You will need more than 5 days in the Mother City, there are too many things to do in Cape Town!
Those were the words that Nelson, my South African friend, told me when I smiled at him announcing that I’d be staying 5 full days in Cape Town. Interestingly, I thought I’d receive a nod of approval at the news. Evidently, Nelson had a different opinion. Turns out he was right. You do need around two weeks to actually get to know Cape Town, and about one second to fall in love with it.
In this post, I will suggest what to do in Cape Town to make the most of it. I will also share a bunch of practical tips to plan your visit.
Make sure to also read my post The Best Places To Visit In South Africa.
22 Unmissable Things To Do In Cape Town
Explore the V. and A. Waterfront
One of the best ways of discovering a new city is to visit one of its markets. This definitely goes for Cape Town too, and Oranjezicht City Farm is the place to go for that. This is actually located in the V&A Waterfront (I know, confusing) and it opens on Saturdays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm, and Sundays from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm.
However, the V&A Waterfront is the star of the show here. This is the oldest working harbor in the Southern hemisphere, and the entire area is scattered with interesting attractions.
To make the most of the V&A Waterfront Area, consider joining a tour. Guided walking tours that depart every 30 minutes from Chavonnes Battery Museum will take you to the Clock Tower, or Robinson Dry Dock.
But there’s more. The V&A Food Market is a great place to grab a bite or more. There’s just about any kind of food you may possibly want – healthy options, vegetarian and vegan options, meat and seafood as well as the most decadent pizzas and desserts.
Finally, the V&A Waterfront is a fantastic place for shopping. Not only there’s an enormous shopping mall, but there’s also a great market right behind the Food Market, called Watershed. This is more of a crafts market, with anything from clothes to art pieces. It’s the place to go to buy that unique dress or pair of pants!
Depending on the weather, you can also enjoy beautiful views of Table Mountain from the V&A Waterfront. Keep in mind that this can be a bit of a hit and miss – I have been to Cape Town many times and I think I only managed to get clear views twice!
Visit Robben Island
Like many other attractions in Cape Town, visiting Robben Island actually depends on the weather. The ocean in this part of the world can be really rough, and when that happens, the ferry doesn’t run. The views of the island and even those of Cape Town from the ferry are beautiful.
The visit of the island, which is one of the most important places to visit in Cape Town, is divided in two parts: first a former political prisoner walks visitors around the prison, recollecting the story of the island, of his arrest, and then showing the various rooms where prisoners were held. It’s a touching moment, and it’s incredible to meet men that, despite everything, have managed to keep hopeful and continue smiling.
The second part of the visit is with another guide, and it is a bus ride with crucial stops to all the most important sites on the island – the churches, the cemetery, the school of the village.
There are 3 daily ferries (and 3 tours) to Robben Island, the first one departing at 9:00 am from the dock at V&A waterfront. This is the one that always has the highest chances to go, as the sea conditions tend to worsen as the day goes by. The ferry ride lasts about 45 minutes and the sea can be rough, so take some dramamine before getting on board if you tend to get seasick.
To book your guided tour to Robben Island, including the ferry, click here.
Walk around Bo-Kaap
Bo-Kaap is located at the foot of Signal Hill and is famous for the bright colored houses and cobblestone streets. It was originally established as a slaves quarter by the Dutch. Here there’s the oldest mosque of the southern hemisphere, Auwal Mosque (which was built in 1793). The area is scattered with nice cafés and restaurants, which serve Cape Malay food – an interesting fusion of local and Malaysian flavors.
This is also where the Muslim community (the Cape Malay) of Cape Town is concentrated, so it is not uncommon to hear the call to prayer coming from mosques (though I have to say, the area is actually quite multi-cultural).
Hang out on Long Street
Long Street is one of the most famous streets in the Mother City. You will find many lovely shops, lots of bars – some with live music – and good restaurants.
A note of warning about Long Street: there’s no denying that it is a bit dodgy, day and night, with persistent beggars that follow passersby (it happened to me every time I walked there), and occasional fights. Make sure to keep your eyes open, and ignore people begging for money or whatever else. Don’t flash your belongings either.
Go up Table Mountain
Hiking Table Mountain is one of the best things to do in Cape Town. But you don’t have to actually hike all the way up to enjoy this attraction. A cable car ride will take you all the way up in a few minutes – except, you may have to wait in line to get on. The cable car rotates, so no matter where you stand you are guaranteed great views, eventually.
Once you are up, you will find a variety of walking trails to several viewpoints and you will be able to admire Lion’s Head, the Twelve Apostles, the city and much more. Try to time your visit so that you can see the sunset from it – it’s totally worth it!
Check out the weather broadcast before going up Table Mountain, and use common sense too. Don’t go up Table Mountain if you can’t see it clearly from the city. If you can’t see the mountain, you can’t see the view from the mountain either. At times, the fog at the top is so thick that visibility is minimal. Furthermore, the cable car doesn’t work when it is too windy.
For a guided tour of Cape Town that also goes to Table Mountain, click here.
If you prefer to hike Table Mountain, consider joining a guided tour (it’s not recommended to hike alone there). For more information, click here.
Hike up Lion’s Head
Going up Table Mountain is a must to take in the views from there. But where should you go to find the best views of Table Mountain itself? Why, to Lion’s Head of course!
The hike is a short and sweet one, mostly easy but challenging in parts as there are bits where you will have to climb. I recommend not going alone (read my post on why I don’t recommend hiking alone here) – either find a partner or join a guided hike. It takes about 3 hours overall, and the views of Table Mountain from the top are truly rewarding.
Much like for Table Mountain, if you want to hike Lion’s Head only go there if you can see it – if the weather isn’t ideal, if Lion’s Head is actually covered in clouds, chances are that the view from there will be covered and the hike will end up be a struggle more than anything else.
Take in the sunset from Signal Hill
Sunsets in Cape Town are out of this world, and there are many places in town where you can enjoy view of the sun going down.
One of the best places for sunset in Cape Town is Signal Hill. It’s actually close to the V&A Waterfront, and right in front of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. The good thing about it is that you don’t need to hike it – just grab an Uber and get all the way to the top. Pack a picnic and some wine with you for an even better experience, and make sure to ask your Uber driver to pick you up at a specific time. It’s a popular spot and you’ll struggle to find transportation back to town if you don’t!
Visit Kirstenbosch Garden
Kirstenbosch Garden is one of the most famous places to visit in Cape Town. This botanical garden is one of the most beautiful in Africa, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004. The park is enormous, and a fantastic place to have a picnic on a sunny day. It’s a venue for summer concerts, art exhibitions and more.
The Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway is one of the most famous landmarks, but if you are into plants you can definitely spend hours browsing all the amazing flowers!
Admission to Kirstenbosch Garden is 200 South African Rand (ZAR) (little over $13 USD). It’s one of the attractions included in Cape Town City Pass, which you can get here. The garden is open every day from 8:00 am to 7:00 pm from September to March, and from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm from April to August.
Kirstenbosch is a stop along the Hop On Hop Off bus in Cape Town, so it’s fairly easy to reach it. You can get your hop-on hop-off bus ticket here.
Go to Groot Constantia
Groot Constantia is a fantastic wine estate, one of the oldest in the country. It was established in 1685. It is located in Constantia Valley, an idyllic place named after Governor Simon van der Stel’s daughter which is very easily reached even on the hop-on hop-off bus.
The grounds of Groot Constantia are simply gorgeous (beautiful views, impressive vineyards). There are two fantastic restaurants (Jonkershuis and Simon’s) and historical buildings to explore. But the best thing to do is by all means wine tasting.
The wine tasting at Groot Constantia includes a guided visit with a detailed explanation on the history of the vineyards; on how the wine is made and finally a wine tasting which includes five earthy samples of wine.
Enjoy street art in Woodstock
If you are a fan of street art, head to Woodstock, one of the nicest neighborhoods in Cape Town. You will find plenty of small designer boutique shops, vintage clothing and antique shops, lovely cafés, art galleries and an old biscuit mill that is now the location of a bunch of excellent restaurants.
Yet, the best part of visiting this part of town is the street art: it’s packed with murals! You can easily wonder around by yourself, but if you want to get a bit more information, consider joining a guided tour.
To book your street art tour, click here.
Take a walk in Sea Point
Named after the Sea Point promenade, a nice walk that connects Bantry Bay to Mouille Point, Sea Point is a favorite of locals, and I don’t see why you should not go too! Head there to walk, bike, skate, run or swim in Sea Point summer pool, or to simply take a glimpse of local action.
Visit a museum or two
You will find many museums in Cape Town, but if time is a constraint focus your attention to the two best in town.
ZEITZ MOOCA – Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. Not only the exhibit is incredible, with a collection of art from all over Africa, but the building is fabulous too – a series of grain silos that were repurposed to house the museum.
DISTRICT 6 – This memorial museum celebrates District 6, a residential area of Cape Town that was completely demolished in the 1970s by the Apartheid Nationalst Government, forcing more than 60,000 residents to relocate.
Explore Cape Point Peninsula
One of the most popular things to do in Cape Town is touring around Cape Point Peninsula – this is part of the Cape Floral Region, a UNESCO site, and Table Mountain National Park. It’s a full day trip from Cape Town.
Typically, the first place you will stop at is Hout Bay. From Mariner’s Wharf it’s easy to access the harbor and get on a ferry that goes to a fur seal colony – they are a fun sight. To be fair, there are also a few hanging right at the harbor, along with some guys who claim to be their owners and demanding money in order to take pictures.
Hout Bay is a gorgeous beach per se, so you can simply go for a walk there too. Driving away from it more into the Peninsula, there’s a viewpoint where it’s nice to stop for photos. The view is simply stunning.
Biking around Cape Point National Park you will further enjoy views of the ocean and spot lots of animals, including ostriches, baboons and even zebras.
Yet, the best stop on a Cape Peninsula tour is Cape Point. There, you can walk all the way up the lighthouse. The walk is made more fun by the baboons that are everywhere – though remember that they are feral animals, so you should not feed them or get too close to them.
Right below the lighthouse, an easy trail leads all the way to Cape of Good Hope.
For more day trips, read my post 10 Great Day Trips From Cape Town.
Admire the penguins at Boulders Beach
Boulders Beach is home to a large colony of penguins, and it is gorgeous: it has incredibly fine, white sand and the clearest waters one could possibly hope for. Sure enough, the penguins got themselves a sweet spot. The whole area is invaded with them. They are highly protected, but as they are everywhere it’s very easy to take good photos.
You can easily get to Boulders Beach by car from Cape Town. If you don’t have one, don’t worry: it is typically a stop along the Cape Point Peninsula tour.
Go to Muizenberg Beach
One of the loveliest small towns that are part of the greater Cape Town is Muizenberg. Chilled, fun and simply beautiful, visiting is a must. This is the kind of place where on a sunny day (well, really on any day!) people go to the beach to play, hang out, surf or just relax. The beach itself is beautiful: long, the sand as white as it gets. The small cabins where people get changed add a touch of color and are an unmissable sight!
Make sure to check out my post The Best Beaches In South Africa.
If there is one thing you shouldn’t miss on when you visit Cape Town, that’s surfing. To be fair, the water in this part of the country is very cold, and you will definitely need a dry suit or else you’ll freeze. If you are a pro-surfer, head straight to Muizenberg and join the crowds. If you just want to give it a try, you can take some lessons.
Drive around the greater Cape Town
The Mother City is surrounded by a bunch of smaller ones that can all be visited in one day. The best way to do it is by car (renting one is fairly cheap!). The obvious first stop would be Muizenberg, followed by Simon’s Town where there is a the above-mentioned penguin colony.
But there’s way more! Fishhoek is nice and chilled, especially on a Sunday. Kalk Bay is packed with small vintage, antiques and art shops and there are some lovely cafès to enjoy an excellent brunch or lunch (my favorite is Olympia, and judging by how packed it is every time I go, locals love it too!).
Drive to Chapman’s Peak
Most tours to Cape Point Peninsula have a quick stop at Chapman’s Peak, but if you have a chance simply rent a car and drive the scenic route. You can approach it from either Hout Bay or Noordhoek. The views are breathtaking – it’s what I call “the definition of rugged coast.”
Once you get to Chapman’s Point you will find a small parking lot and a viewing platform which is a great spot for photos and one of the best sunset spots in the area.
Visit a township
I have thought long and hard before deciding to include a trip to a local township among the things to do in Cape Town. I can’t help to wonder if it can be considered an ethical activity, and my answer is “it depends.”
It’s all a matter of how you approach it. If your idea of visiting a township is that of taking photos for your social media, you may as well not go. If, on the other hand, you are curious to learn about its history, and the living conditions and daily struggles of its inhabitants, it can be an enlightening experience.
You will definitely need a guided tour to visit Cape Town townships. You can book it here.
Try local specialties
Who knew that the food in South Africa would be so tasty?
One of the best things to do in Cape Town is joining a braai – a South African style barbecue. It’s not vegetarian friendly, so perhaps not a good idea if that’s your diet. If not, you are bound to have a blast. Needless to say, it comes with lots of wine and beer!
Cape Town is also the best place in South Africa to try Cape Malay cuisine. This is unique to the Western Cape of South and is an interesting combination of fruity and mild spices flavors. Make sure to try the bobotie, a dish of ground meat (typically lamb) with curry and fruit, with a baked egg and cheese topping. It’s mouthwatering!
Enjoy Cape Town’s amazing restaurant scene
Eating is one of the best things to do in Cape Town and the restaurant scene is fabulous. I have already mentioned the V&A Waterfront Food Hall as one of the best places to eat in town. My favorite place there is Knysna Oyster Bar. They have ridiculously big oysters and a small selection of cooked dishes such as shrimps served on rice with a delicious garlic, lemon and butter sauce.
Here are some other restaurants you may want to try:
THE ROYAL EATERY – On Long Street, it makes the most delicious gourmet burgers – with lots of options for vegetarians and vegans, and even lots of healthy choices. It’s great value for money too.
BIESMIEALLAH – In Bo-Kaap, this is where to go to try Cape Malay food. It’s a very simple eatery, but so popular that it actually runs out of dishes.
BOMBAY BICYCLE – A truly unique place, with an incredible underground vibe and fantastic interiors. Try beef fillet with chocolate and chili sauce.
QUAY FOUR – In the V&A Waterfront, it’s a local institution thanks to its delicious and large portions of fish and seafood and the easygoing atmosphere. Live music is played most nights so it’s a bit loud – not the place I’d recommend for a romantic date. Definitely go there with friends for a fun night out.
THE MESS – In Greenpoint and adjoined to a hotel. It’s an absolutely fabulous tapas place, though mind you: the portions are huge. The tuna ceviche is fresh and mouthwatering; the quinoa and avocado salad delicious and filling, the curries mild and warming and desserts heavenly.
THE FORK AND THE SPOON – In Long Street, this is a tapas bar. The experience can be nice, provided you are not too hungry. It’s a bit overpriced considered the tiny portions (literally four bites per plate). Having said that, the quality of the food is superb.
Take a day tour to Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch deserves way more than a day tour from Cape Town. This lovely city is the heart of the Wine Country of South Africa. If you are short on time, you can go on day trip to Stellenbosch. Most include a historic tour of the city and a visit to one or more wineries.
Make sure to also read my posts The Best Wineries In Stellenbosch, 17 Cool Things To Do In Stellenbosch and Stellenbosch Accommodation: 12 Hotels In Stellenbosch For Any Budget.
What Not To Do In Cape Town
Cape Town and the all Cape region is going through a severe drought. It’s a bit better now, as the area finally got some much needed rain. Yet, the local authorities encourage people, locals and visitors alike, to help save water. So by all means, one of the things to do in Cape Town is to help in the effort to save this important good.
Here’s a few ways to save water: use hand sanitizer instead of washing your hands; close the tap while brushing your teeth; only flush the toilet when strictly necessary; take only very quick showers; report any water leakages.
Practical Information To Plan Your Visit
Where to stay in Cape Town
There are plenty of great places to stay in Cape Town. If you are traveling solo, I recommend staying at a social hostel such as the Backpack. Alternatively, you will find plenty of good hotels and Airbnbs.
Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Cape Town:
- The Backpack – a fabulous boutique hostel in the heart of the city. Click here for the latest rates.
- Cape Heritage Hotel – a boutique hotel in the heart of the city. Click here for the latest rates.
- Loader B – a beautiful villa for those that prefer self-catering. Click here for the latest rates.
- Taj Cape Town – walking distance from all the main attractions. Click here for the latest rates.
- The Capital Mirage Hotel – right by De Waterkant. Click here for the latest rates.
When to visit Cape Town
Any time is good to visit Cape Town. I went in June, when it was winter, and then again in November, in late spring. To make them most of the city, try to go when the weather is meant to be nicer – so in the spring, summer or early fall. Having said that, it is a fantastic place even in the winter!
Safety in Cape Town
There’s no denying that Cape Town has some safety issues. You will often feel a bit of a strange vibe whenever walking around Long Street, and you should definitely avoid flashing your stuff such as your big camera and expensive smart phone.
In general, I’d say to always follow locals advice: if they say it is better to take an Uber at night, or to avoid certain areas, they have a point.
Here’s a few things to do in Cape Town to stay safe:
GET A LOCAL SIM CARD: There’s a Vodacom shop right outside the arrivals hall at Cape Town airport and getting a SIM card with data is a 10-minute process. It’s the best way to have access to some apps that can be really helpful, such as Google Maps.
USE UBER: It’s much cheaper than taxis and it goes right to your door. It’s also the best way to get to and from the airport.
DON’T WALK ALONE AT NIGHT.
DON’T FLASH YOUR BELONGINGS: That includes money.
Remember to always get a good travel insurance for your trips. You can find a good one here.
Getting to and around Cape Town
Reaching Cape Town from the airport is fairly easy. Other than taxis and Uber, there are shuttles that can be booked either online (here) or directly at the airport.
You can book your private transfer from the airport to the city center via Welcome Pickups here.
The My CiTi shuttle goes directly from the airport to the center of town, to the Civic Centre Bus Station. It leaves every 20 minutes and runs from 4:30 am to 10:00 pm.
Once in the city, you can use public transportation or walk to all the attractions, or use the hop-on hop-off bus.
There are several places around town where to get the tickets and where the bus stops. There are also various routes. If you are staying in the City Bowl, you can get the bus from Long Street and hop on the blue line that goes to Mount Nelson, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Constantia (where there’s a connection with the pink line to explore the valley), as well as Mariner’s Wharf (Hout Bay) and the V&A Waterfront.
You can get your hop-on hop-of bus pass here.
When the sun sets, use Uber.
Have you ever been to Cape Town? What are the things to do in Cape Town that you like the most?
Traveling to South Africa? These other posts will come in handy:
- The Best Things To Do In Johannesburg
- The Best Things To Do In Knysna
- Where To Stay In Knysna
- The Best Things To Do In Durban
- A Guide To Renting A Car In South Africa