The Best Outdoor Activities in Cape Town

Hikers tackle the India Venster hiking path on Table Mountain in Cape Town
Hikers tackle the India Venster hiking path on Table Mountain in Cape Town | © Eric Nathan / Alamy Stock Photo
Cape Town is a nature lover’s paradise. There’s no shortage of things to do that take full advantage of the city’s oceanfront, mountains and rivers, and mobile surf school owner Matthew Kleynhans, and hiking guide Riaan Vorster, have spent several years taking advantage of each. They share their picks of Cape Town’s best outdoor pursuits.

Outdoor activities in Cape Town are not only for the fit and active, although the city certainly lends itself well to those who are eager to elevate their heart rates. A hike up the towering Table Mountain is often the first port of call for visiting outdoor enthusiasts, but there there are dozens of other activities that require less physical excursion, and deliver an equally memorable experience.

Matthew Kleynhans grew up in the water, thanks to his father who owns the well-known Gary’s Surf School. Now, he heads up his own mobile surf school, which offers lessons and expeditions to some of the most idyllic locations. Riaan Vorster, from Hike Table Mountain, favours altitude over the oceans, but also spends as much of the day outdoors as possible.

Surfing

With dozens of beaches and some legendary breaks, Cape Town has no shortage of surf spots that appeal to all abilities. “Surfing is special to me, it’s something I’ve grown up with my entire life,” says Kleynhans. “And Cape Town is rich in terms of waves – we have all kinds of waves, from reef breaks to beach breaks.”

Muizenberg, where his father’s fixed Gary’s Surf School is located, offers safe and predictable conditions, which is perfect for beginners. But beaches like Llandudno, Kommetjie, and Big Bay also offer superb conditions. “Noordhoek, Cape Point, and the West Coast are great spots for more advanced surfers,” says Kleynhans. “And they’re unique, because they barrel.”

Cape Town has no shortage of beautiful beaches with a surf break © Jonny Hayes / EyeEm / Getty Images

Diving

Although Cape Town isn’t widely regarded as a leading diving destination, diving still ranks highly on Kleynhans’s list of must-do outdoor activities. “Diving and exploring the undersea world fascinates me,” he says. “There is so much going on down there.”

When he has the opportunity to get beneath the waves, he heads to one of a few spots along the Atlantic Seaboard or Hout Bay. “You can expect clear water and incredible sea life and views at both 12 Apostles and Chapman’s Peak,” he says.

Hout Bay is a brilliant spot for diving, and a favourite of Kleynhans’s © Poelzer Wolfgang / Alamy Stock Photo

Skateboarding

The city’s skateboarding scene has grown in recent years, thanks in large part to a group of dedicated locals and their regular Monday evening gatherings on the Sea Point Promenade. Skaters are free to join the Promenade Mondays event, or to take their boards to the seaboard at any other time of the week. “I love skating on the Sea Point Promenade – it’s the best way to take in the beautiful views of Cape Town,” says Kleynhans.

Many South Africans love skateboarding, so live like a local and hit the promenade © Ben Beyers / Alamy Stock Photo

Fishing

The oceans, rivers and dams in Cape Town are rich with aquatic life, and as a result fishing is a popular outdoor pastime for many, including Kleynhans. There are many companies based in the city’s harbours, particularly Hout Bay, that will take novice and experienced fishers on deep-sea fishing expeditions. “I’ve only recently started, but it’s great fun. Catch and release only, though!” he says.

Fishing is a popular sport in South Africa, but if you do take part you’re urged to catch and release © M.Sobreira / Alamy Stock Photo

Hiking Table Mountain

“Hiking and walking in the mountains with my dogs is one of my favourite outdoor activities in Cape Town,” says Kleynhans. And while you might not have your own four-legged friend to join you, there are walks to suit all levels of fitness.

Riaan Vorster, from Hike Table Mountain, has several recommendations for unusual hikes on the mountain. “Hike Table Mountain via an unconventional route,” he says. “Avoid the crowds, get off the beaten track, experience the essence of the mountain, immerse yourself in nature, all while having an adventure. But do it with a competent mountain guide, because the mountain is wilder than you think and it is very easy to get lost.”

Table Mountain has stunning views, so set aside a day to tackle it © John Birdsall / Alamy Stock Photo

Visit Cape Point

Both Kleynhans and Vorster put a visit to Cape Point high on their lists of favourite outdoor activities. Kleynhans usually heads there for the waves, and the chance of spotting wildlife.

Vorster has a different approach. “Hike it! Don’t drive it or cycle it. And do it early in the morning. Be the first to enter the park – it ensures less crowds, cooler temperatures, usually less wind, and best light conditions for photography.” He suggests heading to the popular old lighthouse first, before the crowds arrive, followed by hiking the Lighthouse Keeper’s Trail, and then take the boardwalk down to Dias Beach.

Head to Cape Point for the waves, and the wildlife © JohanSjolander / Getty Images

Meander through Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Kirstenbosch Gardens offers a less strenuous outdoor activity for all age groups.

“You don’t have to be an avid gardener to appreciate it,” says Vorster. “Avoid weekends, as it gets busy. Take a blanket, snacks, and drinks, find a secluded grassy dell and chill in the shadow of Table Mountain’s lush and imposing eastern slopes.”

For travellers who love fauna and flora, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is a must-visit © NSP-RF / Alamy Stock Photo

Get lost in Jonkershoek Nature Reserve

This nature reserve in the mountains near Stellenbosch is extremely popular with adventurous hikers and mountain bikers, and it makes Vorster’s list as one of the best locations for outdoor activities.

Hiking in the Jonkershoek nature reserve is highly recommended by locals © Rowan Patrick / Alamy Stock Photo

“Hike up to the highest contour path and follow this as far as your fitness allows,” he says. “It’s a singular experience of nature and the grandeur of the Cape Mountains.”