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
- Enjoying nature around Cape Town (right here, right now)
- Heading out of the Mother City
This’ll mean that you can plan your days in 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 are our favourite places to enjoy nature – and where they lead you – in and around the Mother City.
Under 15 km from Cape Town’s bustling CBD lies Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It’s hard to believe that this vast, tranquil garden is so close to a city. Covering 528 hectares – of which 36 hectares are cultivated – on the Eastern slopes of Table Mountain, adjacent to the Table Mountain National Park, it was proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004.
It’s not hard to see why. The uncultivated area supports natural forest and the fynbos for which the Cape is known – a huge number of proteas and other indigenous flora. The cultivated gardens include a fragrance garden, rockery, the Garden of Weeds, a braille trail and a sculpture garden full of fabulous African sculptures.
A new addition to the gardens in 2014 was the tree canopy walkway, colloquially referred to as the Boomslang (tree snake). The curved steel and wood walkway is a wonder to behold as you snake your way through and over the Arboretum. From the top, the views are spectacular of the mountains and Cape Flats spread below.
Walks in Kirstenbosch
Numerous marked walks wind their way through the gardens and, for the fitter and more energetic amongst us, up the slopes of Table Mountain.
Just 300 m down the road is Beau Constantia, with its sweeping view all the way across to False Bay, where you can taste their wines or enjoy a top-notch meal at the superb Chef’s Warehouse, sister restaurant to the gorgeous Chef’s Warehouse and Canteen in town. This one’s a special occasion kind of place.
Eating in Kirstenbosch
There are two restaurants at Kirstenbosch – Moyo, which specialises in African cuisine, and the original Kirstenbosch Tea Room, which serves light meals. Both restaurants have indoor and outdoor seating. There’s also a Vida e Caffé at the main entrance, which serves coffee and snacks that you can take into the garden.
If you’re watching your budget (or you just prefer doing our own thing), pack a picnic basket and blanket, find a cosy spot in the gardens, lie back, and enjoy the birds singing and the flowers blooming!
Getting entertained in Kirstenbosch
Summertime livin’ is definitely easy in Kirstenbosch and the gardens and mountains make a spectacular backdrop for the Summer Sunset concerts on Sunday evenings (and occasionally other evenings – watch the press for announcements). Forget the Sunday blues, pack a picnic, grab a spot on the sloping lawns above the stage, and enjoy both local and international stars crooning/rocking/orchestra-ing their hearts out.
If you’re more of a film buff than a music maestro, fret not, the Galileo Open Air Cinema shows the classics on certain nights in Kirstenbosch, and other fabulous outdoor venues around the city. There’s nothing quite like watching a movie with the stars overhead and night sounds of the garden.
Getting to Kirstenbosch
Getting to Kirstenbosch is simple. It’s an easy drive and is well signposted if you’re driving yourself. If you’re not hiring a car, the local Golden Arrow busses (weekdays only, 1701) include Kirstenbosch on their routes. If you’re doing the sightseeing thing and taking a ride on the City Sightseeing Hop-on, Hop-off buses, the blue route stops at Kirstenbosch.
For more on Kirstenbosch, check out our blog Kirstenbosch: Garden of Delights.
If you’re looking for a bit of action, turn right out of Kirstenbosch and head toward Hout Bay. Just after the circle at Constantia Nek, you’ll find Acrobranch. If swinging through the tree-tops all Tarzan-like is your thing, this is where you need to head.
Basically, Acrobranch offers obstacle courses, through the trees. There are different levels to suit different ages, heights and fitness levels. Arrive, and you’ll be kitted out with a harness by which you’ll be attached to the zip lines (safety always comes first). You’ll then be given a guided tour of the zip lines and obstacles. These include nets, bridges and swings i.e. all things fun, and all in the cool, green shade of the forest!
Heading on down the road from Acrobranch, you’ll find yourself in Hout Bay, a ‘sleepy little coastal village’ within 20 minutes of the CBD. It’s a mix of village and nature, huddled around a beautiful bay along which you can walk, paddle or take a dip.
After your dip, pop in at Dunes across the road from the beach, a Hout Bay staple, and enjoy a drink and a meal.
World of Birds
At the World of Birds, expect to marvel at over 3 000 birds and small animals on a landscaped walk through huge aviaries.
Walking through the huge Monkey Jungle (open daily from 11:30 to 13:00 and 14:00 to 15:30) allows you to come into direct contact with the fabulous squirrel monkeys. They’re mischievous little creatures, so make sure your bags are tightly shut!
Hout Bay Harbour
This working fishing harbour is a wonderful place to visit, take a walk along the pier to see the fishing boats, watch seals frolic in the harbour’s waters and enjoy some seafood. You can’t get fresher than this!
There are numerous places to eat in the Hout Bay harbour area, so there’s something to suit each budget. At Mariner’s Wharf on the harbour, you feel like you’re in a wooden ship while you enjoy your meal. If you're loving the fresh air, get a takeaway parcel of fish and chips and enjoy it on the benches outside, or sitting on the edge of the pier.
A little further down the harbour road, the Lookout Deck is a wonderful airy restaurant with a large deck out onto the harbour, which is perfect for sunny days.
If you’re budgeting carefully, the takeaway fish and chips from Fish on the Rocks truly is the freshest of fresh and delicious-est of delicious. Eat them at one of the wooden benches at Fish on the Rocks or sitting on the rocks watching the boats come in.
Hout Bay Market
If you’re lucky enough to be in Hout Bay over the weekend, the Bay Harbour Market is a real treat. It’s open on Friday evenings and during the day on Saturdays and Sundays and boasts an eclectic mix of arts, crafts, fashion and jewellery – perfect for gifts and souvenirs – and a range of delicious food stalls. Add to that, live music, drinks and people-watching, it’s a great place to get in with the locals.
Chapman’s Peak Drive
Chapman’s Peak Drive between Hout Bay and Noordhoek is one of the most scenic roads (it’s been used in loads of ads!) in the world as it hugs the mountain, the sea crashing below and the Sentinel waving from across the bay. There are a number of hikes that start at various spots along the road.
If driving through spectacular scenery makes you hungry, there are great places to eat on both ends of Chapman’s Peak drive. We recommend you try the delicious calamari at the Chapman’s Peak Hotel on the Hout Bay side.
As Chapman’s Peak winds into Noordhoek, the Noordhoek Farm Village offers a range of eating places. From the gourmet delights at The Foodbarn and freshly baked breads and tapas at the Foodbarn Deli to pub grub at The Toad and the seasonal menu (and fabulous live entertainment, check their schedule for what’s on, when) at Café Roux, there’s something to suit any budget. End it all with decadently delicious ice cream with a great name from Kristen’s Kick Ass Ice Cream.
A little further down the road, Cape Point Vineyards in Noordhoek is pretty spectacular too, with vineyards, a dam and a sweeping view across to the sea. Here you can enjoy a meal at the restaurant or on of their delicious picnic baskets on the lawn. All that’s required is for you to relax, eat, and enjoy the view.
For those more cash-strapped … pack a picnic basket and stop at one of the many viewpoints along Chapman’s Peak Drive. This is truly nature showing off her best side!
Horse riding on Noordhoek Beach
Do you want to feel the sea breeze in your hair as you canter along one of South Africa’s most wonderful beaches? Go horse riding on the 8 km Noordhoek beach.
And don’t worry if you’ve never ridden a horse before, there are numerous places, including Imhoff Equestrian Centre and Sleepy Hollow who cater for all levels of riding experience. Budget excluding you from this kind of activity? Take a walk along this beautiful beach – the sea is for free!
Surfing/boogie boarding in Muizenberg
If you’re wanting to experience being in the sea itself, head over to Muizenberg (an easy train ride from town). There is nothing quite like bobbing about behind the breakers waiting for the perfect wave. South Africa offers some of the best surf spots and a great place to learn is Muizenberg.
Here, a number of surf schools like Gary’s Surf School, Surf Emporium and Lifestyle Surf Shop offer surf lessons for beginners. If you’re watching your budget (or your balance isn’t great), you can rent yourself a boogie board. If your budget is really, really tight ... as we said above, the sea is for free and you can bodysurf to your heart’s content without it costing you a cent! Read more at Surfing the Surf - a Lesson at Muizenberg Beach.
Another fantastic way to get out onto the water is kayaking. Kaskazi Kayaks offer guided trips in Table Bay from where you get a wonderful view of Table Mountain and, if you’re lucky, dolphins, whales and sunfish frolic about in the water below you. ABS writer, Landia Davies joined in. read about her experience: Sea Kayaking in Cape Town - Adventure Time!
On the other side, in Muizenberg, Kayak Cape Town offer kayaking in False Bay – you can check out the penguins at Boulder’s Beach or go on a magical full moon rising trip at sundown (weather permitting – see their website for dates).
Whether you’re a city slicker or a nature lover, Cape Town offers you premium places to appreciate it all. And that’s before you even go on safari further north in South Africa! Get hold of one of our knowledgeable travel consultants and book your dream trip now. Or, start by browsing our budget tours departing from Cape Town.