Cape Town, also known as South Africa’s Mother City, is consistently listed amongst the best cities in the world. It is endowed with abundant natural beauty, many opportunities for adventure, world-class shopping and food, and captivating history. I often get asked about things to do in Cape Town so here are my recommendations. I have listed over 50 things to do in Cape Town whether you are a first-time visitor, a resident or a repeat visitors.
Top things to do in Cape Town on your first visit
1. Go up Table Mountain
Cape Town’s most famous attraction is Table Mountain, recognized as one of the world’s seven wonders of nature. This flat-topped mountain is a prominent landmark overlooking the city. The aerial cableway will take you to the top of the mountain. If you’re fit enough, you can also opt to hike up. Once on the mountain, you can see indigenous flora and fauna, and enjoy a picnic high above the city. The panoramic views of Robben Island, the city and the Cape Peninsula, from the top, are stunning. Book your tickets in advance as it is busy.
During the many years of incarceration on Robben Island, we often looked across Table Mountain at its magnificent silhouette … To us on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return.– Nelson Mandela.
2. Take a ferry to Robben Island
This is where former President Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years that he was incarcerated. Today, Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a must-do in Cape Town. A ferry will take you to the island, where you can go on a guided tour and even see Nelson Mandela’s former cell. Book your tickets well in advance though as this attraction is very popular.
3. Visit the Bo-Kaap
This is one of Cape Town’s oldest, and most colourful, urban residential areas. Situated on the slopes of Signal Hill, the Bo-Kaap is steeped in history. The narrow cobbled streets, lined with brightly painted houses are an Instagrammer’s delight. Locals will show you around the area where you can visit the museums and even do cooking tours.
4. Have a picnic at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is one of the most beautiful gardens in Africa and one of the great botanical gardens of the world. It lies at the foot of Table Mountain and is the perfect place for a relaxing family day out. One could easily spend a full day here, admiring the different gardens and other features. Be sure to walk along the tree canopy walkway to get great views of Cape Town.
5. Step back in time at the Castle of Good Hope
This is the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa. It was built in the 1600’s as a defensive fort. It is now a national monument. You can walk around the castle grounds and see the exhibits as well as a live cannon-firing demonstration. Book tickets here.
6. Shop and eat at the V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is located in the Cape Town harbor. It is a sprawling shopping centre with many eateries, but there is more to it. It is surrounded by other attractions like an aquarium, a giant observation wheel, markets, museums and boat cruises. The ferries to Robben Island leave from here too.
7. Go on a Cruise
There are many types of boat cruises to choose from. They include sunset cruises, sight-seeing cruises, harbour cruises and adventurous cruises. You are likely to see seals on many of these cruises. Cruises from Simon’s Town, will take you to Seal Island, home to 75,000 Cape Fur Seals.
8. Enjoy the beautiful beaches
Cape Town has many beautiful beaches. The Clifton beaches are amongst the most beautiful in the world, Camps Bay Beach is the place to see and be seen. Muizenberg Beach has colourful beach huts and a dramatic landscape. Boulders Beach is a must-visit if you have children. It is the only place in the world where you can get so close to African Penguins.
9. Take a ride on the City Sightseeing Bus
The hop-on, hop-off bus is a convenient way to see Cape Town and will take you to most of many of the city’s attractions. There are several different routes. A running commentary is provided by earphones in 15 different languages. Book tickets here.
10. Take long scenic drives
Cape Town, and the area around it, has some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. The best way to see it is to rent a car and take long drives along the coastline. Drive along Chapman’s Peak Drive to Hout Bay, where you can eat fresh snoek fish. Drive further to Cape Point Nature Reserve, and Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet.
More things to do in Cape Town
- Admire art at the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world -the Zeitz MOCAA.
- Learn about diamonds at the Cape Town Diamond Museum.
- Visit the Iziko South African National Museum which also houses the planetarium.
- Relive your childhood at the Simons Town Toy Museum.
- Learn about Africa’s dark history at the Slave Museum.
- Marvel at the world’s first successful heart transplant at The Heart of Cape Town Museum.
- Be emotionally moved at the District Six Museum.
- Study local Navy history at The South African Naval Museum.
- Feel like a pirate on the only authentic Pirate Ship in South Africa – the Jolly Roger.
- Go for a ride on the Elgin Railway steam train (every Saturday/seasonal).
- Ride a horse on the beach in Noordhoek.
- Go tobogganing at Cool Runnings on Africa’s first downhill tobogganing track.
- Explore the Winelands on the Franschhoek Wine Tram.
- Jump into refreshing mountain springs at Crystal Pools, Steenbras River Gorge.
- Take a dip in cold fresh black water at Silvermine Reservoir.
- Chase waterfalls in Cecilia Forest near Table Mountain.
- Explore Newlands Forest.
Eat and drink
- Go strawberry picking at Polkadraai Farm (seasonal).
- Have a cuppa one of the world’s best coffee shops – the steam-punk style Truth Coffee.
- Enjoy a decadent high tea at a five star hotel.
- Learn how to cook Cape Malay food in the Bo Kaap.
- Eat fresh fish and chips at Kalky’s Fish & Chips, Kalk Bay.
- Shop for delicious goodies at the Old Biscuit Mill market on Saturdays.
Animals and sanctuaries
- Feed the squirrels at The Company Gardens.
- See beautiful birds at the Hout Bay Bird Park.
- See the Hippos at Rondevlei Nature Reserve.
- Visit an Alpaca farm in Paarl.
- See beautiful butterflies at Butterfly World in Stellenbosch.
- Spot whales on the False Bay coastline between June and November.
- Enjoy an outdoor movie with Galileo Open Air Cinema.
- Get some laughter therapy at the Cape Town Comedy Club.
- Watch a live theatre performance at Artscape Theatre/Fugard Theatre.
- Attend an outdoor concert in De Waal Park on a Sunday afternoon.
Explore Cape Town
- Discover Cape Town’s caves.
- Do a Free city walking tour.
- Get spooked on a Ghost Walk in Simonstown.
- Experience a Turkish bath at the Long Street Baths.
- Visit a township but do go with a reputable guide. (Khayelitsha)
- Sleep in an airstream trailer (Grand Daddy Hotel).
Near Cape Town
- Visit a picturesque fishing village –Paternoster (The Wofgat Restaurant there was recently voted the best in the world).
- Take a stroll on South Africa’s longest stretch of beach in Yzerfontein, 16 Mile Beach. You may even spot a flamingo or two.
- Soak in natural heated mineral pools near Citrusdahl.
- Go stargazing at the Cederberg Observatory.
As you can see, a trip to Cape Town will include many different experiences. I would recommend staying there for at least a week.
Where to Stay in Cape Town
If you’re looking for accommodation in Cape Town, here are three wonderful places to stay. I’ve personally stayed at them and can recommend them.
Twelve Apostles Hotel
The Twelve Apostles Hotel is where many royals and celebrities from around the world choose to stay when in Cape Town. If you can’t stay there, then go for high tea or sun downers while you watch one of Cape Town’s most breath-taking sunsets. Read more here.
Hotel Verde is Africa’s greenest hotel. It is conveniently located near the airport. The hotel features advanced recycling technologies and other green features, and has won many awards worldwide. Read more here.
Taj Cape Town
For a Cape Town city experience, stay at the Taj Cape Town. It is housed in two historic buildings in the heart of Cape Town, across the beautiful Company’s Gardens. The hotel offers a fascinating complimentary walking tour for guests. Read more here.
Find more budget-friendly accommodation.
If you live in Johannesburg, a road trip to Cape Town is a great way to go there.
Download the GPS guide here.
Click here for things to do in Johannesburg.
What are your favourite things to do in Cape Town ? Let me know in the comments below.
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