Best things to do in Cape Town & around – Places to see, everything you need to know to help you plan your perfect visit to Cape Town!
South Africa’s beautiful city of Cape Town is without doubt, one of our favourite cities in the world. It’s one of those places you can never get enough of! Located in the Western Cape province right on Table Bay, with Table Mountain forming a dramatic backdrop, Cape Town is ridiculously picturesque. This city literally offers something for everyone. So, here’s our list of the best things to do in Cape Town and around.
1. Summit Table Mountain
The iconic South African mountain and Cape Towns most famous landmark. Towering over 1000m above the city, visiting Table Mountain is a must for any visitor! By far the most popular way to reach the top is to jump on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. But for those who have a bit more energy, there are numerous hiking trails in the Table Mountain National Park, leading to the mountains peak. Some of the most popular trails are Kloof Corner, Kasteelspoort and India Venster. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you decide to get up there, but on a clear day the views are absolutely stunning!
2. Visit the penguins at Boulders Beach
One of our most memorable experiences was visiting the colony of African Penguins at Boulders Beach. Located in False Bay, about 50 minutes by car from the centre of Cape Town, a visit to Boulders Beach it definitely worth the drive. Forming part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, you can stroll along the boardwalks around the penguin colony, allowing you to get close to these little cuties, without disturbing them. Boulders beach is also an active swimming area with access to the beach and water. You may pass a penguin or 2 along the way, making a swim here a truly unique experience. But remember to keep your distance. These are wild animals and irresponsible tourists feeding them and getting too close will not only disturb them, but endanger them and ultimately drive them away.
Read more – Visiting the Penguins of Boulders Beach
3. Drive Chapmans Peak
Without doubt one of the most scenic roads in South Africa and if you rent a car in Cape Town, the drive along the Chapmans Peak Drive is a must. With the Atlantic Ocean on one side and mountains on the other, it’s a windy and very picturesque journey. The 9km route starts at Hoult Bay and climbs to Chapman’s Point, then finishes in Noordhoek. It can be driven in either direction, but remember South Africans drive on the left, so driving northbound keeps you on the oceanside.
There are several spots where you can safely stop for pictures and for those who want a bit of exercise, there’s nice hike options too. Hike Champan’s Peak (about 2-hour return) for stunning views over Fish Hoek, Noordhoek Beach and even Table Mountain on a clear day. It’s also a really popular sunset spot. A R50 toll for light motor vehicles – one way individual trip applies. It’s a good option to incorporate this drive with other spots in the area like Cape Point, Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope.
4. Check out V&A Waterfront
The V&A (Victoria & Alfred) Waterfront is said to be South Africa’s most-visited destination, which is no surprise as it’s a great area to explore anytime of the day. Still a working harbour, most people come for the shopping and restaurants. The V&A Food Market (formerly the old power station) is our tip for a great ‘street food’ style food and drink experience. Other than eating and drinking, checkout the museums, Nobel Square or take a spin on the the Cape Wheel. And don’t forget to get your interactive art photo in the big yellow New7Wonders (N7W) frame with the epic Table Mountain backdrop!
5. Hit the beaches
Cape Town is spoilt with surrounding stunning beaches and there’s plenty to choose from. We love Muizenberg beach, Clifton beaches and Camps Bay. With its warm water and colourful beach huts, Muizenburg is a great place for a dip and also a surfers favourite. Over on the other side of the Cape Peninsular, you’ll find the Clifton Beaches and Camps Bay. The trendy Clifton beaches 1-4 are always popular and each beach attracts a different crowd. But, the curving Camp’s Bay with a backdrop of the Twelve Apostles (part of Table Mountain), makes this picturesque beach our pick of the three.
6. Visit Robben Island
Take a tour out to Table Bay’s Robben Island to learn about the sobering history of the island. Long used as a penal colony, its most famous inmate was undoubtedly Nelson Mandela. The former president was held here for 18 of his 27 year imprisonment, where he was held for attempting to overthrow South Africa’s apartheid regime. As of 1997, the former prison island became a museum and tours are now run by former inmates who give firsthand experiences of the prison. Tours depart from the V&A Waterfront and tend to last 3-4 hours.
7. Hike up Lions Head
For us, hiking up Lion’s Head is probably the best thing to do in Cape Town. This reasonably short hike (about 2-hour return) is popular with tourist and locals a like. From its 669m peak, the panoramic 360° views will blow you away and it’s the perfect spot for a picnic. Its accessibility and popularity means it’s always busy. But don’t let that deter you, in fact because of this, it makes the hike one of the safest in the area. Head up for a sunrise or sunset to avoid the worst of the crowds or even for a full moon.
8. Tour the Cape Winelands
South Africa’s wineries produce some of the best wine in the world. And it’s safe to say, a visit to Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without experiencing some of these wineries for yourself. The renowned wine regions such as Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Wellington and Paarl, form part of the Cape Winelands which are located an easy hours drive from Cape Town. But if an hour seems like too far to travel, check out Constantia, just 15-20 mins from Cape Towns city centre. Who doesn’t love a day exploring vineyards, sampling local wine whilst nibbling on cheese?
Read more: The Best Wineries in South Africa
9. Take in Cape Town’s history at District Six Museum
This museum commemorates the mixed race community that was forcibly relocated from the area. On the 11th February 1966, the South African Government decreed District Six a ‘White-Only’ area under the Group Areas Act of 1950. Over a period of 3 decades, approximately 60,000 non-white residents of this once vibrant community, were cleared out and relocated to the Cape Flats further out of the city. There they lived under Apartheid regulations in slum-like conditions. Now, predominantly run by former inhabitants of District 6, this museum preserves their memories with displays, collections and personal stories, whilst also educating about racial segregation and displacement in South Africa. A sobering experience, but definitely worth a visit.
10. Head south to Cape Agulhas
If you love travelling Africa as much as us, then this is one for the bucket list – the continents most southerly point. Not only this, but Cape Agulhas is also the point where the Indian Ocean meets the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re game enough to brave the chilly water, you can have a foot in the worlds second and third biggest oceans at the same time! For awesome views along the coast and the Agulhas National Park, climb the nearby Cape Agulhas Lighthouse. At about 2.5 hours drive from Cape Town, it’s the furthest attraction from the city on our list. So consider incorporating it as an overnighter or as an extension to a road trip along the Garden Route.
11. Stroll around Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
We love flora and fauna and have been to a lot of botanical gardens. But this is undoubtedly one of the best we have ever visited, as the backdrop of Table Mountain only increases its wow factor. Growing only indigenous South African plants and with more than 125 birds species, Kirstenbosch is incredibly photogenic.
The highlight for many is walking along the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway (the Boomslang) a 130-metre steel and timber bridge that offers awesome views over the Garden and the Cape Flats. Found at the eastern end of Table Mountain, you can combine a visit to the garden before, or after scaling Table mountain. Nursery Ravine and Skeleton Gorge are 2 routes up and down the mountain from behind Kirstenbosch. It’s also close to the Constaintia wine route, so a visit to Kirstenbosch en-route to the nearby Beau Constantia and Constantia Glen wine estates, would make for a perfect day around Cape Town!
12. Explore the Colourful Bo Kaap
Located at the base of Signal Hill, this culturally colourful neighbourhood is the place to come to brighten up your day! But it hasn’t always been this way. During the Dutch rule of the 16/17th centuries, thousands of predominantly Muslim slaves were brought over from Indonesia, Malaysia and other parts of Asia and Africa and housed in the area. During the Apartheid era, the descendants of those slaves were segregated in the Bo Kaap district for ‘Cape Muslims’ only. The supposed reasons for the vivid and colourful painted houses vary from expressions of freedom after slavery was abolished, to Eid celebrations. Whatever the reason, exploring this area is a colourful experience.
Getting to & from Cape Town
Cape Town International Airport is the main airport serving the city of Cape Town and is located approximately 20kms from the city centre. There are a few ways to get to Cape Town from the airport:
- Rent a car – There are several car rental companies located at the airport including AVIS, Europcar, Hertz and Thrifty. For more information click HERE.
- Taxis, Uber and Bolt are all available from the airport. A ride will take around 20 minutes, depending on traffic. For more information, click HERE.
- My City bus (route A01) operates between the airport and the Civic Centre in downtown Cape Town approximately every 20 minutes, between 5am-9.30pm. The journey takes about 30 minutes. For more information, click HERE.
- Arrange a transfer through your accommodation
Getting around Cape Town
Hire a car
Car hire is super cheap and gives you the freedom and flexibility to experience everything Cape Town and beyond has to offer. The roads are in pretty good condition and it’s easy to navigate your way around. We recommend researching the neighbourhoods you plan on driving through, to ensure they are safe. Remember that South Africans drive on the left side of the road, and be mindful of speed cameras on the highways as well as in and around the city.
Day Trips & organised tours
If you’re not comfortable driving, day trips can be arranged for all of the major sights like Boulder’s Penguin Colony, Cape Point, Cape Winelands and Robben Island. These can usually be booked through hotels, hostels and online.
Local bus & sightseeing buses
Cape Town is connected well by local buses, which service many sights and areas in and around the city. Fares are cheap and 1, 3 & 7 day passes offer unlimited travel for as little as R70 (including journeys to/from the airport). Operated by My City, they have a great website detailing everything you need to know about bus travel in Cape Town.
The Cape Town Sight-seeing Hop-on-hop-off bus operates loads of different routes to many different attractions in and around Cape Town. A great and efficient way to get explore the sights!
Taxi’s & Uber
For shorter distances, taxi’s are on the meter and Uber is also available. Make sure you always use a licensed taxi driver for your own safety and to avoid scams.
Depending on where you are staying, walking is also a great way to see the city. But be cautious of what valuables you take with you as muggings can occur. Don’t walk around at night, especially alone. Take a taxi!
Best time to visit
The weather in Cape Town is basically the opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. This means summer falls from December – February, winter from June – August with Spring and Autumn on either side.
December through February is the high season in Cape Town and the weather is great during this period. This combined with the South African Schools fourth term break (December and January) and the European Winter holidays, means prices are higher and it can get very busy.
The shoulder seasons of Spring (September – October) and Autumn (March – May) are our favourite times visit. From our experience, the weather is generally dry and although the costal winds can be chilly, the sun is often shining. There’s fewer crowds prices are a bit cheaper so for us, it’s win win.
The winter months of June, July and August, are the least desirable to visit Cape Town. Temperatures tend to hover around 16-20°, but the weather can be unpredictable. It may sunny one day and wet and windy the next. This is often enough to keep many tourists away. Therefore, accommodation can be cheaper and attractions less crowded.
How much time do you need?
The longer the better! Cape Town is an awesome city with loads of attractions. If you’re planning on doing some hikes, drives and day trips, don’t underestimate the time you’ll need to undertake them. A week is a good amount of time if you want to complete everything on our list. If you don’t have a week, then allow at least 3-4 days to see as much as you can!
There’s plenty of areas to stay in and around Cape Town. We love the Greenpoint area as it is nice, safe and close to everything. There’s a good mix of hostels, hotels and guesthouses to choose from and it’s walking distance to the V&A Waterfront.
Our fave place so far has been Greenpoint Guesthouse. This sweet little guesthouse had a nice, spacious room, well equiped communal kitchen, secure parking, a lovely helpful host and was very reasonably priced.
Other areas to stay include:
City Bowl – Offering a range of accommodation from boutique backpackers, divey hostels or upmarket hotels, there’s something here for everyone. The area is well connected by buses, taxis, trains and Ubers.
V&A Waterfront – Right in the middle of the hustle and bustle you’ll find more upmarket hotels, shopping, bars & restaurants all in the same place.
De Waterkant – A small village in the heart of the city, offering a friendly neighbourhood culture, loads of unique shopping experiences, great coffee, shops and restaurants.
South Africas currency is Rand (ZAR) and yes, you will need to use Rand if paying by cash. Visa & Mastercard are accepted almost everywhere (hotels, restaurants, ticket offices etc), but you will need cash for small purchases, tips etc. ATM’s are available all over the city as well as the Cape Town International Airport. Money exchangers are dotted around the city including V&A Waterfront shopping mall.
**Note – South Africa’s ZAR is pegged 1:1 to the Namibian dollar (NAD). If travelling onto Namibia, you can use ZAR there. However, you cannot use NAD in South Africa!
If you’re planning on an extensive visit to South Africa, consider purchasing a SANParks Wildcard. The wildcard gives access to 80+ Parks and Reserves around Southern Africa. International tourists will need to purchase an ‘International All Parks Cluster.’
If you’re only visiting Cape Town, there’s probably not much value in a wildcard, as it would only cover Table Mountain National Park, (which incorporates Boulders Beach, Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope) and Agulhas National Park. But for those planning on visiting other areas and parks around the country and Eswatini (Swaziland) it can be a great money saver.
Safety & Security
Cape Town has a bit of reputation as a dangerous city. We’ve been multiple times and never had any problems, but we do know people who have. It’s important to use common sense, stay cautious and be vigilant. This goes for anywhere in South Africa and as a general rule when travelling anywhere in the world!
A few things to be mindful of:
- Avoid walking around at night and where you can, avoid driving at night.
- Likewise, avoid certain districts – speak to hotel staff or tourist information about which areas are best avoided.
- Hiking alone is also not recommended. If you’re a solo traveller, try to head out during the busier parts of the day when there’s lots of people around.
- Speak to trusted informed locals about your planned routes, as they can advise on which routes to stay clear of.
- Be careful of anyone claiming to be ‘Tourist Police’, they most likely are not!
- Keep valuables in a safe or locked in your luggage at our accommodation, especially passports.
- Only take what you need outside. Don’t flash your cash or wear obviously expensive and excessive jewellery.
- Don’t leave phones, wallets or other valuables in your car.
- If the worst does happen and someone does try to mug you, don’t resist.
- Be especially vigilant when out drinking /partying. Don’t take excessive amounts of cash and try not to drink too much, as it will only impair your judgment.
With all of this said, we must reiterate we have never experienced anything bad in Cape Town. But it’s better to be safe than sorry.
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