Cape Town, or the ‘Mother City’, which it is affectionately called, is known for its beauty. It has many feathers in its cap and recently, another was added when CNN referred to the city as one of the most beautiful in the world. We agree fully. We offer safaris through southern and East Africa, but we're based in Cape Town and we include this beautiful city that we call home in many of our trips.
The city offers both locals and visitors a smorgasbord. Mountains, beaches, nature reserves, wine and food, adrenaline-fueling activities, culture … we could go on and on. Instead, we thought we’d put together a list of our favourite things to do in and around Cape Town in a three-part series:
- In the Mother City (right here, right now)
- Enjoying nature in and around Cape Town
- Heading out of the Mother City
This’ll mean that you can plan your days in and around the city to get as much as possible out of your stay (and we've given options for keeping your budget in check).
If you’re not keen on getting yourself around, book our Cape Town City & Peninsula Tour Package and we’ll do all the hard work. You can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the sights. Here, we list some of our favourite activities in the Mother City itself.
Cape Town’s most iconic feature and an absolute must: Table Mountain and the Table Mountain National Park. Keep this one for a clear day – early mornings are often less windy and sunset is particularly spectacular – the views from up top are breath-taking: across the city one way, over the Cape Flats the other, and Camps Bay behind, The rotating cableway gives gorgeous views as you go up, and down.
No budget for the cable car return trip? If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk up, but be sure to leave enough time to get up/down before dark and check the weather before as the mist can come down suddenly – it’s not for the unfit or faint-hearted. Be careful not to under-estimate Table Mountain.There are 900 different access routes, of differing difficulty and safety levels. We recommend going with a qualified hiking guide who knows the montain and can take you on a route - and tell you all sorts of interesting things - that suits your level of fitness. Table Mountain Hiker and Walk in Africa offer guided hikes up the mountain.
Opening times of the cableway differ by season and are weather-dependent, so check out their website to check if it’s open and when. You can book online through Webtickets to shorten the wait in peak season.
The other option is climbing Table Mountain’s littler, and more witty, brother. If you don’t believe us about Lion's Head's wittiness, check out his Twitter account. Climbing Lion's Head is free and this local favourite is a less strenuous walk, and offers fabulous views. If you’re looking for a bit of an adrenaline burst, you can paraglide from the top with Fly Cape Town, The Tandem Flight Co or Cape Town Tandem Paragliding.
Arts, crafts and souveniers
You can’t come to Africa (or live in Africa, for that matter) without appreciating the incredible African artists and craftspeople. From beadwork to fashion, wooden sculpture to pottery, African talent is incredible and these creations make the perfect gifts to take home and souvenirs to remind you of your African travels.
African crafts are sold all over Cape Town. Greenmarket Square in the CBD, the original Cape Town market – the square dates back to 1696 – is a bustling and busy place with a variety of stalls. Get your bargaining boots on. Just adjacent, in Long Street, the Pan African Market boasts three floors to explore, with something to suit every taste and budget.
Helicopter rides are offered by various operators, many based at the Waterfront. If you’ve got a little spare cash in your budget, this is a brilliant place to spend it. Operators like NAC Helicopters offer a range of different flight options – from short flips to tailor-made trips. Feel like doing some wine-tasting on a Stellenbosch farm, but don’t want to drive? Look no further.
Helicopter flips put of your budget range? You can get a fabulous birds-eye view of the whole V&A development – it’s hard to believe it used to just be a harbour! – and toward Table Mountain with a trip on the Cape Wheel at the Waterfront. It’s especially pretty at night!
Glittering gems at Afrogem
Get a jewellery spoil at Afrogem in the CBD. This family business has been going for over 50 years and prides itself on being a relaxed place. Amazingly, in this built up city space, it has a 500 m2 manufacturing factory, which you can visit to see the three manufacturing methods used to make jewellery here: by hand, by CAD and by wax cast.
Africa is a source of many of the world’s finest gemstones and Afrogem has a massive range of loose stones – diamonds, tanzanites and semi-precious stones. You can pick your stone, pick your style of jewellery and, boom!, you’ll have your personalised piece ready to take home within 24 – 48 hours.
We love Afrogem because:
- Prices are affordable – every budget covered
- They’re not sexist, they make men’s rings too
- Their tours are free. And you get refreshments
- A short talk is given about the gems of Africa and what Afrogem does AND you can see the process in action
- Duration of tour is totally flexible and is dependent on how curious you are
- They have parking and security and even offer a pick-up service from your accommodation (within the CBD)
Remember to book ahead on their website as opening times are seasonal and booking is essential.
Experience Cape Town’s culinary delights
Cape Town and surrounds is known for its culinary prowess and you’ll be hard-pressed to fit in a visit to even a fraction of the incredible restaurants that call the city home, during a short stay. We’ll help you out, with a short list of some of our favourites.
Looking to taste some traditional African food? There are a number of restaurants in town that’ll satisfy your taste buds. Marco’s African Place prides itself on exquisite African cuisine and fabulous African music. At Africa Café, they celebrate the continent’s diversity and rich tapestry of tastes and aromas. In Long Street, the familiar drumbeats and delicious aromas float out of Mama Africa onto the street for passers-by to appreciate.
Bree Street is Cape Town’s newest trendy restaurant street: you’ll find something to suit every palate along this strip. At Clarkes, in Bree Street, you'll find fresh, affordable and scrumptious food. Think four cheese Mac & Cheese and burgers served in home-baked buns, washed down with craft beer on tap. It's a great place for endemic Cape Town species, The Hipster, spotting too. Oh, and if craft beer is your thing, check out our blog 'Seven cool spots to drink beer in Cape Town'.
Kloof Street is filled with great places to eat that won’t break the bank. Black Sheep, with its large windows that open onto the street and casual atmosphere offers a changing, seasonal menu. We’ve never experienced anything but delight at this spot.
If you’re celebrating a special occasion, try the Pot Luck Club, which is perched atop an old silo at the trendy Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. The food is amazing, the drinks are delicious and the views across the city are beautiful. Booking is needed, way in advance, as it’s very popular. This one’s on the high end of the budget scale.
If you’re on a tight budget, get a fish ‘n chips takeaway at the Waterfront and sit on a bench watching the goings-on in the harbour while you eat them. Watch out for the seagulls, though, they’re fans of fish ‘n chips too. Alternatively, amble around the V&A Food Market where you can choose from a range of affordable, fresh and delicious gourmet delights.
Want to do what every South African loves to do? Have a braai (barbecue). It's a national pastime and you'll see vendors braaiing on street corners everywhere. Don't believe us? See our blog, 'All Things Braai: South Africa’s Favourite Thing'. If you don't have the energy or the wherewithall to do it yourself, experience true South African hospitality at Mzoli's in Gugulethu, a loud and busy place, where you can pick your meat and someone will braai it for you.
We also created a list of 40 foods to eat in Cape Town, recommended by locals.
The V&A Waterfront is probably the second most well-known spot in Cape Town, after Table Mountain. Here, you can shop ‘til you drop and eat at over 80 restaurants (our favourites are the ones on the harbour where you can smell the salty sea air): Quay 4, Mar-e-Sol and Harbour House.
The Two Oceans Aquarium is well worth a visit. Be sure to walk through the Watershed on your way there. It boasts 150 different little stalls filled with the best Africa has to offer – perfect for gift-buying.
The Robben Island Ferry leaves from the Waterfront, too, and is an incredible trip to take. Robben Island is where Mandela spent many of his years of incarceration and a guided tour of the island is up there on the must do list.
If you’re a fan of sunsets, book yourself a sunset cruise out of the harbour. There a plenty of operators, including Tigger 2, Waterfront Charters and Cruise IQ (if you’re keen to experience life at sea on a catamaran). Cruises usually last about an hour-and-a-half and the route sailed is weather-dependent. Regardless of which direction you go, you’ll get spectacular views of Table Mountain as you watch the sun sink into the sea, champagne in hand.
Boat cruises too expensive? The Cape Town sunsets can be viewed for free along with hundreds of locals who amble along the Sea Point promenade each afternoon. Think kids, bicycles, joggers, dogs and incredible art, all accompanied by a gorgeous sunset. Envious of the cyclists? You can hire one at Up Cycles. Want the champagne version? Pop in to the Winchester Mansions and enjoy the sunset from their veranda.
Another perfect spot for enjoying a sundowner, with a view across the bay to Table Mountain? Check out Blue Peter.
Learning the History
Cape Town has a long and vivid history which can be learnt about by visiting numerous museums throughout the city. The Iziko Museums include the South African Museum, The Slave Lodge and many small museums in historic buildings around the city.
The District Museum is small and powerful. Situated in District from which thousands of people who’d called the area home for generations were forcibly removed in 1966 it is a beautifully curated centre that chronicles a terrible time in South Africa’s history.
Take an amble through the Company’s Gardens. This cool oasis in the middle of the CBD, first established by the Dutch East India Company in 1652, is where many of Cape Town’s historical buildings reside, including parliament, the National Gallery and the South African Museum and Planetarium. We’ve written a whole blog about it: ‘The Company’s Garden, Cape Town: Art, History, Stars and Squirrels’.
Stop in for tea or lunch at the Company’s Garden Restaurant, or pack a picnic and enjoy it on the lawns, but watch out for the squirrels … they’re cute, but sneaky, and they like a snack!
Cape Town is filled with wonderful art galleries, both large and small. The National Gallery in the Company’s Garden has a fabulous collection of both international and local art, including changing exhibitions of contemporary art.
Newest kid on the arts block is the Zeitz MOCAA, Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, based at the Waterfront in the old silo buildings of the harbour. The building itself is an architectural art piece and it has wonderful exhibitions showcasing all of Africa’s incredible talents.
If you’re feeling flush, treat yourself to something at the one of the three restaurants at The Silo Hotel: The Willaston Bar, The Granary Café or The Silo Rooftop.
Watching your budget? Fret not, there are numerous options just a few steps away. The Red Roof – just next door at the Radisson Red, is on the roof, offering fabulous views to Table Mountain and a small pub-style menu.
The Yard offers food and shopping, with outside and inside seating to suit all weather. Their Indian Mediterranean fusion food is divine. Looking for something fishy (you are, after all, in a working harbour)? Try Sushi Box. You can sit down or get a take-away to enjoy sitting on a bench watching the world go by.
There’s not only art in galleries, though … street art is big in the Mother City, and it’s beautiful. Woodstock has an incredible array of murals and various operators, like Juma’s Tours, offer walking tours through this, and other, vibrant art-filled neighbourhoods of Cape Town.
Cape Town water crisis
In case you're worrying, ‘Day Zero’ has thankfully been pushed back to 2019, the water crisis is still very much present. It is not, however, a reason not to visit. We answer all your questions in our blog ‘Cape Town water crisis: FAQ’ and tell you ‘How to Save Water and Still have Fun during the Cape Town Water Crisis’, so pack your Wet Wipes and come on over!
We're experts on safaris, but we're based in Cape Town, so we're experts on that too. Our advice: book a safari and make sure you add on a good few dauys at the end, to enjoy evrything Cape Town has to offer. Contact one of our knowledgeable travel consultants and book your dream trip now.