Last Updated on February 18, 2023 by Sammie
Best Things to do in Cape Town
This list consists of the absolute best things to do in Cape Town. We’ve got a lovely mix of outdoor adventures, some culture to dabble in, lots of food & drink, and even more shopping. It’s time to grab a glass of South African wine and start planning your trip to Cape Town.
My sister and I decided to take a trip to South Africa when I had a bit of free time away from working as an acrobat and she really wanted to check out this amazing city surrounded by some drop-dead gorgeous nature. We hit what I think is the best of the city—the best of hiking, wine drinking, and African-printed pant searching. I bought the most BOMB African printed jumpsuit in Cape Town. It’s still one of my favorite pieces in my wardrobe.
1. Hike Table Mountain
Yes, I agree this is one of the most popular things to do in Cape Town. But honestly. One of the most epic hikes I have done in my life. Flat out. It wasn’t necessarily the hardest thing in the world but it was the perfect amount of challenge and payoff. There was enough scrambling (I learned this word during the hike, it’s when you clamber up some rocks) to make me feel like I worked and enough chilled out walking to let me enjoy the views. Hello perfection.
My sister and I got up before sunrise and loaded a truck with our guide. We got to the mountain in that twilight hour before the sun rises. FREAKIN’ GORGEOUS. As we started our hike the sun slowly crept over the mountains lighting up the greenery and fauna around us. It was spectacular. You feel like you are climbing on top of the world. And though it’s about the journey and not the destination, the view from the top is unbelievable. So in this case, keep going for the destination. We were sitting on top of the clouds peering down on the rest of the world. This is one of the best things you can do in Cape Town for a reason. Not because it’s the only thing people have heard of but because it is genuinely a breathtaking hike.
Cape Town has some fantastic diverse sea life living on its shores. By kayaking, you can experience this sea life in the least intrusive way possible. I don’t always suggest tours because it can be fun to wander off and discover by yourself but I would highly suggest taking a sea kayak tour to have the chance to witness some impressive sea creatures without the worry of getting lost and floating off to sea.
Cape Kayaks & Adventures is rated #1 Travelers Choice in sea kayak tours in Cape Town. With the tour, you will get the chance to see Heaviside dolphins, African penguins, Cape Fur Seals, sunfish (mola mola (if you have no idea what this is, look them up because they are crazy looking)), and maybe if you’re lucky some Southern Right Whales as well. Enjoy the beautiful views of Table Mountain and the 12 Apostles from the sea and be at one with water. Yay for zen times.
3. Camp at Kogel Bay
Only 45 minutes from Cape Town, Kogel Bay is the perfect beach hideaway for camping. Take in the gorgeous beach views from your tent or nestle yourself among the trees for a different landscape to enjoy. Cape Town is wonderful but it’s nice to have the comfort to get away from the city from time to time. Kogel Bay sits between Gordan’s Bay and Rooi Els.
Besides getting unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean, a huge draw of this campsite is its location. It’s close enough to the city to make it accessible but far enough away to rid itself of light pollution. The stars here are pretty wild. Enjoy hiking, fishing, cycling, or building a sand castle. The possibilities are endless! There are 242 camping sites around Kogel Bay so you’ll be able to pick and choose how many humans you would like in your company.
NOTE: You need a reservation
Price: R111-R169 (dependent on season)
Book on Website HERE
Phone Number: 021 814 1041
4. Hike Lion’s Head
Personally, I did not have the chance to hike Lion’s Head but from friends who live here and other friends who frequent Cape Town, this is one of their favorites. And if it’s anything like Table Mountain I would have a very happy smile on my face. Lion’s Head is a very popular mountain for walkers in Cape Town. This is because it is a relatively “easy” hike to do and is about a 2-hour, round-trip trek. Lion’s Head is 5 km (3 mi) to the top, once arrived you’ll be rewarded with drop-dead gorgeous panoramic views of the city and the Atlantic seaboard. And if you’re up for a bit of a challenge, there is a more difficult route to the top with fun ladders and chains! Because why not?!
Things to do in Cape Town-
The colorful neighborhood that you are thinking about! Formally known as the Malay Corner, this section of Cape Town has a rich history that goes beyond its brightly colored walls. Here’s the 411, this neighborhood dates back to the 1760s when it leased its homes to slaves brought to Cape Town from Malaysia, Indonesia, and Africa. The colorful design is said to be attributed to the fact that when the houses were on lease to the slaves they could only be painted white. *Some believe there is genuinely no reason for the brightly colored walls but I’m a dreamer so let’s continue. When slavery was abolished in 1834, there was a big push for cheap housing.
Many slaves settled in Bo Kaap, painting their homes an assortment of bright colors in honor of their new freedom. In recent years developers have been targeting the area. Some attribute Bo-Kaap still standing to its strong sense of Cape Malay community (check out its corner stores to find some unique cultural gems from food to beverages to trinkets). It is now the oldest residential area in the country.
6. First Thursdays
One of those “in the know” things, so here we are. The know: First Thursdays are indeed on the first Thursday of every month. What is it? Well, it’s an eclectic mix of arts, culture, food, and drink that pour out onto the streets of the city, but most of which take place on Church Street & Bree Street. Basically, the monthly event is an opportunity for local artists to showcase what they’ve got and provide the art enthusiasts with refreshments along the way. It’s loved by the locals as well as the bars and restaurants nearby, it seems everyone wants a part in First Thursday. Word of advice, though the event takes place all over the city, if you are strapped for time, head to Church Street first for the biggest concentration of art galleries partaking in the fun.
7. District 6 Museum
“District 6 Museum- Cape Town, South Afrcia” by Thomas Sly. Photo found on FLICKR
District 6 was a former inner-city residential area of Cape Town that was utterly destroyed during Apartheid. Prior to its demolition, it was a vibrant community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, immigrants, and laborers. It was a symbol of everything that the Apartheid Government was not and soon became a target. By 1966 it was declared a “white area” and by 1982, 60,000 residents were forcibly removed to shanty towns and their former homes bulldozed.
The District 6 Museum serves as a memorial, a place of remembrance and education. It can be a somber experience but an important one in understanding the history of South Africa’s Apartheid. What you’ll find at the museum includes lots of personal artifacts and mementos popular at that time. It’s a two-story venue with a recreated bedroom, a beauty parlor, and other exhibits to put yourself in the shoes of the ones displaced. It’s in the center of the city and easy to get to. It might not be as hot of a ticket as Robben Island, but it is just as worthy of a visit.
Location: 25A Buitenkant St, District Six, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa
Hours: 9:00-16:00 Mon-Sat
Price: 40R (about $3)
Tours: About $1 on top of the admission fee and tour guides are typically former residents.
8. Enjoy some Cape Jazz
In case you’re around, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival takes place typically in late March or early April every year at the Cape Town International Convention Center. I wasn’t able to make it since I visited in February, but it’s worth noting for those around! If you happen to be visiting any other time of the year make a plan to stop by one of the venues listed below.
Cape Jazz, as it’s called, has a strong voice in South Africa. A voice that grew stronger during Apartheid. Music embodying black identity was not accepted by the government at that time. It wasn’t unheard of for black musicians to be forced to play behind a screen as white musicians would mime their notes in front of an audience. Besides psychological impact, there was also a very real physical threat to black musicians as jazz embodied a specific hope and soul strongly opposed to Apartheid. Jazz had been around for decades in South Africa prior to the government’s institutionalized racism but this time in history also stores some of the greatest jazz development in Cape Town.
9. Robben Island
What is Robben Island?
Back in the 16th and 17th centuries, this island was a popular stop-over point for ships. It started out as a Dutch then a British penal colony which was later converted to house a leper colony and the mentally ill from 1846-1931. Modifications were made and from the 1960s through to the 1990s, Robben Island served as a maximum security prison to isolate political prisoners.
Why visit Robben Island?
Most visit for the notable former inmate, Nelson Mandala, a figurehead of the anti-apartheid movement, serving 18 years of jail time for political offenses. Besides serving as Nelson Mandala’s political holding site, UNESCO declared it a world heritage site in 1999, serving as a symbol of the South African people’s freedom from racism.
How to get there?
Take a ferry from V&A waterfront in Cape Town’s CBD to Murray’s Bay. Price of ferry is included in ticket price to Robben Island.
Things to do in Cape Town-
Food & Drink
10. Truth Coffe Roaster
You know what’s needed after hiking a literal mountain? Dessert. And a bar. And maybe some coffee. Imagine. it exists! In the form of Truth Coffee Roasters.
This place is bananas in the best way. It’s a coffee shop by day, a dessert bar by night, and a speakeasy once upon a time in the back (can someone fill me in if this STILL exists??). You’ll be transported to a steampunk coffee lab with only the best single-origin coffees served. If you’re lucky you might even be granted a tour of the Bean chamber, which is just as intricately themed as the rest of the space, explaining the roasting process via their 1940s roaster.
Be better than us and check out their speakeasy. We were handed the secret cards while enjoying our desserts but jet lag and mountain hiking felt like a really good excuse for bedtime. But I bet it’s super cool. So, troops, I’m going to need you to go and report back. Oh and before I forget, Truth was once rated as the best coffee shop in the world. Just in case you needed yet another reason to go
Speakeasy– A new speakeasy has been opened since we last visited Cape Town and I’ve heard VERY good things. It continues to move up the list of the World’s Best Bars. Check out The Art of Duplicity. This hidden-away jazz cocktail bar was opened by the man behind Truth Coffee, David Donde
11. Grub & Vine
This was the first restaurant we went to in Cape Town. Jet lagged and all, I still remember this semi-fancy amazing spot. I could lay out in detail what we ate but the menu seasonally changes so you know it’s going to be good.
It’s a cute bistro-style space with a contemporary feel. We ordered a bottle of a small batch of local South African Chardonnay and grabbed a table by the window. We lucked out with the best seats in the house because we showed up 2 minutes after they opened. Jet Lag hunger. About an hour into our dinner, all the lights went out, which is when we had our first experience of South Africa’s “load shedding” to combat the energy demand in the country. It was shocking to have the entire area of the neighborhood go black when the sun had already set but everyone was very familiar with the process. Candles were lit until the dim evening lights returned and dinner went on per usual.
This place was SO GOOD! Modern Indian tapas that got the complete nod of approval from my sister and me. Besides the eclectic mix of Indian-spiced shared plates and fusion dishes, the outdoor dining room is something entirely on its own to come for. The industrial indoor vibe spills effortlessly onto the courtyard, perfect for enjoying the warm Cape Town air. There’s also a cocktail bar separate from the restaurant which was a well-thought-out plan. Thali does not take reservations so you might have to enjoy one of their signature cocktails to pass the time. It’ll do the job to distract you from the insanely delicious smells of the kitchen.
13. Cause Effect Cocktail Kitchen
I’ll be honest, I have not been here. But after writing about my and my sister’s epic experience at Orphanage Cocktail Emporium and realizing it no longer exists I scrounged the web for another suitable replacement. BEHOLD. The 53rd best Bar in the ENTIRE WORLD. As of 2022. 53rd might not sound like much, but it’s being put up against the world. So I think that’s when a participation 53rd medal counts.
Their moto? Kinda good. Kinda hood. I’m here for that. They find inspiration in the abundance of natural beauty around them. Using modernistic techniques to extract the richest and purest of flavor from raw ingredients. Either enjoy the bar or reserve a table for a private cocktail and small dish pairing experience with your own private bartender in their Schweppes Lab. Or maybe an “Eccentric Cape Brandy Tasting” is more your style. Go ahead, spoil yourself, you know you deserve it.
Things to do in Cape Town-
14. Long Street
This Bohemian hot spot is a day trip in and of itself. The whole street is more than 20 blocks long! Filled with various ethnic restaurants, bookstores to get lost in for hours, and everything from street chic to African hand-made goods can be found on this street. If you’re interested in having a unique dining experience check out Galbi, where you can get some amazing Korean BBQ fuzed with South African flavors. And if you need a caffeine hit while shopping you can check out GINGER for a coffee and a quick bite to eat.
SHOPS TO CHECK:
- Second Hand Around- Vintage secondhand shop
- Afraid of Mice- Big Brand Vintage and Collectable items
- Mungo & Jemina- South African vibrant clothing brand collective
- Merchants on Long- Cutting edge African Fashion and Accessories
15. Neighbourgoods Market (Woodstock)
The foodie market if there ever was one! Woodstock Market or otherwise known as “The Neighbourgoods Market” at The Old Biscuit Mill is a creative outlet for all things up and coming and already here for South Africa. At Woodstock, you’ll be able to try some of the best bites from the finest of South Africa’s dining establishments. And if you’re into wine which I hope you are, there’s a wine outlet for your pleasure to try a hand-selected curated list of featured local wines (as well as local gin and beer for the non-wine drinkers out there). Once your belly is full and you’re feeling your merry self, get lost in the sea of intricate and beautiful designs on display by the local artists and craftsmen. You won’t find your everyday souvenirs here, expect quirky and one-of-a-kind goods.
Saturday 9:00 AM- 5:00 PM
Sunday 10:00 AM- 4:00 PM
16. Watershed Market
I wasn’t sure what I was going to walk into when hearing about the Watershed but it’s a very unique place! They have over 365 local brands and designers to explore. Think of it as an open-air space for crafts, design, art, and fashion. It’s a catch-all for shopping. Within the maze of stalls, you’ll find that South African piece to add to your wanderlust wardrobe, maybe grab a few souvenirs before heading home, or simply kill a few hours and grab a drink before your dinner reservations. There’s something for every budget. Between woven toy animals to intricate jewelry made of woven rope and stones, there’s quite a collection to explore. If you’re trying to figure out what to do with a spare afternoon, you have your answer.
Monday- Sunday 10:00 AM- 6:00 PM
17. Hout Bay Market
If it’s a dreary day outside and you’re looking for something to do indoors this is a great spot to check out. Set in an old fish market (the smell is gone), The Bay Harbour Market located in Hout Bay is an indoor market that has local bands keeping the vibe light, lots of food and drink options, and of course great shopping. It’s a perfect spot for lunch when there’s a chance of rain but also a good place for grabbing a few trinkets for friends and family back home. You’ll find an easy crowd here, lots of families, and people leisurely strolling through the day. The vibe is what to come for, vibrant and awake, for the list of this month’s music lineup CLICK HERE.
Friday 5:00 PM- 9:00 PM
Saturday & Sunday 9:30 AM- 4:00 PM
18. Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
It wouldn’t be a complete list without it. I mean, it’s iconic. You’re going to find everything here so my best advice is to go for an afternoon or late morning and simply wander until something strikes your eye. V&A Waterfront is the oldest working harbour in the southern hemisphere. There are loads of activities to do here, shopping well included. You’ll find major international brands as well as local boutique shops selling one-of-a-kind items. As you wander, check out the menus listed in the windows because the streets are lined with fine dining and exceptional food fare. It might be the most popular tourist destination in South Africa but that comes with its reasons. There truly is a million things to do at this Harbour. But note that it can get a bit busy in high season (December – February).
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