The best things to do in Cape Town
Cape Town is a city that seems to have it all: nature, culture, the beach, and nearly perfect weather. Choosing what to do in Cape Town can seem daunting only because there is simply so much to do there! Together with other bloggers, I’ve compiled the top 10 things to do in Cape Town that you can’t miss on your visit! If you’re looking for a guide, don’t miss this 3 day Cape Town itinerary.
In this blog post you’ll find a list of activities in Cape Town, fun things to do in Cape Town, and Cape Town tourist attractions.
Looking for more great adventures in South Africa? Check out these posts:
- The definitive Garden Route itinerary
- Kruger Park Safari – the trip of a lifetime
- How to pack for a South African Safari
10 Cape Town attractions you can’t miss:
Sunset at Chapman’s Peak
Visit Robben Island
We did not have a chance to visit Robben Island on our first trip to Cape Town and I wasn’t going to miss out on this tour the second time around. It is important to factor in weather conditions when planning this tour. You may want to schedule the early morning departure at the beginning of your trip just in case the ferry can’t make it out on your chosen date/time. The tour lasts 3.5 hours and it is worth every minute!
Considered a world heritage site, Robben Island is very rich in history and is known most recently as the place where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner. Robben island represents the struggle for freedom against oppression of basic human rights and a place where great men were held captive. There are two parts to the tour, when you arrive you are escorted to a bus that takes you around the island. Be sure to sit in the middle of the bus as this is where the guide usually stands. As you make your way around the island you’ll learn about the graveyard where people who died from leprosy were buried, the Lime Quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone quarry, the army and navy bunkers and the Maximum-Security Prison.
The second part, the prison tour, is given by a former inmate. Our guide was ZoZo, inmate 45/77. Listening to someone who was held prisoner for five years share their experience is far more impactful than listening to an audio recording. It was incredibly humbling to witness Zozo’s resilience and lack of resentment for the time he spent incarcerated. Instead, he took the time to educate us by sharing his story and the story of his fellow inmates. This tour is an absolute must! Visiting Robben Island is one of the best tourist attractions in Cape Town and one of the most romantic things to do in Cape Town.
Visit Kirstenbosch Gardens
A trip to Cape Town is not complete without a visit to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. I’ve been to a lot of national gardens, but this is amongst the most beautiful gardens I’ve seen. It is nestled on the slopes of the iconic Table Mountain. It is the first botanical garden in the world to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This 1,300 acres garden is home to over 7000 plant species indigenous to Southern Africa. Depending on your interest in botanical gardens you can easily spend a half-day there.
There are a plethora of things to explore, including a fragrance garden, a Braille trial, a kopje (hill) planted with pelargoniums, a sculpture garden, and medicinal plants. Walk the Boomslang, a canopy walkway that provides stunning panoramic views of the gardens. If you are up for a full day adventure, hike Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine, two trails from the gardens that lead up Table Mountain. During the summer season (September to March), live music concerts are held every Sunday. Visitors who prefer a structured stay can enjoy a free guided tour. Guides present the highlights of the season while also exploring the majority of the garden. Kirstenbosch’s hours of entrance varies by season.
During the summer, Monday to Sunday hours of operation are 8 AM- 7 PM. During the winter (April to August), Monday to Sunday hours of operation are 8am-6pm. Entrance fees are R65 for adults, R15 for children (6-17 years old), and free for children under 6 years old. You don’t want to miss this cultural gem, which is one of the most fun things to do in Cape Town!
From Travel Jewels
Visit the V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront in Cape Town is the cool place to be of the city. A shopping centre, the diamond museum, the Two Oceans Aquarium, a yacht marina and a series of villas built on the ocean. A visit to the V&A waterfront is surely a must if you are visiting the city. We visited in August, and therefore it is low season in South Africa. There weren’t huge crowds, but I imagine it is the other way round in the high season period.
Apart from the actual shopping centre the waterfront offers stunning views of the iconic Table Mountain. You can grab a ride on the Cape Wheel to admire the unique geography that characterises the mother city. The best restaurants are also located here at the V&A Waterfront and you have a lot of choice, from those specialising in seafood, to meat as well as cuisines from around the world. However bear in mind that this is the most expensive area of the city and if you are travelling on a budget there are surely excellent alternatives.
The waterfront is usually the point of the departure for boat rides towards Robben Island and also helicopter rides above the city. No wonder it has become South Africa’s most visited destination! Don’t miss the V&A Waterfront, it really is one of the best tourist attractions in Cape Town.
Hike Signal Hill
If you have been in the City Center or at the V&A Waterfront during lunch-time, you will most likely have heard a massive “boom” at noon. For first timers, this may be a bit scary but Cape Towners know this noise as the Noon Gun, fired every day at 12h00 on Signal Hill.
But a gun and loud noises aren’t the only things Signal Hill has to offer: Locals and foreigners alike enjoy the beautiful views over the city from here. The 350 m hill is one of the most famous spots to enjoy the sunset over Cape Town. The best time to head there is in the afternoon, when the sun is still up. Pack a few delicious snacks and a bottle of wine and watch the paragliders jump off from the edge of the hill. As the sun starts to set, more and more people flock in to enjoy the incredible views, making it another one of the most romantic things to do in Cape Town.
In case you are also short on time and decide to make your way to the hill right on time for sunset it is best to use Uber instead of driving your own car so you won’t have any trouble with finding a parking spot.
If you feel more active you can also hike up the hill from Central Cape Town. The hike is easy with a total elevation of less than 350 m and will take around 2 hours, and the hike up Signal hill is one of the best activities to do in Cape Town.
Hike Lion’s Head
If you’re not up for the torturous hike up Table Mountain (you can take a cable car up instead) hiking Lion’s Head is a great alternative and one of the most iconic landmarks in Cape Town. (Plus there’s no cable car for this one!) This hike is best enjoyed at sunrise, so hit the trail about an hour to an hour-and-a-half before sunset and make sure to bring a flashlight.
The five kilometer hike itself is not terribly difficult but does require a moderate level of physical activity. There are areas where the hike gets rather steep, and chains and ladders are there to assist in some light mountain climbing. The last part of the hike is the most challenging however the end result is more than worth it. Once you reach the top, the sights are unparalleled with views in every direction; from Table Mountain to the Atlantic Ocean and Camps Bay.
Take a rest as you enjoy the sunrise over the city with a light snack and plenty of water. This is the perfect opportunity to also engage in a photo-op so don’t forget to pack a camera. Remember to apply sunscreen before making your way back down, where the journey will be much easier and enjoyable as you take in the beauty scenery in the early morning light. Climbing Lion’s Head is one of the most exciting things to do in Cape Town, and one of the most adventurous things to do in Cape Town.
Read Mona’s post all about South Africa here
Hike Table Mountain (or take the cable car up)
No visit to Cape Town is complete without a visit to Table Mountain, Cape Town’s icon. Hiking up Table Mountain is a great way to get some exercise and enjoy the natural landscape the city has to offer, and there are various routes up. The best route to hike Table Mountain is through Kirstenbosch Gardens, which will take you around 3-4 hours. If you’re not up for a hike, have no fear, there is also a (very impressive) cable car that you can take up Table Mountain as well.
The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway runs between 8-19hrs and R290 in the morning, and R275 in the afternoon. Even if you take the cable car, you’ll be able to walk around the shelf of Table Mountain when you get to the top, allowing you to get beautiful views over Cape Town.
If you decide to visit Table Mountain, whether hiking or on the cable car, be sure to visit when Table Mountain doesn’t have its famous “table cloth,” i.e. when it is not shrouded in cloud cover! Cape Town sightseeing doesn’t get any better than seeing the city from above.
Click here for more tips on what to do in South Africa
Do it for the ‘gram in Bo-Kaap
Bo Kaap is a multicultural neighborhood best known for its colorful houses. You’ve probably seen some of these coming across your Instagram feed from anyone you know who has visited Cape Town. Bo Kaap is actually one of Cape Town’s oldest neighborhoods, and was previously known as the Malay Quarter due to the high population of Malay peoples in Bo Kaap. As it was a traditionally Muslim neighborhood, Bo Kaap also houses the country’s oldest mosque.
There isn’t just one story about how the neighborhood came to be so colorful, but the most likely one is that the colors of the houses are linked to Ramadan and Eid, and Muslims would paint their houses these colors in celebration of Eid. Another theory is that the neighborhood was historically quite poor, so the people living there had to paint their houses with any paint they could find.
Either way, this has set the stage for Bo Kaap to become one of the most Instagram-able places in Cape Town. Bo Kaap is easily reached from Cape Town’s business district, so be sure to swing by if you are in the neighborhood. A visit to Bo Kaap is one of the activities in Cape Town that you cannot miss!
Check out this post from Story at Every Corner for more info on Bo Kaap
Visit Muizenberg Beach
If you haven’t had enough of colorful houses already, a visit to Muizenberg beach is another must do in Cape Town. Loacated on the False Bay coast, Muizenberg is known as the home of surfing in South Africa – gnarly, dude. From Cape Town CBD it will take you about 30 minutes to reach Muizenberg.
As with many beach destinations, there are loads of fun things to do here like learn to surf, kitesurf and SUP. It wasn’t so long ago that Muizenberg was run down, but locally the locals led a project to renew the beach back to its old glory. The colorful Victorian houses on the beach front are empty but the city is currently working on giving them a new life.
To reach Muizenberg from Cape Town by car, drive in the direction of Simon’s Town. If you don’t have a car you can still reach the beach by taking the MetroRail that runs between Cape Town and Muizenberg.
Chill out at Clifton Beach
Once you’ve had enough of all these things to see in Cape Town, make sure you pay a visit to Clifton Beach to relax on the beach. Rent a beach lounger and umbrella and spend your afternoon watching the waves roll in. Clifton Beach is one of those spots in Cape Town that makes you realize Cape Town really does have it all. Clifton is one of the most expensive residential areas of Cape Town, to be sure to enjoy the view of the houses as well 😉
One of the best features of Clifton Beach, besides that it is beautiful, is that it is protected from the wicked Cape Doctor, or South Easterly wind. So rest assured, you can chill on the beach in peace without getting swept away! Chilling out at the beach is also one of the best free things to do in Cape Town.
Looking for more South Africa travel tips? Check out these posts:
- Wine tasting in Stellenbosch and Franschoek
- The 7 Day Garden Route Itinerary
- Viva Safaris Review: Kruger Park Safari
Did this post help you plan what to do in Cape Town? Let me know in the comments below!
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Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.