How to create the most memorable trip to Cape Town
What makes any vacation memorable? It’s the things you do and the experiences you have. So if you are wanting to make your next visit to Cape Town memorable, choose carefully the things you will be doing. Below is a comprehensive list of the best things to do in Cape Town. For your convenience, I’ve broken it down into easy-to-follow categories.
FUN THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
Do take the time to carefully peruse this list of things to do in Cape Town. Make notes, and come back often. The best things to do in Cape Town will depend on your personality, your family, your budget, and your general likes.
On occasion, reference is made to prices. Please keep in mind that the South African currency – rands, are very different from the US Dollar or British Pound, for example. As an example, R20 is $1.40, at the time of this writing. Travelers from Western countries will therefore get a lot more bang for their buck. However, if you are traveling on a budget, here are some seriously helpful tips for traveling to South Africa on a budget.
Memorable things to do in Cape Town
1. Take the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus
The hop-on-hop-off Cape Town bus is a great way to see the city. It’s also cheap!
A few helpful tips you may appreciate:
2. Stroll along the Sea Point Promenade
They say some of the best things in life are free. This is one of them!
Depending on the time of day you choose to do this, a walk along the Sea Point promenade, with its stunning views of the Atlantic Seaboard, can be very serene.
The Sea Point Promenade is almost 7 miles / 11km long. It’s flat, so it’s a great spot for an early morning peaceful walk or run.
3. Enjoy traditional fish and chips in Houtbay
In Cape Town, traditional fish and chips are not served on a plate. It’s usually wrapped in white paper, or served in a styrofoam container. And while all seafood restaurants serve fish and chips, you can only get traditional fish and chips if you go to any of the fisheries around Cape Town.
Also, traditional Cape Town fish and chips are not what you’d expect.
- Both the fish and the chips are fried in a deep fryer;
- You will usually choose between hake or snoek. They’re both white fish. The snoek is firmer and a little more boney. Most people ask for hake;
- The fish is battered;
- The chips are not hard and stiff, as you’d expect from fries. Instead, they’re soft and limp. Locals call them “slap chips”—slap means limp.
- Traditional fish and chips have salt and vinegar on them. However, you’re welcome to add additional condiments once you have your meal.
- The combination of fish and chips is usually called “a parcel”. For example, if you ask for a hake parcel, you’ll get hake and chips.
- Fisheries are not “sit down” restaurants. They are take-away / to-go restaurants.
- Prepare to eat outside. Most fisheries don’t have seating areas. If you are going to Houtbay or some of the fancier fisheries, they will often have benches and tables outside where you can sit and eat.
- Fish and chips (from the fisheries) are some of the cheapest meals you will find in Cape Town. They’re also really filling.
4. Eat at a fancy restaurant
There are plenty of fancy restaurants that serve amazing foods. You’ll be spoilt for choice.
To choose you can check reviews and menus online. If that’s too much work, go to a place like the V&A Waterfront at mealtime. Choose any of the restaurants that are filled to capacity. That’s usually a good bet that the food is good!
5. Eat like the locals
Local food is cheap food. If you are traveling on a budget, this is absolutely the way you will want to go. However, just because it’s cheap, doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, it’s delicious.
As a South African who has lived in the USA for almost two decades, I know I’m going to get a few cringes but please, do try the chain restaurants! I realize that chain restaurants get a bad wrap in the USA but seriously, they are worth the try in South Africa!
The above image is from an Ocean Basket platter. Ocean Basket is a national chain restaurant and one of our favorite budget-friendly restaurants. You’ll find restaurants like these in almost all the big malls.
In terms of specific meals, locals love:
- Gatsby – this is a long bread roll stuffed with your meat of choice, slap chips (similar to home fries), and other complementary ingredients. It’s delicious, it’s huge, it’s filling, and it’s cheap! There are tons of cafes around town that serve them.
- Traditional fish and chips (see above.)
- Samosas. Deliciously (mild) spicy, fried triangles with your choice of ground meat or chicken filling. Do not dismiss these—they’re not like the samosas you get in the USA. (Get them from places like King Pie in the malls).
- Bunny chow. This is hollowed-out bread with curry of your choice. Get them from local cafes.
- Meat pies. These are delicious flaky pastries with your choice of filling, like chicken mushroom, spinach feta, pepper steak, steak and kidney, etc. (Get them from places like King Pie in the malls).
- Biltong and Droewors. This is dried meat and sausage. Do not confuse these for the likes of American beef jerky. These are unprocessed snacks that are extremely popular in South Africa. You can get it from almost any grocery store. Sometimes you can get biltong stores in the malls too.
- Milktart and koeksisters. These are delicious South African desserts. You can get them from grocery stores like Woolworths. Some restaurants will also serve them. Milktart is like egg custard, and koeksisters are like crunchy, fried donuts dipped in syrup.
6. Go on a sunset cruise
Why not watch the sunset from the deck of a boat. Depending on which cruise company you choose, you may even get a complimentary glass of champagne. There are many companies to choose from, so you can choose one that fits your budget.
This is a short cruise (approximately 90 minutes). Most of them depart from the V&A Waterfront.
7. Take in the Sunset at Chapman's Peak
Chapman’s Peak is a big attraction in Cape Town. It is a toll road. Regardless of the toll, tons of people go there to take in the view.
Locals pack a few cocktails, then drive up before sunset. Once there, they enjoy their Sundowners (cocktails you drink at sunset).
8. Visit a local brewery
If you enjoy beer, a visit to a local brewery has to be on your itinerary!
The breweries are not as prolific as the wineries, but there are a few great ones you may want to check out, particularly in Paarl.
9. Check out a winery (or more)
Cape Town is known as wine country. As part of the Western Cape, you’ll find Constantia, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franshoek—all of which are known as prolific wine regions. And all of these are within driving distance of one another! This is why Cape Town the place to be for wine connoisseurs. But you don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to appreciate the wineries.
Skip and I enjoy wine. We are not wine connoisseurs, but we always make a point of visiting the wineries. The staff at these wine tastings are extremely knowledgeable (particularly in the Constantia region)! They can confidently explain to you how the cloves that are planted here, combined with the direction of the wind, can affect the taste of the grapes that are growing there, and ultimately, the wines.
The kids love it too. We take them to the Spier Winery in Stellenbosch, where they can try different grape juices.
10. Go to a nude beach
This is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are so inclined, go all-natural at Sandy Bay— Cape Town’s nude beach.
Sandy Bay is a beautiful unspoiled beach. Because it is a nude beach, it is not as crowded as other Cape Town beaches.
Sandy Bay is not easily accessible either. The only way to get there is via a 20-minute walk from the car park, or to clamber over rocks from the southern end of Llandudno. If you choose to go, have no fear that there will be lots of uninvited onlookers.
Sports, Adventures & Outdoor Activities
If you long for the great outdoors with a city vibe, you have come to the right place. Cape Town blends an appreciation of the outdoors with the beauty and majesty of a vibrant city.
11. Take a ride on the Cape Wheel
The Cape Wheel is a ferris wheel. It’s located at the V&A Waterfront. If you plan it well, you can have a morning of shopping and exploring, lunch, and then a ride in the air-conditioned cabins of the Cape Wheel.
The Cape Wheel offers a spectacular 360-degree panoramic view of Cape Town. From there, you’ll be able to see the Mother City, Table Mountain, Robben Island, the Cape Town City skyline, the Paarl Mountains, and the Cape Town Stadium.
The Cape Wheel rides are 12 – 15 minutes long—you go around 4 times. They also have two wheelchair-accessible cabins.
12. Enjoy a helicopter tour around Cape Town
There is truly no more exhilarating way to see Cape Town.
There are several different Cape Town Helicopter tours you can choose from, one more amazing than the other. They range from a scenic two-oceans flight, a helicopter wine tour, a flight over Robben Island, a flight around the Atlantic coast, and more. These tours are exciting, thrilling, and memorable!
Choose the helicopter tour that fits your budget best.
13. Enjoy a Table Mountain hike
If you are thinking about Cape Town, you’re probably thinking about Table Mountain. It’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in Cape Town. It’s also a great hiking spot!
Table Mountain has several different hiking trails to offer. They all differ in terms of difficultly and/or length.
If you are a hiker, this is one you cannot miss.
14. Ride on the Table Mountain cable car
When people visit Cape Town, they usually have a good idea of what they want to see and do in the city. The Table Mountain cableway will probably be on many people’s lists.
To hike up Table Mountain is amazing because you get to explore nature, then you see this amazing view from the summit! By taking the cable car, you can avoid the hike.
The ride is gentle. It takes visitors from the lower station to the top in approximately 5 minutes.
The cableway operates seven days a week and trips occur within 10 to 15 minutes of each other. Closing time changes depending the time of the year.
Once you are on top of the mountain, you’ll find a self-service buffet cafe. If that’s not really your thing, you could pack a picnic and enjoy it there.
Being on top of Table Mountain is amazing. You’ll be 3,500ft above the city! You’ll find lizards, porcupines, butterflies, and many more. There is also a wide array of birdlife from eagles to sunbirds flying above great patches of fynbos, the Cape’s indigenous flora.
15. Go whale watching
Watching the acrobatics of the whales is an amazing experience. Every year (between May and November), people flock to Cape Town to go whale watching.
There are many whale-watching spots across Cape Town (and the Western Cape). You can often see the whales from the roads and/or outlook points, but if you prefer to get closer, there are also several whale watching tours that you can take via boat.
16. Take a cycling tour through the winelands
There are so many benefits to taking a Winelands bike tour! For one, it’s unique. Also, you’re outside and you are seeing the Winelands from a different perspective. It’s also a great way to meet other travelers.
These Winelands tours are for different fitness levels—you don’t need to miss out if you are not in great shape.
There are also tons of different Cape Town wine tours to choose from, ranging from Cape Town to Constantia, Stellenbosch to Franschhoek, Elgin to Grabouw, etc.
17. Take a hike & a dip at Chrystal Pools
The Chrystal Pools hike is in Gordon’s Bay, which is a little outside Cape Town. It’s only open from the beginning of November until the end of April—Cape Town’s warm months.
This hike is 1.2 miles / 2km long. This is relatively short when you compare it with a Table Mountain hike, but don’t let the distance fool you. This will be a strenuous workout because you’ll be climbing over huge boulders.
There are two pools. As per Cape Town standards, the water is cold but after that strenuous walk, you will need to cool down, so the cold water will be appreciated.
From the start of your hike, it will take you approximately 45 minutes to get to the first pool. If you wish, you can stop there, take a break, and have a snack. But if you are going on this adventure for the swimming, walk a little further (10-15 minutes more) until you get to the second pool. Here you will find a waterfall for an open-air cold shower. You could also jump off the rocks into the pools. There is even a third pool that offers amazing views!
You will need a permit to get in.
It is not necessary to have a guide, but it is highly recommended that you get one. A guide will be familiar with the route and the pools. Also, it is dangerous to simply jump off the rocks into the pools, but a guide will be able to tell you where it’s safe to do so.
18. Go ziplining
The adventure starts with a brief safety introduction. You are then driven to the starting point.
This is not just for adrenalin junkies. If you are a nature lover, you will appreciate the natural beauty.
This is a memorable and truly thrilling experience. Some zip lines are as high as 169 yards/ 155 meters.
Be sure to book ahead of time to reserve your spot.
19. Hike up Lion's Head
If you love nature and incredible views, make sure the Lions Head hike is on your list.
The hike goes around the mountain so you’ll be able to see Cape Town from every side. From the hike, you’ll see Table Mountain, Robben Island in the distance, and the city of Cape Town below.
The Lion’s Head hike is 8 miles / 12.8 km round-trip. It will take you approximately 3-4 hours to complete.
20. Relax on Clifton Beach
Clifton beach is one of Cape Town’s most popular beaches. You’ll immediately see why once you get there. Above the beach you find “Millionaire’s Row”—spectacular homes of the rich and famous, and the beach itself boasts sugary-white sands of Clifton Beach.
Clifton beach stays protected from Cape Town’s winds. However, be warned! The water is ice cold year-round. You will feel an initial shock when you dip your toes into the water, but the shock quickly subsides and you will barely notice the cold after a while.
Clifton beach is divided by huge boulders into four beaches. Here you will find surfers and everyone else who enjoys the beach.
Clifton Beach is free. It’s open all day, every day.
21. Go tandem paragliding
You don’t have to know what you’re doing! You can go paragliding with a professional!
You (and your pilot) will take off from a mountain slope. Once you are strapped in and inflated, you will take a short run, then take off from the slope. The wind will catch the canopy and you will be airborne.
Your pilot will have control over direction and speed so that you can soar and enjoy!
You will be assisted on both take-off and landing.
You will need to book this ahead of time. It’s best not to leave it till the end because paragliding is dependent on the weather conditions.
22. Go surfing /swimming / walking in Muizenberg
Muizenberg is a 26-minute drive from Cape Town. It’s a delightful little town and much more quiet than Cape Town.
The ocean waters in Cape Town are cold, but that’s not necessarily the case in Muizenberg. That’s because Muizenberg is located within a secluded bay. This is why it’s one of the best Cape Town beaches for swimming and/or surfing.
But if you’re not eager to dip your feet into the water, a walk along Muizenberg beach can be equally pleasant. The turquoise water and the towering mountain are beautiful and tranquil. Then of course the beach is lined with brightly colored Victorian change houses.
It is important to note that while only a few incidences have occurred, False Bay is a popular spot for Great White sharks. There is a shark spotter program in place to protect swimmers and surfers during the summer months. They use color-coded flags that are changed based on the water conditions to inform swimmers about their safety.
23. Soak up the rays in Camps Bay
If you are coming from Cape Town city center, Camps Bay is a little further than Clifton Beach. It is well worth the extra few minutes in the car though.
Just the drive to Camps Bay is magnificent, but once you get there, you have options. You can take in the sun while laying on the beach, or grab a meal at any of the beachfront restaurants. This is also a great beach for children! In fact, you should probably make a day of it because once the sun sets, it is absolutely delightful to have a cocktail and a meal while overlooking the ocean.
24. Explore the botanical gardens
There is a fee for entering the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, but if you love nature, it is worth it!.
The well-maintained botanical gardens rest on the eastern slope of Table Mountain. It offers 89 acres of gardens, housing more than 7,000 indigenous species, many of which are rare or threatened.
There are also beautiful sculptures scattered throughout the gardens.
To really appreciate the splendor, stop by the Kirstenbosch office and pick up a map. Allow yourself at least an hour or two to explore the walking paths.
The Botanical Gardens are open daily from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the warmer months (September through March). During the colder months, (April through August), they open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
If you are visiting during the summer months (November to April), enjoy an outdoor, sunset concert. They’re held on Sundays from 5:30 – 6:30.
Admission prices vary but they are relatively cheap (at the time of this writing.)
25. Go kayaking around the bay
The kayaking tours are around Table Bay. The bay sits on the South Atlantic ocean, surrounded by the beautiful Table Mountain.
A typical tour will take you around the Green Point Lighthouse—from here you’ll be able to see the Lion’s Head. Next you will kayak around the shipwreck of RMS Athens. All the while, you may be kayaking around the playful Dolphins in the bay.
These tours are also great for families—they’re suitable for kids over 6 years.
Fun activities for kids
26. Make sandcastles at Muizenberg beach
The water at Muizenberg beach is generally calm. The beach is also flat and open, making it a great beach for families with children. There’s also a playground and several outdoor restaurants where you can grab some lunch or dinner.
The Muizenberg beach is also not as packed as you would find Cape Town beaches.
27. See the African Penguins at Boulder's Beach
You can go see the penguins any time of the year, but the warm months (summer, spring, and early fall) are best. During the colder months, they are often out at sea, and thus there won’t be too much penguin action for you to see.
Boulders Beach is part of the Table Mountain National Park, so there is a small fee to enter. It is worth it though because once you’ve seen enough penguins, go to the beach! Boulder’s Beach is part of False Bay, so the water is a little warmer than the freezing cold water you would expect at most other beaches in Cape Town. Also, because it is a paid beach, it is not as crowded.
28. Go taboganning in Cape Town
Who said you needed snow to go tobogganing!
At Cool Runnings Cape Town, kids can have a blast all year round. For safety, they do shut down when it rains, but otherwise, they’re open during regular hours.
Tobogganing is not just for older kids. Younger kids can join in the fun by going with a parent!
29. Scootours around Cape Town
Scootours are available on Table Mountain, in Stellenbosch, Knysna, Franschhoek, etc. They’re fun for adults and kids.
These are eco-friendly, nonmotorized scooters. Kids under 10 will need to go with an adult.
30. Visit the Two Oceans Acquarium
The aquarium in Cape Town is a premier tourist destination. (While the aquarium at uShaka Marine World in Durban is bigger, people tend to enjoy the Cape Town aquarium more.)
This is a world-class aquarium with over 350 species on display. There are also standout exhibits you may enjoy, like the African penguin colony, the Shark Exhibit, and the underwater tunnel at the I&J Ocean Exhibit. You will also find live ocean exhibits housing rays, turtles, seahorses, octopuses, and many more.
Day trips from Cape Town
31. Spend a day in Paarl
Paarl is an old town in the northern suburbs of Cape Town. It is a little out of the way—a good 45-minute drive from Cape Town, but it may be worth your time.
- Many fine restaurants. It’s a foodie’s heaven! You’ll find a range of the finest international cuisine but also the best of local fare.
- A variety of wineries, distilleries, and breweries.
- Beautiful walking and hiking trails.
- Fun outdoor activities like golfing, fishing, mountain biking, etc.
- Limited wildlife. Paarl has the Giraffe House, a crocodile farm, and a lion park.
32. Stand in the most south westerly point of Africa - Cape Point
Cape Point is one of Cape Town’s biggest tourist attractions. It’s a 1½ hour drive from Cape Town, but it’s an amazing, scenic drive, with lots of lovely stops along the way. In fact, for us, it never takes a day because there are just too many stops we want to make along the way.
- You’re likely to drive past Constantia, which is a gorgeous wine region. You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to feel the pull.
- Then you’ll be driving past Simon’s Town. This is where Boulder’s Beach—home to the African penguins is. If you have children, you’ll definitely want to swing in there.
- Then there is lunch on the way and that may eat another hour.
In other words, you’ll have a fun time just getting there!
Once you are at Cape Point, there’s a lot you may want to do as well.
- This is a beautiful spot. It is also a historical site and a world heritage site. You’ll want to take a lot of pictures;
- There are lots of hiking trails;
- There are shipwrecks to explore;
- You can take the Cape Point Funicular (tram). It is also known as The Flying Dutchman. If you would rather not hike, the funicular will take you to the upper lighthouse.
- If you visit between June and October, you can go whale watching.
- There are several great swimming and picnic sites you may want to take advantage of.
33. Stand on the southern-most point of Africa - Cape Agulhas
Cape Agulhas is perhaps not as popular as Cape Point, but it too is worth a trip. After all, Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point in Africa? It is also the point where the Atlantic ocean meets the Indian ocean, officially. (Granted, this point varies between Cape Agulhas and Cape Point.)
Truthfully, Cape Agulhas does not really have a lot to offer in terms of entertainment. It is a small rural town. There’s hiking, mountain biking, bird watching, fishing, checking out the shipwrecks, and whale watching. However, we love going to L’Agulhas because Struisbaai is 8-minutes from there. Struisbaai has outstretched white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, and the longest stretch of beach in the southern hemisphere. What’s especially great is that the Struisbaai waters are warmed by the Benguela current, which allows for great swimming, splashing, and surfing. If you are looking for the kind of vacation where you can spend long days tanning, swimming, surfing, picnics, and long walks along the beach, you’ll want this on your list.
If you are coming from Cape Town, it will take you almost 3 hours to get to Cape Agulhas.
34. Spend the day on the Franschhoek Wine Tram/Bus
The Franschhoek Valley—here’s what you can expect:
- picturesque vineyards;
- fine wines;
- breath-taking scenery;
- world-class cuisine;
- warm hospitality; and
- a 300-year history.
If all that sounds appealing to you, you may want to consider taking the Franschhoek Wine Tram. It is a hop-on hop-off tour, and truly one of the best ways to discover the essence of the Franschhoek Valley.
You will journey through rolling vineyards, stopping at some of South Africa’s oldest and most distinguished wine estates. You’ll be able to do cellar tours, wine tastings, or stroll through the vineyards.
Shop till you drop
35. Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront has a typical mall where the locals shop, so prices are affordable. However, since the mall attracts international tourists, you will also find world-class shops. If your wallet allows, you could spend days here, shopping your heart out. If you don’t have enough room in your luggage, there are luggage stores too!
36. The Malls
If you are a regular South African living in the cities, chances are excellent that you go to the malls, relatively often. That’s because the things you need are there, like grocery stores, pharmacies, alcohol stores, etc. So as a visitor, you may also find yourself going to the malls regularly.
But it’s not only essentials that you pick up at the malls. If your budget (and suitcase) allows, you can also shop for luxuries.
37. Flea Markets and "Neighborgoods" Markets
If you would rather not shop main stream, definitely check out the flea markets like the Greenmarket Square Flea market (Find it on Burg St at the Corner of Longmarket Street, Cape Town Central 8000 South Africa.)
In South Africa, flea markets are popular because they usually have great stuff! Here you will find handmade arts and crafts and interesting things. Prices are also very affordable.
The Neighborgoods Market is also very popular (and one we never miss). This one is open on Saturdays. It’s a great place to enjoy local foods, arts and crafts.
Cultural / Historic tours in Cape Town
38. Take a boat ride to Robben Island
Robben Island was a harsh jail for almost 400 years. Today it is a very popular Cape Town attraction because this is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life (while incarcerated during the apartheid era.)
The island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see for those interested in South African history.
Tours of Robben island start with multimedia displays at the Nelson Mandela Gateway Museum at the V&A Waterfront, followed by a boat ride to the island.
Visitors will see Robben Island’s maximum-security prison, Nelson Mandela‘s old cell, and the lime quarry where prisoners were made to do backbreaking work.
What makes a trip to Robben Island special and unique is that the guides are former Robben Island inmates. They relate their stories and provide insight into the horrors of apartheid.
39. Visit the District Six Museum
District Six was a part of the city of Cape Town where people of all races lived. However, in 1966 during apartheid, it was declared a “whites only” neighborhood. As a result, more than 60 000 people were forced to move to the Cape Flats—a barren area outside the city. The District Six Museum commemorates and educates us about this dark period in South African history.
40. Check out the colorful Bo Kaap
Bo-Kaap is in the center of the city at the foot of Signal Hill. The Bo Kaap welcomes tourists with vividly colored homes and sloping streets.
This thriving neighborhood is home to Cape Town’s Muslim population—descended from the Cape Malay slaves. (The slaves were brought to the Cape from Indonesia and Malaysia by Dutch colonizers). Once you are in Bo Kaap (which is accessible on foot from Cape Town), you can:
- Learn about the neighborhood’s history at the Bo-Kaap Museum;
- Enjoy the traditional Cape Malay curries and desserts at the neighborhood eateries;
- Take Instagram-worthy photos in front of beautiful, colorful homes.
41. Stand with legends at Nobel Square
South Africa has 4 Nobel Peace Prize winners: Nelson Mandela, Albert Luthuli, FW De Klerk, and Desmond Tutu. These Nobel Peace Prize winners are honored by statues at Nobel Square (located at the V&A Waterfront).
A note from the author
Our children love to feed the seagulls. I did not add this to the list because I don’t think it would be everyone’s cup of tea.
What we usually like to do is get fish and chips (mentioned above), then we drive to the Sea Point Promenade (also mentioned above). We get more than enough, knowing (or rather, wanting) there to be leftovers. Once we’re finished with our fish and chips, the children are free to break up the food and throw them to the birds. They LOVE this activity! It’s thoroughly entertaining to them, and it’s almost free!
If you have children and you think they may enjoy this, you can also get a large bag of peanuts. Throw a few nuts up in the air, then see what happens. You may have to do this a few times to get the party started. Once a few birds start coming, others will want to join in. This is when it gets really fun for the kids! They’ll keep running to you to get more and more nuts, (which is why I recommend a large bag of peanuts).