Cape Town: A Unique Travel Destination
As if you needed more reasons to travel, it's time to add South Africa to your bucket list. This top destination on the southern tip of Africa features a Mediterranean climate, deep historical foundation, an abundance of flora and fauna, and plenty of things to do in Cape Town.
Originally established by the Dutch, Cape Town features a unique amalgamation of cultures and backgrounds. This fact only serves to enhance the natural beauty of the area and paint history with context. Despite the troubled past of South Africa's apartheid policies, the progress made since that time makes Cape Town even more appealing. There are plenty of things to do in Cape Town for all travel styles. Find yours below and pack your bags!
Who doesn't love to try local wines? Cape Town offers several wineries and wine tasting options for the lush in your group. Even if you aren't the most knowledgeable about vino, this destination offers something for all drinkers. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Cape Town wine country:
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Michael Fu
Just 10.5 miles south of Cape Town, oak-lined streets, historic mansions, and wineries welcome travelers with open arms. This vicinity is known as Constantia Valley and is a great destination for wine lovers looking for things to do in Cape Town. Along the Valley's wine route, there are nine wineries that feature tastings, the oldest of these being Groot Constantia. Groot Constantia specializes in dessert wines and is perfect for those with a sweet tooth. This winery has served the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, King Louis Phillipe of France, and Jane Austin.
Perfect for: wine lovers in search of quaint surroundings. If you value quality and sophistication, this is a great thing to do in Cape Town.
Not so great for: non-drinkers and children.
Wine and Whales
This top thing to do in Cape Town in a must try if you want to cross two activities off your list at one time. Generally 9 hours in length, these whale-watching cruises leave Cape Town in search of Hermanus whales breeching and splashing off the coast. Travelers are able to sip local vintage wines in Hemel en Aarde Valley before cruising towards Sir Lowry's Pass and Elgin. Both of these sites will delight the photographer in your group. Most companies offer an optional whale watching cruise that allows you to get within close proximity of the whales. That is, for an extra fee, of course.
Perfect for: wine and animal lovers who prefer to see creatures in their own habitats.
Not so great for: those prone to seasickness.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Deon Maritz
Cape Town is definitely not short on options for wine lovers. Stellenbosch is considered the home of South African wine and is the perfect place to head for the ultimate tasting. The town of Stellenbosch boasts 150 tasting rooms, scenic views, and award-winning wines. While other wine destinations may feel geared towards the snobby, wine connoisseur, Stellenbosch is a friendly and accessible locale for wine drinkers of all levels.
Perfect for: wine drinkers of all tastes, indulgence habits, and wine knowledge. Stellenbosch's variety ensures that there is a wine pairing for all preferences.
Not so great for: non-drinkers and children. Nonetheless, the scenery is Instagram-worthy, so snap a picture!
If wine tasting isn't your speed, don't fret. Cape Town also offers several activities for adrenaline junkies. Here are our top picks if you want to get your heart pounding:
Table Top Mountain
Credit: Flickr, Damien du Toit
Table Top Mountain is one of Cape Town's most easily recognizable scenic sites. If you are a sucker for a good view, this is the perfect thing to do in Cape Town. For those looking to get to the top, there are a few options.
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway
The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway allows trekkers to ascend to the summit in under 5 minutes. A rotating floor in each cable car offers 360-degree aerial views of the city. This is perfect for taking incredible photographs from a different perspective. The cableway runs from Tafelberg Road to the top of the Mountain. With over 900,00 riders annually, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway has carried over 26 million passengers to date.
Perfect for: those who want a thrill, but aren't ready to try skydiving. Also great for children and aerial photographers.
Not so great for: those scared of heights.
Abseil Table Mountain
For anyone looking to push their limits a bit farther, abseiling Table Mountain is also a great thing to do in Cape Town. This harrowing experience allows you to descend down the steep side of Table Mountain's rock cliffs. To reach the abseil point, visitors can choose to use the cableway mentioned above, or they can hike up to the top. Once there, trekkers use a rope to slowly lower themselves 360 feet down the side of Table Mountain. This is a climber's dream come true.
Perfect for: climbers and thrill seekers.
Not so great for: those scared of heights and anyone with mobility restrictions.
Zipline Tours in Hout Bay
If abseiling doesn't get your heart racing, perhaps a zipline tour will. The zipline running over Hout Bay is one of Africa's longest and highest lines. Ringing in at 2.3 kilometers long, this zipline showcases single cables up to 500 meters long and 155 meters above the ground. If you want a new perspective of Cape Town, this is the activity for you!
Perfect for: those who enjoy flying through the air suspended by a cable.
Not so great for: those scared of heights, children, and the elderly.
Credit: Flickr, Derek Keats
Departing from Signal Hill and Lion's Head are tandem paragliding flights. If you don't mind being exposed to the elements and want to see Cape Town in a whole new light, try this! This high-flying activity is one of the most popular things to do in Cape Town. The flights land in Camps Bay or Green Point. While reviews are great for paragliding excursions, keep in mind that this is a short experience. Those who have tried paragliding indicate that the flight is over within 7-20 minutes. Nonetheless — worth it? I think yes.
Perfect for: anyone curious about human flight.
Not so great for: those scared of heights, children, and the elderly.
At some point during your stay in Cape Town, you may want to explore the local nightlife scene. Cape Town has several streets dedicated to this plight, each with its own atmosphere and vibe. Try a few of these suggestions when you plan your night out:
Jazz at The Crypt
Credit: The Crypt Jazz Restaurant
Jazz at the Crypt is a unique thing to do in Cape Town. The Crypt is the actual crypt of St. George's Cathedral. The intimate setting gives a cozy feel to the otherwise spookily named venue. The Crypt is known for having a constant flow of the best jazz musicians. Music lovers can rejoice with one of Cape Town's best pulls.
Perfect for: jazz enthusiasts.
Not so great for: those who prefer silence.
Long Street is one of the most popular things to do in Cape Town. Famous for its clubs, pubs, and bars, Long Street is a great option for those who want to party hardy abroad. The Bohemian vibe, coupled with eye-catching architecture are only a few reasons to scope out Long Street. Locals and experienced travelers recommend the restaurant Fork for the best tapas and Stones for its vibrant wall artwork and large dance floor. As an aside, reviews ascertain that travelers should be alert on Long Street, as the area is rampant with pickpocketers and beggars. Keep your wallets close!
Perfect for: those looking for good eats and happening clubs.
Not so great for: children.
Bree Street is by far one of the most popular places for things to do in Cape Town. Chic eateries and bars fill this street. Two favorites are:
- Chef's Warehouse and Canteen — This 2014 Eat Out Mercedes-Benz Restaurant Award Winner is considered the best “everyday eatery” in Cape Town. Chef's Warehouse and Canteen seeks to take “old” street food and reconfigure it into their comfy space. Tapas, cheeses, wines, and desserts are a few of the specialties. Reservations are not allowed, so plan accordingly.
- Charango Peruvian Grill — Another favorite of Cape Town, Charango Peruvian Grill is fusion at its best. Here, chefs marry Peruvian and Japanese flavors to make “Nikkei Cuisine.” This spot is sure to be a hit with foodies.
Perfect for: foodies and classy people.
Not so great for: picky eaters.
Galileo Open Air Cinema
Credit: The Galileo Open Air Cinema
For film lovers, this is the perfect thing to do in Cape Town. Travelers describe the Galileo Open Air Cinema as similar to a drive-in cinema, but with deck chairs, blankets, and pillows. Set beneath the stars, this cinema welcomes snuggling couples, groups of friends, and families depending on the movie. 10 various venues host the Galileo Open Air Cinema, so finding a film near you should be no problem.
Perfect for: movie lovers looking to enjoy a peaceful and relaxing evening. If you've had a long day and want a low key activity, this is the right choice of things to do in Cape Town.
Not so great for: children (depending on the movie content). See other options on the list for better choices of things to do in Cape Town with children.
South Africa has a complex and difficult history. For trekkers hoping to gain perspective into colonial Cape Town, the apartheid years, and racial struggles, there are several things to do in Cape Town.
Castle of Good Hope
Allow yourself to be transported to the late 17th Century. The Castle of Good Hope is South Africa's oldest surviving building. The Dutch East India Co. built the star-shaped fortress to serve as the central point for colonial Cape Town's administration and armed forces, acting as a military stronghold for the region. Today, the Castle houses several museums and is a great family activity.
Perfect for: families and those interested in Cape Town's historical military operations.
Not so great for: those who bored by history. Regardless, stop by to add a picture to your vacation album.
District Six Museum
Established in 1994, the District Six Museum memorializes the displaced citizens of District Six. In the early 20th Century, District Six housed one-tenth of the Cape Town's population. However, in 1966, this area was declared a “white” neighborhood, thereby forcing 60,000 inhabitants to move to shanty towns in Cape Flats. The museum educates visitors about the people who formerly resided in District Six. Travelers indicate that this is a somber, yet informative experience.
Perfect for: those who want to understand a small piece of South Africa's racial struggles.
Not so great for: those looking for thrills and small children.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Joachim Huber
Another reminder of South Africa's troubled history is Robben Island. Founded in the 17th Century, this location has served many purposes. These include housing a military base, a leper colony, a mental institution, and a prison. In fact, the prison upon Robben Island held Nelson Mandela, the former South African president and anti-apartheid activist. Today, a museum details the history of the island. Former inmates guide visitors through a tour of the prison. Not only are you able to see Mandela's former cell, you can also hear first-hand accounts of what life was really like behind bars.
Perfect for: those who enjoy hearing history from the source.
Not so great for: adrenaline junkies and young children.
Iziko Museums of Cape Town
The Iziko Museums of Cape Town are sure to be a hit for any trivia wiz out there. Twelve museums make up the Iziko Museums (think the Smithsonian Museums, but in Cape Town).
For visitors looking to learn more about zoology, paleontology, and archaeology finds and efforts in South Africa, the Iziko South African Museum is a great choice. This particular museum houses more than one and half million scientifically important specimens. In addition, visitors can see 700 million-year-old fossils and stone tools used by people 120,000 years ago.
Perfect for: those who enjoy history and museums. Take your pic of topics from the 12 various museums.
Not so great for: those with short attention spans.
It wouldn't be a vacation without a trip to the beach! South Africa's prime location ensures plenty of options from which beach bums can choose.
Muizenberg Beach isn't just your typical beach. Lending to its prime surfing location, National Geographic voted Muizenberg one of the world's best surf towns. Not to worry if you aren't a surfing expert, as you can learn here! This family-friendly beach also features iconic colorful changing booths which are often featured in travel brochures. Occasionally, Muizenberg beach also hosts “Moonlight Meanders,” which are perfect for spending an evening under the stars.
Perfect for: surfers, people of all ages, families, and starstruck lovers.
Not so great for: people who don't like sand in their tush.
Camp's Beach is the perfect spot for those who want it all. If you aren't content to bask in the sun all day, Camp's Beach has a solution. This location features many different beaches, entertainment options, nightlife, and restaurants. Trekkers can stretch out on the sand while surrounded by cafes and bars. When you are tired of playing in the water, you can try out one of the many beach-side restaurants. This family-friendly spot is also known for its spectacular sunsets. Can you say photo-op?!
Perfect for: those who want a little more out of the beach. Families are welcome.
Not so great for: those looking for a quiet, secluded beach.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Within Simon Town sits Boulder's Beach. This scenic thing to do in Cape Town features enormous round granite boulders. These rock formations are estimated to be 540 million-years-old. In addition to providing great pictures, the boulders protect the cove from currents, wind, and waves. One of the coolest things about Boulder's Beach is that it is the home of a colony of penguins since 1982. These penguins wander freely, and if you're lucky, may sit still for a picture from afar. This is by far one of the best things to do in Cape Town.
Perfect for: penguin lovers and those who like a still, calm beach.
Not so great for: people scared of penguins.
Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point
If you are looking for beautiful things to do in Cape Town, look no further. The Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point extend south of Cape Town by about 40 miles. The peninsula divides the Atlantic Ocean and False Bay. In addition, Table Mountain encompasses this area. Although it is 100 miles from the official tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point are sure to make you feel as if you are standing on the edge of the world. Be sure to keep an eye out for the ostriches and baboons inhabiting the area. You won't want to miss this!
Perfect for: all.
Not so great for: anyone scared of falling off the (almost) edge of the world.
Walk-worthy Destinations and Sites
Some of the best things to do in Cape Town are to see the local sites. Most of these are within a walkable distance of Cape Town's many amenities. Don't miss these:
Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Phillip N.
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a bustling hub of activity. Sitting alongside the harbor, V&A was built in the late 19th Century by Queen Victoria's second son, Alfred. For years, V&A has functioned as a stop-over point for European ships. On top of the beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain, the Waterfront also features shopping, restaurants, and the Two Oceans Aquarium. If you stay into the evening, you will surely hear the Waterfront come alive with music.
Perfect for: a modern twist on a historical site.
Not so great for: an action-packed adventure.
Just a short walk from Victoria & Alfred Waterfront sits the Greenmarket Square. Originally a slave market, Greenmarket is one of South Africa's oldest public squares. Local vendors selling trinkets and fabrics pack the cobblestone plaza. Performers treat visitors to music, dance, and even mime. Nevertheless, reviews indicate that travelers should be wary of the merchants, who although friendly, can be extremely aggressive.
Perfect for: mingling with the locals.
Not so great for: impulse buyers and those who simply can't say “no”.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Barry Haynes
At the foot of Signal Hill lies one of Cape Town's must-see spots. Bo-Kaap is a vibrant Muslim community. The houses in this area are known for being a brightly colored rainbow, coming in all colors. Inhabitants of Bo-Kaap descend from Cape Malays, or slaves brought by Dutch settlers from Malaysia, Indonesia, and various other countries. Within the vicinity, a museum recounts the story of Bo-Kaap. In any case, despite being a great picture, fellow travelers express that there is not much to do here otherwise.
Perfect for: a cool photo.
Not so great for: an activity. Be sure that you have other plans for your day as well.
Two Oceans Aquarium
Nearby the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is Two Oceans Aquarium. This site sits near the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. With more than 3,000 creatures, visitors can expect to see the likes of penguins, sharks, turtles, and much more! In addition to observing these animals, trekkers can watch animal feedings, participate in hands-on activities, and if you're feeling brave — swim in a shark tank. Visitors rave about the family-friendly atmosphere and the overall diversity of marine life in the aquarium.
Perfect for: marine lovers and families.
Not so great for: PETA members.
If trails and mountains are your cup of tea, there are a myriad of things to do in Cape Town. The unique geography of the land allows you to experience a number of various ecosystems in an intimate way. Read on for a few of our favorite options:
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Shi Zhao
Alongside Table Mountain is a distinctivly shaped mountain slope known as Lion's Head. From where it sits, Lion's Head overlooks the city of Cape Town, Table Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean, while also offering clear views of Cape Peninsula and Robben Island. Those who wish to conquer Lion's Head will be met with an hour and a half hike up steep rocks. Chains and ladders line the rock faces to assist in ascending the rocky slopes. Furthermore, this is a popular spot for paragliding.
Perfect for: experienced climbers and hikers.
Not so great for: children, the elderly, and anyone else with difficulty walking. Arrange a spa day for Grandma while you go to Lion's Head.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
If you want a relaxing thing to do in Cape Town, stop here. The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens sits on the eastern slope of Table Mountain. Its 89 acres host more than 7,000 indigenous species, many of which are rare and/or threatened. With great sculpture-lined walking paths and ample diversity, Kirstenbosch is a winner.
Perfect for: those looking for a relaxing activity.
Not so great for: those lacking a green thumb — you may look at the plants, but do NOT touch them. (This is mostly advice for myself!)
Seal Snorkeling in Hout Bay
Seal snorkeling in Hout Bay is another excellent up-close and personal experience. Marine guides show trekkers the ropes of snorkeling. Within Hout Bay, travelers can expect to see naturally occurring cape fur seals. While native to the African coast, these beings are not found anywhere else on Earth. With an estimated 10,000 playful seals, chances are high that you will have a close encounter.
Perfect for: swimmers who want to be intimate with nature.
Not so great for: non-swimmers and those scared of seals.
Kayak in Three Anchors Bay
If you've ever wanted to feel close to nature, try kayaking in Three Anchors Bay. Travelers can opt for a 3-5 kilometer journey towards Granger Bay or Clifton Beach. Along the way, it is not uncommon to see penguins, seals, and sea birds. The major highlight though is the tendency of dolphins to surround and swim next to kayakers. Talk about incredible! You won't want to miss one of the most amazing things to do in Cape Town.
Perfect for: those who want an up-close experience. Dolphin lovers unite!
Not so great for: those with limited upper body strength and non-swimmers.
Want to experience these things to do in Cape Town for yourself?
Credit: Wikimedia Commons, SkyPixels
Book your ticket to Cape Town, South Africa to immerse yourself in a country of beauty and excitement. Despite its difficult past, the number of things to do in Cape Town is near infinite! As such, this list is by no means complete.
Have you been to Cape Town, or are you planning to go? If so, drop us a comment letting us know your favorite spots.
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