“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 the 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. After all, 3 days really is the most I spend in any city – well, except of Tel Aviv, that is. I just can’t help it: after a while, I itch to leave. But everyone told me that there’s so many places to visit in Cape Town that I had decided to factor in 5 full days.
Evidently, Nelson had a different opinion. He insisted I’d need at least two weeks to get to know Cape Town. He was right. I ended up going twice within 4 months as I couldn’t get enough of all the things to do in Cape Town. Sure enough, this city is nothing like Johannesburg (here’s what I managed to do there in just one day).
It took me a split second to fall in love with Cape Town, as I stared at the view on my way to town from the airport. So much I enjoyed my time there that, a day after coming back to Sardinia (just enough time to rest after traveling for 28 hours) I bought another flight to go again. Yes, there’s too many things to do in Cape Town that multiple visits are recommended.
Keeping in mind that I recommend spending 2 good weeks in the city, this post will highlight what to do in Cape Town to make the most of it. Following up a second visit, this post has been updated to include more Cape Town attractions.
If you like the idea of a local guiding you through his/her city, you can book your personal local guide in Cape Town.
For a full guide about South Africa, read my post “24 Fabulous Places To Visit In South Africa.”
17 Incredible Things To Do In Cape Town
Explore the V. and A. Waterfront
The first thing I typically do whenever I get to a new place is walking to the market. I intended to do this in Cape Town too, and started making my way to Oranjezicht City Farm. This is meant to be one of the places to visit in Cape Town. I thought it would be a good place to get fresh produce to cook dinner at my hostel that night.
But then, on my way there I went to the V&A Waterfront and it was so much fun to explore that I just stayed there for a few hours. Exloring the V&A Waterfront is by far one of the coolest things to do in Cape Town. This is the oldest working harbor in the Southern hemisphere, and the entire area is scattered with interesting attractions (ie the Clock Tower, or Robinson Dry Dock – they can all be visited during the walking tour that departs every 30 minutes from Chavonnes Battery Museum).
There are supposed to be beautiful views of Table Mountain too, but it was overcast when I visited and the view was blocked by a thick layer of clouds.
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 one may possibly want – healthy options, vegetarian and vegan options, meat and seafood as well as the most decadent pizzas and desserts. If eating is one of the things to do in Cape Town, this is where to do it.
Last but definitely not least, 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. I am hardly a shopaholic, but I must admit that I found visiting (and shopping at) the Watershed one of the most fun things to do in Cape Town.
Who knew that the food in South Africa would be so tasty? Cape Town is one of the best destinations I have been when it comes to food, and no matter your tastes, your budget, your dietary requirements, you are bound to find something delicious. One thing I recommend doing 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! I also recommend taking a food tour.
Walk around Bo-Kaap
One of the simply unmissable things to do in Cape Town is visiting Bo-Kaap. This neighborhood is located at the foot of Signal Hill and is famous for the bright colored houses and cobblestone streets. It’s 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).
Bo-Kaap 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.
If people’s watching is one the coolest activities in Cape Town, Bo-Kaap is definitely a good place to do it. I spent quite some time at the balcony of a lovely corner café, drinking roibos tea and just admiring the bustling local life.
Here’s a few tours of Cape Town that include a visit to Bo-Kaap
Hang out on Long Street
A walk on Long Street is one of the unmissable things to do in Cape Town. I walked along Long Street every day when I was in Cape Town, either on my way to other places, or just to enjoy the interesting architecture (I love the Victorian style ironwork balconies), to browse the many lovely shops, or to get a bite in one of the many fantastic restaurants in the area.
If partying is one of the most fun things to do in Cape Town, Long Street is where to do it. There’s many bars with live music.
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. If keeping your eyes open is what to do in Cape Town to stay safe, this is definitely the case for Long Street. More about how to stay safe in Cape Town later.
Visit Kirstenbosch Garden
Kirstenbosch Garden is one of the most famous places to visit in Cape Town, and quite rightly so: 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 concerts, art exhibitions and more.
The Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway is one of the most famous Cape Town attractions. I managed to walk across it before leaving. Indeed, unfortunately, during my time in Cape Town the weather was not very cooperative: it was cold and rainy, so I had to cut short my visit to Kirstenbosch.
Kirstenbosch is a stop along the Hop On Hop Off bus in Cape Town, so it’s fairly easy to reach it.
Here’s where to get the Hop On Hop Off bus tickets:
Go to Groot Constantia
One of the unmissable things to do in Cape Town is visiting Groot Constantia. This is a fantastic wine estate, one of the oldest ones in the country. It was established in 1685. It is located in Constantia Valley, an idyllyc 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’s two fantastic restaurants (Jonkershuis and Simon’s) and historical buildings to explore. I was a bit unfortunate with the weather when I visited, so I just took it easy having lunch at Jonkershuis (I think I had one of the best salads ever!) and then went for the wine tasting tour (one of the best things to do in Cape Town, anyways!).
The wine tasting at Groot Constantia includes a guided visit with a detailed explanation on the history of the vineyard; on how the wine is made and finally a wine tasting which includes five earthy samples of wine. This is definitely one of the nicest places to visit in Cape Town.
Here’s a few tours that also stop to Groot Constantia:
Take the Hop On Hop Off Bus
I’ve never been keen to take the Hop On Hop Off bus, until I actually tried it, in Cape Town, and finally got the point. It’s a super easy way to get around town, get to all the most important Cape Town attractions, while listening to some explanations about them, and it saves a lot of time and effort (and money) to move around.
There’s several places around town where to get the tickets and where the bus stops. There’s also various routes. I got on at Long Street and took the blue line, that goes to Mount Nelson, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Constantia (where I connected with the pink line to explore the valley), as well as Mariner’s Wharf (Hout Bay) and the V&A waterfront.
I recommend to get on nice and early as there’s really a lot of places to visit in Cape Town along the route. The views from the bus are stunning!
Here’s where to get tickets online:
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. It’s a full day trip, and a great one I should add. The first place to stop when exploring Cape Point Peninsula 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 I recommend going even just there as it’s one of the nicest places to visit in Cape Town. 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 is one of the coolest things to do in Cape Town – the views of the ocean along the bike ride are beautiful, and there’s chances to see quite a few animals, including ostriches, baboons and even zebras.
Yet, the best stop on a Cape Peninsula tour is Cape Point, where it is possible to walk all the way up the lighthouse. Hiking up is what to do in Cape Town to get breathtaking views. The walk is made more fun by the baboons that are everywhere – though it’s important to remember that they are feral animals, so they should never be fed and never get too close to them.
Right below the lighthouse, an easy trail leads all the way to Cape of Good Hope – simply one of the most famous Cape Town attractions.
The following are some of the best tours of Cape Point Peninsula- most of them also stop at Boulders Beach.
- Cape Peninsula Half Day Tour
- Cape Peninsula: Private Full-Day Tour from Cape Town
- Cape Point Full-Day Tour From Cape Town
- Cape Peninsula Full-Day Shared Tour with Penguins
- 9-hour Cape Peninsula Guided Cycling Tour
For more day trips, read my post “10 Great Day Trips From Cape Town.”
Admire the penguins at Boulders Beach
I had seen the penguins years ago when I went to Peninsula Valdes, in Argentina. They are such cute animals, I like them so much, that when I found out that there’s a penguin colony at Boulders Beach, in Cape Town, I told myself I could not miss the opportunity to see them. Yes: going to Boulders Beach is one of the things to do in Cape Town.
Boulders Beach 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. Going to Boulders Beach is what to do in Cape Town to admire some wildlife (on a side note, depending on the season it’s also possible to see whales and whale sharks).
Boulders Beach is a stop along the Cape Point Peninsula tour. Nevertheless, here’s a selection of the best tours that go to Boulders Beach:
- Cape Point and Penguin Explorer Full-Day Tour from Cape Town
- Cape Peninsula and Penguin Colony Full Day Tour
- Cape Peninsula Full-Day Shared Tour with Penguins
- Table Mountain, Penguin Colony & Cape Point Shared Tour
Go to Table Mountain
Hiking Table Mountain is possibly the best of all the things to do in Cape Town. I wish I could say I did it – except I haven’t. The weather was so bad when I visited the first time (cold, raining) that the most I saw of Table Mountain back then was the view from Stellenbosch on a clear day. As it was impossible to hike, I decided to go up on the cable car, only to realize that all I could see was fog. I couldn’t see anything around myself, let alone the iconic view of the city.
So, here’s a few tips to visit Table Mountain: don’t go up (not even on the cable car) if the day isn’t clear. It’s a real shame to make all the effort to get up and realize that there’s a visibility of no more than 5 meters. Checking the weather broadcast and the regularly updated cable car report is what to do in Cape Town in order to decide when to visit. At times it is so windy that the cable car doesn’t even run.
Thankfully, the day I arrived in Cape Town on my second visit the weather was much better and I managed to go up. There is a good reason people say this is what to do in Cape Town for nature and adventure lovers: the view from up there is breathtaking. There are paths that go all around it, offering views of Lion’s Head, the Twelve Apostles, the city and much more. Make sure to stay long enough to take in the sunset views. It’s worth the line at the cable car to go back!
Here’s a selection of tours to Table Mountain – both hikes and cable car; a mix of the two, or a proper adventure:
Hike up Lion’s Head
Going up Table Mountain is a must to take in the views from there. But where are the best views of Table Mountain itself? It’s a fact that one of the things to do in Cape Town is hiking Lion’s Head, from where the views of the city below and, most importantly, of Table Mountains are stunning.
My first tip for those who want to hike Lion’s Head is to go there only if they 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. Provided that the weather is nice, hiking Lion’s Head is one of the most fun 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 it’s necessary 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.
These are some good hiking tours of Lion’s Head:
Visit Robben Island
Once again, this is one of Cape Town attractions that is highly subject to weather conditions. The ocean in this part of the world can be really rough, and when that happens, the ferry to Robben Island doesn’t run. There’s 3 ferries (and 3 tours) daily, 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.
Yet, I really recommend going: it’s one of the unmissable things to do in Cape Town! The ferry ride lasts about 45 minutes (though I think there’s also fast ferries) and the sea is rough. I took a good dose of Dramamine half hour before getting on the boat as I wanted to make sure I’d enjoy the tour and the ride. I am definitely glad I did: there were a few sick people on the ferry!
The views of the island and even those of Cape Town from the ferry are beautiful. Even just that makes me say that this is one of the nicest things to do in Cape Town.
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 their 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.
This is the best tour that goes to Robben Island:
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! Visiting Muizenberg is definitely one of the things to do in Cape Town.
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 even take some lessons.
Drive around the greater Cape Town
One of the nicest things to do in Cape Town is visiting its metropolitan area. Indeed, 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 beautiful 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!).
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. I spent 4 full days there, and visited the nicest vineyards. Yet I understand that some people have limited time to travel. If that’s the case, then a day trip to Stellenbosch is one of the nicest things to do in Cape Town, to have at least an idea of what it is all about.
Here’s my post about the best places to do wine tasting in Stellenbosch. And here’s a selection of the best day trips to Stellenbosch from Cape Town:
- From Cape Town: Full-Day Winelands Tour with Tasting
- South African Winelands Half Day Tour and Tasting
- Cape Town: Full Day Wine Tasting Tour
- Private Full-Day Wine Tour and Tasting from Cape Town
- Full-Day Private Cape Winelands Tour from Cape Town
Make sure to also read my posts “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 that 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.
Where To Stay In Cape Town
I travelled to Cape Town by myself, and as always when I am traveling solo, I decided to stay at a boutique hostel where I knew I’d get all the comforts (and more) of a good hotel, and all the easy going atmosphere of a hostel. The Backpack proved to be a great choice, and it is definitely where to stay in Cape Town.
A few minutes walk to all the main attractions in town, The Backpack is a gorgeous place that, when the day is clear, has beautiful views of Table Mountain. There’s dorms, private rooms and even family room, all comfortable and cozy. There’s plenty of common areas, and again they are all cozy and invite travelers to hang around and socialize.
I really liked the bar, where all guests met in the evening to enjoy watching the games of the 2018 football cup, have a drink and a chat. And if having a good Braai (South African barbecue) is one of the things to do in Cape Town, The Backpack makes sure to do the best one around, for a real steal.
Speaking of food, I can confidently say that breakfast at The Backpack is the best hostel breakfast I have ever had, and in fact it’s much much better than that of most luxury hotels: cereals and fresh pastries, yogurt, a fantastic selection of fresh fruits, eggs, cheese, vegetables, and various breads are a few of the things on offer.
There’s also a very well equipped kitchen and a dining room, and the reception area has a lovely shop where all the profits go to charity and local projects. And as if this wasn’t enough, there’s 2 gorgeous cats (Tiger and Spike) and a sweet dog hanging around and entertaining guests. The lovely personnel complete the picture. Yes: The Backpack is where to stay in Cape Town.
Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Cape Town:
- The Backpack is a fabulous boutique hostel in the heart of the city. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Cape Heritage Hotel is a boutique hotel in the heart of the city. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Loader B is a whole full villa for those that prefer self-catering. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Taj Cape Town is walking distance from all the main attractions. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Capital Mirage Hotel is right by De Waterkant. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Where To Eat In Cape Town
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 (so big that they have to be cut with fork and knife) and a tiny selection of cooked dishes such as shrimps served on rice with a delicious garlic, lemon and butter sauce.
If in search of an actual restaurants, here’s a selection of those I have tried during my time there:
The Royal Eatery, on Long Street, makes the most gourmet burgers – with lots of options for vegetarians and vegans, and even lots of healthy choices. It’s great value for money too.
Biesmiellah is the place to go in Bo-Kaap to try Cape Malay food. It’s a very simple eatery, but so popular that it actually runs out of dishes. I tried the bobotie (ground beef with spices and a topping of scrambled eggs cream on sweet rice) and really liked it.
Bombay Bicycle is a truly unique place, with an incredible underground vibe and fantastic interiors. And the food is delicious too. I had the beef fillet with chocolate and chilli sauce and it was superb.
Quay Four is located at 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 is 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 deserts heavenly.
The Fork and The Spoon, in Long Street, 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.
Other Practical Information
When to visit Cape Town
I’d say that any time is good to visit Cape Town. I went in June, when it was winter, and then again in November, in late spring. I just assume that with all the nature surrounding the city, in order to enjoy all the things to do in Cape Town and its gorgeous beaches it’s better to go when the weather is 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, and one of the things to do in Cape Town is to keep your eyes open. I was perfectly fine, though I perceived a bit of a strange vibe whenever I walked around Long Street and a few times the locals warned me to watch out and not to walk around with my big camera out.
When he saw me snapping photos, a very sweet man went though the trouble of walking me around Bo-Kaap (which is safe by the way) so that he could make sure that I would not take a wrong turn and that I’d stay out of trouble while I took photos.
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 minutes process. It’s the best way to have access to some apps that can be really helpful, such as Google Maps.
- Download Uber: it’s easy to use, 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 around alone at night.
- Don’t flash your belongings – big cameras, smart phones, and 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’s a variety of shuttles that can be booked either online or directly at the airport.
This is a selection of the best private transfers from the airport that can be booked online:
- Private one-way airport transfer – a reliable service: price is per group so it’s actually quite convenient.
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, one of the best things to do in Cape Town is to either use public transportation or walk to all the attractions or, when the sun sets, use Uber.
As I have said, I will be going back to South Africa soon and hopefully enjoy all the things to do in Cape Town that I have missed during my previous visit. So stay tuned for updates!
Have you ever been to Cape Town? What are the things to do in Cape Town that you like the most?