Top Things To Do In Cape Town (23 Unforgettable Experiences)
Cape Town is a stunningly beautiful city with so much to see and do. It was a city that I had never heard much about after years of traveling around the world. But after spending 3 months there it is now one of my absolute favorite cities and I think very underrated. During our time in Cape Town we never came close to running out of things to do.
The beautiful geography of Cape Town means that there are a tonne of outdoor activities. You can go hiking, surfing, kayaking, rock climbing, see penguins, visit vineyards all within a short journey from the city center.
But Cape Town is not only for outdoorsy people. It is full of amazing restaurants, bars, cafes everything you expect of a large international city. So keep reading to find out the top things to do in Cape Town.
1. Table Mountain
No matter where you are in Cape Town you will always see Table Mountain towering over the landscape. It is the star attraction of Cape Town and for good reason. The flat-topped mountain rises 1000m straight up from the ocean and always makes a spectacular background no matter where you are in the city.
We never got sick of watching the clouds constantly pouring over the edge of the mountain which is a phenomenon called the “Table Cloth”. It happens when the wind blows in a certain direction and moist air condenses at the summit causing clouds to form.
These clouds sit on the summit and slowly pour over the edge. It is really magical to see in person and no pictures can do it justice. But as beautiful as it is from the ground, no trip to Cape Town would be complete without making it up to the top of Table Mountain.
To go up Table Mountain you can either take a cable car or hike up. In my opinion the best way to get to the top is to hike up. Table Mountain is covered in beautiful tracks and it is a hikers paradise. There are multiple hikes you can take to the summit and many of them are listed here. However hiking to the top is very hard work no matter which track you take. So if you would like an easier way up there is a cable car.
Table Mountain Cable Car
To take the cable car only costs 390 rand or 24 USD return. Once you are up the top there is a cafe and lots of well constructed walkways and lookouts. From up the top you will have amazing views over the city of Cape Town and the surrounding beaches. The cable car is only a 15 minute drive from the city center so it is a must do while you are in town.
One tip I would give is to try take the cable car down close to sunset. We took the cable car down just before sunset and the view of the sun setting from the summit was amazing.
Just make sure to check the schedule for the last cable car down. It changes based on the seasons so you do not want to miss the last ride down.
2. Climb Lions Head
Lions Head is overshadowed by the much larger Table Mountain but it is an amazing hike/climb located right next to the center of the city. Hiking up Lions Head is much easier than Table Mountain but the views are just as spectacular. Getting to the top will take you about 90 minutes and is not too hard as long as you are in decent shape.
There are some sections with some quite big drops and some climbing is required. So if you have a big fear of heights it may not be the right hike for you. But the views from the top cannot be beaten so I highly recommend getting up there.
The hike is also very popular at sunset as you can watch the sun dip into the ocean from the summit. We climbed Lions Head during the day and at sunset and they were both amazing. But the sunset with the clouds pouring off Table Mountain was one of the best sunsets I have ever seen.
So if you have the chance try and get up there for sunset. Just remember to check the weather and make sure you have a light as it will get dark quick and the weather can change very quickly in Cape Town. For more information about the Lions Head hike click here.
3. Go Hiking
The first two things to do on this list involved hiking. But there are so many good hikes in Cape Town I thought it needed to have a category of it’s own. I have never visited a city in the world with so many great hikes so close to the city center as Cape Town.
But even if you are not into hiking I recommend trying it out as you are really missing out on the true beauty of Cape Town if you don’t. For a list of my top hikes in Cape Town you can read my article here.
4. Boulders Beach
Most people would not think of penguins when thinking of South Africa. But there is a penguin colony that you can visit at Boulders Beach only a 45 minute drive from the city center. Visiting the penguin colony was a surprise highlight of my time in Cape Town as I had never been so close to wild penguins before. The penguins you find there are African Penguins and can only be found on the coast of South Africa and Namibia.
Boulders Beach is a beautiful beach that would be nice to visit even without penguins. Entrance to the area is 152 Rand or about 9 USD. Once inside you can go down to a beach which could be quite crowded.
But if you want to get away from the crowds you can climb over the rocks or swim around them. On the other side you should find way more penguins without the crowds.
The penguins are so used to people that you can get quite close. It is awesome to just watch them waddling around and going for swims. Of course you should not get too close as the penguins as they are wild animals and very endangered.
If you do not feel like getting in the water or climbing over rocks. Then there is a boardwalk that takes you past the main breeding areas. If you look into the trees by the boardwalk you can see penguins looking after their nests and even see their eggs.
To get to Boulders Beach you will need to drive there. However you can also visit as part a tour to Cape Point which is another top thing to do in Cape Town.
5. Join A Walking Tour
Whenever I go to a new city I always enjoy doing a walking tour. I find that it immediately gives you a better understanding of the history of the city. In Cape Town in particular the recent history is quite dark and troublesome. But i think that it is something that all visitors there should learn about.
I did two walking tours while I was in Cape Town. They where the Bo-Kaap Tour and the Apartheid Tour. I thought both tours were very informative and entertaining.
The Bo-Kaap tour takes you through a colorful area of town that was historically settled by the Cape-Malays. The Cape-Malays were muslims from South East Asia and they developed a unique culture in the area. Today the area is a dream for instagrammers due to the colorful houses lining the streets.
Many people visit the area simply to take photos. But I think it was much more interesting to learn the history of the area while walking through.
The apartheid tour gives you a detailed history of apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was the system of racial segregation that was in place in South Africa until the early 1990s. It is a very sad and dark history but the tour guide was very good and it was a very interesting tour.
The company I did the walking tours with was Free Walking Tours Cape Town. Both the guides I had were excellent and you will have a good time if you join one of their tours.
6. Visit Camps Bay
Camps Bay is arguably the most famous beach in Cape Town. It has an amazingly beautiful background with the 12 Apostles of Table Mountain rising high into the sky behind the beach. If the weather is nice it makes for a great beach day. Or you can come for sunset as we did many times during our time in Cape Town.
But be prepared for icy cold water! Even on a hot day the water in Cape Town is freezing cold so you probably won’t be swimming for too long.
You should also check the weather before heading to Camps Bay. Cape Town has very strong winds that can appear out of nowhere. Camps Bay is often exposed to the wind and it can be very unpleasant if the winds are strong.
If it is too windy you might want to head to Cliftons Beach which is more sheltered from the wind.
7. Go To Clifton Beach
Clifton Beach is another great option for a beach day close to the city center. It is a beautiful beach that is separated into 4 sections. All 4 beaches have pristine white sand and clear blue water. Clifton Beach is more sheltered from the wind as mentioned above so is a good option on windy days. just be prepared for cold water as the water in Cape Town is never warm.
8. Visit The Stellenbosch Wine Region
Stellenbosch is a student town just outside Cape Town and it is the center of South Africa’s most famous wine region. The area surrounding Stellenbosch is full of vineyards and breathtaking landscapes.
Going for a tour of some vineyards or wine farms as they call them in South Africa is an awesome day trip. The landscapes around the vineyards are really beautiful and doing a wine tasting is very affordable.
I enjoy a glass of wine but I am not overly interested in the wine making process. But I really enjoyed all the wine tastings that we did. Not only were they cheap but every vineyard had it’s own character and learning about the wine making process was interesting.
We visited the vineyards by hiring a car with a group of friends and having a sober driver. This was a great way to visit the area as we could stay at vineyards we liked longer and moved on quickly if we didn’t like it.
But if you are not lucky enough to have a sober driver there are also tours that you can book here.
9. Kayak Trip With Atlantic Outlook
Atlantic Outlook is a company that does kayak tours along the waterfront of Cape Town. The tour with Atlantic Outlook takes you from the V & Waterfront along the stunning coastline to the Green Point Lighthouse before returning to the starting point.
The views of Table Mountain, Lions Head and the coastline from the water is very unique and different to seeing it from land. But the best part is the opportunity to see dolphins! On our tour we saw a pod of dolphins playing in the waves and jumping in the air. We also saw penguins and seals and if you are lucky sometimes whales can be spotted.
There are other companies that offer kayak tours along the coastline. But we found Atlantic Outlook to be a well run company with super friendly guides that made for an awesome trip so we can definitely recommend them.
One tip i would give is to book an early morning trip if it is summer as the light is beautiful at this time and you won’t get too hot.
10. Visit Robben Island
Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. The island is 7.5 km from Cape Town and is separated by a rough cold waters. Due to it’s isolation the island has been used to house prisoners for hundreds of years.
But during the apartheid era it was used to house political prisoners who opposed the apartheid regime. Which is why Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there. Today the prison has been shut down but is still maintained as a museum for tour groups to visit.
The only way to visit Robben Island is by taking a tour which costs 400 Rand or 24 USD. The tour takes 4 hours and includes a ferry ride to and from the island which is 30 minutes each way.
From Robben Island there are some amazing views of Cape Town with Table Mountain way off in the distance. But to be honest there were parts of the tour I didn’t enjoy.
The tour was a bit rushed and you felt like you were just being pushed from place to place with disinterested guides. Particularly when you do a bus tour of the island our guide was totally uninterested and did not do a good job.
But at the end a former prisoner takes you on a tour of the prison cells. Our guide had spent 10 years on the island and his stories were very eye opening. It felt surreal being in the prison with someone who had been in there for so long.
For me just being in his presence as he told us stories about his time in jail was worth the trip. He seemed to be in such high spirits despite the many years of hell that he spent on the island.
So the tour is definitely not perfect but if you are interested in the history of the island it is worth a trip.
11. Watch Sunset On Signal Hill
There are many great sunset spots in Cape Town but it is hard to beat signal hill. If you go the car park at the top of signal hill there is lots of open space to sit and watch the sun drop into the ocean. It’s a great place to have a picnic and a glass of wine and you will see lots of locals doing the same.
12. Eat At Oranjezicht Market
The Oranjezicht Market is a trendy farmers market located right next to the ocean. At the market you can find all kinds of fresh produce from the region. As well as a bunch of food stalls selling lots of tasty meals and snacks. There is also often live music playing so it is a great place to grab a drink and hang out.
The market is located next to the V&A Waterfront and is open on Saturday and Sunday from 8 15 am to 2 pm and 9 am to 2 pm. It is also open from 5 pm to 9pm on Wednesdays during summer.
13. Do The Chapmans Peak Drive
Chapmans Peak Drive goes between Hout Bay and Noordhoek and has been described as one of the most spectacular roads in the world. The road winds itself along the sheer cliffs of Chapmans Peak giving you amazing views of the Atlantic Ocean. Taking a drive a long it is very beautiful and one of the top things to do in Cape Town.
There are many lookouts along the road to stop and admire the views so it is well set up for tourists. If you are making your way out to Chapmans Peak Drive you can also hike up Chapmans Peak which is an awesome hike.
The easiest way to get to Chapmans Peak Drive is to hire a car and drive yourself. It is a toll road so there is a 57 Rand fee about 3 USD. However if you do not want to rent a car you can also catch an Uber to Noordhoek then Uber back. Noordhoek has some nice restaurants and a beautiful deserted beach to check out.
But one tip is that the toll should be included in the Uber fare. Our Uber fare asked us to pay the toll then we were also charged by Uber for the fare.
14. Go On The Constantia Wine Route
Stellenbosch is the most famous wine region near Cape Town that most people will go to while in Cape Town. But Constantia is another beautiful wine region that should not be missed.
Constantia is more conveniently located than Stellenbosch just a 25 minute drive from the city center. Constantia is a wealthy suburb in Cape Town and the vineyards are mostly located on the slopes of Constantiaberg Mountain. The location means mean you will have great views while enjoying some wine.
Constantia is actually the oldest wine region in South Africa. Groot Constantia the oldest vineyard in South Africa is located in Constantia, it was established in 1658 and has been operating continuously since that date.
Ten vineyards in the region have joined together to form the Constantia Wine Route. So if you have a sober driver you can do you own driving tour of the vineyards in the group.
Which ever way you choose to get there Constantia is a beautiful region well worth visiting.
15. Vist Kirstenbosch Gardens
Kirstenbosch Gardens is a beautiful botanical garden located on the slopes of Table Mountain. The gardens are full of many endangered plant species. But it is the location of the gardens with Table Mountain rising up behind them that makes them really impressive.
Kirstenbosch Gardens are located on a part of Table Mountain that receives a lot more rain than other areas. This means that the area is lush and green in contrast to many parts of Table Mountain which are much drier.
There are many open grassed areas in the gardens so it is a great place to go for a picnic on a sunny day. During summer there is also an open air cinema that shows classic movies several times a week. I never went as the weather was always to windy when I wanted to go. But from what I have heard it is an amazing location to watch a movie.
The entrance fee to enter the gardens is 210 Rand or 12 USD. But if you buy a ticket to the movies you can enter for 2 hours before the movie and save on the entry fee.
16. Learn to Surf at Muizenburg Beach
Muizenburg Beach is is the easiest beach to learn how to surf at in Cape Town. The beach has much more gentler breaking waves and warmer water than other parts of Cape Town. So if you are looking to surf this is the place to go.
Surf lessons cost around 400 Rand or 24 USD for a 90 minute lesson. Or you can rent a board for 2 hours for about 100 Rand or 6 USD.
Even if you do not want to surf Muizenberg is worth a visit to see the colorful beach huts and have something to eat. The colorful beach huts were originally built in the 1800s to allow people to change close to the beach.
Today they are an icon of Muizenberg but in recent years locals have had to fight to keep. They were threatened with removal due to falling into disrepair so some locals banded together and formed the Beach Hut Trust.
The aim of the trust is to maintain the huts and keep them in good condition so they can remain in Muizenberg forever. Which is good news for all the instagrammers out there!
17. Visit Cape Point Nature Reserve
The Cape Point Nature Reserve is part of the Table Mountain National Park and is just over an hour drive from Cape Town. The Nature Reserve is the closest place to Cape Town where you can see wildlife such as Baboons, Ostriches and Antelopes.
The Nature Reserve has a very barren but beautiful landscape. There is not a huge amount of wildlife but it is definitely still worth visiting. Within the park you can visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. There are beautiful lookout points in these areas looking out over the ocean below.
You can either drive to the Nature Reserve yourself or take a tour. If you would like more information about how to get there I wrote a more in depth article here.
18. EnJoy Truth Coffee
Truth Coffee is a cafe in downtown Cape Town with an interesting steam punk theme and amazing coffee. All the wait staff are actually dressed up in steam punk costumes which makes an interesting atmosphere.
But the main reason to go is the coffee. Every time I went the coffee was full of flavor and was never boring.
Cape Town is full of good cafes. So if Truth is not close by head to any other and there is a good chance they have good coffee too.
19. Visit The District Six Museum
District Six was an area of Cape Town that used to be full of mainly colored people up until the 1960’s. At that point the apartheid government decided that the area should be for whites only.
So 60,000 people in the area were forcibly removed from their homes and all the buildings demolished. To this day most of District Six is still empty as the plans to develop the area for whites were never completed.
The District Six museum is housed within a church that was one of the few buildings not to be demolished. There are displays showing what life was like in District Six before the evictions and what happened to the people after.
The Museum is interesting but it is really worth it to book a tour as the guides are former residents of District Six. It was really interesting hearing our guide talk about what life was like after they were evicted from their houses and greatly improved the experience.
20. Go To The V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is one of the most visited attractions in Africa with 24 million people visiting annually. The waterfront area is full of restaurants, bars, a ferris wheel and a big shopping mall.
It is a good place to go get something to eat or do some shopping and there is always a lively atmosphere.
One of our favorite things about the waterfront was spotting seals on the wharfs. If you go to where the Robben Island tours start there is a wharf where seals hang out and you can get quite close to them.
21. Walk The Sea Point Promenade
Sea Point is a fairly wealthy area of Cape Town with a great promenade along it’s coast line. The promenade has a wide path with open grassy areas where you can go for a run or walk. It is also a great place to head for sunset.
Sea Point is a great place to stay while you are in Cape Town. We spent a month there while we were in Cape Town and we loved it there. There are lots of great restaurants and cafes and it was awesome being able to go for morning and afternoon walks along the promenade.
22. Eat At Old Biscuit Mill Market
The Old Biscuit Mill is a an old biscuit factory that has been converted into a space for local artists and designers to display their work. On the weekends it hosts the Neighbourgoods Market on Saturday and Sunday from 9 am to 2pm.
The main reason to go to the market is the street food vendors selling a wide range of food from all over the world. There is also a bar and a dj set up, so it is a great place to grab a drink, some food and chill on the weekend.
23. Watch Sunset At Bakhoven Beach
There are so many places to watch sun set in Cape Town that you could write an entire article on it. But a favorite of ours was Bakhoven Beach. Bakhoven Beach is a small little bay and to get there you have to walk down a small path between some houses. But there are some big rocks that go out into the water and it was awesome to watch sunsets from there.
One of the best parts about sunsets in Cape Town is the way Table Mountain turns a golden orange. A lot of time we would end up watching the Mountains more than the sun going down.
That brings us to the end of my list of the top things to do in Cape Town. There are so many things to do in Cape Town that I know I have left many off the list. If there are any you think I should add then tell me in the comments below.