Visiting South Africa this year and looking for things to do in Cape Town while you’re there? With everything the city has on offer, you’ll want to start planning your trip as soon as possible, but where to start? If you’ve never been before, it can be difficult to try to plan an itinerary, so let us step in…
The scenic splendour, diverse animal life, and rich cultural heritage of Cape Town and its surrounding areas attracts visitors from both near and far. With so much on offer, we asked our resident experts for some recommendations. Here’s what Sue James, woman&home editorial director, our partners at South Africa Travel and local Jade Crocket’s listed as their must-sees in and around Cape Town:
1. Circumnaviagte the peninsula
No visit to Cape Town is complete without circumnavigating the peninsula. Travel south from the city along the M3, stopping at Kirstenbosch (these gardens won gold at Chelsea Flower Show, and as such are essential viewing) and stop off at a few Constantia wineries en route (Klein Constantia and Eagles Nest make a good contrast). Stop for lunch in the charming seaside village of Kalk Bay, and set aside an hour or so to browse the quaint shops and art galleries there, before tackling Cape Point and Chapman’s Peak Drive. Llundudno, Clifton and Boulders are the city’s prettiest beaches. And do tour the Winelands too. Ringed with mountains, Stellenbosch terroir produces brilliant reds and has a lovely historic town centre. With so much choice, it’s best to book a wine tour but do ask that your tour includes the Helshoogte pass, which links Stellenbosch to pretty Franschhoek, the scenery will have your spirit soaring.
2. Check out ‘First Thursday’
A lovely new initiative in Cape town is called ‘First Thursday’. Each month on the first Thursday, Cape Town’s inner-city is abuzz with activity as Capetonians wander through the various galleries and stores, which stay open until 9pm. There are pop-up restaurants and bars, all serving fab treats.
3. Try one of the great local markets
There is a huge range of great daily and weekend markets, where you can really live like a local around the Cape. Biscuit Mill market in the centre of town, Root 44 in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek Village market, Bay Harbour market are just a few of my favourites. They have wonderful locally sourced food to enjoy, including cheeses, olives, and of course, great wine and olive oil tastings.
4. Cable Car up Table Mountain
Table Mountain is Cape Town’s iconic landmark and one of the world’s ‘New Seven Wonders of Nature’. A five-minute trip on the Aerial Cableway will take you to the summit, 1,089 meters above sea level. A magnificent view of the city, Table Bay, the rest of Table Mountain National Park and its rich floral kingdom awaits you. Remember to take an extra pullover as it can be chilly and windy at the top.
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5. Shop for gifts at Waterfront Warehouse
If you have limited time (or you’re just not a keen shopper) but want to take home gifts and mementoes, head straight to the Watershed. It’s the newly renovated shopping warehouse in the Waterfront where you’ll find some of the city centre’s best shopping pockets. Green Market Square is a good place to start, from there you can walk up Church or Shortmarket into Long Street. Continue down Long (towards the mountain) as it extends up the slope into what then becomes Kloof street. Other good city shopping streets are Bree street and, to a lesser extent, Loop street (Ebony and Love Milo are two worthwhile stops) – both run parallel to Long street so you can easily move between them.
6.Visit the Two Oceans Aquarium
The Two Oceans Aquarium offers a window to the seas surrounding the Southern African coast with Indian and Atlantic Ocean galleries, as well as predator, penguin and kelp forest exhibits. A touch pool gives visitors the opportunity to feel shells and kelp, and interact with starfish, anemones and hermit crabs. To meet the adorable rockhopper penguins – Roxy, Hopper and Bubbles – head over to the AfriSam Penguin Pool (Tuesday to Sunday, 11am). Two luck people will be invited to join a bird trainer for a fun and informative face-to-face encounter with these friendly local residents.
7. Sample the best local restaurants
Luke Dale Roberts has topped the Cape food scene for many years with The Test Kitchen and the Pot luck Club, but you won’t want to miss Liam Tomlin’s Chef’s Warehouse on Bree Street either. Food is served like tapas, so you can enjoy everything the kitchen produces that night, in a small portion. For more recommendations read our locals guide to Cape Town’s best restaurants.
8. Visit the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life
Robben Island is a Unesco world heritage site and famed as the maximum-security prison to which anti-Apartheid activists, among them the late former President Nelson Mandela, were exiled. A visit to the prison, notorious for its harsh conditions, on the Robben Island Museum Tour helps to put in perspective the enormous sacrifices made by the freedom fighters in their struggles to set South Africa on the path to Democracy. The tour is led by former political prisoners who relay their stories in vivid detail, and also allows visitors into the cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year-long incarceration.
9. Drink plenty of the local wine
The wine will never let you down – the selection is vast, so there’s something to suit everyone – and you’re unlikely to ever have a bad glass. Our recommendation is Graham’s Beck’s sparkling wine, and the rosé is lovely too.
10. Enjoy a Seal Island boat tour
Seal Island, just off Hout Bay outside Cape Town, is home to over 60,000 whiskery, blubbery Cape fur seals who seem to spend their days sunbathing. Nauticat Charters runs trips to the island, leaving several times a day, on-board a glass-bottomed catamaran – providing the perfect vantage point from to spy the seals zipping past.
11. Enjoy the sunset (with a glass of the aforementioned local wine!)
Don’t forget to take in the views. As you are near the equator the sun goes down very quickly. Cape Town’s sunsets are unrivalled, and well worth checking out while you’re there.
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12. Take a day trip to Franschhoek
Franschhoek is one of the prettiest places you’ll ever have the privilege of visiting. Think quaint houses, bourgenvilla aplenty and amazing mini mountains. It’s said to be the capital for wine… we’ll let you be the judge of that, but we feel sure you won’t be disappointed!
Not sold yet? This video of the highlights from Cape Town Tourism is guaranteed to sway you…