Cape Town is one of our favorite cities in the world and we want to make sure you get the most out of your visit to this beautiful city. Check out our list of the top things to do!
A trip to Cape Town is not complete without taking in the view from the top of Table Mountain. To get to the top, you can either ride the cable car or hike up one of the numerous trails. While the cable car is the fastest way up, during peak travel season there can be quite a long wait for a car. Before you set out, check the approximate wait time on the official Table Mountain Aerial Cableway website. You can also purchase your tickets in advance for a time blocked portion of the day (morning or afternoon) and your ticket will be good for an entire week. A round trip ticket will cost you around $20 USD and a one-way around $10. Make sure to watch the weather report as they stop running the cable car if there are high winds.
If you have the time and you brought a pair of athletic sneakers or hiking boots, we recommend hiking up Table Mountain. There are several different hiking routes that lead to the summit and while no route up is truly easy, all routes are fairly well maintained and marked clearly. Please keep in mind that the sun shines incredibly hot over Cape Town so be sure to bring at least 1.5 liters of water per person, sunscreen, and a hat. The weather can change quickly on Table Mountain, so throwing an extra rainproof layer in your bag isn’t a bad idea. Start as early in the day as possible and always carry the Table Mountain National Park emergency number with you, 0861 106 417.
The Cape Peninsula
The Cape of Good Hope is a rough and rocky headland on the Atlantic side of the Cape Peninsula. Plagued by harsh storms and monster swells, sailors often regarded the Cape as one of the most dangerous stretches of coastline in the world. The Cape of Storms, as it’s also nicknamed, is definitely worth the drive whether you do it on your own or with a tour company. Going with a tour company gave our visit historical and geographical context and allowed us both to take in the views without having to worry about driving and watching the road! We recommend using Baz Bus because their tour includes a short bike ride and a few scenic walks. If you decided to do explore the Peninsula on your own, here are two experiences you shouldn’t miss:
Cape Point Lower Funicular to Cape of Good Hope Hike via Dias Beach:
The Old Cape Point Lighthouse offers some of the best views of Cape Point. We recommend walking from the Old Lighthouse parking lot to the very tip of the Cape of Good Hope. If you’re up to climb some stairs you can also stop by Dias Beach. This route is out and back so you should be prepared to climb all the way back up to the parking lot. Or you can have someone meet you at the end of the trail at the Cape of Good Hope parking area.
Swim with Penguins at Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town:
Simon’s Town is home to one of the few African Penguin colonies in the world. Most people will go to the main visitor center and pay an entrance fee(70 ZAR or $5.20) to stand on a crowded boardwalk and watch the penguins from a distance However, a few minutes down the road you can pay the same entrance fee to Boulders Beach where you can swim amongst them! Spend the day relaxing on the beach and watching the penguins waddle around you. Space is limited and when it’s high tide there isn’t much beach real estate, so make sure to arrive early in the day. Click here for a map.
Robben Island, located out in Table Bay, a few miles north of Cape Town, is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 out of his 27 years in prison. A ticket to Robben Island includes the boat ride to and from the island and a two part tour. Once you arrive at Robben Island, a former inmate will escort the group through several portions of the prison, and explain how Robben Island operated. The second portion of the tour consists of a short bus tour around the island to see the limestone quarry where the political prisoners worked. It is fascinating to hear about the history of the island and understand why it is such an important aspect of the South African liberation struggle. Plus there are some incredible views of the city of Cape Town from Robben Island.
District Six Museum
The District Six Museum is an old church that was converted into a museum in 1994. The space honors the 60,000+ residents of the District Six neighborhood who were forced to leave their homes in the 1970s under the apartheid government. When you step into the museum, it can be a little overwhelming as there is no designated route to guide you through the exhibits. For this reason, we recommend joining one of the guided tours led by a former resident of the neighborhood. Plus the tour is incredibly powerful and your tour guide’s personal stories may just move you to tears (that’s what happened to us). This is a fantastic museum stop to give you an inside look at the history of apartheid through the experiences of one community of 60,000. Entrance to the museum costs 30 ZAR ($2) and the guided tour is an extra 15 ZAR ($1)– well worth it! Tours are given Monday through Friday at 10am, 11am, 12pm, 2pm.
Take a Township Tour
Created during apartheid (1948-1991), townships are underdeveloped areas that many South Africans still reside in today. Laws under the apartheid government segregated every aspect of life according to the color of one’s skin. Whites were given preferential land choice and they had the power to designate “white only” areas. As a result, racial minorities would be evicted from their homes and forced to move to townships. We chose to visit the township of Langa with Siviwe Tours, a locally owned and operated company. It was an absolutely fascinating experience and we think it is important for all visitors to see what life in like in a township. Click here to read about visit to Langa in detail.
Bo-Kaap is a primarily Muslim neighborhood that sits at the foot of Signal Hill. In the 1600’s, Cape Town was a major harbor used to resupply ships traveling between India to Europe on the Spice Route and the Cape Malay people, as they became known, were brought over as slaves from current day Indonesia, India and other Southeast Asian countries. The Malay community brought their culture, religions, and food with them and eventually created a cultural enclave in Bo-Kaap. Today, many tourists visit Bo-Kaap to see the bright colored houses of Wale Street but we suggest that you also visit the Bo-Kaap museum to gain a better understanding of this unique community. The entrance fee to the Bo-Kaap museum is 20 ZAR, just over a dollar. If you work up an appetite at the museum and want to try some traditional, Malay cuisine, we suggest you head to Bo-Kaap Kombuis.
Hike Lion’s Head at Sunset
Lion’s Head holds a special place in our hearts- it’s where we got engaged. Aside from that, we love this hike because it’s less of a commitment than Table Mountain but it offers comparable (if not better) views. This 45-60 minute hike winds around Lion’s head giving you views of Table Mountain, the 12 Apostles, and Camps Bay and Clifton beaches. The first half of the hike is on a gradual wide walking path and as you get closer to the top, there are a few ladders to climb and steeper terrain to traverse. About 3/4s of the way up, there is a split in the path. This is the point where you can choose to take a more direct and difficult route, or an easier, more circuitous path to the top.
We recommend hiking Lion’s Head just before sunset. Pack a bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers for a sunset picnic at the top. Just make sure to pack a flashlight for the descent. The path is full of loose rock, slippery roots and you’ll want to be able to see your feet on the way down. The trailhead is easily accessible and you can get accurate directions by entering “Lion’s Head Parking” into Google Maps.
Surf at Muizenberg
Known as Surfer’s Corner, Muizenberg’s long stretch of beach, with iconic multi-colored changing houses, offers a wave for everyone. Muizenberg is a great place to learn to surf because the waves aren’t super powerful. The water is also warmer than the Atlantic facing beaches as Muizenberg gets some of the warmer Indian Ocean water flowing into it. There are several surf schools who offer lessons and rent boards and suits. We’ve rented from Gary’s Surf School and their wetsuits were in supreme condition. They also have soft and hard top boards of all sizes. We can’t speak about the other schools but renting from Gary’s was a seamless experience.
Abseil Down Table Mountain
If you’re not one that shivers at a cliff’s edge, abseiling down the side of Table Mountain is a great activity for you! For those seeking a little more than just an epic view, check out Abseil Africa to add an adrenaline rush to your Table Mountain visit. You don’t need any prior abseiling experience as they teach you everything you need to know on top of the mountain. Abseil Africa does not include your transportation up Table Mountain so be sure to look into your own cableway ticket or book the included hike. Make sure you are in touch with Abseil Africa in case there are weather or schedule changes.
Cage Dive with Great White Sharks
South Africa’s cold, seal populated waters make for one of the largest Great White Shark feeding grounds in the world. While visiting Cape Town you will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with them. Many don’t know that there are only about 2,000 to 3,000 Great White Sharks left worldwide and the extinction of such a predator could have huge ramifications on marine ecosystems. There’s no better way to understand a creature than to view it in its own habitat. There are almost too many companies taking people out to cage dive with sharks, but we’ve gone with White Shark Projects and we had a great experience with them. They offer transportation from Cape Town to Gansbaai, about 2 hours east of the city. You’ll spend about 3-4 hours on the boat with the opportunity to go into the cage and get up close and personal with the sharks of Shark Alley.