafts market) and Bree, Long and Kloof Streets (for their array of eateries, boutiques and galleries).

Best time to go

November sometimes sees the notorious Southeaster wind (known as the ‘Cape Doctor’) barrelling through the city, especially in the afternoons. The city is most crowded over Christmas and New Year’s. It is best not to walk around on Saturday afternoons or Sundays when few other people are out and about.

Best for

Families, couples, kids, solos

See also:

Cape Town's iconic Long Street

Historic Greenmarket Square is full of stalls selling African arts and crafts.Historic Greenmarket Square is full of stalls selling African arts and crafts.
The Bo-Kaap is bright and colourful on even the coolest of winter mornings.The Bo-Kaap is bright and colourful on even the coolest of winter mornings.
V&A Waterfront

#3 Shop, eat and drink at the 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 restaurants, bars and pubs.

Head to the Watershed for excellent locally made 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 best of both worlds.

Best time to go

The Waterfront is a year-round destination with plenty to see and do indoors and out. It is busiest over Christmas and New Year’s.

Best for

Families, couples, kids, solos

See also:

Accommodation spotlight: Table Bay Hotel

The V&A Waterfront has one the best views of Table Mountain, especially when it has its famous 'tablecloth' on.The V&A Waterfront has one the best views of Table Mountain, especially when it has its famous 'tablecloth' on.
Sun-kissed beaches

#4 Bask on sun-kissed beaches

 
Cape Town’s beaches are among the most beautiful in the country with one very important caveat: the Atlantic Ocean is braved only by the most determined swimmers and surfers. But do not allow the water’s chilliness to put you off – there is a beach for every type of person. Camps Bay is ideal for families (it is also a leash-free dog beach at times) and has the benefit of shops and restaurants right across on the Camps Bay Strip. Clifton’s Fourth Beach is also family-friendly, Third Beach is gay-friendly, Second Beach is favoured by volleyballers and other energetic youngsters while First Beach is another leash-free dog beach.

The city also has other, more low-key stretches of coast like Beta Beach in Bakoven and Llandudno. If you really prefer warmer water, then drive out to the stretch of coastline lapped by the Indian Ocean to Muizenberg (perfect sets for surfers), St James and Kalk Bay for old-fashioned tidal pools and brightly coloured beach huts, and even further afield to Long Beach at Noordhoek for horse riding.

Best time to go

The summer months from October to April obviously offer great beach weather but winter should not be overlooked – there are often sunny days perfect for a stroll or picnic. Please be aware that it is illegal to drink alcohol on the beach in South Africa.

Best for

Families, couples, kids, solos

See also:

5 Best beaches & beach hotels in Cape Town

Lying between Camps Bay and Hout Bay, Llandudno is a stunning sandy beach ringed with massive granite boulders.Lying between Camps Bay and Hout Bay, Llandudno is a stunning sandy beach ringed with massive granite boulders.
Wine tasting

#5 Taste wine in exquisite surroundings

 
Cape Town’s Winelands are arguably the oldest in the southern hemisphere, dating back to the 1700s. The epicentre is Constantia, a leafy stretch of vineyards, 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 nibbles 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.

Best time to go

This is a year-round activity. Summer sees you swilling slightly chilled whites and MCCs (Methode cap Classique, the South Africa version of champagne) on manicured lawns under umbrellas while winter has you tucked up into cosy cellars with roaring log fires on the go.

Best for

Couples and solos

See also:

A taste of the Hermanus Wine Route

The Constantia Winelands are the oldest in the country and benefit from cooling breezes off the ocean.The Constantia Winelands are the oldest in the country and benefit from cooling breezes off the ocean.
Robben Island

#6 Understand history on 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 miniscule and barebones 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 is determined by the weather so keep an eye on what the winds are doing in Table Bay. If you are prone to motion sickness, do take medication before setting off.

Best for

Families, couples, kids, solos

See also:

What to expect on Robben Island

If you can, walk around Robben Island for great views of the city and the three landmarks of Devil's Peak, Table Mountain and Lion's Head.If you can, walk around Robben Island for great views of the city and the three landmarks of Devil's Peak, Table Mountain and Lion's Head.
Table Mountain

#7 Get a 360-degree view from Table Mountain

 
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’ (as rocky hyraxes are known locally) are to be found. The vistas encompass Camps Bay (the side for brilliant sunsets), to the Durbanville hills and out over Robben Island.

Best time to go

The cable-car operation is weather dependent – it will not go up when there are mist, 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. To avoid the queues and heat at this time, try to go first thing in the morning or later in the afternoon.

Best for

Families, couples, kids, solos

See also:

Insider tips for going up Table Mountain

The mountain has plenty of paths for beginners to pros.The mountain has plenty of paths for beginners to pros.
Table Mountain has one of the best sunset vantage points in the city.Table Mountain has one of the best sunset vantage points in the city.
Cape Point

#8 Journey to Cape Point

 
Although is it not the southern-most point of Africa (that honour belongs to the far less impressive Cape Agulhas) or 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.

Best for

Families, couples, kids, solos

A rocky outcrop, Cape Point offers dramatic sea and mountain views.A rocky outcrop, Cape Point offers dramatic sea and mountain views.
If you don't want to walk to the old lighthouse, take the funicular known as The Flying Dutchman.If you don't want to walk to the old lighthouse, take the funicular known as The Flying Dutchman.
Outdoor adventure

#9 Go on an outdoor adventure

 
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 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 is a lot of fun.

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.

Best for

Families, couples, solos

See also:

African Adventure: Go paragliding

Hout Bay Harbour is the departure point for some marine excursions to Seal Island or sunset cruises.Hout Bay Harbour is the departure point for some marine excursions to Seal Island or sunset cruises.
Those who love to get their blood pumping can rappel off Table Mountain in the world's highest commercial abseil.Those who love to get their blood pumping can rappel off Table Mountain in the world's highest commercial abseil.