Cape Town is every traveller’s dream. For me it has been home for just over two years, and I cannot imagine living anywhere else. The scenery is pretty picturesque if I do say so myself – from mountains, to coastlines, to natural parks, to epic sunny summers, restaurants, and everything in between. Cape Town is no normal city break. There’s so much to see in and around Cape Town, from wineries to wildlife watching, that we’d recommend at least four days. Or even better, a week.
I’m Lize, STA Travel’s Head of Marketing for South Africa, and here are my Cape Town must-dos.
- Table Mountain
Let’s start with the obvious first. One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Table Mountain should be at the top of every visitor’s list. Famous for its table-like flat top, the mountain is visible from all over Cape Town. To visit Table Mountain, you can either hike up (approximately two hours) or take the cable car (at a small cost). Once at the top, there are gorgeous vantage points of the city, the mountains, and the beaches, as well as a restaurant/bar for a quick pitstop.
2. Hike Lion’s Head
The Lions Head hike is one of my favourite hikes. Even though it’s only a 45 minute to an hour hike, it’s not considered the ‘easiest’ hike. It has some steep climbs and parts where you’ll have to use your hands to pull yourself up onto rocks, however, it’s certainly achievable. And the views from the top across to Table Mountain, the 12 apostles, Camps Bay, the city, and the Atlantic Ocean are mesmerising. Our tip is to take torches and hike up for sunrise, or choose sunset with some drinks if early mornings aren’t your thing!
3. Robben Island
Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela was famously imprisoned for 27 years of his life. It’s since been decommissioned as a prison and nowadays it is a museum of Mandela’s life. It’s a quick one-hour ferry ride from Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront.
4. V&A Waterfront
They say the V&A Waterfront is one of South Africa’s most visited destinations. It’s still technically a working harbour (you may catch a glimpse of fishing boats and container ships), however, the V&A Waterfront is more frequently thought of as a shopping, dining and entertainment destination. Most of the restaurants at the V&A Waterfront have excellent views of the harbour which definitely makes it worth the visit (waterfront sundowners, anyone?).
Located at the base of Signal Hill, the Bo-Kaap neighbourhood is famous for its colourfully painted houses and cobblestone streets. It was formally known as the Cape Malay Quarter, a township during the Apartheid era. Pay a visit for the history, or just to snap the perfect Instagram shot at one of the many colourful walls – you won’t be disappointed.
Cape Town is blessed with incredible beaches. My two top choices would be Camps Bay – a long stretch of sandy beach on the main boardwalk with plenty of restaurants and bars facing the ocean, ideal for a drink or sundowner opportunity with friends. Or Clifton, just down the road from Camps Bay but more secluded. You have to climb a few stairs to get to the beaches, but the ‘workout’ for your beach bod is totally with it!
7. Local Markets
Especially popular at weekends, Cape Town has loads of local markets, filled with clothing, local crafts, amazing artisanal foods, drinks and more. My top three would be Oranjezicht Market in Granger Bay, located right on the waterfront with views of the ocean. Next up, the Old Biscuit Mill, a vibrant hub of art, design and food, right in the heart of Woodstock. Finally, Hout Bay Market located in (obviously) Hout Bay, a highlight being the live music and of course the drive there via beautiful coastal roads.
8. Cape Point
Cape Point is the perfect day trip out of Cape Town (roughly a 60 km drive). It’s a spectacular sight with towering stone cliffs, breathtaking bays, hiking routes, picnic spots, beaches and fynbos stretching for miles. It may not be the southernmost point of Africa – that honour goes to Cape Agulhas (where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meets), but Cape Point certainly makes you feel as if you are standing at the edge of the world.
9. Chapman’s Peak
Chapman’s Peak Drive is affectionately known by us locals as Chappies, and is a popular route for runners, hikers and cyclists. Its unending views have given it the honour of ‘one of the world’s best coastal drives’. Pack a picnic and make a day out of it by stopping to take in the view, or just drive by en-route to your next stop – it’s a view that will take your breath away.
10. Boulder’s Beach
Visiting Boulder’s Beach to see the colonies of African Penguins is an absolute must. Walk along the boardwalk for the best sightings, or head to the beach and see them waddling freely around amongst people. Bear in mind it’s a paid beach, as it falls under the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, but this just means it’s clean and gorgeous. Happy Feet vibes all the way – it’s just too cute for words!
11. Muizenberg Beach
End any day with a visit to the iconic and colourful beach houses at Muizenburg Beach, aka, the ultimate Instagram photo spot. This beach is also a great spot for surfing with lots of opportunities to rent boards and wetsuits, as well as take on a lesson or two to test your skills.
12. Wine tasting
The Cape wine region must be one of the most visually stunning wine regions in the world. Within easy distance of the city sit a few world-class wine regions, perfect for a day trip. Constantia is only 20 minutes away, Stellenbosch 40 minutes, and Franschhoek just under one hour. Cheers!
13. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden is proof that not all gardens were created equal (no but really). Enjoy picnics on the lawns, hiking up Skeleton Gorge, walking the many trails, and taking in the panoramic views from the canopy walkway. Also, always a favourite are the summer concerts held in the gardens – a lovely laidback setting with a pretty epic backdrop. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.
14. Hop-on Hop-off Sightseeing Bus tour
If you’re strapped for time, this is a great option! A very affordable and flexible way to see a lot, plus, the advantage of seeing it from the top of an open-air bus. Journey around four different bus routes, stopping at attractions such as Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Table Mountain, and the Cape Winelands, spending as long as you want at each stop.
15. The Garden Route
Not quite Cape Town itself, but it just had to be mentioned as it’s a great gateway to other places and not far from the Mother City. One of the most famous attractions in South Africa, The Garden Route is also considered one of the greatest driving routes in the world. It stretches from Mossel Bay to just past Plettenberg Bay, along some pretty magical coastline. Incredible surf beaches, amazing marine life, and stunning scenery to hike – it has something for everyone. A ‘must’ for thrill seekers is to stop at Bloukrans and try out the highest bungy jump in the world at 216 metres.
I’m sure you can see why I’ve fallen in love with Cape Town (and surrounds), and my list could go on! Set against the striking backdrop of Table Mountain, hiking trails a plenty, gorgeous beaches, and surrounded by vineyards, the location is tough to beat. With the feel of a European city, an undeniably bohemian buzz in the air, and a lively arts scene, you’ll never be short of something to do.