A beautiful cosmopolitan city, Cape Town is nestled at the tip of the African continent.
To the west, the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean carve the city’s coastline into breathtaking beauty. To the east, the warmer Indian Ocean waters lap its shores.
Cape Town is well worth visiting – especially if you combine it with a Sabi Sands safari in South Africa (like we did).
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 15 best things to do in Cape Town.
15 Best things to do in Cape Town, South Africa
1) Visit Table Mountain
You can’t miss it.
Simply one of the best 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 Table Mountain aerial cableway up to the top for amazing views across the city and out to the sea.
We rode the cable car up and hiked along the top of Table Mountain, then took the cable car back down.
No matter how you go – by foot or by cable car – most people agree that visiting Table Mountain is one of the best things to do in South Africa.
You can get advance cable car tickets with this popular combination ticket package. As well as the cable car, it includes the Cape Town hop-on hop-off bus (see #12 below) and a city walking tour.
2) Admire the creative street and public art
Cape Town boasts some fantastic cutting-edge public art and design.
It was named 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 livable, competitive and efficient.
By way of background, Cape Town was originally planned to separate whites from blacks with physical walls and gates.
Apartheid ended almost 30 years ago. Cape Town is now using art, design and architecture to help create positive social and economic change (and overcome the apartheid legacy).
Take its street art.
Street art is showcased around Albert Road in Woodstock.
This once dilapidated neighborhood has now been revitalized with hip restaurants, farmers markets and former shack homes that have morphed into art galleries.
You can see a host of bright colorful murals decorating the walls of many of the buildings.
From championing social justice and conservation to simple messages of love, each mural tells a story, often with a political edge.
The murals are always changing too, as new graffiti art adds new layers – making for a dynamic ever-changing public art gallery under the open sky.
Not surprisingly, street art tours are popular.
For example, here’s a cool street art walking tour of Woodstock with a local artist as your tour guide.
You’ll learn about the neighborhood’s history as you check out different murals. You’ll also visit the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, home to artist workshops, fun food stalls, designer stores and other creative outlets.
3) Stroll Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Located about 8 miles from the city center, the extensive Kirstenbosch Gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and another one of the best places to visit in Cape Town.
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.
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.
4) Get cultured at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa
Modern art lovers wondering what to see in Cape Town will want to visit this art museum.
Nearly 20,000 square feet in size, the stunning Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is the world’s largest museum showcasing contemporary African art.
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.
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.
You’ll find new coffee shops, jazz evenings, a night market, community center, restaurants catering to 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.
This fun township and Langa gospel tour even includes enjoying African gospel singers and dancers at Langa Baptist Church!
6) Hang out on a beach
Fancy sunning on a long cove of soft white sand, lapped by the deep blue of the Atlantic – alongside the odd huge boulder that’s fallen from Table Mountain millions of years ago?
Then hit Camps Bay and Clifton Beach, two of Cape Town’s most beautiful beaches.
They’re located along the Atlantic Seaboard, home to some of Cape Town’s most trendy and upscale neighborhoods.
And they’re a great place for soaking up some Vitamin “Sea,” as well as for 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 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 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
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 very good South African wines at some lovely wine estates.
A couple of fine bottles made their way home with us.
8) Meet the local penguins at Boulders Beach
Who knew there are penguins in Africa?
Well, there are. And 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.
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.
9) Eat at some of the best restaurants in Cape Town
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!
Along with fresh fish and seafood, you’ll find Indian food dishes originally 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 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 for strolling around and to enjoy people-watching from a colorful café!
11) Stroll the Victoria & Albert Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront occupies South Africa’s oldest functioning harbor, with the iconic Table Mountain as its backdrop.
This car-free area of Cape Town is said to be its beating heart – packed with shops, restaurants, cafés, bars and hotels.
It’s breathed new life into aged warehouses, turning them into the Watershed, a huge haven for some 150 local artists, designers and creators to sell their work.
Wander the lanes of this craft and design market in search of unique souvenirs like malachite bowls, local art and one-of-a-kind jewelry.
Meanwhile, the Cape Wheel (a giant observation or Ferris wheel) has 30 enclosed air-conditioned cabins, offering a spectacular view of the city’s splendor from above.
You’ll also find the Two Oceans Aquarium located at the V&A Waterfront. It’s home to many types of sharks, as well as penguins, sea turtles, octopi, jelly fish and other sea creatures.
Street entertainers also fill the air with their music and perform for visitors.
Attracting more than 24 million visitors a year, the Victoria & Albert Waterfront is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cape Town.
For us, it felt a bit touristy. (Mind you, we were tourists!) So walking around here wasn’t one of our most 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 (#13), where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
12) Take the hop-on hop-off bus
One of most efficient (and economical) ways for seeing the best of Cape Town in a short amount of time is to take the hop-on hop-off bus.
Do as we did and 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.
13) Visit Robben Island
A 30-minute boat ride from Cape Town lies Robben Island.
This once stark prison, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, offers a poignant glimpse into the lives of political prisoners who were confined here. The most famous inmate was Nelson Mandela.
Guided tours, often by former prisoners, include walking through the former maximum security prison buildings.
See the small cell where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in captivity, the limestone quarry where prisoners taught each other and the 1865 lighthouse.
It’s a deeply moving experience – and a place you must see in Cape Town to fully understand the country’s journey towards democracy.
This Robben Island prison tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, along with your ferry tickets and guided tour tickets.
14) Hike up Lion’s Head
Hiking up Lion’s Head is a way to get a great workout – accompanied by equally great views!
It’s easier than the trek up Table Mountain, yet no less rewarding.
The hike winds around the “mountain” and it takes about 90 minutes to get to the top. The summit is at 2,200 feet above sea level.
You don’t even have to go all the way up to the top to enjoy the panoramic 360-degree views of Cape Town.
The last section is a little tricky, requiring you to climb up some metal ladders and clamber over rocks. So skip this if you don’t feel up to it.
If you’d like to go with a tour guide, here’s a recommended small-group tour (about 3 hours). You’ll beat the heat and go at sunrise or sunset, when the light offers the most magical views.
15) Explore the Cape Peninsula on a day trip
Taking a day trip around the Cape Peninsula is a must-do Cape Town excursion.
The unbelievably gorgeous Cape Peninsula stretches for about 32 miles south of Cape Town to Cape Point, the southwest tip of the African Continent.
Allow a full day to take in its sights and attractions.
For complete freedom on this road trip, you’ll want to rent a car. There are two routes to Cape Point, one along either side of the peninsula, so you can drive it as a loop.
Kick off your road trip by driving to Muizenberg.
This beach town is famous for its colorful beach huts and waves that beckon surfers from all over. It’s a laid-back spot where the vibe is as sunny as the weather, and the sand invites you to linger longer than you planned.
Continuing south along the coast, you’ll hit Kalk Bay, a gem where the scent of fresh seafood and the sound of seals greet you at its bustling harbor. The quirky shops and cafés lining the streets make for pleasant wandering.
Next stop? Boulders Beach, where penguins rule the roost (see #8 above).
The beach is beautiful, with stunning boulders and clear blue waters. But the penguins are the star attraction.
Watching these tuxedo-clad birds waddle along the sand is delightful.
Steeped in naval history, Simon’s Town comes up next. If you have time, stroll around. Keep an eye out for the local sea lions on the harborfront!
While Kalk Bay is more charming, Simon’s Town is a good place to stop for lunch if you haven’t eaten already.
Cape Point Nature Reserve
As you venture further south, Cape Point Nature Reserve awaits. This wild sanctuary is where the landscape is dramatic and the views are endless.
Stop at the Cape of Good Hope and soak up the views of the sparkling ocean, cliffs and rugged coastline.
Then continue to Cape Point. Go for a short hike.
Chapman’s Peak Drive
The journey back to Cape Town is crowned by Chapman’s Peak Drive. This road takes you around sweeping curves and alongside cliffs that plunge into the sea.
Cape Point tour
If you’d rather not drive yourself, book a guided tour from Cape Town.
This highly-rated, small-group tour is a great way to take in most of the sights, as well as some other Cape Town tourist attractions.
- Short stops at Bo-Kaap (#10 above) and Camp’s Bay Beach (#6 above)
- 2 Hours in Cape Point Nature Reserve
- 30 Minutes at the Cape of Good Hope
- 1 Hour at Simon’s Town
- 1 Hour at Boulders Beach
- Chapman’s Peak Drive
Planning a trip to Cape Town
Best time to visit Cape Town
You can visit Cape Town at almost any time of the year and be welcomed with warm, sunny weather.
But the most popular time to visit is during Cape Town’s summer months. Between December and February (and continuing into March), the weather in Cape Town is reliably dry, sunny and hot.
This is also high season, however, 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 Cape Town in June and enjoyed blue skies and sunshine during the day. But there was a nip in the air at night (a jacket was needed).
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.
More Cape Town travel information
See the website for Cape Town Tourism.
Now you know what to do in Cape Town, South Africa!
During your visit, you’ll want to experience a wide array of different Cape Town activities.
Whether it’s riding the cable car up Table Mountain for panoramic views, meandering through the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens or kicking back on sun-drenched beaches, Cape Town offers a host of wonderful experiences.
We hope this Cape Town travel guide is helpful in planning your upcoming trip.
With its deep historical roots, spectacular scenery, lively culture, delicious food, stunning beaches and countless outdoor activities, Cape Town is a destination you’re sure to love!
More South Africa travel information
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Photo credits: 8, 9, 11, 12 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase