Cape Town ranks (on my list) as one of the world’s most spectacularly situated cities, alongside Rio de Janeiro, Vancouver, San Francisco and Sydney. Its location, fronting an impressive bay and backed by the magnificent Table Mountain, is simply stunning. I’ve listed below sixteen things to do in Cape Town if it’s your first visit.
Things to do in Cape Town
1. Go up Table Mountain
Table Mountain is undoubtedly the most iconic sight in Cape Town. Take the cable-car up the Table Mountain. As the car glides up, the platform rotates 360 degrees, offering every visitor astounding views of the mountains, the city and the ocean.
The lines at the cableway can sometimes be incredibly long but the views along the way and from the top are definitely worth the wait! If you’re adventurous, try hiking up the mountain. The most straightforward hike to the top of the mountain is via the huge Platteklip Gorge that runs through the centre of the mountain. The trail zig-zags in a gradual ascent and takes an average of two hours to climb. Along the way, stop to appreciate the indigenous fynbos vegetation. A trek up the mountain in spring when the fynbos is in full bloom is especially rewarding.
Book your combi Table Mountain cable-car ticket and Hop-on-Hoff-off bus tour
2. Stroll around the V&A Waterfront
Visit the V&A Waterfront. It’s a great spot to spend the day. The harbour-side setting is stunning while there are many shops, cafés and restaurants to keep visitors busy.
Sit at a terrace and watch various artistic groups perform throughout the day, or visit the impressive Two Oceans aquarium. From the Waterfront, you can also go on a champagne sunset cruise or a sailing trip for spectacular views of Table Bay and Table Mountain.
3. Visit Robben Island
Take the boat from the V&A Waterfront to Robben Island, another must-visit place in Cape Town. The island was for many years a prison camp. It was here that many political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned during South Africa’s apartheid regime. The Robben Island museum is absolutely worth a visit while the boat ride is a great way to see the city from the water.
Book your Robben Island tour.
4. Wander around Bo Kaap
Stroll through the colourful Malay neighbourhood of Bo Kaap. This historic neighbourhood is still home to many Malays and has been lovingly restored. The vivid colours are unforgettable. Note that Bo Kaap is a residential area so please be respectful of the residents and their homes. To immerse yourself in the Cape Malay culture, you can opt to join a cooking course with a local Cape Malay.
5. Hit the beach at Camps Bay
Get down to the beach at Camps Bay. Camps Bay is a trendy neighbourhood with many cafés and restaurants fronting the beach. It’s a fantastic place to people-watch and the sunsets there are stunning! When you’re there facing the ocean, look behind you. The views from here of the Twelve Apostles (massive rock humps that form the lofty peaks of the Cape mountains) are awesome!
6. See the penguins at Boulders Beach
Visit the penguins at Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town. These African penguins are an endangered species so be careful and don’t get too close! It’s always a treat to see these cute creatures.
7. Check out the scenery and seafood at Hout Bay
Visit stunning Hout Bay. Hout Bay is one of my favourite bays in the world. Its beauty is absolutely jaw-dropping. This large bay, with its deep blue water, is surrounded by imposing mountains, while its entrance is guarded by the magnificent Sentinel mountain. Drop by the Mariner’s Wharf for some great seafood and amazing views of the bay. You’ll most probably see some seals frolicking in the water too. Even better, you can opt to go on a snorkelling trip from Hout Bay to see and swim with the seals!
8. Drive one of the most scenic routes in the world
Drive the Chapman’s Peak Drive. This spectacular road winds itself along one end of Hout Bay and is arguably one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Drive slowly and make regular stops to enjoy the grand views. During the spring/early-summer months, grab your binoculars – you might spot some whales in the bay. Check out car rental rates.
9. Visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope
Head out to Cape Point and to the Cape of Good Hope. This is not the southernmost point of the African continent (it’s the south-westernmost point) but it certainly is one of the most famous spots in the Western Cape. The views from the lighthouse over False Bay and the two oceans are stupendous. Along the way, you may be greeted by baboons on the roadside. Slow down, don’t wind down your windows and don’t get out of the car. They can be quite vicious! Book a full-day Cape Point tour.
Heading back to Cape Town, follow the road via Scarborough and Misty Beach. The scenery is stunning! Along the way, stop at the open-air stone sculpture park – you can’t miss it. Make a quick stop along the Scarborough beach and grab your binoculars. If you’re lucky, you may spot some sharks lurking off the coast as the waves roll in.
10. Indulge in top-notch wines
A visit to the Western Cape wouldn’t be complete without a wine experience. If you’re only staying in Cape Town and have no time to explore the winelands around Stellenbosch/Franschhoek or further inland, I recommend touring the Cape’s oldest winelands in the Constantia Valley, just minutes away from Cape Town. There are a variety of wineries that are certainly worth a visit. One of them is Groot Constantia. Housed in lovely Cape Dutch buildings and surrounded by beautiful gardens, this historic estate is simply gorgeous. Book a full-day Constantia wine tour.
11. Visit a market
If you love markets, check out the Saturday market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town or the Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay.
12. See Cape Town from above
If you’re looking for something truly spectacular, I highly recommend going on a helicopter tour of Cape Town! Book the Two Oceans scenic helicopter flight. Or you can go for something more active: a tandem paragliding flight with amazing views!
13. Experience life in a township
There are various townships in the vicinity of Cape Town which tourists can visit with a guide. To get a good idea of what life is like in a township and meet the locals, I recommend going on a guided bicycle tour of the Masiphumelele township. It truly is a humbling experience.
14. Visit the Zeitz MOCAA Museum of Contemporary Art
The Zeitz MOCAA Museum of Contemporary Art is a relatively new attraction in the Cape Town arts scene. Located in the Silo building (adjacent to the fabulous The Silo Hotel – check rates) at the Waterfront, this museum showcases a wide array of stunning African modern art. The building itself is an attraction in its own right! Get your fast-track ticket here.
15. Visit nearby Stellenbosch and Franschhoek
If you have a bit more time, I highly recommend staying a few days in the Cape Winelands of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. There are many things to do and see in this region including, of course, visiting gorgeous wineries and indulging in superb food! Read about things to do in Stellenbosch and about my favourite Stellenbosch wineries. Alternatively, you can book a half-day tour from Cape Town or a full-day tour that includes vineyard visits and wine-tasting in Stellenbosch.
16. Go on a safari at a nearby game reserve
One thing you must do when in South Africa is to go on a safari! There are two game reserves near Cape Town: Inverdoorn and Aquila. Check out this full-day tour to Aquila or a two-day Aquila tour (where you can see the Big Five) or to Inverdoorn. If you’re looking for a five-star, Big-5 safari near Cape Town, check out the Gondwana Game Reserve, which is about a four-hour drive away. Read my post on the Gondwana Game Reserve.
Read more about scenic road trips from Cape Town
Read other Velvet Escape posts on South Africa:
- The marine life of the Western Cape
- Driving the Klein Karoo loop
- Cederberg: mountain passes, safaris & San rock art