Cape Town is the Mother City of South Africa, Tavern of Seas, and the country’s second-most populated city. It’s a prime tourist destination centered around marvelous biodiversity, beautiful beaches, iconic landscapes, and landmarks, plus various experiences for you and your family. This beautiful city is a modern, cosmopolitan city that has racked up several accolades: the best place in the world to visit by The New York Times 2014, World Design Capital 2014, and the second best African city to visit by TripAdvisor’s 2014 Travellers’ Choice awards. Furthermore, The world’s first successful heart transplant occurred in Cape Town in 1967. In this review, we’ll look at 15 of the best things to do in Cape Town South Africa detailing all the activities and standout features you would want to experience on your trip. Let’s get started!
Often, Cape Town affectionately goes by “Blue and Green City.” That’s because there were rumors that the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet there. However, we call it so for two reasons; it’s the first city outside of Europe to see its beaches certified as Blue Flag. In 2016, 10 of the city’s beaches were awarded the Blue Flag status meaning they meet high environmental and quality standards on safety, water quality, facilities, and cleanliness. Second, it’s home to the oldest garden “The Company’s Garden,” which houses numerous indigenous plant species and the oldest cultivated Saffron pear tree.
So if you want to marvel at the Blue and Green City, pack your bags ready to travel between October and March. Experience the temperate Mediterranean climate with warm and dry conditions, especially on the beaches. Depending on where you’re departing from, you can take the best and easiest way to Cape Town by plane or use the bus system that connects different towns and cities in Africa. Now, let’s jump into these 15 best things to do in Cape Town.
Research estimates that two couples get engaged on this mountain every month. Call it the couple’s sanctuary or the 7th Wonder of the World, but what is definite is that its existence is a sight to behold and a spot worthy of visiting by everyone. Table Mountain is a flat-topped sandstone mountain rising over 1000 meters above sea level. It overlooks Cape Town and the Atlantic Ocean offering picturesque views of landscapes and adjacent landmarks. While visiting Table Mountain, you could indulge in two of its most exciting activities: hiking and cable riding.
Hiking is one of the best things to do in Cape Town South Africa since there are half-day and full-day hikes, where hikers can spend hours trailing either the eastern or western slopes of the mountain. For half-day hikes, you’d spend about three hours covering a three-kilometer distance across the front face of Table Mountain. These hikes are shorter and more physically challenging than full-day hikes that take about five hours hiking five kilometers of the eastern, western, and back of Table Mountain, where there’s an abundance of flora to admire.
For hikers, there are guidebooks with information on different hiking routes detailing what to expect on your hike. For example, Platteklip Gorge is the fastest and shortest route up Table Mountain with little to no scenery. In contrast, India Venster is adventurous and has exceptional views and a stimulating terrain of rock scrambles, pleasant to any hiker. There are many more hiking routes such as Skeleton George, Kasteelspoort, Woody Ravin, Devil’s Peak, and Cecilia Waterfalls.
As for cable riding, you take the train, bus, or taxi to Tafelberg Road. You purchase a ticket and enjoy a five-minute ride to the top of Table Mountain. The 65-passenger cable car has a 360-degree rotating floor to give you panoramic views of Table Bay, the Atlantic Seaboard, Robben Island, and other areas visible at 3500 ft elevation.
Bo-Kaap is an ideal location for travel enthusiasts and history buffs. From the pastel-colored houses to its museum, picturesque cobbled streets to the international cuisine, Bo-Kaap has earned its place as one of the most Instagrammable places in South Africa. Located in the foothills of Signal Hill, right between Cape Town’s city center, Bo-Kaap (Afrikaans to mean “above the Cape”) is unlike any other place.
In the 16th century, Bo-Kaap was a small, quiet neighborhood home to many Asian families. By the 1760s, a Dutch colonialist, Jan de Waal developed the hood by building tiny rental houses to accommodate the enslaved Malays. The inhabitants then were outsiders from the Dutch East Indies (Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia) and political prisoners from wealthy, influential backgrounds. Jan de Waal stipulated all the walls to be white but in 1834, when the end of slavery came, the enslaved Malays bought the homes and painted them in bright pastel colors to express their newfound freedom.
Bo-Kaap is now a flourishing cultural center with beautiful colored houses defined by their fine Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian architecture. Its oldest building, dating back to 1768, is the Bo-Kaap Museum, displaying the furnished home of the wealthy 19th-century Cape Malay family and Islamic traditions that have influenced Cape Town’s culture. Besides visiting the museum and wandering the gorgeous streets, you could also enjoy the Malay cuisine of rotis, samosas, and fragrant curries in multiple restaurants.
As a tip, ladies should dress conservatively to respect the Muslim custom. Cover your body and carry a headscarf for when you’d like to visit the mosques.
Cape Point is a promontory (raised mass of land that projects into a lowland or a body of water) located at the southeast corner of the Cape Peninsula. It’s one of the most beautiful places to be as it’s a great vantage point for admiring many adjacent landscapes. Its high location and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean make this point the windiest place in South Africa, blowing some of Africa’s cleanest, strongest, and crispest air (or so they say).
Cape Point has a rich and diverse plant life with over 20% of the continent’s plants grown in the region. While there, check out over 1000 species of plants, 14 of which are endemic. Other top things to do in Cape Town, specifically at Cape Point include cycling, taking nature walks, mountain biking, and riding the haul-free Flying Dutchman Funicular. The Funicular is a great way to sightsee Cape Town as the 40-seater rail carriage travels roughly 87 meters above the parking area. You could also visit the secret beaches of Maclear, Olifantsbos, Diaz, and Buffels, where you can kayak, surf, deep sea fish, and indulge in coastal foraging.
Finally, did you know that Cape Point is one of the best areas in the world to observe ocean birds? You could spot the peregrine falcon, which is the fastest bird in the world, birds of prey like the black eagle, rock kestrels, and African goshawk, and Seafaring birds like gulls, albatrosses, gannets, and petrels.
At the Old Biscuit Mill, expect to find sugar, spice, and everything nice. It’s where Cape Town meets for culinary delights and fine local designs. For years now, Cape Town has gone by ” The City of Youth” as it’s one of the world’s youngest cities with an average age of just 29 years against 36 in London and 40 in Brussels. With youthfulness, creativity, and liveliness pumping the streets of Cape Town, you can only expect good things at the mill.
The Old Biscuit Mill encapsulates all the best things to do in Cape Town South Africa, like shopping at designer boutiques, jewelers, and furniture courts, food ravaging from restaurants to food stalls, and taking a trip down memory lane, in this case, history lane. It’s a vibrant community in the heart of Woodstock where you can get any souvenirs you desire. As you explore the mill, you’ll meet some of South Africa’s most innovative, creative, and talented individuals from designers, artists, photographers, and connoisseurs, to name a few.
For an enthralling experience, we recommend that you go by the mill on market day. On that day, The Neighbourgoods Market is thriving not only because it’s Cape Town’s biggest market, but also because of the widespread products.
On the outskirts of Cape Town, under the Western Cape province of South Africa, lies Boulders Beach also known as Boulders Bay. It’s home to a large number of penguins, about 3000 African penguins. It’s important to note that African penguins are the only penguins in Africa, and are commonly seen in zoos around the wild. Here, however, they’re an endangered species found only in the wild along the coast of South Africa and Namibia, hence why this beach is heavily protected.
The beach is open to visitors all year round but the best time to visit is October through March. The temperatures are warm with little to no rainfall, and it’s just before the peak season of the end of March to the beginning of May. The beach is open from 8 am to 5 pm during which time you can surf, kitesurf, or swim alongside the penguins. On Boulders Beach, other Cape Town things to do are fish exploration or scuba diving in the many diving spots like Clan Stuart Wreck, Justin’s Caves, A-Frame, or Pyramid Rock. You’ll see Bluefin Gurnards, the Pineapple fish, Octopus stingrays and even shipwrecks from over the years.
From Cape Town city center to Chapman’s Peak, there’s a 25-kilometer scenic route known as the Chapman’s Peak Drive or Chappies. It’s one of the world’s most beautiful routes with views of the sea, the beaches, mountains, landscapes, and the coastal towns of the Cape. The drive features many touristy things to do in Cape Town, like Mother Nature exploring, sightseeing, and picnicking.
While on the drive, take some pit stops to sweeten your drive, like relaxing and enjoying a tranquil atmosphere at one of the 60 picnic tables on the route offering mountain and sea views. At night, gorge at the magnificent African sunset on the western Cape. For those epic memories, take full advantage of this photographic heaven laced with great vantage points, horizons, wildlife, flora and fauna, rocky landscapes, and birds. And if you’re lucky, you’ll whale-watch the whales that migrate to Cape Town’s shores between May and November.
Do you know international hotspots like New York’s Greenpoint, Amsterdam’s Noord, London’s Soho, or Barcelona’s Sants? If yes, then you should also know Kalk Bay since it was voted one of these 12 Coolest Neighborhoods Around the World by Forbes magazine in July 2018. Kalk Bay is a suburb, seaside, fishing village right on the east coast of False Bay. It’s a prime tourist neighborhood coupled with a mix of history from ancient buildings, vintage bookstores, bohemian shops, and antique galleries with a unique charm unlike any other city.
Kalk Bay is a relaxed location, the perfect getaway from the bustling city center. While at the bay, the top things to do in Cape Town include whale watching the Southern right whales as they migrate through False Bay, mountain climbing, and hiking. While hiking the mountains above Kalk Bay, several trails lead to sandstone caves like the Boomslang and Ronan’s Well caves, where you explore.
Another exciting activity is the thrilling climb on Jacob’s ladder. This is a 141-step stairway that was built in the 1890s to help locals and tourists whale watch. It’s made from local granite and surrounded by a lot of greenery. The stairs start at the main road, up the mountain to Boyes Drive, where you meet magnificent views at the top.
Kirstenbosch is a unique destination encompassing nature’s finest in one location. We’re talking about the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, the Kirstenbosch Boomslang Canopy Walk, the Kirstenbosch Dinosaurs Exhibition, and multiple nature trails. That said, the area truly has some of the best things to do in Cape Town South Africa.
The National Botanical Garden is a pride to the country as the most beautiful garden in Africa, set against the southeastern slopes of Table Mountain. The park preserves over 7000 species, including some of the most rare flora and fauna, and is also home to indigenous birds and animals. While in the garden, get an elevated nature experience as you walk across the Boomslang Canopy Walk. It’s a timber-and-steel walkway, around 130 meters long, wheelchair-friendly, and a perfect location amongst tree crowns and birds.
Back on the ground, explore the wild side of the garden with two adrenaline-packed Jurassic exhibitions set up by Artist David Huni. He set up prehistoric dinosaur sculptures behind the giant endangered Cycad trees as a way for people to learn and rediscover history.
One of the best things to do in Cape Town, South Africa is paddleboarding. With its popularity increasing over the past decade, many locals and tourists now indulge in Stand Up Paddle Boarding(SUP) at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Canal or the open ocean. For those interested, you’ll have a self-guided SUP in the Waterfront Canal or a Professional-guided SUP in the ocean. For both options, guides provide all equipment and introductory lessons on paddleboarding before your excursion.
The recommended minimum age is 12 but they can help guide younger children. At the canals, you’d only paddle for a three-kilometer loop, whereas you can paddle more along the Atlantic Seaboard coastline for 90 minutes.
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA) is a public, non-profit museum located in the Silo District at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town. The MOCAA institution began operations on September 22, 2017, as the largest museum of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Its galleries feature temporary exhibitions and permanent collections from African artists in Mali, Zimbabwe, Chile, South Africa, and Swaziland.
As a public museum, other Cape Town things to do here are art exploration, shopping at the retail store, or learning about art at the Centre for Art Education. To visit, you can purchase a ticket daily at R250 ($14) per adult, free for children under 18, free access on your birthday, or a free hour daily tour offered Tuesday through Saturday at 12:30 PM.
In the Steenberg area of Cape Town, Norval Foundation is an art museum dedicated to the research, understanding, and care of 20th and 21st-century visual art from Africa and its diasporas. The Norval family founded the non-profit organization in 2018 to make art available to all through a self-sustaining center, where donations help sustain the foundation for future generations.
During your visit, you’ll see art redefined in many ways through the Learning Centre, gallery spaces, a Sculpture Garden with artworks hidden in nature, a research library, and an outdoor amphitheater situated within the indigenous garden and protected wetland.
Seeing anything from an aerial view has got to be one of the best things to experience anywhere. Imagine a ride over Cape Town’s dramatic beauties like Table Mountain, Cape Peninsula, or the entire Atlantic Ocean coastline. Taking these eco-friendly helicopter flights is one of those top things to do in Cape Town, which you’d hate to miss.
These helicopter tours, also known as flips, vary in time and cost depending on what you’d like to see. Whether it’s a hop over Cape Town Stadium, Camps Bay, or the Lion’s Head or a full tour around Table Mountain, over the two oceans, or Twelve Apostles.
When you hear about an island, you expect to hear about leisure, freedom, tranquility, or peaceful seclusion. Not in this case. Robben Island was home to Nelson Mandela for 18 years in a maximum security prison. It’s an infamous site, but also the unique symbol of “the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering, and injustice.” As a popular tourist destination, there are many Cape Town things to do ideas for this place, like visiting the museum that displays Nelson Mandela’s life, touring the island by boat, or seeing plenty of wildlife like penguins and seals.
Enjoy a full-day tour to top Cape Wine regions like Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Rhebokskloof Estate, Paarl. The tour features some of the best things to do in Cape Town South Africa, like wining and dining with chocolate pairings and cheese tasting, cellar tours, walking tours in historic towns, and shopping for souvenirs. During your tour, you’ll also see other touristy spots like Robben Island and towering mountains, perfect for photos.
Earlier, we discussed the Old Biscuit Mill, a mall and marketplace. Well, the Oranjezicht City Farm Market is cut from the same cloth, except in this market you also get stunning sea views, excellent for an afternoon brisk around the town. Located at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, the market is a non-profit project celebrating local food, culture, and community through urban farming in Cape Town.
If shopping is one of your top things to do in Cape Town, this is the place for you. The market boasts the freshest produce from fruits and vegetables to herbs and spices, organic dairy products, and ethically sourced meats and seafood. In other sections, you’ll find lifestyle goods like plants and flowers, clothing, decor, and vintage items.
From this review, we can conclude that the top Cape Town things to do are sightseeing, hiking, beach hopping, and getting to know more about the city and its people through neighborhood markets and museums. As the oldest city in South Africa, Cape Town shines as a prime tourist destination with numerous activities to keep you and your family occupied throughout your trip. Have you been to Cape Town? If so, what did you do? Please share with us in the comments section below.
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