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12 Unmissable things to do in Cape Town

Please only travel when it’s safe to do so.

A beautiful cosmopolitan city, Cape Town is well worth visiting – especially if you combine it with a Sabi Sands safari in South Africa.

From beaches and epic mountains to botanical gardens and cool art, the Mother City has lots to offer.

Try to spend at least 3 days in Cape Town – though you could easily spend a week.

Here’s our guide to the best things to do in Cape Town.

Things to do in Cape Town, South Africa

1) Visit Table Mountain

Taking the cable car up Table Mountain is one of the best things to do in Cape Town, South Africa.

You can’t miss it.

One of the most popular Cape Town attractions, Table Mountain rises above the city, dominating the views.

During his long imprisonment on Robben Island, Nelson Mandela would look toward Table Mountain as his beacon of hope.

There are many popular hiking trails up Table Mountain.

Or you can take the cable car up to the top for amazing views across the city and out to the sea.

(We rode the cable car up and hiked on top of Table Mountain.)

2) Admire the creative street and public art

Cape Town boasts some fantastic cutting-edge public art and design.

Cape Town boasts some fantastic cutting-edge public art and design.

World Design Capital:

Indeed, Cape Town was honored as the “World Design Capital” in 2014.

This award is given every two years by the World Design Organization to the city that uses design to make it more liveable, competitive and efficient.

By way of background, Cape Town was originally designed to separate whites from blacks with physical walls and gates.

Apartheid ended more than 20 years ago.

Cape Town is now using art, design and architecture to help create positive social and economic change (and overcome the apartheid legacy). In 2014, that translated into over 460 design projects.

Public art:

Street art flourishes in Cape Town

Today, street art is showcased on Albert Road in Woodstock, a formerly dilapidated neighborhood now revitalized with hip restaurants and farmers markets.

You can see a host of bright colorful murals decorating the walls of many of the buildings.

Segregated shack homes have morphed into art galleries, and street art tours are popular.

New life-sized steel sculptures of South Africa’s heroines (“Wonder Women”) have also been placed along the pedestrian Fan Walk in Green Point.

3) Browse the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is one of the best places to visit in Cape Town for art lovers.

Speaking of art and design, the largest collection of contemporary African art is on display at the stunning new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. (It opened in September, 2017.)

Housed in a converted grain silo, the building itself is a work of art – modern and industrial looking.

Spiral staircases connect the floors with some 80 galleries.

Eye everything from cowhide sculptures to oil paintings, photography, needlework and other very cool art pieces.

Circular staircase in the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

4) Stroll Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden

Protea flowers at Kirstenbosch National Botanic Gardens in Cape Town

One of our favorite places to visit in Cape Town, the Kirstenbosch Gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

And with more than 7,000 plant species, many unique to this part of the world, they rightly rank as one of the world’s most beautiful gardens.

We especially loved the King Protea flowers.

King Protea flower at Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town

You’ll also love the canopy forest walkway.

Named after a poisonous snake, the 430-foot sinewy Boomslang walkway allows you to walk 40 feet high above the canopy of South African trees.

The Kirstenbosch Gardens' Boomslang tree canopy walkway

5) Visit Langa township

How about trying sheep’s cheeks and home-made ginger beer in the Langa township?

The traditionally impoverished black settlement is being transformed with new coffee shops, jazz evenings, a night market, community center, restaurants catering for locals and outside visitors, a South African pub, artists’ studios, community center and a bed-and-breakfast.

Visiting a township is one of the more unusual things to do in Cape Town. But it can give you real insight into South African life and culture.

Edgy guided tours get you talking with locals and learning first-hand about South Africa’s history.

Cafe in Langa Township, Cape Town

6) Hang out on a beach

Fancy sunning on a long cove of soft white sand, lapped by the deep blue of the Atlantic – with the odd huge boulder that’s fallen from Table Mountain millions of years ago?

Then hit Camps Bay and Clifton Beach for some Vitamin “Sea,” as well as strolling, people-watching and sitting at an outdoor café or restaurant.

Don’t expect to do any actual swimming though. The water is far too cold!

Camps Bay, Cape Town

Camps Bay:

Camps Bay is one of the best beaches in Cape Town.

The surrounding neighborhood is affluent, with a lively bar and café scene along the beachside Camps Bay Strip.

Clifton:

Clifton has four white sand beaches (named 1st to 4th), each attracting its own crowd.

Clifton 4th Beach is the most glamorous sandy playground.

Don’t be surprised if you recognize a supermodel behind a pair of designer sunglasses.

7) Go wine tasting

Visiting Stellenbosch is a great day trip from Cape Town.

In the heart of wine country, Stellenbosch makes for a great day tour from Cape Town. (It’s about an hour’s drive away.)

We had loads of fun on our Stellenbosch wine tasting day trip – sniffing, swirling and sipping some very good South African wines.

8) Meet the local penguins

One of the most fun things to do in Cape Town is to see the penguin colony at Boulders Beach.

One of the most fun things to do in Cape Town is to visit the penguin colony at Boulders Beach.

Just like the penguins in Antarctica, these African penguins are adorable to watch, waddling about and getting up to penguin antics.

Penguin at Boulders Beach, Cape Town

The beach is gorgeous too – pure white sand and pristine.

Ancient granite boulders protect the beach from the wind and waves, so you can even swim there too.

9) Eat

Cape Town has a great gourmet food scene!

As a port city, Cape Town has absorbed the culinary customs of the many nationalities that have sailed into its harbor over the centuries.

It has a truly good gourmet scene – and one of the top things to do in Cape Town is simply eating!

You’ll find Indian food dishes introduced by Indian laborers in the 19th century, Malay cuisines from slaves brought over by the Dutch, and the tastes and traditional dishes from across the African continent.

10) Explore Bo Kaap

Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Bo-Kaap dates back to the 1760s when it was built by the Dutch as slave quarters for slaves brought from Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere in Africa. It then became known as the Malay Quarter.

Today, the neighborhood is famous for its candy-colored houses lining steep cobblestone streets.

Many of the families have lived here for generations. The community is mostly Muslim; the first Muslim mosque in South Africa can be found in Bo-Kaap.

It’s a fun community to stroll about or to people-watch from a colorful café!

11) Stroll the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town

This car-free area of Cape Town is said to be its beating heart – packed with shops, restaurants, cafés, bars and hotels.

But for us, it felt a bit touristy (mind you, we were tourists), and so walking around the V&A Waterfront was one of our least favorite things to do in Cape Town.

Still, you should probably go and find out how you like it for yourself.

Sailing trips depart from the waterfront, including the ferry to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.

12) Take the HopOn HopOff Bus

View of Cape Town

One of the best (and most economical) ways for getting an overall view of the city is to take the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus.

Stay on – don’t get off. And just enjoy the scenery from the upper deck.

There are several routes: Blue, Red, Yellow (Downtown) and Purple (Wine Tour).

The Blue and Red Routes take in the V&A Waterfront, Kirstenbosch Gardens, Hout Bay (a fishing village south of Camps Bay), Camps Bay and the Clifton Beaches.

Best time to visit Cape Town

The most popular time to visit is when the weather is dry and sunny, which is from December to February. But this is high season, and it’s busy, so be sure you book ahead for accommodation.

June to August is winter in South Africa.

The weather is cooler with chilly winds, and rain can be expected. But the sun still often shines 12 hours a day.

We visited in June and had sunny days (but wore jackets up to Table Mountain and a light sweater during the day).

Where to stay in Cape Town?

The luxurious 12 Apostles Hotel wowed us with its gob-smacking ocean views, walking trails, Leopard Bar and superb service.

See our review of the 12 Apostles Hotel.

Recommended reading: See our Africa Travel Guide & Safari Planner! Get the full scoop on planning a luxury trip to Africa, complete with fabulous itineraries


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Photo credits: 8 to 10 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the owners and founders of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, luxury hotel reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

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Frank

Wednesday 21st of October 2015

Wow, great! We're heading to Cape Town next week and will use it as our base for at least a month. Canopy walk in Kirstenbosh? Sounds great. Beautiful photos. Frank

Janice and George

Wednesday 21st of October 2015

We're envious! We hear you're going to be South Africa for 3 months! Have a great trip - and we look forward to reading about your adventures...

Eddy

Thursday 11th of December 2014

Cape town seems to be an interesting place. I'll keep these tips in mind if I ever get there. A safari would be interesting too!

Janice and George

Thursday 11th of December 2014

Yes, Cape Town has lots going for it! Going on safari was a dream experience for us - how can you not marvel at seeing lions huddling around a kill! You should try to make a safari happen :-).

Lesley Peterson

Tuesday 12th of August 2014

Spectacular photos! Kudos to Cape Town for using art, design and architecture to boost positive social and economic change.

Elaine

Sunday 3rd of August 2014

Good to see that things are changing for the better in South Africa ... Cape Town and the nation as a whole is a highly cost-effective place to visit with myriad things to do!

Charu

Tuesday 29th of July 2014

Yet another reason to go... that endless Boomslang tree canopy walk which seems to float on air!