The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Cape Town
Updated: Feb 25
Photo by Estee de Villiers
There’s more than one reason why they call it the Mother City. Cape Town is the absolute mother of all cities from stunning beaches backed by Table Mountain, a Natural World Wonder, to rowdy night life, some of the best hikes, and icy, alive making making swims. I chose to move over 12,500km away from my home because it’s just that good.
If you’ve never been to the African continent before, Cape Town is a great way to wet your feet! Whether you're hiking Table Mountain, one of the Natural Wonders of the World, following Chapman’s Peak Drive from Cape Town to the Cape of Good Hope for one of the world’s best ocean drives, taking a walking tour of Bo-Kaap, or learning Gumboot with dancers in Langa Township, there’s something everyone will want to do in Cape Town.
Psst…Want more Cape Town, South Africa travel tips? Check out these other posts:
Read on for my favorite activities in the Mother City.
Table of Contents
Hang Out With Penguins at Boulders Beach
If you want to see these little guys, and who am I kidding, of course you do! It’ll cost you. R152 per international visitor and R39 per SA local to be exact. But it is so worth it to spend the day lazing in the sun, watching penguins waddle past, hop from rock to rock, and swim past you into the blue sea. Yes, you can get in the water and swim with them! Just remember not to feed them, try to approach them, or disturb them in any way. They can be quite curious, but they are still wild animals.
Photo by Tod Podmore
Stand Atop Table Mountain, A Natural World Wonder
Have you even been to Cape Town if you haven’t been to the top of Table Mountain? Whether you hike up or take the cable car (no judgement here!), visiting the top of this Natural World Wonder is a must-do. Taking the cable car costs R320 for a roundtrip afternoon ticket and R390 for a roundtrip morning ticket. If you hike one-way, you’ll only pay R210 for a one way ticket. Platteklip Gorge is touted as the easiest hike to the top, but it’s still a winding 2.5-3 hours over a 650m climb. (You can do it! There’s joy in reaching the top, gazing out at the city below as you catch your breath and wonder how this beautiful city is even real.) Another favorite hike is Kasteelspoort. While as strenuous, you get the added stop of “Surfboard Rock,” what the trail's famous precarious rock is called as it juts out above the Atlantic Ocean. Once at the top, there’s a restaurant where you can buy snacks and drinks, and a gift shop where you can get stuffed animals of the cute little guys you see running around (they're called dassies and they’re closest relative is the elephant).
Photo by Shashank Kumar
Visit the Most Southwesterly Tip of Africa at Cape Point
See the not-most-Southern-point of Africa. Some people will tell you Cape Point is the most southern point of Africa. That’s not true. It’s actually three hours East in L’Agulhas, which is also where the Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean. But Cape Point is the most southwesterly point in Africa. At R320 for international visitors, it’s a steep price to pay for what’s not the most southern point of Africa, but there’s more to see in Cape Point, much more. Walk or take the tram to the lighthouse and listen to the power of the ocean as waves smack the rugged cliffside. After, see how many ostriches you can spot, as you make your way to Buffels Bay for a picnic and to brave the tidal pool.
Photo by Estee de Villiers
Hike to the Top of Lion's Head
The hike to the top of Lion’s Head is a cult favorite for a reason. It’s relatively easy, quick, and suited for most individuals, and the 360° view from the top is well worth it. Standing on top of Lion’s Head, watching the cars of Sea Point go by, or the waves roll into Camps Bay and the sunset over Twelve Apostles and Table Mountain is a must-do Cape Town experience. Bring snacks or drinks to the top for sundowners. Just make sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight for the trail down. The trail takes 90 minutes to 2.5 hours roundtrip (not including your golden hour photo session at the top, basking in the glory of Table Mountain).
Take It All In From the Red Bus
In my opinion, there’s no better way to first get to know the city than the Red Bus from City Sightseeing. For R245, choose from The Red City tour to the Table Mountain Cableway, The Blue Mini Peninsula tour, The Purple Constantia Valley Wine tour, The Yellow Downtown tour, or my favorite, The Blue Mini Peninsula tour. Hop on and off the stylish double decker red bus and take in the sights from the top deck. Enjoy the sunshine and salty air as you breeze through Camps Bay past the Twelve Apostles, and around the corner towards Hout Bay.
Photo by Tanya Paquet
Coffee, Swim, and Stroll in Kalk Bay
During my first two trips to Cape Town, I had no idea Kalk Bay existed. Like most tourists to the city, I’d sped past it on my way to see the penguins at Boulders Beach. Now that I live here, I can’t imagine my life in Cape Town without early morning swims in Dalebrook Tidal Pool, shopping along Main Road, coffees at Lekker, Dalebrook Café, and Salt, or fish and chips at Kalky’s.
Can I say that Cape Town wouldn’t be Cape Town without Bo-Kaap? This colorful neighborhood with steep, cobblestone streets, the rhythmic call of the adhan, and brightly painted homes is my favorite part of Cape Town. Snap a photo with the iconic “blue car,” peek into the Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum, take a free walking tour, and search for spices at Atlas Trading Co. (I love their dates and Amina’s Wonder Spice Steaks and Chops Marinade). As always, remember to be respectful to the people who have made this beautiful, colorful neighborhood their home for generations. Bo-Kaap’s heritage is as colorful as its buildings. Homes to the Cape Malay community, there are several reasons circulating as to why the homes are so colorfully decorated. The most well spread are that they’re painted as expressions of individuals and to celebrate freedom after the end of apartheid. One thing’s clearer, the difficulties facing this tightknit community are as clearly marked as the contrast between one house and another. Spend time getting to learn their history at the museum and get involved in learning the current issues they face today, including gentrification.
Take a Tour of Langa Township
I first visited Langa Township during my very first day in Cape Town. Now that I live and work here, I have visited the community to see friends and do interviews over a hundred times. If you tell most people in Cape Town you are planning to visit a township, you’ll be met with gasps and questions like “Do you know how dangerous it is?” While South Africa is a very beautiful country, it's also affected by a difficult past, and townships like Langa bare a lot of the brunt of enduring issues like racism and unequal distribution of resources. Langa is a vibrant community, home to South Africa’s history, and some of the most amazing people you will ever meet. As a first timer, I recommend taking a walking tour my friend Siviwe Mbinda, a South African change maker and tour guide who shared a birthday with Nelson Mandela. You’ll learn more about Langa’s history and in turn, the history of South Africa, and when you’re done, support local artists at Guga S’Thebe Cultural Centre. Don’t forget to stop at Ikhaya Le Langa for coffee or to pick the brain of entrepreneurial visionary Tony Elvin and have lunch at the vibey Jordan Ways of Cooking.
Drive Chapmans Peak
Chapmans Peak Drive is one of the most beautiful ocean drives in the world. Start at either Noordhoek or Hout Bay and pay just R50 per car for the toll fee. If you have more time, plan to hike Chapman’s Peak; it’s a 2 – 3 hour hike roundtrip with stunning views over the Bay and more time to take them in, as you wind your way to the top.
Photo by Estee de Villiers
Stroll Along the Sea Point Promenade to Clifton
One of Cape Town’s favorite walks is the walk along the Sea Point Promenade, or “The Prom” depending on how local you’re feeling. Start at either Mouille Point or the Sea Point public pools and continue all the way to Clifton. Once you round the bend, you’ll know you’ve made it, as Lion’s Head juts out from among white painted modern homes. Listen to the calls of the seagulls and the lapping of the waves. Bring your “cosi,” local for bathing suit, if you want to take a quick swim at Saunders Rock’s Beach tidal pool.
Sundowners at Signal Hill or Camps Bay
What could be better than finishing a day of adventure in the Mother City than with sundowners on Signal Hill, watching the sunset above the city below? On another night, visit Sunset Rock in Bantry Bay. To get there, search for “Sunset Rock” in your GPS or rideshare. You’ll park in a small parking lot, then follow the path down to an area with several big boulders overlooking Camps Bay. Climb up for the best view of the sunset! Don’t forget to bring your sundown drinks or snacks.
Looking for more epic activities while in Cape Town?
Kayak from Sea Point towards Robben Island and down the coast towards the Waterfront. Don’t be surprised if a “raft” of penguins paddles by. Snorkel with seals in Simon’s Town, paraglide from Lion’s Head or Signal Hill, abseil off Table Mountain, or brave the icy water in search of sharks in Gansbaai.