Nestled in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, Cape Town is a bustling, colorful city with an abundance of natural beauty and variety. This blog explores some of Cape Town’s vibrant attractions and what to expect at each stop.
Click the star on the map below to get directions to the V&A Waterfront, a central spot in Cape Town.
Below is an additional map, showing some of the main tourist attractions in and around Cape Town.
Why visit Cape Town?
The beauty of Cape Town lies in its huge variety of things to do and discover, along with a perfect summer climate, friendly locals and a thriving tourism industry. Around every corner, there are markets to explore, incredible dining experiences, tea houses, outdoor cinemas and music concerts, to name just a few. While there are many attractions to choose from, I am focusing on what I believe are the best places to visit for a first-timer to Cape Town.
8. Mojo Market
1. Table Mountain
Visible from almost everywhere in Cape Town, Table Mountain is an iconic landmark of the city. Therefore, a trip to Cape Town wouldn’t feel complete without a stop at this famous hot spot.
The weather on the mountain changes FAST and one thing we kept hearing from locals is that when the weather over the mountain is clear, GO! All too often, tourists miss the opportunity to go up the mountain due to bad weather conditions. So, if it’s a clear day, I highly suggest heading for the mountain as soon as possible.
1.1 How to get to the cable car station
Either drive on your own to the cable car station, rent an uber, or take the Cape Town city sightseeing bus and get off at stop 7. For more information on the city sightseeing bus, see here.
1.2 Getting to the top of Table Mountain via cable car
There are two ways to get to the top of table mountain, which is to either hike or take the cable car up. Like most travelers, we chose to take the 5 minute cable car to the top. With excellent views of Cape Town and the mountain, the cable car rotates as you head up the mountain, so you never miss an opportunity to see the view from all angles. Alternatively, opt to hike up the mountain but you do need to be fairly fit due to the steep climb.
You can either buy your tickets online ahead of time, or buy them at the cable car station which is what we did. I recommend buying a return ticket due to the steep and challenging climb down the mountain.
If it’s your birthday month, then your cable car ticket is free! Just show your ID when purchasing a ticket.
1.3 What to do at the top of Table Mountain
Besides taking in the spectacular scenery, there are a number of hikes of varying difficulty that you can do at the top of Table Mountain. We chose to do the hike to Maclear’s Beacon which was an easy(ish) hike of 45 minutes along the ridge. The trail is clearly marked and offers great views over Cape Town.
On the other hand, if you prefer, you can simply stroll around the top area and take in the views while sipping on a cold beer or a hot cup of coffee. In addition, there is also a small cafe at the top of the mountain near the cable car station that offers snacks and light meals.
2. Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Next on the list of one of the best places to see in Cape Town is the V&A Waterfront. The V&A Waterfront is the oldest working harbor in South Africa, with the magnificent Table Mountain as its backdrop. It is a busy retail, dining and entertainment district where you can easily spend an afternoon or evening. Browse the many gift shops, taste some local flavors, drink wine, watch the resident seals at the harbor or just sit and listen to live music and street performances. We spent around 3-4 hours walking around the harbor area, enjoying the sights and people.
Wondering what more you can do at the waterfront besides shopping and dining?
Other activities around the waterfront include sunset cruises, helicopter flights, free audio tours or the award winning Two Oceans Aquarium.
3. Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is a rocky headland at the southern end of the cape peninsula. It was first sighted by the Portuguese explorer, Bartolomeu Diaz in 1488. Of special significance to sailors, it serves as a landmark for vessels sailing to East Asia and Australia.
Getting to the Cape Of Good Hope
It is located around 70km from Cape Town and takes about an hour and a half to get there by car from the city center. I would recommend allowing at least 6-8 hours to really enjoy the drive there and stop at the small little towns along the way.
The Cape of Good Hope is part of the Table Mountain National Park and as such there is a conservation fee that needs to be paid at a gated entrance.
Exploring the area
A well-maintained, paved path through grassy and low shrub vegetation leads to a lighthouse and the top of a hill overlooking beautiful views of the ocean. For a small fee, one can also take the flying dutchman funicular which will get you to the top in three minutes. We opted for a leisurely walk to the top and were on the lookout for whales, which are more prevalent during the months of June to November.
TOP TIP: It’s a good idea to incorporate Simon’s Town and the penguins at Boulders Beach with a trip to the Cape of Good Hope. Leave early enough in the morning, so that you have enough time to see all three sites in one day. However, both Simon’s Town and the Cape of Good Hope could be done as day trips on their own.
4. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
This 36 hectare world heritage site deserves a spot in the top places of Cape Town to visit. We spent about 3 hours just wandering the gardens and felt it was enough time to see everything, including a stop for food at the reasonably priced restaurant in the gardens.
There are three entrances to the gardens: Kirstenbosch Main Gate (Gate 1) by the Moyo Restaurant, Garden Centre Gate (Gate 2) by the tea room and sculpture garden, and Rycroft Gate (Gate 3), closest to the Boomslang Canopy Walk. You can easily buy your ticket at the main office on arrival and you can also buy a guided walking brochure for a very small fee. However, we preferred to just walk around the garden ourselves and didn’t worry too much about getting to every little corner and area.
The gardens are absolutely stunning! Everything is clearly marked and it is very pleasant walking around the different sections of the garden, admiring the indigenous flowers and taking in the clean air. In summer, during a certain period, the garden boasts fun and entertaining music concerts which draws large crowds.
The garden contains mostly South African plants, including native fynbos (scrubland) and forest area. In addition, there are many beautiful flowering plants growing throughout the garden.
5. Boulders Beach
Boulders Beach is located in the idyllic Simon’s Town and while Boulders is most famous for the colony of breeding penguins, the beach itself is beautiful, clean and safe. Certainly worth a visit, even just for the beach!
On arrival at Boulder’s Beach we wandered to the left side of the beach area where we saw some penguins sunning themselves on the rocks. Surprisingly, this wasn’t the main viewing / platform area. Instead, follow the signs to ‘Boulders Beach’ where there is a pay gate to enter the viewing area.
Not everyone agrees whether it is worth it or not to walk the 100m wooden viewing platform to see the main African Penguin colony. However, we opted to and found it both exciting and worth the small conservation fee. Even though it was crowded, most people were respectful and we had plenty opportunity to get to the edge of the platform to look down on the penguins.
6. Camps Bay Beach
Camps Bay Beach was our favorite beach in Cape Town by far. The long stretch of white sand, turquoise waters and picturesque 12 Apostles mountain range make a stunning setting for a day at the beach.
It is bordered by a promenade full of restaurants, clubs, and hotels for when you need a break from the sun. Although it can get a bit crowded, especially during the December period, it is a fun and lively place! With so many restaurants to choose from, including loud beach bars and boutique dining options with sunset views, you can’t go wrong with spending a day in the area.
Beware of the water temperature though – the Atlantic Ocean is Icy! For that reason, we chose to stay at a hotel along the beach front that had a swimming pool and was relatively budget friendly.
We could have spent days just admiring the view alone, but we were pressed for time.
We woke up to a beautiful day after our stay at the hotel and decided to walk the 30 minutes to 1 hour paved road to the neighboring beaches. Camps Bay is right next to the famous Clifton Beaches (Beach 1, 2, 3 and 4). Surrounded by large, expensive homes, Clifton is known for its high property value and status. While the beaches were also beautiful in their own right, we personally preferred Camps Bay for its vibey atmosphere and scenery.
6.1 Llandudno Beach
On the topic of beaches, another beach definitley worth stopping at along the famous Chapmans Peak Drive is Llandudno Beach. This beach lies around 18km from the center of Cape Town, between Camps Bay and Hout Bay. While Llandudno beach itself doesn’t have any shops, Hout Bay is close enough to get everything you need.
Large granite boulders are scattered across the beach and add to its picturesque setting.
7. Robben Island
The significance and importance of Robben Island
Famous owing to the incarceration of Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 prison years, Robben Island is now a tourist hot spot and world heritage site. The rich history of the island has its beginnings as a leper colony, to a thriving 19th century ‘town’ complete with a school and post office, to a notorious penitentiary. Consequently, there is much more history to the island than its fame as a prison.
How to get to Robben Island
You start the trip from the mainland, by the V&A waterfront. We bought our tickets online but it’s just as easy to grab tickets at the office by the clock tower at the V&A waterfront. Everything is well organized, quick and easy. The return tickets includes the boat journey and entrance fees.
As you leave on the boat, take in the views and look out for sea animals, especially the seals splashing and sunning themselves on the docks and in the water. In fact, Robben Island is so named from the Dutch word for seal.
During the boat ride, which is around an hour, there is a video on the screen that provides a full history of the island. Keep scanning the waters for dolphins also as pods are often seen splashing about en route to Robben Island.
Arriving on Robben Island
On arrival at Robben Island, you walk a short distance of about 400m to the tour busses. Unfortunately, there is a LOT of time spent in the bus until you get to the prison so just be prepared for that. People still live on the island and so, respectfully, walking by foot is not allowed. While driving around, a bus guide gives an informative account of famous places you pass such as banished leader Robert Sobukwe’s tiny house, the post office and even a lime quarry.
What more do you see on robben Island?
There is one viewpoint stop before reaching the prison grounds. Take in the views or grab an ice-cream at the small store on site.
After driving around for about an hour, the bus drops you off at the prison grounds where you are met by an ex-prisoner who serves as a guide for the rest of the tour. This was our favorite part of the journey because we got very detailed accounts and information of the prisons history and what life was like on the island. Because the guides have spent time there themselves, they are knowledgable and have interesting stories to share.
Among many interesting tidbits of information, a significant sighting on the tour was seeing former president, Nelson Mandela’s, prison cell where he spent 18 years.
Furthermore, another interesting spot was seeing where Nelson Mandela began writing his famous book ‘A long walk to freedom’ in 1976. He sat under this very tree and began writing this inspiring and insightful novel.
To sum up, the tour served to remind us of the hardships during the apartheid era, but also the triumph and endurance of the human spirit. I think it is definitely a must see destination in Cape Town, especially if you are fascinated by the rich cultural history of South Africa.
8. Mojo Market
While there are so many markets in Cape Town to choose from, we chose Mojo Market to spend an afternoon at. Although quite small, mojo market has numerous food stalls and bars to choose from. Relax at the center tables with a drink and listen to live music. Alternatively, another popular food market is the Old Biscuit Mill which we unfortunatley did not have time to get to on this trip.
In keeping with tradition of trying all things South African, we had a little springbokkie shooter to start the day. It is composed of crème de menthe and Amarula. Interestingly, the drink gets it name from the ‘springbok’, South Africa’s national animal, and the colors from the team jersey of the South African National Rugby Team, aptly named ‘The Springboks’.
9. Cape Winelands
The Western Cape Province is South Africa’s main wine making region, and is just a short distance from the center of Cape Town. The Cape Winelands are divided in to six regions, but the most well known areas are Constantia, Stellenbosch, Durbanville, Paarl and Franschhoek.
Click on the image below to read more about the Cape Winelands, as well as some of the best Wine Estates across the different regions.
The Franschhoek Wine Tram
Hands down, the Franschhoek Wine Tram Tour was top of my list of things to do in Cape Town and I highly recommend the experience. We bought round trip tickets with the citysightseeing tour company, which included the tram ticket. This is of course not the only way to enjoy the wine estates of Franchhoek but in my opinion it’s the best way!
Click on the image below to read more about the Franschhoek Wine Tram, as well as some of the best Wine Estates across the different region.
The Wine Estates of the Cape Winelands
Choosing which estates to visit is an almost impossible task. There are just so many amazing places to see and great things to do in the area. Below are a few of my favorite estates that you will not regret stopping at, I promise!