10 Top Things to Do in Cape Town

South Africa is one big game reserve, and Cape Town has an abundance of wildlife to delight visitors. Head to Boulders Beach for the day, and you can hang out with its resident colony of African penguins
South Africa is one big game reserve, and Cape Town has an abundance of wildlife to delight visitors. Head to Boulders Beach for the day, and you can hang out with its resident colony of African penguins | © Tosca White / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Andrew Thompson
Freelance Writer - Instagram.com/andrewthompsonsa29 November 2020

There’s something for everyone in Cape Town. Scale Table Mountain or Lion’s Head, swim in Llandudno Beach’s clear blue waters, and sample the Cape’s finest wines at a local vineyard. Then there’s the wildlife, and Africa’s promise of the “Big Five” – elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo and rhinos. Try the restaurants on trendy Bree Street and you’ll be dining out on your experiences of Cape Town for decades to come. Here’s our list of the 10 best things to do in the South African capital.

Get an Aerial Perspective of the City

Natural Feature, Train Station, Architectural Landmark
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View of the Table Mountain Upper Cable Car Station on from Table Mountain top, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa.
© Melissa Jooste / Alamy Stock Photo

There’s no better way to put the whole city of Cape Town into perspective than by getting up high, and for most people this means queuing for the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. Open whenever the weather permits, it’ll take you to the top in a matter of minutes (although peak season queues can add an hour or two to this). If you’re physically able and up for the hike you can choose to summit Table Mountain via one of the many hiking trails. For a shorter hike, the incredible 360-degree views from the most climbed peak Lion’s Head are well worth the effort.

Spend a Day at the Beach

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Clifton beach view - the most expensive and luxurious place of South Africa
© Dmitrii Sakharov / Alamy Stock Photo

There are dozens of beaches in and around Cape Town that are worthy of at least a morning or afternoon of your itinerary. 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 stretch are equally alluring, and the slightly warmer waters make for some enticing swimming.

Sample the Cape’s Wines at a Vineyard Estate

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Vineyards close to Stellembosch, Wester Cape in South Africa.
© Magdalena Paluchowska / Alamy Stock Photo

The Cape’s world-famous wines punch well above their weight and are still remarkably affordable. The vineyards make a great destination even if you’re not a fan of the product; old architecture, tranquil surroundings and popular restaurants make them a fun day out. Estates are dotted throughout the region (the closest is the Groot Constantia-Trust) but for a more expansive experience consider heading to the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The drive’s a bit longer, but you’ll find some truly breathtaking estates with award-winning wines for you to sample.

Explore the Cape’s Marine and Wildlife

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Boulders beach south africa - tourists watching the African Penguins, Boulders beach, Cape Town, South Africa
© Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re looking for Africa’s ultimate “Big Five” wildlife experience you’ll want to head to Johannesburg and then onto Kruger National Park. Though there are some private reserves within reach of Cape Town with big cats and elephants, they tend to be smaller and more exclusive than those up north. That’s not to say the Cape is short on other wildlife: nature reserves such as Cape Point and West Coast National Park are home to large antelope and unique bird species. Then there’s the marine life; try 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

Architectural Landmark
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Greenmarket Square Market Stalls- Cape Town - South Africa
© M.Sobreira / Alamy Stock Photo

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 café, dinner in a bustling restaurant, take in the local history, or party the night away in a trendy bar or club. Keep your wits about you, and the city is a safe and fascinating place to explore – but if you’re unsure, there are several guided walking tour options that will escort you around the major attractions.

Shop for Souvenirs

Shop, Shopping Mall
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V&A Waterfront, and Cape Union Mart in Cape Town city, South Africa busy with people shopping in summer
© incamerastock / Alamy Stock Photo

If you’re a fan of shopping then Cape Town should have you covered. The V&A Waterfront is a popular mixed-use development offering all the international items and brands you could wish for in its harbour environment. There’s a curio market here that will supply you with loads of artisan trinkets to take home. If you’re looking for the best range and prices, however, strike a bargain with one of the stall owners on Greenmarket Square – one of Cape Town’s oldest markets.

Dine Out in the City’s Best Restaurants

Architectural Landmark
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Bree Street Cafes 'Culture Club Cheese' and 'Bacon on Bree' in Cape Town - South Africa
© M.Sobreira / Alamy Stock Photo

Cape Town is home to the country’s best restaurants. Whether you’re a foodie looking for innovative cuisine or simply want a lunch to remember, this city has a great variety of places to sample. Take a walk along vibrant Bree Street and stop in for tapas at Villa 47, or fondue at Culture Cheese Club which is entirely dedicated to dairy – this street is vying for coolest place in the city. Alternatively, lunch or dinner at pretty much any of the wine estates should leave you more than satisfied. This helpful list of the top 10 restaurants is a good place to start.

Explore the Peninsula

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Chapman's Peak Drive, Cape Peninsula, City of Cape Town Municipality, Western Cape Province, Republic of South Africa
© Sergi Reboredo / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s a lot to explore further south of Cape Town, particularly if you have access to a set of wheels. The towns dotted along the False Bay coastline – Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town – are all worth visiting en route to Cape Point. On the return leg, the iconic Chapman’s Peak Drive is a thrilling route to take. 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.

Picnic in Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

Botanical Garden, Park
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Boomslang Walkway Canopy at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden in Cape Town - South Africa
© M.Sobreira / Alamy Stock Photo
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens are beautifully tranquil and serene, and you can while away a good few hours here wandering among the plants. Pack a picnic and enjoy it on the lush green lawns. If your timing is good, you might also be able to catch a live concert in the natural amphitheatre – they usually take place on Sunday afternoons during summer, and advance booking is essential.

Learn About the Country’s Complex History

Historical Landmark
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District Six Museum, a memorial to the 60 000 inhabitants of the inner-city area, who were forced to move in the 1960's, under the Apartheid gvt.
© Monica Wells / Alamy Stock Photo

Cape Town holds an important place in South Africa’s turbulent, recent and ongoing history. As the first city of settlers it’s home to some of the oldest buildings in the country, but there are several other (arguably more pressing) important historical sites and museums to visit including Robben Island (Nelson Mandela’s place of confinement), the District Six Museum focusing on apartheid and Bo-Kaap with its diverse cultural history. Each will elucidate and illuminate a piece of the city’s political-historical puzzle, and add to your understanding of its present.

These recommendations were updated on November 29, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.