17 Best Things to Do in Cape Town: The Ultimate Checklist!
I have 2 goals when I travel: discover a country through its FOODIE and OUTDOOR experiences. Cape Town is fast becoming one of the top foodie destinations due to its rich heritage, mom & pop shops, fine dining experiences, and beautifully crafted wine. Pair that with out-of-this-world nature, and you are left with the next amazing travel destination. Read on to find out my personal curated list of top things to do in Cape Town and see why South Africa needs to be on your list of Where to Next?
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01- Take the Cable Car to Table Mountain
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway
TABLE MOUNTAIN CABLE CAR
Table Mountain is easily Cape Town’s most recognized landmark. Horizontal layers of sandstone form its iconic plateau. It is flanked by Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head.
It seems like anywhere you walk around the city of Cape Town, you can turn around and have this dramatic mountain as your backdrop.
The city has even strategically placed several large yellow frames around the V&A Waterfront, where you can take a fun picture of yourself within the frame and Table Mountain as your backdrop.
Enjoy Cape Town’s iconic landmark by taking a 5-minute journey via cable car. The 65-passenger cable car, which has been in operation since 1929, rotates 360 degrees on its way up and offers jaw-dropping views of the city below.
TABLE MOUNTAIN TIPS
Be aware that the weather can change very quickly. High winds can close the cable car.
It is super important to check the weather before you hike or decide to visit Table Mountain via cable car; otherwise, you may be taking an unexpected hike down the mountain.
When we were walking along the V&A Waterfront, it was very sunny, so we decided to take the cable car.
By the time we got on to the cable car, the clouds started to roll in.
When we got to the top, I was able to snap a quick photo of the city below before the notorious Tablecloth (cloud cover) swooped in and shrouded the city completely.
Before the Tablecloth rolls in
While the Tablecloth is rolling in
After the Tablecloth rolled in
Buy your tickets online BEFORE you get to the cableway station. You will still need to queue to get on the cable car, but you will not have to stand in line for tickets if you purchased ahead of time.
Parking is crazy. Just take Uber. It’s easy, cheap, and so worth it.
02- Hike Lion’s Head
Summit of Lion’s Head Hike overlooking the city of Cape Town
If you only have time to hike one, in my opinion, hike Lion’s Head over Table Mountain.
This is one of the most beautiful hikes, even National Geographic thinks so! It towers above the city and rewards you with panoramic views of Table Mountain, the city of Cape Town, Signal Hill, and the ocean.
It is not overly strenuous. It’s 3.4 miles roundtrip and will take 2-3 hours depending on your fitness level, how many times you stop, and how busy the trail is.
You will have to navigate a series of ladders and large boulders, so if you have a fear of heights take that into account.
There is also another nerve-wracking route you could take that involves chains/rungs. No thank you, but people seem to do it without any problem.
Just like all other hikes in Cape Town, go in a group and during busy times.
We hiked Lion’s Head on Heritage Day, so there were many families out enjoying the holiday. Perfect timing. I have shared my experience in the article below if you want to know more.
03- Swim with Really Cute Penguins
South African penguins relaxing on the granite boulders at Boulders Beach
Who doesn’t love a cute penguin waddling around?
Add turquoise clear waters and large granite boulders, and you now have added another amazing experience to your top things to do in Cape Town.
The best part is it’s only a 1-hour drive from Cape Town and makes for a wonderful day trip!
When you arrive at the Boulders Beach Visitor Center, you will notice there are a series of boardwalks you can choose from to view the penguins. Some of the penguins are merely feet away from the walkway.
Most tourists will view the penguins after entering the Boulders Beach Visitor Center. The boardwalks are crowded, and you will be fighting for a position to take photos.
I can help you avoid most of the tourists.
If you are up for an adventure and desire to get close and even swim with the penguins in the gorgeous clear water, read how to find the secret entrance below.
Close up photo of South African Penguin at Boulders Beach
South African penguin swimming in gorgeous clear water
04- Sip Wine in South Africa Wine Country
De Meye Wine Estate in Stellenbosch, South Africa
With world-class cuisine and beautifully crafted wine, Cape Town is on many travelers’ top 10 foodie lists according to CN Traveler and Thrillist.
Most of the wine regions are within a short drive of Cape Town.
You could do a day trip or better yet, spend several days out in wine country to fully immerse yourself in wine country.
We stayed in the charming town of Franschhoek which had plenty of restaurants and shops all within walking distance of our quaint hotel, Cape Vue Country House.
A lot of people opt to take the Franschhoek Wine Tram, which can be a fun, stress-free way to go from winery to winery.
We did a private wine tour of Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, which is known for its top Pinot Noir producers.
We also did a self-guided wine tour of several Franschhoek and Stellenbosch wineries using Uber, which was another great way to experience the Cape Winelands!
Planning a trip to the Cape Winelands can be overwhelming. There are many wine regions, wineries, and restaurants to choose from. Where do you start?
Follow my complete guide on how to plan your ultimate wine getaway.
05- Dine at Cape Town’s Top Restaurants
Ghee roast chicken and lamb and tomato bredie at Thali in Cape Town
If you are a foodie, you may have even planned your South Africa trip on whether or not you got into The Test Kitchen in Cape Town.
I know we did.
The Test Kitchen, which is operated by Chef Luke Dale Roberts, has been on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants for the past several years in a row. His food is characterized as South African but with a global twist. This is an absolute must!
We also had the pleasure of eating at one of Chef Luke Dale Roberts’ other restaurants, The Pot Luck Club, which was fantastic.
I would advise The Test Kitchen for a special occasion, and The Pot Luck Club for an any-day is a good-day restaurant.
Chef Liam Tomlin is another iconic chef in Cape Town. We really enjoyed eating at his restaurant Thali, which focuses on contemporary flavorful Indian food served tapas-style. I absolutely loved all the courses (minus dessert).
Full review of these top restaurants can be found below.
06- Eat at the Food Stalls at Old Biscuit Mill
Saturday Market at the Old Biscuit Mill
I am sure there is a cool story, but no one really knows much about the history of the Old Biscuit Mill.
All we know is that John Pyott used the building as a Biscuit Mill sometime around 1914, and then the building was sold several times. Now it has been renovated into a cool urban village right in the middle of Woodstock, a suburb of Cape Town.
Why is this hipster compound one of the top things to do in Cape Town? 3 reasons.
01- TOP RESTAURANTS
Some of the top restaurants in South Africa are located right at the Old Biscuit Mill including The Test Kitchen, one of the top restaurants in the WORLD as voted by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
Their sister restaurant, The Pot Luck Club, is also located in this complex. You take a glass elevator to the top floor of the old Silo building. It goes without saying the views are to die for!
Other restaurants and cafes include Redemption Burgers, How Bao Now, and Espresso Lab Microroasters.
02- NEIGHBOURGOODS MARKET
You have to check out the Old Biscuit Mill on a Saturday from 9 am – 2 pm (rain or shine!).
This market started in 2006 to revive “the community market as a social institution.” I think it has fulfilled its vision.
Chefs, designers, and specialty producers all come here to present their latest creations.
I love amazing food, and I love live music!
This checks all the boxes. There are so many unique food vendors to check out as you walk around from local Cape Malay cuisine, oysters, sausages, breakfast fare, paella, kebabs, donuts, various cakes, wines, teas, specialty coffee, and much more.
This is where I first tried local South African cuisine such as bobotie and koesisters.
If you love to shop, there are plenty of interesting places to check out selling everything from quirky homeware, fine antiques, leather goods, locally designed ceramics, custom furniture, tribal art pieces, contemporary art, women and men’s clothing, and beautiful glassware.
Also, check out the shop Open Wine.
They have a great selection of boutique South African wine. This is the shop where we found the Abrie Beeslar 2017 Pinotage.
Abrie Beeslar is the incredibly talented winemaker at Kanonkop. He has won International Winemaker of the Year several times now.
Open Wine Shop at Old Biscuit Mill in Cape Town
Abrie Beeslaar 2017 Pinotage
07- Drink the Best Coffee in the World
Enjoy a cup of Truth Coffee and a chocolate eclair
There is no other better way to start your day of sightseeing than with a cup of TRUTH COFFEE in your hands.
UK’s Daily Telegraph rated Truth Coffee as the best coffee shop in the entire world!
Who is the genius behind the perfect roast and brew of this delectable morning fuel?
David Donde. He is the man who helped start the coffee revolution in Cape Town. His coffees are full of flavor, without a hint of bitterness, leaving you craving another sip. They purposely do not put sugar on the table, since no sugar is ever required.
Walking into his coffee shop is like walking into another world. It has a cool hipster vibe that is steampunk-inspired. The decor is industrial and eclectic, and the staff is fashionably dressed in leather waistcoats and suspenders.
I chose a single-origin Burundi served as a black coffee with milk on the side. You could really taste the intense raspberry flavors.
A chocolate eclair was the perfect accompaniment. Mmmmm … raspberry and chocolate, an absolutely harmonious divine pairing!
The next time I visit I would love to take advantage of his coffee appreciation classes.
This is certainly one of the top things to do in Cape Town, so get ready to “taste the joy of the extraordinary.”
08- Cage Dive with a Great White Shark
Bronze Whaler shark
There are only 5 places in the world you can come eye-to-eye with a great white shark, and South Africa is one of them!
This is one of the ultimate extreme sports activities, right up there with swimming in Devil’s Pool on top of the world’s largest waterfall and bungee jumping in New Zealand!
I’m not going to lie. I was scared to death to get in the cage and was about 50/50 whether or not I was going to do it.
I have snorkeled with reef sharks and have done shark cage diving with Galapagos and sandbar sharks in Hawaii. Being in a cage close to a great white shark is a whole different ballgame.
I am happy to say I did it! This experience was one of our top couples bucket list items.
Be aware the number of great white sharks has been declining, so you are not guaranteed a sighting. On my trip, I saw mostly bronze whaler sharks and one great white shark at the end of the shark cage diving experience.
If you are planning to do a shark cage dive, you are going to have a lot of questions.
Where in South Africa should you dive (there are 3 locations)? Which tour operator to use? Is it safe? Has anyone died? I answer all these questions in my guide below.
09- Find the Rhinos on the V&A Waterfront
V&A Waterfront Harbor
Although some say the V&A Waterfront is a little touristy (and it is), it is still one of the top things to do in Cape Town and worth checking out.
It is named after Queen Victoria and Prince Alfred, which helped to build the harbor in 1860.
Most people think of shopping when they think of the V&A Waterfront, and rightfully so. It consists of 5 main shopping districts with over 450 stores: Victoria Wharf, the Watershed, The Alfred Mall and Pierhead, The Clock Tower, and Breakwater Point.
V & A FOOD MARKET
What got me excited was the V&A Food Market.
With over 40 market vendors offering artisan products and regional delicacies, this is a foodie paradise. You can sit indoors or outdoors, and there’s live music on the weekends! My kind of place.
You can get everything from Mumbai street food, sushi, freshly shucked oysters, Mexican tacos, traditional South African foods, shawarma gyros, oven-baked pizzas, Karoo lamb wraps, Belgian waffles, artisanal ice cream, samosas, biltong, and specialty coffee and tea.
THE RHINOS ARE COMING!!!
What is with all the brightly colored rhinos dotted around the Waterfront complex?
The Rhinos are Coming!!! is a nonprofit whose goal is to collaborate with sponsors, artists, and partners to spread awareness and end the killing of rhinos by poachers for their horns.
They are spreading this message by placing these large individually artist-designed rhino sculptures around the harbor.
The Rhino Exhibition is permanent and is open all the time. We enjoyed walking around and taking photos of some of our favorite displays.
Artist: Tay Dall
10- Sip on a Gin Martini at The (Secret) Gin Bar
Gin & Tonic made with KWV Cruxland
Gin is exploding on Cape Town’s bar scene. Everyone seems to be making it including even winemakers, and some are using unique ingredients such as fynbos (Inverroche) and even elephant dung (Indlovu)!
My favorite is KWV Cruxland, which is made from Kalahari truffles (see above)! It won the WORLD’S BEST LONDON DRY GIN AT THE 2020 WORLD GIN AWARDS.
While we were in Cape Town, one of our favorite spots to enjoy a gin martini or gin & tonic was The (Secret) Gin Bar.
Finding it is half the fun. You walk through Honest Chocolate Cafe and into a charming, light-filled Mediterranean courtyard to find the bar.
With over 70 gins unique to South Africa to choose from, you won’t be hurting for choices. You can order a “cure” (signature gin & tonic) for all kinds of ailments including heartache, pessimism, arrogance, and lust.
Another option is to take advantage of their gin tastings which are offered on certain days of the week.
The Gin Bar also promotes a different gin every week and serves it in different cocktails. I had a lovely classic gin martini made with Lieben Tinker gin, which hit the mark.
Gin martini at The Gin Bar in Cape Town, South Africa
Inside The (Secret) Gin Bar
11- Experience Cape Malay Culture in Bo-Kaap
This distinct multicultural neighborhood has become an extremely popular tourist destination due to the brightly colored houses and cobblestoned streets. Tourists flock to this location as everyone wants that picture-perfect Instagram-worthy photo.
STORY BEHIND BO-KAAP
It has a dark past.
The Bo-Kaap neighborhood we know today has housed numerous ethnic groups over the years.
Rental houses were initially built in the 1760s by Jan de Waal, a Dutch East India company official. These houses were built for his personal slaves, which were brought over from Indonesia, Malaysia, and other parts of Africa and Asia.
The Cape Malays that inhabit this neighborhood today are a distinct community that were descendants of these slaves. Other occupants of these rental houses during the early years were white immigrants and skilled free Muslims.
The abolishment of slavery occurred in 1834. This led to creating an increased demand for dwellings for the freed slaves, who were mostly Muslim. Property developers began to add more modest houses.
Many of the freed slaves moved into this new section and mixed with Muslims already present that had a range of different artisan skills such as shoemakers, cabinet-makers, silversmiths, tailors, etc. The community became vibrant and diverse. Mosques were then constructed shortly after.
The apartheid government segregated the communities in parts of Bo-Kaap by race and religion in 1950. The Group Areas Act declared parts of Bo-Kaap as Muslim-only; everyone who was not Muslim was forced to leave.
What is unique about Bo-Kaap is that it was one of the few city center locations where the apartheid government allowed nonwhites to reside. The Group Areas Act is the reason why Bo-Kaap is now associated as a Muslim neighborhood.
REASON BEHIND THE VIBRANT COLORS
No one knows the exact reasons, but there have been several suggestions.
Some suggest it was to celebrate homeownership, individualism, and freedom from slavery.
Others suggest it was due to budget constraints for home maintenance, whatever the cheapest paint was at the time was used.
Another thought was the houses were painted to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
Lastly, another theory was the residents wanted to celebrate post-apartheid South Africa as a rainbow nation.
5 TIPS BEFORE YOUR VISIT
- Dress conservatively and not flashy.
- Go during busy times with a group/tour. Stay around people.
- Go in daylight hours only.
- Be respectful as you walk around since these houses are people’s actual homes.
- Stick to the main streets and don’t go wandering off.
I think it is so important to understand the history and culture of the places you visit, so I would highly consider putting Bo-Kaap on your list of things to do in Cape Town!
You can enjoy it safely by following my tips, using common sense, and always talking to the locals first to get a sense of any safety concerns.
12- Explore Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Kirstenbosch National Garden is considered one of the best botanical gardens in the world! I would tend to agree, and we have been to a few of them including the Royal Botanic Garden in Sydney.
With Table Mountain as the backdrop, they are simply stunning!
My husband and I basically ate our way through South Africa due to the amazing food, so it was great to get outdoors and work off some of those extra pounds for a few hours.
There are many beautiful sections of the garden to check out. The gardens have more than 7,000 plant species indigenous to South Africa! The goal of Kirstenbosch National Garden is to celebrate and preserve the native flora.
Here were our 3 favorite sections:
01- CENTENARY TREE CANOPY WALKWAY (TREE SNAKE)
The Boomslang at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
This section was the most unique in the park.
The snake skeleton-inspired walkway starts on the forest floor and winds you high above the canopy of trees, giving a completely different vantage point over the lush gardens. The panoramic views are breathtaking.
02- PROTEA GARDEN
Pincushion protea at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
This section is part of the Fynbos Walk. The Pincushion Protea was my favorite! Fynbos was a new word to me when I visited South Africa.
What actually is it? Fynbos is a specific type of vegetation in South Africa, which can have some stunning flowers. The King Protea is the most popular, which is South Africa’s national flower.
03- BIRDS OF PARADISE
Birds of paradise at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Birds of Paradise is also known as “Mandela’s Gold” in honor of Nelson Mandela. This is another plant species that is native to South Africa. It has beautiful orange crane-like flowers.
13- Find the Beach Huts at Muizenberg Beach
Muizenberg Beach colorful bath houses
Surfing is why Muizenberg became one of the most desired holiday spots in South Africa in the early 1900s. A guidebook in 1914 promoted Muizenberg by stating the “The sea is the complete renovator. It is the cure-of-all-aches, there is nothing so tonic as a dip.”
What makes Muizenberg one of the best places to learn how to surf?
According to Anthony Scholte, the owner of Learn 2 Surf school in Muizenberg, it is the “gentle breaking nature of the waves, soft sandy bottom, moderate water temperatures, and beginner-friendly conditions most days of the year.”
While you are there, don’t forget to check out Muizenberg’s brightly colored beach huts. With a dramatic mountainous backdrop, the huts make for a beautifully composed Instagram shot.
At one point, the Muizenberg beach houses were going to be removed due to “safety risks.”
The local residents petitioned to save them, which worked because now they will remain part of Muizenberg’s heritage.
14- Try South Africa’s Iconic Dishes
South African Bobotie
What better way to learn about a country than through its food.
South Africa is known as a rainbow of cuisines. Dutch, French, Malaysian, Indonesia, German, Indian, and British influences can be seen in some of the iconic dishes.
If you have a chance, try the biltong, one of the most popular South African snacks! Or try South Africa’s national dish, bobotie.
For dessert, it does not get much better than malva pudding. To wash everything down, grab a bottle of high-quality South African wine or a gin & tonic made by a local South African distiller.
From fine dining experiences like The Test Kitchen and La Petite Colombe to market stalls at the Old Biscuit Mill, there are plenty of places to try the local cuisine. If you want to know more about the best South African foods to try, check out my article below.
15- Cruise One of the World’s Most Scenic Drives
Chapman’s Peak Drive
Wow, Chapman Peak’s Drive is one of the most beautiful scenic drives we have ever done, and we have driven some amazing routes including Pacific Coast Highway 1 along California’s coast, Hana Highway in Maui, Hawaii, Milford Road in New Zealand, and Route 1 aka Ring Road in Iceland.
Just another reason why I would highly advise renting a car while you are in Cape Town.
Chapman’s Peak is located on the western side of the mountain on the Cape Peninsula and runs from Hout Bay to Noordhoek.
This stunning 5.6-mile rocky coastal route was chiseled from the side of a vertical steep cliffside between 1915-1922 with the use of convict labor.
Why is Chapman’s Drive one of the top things to do in Cape Town?
It offers spectacular 180-degree views of the stunning Atlantic coastline and Cape Peninsula.
My favorite part of Chapman’s Peak – driving under the overhang (the half tunnel)! Such impressive engineering!
Chapman’s Peak Half Tunnel
I strongly recommend driving south to north because then you will be closest to the coast and this makes it much easier to pull off the side of the road for the scenic lookouts and picnic spots. Remember you are driving on the left side!
Also, if you drive in the afternoon, the lighting will be better as the sun sets in the west.
16- Eat the Best Fish & Chips in Hout Bay
Hout Bay historic fishing village
Hout Bay is still a working historic fishing village that oozes charm.
This sheltered bay is surrounded by mountains and has a long sandy beach. Only 20 minutes from Cape Town, it easily makes for a lovely day trip from the city of Cape Town.
There are loads of activities to do including hiking, cycling, visiting the World of Birds sanctuary, sea kayaking, and even champagne cruises to the V&A Waterfront.
There was one reason why I wanted to visit Hout Bay (besides its picturesque beauty): fish & chips!
The place to try it is Fish on the Rocks. This Hout Bay family-run institution has been around since 1951 when it was a fisherman’s supply store. We chose the hake & chips and enjoyed it on an outdoor bench with the fresh sea breeze and seagulls flying above. Quite picturesque.
Hake and chips at Fish on the Rocks in Hout Bay
Enjoying fish & chips at Fish on the Rocks in Hout Bay
17- Watch Whales & Walk Around Hermanus
Seaside town of Hermanus in South Africa
Hermanus is a popular holiday seaside resort. Many people choose to vacation here due to its Mediterranean climate, gorgeous cliffside coast, and whale watching.
You can take a 2-3 hour boat tour to get very close to the whales. We did not do a tour, but as we were walking along the coastal walk in Hermanus, we saw whales splashing around in the sea right from the cliffs.
The best time to visit to see the whales is from June-December, with the peak season occurring in September-October. You can view them all day long; there is no better time of day than another.
Hermanus is a great base to visit the beautiful wineries in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, which means “Heaven and Earth. These wineries are specifically known for their high-quality Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
I hope my list of top things to do in Cape Town gives you a glimpse of what this amazing South African city can offer. From gorgeous hikes, amazing foodie experiences, and adrenaline-pumping bucket list items,
Cape Town has it all!
If you are trying to figure out how to piece all these amazing things to do, don’t miss my detailed itinerary below.
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