This article was first published in April 2017 and updated in March 2019
Cape Town is rapidly becoming one of the top destinations for holidaymakers. It is a place with a unique history that has culminated in a culture of diversity and colour. The geographical landscape of the Mother City boasts panoramic beauty at every turn. It is common for your day to consist of a hike in the morning, a surf at a world-class break in the afternoon, sundowners at internationally acclaimed wineries and dinner at award-winning restaurants. There are many adventures to be had in Cape Town.
Thinking of a vacation to Cape Town? We’ll help you with where to go, what to see and essential activities to keep you entertained no matter what your poison is. Read on for your local guide to Cape Town.
- Summit Table Mountain
- Pamper yourself with a day of luxury
- Enjoy fine-dining for less
- Visit all the wine routes
- Have a picnic at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
- Shop till you drop at unique malls
- Visit the penguins en route to Cape Point
- Go on an extreme adventure
- Help your fellow humans and the environment by doing something charitable
- Feel trendy in the CBD and gentrified Woodstock
- Get cultured at monuments and museums
- Get beached
- Visit Cape Town’s West Coast
- Drink secret gin with artisan chocolate
- Have high tea in an old grain silo
- Have some unique wine tastings
- Go clay pigeon shooting
- Eat authentic Ethiopian food
- Explore an abandoned zoo
- Have a family day at Blue Rock Resort
- Jump into oblivion
- See the most adorable animals
- Have the most inventive cocktail
- Party on the beach
- Visit an historic wine farm
- Learn about the Jewish citizens of South Africa
- Watch jazz in a cathedral
- Essential guide to Cape Town: Where to stay in luxury
- Tips for traveling Cape Town from a local
Summit Table Mountain
If you’re the adventurous type, you’ll find that there are many different hiking trails in and around Cape Town. From overnight hikes on the Cape of Good Hope and Hoerikwaggo Trails to a quick sunset stroll in Newlands Forest, there’s something for all fitness levels. But the two major hikes that draw attention from adventure junkies are scaling Table Mountain and Lion’s Head.
The most popular route to Table Mountain, which is basically like a continuous stairmaster, is Platteklip Gorge. This route starts from Table Mountain road and ends at the cable car station on top of the mountain. Take a taxi or Uber to the lower cableway station, less than 3km from the Cape Town city centre, and look out for the signs. If you are super fit, you can climb up in about 45 mins, but it will take the average hiker about 3 hours. To give you an idea of the steepness, the route gains around 700 meters (2300 feet) over a distance of only 3 km (just under 2 miles).
Thankfully, you can always take the cable car down for about R135 ($10) one-way. If you want to hike and your better half just wants to enjoy the view, there is also a round trip on the cable car for about R255 ($20) per person. Due to the long queues in peak season, you may even summit at the same time. You can actually book a cable car ticket online, which comes with tickets to the HopOn/HopOff bus and a free walking tour of the city. To get your tickets, click here.
Just a stone’s throw away is the very popular Lion’s Head. This is a circular hike, where you will be trekking up and around the mountain until the very top. Once you reach the steep section near the end, you have the option to climb using the chains or you can keep walking around to reach the top.
Warning: If you have even the smallest fear of heights, it’s preferable not to use the chains.
Hint: A very cool practice is to summit Lion’s Head just before sunset and walk down at night when there is a full moon. Bring your headlamp. You can also go up for a sunset hike on any day (weather permitting) with a guide. Check out further information by clicking here.
The best place to start your hike is at the parking lot as you drive into Signal Hill Road. If you keep driving, you’ll end up at Signal Hill, a popular place for tourists to get a glimpse of Cape Town from above without hiking.
Pamper yourself with a day of luxury
If you’re coming to Cape Town with foreign currency, you’ll most likely laugh at the prices of luxury activities. While some extravagant acts are expensive no matter where you live, you’ll find that most luxurious experiences in South Africa are a bargain.
Heading to Cape Town for your wedding or honeymoon? Why not hire a yacht from the Waterfront to Clifton beach? Or just take a sunset champagne cruise. If you don’t have sea legs, you could always take a helicopter ride to see Cape Town’s beauty from above. Take a spa day with the girls at the Twelve Apostles Hotel or one of the many 5-star hotels in the CBD.
Cape Town really is the perfect place to pamper yourself.
Enjoy fine-dining for less
If you’re peckish, try eat at some of the top restaurants in South Africa like Test Kitchen in Woodstock, Roundhouse in Camps Bay, Aubergine in Gardens, Il Leone in De Waterkant, and La Colombe or Greenhouse in Constantia. For sundowners, you’ll need to visit the Cape Grace Hotel’s Bascule Bar a sophisticated waterside whisky bar with a patio that offers upscale bar fare and a selection of over 500 whiskies. See our tip on the West Coast below for information on the recently voted top restaurant in the world.
Other notable restaurants around the CDB include are the super trendy and always packed the Black Sheep, newcomer the Shortmarket Club, smoke-house extraordinaire Hoghouse (in Spier wine farm and Ndebeni industrial complex), or head out to the winelands to experience a taste sensation at Tokara, or Delaire Graaf (with the main restaurant and Asian fusion, Indochine).
Visit all the wine routes
Cape Town is known throughout the world for it’s high quality wine at affordable prices. Wineries from the Cape are constantly winning international awards, beating some of the best wine producers in the world. The only difficult part about going wine tasting in Cape Town is where to begin. There are 19 wine routes alone, that stretch from the Klein Karoo all the way to the West Coast. And within those routes there are hundreds of wineries from the large scale conglomerates to the more boutique style vintners. And it’s very likely that you’ll find amazing wines for under $3 a bottle. Even the top, most expensive wines will be under $100 a bottle.
By far the most popular routes, and therefore most touristy ones, are Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Constantia. These areas not only produce great wines, but also high end cuisine and some amazing views. You’ll find internationally acclaimed chefs serving locally produced fare in a romantic setting of mountains and vineyards. Each of these routes has their own unique appeal. Stellenbosch for its range, Franschoek for its historical significance (see the French Huguenots), and Constantia for the more upper class crowd.
Lesser known wine routes that are close to Cape Town are Paarl, Wellington and Durbanville. If you have time to travel, get in a car and head to Hermanus (about a 2 hour drive) to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley where you’ll find the more humble, yet still amazing Walker Bay wine route (famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay). For a more rough and organic, bush-vine kind of wine, head to the Swartland wine route where you’ll find some true gems (and olives).
Hint: Not sure where to start? Pick up a copy of the Platter’s Wine Guide, or download the app, and look at the 5 star wines and best wineries at the front. Alternatively, pop into a boutique wine shop like Wine Concepts and ask a local. There are just too many to mention. Alternatively you can go along with a guide to learn about the history of each area with an in-depth wine tasting at various wineries without having to worry about drinking and driving. Check out the guided wine tours of Stellenbosch and Constantia or a combination of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl here. There is also a self-paced wine tram in Franschhoek if you’d prefer to go it alone without a car. You can reserve your ticket online here.
Have a picnic at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
This is a definite must for all nature lovers, especially if you’re more into flora than fauna. Visiting Kirstenbosch is like stepping into the Garden of Eden – unspoilt nature, a myriad of flowers and plants and just a lovely way to soak up the sun with the family or on your own. As it was voted by National Geographic as one of the world’s top picnic spots, you’d be remiss if you didn’t sit on the lush grass and eat some cheese and baguette.
You can either bring your own picnic or you can head over to the Tea Room or Moyo restaurant and purchase one of their awesome baskets of goodness. You will not be allowed to bring in chairs or umbrellas, but there are benches to sit on and slopes to lounge over. When you’re done eating, walk off those added calories by taking a stroll along the Boomslang Bridge (“tree snake” in Afrikaans) or just get lost in the indigenous fynbos.
In summer they hold various outdoor music concerts in the amphitheater, which are usually very crowded, but there’s no better way to experience the Cape Town vibe. There are no bins, so it is advisable to bring your own plastic packet and take your trash with you. Please do not litter.
Shop till you drop at unique malls
If you’re all natured out and are in need of some retail therapy, Cape Town has some very unique shopping malls that hold all of the international staples and some local fare. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a one of a kind mall that is located in the heart of Cape Town’s working harbour. You won’t want to go to the Waterfront just for the shopping, but rather to experience a uniquely Cape Tonian vibe. Tourists and locals mingle among shops and performances, restaurants and stalls, cinemas and amphitheaters.
Have a drink at the beach bar, the Grand, and then head over to the Watershed market to get some African-inspired local designs. Go for a yacht cruise with your loved one and then hit the Comedy Club after dark. There is actually so much that you can do at the Waterfront beyond shopping like visiting the Cape Town Diamond Museum, going kayaking, visiting the Two Oceans Aquarium, or going on Cape Town’s version of the London Eye, which you can book a fast-track ticket here.
If you want more of a local shopping experience away from the tourists, you’ll need to head over to Canal Walk, based in the ever expanding Century City metropolis. This “Cape Venetian” megamall stands at a total retail area of 141,000 square metres (1,520,000 sq ft) and hosts over 400 stores – so you will literally shop until you drop.
Visit the penguins en route to Cape Point
A trip to Cape Town would not be complete without a day adventure to Cape Point where the two oceans meet. The cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the warmer Indian Ocean on the east. This UNESCO world heritage site is located at the tip of a 7,750 hectare nature reserve and is abundant in both flora and fauna, including over 250 bird species.
You can climb up yourself to the top of the hill or you can take the Flying Dutchman Funicular. And when you’re back down, dine on some wonderful Cape Tonian fare at the Two Oceans Restaurant with epic scenery. Hint: make a reservation as it gets busy.
But this excursion is actually more about the journey than the destination. When you head to Cape Point you will be passing some amazing districts along the way. You can learn to surf in Muizenberg, have a bite to eat in hippie-chic Kalk Bay, chill with the penguins at Boulders Beach or learn some naval history in Simon’s Town. Make your day up to Cape Point an adventure, don’t just get there, take a selfie, and head back to your hotel like most tour groups. If you would rather do this all on a certified guided tour, then click here to book your day adventure online.
Go on an extreme adventure
Wineries are not the only thing that exist in abundance in Cape Town, you’ll also have a wide selection of extreme activities to brave. Due to the wind and waves, Cape Town is host to a thriving community of surfers and kiteboarders. The novices will start their surfing adventure in mellow Muizenberg, while the more advanced wave riders will head out to the West Coast and hit Big Bay, Derde Steen and much further along, Eland’s Bay.
Staying in the sea, you can also choose to kayak, snorkel or dive with dolphins, seals and if you’re lucky, whales. And for the more adventurous extreme sports junkies, you can try cage shark diving with the Great Whites. Book online here to make sure you get a spot.
If the ocean isn’t really your thing, why not jump off a mountain or airplane? Take a slow paraglide, a quick base jump, a strenuous rock climb up or even a wingsuit fall around Table Mountain. Want to go extreme without risking your life? You could always head out to Sandy Bay, Cape Town’s nude beach.
Help your fellow humans and the environment by doing something charitable
People fly to the Mother City from all over the world to do some charitable work. Missionaries, college students and general good people looking to make a difference in the world all take a pilgrimage to the Southern tip of the world. There are so many NGOs and organisations that are trying to make a difference for those who are in need.
You can help refugees from war-torn or poverty stricken countries, make a charitable monetary donation to a homeless shelter, give your time by helping those less fortunate learn to read and write, or make a child laugh by visiting a hospital. There are also loads of non-profits trying to help the environment through conservation.
You can join in on the activities of any one of the hundreds of agencies making a positive impact on the community and the environment.
Feel trendy in the CBD and gentrified Woodstock
Cape Town is a very hip place, not just because the world comes here to play but also because it is a very artistic city. And if you want to experience the trendiest places this city has to offer, you can start in the CBD. Coffee shops, eateries, and hipster hangouts infest the city centre. You can start at Yours Truly or Molten Toffee in Kloof Street, then explore the dozen boutiques, and African trading stores in Long Street. After this head to Green Market Square to haggle for some African curios. Head up Wale Street for amazing cocoa treats at Honest Chocolate (with a Secret Gin Bar at the back) and then turn into Bree street for a range of hipster hangouts from Clarke’s to Jason.
Dessert at Truth After Dark
Voted as the best coffee in the world by the UK’s The Telegraph, steampunk Truth Coffee in town is not to be missed. And here’s a local secret… After dark there is a secret dessert bar in the back of the restaurant headed by Michelin-star pastry chef Kamal Hamzaoui. And even more hush hush is Truth’s speakeasy in a hidden entrance at the back of the cafe where you will need to dress up in your best 1920s outfits and have a secret password. Visit this very secret website to make a reservation.
If you’re here on the first Thursday of the month you will have to head to First Thursdays, where the shops open late and usually include indie exhibitions from upcoming artists and photographers.
For a grittier feel in an artist’s haven, head over to Woodstock. Once feared by the general public as a very unsafe area, artists from all walks of life started to move into the old, dilapidating buildings and warehouses. What has emerged is a collective like no other in Cape Town. Galleries, studios, offices, eateries, and serious coffee shops are all clumped together amid carpenters, corner cafes and bazaars.
You’ll want to visit the Woodstock Exchange if you’re a digital nomad or general graffiti lover. Then take a brisk walk to the Old Biscuit Mill where you’ll find one of South Africa’s most sought after restaurants, Test Kitchen, with other local favourites Burrata and the Potluck Club. And if you’re at the Old Biscuit Mill on the weekend, you can seek out artisanal treats at the Neighbourgoods Market.
Are you a foodie, but not sure where to start or worried you’ll miss some tastes of the Cape? Then a foodie tour is probably your best bet. You can take this Foodie Thursdays walking tour to get some of the most authentic flavors of Cape Town without the worry of missing out on something.
Note: Please take extra care when walking around town and Woodstock. Although there are not many malicious attacks, they are areas known for pickpockets and where crime is still a threat. Travel in groups and rather stash than flash your more pricier items such as smartphones and SLRs.
Get cultured at monuments and museums
South Africa has quite a tumultuous past which has resulted in a very unique country we like to call the “Rainbow Nation”. People from all walks of life, with different colours and creeds, come together to share this thriving land. If you come to Cape Town without learning more about its history and culture, you will be missing out on the most important part of what makes this city and country so special.
You can explore the past and present of this city at any one of the Iziko museums. For classical and contemporary South African art, the Iziko South African Museum in the historic Company’s Gardens is best. Take a walk through the Planetarium to a tour of the colourful neighborhood above the CBD known as Bo Kaap. There are also loads of museums to gain knowledge within the CBD, such as the Iziko Slave Lodge, The Jewish Museum and Cape Town Holocaust Centre, and even sights like St George’s Cathedral, right next to The Crypt Jazz Restaurant. There’s even a highly rated tour that takes you to the homes of Cape Tonian jazz musicians where you will listen to their music, hear their stories and have a traditional home cooked meal. You can book the “jazz safari” tour here.
You can also take a ferry to the place where South Africa’s ex-president, Nelson Mandela, was incarcerated for 27 years of his life, Robben Island. Seeing the tiny little cell he had to spend most of his life in and experiencing how blinding the limestone in the quarry is, will surely change your perspective on those who were wrongfully imprisoned on this island. Book your Robben Island ferry trip with hotel pickup here.
There are popular walking tours all over the city for the history buffs. There’s even a fantastic app that allows you to download historical and personal audio recordings if you’re walking around on your own. There are companies that can take you on a township tour where you will see the real side of this city.
Get your tan on at world class beaches. The most popular being Clifton and Camps Bay based in the affluent neighbourhoods of multi-million dollar properties. There are four beaches that make up Clifton. Fourth beach is the busiest as the surf is calmer and there are umbrellas and chairs available for hire. As you move closer down to First beach the crowds start disappearing. Third and Fourth beaches may be less crowded, but they are overlooked by giant apartment blocks where Peeping Toms could be peering at you.
Hint: You will have to walk down and up quite a bit of stairs to get to Clifton, but it’s well worth the journey. There are also no shops are restaurants, so bring your own food. There are usually ice cream/water sellers walking up and down the beach on crowded days. They’ll be the ones screaming “Ice cream lolly to make you jolly!” or “Ice cream, cold drinks, mineral water!” and so on.
Camps Bay is a trendy hangout for models and hipsters from around the world. The boulevard encompassing the beach is lined with very trendy restaurants, eateries and bars. It has a very European vibe, with everyone enjoying the view and a drink in their bathing suits. Be warned, Clifton and Camps Bay are both topless beaches, so if you are conservative, it’s better to go to Big Bay on the West Coast or Muizenberg. Hint: All the picture perfect shots of Table Mountain are taken from the West Coast at beaches like Big Bay, Milnerton and Bloubergstrand.
For a list of all the best beaches in Cape Town and South Africa, you can read our article here. There are some real hidden gems.
Visit Cape Town’s West Coast
The West Coast of Cape Town is far removed from the bustling city center. It’s only about a 30min drive (with no traffic) but seems like an entirely other planet. Life on the West Coast is slower, more rustic and more desolate that the teeming city.
Contrasting to the lush East Coast and the Garden Route, the West Coast is more similar to Namibia’s skeleton coast, which is drier and more arid. Yet this doesn’t mean that the West Coast lacks charm. There are several things to do in Cape Town’s West Coast that are worth merit.
The first stop on your West Coast adventure will be Blouberg and Big Bay. Similar to Muizenberg, the Blouberg area is a major draw for surfers, but is also an attraction for kitesurfers. The most happening and lively area is at the fairly new development called Eden on the Bay. The complex is a shopping mall with eateries, boutique stores and cafes and is located directly above the beach. It’s a really nice way to spend an afternoon, particularly if you want to learn how to surf or kiteboard. Move onto Melkbosstrand if you want less of vibe and crowd.
The West Coast is a haven for those who love seafood. Saldanha Bay for instance has a massive fishing community and you would be at a loss if you didn’t try the West Coast snoek. This thin, boney fish is usually smoked to perfection, creating a deliciously chewy meat that is best when thrown on the braai. Try Charlies Fish Shop, an institution in Saldanha that sells the best fresh snoek and scrumptious cooked fish.
A little further down in a tiny village called Velddrif is where you’ll find the uniquely West Coast bokkom. This extra salty snack is also known as fish biltong as its basically dried and salted mullet fish. You can get this snack almost anywhere in Velddrif, but if you’d like to go right to the source, you’d better head to Bokkom Avenue, which produces 95% of the bokkom in South Africa.
A must visit stop in the West Coast of Cape Town is the West Coast National Park which has the beautiful off the beaten path beach on the sands of Langebaan Lagoon. The Park is an absolute must for nature lovers as there are hiking and MTB trails, bird watching, fynbos as far as the eye can see and an array of animals from antelope to the illusive caracal. The beach has braai facilities and is reminiscent of the Maldives due to the pristine turquoise waters.
If you are a fan of fresh fish and braais you should definitely head to Yzerfontein where you will find the beach restaurant Strandkombuis (Beach Kitchen). After suffering major setbacks in 2017, this beachfront restaurant has pulled itself up from the boots and relaunched to major success. It sits along the pristine Sixteen Mile beach and has wonderful views of the salt pan. But apart from the occasional live music, you’ll want to visit for the delicious braaied fish served with homemade bread, jams and snoek pate.
Pop in to Darling, especially during Springtime, for a magical display of blooming flowers. Apart from one of Cape Town’s first craft breweries, there is also a unique restaurant owned by South Africa’s preeminent drag queen and political satirist Evita Bezuidenhout (Pieter Dirk-Uys). The eatery, Evita Se Peron, serves South African favorites like bobotie (spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping) and has comedy and musical shows weekly. More information here.
The West Coast is also home to “the best restaurant in the world” in 2019 as voted for by the Restaurant Awards in Paris. Wolfgat is in the sleepy fishing village of Paternoster and has a new claim to fame after receiving the reward. You will have to book months in advance as the restaurant is small and sustainable with only 20 diners per sitting.
Drink secret gin with artisan chocolate
The secret Gin Bar
The area on the corner of Wale and Bree street in the CBD is one of the trendiest places in Cape Town. There’s ultra hip burger joint Clarke’s, upmarket Charango, delicious deli Max Bagels, Wine bar and bistro Mink & Trout, Japanese Fujiyama, braai deliciousness at Love Thy Neighbour and many other foodie delights. One spot you may miss if you are not in the know if the amazing Honest Chocolates and secretive Gin Bar.
Honest Chocolates is actually the entrance to the secret Gin Bar which is housed in a building that actually used to be a morgue. The decor is rustic brick face blended with Cape Dutch colonial charm and Mediterranean elegance. The atmosphere is trendy and jovial with a host of local and international gins to choose from. Top picks include the fynbos infused Inverroche from Still Bay or the even more localised and utterly herbaceous Woodstock Gin Company. And pick up a chocolate tart from Honest, they are exceptional. They have also just completed renovations (April 2019) and have a large upstairs area with high ceilings and wooden floors.
This is also one of the most bustling areas in the CBD to visit on the artsy First Thursdays, one of the top must do activities in Cape Town.
Have high tea in an old grain silo
We’ve mentioned the Silo below as one of the best hotels in Cape Town, but its not only guests of the luxury hotel that can enjoy its facilities. There is a rooftop bar, another bar inside and the wonderful Granary Café for the most delectable high tea. All the treats at the cafe are designed by pastry chef Devin Jones and served on a circular three-tiered wire tray. There is so much to enjoy from buttermilk scones to macarons, all with a spectacular view of Lion’s Head.
Visitors to the Silo at the Cape Town Waterfront can also visit the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) at the bottom of the building which holds the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world. You can book a fast-track ticket to the MOCAA online here.
Have some unique wine tastings
Cape Town is a go to destination for wine lovers. There are several different wine routes to try out which are mentioned later in the article and thousands of wineries to visit. With all the millions of choices, some wineries have tried to stand out of the crowd by creating new and inventive ways to taste or pair wine.
One of the most unique places to go wine tasting in Cape Town is Klein Roosboom Boutique Winery. It’s situated in the less frequented Durbanville wine route and has some amazing bottles, the most popular being the Sauvignon Blancs Reserve. But the most unique feature is that wine tasting is held in a cave. It’s not a real cave in a mountain but rather an old wine vat that was converted into a tasting room. The wines sold here are quite difficult to come by, so be sure to take some home with you.
Now that you know of a unique place to taste wine, why not opt for a different kind of wine pairing. Stellenbosch Hills presents a truly South African take on wine tasting with their super popular Biltong & Droëwors Adventure pairing which started in 2005. If you don’t know by now, biltong is unprocessed beef jerky and droëwors is its sausage equivalent. You will get to taste six premium wines along with their various biltongs like springbok, ostrich and kudu.
Another unique take on wine is the wine-infused ice cream at Somerbosch Estate . They make their interesting wine ice cream on sight where you will test the Merlot, Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon flavors to see which you like best. There is also a nice bistro on site if you want to stay for a bite to eat.
If you’re really adventurous and don’t mind a long drive, or you are going to visit Cape Agulhas, try out Zoetendal Wine Farm in Elim for a nougat or Turkish delight and wine tasting. You will also get a free canoeing experience in the most gorgeous surroundings.
Go clay pigeon shooting
Stellenbosch is not only great for wines and history, there are other activities that will keep you entertained. One of the best things to do in Cape Town other than wine tasting is to go clay pigeon in rural Stellenbosch. Clay Pigeon Adventures will take you off road all the way up to Wild Clover Farm where you will learn to shoot with precision.
There are various different options for your sharp shooting adventure from 10 bullets, pizza and some beer/wine to biltong platters and an abundance of shots. Prices range from R125 to R1850 per person.
Eat authentic Ethiopian food
The Mother City is a foodie haven. There are of restaurants in Cape Town to choose from whether you love over the top degustation or side of the road street vendors. One of the most authentically African eateries to try out is Addis in Cape. This Ethiopian restaurant has been open to the public for over ten years which proves its high quality status.
All food is served tapas style on a traditional Mesob which is a gorgeously woven table, almost like a large basket. If you read this blog, you’ll know that one of my most favorite things about flying Ethiopian Airlines is the fact that they serve the spongy flatbread injera. Addis in Cape actually has two types to choose from the normal sourdough-based variety to the gluten free teff option.
Addis in Cape also has the largest vegan menu in the Cape apart from the vegan only restaurants like Lekker Vegan and Raw and Roxy. Try the dishes that contain Berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend, or Kibe, spiced clarified butter. Definitely do not go alone, the food comes in large quantities and as it is tapas style, go a very long way. Find out more about their menu and history here.
Explore an abandoned zoo
This is one of the most under the radar things to do in Cape Town, especially for the intrepid explorers. The old abandoned Groote Schuur Zoo is forgotten sight right next to the University of Cape Town that many people, including locals, don’t know about.
The once popular zoo, built at the request of statesman Cecil John Rhodes to host his personal menagerie, was free to access and housed various different animals. The main attraction was the lion which had its own den. The now defunct animal domicile is an eerie yet beautiful attraction in Cape Town to visit, especially in combination with a visit to Rhodes Memorial, UCT or Newlands forest.
The structure is still in place, but it’s now covered in graffiti, which makes it that much more photogenic. It’s about a 20min walk from Rhodes Memorial via Rhodes Memorial Street or about 5mins from the old old zoo parking lot.
Have a family day at Blue Rock Resort
Many visitors to Cape Town end up spending a few days in Hermanus or decide to drive up the Garden Route. The easiest way from Cape Town to these destinations is via the N2 highway where you will drive around the bendy Sir Lowry’s Pass. While many travelers want to get from A to B as quick as possible, why not take a break and witness one of Cape Town’s most fun destinations, Blue Rock Resort.
Blue Rock Resort lies in Helderberg Rural just before the Sir Lowry’s ascent. There is a large lake on the property where visitors can try their hand at cable skiing. This is much like water skiing, but instead of being pulled by a boat you are guided by a suspended cable.
There is also wakeboarding, kneeboarding, paintball and a 400 metre long zip line available. You can also enjoy beach volleyball, SUPing, canoeing, and rock jumping. This really is probably the best way that a traveling family can take a break as there is also restaurant serving an international menu right on the beach.
Prices for cable skiing range from R185 to R420pp depending on your time limit. Entrance fee to the resort is R50–R55 for adults, R40–R45 for kids under-16 and R30–R35 for under-6. More information here.
Jump into oblivion
The trampoline trend is exploding worldwide and hasn’t escape the Mother City. Rush Trampoline Park is one of those safe, family friendly and fun things to do in Cape Town with kids, especially if it’s too windy or raining outdoors.
Apart from the multitude of trampolines, the premises contain two dodgeball courts, three basketball slam-dunk lanes, and a tall battle beam where two gladiators can battle until the loser plunges into the foam pit below. Don’t miss the glow-in-the-dark feature that will add great excitement, especially for the children.
A one-hour open jump session will cost R115 (excluding socks) and R110 for a second hour. Make sure to buy some non-slip trampoline socks for an additional R25 per pair. Online booking is recommended on the busier weekends and public holidays.
See the most adorable animals
Alpacas, originally from South America, are known for producing super soft wool. They are interesting and super cute little creatures and you can visit the over 150 animals that stroll around Quenti Alpaca Farm in Wellington. The farm is set in an old Cape Dutch homestead established around 1715 that was restored and turned into a breeding farm. Not only is it super cute to see the wonderful creatures, it’s also quite educational where you can learn about the yarn making process. Bookings are essential.
Another of the must places to visit in Cape Town is the Cape Point Ostrich Farm which you can combine with your trip to one of the most popular tourist attractions, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve (Cape Point National Park). Go on a guided tour of the premises where you will learn all about the life cycle of the ostriches
Cape Point Ostrich Farm is one of these places. There are guided tours where you can learn all about the life cycle of the ostriches. You can also purchase ostrich products from leather to ostrich egg art. The Hatchery restaurant serves farmstyle meals that overlook the lush and green nature reserve.
Have the most inventive cocktail
Mixologist cocktails bars are a recent addition to Cape Town’s vibey nightlife. In Singapore, particularly in Chinatown, we have so many different options from Operation Dagger to Native to Nutmeg and Clove. Cape Town’s newest and possibly most inventive cocktail bar is Cause Effect Bar in Gardens.
Their mixologists known as “drink alchemists”, which they most definitely are. The ingredients used in the drinks are foraged locally, so you can expect new, exciting and fresh flavors. The drinks are also inspired by iconic features in and around Cape Town where you will surely learn something new about the city and its history.
If you’re looking for something new, pick something out of their “Experiential Menu” like the “Tree Of Life” made with Absolut Elyx, baobab, pear, pineapple, spice and cardamom bitters or the “Cape Pine” with pine needles, Bacardi 8, citrus and Schweppes Ginger.
There is also great tapas style food available like watermelon, yuzu & cream cheese or crispy hake, mango atchar & cardamom.
Party on the beach
There are two very popular glitzy beach bars in Cape Town and both are in close proximity. Grand Africa Café & Beach is right next the touristy V&A Waterfront where party people can dance with their toes in the sand to the newest club hits.
There are some great views of the Atlantic ocean and Robben Island to view as the sun sets. There is also a secluded VIP area which can seat up to 12 people for a more intimate affair. Order some bubbly with one of their sharing platters for a nice end to your day and beginning of your night.
About a 10min drive away is Shimmy Beach Club. This open air club, similar to Barasti in Dubai, also overlooks the ocean. While there is a large pool to swim in, there is no access to the sea. The other difference between Shimmy and the Grand is that Shimmy is a bigger party affair with a large stage, a larger capacity and a bit more ostentatious. This is the place to go if you’re really looking for an epic party.
Visit an historic wine farm
Many wine aficionados know that Simon van der Stel is the father of winemaking in Cape Town, Stellenbosch is even named after him. But the tumultuous story of his son, Willem Adriaan van der Stel, is a lesser known story. Willem misused his power as Governor of the Cape Colony to purchase more land than was legally allowed in what today is known as Vergelegen in Somerset West. After being found guilty he was recalled back to his native Holland and was never allowed to return.
Vergelegen today is an historic and expansive property with residential properties going all the way back to the 1700s. There is wine to drink, rivers to walk along and a visit Africa’s oldest living oak tree. The high-end Camphors restaurant is a must for foodies and animal lovers and go check out the uniquely South African Nguni cattle with their majestic horns.
Learn about the Jewish citizens of South Africa
The South African Jewish Museum is part historical account of the Jewish people of South Africa and part Holocaust memorial centre. It is an interesting and extremely heart rendering museum in Cape Town where you will learn all about the struggles and determination of the Jewish citizens of the country.
The property, situated right in the historic Companys Gardens, also has the first and oldest synagogue in South Africa. What not many people know is that the museum is also home to the largest collection of Netsuke (Japanese miniature art) in Africa.
Watch jazz in a cathedral
Cape Town has been the epicenter of South African jazz since 1959 and even spawned its very own sound known as Cape Jazz. The first player included Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand) who formed part of the Jazz Epistles. What sets the music apart is the instruments used to play which included those that could be carried in a street parade, like brass instruments, banjos, guitars and percussion instruments.
Today, jazz is alive and kicking with the yearly International Cape Town Jazz Festival being one of the most sought after events in the city. For a unique experience you can visit the Crypt which is underground the St George’s Cathedral that was built in 1898. The beautiful church in at the end of the Companys gardens was a meeting place for those in opposition of the Apartheid government. It is also still a working church with regular services and jazz is performed between Tuesday and Saturday from 19h00 – 23h00 with a R110pp cover charge, dinner excluded.
Essential guide to Cape Town: Where to stay in luxury
Below are the top picks of the most luxurious hotels in Cape Town. Some are fairly new accomodations in Cape Town, while others are institutions.
The Cape Grace for an African inspired stay
If you want to be chauffeured around in a BMW while enjoying pristine service and a marble bathroom to boot, the Cape Grace is for you. This luxury boutique hotel is situated smack bang in the center of the V&A Waterfront harbour with a view to match. Other reasons to stay include the purely African Spa with panoramic views of Table Mountain, the award-winning Signal Restaurant that boasts African and international fare and the elegant Bascule Bar that serves over 500 whiskies and a selection of fine wine.
The One&Only for a unique pampering
Also situated in shopping and tourist mecca, the V&A Waterfront, the One&Only carries its name credit as being a truly unique experience for its visitors. Luxuriate on your private balcony and then slip into the marble bathroom for a rain shower that will pamper your senses. If it’s sunny outside, you can relax on the sun-lounger terrace with infinity pool. And after finishing you spa-day with sauna you can wine and dine at one of Cape Town’s best Japanese-inspired restaurants, Nobu.
Twelve Apostles for isolated luxury
This is the place to stay if you’re looking to get out from the hustle and bustle of the city and throngs of tourists. The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa is nestled in the foot of the Twelve Apostles mountain range and is the only property that was allowed construction en route from Camps Bay to Llandudno. You will therefore be surrounded by green nature and magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean and Oudekraal Beach, part of the Table Mountain National Park area. And don’t worry if it’s a little far as they provide free transfers to Camps Bay and V&A Waterfront. Pamper yourself in the award winning Spa with rock pools, eat at the organic Azure Restaurant or just take in the spectacular African sunsets.
Mount Nelson for colonial style brilliance
For those not interested in staying by the V&A and want to be in thick of it all, your go-to pick would be the Belmont Mount Nelson located in the central Gardens district. This garden estate situated in the heart of the thriving city is your best pick if you’re a fan of exploring the best restaurants and cafes. After a day of wanderlust around Long Street and the Company’s Gardens, come back to an oasis of 5-star service and exclusive elegance. Each wing of the hotel is unique while all tying in with the colonial style feel. Bring your racket to the tennis court, experience one of the best high teas or take a dive in one of the pools. Dine at the interactive Chef’s Table for lunch and night falls, feel like a celebrity in the contemporary Planet Restaurant and Bar.
The Silo for the trendy traveler
New-comer in the Cape Town hotel scene, the Silo Hotel is as distinctive as they come. The hotel was originally a grain elevator portion of the historic grain silo complex in the , but has been completed reimagined by designer-extraordinaire Heatherwick Studio. The contemporary design is merged with ornate interior to really get those royalty juices flowing. It boasts an outdoor pool, restaurant, spa and bar and views that are unparalleled in the entire Cape Town. Looking out through the pillowed glass windows is like being in a helicopter without the motion sickness.
Tips for traveling Cape Town from a local
There are a few additional things to know about travel in Cape Town, especially for a safe and convenient trip. Here are some tips for traveling Cape Town like a pro.
If you’re hiring a car you’ll notice car guards after hours in almost every major suburb. They are not legitimate guards hired by the government, but rather people from lower income areas. They are there to watch your car from break-ins and in return you can give them some small change.
Drinking and driving
South Africa has a zero tolerance against drinking and driving. The alcohol limit is currently a breath alcohol content of 0.24mg per 1,000ml, or a blood alcohol limit of 0.05g per 100ml. This is equal to:
- Two thirds of a beer or spirit cooler with 5% alcohol content.
- 75ml of red or white wine per hour with an alcohol content of 12% to 14%.
- A 25ml tot of alcohol per hour of whisky or brandy.
If you plan on drinking, please call an Uber or taxi and pick up your car the following day. Alternatively you can arrange for you and your car to be picked up from a service such as Night Owls.
There was a recent statistic that 60 new families move to Cape Town every month. This fact mixed with the influx of tourists equals hoards of traffic. Try to stay away from the roads during peak season (about November to March) during hours where there is most congestion, usually in the morning and afternoon. Especially in the more tourist-heavy areas like Kloof road from Tamboerskloof to Camps Bay.
Cape Town is known for it’s moody weather changes. It’s not unusual to have four seasons in a single day. The weather may jump from very hot and calm to very cold and rainy in a matter of minutes. So if you plan on going to the beach for sundowners, it’s advisable to bring along a jacket and a pair of shoes and socks.
The Cape Doctor
Watch out for the South-Easter or “Cape Doctor” – a viscously strong wind that blows sporadically between September and March. It was so strong in 2017 that the Cape Town government had to cancel one of the major events, the Cape Argus Cycle Tour. It is a necessary evil though, as the Cape Doctor actually blows away the smog and impurities in the air, making way for some fresh ocean air. Be warned that if it is too strong, the cable car going up Table Mountain will be put on hold for safety concerns. So it’s best to check the weather report before planning your day.
While Cape Town is a tourist haven and fairly safe in the day, crime is a part of life. Petty crime like pickpocketing and theft is quite high. For this reason it is best to carry your handbag in front of you. Be on the lookout for suspicious characters, especially in crowded areas. Try not to hold your smartphone up in public spaces where it can be snatched. And don’t put your bag down in public spaces. Cape Town’s motto is, “Stash it, don’t flash it” when it comes to valuables.
One quick word on crime. Some areas are notorious for crime, but you will most likely not stumble upon these areas accidentally. Most touristy areas are perfectly safe, especially in the day, you just need to be vigilant with your valuables. Rather ask people or store clerks for directions that whipping out a large map, while your Canon 7D hangs around your neck.
Red Bus, My Citi bus and mini-bus taxis
One of the best ways to get around Cape Town if you don’t have a car is the Red Bus (which is the same in many countries). The idea is that you hop on and hop off in whatever location you choose. There are many different routes to choose from and the price is very reasonable. More information here.
The My Citi bus is a great way to get around, albeit a little slow. You will need to purchase a ticket from one of their stands and load it with money. Check the routes for details and don’t expect the buses to run on time.
You can also choose to take a mini-bus taxi to truly experience how locals travel. These boisterous taxis travel like they own the road, stopping in the middle of the road, screaming destinations while hanging out the window and blaring kwaito music. They may seem fierce, but it’s the cheapest way to get around the city. Shout to the driver where you want to go, and then quickly embark when you reach the destination. This is a cash only transaction, so carry coins with you. Alternatively, you can catch a meter taxi or an Uber.