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10 Top Things to See and Do in Cape Town

10 Top Things to See and Do in Cape Town

Picture of Andrew Thompson
Updated: 30 January 2018

There’s something for everyone in Cape Town. Until you’ve been here, it sounds like the ultimate cliché. But spend any length of time in the city, and you’ll realise two things: firstly, there’s never enough time to do everything, and secondly, the cliché really is true. There are hundreds of things to see and do in Cape Town, but if you must choose just 10, start with these.

Get an aerial perspective of the city

There’s no better way to put the whole city of Cape Town into perspective than by getting up high. For most, this means queuing up for the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. Open whenever the weather permits, it will get you to the top of the famous mountain in a matter of minutes, although peak season queues can add an extra hour or two to this. For those who are physically able, a more rewarding approach is to earn your views. You can choose to summit Table Mountain via one of the many hiking trails, or opt for the incredible 360-degree views from the most climbed peak: Lion’s Head.

Spend a morning or afternoon on the beach

There are dozens of beaches in and around Cape Town that are worthy of at least one morning or afternoon. The most iconic and glamorous beaches are along the Atlantic Seaboard: the likes of Clifton, Camps Bay and Llandudno are beautiful, particularly if you’re a fan of sunsets. But those along the False Bay side are equally intriguing, and the slightly warmer waters make it a more realistic option if you’re looking to get wet.

Sample the Cape’s wines at a tranquil estate

The Cape’s wines punch well above their weight, and yet are still remarkably affordable. They vineyards are also great to visit even if you’re not a fan of the fermented grape – the old architecture, tranquil surrounds and popular restaurants alone make them worth the trip. There are estates dotted throughout the region, with the closest in the suburb of Constantia. But for a full wine experience, consider heading to the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The drive is a bit longer, but you’ll find some truly breathtaking estates that allow you to sample award-winning wines.

Explore some of the Cape’s marine and wild life

If you’re looking for the ultimate big five experience, you might be better off heading to Johannesburg, and then connecting up with the Kruger National Park. Though there are some private reserves within reach of Cape Town that serve up the big five, they tend to be smaller and more exclusive than those up north. That’s not to say the Cape is short on other wildlife: the various nature reserves, such as Cape Point and West Coast National Park, are home to large antelope and unique birdlife. And then there’s the marine life: there’s land-based whale watching from the town of Hermanus, the ever-popular penguins at Boulders Beach and the vibrant Two Oceans Aquarium.

Soak up the atmosphere of the inner city

These days, Cape Town’s inner city is an attraction in itself. Day or night, there’s always something to do, whether you’re looking to enjoy a coffee in a quirky establishment, eat a meal at a bustling restaurant, soak up some history by walking the streets or party the night away at a trendy bar or club. With a bit of awareness, the Cape Town inner city is a safe and fascinating place to explore, but if you’re unsure, there are several guided walking tour options that can point out the major attractions.

Pick up some souvenirs

If you’re a fan of shopping, Cape Town should have you covered. The formal mall environment of the V&A Waterfront offers all the international items and brands you could wish for, in a harbour-like environment. There’s also a curio market there that will supply you with necessary trinkets to take back home. But if you’re looking for the best prices and range, strike a bargain with one of the stall owners on Greenmarket Square.

V&A Waterfront | Jess Stafford / © Culture Trip

Dine out at the city’s best restaurants

Cape Town is home to most of the country’s best restaurants. Whether you’re a foodie looking for the ultimate meal, or simply want a lunch or two to remember, the city has it all. If you’re relaxed about your dining, a walk along the vibrant Bree Street, or a meal at pretty much any wine estate, should leave you more than satisfied.

Cape Town is home to most of the country’s best restaurants. Whether you’re a determined foodie looking for the ultimate meal, or simply want a lunch or two to remember, the city has it all. If you fall into the first group, check out the top 10 restaurants in the city. If you’re more relaxed about your dining, a walk along the vibrant Bree Street, or a meal at pretty much any wine estate, should leave you more than satisfied.

The Shortmarket Club interior

The Shortmarket Club is one of the most exciting restaurants in Cape Town | Courtesy of Shortmarket Club

Explore the peninsula

There’s a lot to explore further south of Cape Town, particularly if you have access to your own set of wheels. The towns dotted along the False Bay coastline – Muizenberg, Fishhoek, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town – are all worth visiting while en route to Cape Point. On the return journey, the iconic Chapman’s Peak Drive is a thrilling road to drive. There’s no right or wrong way to appreciate the peninsula, but if you’re in doubt, try a gentle drive to Cape Point on the eastern roads, and a return along the Atlantic seaboard.

Kalk Bay | Jess Stafford / © Culture Trip

Have a quiet (or musical) picnic in pristine botanical gardens

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens are beautifully tranquil and serene, and well worth a few hours of wandering among the pristine plants. You’re also free to pack a picnic and enjoy it on the vast lush green lawns. If your timing is good, you might also be able to catch a live concert in the natural amphitheatre there – they take place each Sunday afternoon during summer, and advance booking is essential.

Learn more about the country’s complex history

Cape Town has an important place in South Africa’s history. As the first city of arriving settlers, it is home to some of the oldest buildings in the country. There are several other important historical sites and museums to visit in Cape Town, including Robben Island, the District Six Museum and Bo-Kaap. Each will fill in a piece of the city’s historical puzzle.

UNESCO_Robben-Island

Robben Island | Courtesy of UNESCO