Maybe you’ve already heard about Cape Town and how people fall in love straight away, both with the city itself and the people who live there. Maybe you’ve heard about the spectacular scenery and the breathtaking natural beauty this country has to offer. Cape Town is massive – and has become a key player on every traveller’s bucket list. To help you plan your trip properly we’ve put together a list of all the best things to do in Cape Town, stuff you can’t afford to miss out on. As well as telling you about the city’s traditional sights, we’ll give you a couple of Cape Town insider tips and let you know about some amazing highlights of the city that are sure to make your trip even more unforgettable.
1. Go up the Tafelberg and take in the views over the city
In first place is one of the most touristy sights of all – the Tafelberg. You can climb up it yourself or take the cable car up. If you’re reasonably fit, I would strongly recommend hiking up – believe me, the views on the way to the top are worth every single drop of sweat – they’re absolutely incredible! There are many different trails starting off from different points, with some of them more challenging than others. Because of this, it’s a good idea to look up the various options in advance. Going up takes about three hours, depending on the route you take. Of course, you’ve got to get down again too, but on the bright-side, if your legs are a bit tired and wobbly you can easily just take the cable car back down. One-way costs €12 and a return is about €21. If you’re a student you should go on a Friday if you can – you’ll pay just €5 for a single and about €9 for a return. When taking a trip to the Tafelsberg the weather is key, so make sure there isn’t too much low cloud, since it’ll stop you from seeing all that much from up there. Often the cable car doesn’t run at all if it’s too windy. However, when the sun’s out, there’s nothing like being up on the mountain.
2. Go on a free walking tour
A lot of cities offer free city tours, and now Cape Town is one of them! If you don’t want to go on an expensive city tour, they’re the perfect alternative. The tours run on a tipping-system, meaning you decide at the end how much it was worth. In Cape Town, you can choose between two history tours and a tour of the well-known and colourful Bo-Kaap district. There are several tours every day, all starting from the same point in the city centre. The tour guides are young, laid-back, funny and, of course, they’re locals. They have a load of interesting things to say about their native city, and you won’t find their tips in any travel guide, that’s for sure! Because of this, as well as getting a tour, you’ll get a glimpse into the life of a bona fide Cape-Tonian. Getting to know the city in this way is a real pleasure.
3. Treat yourself to a wine-tasting
Take it from us, you can’t leave Cape Town without doing a wine-tasting first. The city is surrounded by vineyards that seem like they go on for ever, like Franschhoek, Durbanville and Stellenbosch. I chose to go on the hop-on hop-off tour in Stellenbosch. It’s about a 40 drive from the city centre, and allows you see up to six vineyards in a day. You get picked up from where you’re staying and taken to each of the different vineyards. Then, at the end of the day, they leave you back again. It’s you who gets to decide where to stop off and do a tasting. If you’re not sure, ask your driver, they’ll be able to tell you exactly which type of wine is served at which vineyard. The whole thing will set you back about €22, with the individual wine tastings costing between €2 and €5 on top of that. The drivers look after you the whole time and are really funny, cheerful and are constantly cracking jokes. You’re guaranteed to have a good time!
4. Conquer the Lion’s Head
More hiking already?! And there’s no way to get out of it this time, there’s no cable car. Still, it’s only an hour and a half each way, but the last part of the walk up is something else – it’s more of a climb than a hike and definitely not for the faint hearted, particularly if you’re not a fan of heights. But in the end you’ll be rewarded for all that blood, sweat and tears – and what a reward! Unlike the Tafelberg, the Lion’s Head gives you a 360 degree view over Cape Town. The city looks absolutely stunning from up here. A lot of people take on the trail so they can watch the sunset. In Cape Town, watching the sun go down from up on the Lion’s head seems to be something of a tradition, especially at full moon. Oh, I almost forgot! Naturally, it’s the perfect place for your latest Instagram shot.
5. Gaze in wonder at boulder’s beach
Who doesn’t like penguins? In Cape Town you’ll have the chance to see a whole gaggle of these sweet little creatures on the beach. Boulder’s beach is in Simon’s Town, around a 45 minute drive from the middle of Cape Town. The beach is part of the Table Mountain National Park, meaning you have to pay a small admission fee of €4. Watching the penguins here is a typical tourist attraction, so be prepared for the possibly of it getting a bit crowded. Despite this, you definitely shouldn’t miss out on Boulder’s Beach – just plan your visit as a stop off on your way to the Cape of Good Hope.
6. Take a trip to the Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point
When you’re planning a visit to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point (both lying on the Cape Peninsula) you should set aside a whole day, since there are a few more worthwhile stops along the way. A lot of people think that the Cape of Good Hope is Africa’s most southerly point, but that’s not actually the case. The southernmost point, and the dividing line between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, is Cape Agulhas. Still, a trip to the Cape of Good Hope is right up there on the to-do list of anyone who visit’s Cape Town. You’ll come across a lot of tourists here, especially in the summer months. Thankfully, the Cape Peninsula is covers a wide area, meaning the groups of tourists are well spread out. The Cape of Great Hope and Cape Point are in the Table Mountain National Park, so the same thing applies: take money with you for the admission.
7. Surf in Muizenberg
Muizenberg is a suburb of Cape Town and is also known as the birthplace of surfing in South Africa. So, if you want to learn how to surf, or brush up on your skills, this is the place to be! Oh, yeah! It’s also the place with the famous brightly-coloured beach huts (your Instagram-Feed will be pleased). The atmosphere here is so laid-back and carefree that time flies by, and before you know it, the sun’s already going down. You can easily spend the whole day at the beach, surfing and soaking up the sun. If you are just starting to surf, you should definitely put Muizenberg on your list: the waves here are likely to be perfect for beginners. So, get going and snap up the best waves!
8. Enjoy the unbelievable sunsets
You’ve probably cottoned on to this already: sunsets in Cape Town are magical. In fact, there are a number of places where you can go to take in breathtaking views. Lion’s Head and Signal Hill are just some of the places with absolutely stunning views over the city. It’s impossible to capture the amazing colours in a photo, you’ve got to see them with your own eyes – IT IS INCREDIBLE! Nowhere else but in Cape Town can you see such stunningly beautiful sunsets. What’s more, you can sit and watch how the sun sinks into the sea from almost any beach. However, Clifton Beach is a particularly beautiful little spot, one that’s worth visiting – somewhere that really stirs up that romantic holiday feeling. Or channel your inner Leonardo DiCaprio/Zac Efron and enjoy these magical minutes with a drink in your hand in Cafe Caprice in Camps Bay. Here you can soak in the wonderful energy the city exudes, as the sun bathes the Lion’s Head and the 12 Apostles in a rose-tinted glow. You’ll never grow tired of these picture-postcard scenes, believe me.
9. Discover the local markets
There are a huge number of markets in Cape Town and the surrounding area. Visiting them (or at least one of them) is a must. Here you will find incredible street-food, local goods, live music plus an atmosphere you won’t find anywhere else. It gives you the feeling of being able to take a little bit of South African culture with you. The Nout Bay Weekend Market is open every weekend from Friday to Sunday and always has something going on. People either meander through the old market hall or sit on benches, enjoying the tasty delicacies – whether it’s sweet or savoury, there’s something for everyone here! I’d also recommend the Old Biscuit Mill, which sits in the heart of the Woodstock district. Every Saturday from 9 to 2 it hosts the Neighbourgoods Market, where you can find fresh natural products, fashion, art, jewellery, furniture and much much more.
10. Check out some secluded beaches
If you’ve had enough of all the tourists and hubbub at Clifton Beach, you’ll be at home on Llandudno Beach. This is considered as a bit of an insider tip, as there are only small number of tourists mixing among the locals here. A lot of Cape Tonians come here to surf and enjoy the peace and quiet. There’s no point looking for cafés, restaurants or shops here, and this is one reason why not many tourists end up at Llandudno Beach. Here you can enjoy a day by the sea, far away from the tourist beaches, relaxing and soaking up the sun. I’d also recommend Bikini Beach in Gordon’s Bay (about 50km from Cape Town), which makes for a perfect day trip. The little beach is right by the harbour. It’s sheltered from the wind and the water here’s a bit warmer than at the beaches in the middle of Cape Town, as it’s not far from the Indian Ocean. At the weekend this picture-postcard town is a particular draw for native Cape Tonians.
11. Cruise along Chapman’s Peak Drive
Chapman’s Peak Drive is a scenic route carved into the cliffs and one of the most spectacular roads in the world! There are lay-bys every hundred metres. You’ll need them too, since the views are incredible, just breathtakingly beautiful. You feel like you’re standing in front of a perfectly painted picture, or that you’re dreaming! You can’t get enough of the panoramic views. Unfortunately, this is by no means an insider tip, but still, you just have to go and see it! Tip: Round off your day-trip to the Cape Peninsula by heading along Chapman’s Peak Drive, it’ll take you back to the centre of Cape Town too!
12. Spend an Evening on Bree Street
The main nightlife strip in Cape Town is actually Long Street. It gets a bit chaotic there, especially on the first Thursday of the month, or simply “First Thursday”, leaving you fighting for a spot at one of the area’s many bars. Amongst the locals Bree Street is known as “the better Long Street”. There aren’t so many tourists here, making it especially popular with Cape Tonians – it’s a bit quieter and less hectic. Bree Street runs parallel to Long Street, meaning it’s only a stone’s throw away and well worth the visit. There you’ll find one of the best burger bars in the city (IYO Burger). There’s also Love thy Neighbour, where locals like to relax with a beer after a hard day’s work, as well as lots of modern cafés and La Paranda, where there’s genuinely always something going on. If you’re in Cape Town, it’s not to be missed. Tip: stop by the Honest Chocolate Café. It’s actually on Wale street, but it’s right round the corner (I promise). On top of endless amounts of chocolate in all its possible forms, there’s a gin bar out back. It’s so inconspicuous, a lot of people just walk right past this hidden gem.
13. Enjoy the culinary variety
When it comes to food, Cape Town is a city for connoisseurs. It has everything your heart could possibly desire, and it always tastes fantastic. South Africans love meat, and they’re brilliant at cooking it too. Still, there’s also a massive variety on offer for vegetarians and vegans. Here, a hot dinner, wine and a bottle of water for two people will set you back €20 tops. This makes eating out in Cape Town really affordable by European standards, so even if you’re on a tight budget, you won’t have to miss out on these culinary delights.
In the young and fashionable district of Observatory, it’s worth paying a visit to “The Woodlands Eatery”. It’s got tasty Italian and Mexican dishes on offer, as well as heavenly chocolate cake. For a tasty and nutritious breakfast, head to Scheckter’s RAW Gourmet in Sea Point. Nourish’d Café and Juicery in Kloof Street offers a great variety of vegan food to start off the day with.
14. Take part in a braai
If you get the chance, you absolutely have to go along to a braai, a South African-style barbecue party. The locals go to one every week (if not every day!) Every weekend there’s an amazing braai party in the Gugletu Township, about 15km from the city centre. Mzoli’s is a butcher’s shop where, on weekends, a party is held that sees locals and tourists celebrating and enjoying good food together. There’s eating, dancing, chatting and laughing. It’s a unique experience in a neighbourhood where people live in very poor conditions – because that’s also a side of Cape Town, and one you should experience.
One more tip: club together with a couple of people from your hostel and rent a car together for the time you’re in Cape Town and surrounding area. Although there’s been a really well-developed bus network since the World Cup, they don’t go very often and make a lot of detours on the way to their destination. Cape Town is huge and a lot of excursions will take you out to the suburbs and the Cape Peninsula. Having a car will definitely save you time and hassle.
About the author:
Teresa is 24 years-old and studies Communication and Media Studies in Bremen. In her free time she tries to see as much of the world as she can, and enjoys immersing herself in other cultures and getting to know new people. Follow her adventures on Instagram @teresaklr!