You will need more than 5 days in the Mother City, because 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 posts The Best Tips For Visiting Cape Town and The Best Places To Visit In South Africa.
The Best 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 that’s why you need to head straight to the V&A Waterfront (named after Queen Victoria and her son Alfred).
This is the oldest working harbor in the Southern hemisphere, and the entire area is scattered with interesting attractions. My favorite places are there by far the food and the artisans market.
Let me start by saying that 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.
My favorite is definitely Knysna Oysters – you can get oysters the size of a steak!
The V&A Waterfront is also 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!
A fantastic spot for views of the city is definitely the Ferris Wheel – known as Cape Wheel.
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.
If you want more of a farm’s market, the Oranjezicht City Farm Market is the place to go for that. The market is actually located in the V&A Waterfront (I know, confusing) and it opens on Saturdays from 8:15 am to 2:00 pm; Sundays from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm and Wednesdays from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm.
Visit Robben Island
Like many other places to visit 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 consists of a bus ride with crucial stops to all the most important sites on the island – the churches, the cemetery, the school of the village. You are only allowed to get off at certain stops, for safety reasons.
There are 4 daily ferries (and 4 tours) to Robben Island, departing from the dock at V&A Waterfront at 9:00 am; 11:00 am; 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm. The first one 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 (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).
The area is definitely best explored on a guided tour. You can book it here or here.
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.
I shall however give you 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.
You will be better off betting cable car tickets in advance. To get yours, click here.
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.
Some suggest going up Table Mountain first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds, but honestly I think you should 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.
Make sure to also read my post A Guide To Hiking Table Mountain.
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! This is definitely one of the best free things to do in Cape Town.
The hike is a short and sweet one, mostly easy but challenging in parts as there are bits where you will have to climb (though there are alternative trails to avoid the climbing bits).
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.
For a sunrise hike to Lion’s Head, click here. If you prefer going for sunset, click here.
Make sure to also read my post A Complete Guide To Hiking Lion’s Head.
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. I have already mentioned Table Mountain and Lion’s Head as prime sunset spots, and Camps Bay is an excellent one too.
One of the best places to visit in Cape Town for sunset 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 to head back to town. 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 beautiful 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 (though restrictions to picnics apply). It’s a venue for summer concerts, art exhibitions and more.
The Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway is one of the most famous landmarks, and you should definitely check out the sculptures scattered around the park – usually by prominent African Artists such as Euwitt Nyanhongo.
If you are into plants you can definitely spend hours browsing all the amazing flowers!
Kirstenbosch Garden is 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 about 13 km (8 miles) from the center of Cape Town, and 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
Wine 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 and 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, joining a guided street art tour is what to do in Cape Town.
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! It’s one of the nicest places to visit in Cape Town.
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 mixed-race area of Cape Town that was completely demolished in the 1960s by the Apartheid Nationalist Government, forcing more than 60,000 residents to relocate and in an effort to enforce racial separation. For a better experience, consider hiring a guide.
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 – some people enjoy dipping their toes in the ocean there, but I shall warn you the water is freezing cold!
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.
Unless you have a car, the best way to tour Cape Point Peninsula is on a guided tour. For information on guided tours of Cape Point Peninsula, click here or here.
For more day trips, read my post 10 Great Day Trips From Cape Town.
Admire the penguins at Boulders Beach
Boulders Beach, in Simon’s Town, is home to a large colony of penguins, and it is gorgeous: it has incredibly fine, white sand and the clearest waters you could possibly hope for. Sure enough, the penguins got themselves a sweet spot.
The whole area is literally their home. They are highly protected, but as there are roughly 3000 of them and 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.
To book your tour that also stops at Boulders Beach, click here, here or here.
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 posts The Best Beaches In Cape Town and 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 – it’s one of the most fun things to do in Cape Town.
Drive around the greater Cape Town
The Mother City is surrounded by a bunch of smaller towns 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 a great place to spot seals and is packed with small vintage, antiques and art shops and there are some lovely cafés 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 refer to as “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?
If you are unsure about what to taste, definitely opt for a guided food tour that includes lots of tasting. The local guide will also share his or her best local restaurant recommendations, so that is an added bonus.
You can book a food tour of Cape Town here.
One of the best things to do in Cape Town is joining a braai – that’s the Afrikaans word for barbecue, though I’d have to say it refers to a South African style barbecue. It’s not vegetarian friendly, so perhaps not a good idea if that’s your preference.
If not, you are bound to have a blast. Needless to say, it comes with lots of wine and beer!
You can usually have braii at one of the wineries around Cape Town; hostels also usually have a braai night, and I have heard good things about braai at Mzoli’s – though that’s not in the actual city.
September 24th is National Braai Day, so if you are in Cape Town on the day, you’ll be sure what to have for dinner!
Cape Town is also the best place in South Africa to try Cape Malay cuisine. This is unique to the Western Cape of South Africa 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!
But there’s more. Not only you should try Cape Malay food, but you should also learn how to make it. Most are held in the colorful Bo Kaap district, so you’ll also get a chance to hang out in the area. I know my sister regrets not having joined one!
Enroll in a Cape Malay cooking class to unveil its secrets. You can do book yours here or here.
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, and I have even told you that 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 ROYALE 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.
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 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.
Lovers of coffee beware: having a good brew is actually one of the best things to do in Cape Town, so forget about coffee chains, instant coffee and the like. You really have no excuses to settle down for a bad quality drink.
There’s an incredible amount of specialty coffee shops in the Mother City, and something like 150 coffee roasters. The best is by far David Donde’s Truth Coffee, but other big names are Tribe Coffee and Origin.
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 and there are so many wineries to visit that you will want to stay! 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.
You can book your guided tour to Stellenbosch here, here or here.
Other places you can visit as part of your Cape Winelands wine route include Paarl, Franschhoek, Durbanville and Crostantia.
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.
Ride the hop-on hop-off bus
This is probably one of the most touristy things to do in Cape Town, and yet one of the best ways of exploring the city.
I must admit I was unsure whether to hop on the bus, with with hindsight it was actually a good decision, and I would recommend it for travelers of all ages (in fact, it’s a fun thing to do for families with young kids) and budgets, as it’s a super cheap way of getting to all the best places to visit in Cape Town.
Stops along the way include Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the vineyards of Groot Constantia, oceanside Camps Bay and even the Imizamo Yeth Township.
Just make sure to wear lots of sunblock if you are staying on the top deck and visiting in the summer months!
You can get your hop-on hop-off bus ticket here.
What Not To Do In Cape Town
Cape Town and the all Cape region went through a severe drought that lasted several years. It’s 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.
Traveling to South Africa? These other posts will come in handy:
- Where To Stay In Cape Town: A First Timers’ Guide
- The Best Airbnbs In Cape Town.
- 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
- Is Cape Town Safe For Tourists?
- What To Wear In South Africa
12 thoughts on “24 Best Things To Do In Cape Town”
Great article that is packed full of information to help plan a trip! Thank you! Africa is so calling my name, and when I saw this, it is calling louder and louder. I’ve saved this for a big trip hopefully in 2020 (unfortunately 2019 is already too full). I’ve also posted to Flipboard and will pin it and save to Google plus. Thanks again!
Make sure to stay long enough – Cape Town is huge and deserves a lot of time!!
I love this so much! I’m from Cape Town – born and bred. I moved to Pretoria (near Johannesburg) when I was in high School but Cape Town will always hold a special place in my heart! I’m travelling now – mostly in Europe but I miss home so much so this was great to read! I’m also not much of a city girl but there’s something about Cape Town!
Cape Town is amazing. I can’t wait to go again – I left my heart there!
Hello Claudia, thank you for such a delightful blog. I’m from South Africa living in the USA. Never really had the time to explore the Cape. Now my hubby and I have that golden opportunity to do just that! Your tips were most helpful. Cannot wait for our trip in 2019.
You will LOVE IT. Are you only visiting the Cape, or exploring the rest of the country? If so, make sure to read the other posts as there is plenty of useful info. I have more posts coming out, so stay tuned!
Thank you so much for your amazing blog about traveling Cape Town. Been dreaming of traveling to Cape Town since I was a little girl! It is also nice to near the experience from a women’s perspective. My sister and I are travelling to Cape Town in two weeks to visit our Uncle and his husband. We will be with him for most of the trip but will have moments when we are travelling alone. Is there any other advice you can give to safety?
Hi Kelly, thank you for your comment and I am so envious that you are going to Cape Town! I actually think I will go again soon myself. As for safety: make sure to always get an UBER or taxi if you plan to go out at night on your own. Areas like the V&A Waterfront are super safe at all times. Keep your eyes open and if you are not comfortable doing something, trust your gut instincts!!