What to do in Cape Town
Nestled between a rugged mountain range and the Atlantic Ocean, the city of Cape Town is one of South Africa’s most popular tourist destinations – for good reason. From exquisite natural beauty and magnificent beaches to edgy urban delights and colourful histories, the city is a traveller’s paradise. But with so much on offer, what to choose and how to make the most of a visit? Here is our ultimate Cape Town to-do list to perfectly tailor your chosen activities.
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Cape Town’s mountains & adventures
Cape Town is one of South Africa’s foremost hiking and thrill-seeking destinations, and can perfectly round out any African safari. The city is defined by its unique position at a point where mountains meet the sea. The entire city is enfolded in the “armchair” of the Cape Fold Mountain Range, and everyone from casual ramblers to hardened adrenaline junkies will be itching to explore the great outdoors. Grab a pair of sturdy shoes and investigate the many adventures on offer.
- Climb (or ride the cable car) to the top of the iconic Table Mountain and explore the paths that crisscross the top.
- After a short hike, enjoy a picnic at the top of Lion’s Head beneath the full moon, looking down at the twinkling lights of the city. This is a very popular outing in the city, so be prepared for a busy trail on the way up. Also note the trail is quite technical and can be challenging at peak times.
- Silently paraglide over Camps Bay and take in the majesty of Cape Town from above.
- Zipline over Elgin Valley and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the rugged scenery below.
- Gallop across the white sands of Noordhoek beach on horseback in a cloud of sea spray.
Sand & sea
Along with the mountains, Cape Town’s beaches are one of her most popular attractions, offering everything from dazzling white sands and turquoise waters to ample space and calm coves. And while the waters of the Atlantic Ocean may be chilly, they are brimming with marine life. Don your swimsuit or squeeze into a wetsuit and enjoy a day at the seaside:
- Walk the sands or laze in the shade on the world-famous beaches of Clifton 1-4, Camps Bay, Llandudno, Long Beach and Bloubergstrand.
- Grab a surfboard and test out your skill on the waves of Muizenberg.
- Enter the murky underwater world of the kelp forests and free dive or snorkel in search of fascinating sea life.
- Take to the calm azure waters in a kayak (day or night!) and admire the views of the city from a different perspective.
- Meet the charismatic little African penguins of Boulders Beach (look, don’t touch them – they are wild animals, and they will bite!).
- Embrace new trends and water-bike your way around Simon’s Town and the False Bay Coast.
- Join the Cape fur seals in the water and watch them transform from awkward land-dwellers to sleek and agile predators.
Cultural Cape Town: history & art
Cape Town has always been a gateway to South Africa, setting the stage for a rich history and a melting pot of colourful cultures. There are undoubtedly some areas of the city that are steeped in the tragic and turbulent history of South Africa, but it is of vital importance that these stories are never forgotten. Set out to learn more about the past and indulge your inner aesthete in a cultural journey through the Cape:
- Look in on Woodstock’s bustling hub of creativity, offering everything from street art to furniture showrooms.
- Take the solemn journey to Robben Island and tour the prison where Nelson Mandela and many other apartheid dissidents spent decades incarcerated.
- Head out to the District Six Museum, which documents the story of apartheid in one of Cape Town’s most politically and historically significant suburbs.
- Take your pick of world-class art exhibitions and galleries from the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art and the Ellerman House collection to the Norval Foundation and Iziko South African National Gallery.
- Explore the Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre, the first of its kind in Africa to commemorate the victims and survivors of Hitler’s Nazi regime.
Urban vibes and gourmet meals
Cape Town is as vibrant and diverse as the natural world that surrounds it. Every neighbourhood comes with its own particular ambience, ranging from hip and happening to arty and urbane. There is an endless array of cosy cafes to experience and a collection of some of the world’s best seafood restaurants. And that’s not to mention the psychedelic nightlife! Head out onto the streets and enjoy the best experiences the city has to offer:
- Wander Kloof Street, exploring the exciting shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars along the way.
- Feel hip and happening on buzzing Bree Street, the “coolest” street in town, and wash down a scrumptious meal with a designer cocktail or artisanal beer.
- Explore the rows and alleys of the famous Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town’s unofficial shopping and dining capital. Drop in to visit the Two Oceans Aquarium while you’re there.
- Discover any of the many rooftop bars and markets scattered throughout the city, each offering its unique ambience.
- Support the city’s talented actors, singers and dancers at one of the many shows on offer at the time.
- Blink dazedly at the kaleidoscope that is Bo-Kaap – a suburb decorated in almost every colour imaginable.
Cultivated Cape Town: gardens & vineyards
The Cape region is famous for its unique and astonishingly diverse indigenous plant life, but it is also home to many of the most beautiful and stately gardens in the country. Some of South Africa’s most famous winelands are found just inland from Cape Town, where wine enthusiasts can enjoy the best of South Africa’s bouquets against the verdant background of mountains and valleys. Grab a hat (or a glass) and revel in the Cape’s cultivated greenery:
- Check out the squirrels in The Company’s Garden, a green oasis in the heart of the city.
- Continue the Bacchanalian delights at Boschendal Farm, in one of the most picturesque valleys in the Cape Winelands.
- Spend the day exploring the cultivated and indigenous exhibits of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden before taking to treetops on the Tree Canopy Walkway
- Walk the paths of Stellenberg Gardens, a beautiful old estate surrounded by stately and ancient oak trees.
- Sample the best wine Babylonstoren Farm has to offer, where oenophiles can wax lyrical about earthy aromas and smooth finishes, and amateurs can pretend they know the difference.
Take a tour
Cape Town is a sedate city, but with so much to explore, it is well worth embarking on a tour designed to take in as many of the region’s attractions as possible. So, grab a bike, hire a car, or jump aboard a bus and let the exploration begin:
- Rent a bicycle or a scooter and join the lively throngs of cyclists, joggers, couples, and dog walkers wandering the length of Sea Point Promenade.
- Change down a gear and navigate the scenic curves and precipitous cliffs of Chapman’s Peak Drive (check ahead of time that Chapman’s Peak is open – as it is sometimes closed due to bad weather).
- Hiccup your way through the Constantia Wine Route and move between modern and stylish wineries to the more mature vineyards and ancient farmhouses.
- Explore the wild and rugged ecosystem of the Cape Peninsula on a journey to visit the lighthouses of Cape Point.
- Take a day trip to visit each of the charming small towns and beaches of False Bay.
- Hop on and off the famous red double-decker City Sightseeing buses, which offer some of the simplest ways to take in as much of Cape Town as possible.
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