At times it might feel as if there are an endless number of things to do in Cape Town; and to be honest, there are - we’re very spoiled here. Any travel guide on the city will tell you just how many activities in Cape Town there are to prioritise. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of options, and wondering what to do in Cape Town, it may be useful to divide it up into several sections based on your interests, including natural scenery, historical attractions, and food and wine. The beauty of Cape Town attractions is that many, like the city’s famous wine farms, tick more than one box at a time, and most are within easy reach of the city centre. If you’re unsure where to begin, a local guide, and the following top 10 things to do in Cape Town, are all you need.
However you choose to tackle it, Table Mountain sits comfortably atop any list of the top 10 things to do in Cape Town. The large mountain that sits as a dramatic backdrop to the city center is impossible to miss, and as such it’s usually the first thing that visitors check off their lists. Cape Town travel guides usually recommend that you head up Table Mountain on the first good weather day of your trip, as changing weather conditions often cause the cableway to close and the hiking paths to be inaccessible. If you’re interested in some good physical exertion, there’s no better achievement than reaching the summit on foot along with one of the several well-maintained pathways, although this should not be attempted without adequate preparation. If you’re not inclined to spend the better part of a day hiking up the mountain you can be whisked to the top in the revolving cable cars - though, during the peak summer season, it might feel as if queueing takes longer than a walk-up.
Cape Point is one of the most popular places to visit in Cape Town, even though it’s a 90 minute drive from the city centre. Although many erroneously believe it to be the most southern point of the Africa, and the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean, it is in fact neither. Though that shouldn’t detract from the dramatic attraction! The drive through the various coastal villages en-route is enthralling, and the panoramic views from the classic old lighthouse, and the surrounding clifftops, along with the isolated beaches and sporadic wildlife, make this well worth the drive from the city - particularly if you get there at sunrise before the tour buses arrive.
Picking a single wine farm to visit in Cape Town is an impossible task. Instead, you’re better off choosing a general region to visit and then picking out one or two estates that appeal to you. The major wine regions for tourists include Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Constantia. Although Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are a long drive out of the city, they offer peace and tranquility in truly unique settings. Constantia, on the other hand, is a much more manageable trip from the city but feels less remote. Whichever estate you choose to visit, though, it’s safe to say that a day spent hopping between the city’s wine farms is one of the best Cape Town experiences.
Robben Island is the country’s most important historical landmark. It’s here that many political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, were held during apartheid. Today, the island sits as an important reminder of the oppressive political system, and the triumph of the humans who made it through the regime to help transition the country to a miraculous democracy. The only way to visit Robben Island is to take a ferry from the V&A Waterfront as part of an organized tour, and during the peak summer months, these book up well in advance. As such, it’s worth booking a ticket online as soon as possible in order to avoid disappointment.
Cape Town’s beaches are spectacular, and even if you’re not particularly fond of a day on the sand it’s well worth visiting at least one to take soak up the atmosphere. There are beaches on each side of the peninsula that each offer something unique. Beaches north of the city, in Table Bay, offer panoramic views of Table Mountain; those along the Atlantic Seaboard offer pristine white sand and shimmering blue waters; where as those further south of the city are often less populated and more pristine. If you’re looking for warmer water and predictable surf, you can’t go wrong with Muizenberg - a popular beach in False Bay. If for some reason you find yourself wondering what to do in Cape Town on any particular day, a quick trip to the closest beach is usually the perfect solution!
The best restaurants in Cape Town are generally located on the city’s wine farms, with a few celebrated establishments popping up in the Cape Town city center. Although foodies are reveling in the likes of the La Colombe, Chef’s Warehouse, and Foxcroft, these are often booked up well in advance. The good news is if you fail to get a reservation at one of these famous establishments, it’s hard not to find a good meal at most wine estates and busy establishments in the CBD - particularly on Bree Street and Shortmarket Street.
The colourful houses of Bo-Kaap, a suburb on the outskirts of the CBD, are among the most popular places to visit in Cape Town. Although they make for dramatic photographs, there’s important history to explore in this neighbourhood. The Bo-Kaap dates back to the 1760s, when several houses were built and leased to slaves brought to the city from Malaysia, Indonesia and other countries in Africa. The people, who became known as Cape Malays, lived in plain white houses for many generations. But the story goes that when slaves were eventually allowed to buy their houses, they painted them in bright colours as a celebration of their freedom. A walk through the neighbourhood is a rewarding experience, and the nearby Bo-Kaap Museum offers important insight.
Cape Town’s weekend markets have become a popular pastime, for both local residents and visitors from abroad. There are now several markets to choose from, each of which offers a selection of food stalls, craft items, or a mix of both. The markets usually run on a Friday night or Saturday or Sunday morning, and the most popular include those in Hout Bay, the Old Biscuit Mill, and the Oranjezicht Market at Granger Bay. If you’re looking for fascinating odds and ends, it may also be worth paying a visit to the Milnerton Market on Saturday mornings - there you’ll find a wide range of items ranging from worthless trinkets to old cameras and other hidden gems. Or if you find yourself in Muizenberg on a Friday evening after that day at the beach, the Bluebird Garage Market is always good times.
Although the V&A Waterfront is the most visited tourism attraction in the city, the true charm of this harbourside shopping mall is not in the vast array of stores located indoors, or the outdoor tourist-centric restaurants. The appeal lies in the fact that this is still a working harbour, and home to beautiful views and interesting industrial sights that somehow blend together to make for an intriguing attraction. The newly built Silo District, which is where you’ll find the remarkable Zeitz MOCAA, adds to the appeal of the Waterfront. Dedicate some time exploring at least one floor of this striking gallery, which is the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world.
If you’re looking for tranquil nature just a stone’s throw away from the city, then a trip to Kirstenbosch Gardens should serve you well. These spectacular botanical gardens are set on the slopes of Table Mountain, and could easily soak up the better part of a day - particularly if you include a visit to one of the on-site restaurants, which offer various South African dishes, or pack your own picnic, which is regarded as a local weekend past time! If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting the city on a Sunday in summer, Kirstenbosch also hosts popular concerts that feature some of the country’s best musicians in a truly spectacular natural amphitheatre.
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