When you do your research on Cape Town you’ll find out quickly that the list of things to do in and around the city is much longer than just 10 experiences. From mountain hikes to indoor markets, museum visits, boat cruises, relaxing by the beaches and wine tastings… the options are endless! Let’s therefore break it down to the 10 Must-Do’s and obvious bucket list items in the city. Many can be combined, so you have your perfect day planned! Let’s go!
If this your first stay in Cape Town, the sightseeing bus is a relaxed and easy way to see the city and tick off a few “must-see” items. Even as a seasoned and independent traveler – give it a go, it’s a great way to get around the most interesting sights without having to worry how to get from A to B. The tickets are affordable and valid for at least 24 hours. There are plenty of options to combine different routes plus you have a free walking tour included. Tickets can be bought online, from the V&A Waterfront office or from the sales office on Long Street. If you go with the red line you’ll get a nice introduction to the city center, you can hop off at the cable car to get up Table Mountain, you can stop at the beaches in Camps Bay and Clifton or stroll along Sea Point promenade. The blue line gets you further out of the city to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Constantia and Hout Bay and returns as well via Camps Bay, Clifton and Sea Point to the center. It is honestly a fabulous way to get an overview of the city with ample time to get off at the places that interest you most. Give it a try!
Well, it would be rude not to visit South Africa’s most iconic mountain, keeper of the city and overall dominating presence! There are endless options to hike the 1082 meters up and down the mountain, but if your fitness level is normal to low – just take the cable car! The views from the rotating cable car are amazing and it’s a quick and convenient way to get there. The top is obviously flat so you can go and explore to your hearts content without breaking much of a sweat.
The return tickets for adults currently cost between 300 – 380 ZAR (20 – 25 USD), while one-way tickets are 200 ZAR (about 13 USD) per adult, in case you do want to hike up and take the cable car down. The views from the top are definitely unforgettable! If you have opted to use the sightseeing bus as your mode of transport, the red line stops at the cable car station and if you pre-book the cable car ticket with the bus, you’ll get a discount. Otherwise just catch an Uber to the cable car station. Easy!
When planning your trip up Table Mountain have an eye on the weather and stay flexible! If the wind gets too strong the cable car will be closed and being caught on the mountain in gusty winds is not fun. Usually the mornings are less windy and cloudy than the afternoons, which is why the morning tickets are slightly more expensive than the afternoon ones. Most late afternoons you’ll see the famous ‘tablecloth’ dragging over the mountain – great to watch when you are off the mountain, very inconvenient being on the mountain! Therefore, it is usually best to not book the cable car tickets too far in advance as weather conditions on the day might prevent you from going up.
You could easily spend an entire day around the V&A Waterfront if you visited all the attractions around here! The Waterfront is situated by the harbour and is home to a shopping mall complex with a wide choice of good restaurants and home to many of Cape Towns attractions. For shopaholics it’s probably the best place to find the big international brands next to local shops with typical South African goods. Tourists and locals come here alike for shopping, a good meal and generally enjoying life! Buskers and traditional dance groups add a nice festive vibe, a little amphitheater has occasional events on and you can buy yourself into oblivion on African souvenirs. Foodies will be delighted to find food markets and international cuisine from all corners of the world, most culinary delights come paired with great views over the mountain or the sea!
At the Two Oceans Aquarium you can get up close and personal with the fascinating sea creatures that live in the waters of the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans surrounding South Africa. Spend some time with the penguins or watch the sharks getting fed! The aquarium is definitely worth a visit, not just for families.
If you like a good view, but have no interest in getting up any mountains, the Cape Wheel located at the heart of the Waterfront might be your answer! Hop on the ferries wheel to catch a good view over the Waterfront, the harbour and the city.
One of the latest additions to the Waterfront attractions is the Zeitz MOCAA – the Museum of Contemporary African Art! The museum is set up in the old silo building that has been vacant for a long time. Since 2017 the silos have been beautifully renovated and are now home to the breathtaking museum and the Silo Hotel, a luxury 5-star hotel with possibly the best views over the city. If your budget doesn’t allow for a swanky stay in the hotel, maybe treat yourself to a cocktail at their rooftop bar after you immersed yourself in the contemporary African art!
When you come to Cape Town a visit to Robben Island should definitely be on your itinerary. The island was used during the Apartheid era as a prison for political convicts. Nelson Mandela spend 18 of his 27 years in prison on Robben Island. A visit to the island explains not only a lot about Nelson Mandelas life, but also about South African history. The tours on the island are guided by ex-inmates of Robben Island which makes the experience even more personal. The first hand stories of the guides’ experiences here will definitely leave a lasting impression.
Tickets are available at the Nelson Mandela Museum in the Clocktower area at the V&A Waterfront. From here its a 30-minute boat ride to Robben Island, where you first explore the island by bus to see where the inmates had to spend their days with hard labour in the quarry. The next stop is the prison, where you learn more about the every day life of the inmates and the conditions they had to deal with. During the walk around the prison you’ll get to step into Nelson Mandelas cell, his involuntary home for nearly a third of his life. It is an emotional and eye-opening experience, an important piece to understand South Africa a bit better.
The tour takes about 3.5 hours and tickets currently cost 600 ZAR (about 40 USD) for non-South Africans and 400 ZAR for South Africans. Once again the tours are weather dependent since the boats to the island can’t depart if the sea is too rough.
This is a personal favourite of mine and I have done it probably too many times for any sane person, but hey – I guess there are worse guilty pleasures!
The tours start from the boat station at the waterfront and for a mere 180 ZAR (about 12 USD) you get 1.5 hours of cruising-fun on a catamaran including free flowing sparkling wine! Yes, let that sink in for a moment!
The views from the boat over Table Bay, the Mountain and the city are unforgettable. With a bit of luck you might even see dolphins, seals or whales. The sparkling wine gives it the extra festiveness to reaffirm that life is actually pretty good! Honestly, what better way to end the day than gliding along Table Bay on a boat, sipping on free flowing sparkling wine? Make sure to bring a warm jacket or pullover along, because no matter how warm it is when you get on the boat, you will be cold before returning to the harbour. Believe me!
If you prefer clean boating-fun without the sparkling wine or sunsets just don’t work for you, there are of course plenty of other options available. Cruises can be booked throughout the day and on different vessels completely depending on your personal preferences. My recommendation however is to give the sunset cruise a try!
6. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden & Constantia Wine Estates
These are technically two highlights, but since they are situated closely together you can easily combine them to make it the perfect day in Cape Town!
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is a special place and home to an impressive amount of local flora. Even though most of Kirstenbosch’s nature is set in well-manicured flower beds, it still has a wild and vast feel to it.
Maybe it’s Table Mountain with its untamed nature towering over the garden that makes for the special atmosphere?! You can stroll around the grounds for hours always discovering something new! Even one of the many Table Mountain hiking routes start from the botanical gardens. Next to indigenous nature, the garden also showcases sculptures made by local artists throughout the grounds. Two restaurants cater for all your culinary needs, but if you want to do like the locals do, pack a picnic basket and enjoy the day with some delicious snacks and maybe some wine under one of the shady trees.
During the summer months every Sunday the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts take place in the gardens! A line-up of local bands and artists use the concert stage in the garden for the weekly show. Capetonians flock to Kirstenbosch with their blankets and picnic baskets to enjoy the live music in this unreal setting. Should you visit Cape Town during this time, make sure to go to one of the summer concerts.
From Kirstenbosch it’s only a short distance to some of the best and oldest wineries in the Constantia area. With a quick Uber ride you can go straight to any of the wine estates in the area such as Groot Constantia or Klein Constantia. Another great option is to go with the Sightseeing Bus! The blue route stops at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where you get off and take your time to explore the grounds. Once you are done, you can hop back on the bus and continue on to the next stop called Constantia Nek. From here you can change to the Wine Bus, which stops at 3 wine estates in the area – Groot Constantia, Eagles Nest and Beau Constantia! All of them offer outstanding wines, delicious food and beautiful views over the Constantia area. If you could do with a little walk in between wine tastings, you can add Constantia Glen Wine Estate to the list as it’s located right between Eagles Nest and Beau Constantia! Pick and choose whatever you prefer and make it your own perfect day in Kirstenbosch and Constantia.
7. Explore Bo-Kaap & the City Bowl
Time to find your feet in the city center! You surely have seen pictures of the Bo-Kaap area with its cobble stone streets and the iconic colourful houses. This neighbourhood is one of the oldest and historically most significant ones in the city. It was initially set up by freed slaves mostly from South-East Asia, which gave the area the name Malay Quarter. The ‘Cape Malays’ were able to buy the houses which they had to previously rent and started to painted them in bright colours as an expression of their new-found freedom. Despite all people of colour being forcefully removed from the city center during Apartheid era, the Malay Quarter and it’s inhabitants stayed. More than half of the Cape Malay community is Muslim which is why the Bo-Kaap is home to the Nurul Islam Mosque, the oldest mosque in Cape Town. Easy to find on the corner of Wale and Buitengracht Streets, this fascinating neighbourhood is definitely worth a visit. If you like to learn more about the history and significance of the former Malay Quarter, visit the Bo-Kaap Museum.
Just a few streets over from Bo-Kaap, you’ll find Bree Street, Loop- and Long Street. These streets form the heart piece of the city center with many restaurants, cafes and shops. If you are looking for some African souvenirs drop by Greenmarket Square, where you can peruse the stalls at the daily market and haggle with the vendors over their African artwork!
Long Street used to be the party mile of Cape Town! In the ‘good old days’ many young backpackers would stay here, celebrating the start or the end of their African adventure. The street used to brim with backpacker accommodation, bars and clubs – always something going on. Today the street is a bit more quiet with many longstanding establishments having disappeared or relocated to other surrounding areas. Long Street is still worth a visit to have a drink in one of the local bars or to treat yourself to a meal at Mama Africa. This African restaurant is a must for every visit to Cape Town. It has a funky African vibe and you can try some of their unusual dishes such as crocodile! Give it a try!
Bree Street offers some fabulous bars often with some enticing drinks specials and great seating on the street, where you can spend hours watching the world go by. Kloof Street is another fantastic area to find culinary delights from around the globe as well as great bars. A definite favourite especially amongst locals is Van Hunks.
Further down on Adderley Street you’ll find the entrance to Company Gardens, South Africas oldest park set up by the first European settlers in 1650! The Gardens are adjacent to the Parliament building and home to two of Cape Towns main museums – the South African Museum and the South African National Gallery. Take a stroll up the wide shady walkway and take a moment to observe the feisty squirrels! Not afraid of anyone or anything, the squirrels are the real stars of the Company Gardens.
Again, if you have your Sightseeing Bus ticket, you have a free walking tour through the city center included. The red line will drive you through the most significant areas in the city with some explanations and historical background.
8. Cycle the Sea Point Promenade & visit Mojo Market
The Sea Point promenade stretches along the entire length of Sea Point and beyond. A Capetonians favorite to walk, run and stroll with their dogs right next to the sea. The promenade has undergone some upgrades over the past few years and artworks of local artists have been added. The entire walk stretches from the V&A Waterfront all the way to Camps Bay, hugging the waterline, making it an approximate 12 km walk in total. You can obviously pick and choose sections, if you don’t want to do the entire length. Alternatively, you can also now rent a bicycle and ride along this beautiful stretch of land. Up Cycle has three rental stations conveniently located at the V&A Waterfront, at the swimming pool on the Sea Point promenade and on Main Road Camps Bay. You can pick up and drop off at any of the three stations at your convenience. Pick one of those bright orange bikes and off you go! Rentals can be done hourly, on a half day- or full day basis at an affordable rate. It’s a great way to cover some ground and explore the Atlantic Seaboard area without having to battle the traffic on the road.
On a side note – another great way to enjoy the Sea Point area is by kayak! Guided tours usually start between early morning and midday to show you the beauty of Table Bay. Smell the fresh sea air and enjoy the silence on the water while you paddle past Sea Point and Lions Head. If you make it out of bed early there is a good chance you might even encounter some wildlife during your trip!
Anyway, back to the promenade! If you finish your bike rental at the Sea Point promenade you could celebrate your day of exploration at the Mojo Market, which is just across the road on Sea Point Main Road. The motto here is Local is Lekker– a famous South African slogan to promote locally sourced products which is embraced wholeheartedly by South Africans. This indoor market offers food & drink stalls as well as clothes and artwork made by local designers. Relax with your drink while listening to the live music playing in the background. It’s a place you can easily forget time and you end up spending an entire afternoon or evening. If you would like to stay in the area, why not stay right above the market at the Mojo Hotel? It’s a great location to base yourself in!
9. Walk up Lions Head & Sundowners on Signal Hill
The Capetonians favorite mountain in the city is Lions Head! It is the smaller peak to the right of Table Mountain and even for the untrained hiker, you can make it up in 60 – 90 minutes maximum. Locals use the mountain as their training ground with many runners shooting up and down the mountain as well as families hiking with small kids and/or dogs. It’s an easy thing to do with much less hassle and preparation than walking up Table Mountain. As the path winds up around Lions Head, you have amazing ever changing views over the entire city, Table Bay and Table Mountain as well as Camps Bay and Sea Point. You start off with a wide trail, which becomes narrower and steeper the higher you get. The last few meters have you clambering over rocks, where you might start cursing, asking yourself why you have committed to such foolishness. Once you reach the top though, it’s all been worth it! The views are spectacular and you can’t help but being proud having made it all the way up! It’s a quick Uber ride to get to the starting point or if you stay in Gardens and surroundings you might even choose to walk up to the starting point. If possible don’t choose the middle of the day to walk up as it gets really hot in summer and definitely bring enough water and sun protection with you.
If physical exertion is not for you or if you want to treat yourself after your earlier mountain experience – go for Sundowners on Signal Hill. The hill is just further down the road from Lions Head, offering similarly spectacular views over Table Bay and Sea Point. It’s the perfect spot to enjoy the sunset with a little picnic and some sundowner drinks. See the sun sink in the ocean while sipping on a cool beverage and nibble on your favourite snacks. Bring something warm to wear as it gets cold quickly once the sun goes down. It’s a definite Must-Do when in Cape Town.
For the adrenaline junkies amongst you try a tandem paragliding flight off Lions Head and Signal Hill! What a way to see the city from above! Your launch site will depend on the weather conditions of the day, but either way it is a once in a lifetime experience!
10. Cape Town’s Beaches – Clifton, Camps Bay & Llandudno
Cape Town has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world! Surrounded by mountains, white sand and crystal-clear blue water beckon you to come for a swim. What better way to spend a day in the sun at one of the beaches close to the city. Coming from Sea Point side you will first get the four Clifton beaches. They are all equally beautiful so it’s up to you to find your favourite spot. Clifton 1 and 2 are said to be frequented mostly by families, Clifton 3 is where you find the gay community and Clifton 4th beach is the most popular beach with the most infrastructure – meaning there are public toilets plus you can rent sun beds and umbrellas. None of the beaches have any bars or shops, but usually you’ll have vendors walking up and down the beach selling cool drinks, ice cream and other important beach utensils. The safest bet however is to bring your own drinks and snacks.
Camps Bay beach is located straight across the road from Camps Bay’s many bars and restaurants, so once you had enough of beach fun you can just cross the road and enjoy some drinks and meal, maybe enjoy the beautiful sunsets that can be seen from this side of the city.
Llandudno beach is situated between Camps Bay and Hout Bay, the furthest away from the city. This little paradise is less frequented by tourists and more popular with locals. Good surfing conditions attract the local surfers, but also swimmers and sun lovers. It’s a beautiful bay surrounded by the mountains and boulders with the small community of Llandudno in the back. It’s a high-end residential area without any shops or restaurants – therefore don’t forget to pack some provisions if you plan to spend your day here. Public toilets are available and life guards are on duty during the busy summer months.
If you had a read through the previous blog – What you need to know about Cape Town – you’ll know that the sea is ice cold with temperatures around 10 – 16 °C, especially on this side of the peninsula. It therefore depends on your own stamina how long you’ll stay in the water. Cape Town waters are also home to sharks, but attacks are generally rare and there are no attacks on this side of the city, so you don’t have to worry getting into the water in Clifton, Camps Bay or Llandudno.
This brings us to the end of our recommendations. Hopefully these 10 Must-Do’s will help make your first time in Cape Town an unforgettable stay! The list could go on and on with cool things to do, but let’s leave at this for now.
Follow us next time when we explore the Cape Peninsula! Join us for the perfect day to explore all the amazing places around the peninsula such as Hout Bay, Chapmans Peak, Noordhoek, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope and let’s not forget the Penguin colony at Boulders Beach!
See you soon!