Having lived in South Africa for a few years, Cape Town was unfortunately not the city I lived in. Fortunately, it was easy to visit Cape Town regularly from Johannesburg which I did many times. Having traveled all around the world, it is without hesitation that I still say that Cape Town is the world’s most naturally beautiful city. The contrast between the mountains, ocean, and beach are unlike anything else I’ve seen. I hear Rio in Brazil is similar but I will have to visit for myself and see!
There are so many stunning things to see and activities to do in and around Cape Town, it’s no wonder Nelson Mandela said “The Cape is South Africa’s gift to the world”. In fact, if I didn’t have to worry about finding work and applying for a South African visa, Cape Town would be at the top of places I’d want to live. The cost of living in Cape Town isn’t cheap, but it’s not that bad either!
Anyway, before I get carried away, this is my ultimate guide to visiting Cape Town.
Getting in and around Cape Town
Compared to Johannesburg, Cape Town is a much smaller and easier city to get around. There is even a reliable bus system that goes throughout the city.
Using Uber in Cape Town
With the introduction of Uber, Cape Town has become significantly easier to travel without a car. The App is readily used by tourists and locals alike. It’s intended effects are on full display as it is much easier to get a taxi nowadays and you’re no longer at the mercy of the sketchy local cab drivers that always surely rip you off.
A ride from the airport to Camps Bay is R250 and rides within the city are R50-100. Uber is also a great way to go medium distances like visiting South Africa’s wine country. It’s easy to grab an Uber to Stellenbosch or Franschhoek for under R500 one way. When you’re ready to go to another wine farm, just use the app again and wine hop this way without having to risk bribing the cops.
It’s a cheap way to get around and definitely makes life easier for the visitor that is not used to driving on the other side of the road.
Rent a car
Renting a car is a very popular option as well and my most preferred option. While you don’t really need a car in the city anymore, there are many day trips outside of Cape Town where a car is just better than an Uber. Cape Point and shark diving in Gansbaai are two that quickly come to mind. Also, having a car in the city makes getting from place to place quicker and more convenient.
They are readily available for rent at the Airport and the roads in Cape Town are in great shape. There are also many places in Cape Town proper to rent a car for the day (although this will cost more).
What to do in Cape Town
Cape Town is a traveler’s dream. There is so much to do and see in this city that a week will feel too short. In a perfect world, I would allot at least 4 days to seeing Cape Town as a visit to South Africa.
Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela was famously imprisoned for 27 years of his life. It’s since been decommissioned as a prison and nowadays it is a museum paying tribute to Mandela’s life. It’s a 1 hour ferry ride from Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront to the island where tours run regularly throughout the day. I think for historical purposes, Robben Island is definitely worth the visit.
Table Mountain is perhaps Cape Town’s most well known attraction and is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Famous for its impossibly flat “table-like” peak (where it gets its name from), the mountain is visible from all of Cape Town.
To visit Table Mountain, you can either hike up (1.5 to 2 hrs) or take the cable car. The cable car is a great experience in and of itself, whisking visitors to the summit for ~R300 round trip. Once at the top, there are gorgeous vantage points of the city, as well as a restaurant/bar.
The best views of Table Mountain itself are from Lions Head in my opinion. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see low lying clouds fall through the mountain.
Hike Lion’s Head
The Lions Head hike is my favorite hike in the city. The views from the top of Table Mountain, the 12 apostles, and the Atlantic ocean are just mesmerizing. It’s not an “easy” hike but it is the shortest at 45 minutes to 1 hour. It’s also far less crowded and touristy than Table Mountain since the only way to reach the top if by foot.
Bring some wine and hike up for the sunset. Find your own little rock and just watch the sun go down. Nirvana!
For the extra adventurous hikers, make sure to visit Devil’s Peak located right next to Table Mountain for an adventurous hike with much fewer people!
- Read about my detailed Table Mountain vs Lion’s Head post here!
Located at the base of Signal Hill, the Bo-Kaap neighborhood is famous for its colorfully painted houses and cobblestone streets. It was formally known as the Cape Malay Quarter, a township during the Apartheid era. The residents of this neighborhood can still trace their roots back to the Malaysians, Indians, Sri Lankans, and African people brought here by the Dutch as slaves back many centuries ago. The inter-mixing of these various groups through the generations resulted in the “Coloured” demographic.
Coloured, while considered racist in most other parts of the world, is actually a totally acceptable term in South Africa. Coloured, aka mixed race people, proudly refer to themselves as coloured. Sample some delicious Cape-Malay style cooking while in this neighborhood and take plenty of pictures!
Clifton and Camps Bay Beaches
Cape Town has some amazing beaches in the city. Camps Bay has a long stretch of sandy beach on the main boardwalk. Clifton, adjacent to Camps Bay, is more secluded and offers some fantastic beaches. Some of the most expensive real estate in the country are in these two neighborhoods.
While the water is not warm by any means, it’s swimmable during the summer months.
What to do outside of Cape Town
When you’re bored in Cape Town, don’t worry, there is even more to do in the surrounding area of the city. There is an array of day trip options available to Cape Town visitors and here are my favorites.
Cape Point via Chapman’s Peak
Cape Point is the perfect day trip out of Cape Town. Cape Point is located at the southern tip of Africa (although most southern tip is actually Cape Agulhas) where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meets. The drive goes through Chapman’s Peak and its windy mountainside roads offering some of the most dramatic views you’ll ever see. For lunch, stop at Chapman’s Peak Hotel for some amazing seafood!
Stop by at Boulder’s Beach to see the African Penguins (always a crowd pleaser) up close before finally reaching the Cape of Good Hope National Park. From here, you have two options: Hike to the Cape Point lookout, or do the Cape of Good Hope trail. Both are fantastic but if you have extra time, do both.
The Cape Point lookout takes only 1 hour, and the Cape of Good Hope will take 2-3. Both offer stunning views of the area. Watch out for the baboons however! They are not scared of people.
Shark Diving in Gansbaai
I did this countless times in South Africa because it is always at the top of people’s lists. After doing so much scuba diving, it’s hard for me to recommend this anymore as I don’t think it is healthy for the shark ecosystem to bring so many tourists.
Nevertheless, this is a very popular day trip from Cape Town. Located 2 hours east of Cape Town in the town of Gansbaai, this area of South Africa sees an insane amount of Great White sharks thanks to a large population of seals.
There are many tour companies that offer this activity in the area and prices include the pickup from Cape Town. Prices go up each year but in 2018, it hovers around R2000 per person.
Wine Tasting around Cape Town
I’ll keep this short, the Cape wine region is the most visually stunning wine region in the world. Nowhere else comes close to the visual beauty that the Cape provides. From Cape Town, it’s easy to visit the wine farms. Constantia is only 20 minutes away while Stellenbosch is 40 and Franschhoek just under 1 hour.
Wine tastings are incredibly affordable at R30-50 per tasting and some of the restaurants in South Africa are located here.
There are many tour companies that book day trips to the wine region. Unless you’re a solo traveler, I would just recommend going yourselves by following my one day wine farm itinerary by using Uber. Not only will you visit nicer wineries, but you can spend as much or as little time at each one. Price-wise, DIY with Uber will likely be cheaper than booking a tour if there are 2+ people in the group.
I’ve written numerous posts dedicated to wine tasting before so give them a read if you want more insight into this wonderful place!
Hermanus is a quaint seaside town about 1.5 hours east of Cape Town that is famous for its whale watching. During the winter months between June and October, Southern Right whales routinely come visit this part of the country. There are multiple daily departures on whale watching expeditions to see these amazing animals. Also, Hermanus is just an amazing little town with some incredible scenery, and beaches. It is one of the top destinations in the world to kitesurf.
Where to stay in Cape Town
There are no shortage of amazing accommodation options in Cape Town. The city has options for travelers in all budget ranges from the $20 hostels, to the $2000 luxury villa in Clifton Beach. The cheaper options will likely be in the city center whereas the options with beach views in Camps Bay, Clifton, Seapoint, and Greenpoint will command a premium.
Personally, I would elect to stay in the beach facing areas just because I think the views of Cape Town as just stunning and are worth the premium. I would stay away from staying in the V&A Waterfront just because of how touristy and congested it can get. It’s a great place to visit but there’s no point to stay there in my opinion.
Budget Options (Under $100)
- Ashanti Lodge Gardens: This is my favorite budget but not super budget accommodation in Cape Town. Located near the base of Table Mountain, this guesthouse has comfortable dorm rooms and private rooms, as well as a pool and cool common space to hang out with other travelers. It’s also close to lots of good restaurants and walking distance to Table Mountain
- The B.I.G Backpackers Greenpoint: A great hostel option in Greenpoint offering modern and industrial accommodation options.
Middle End ($100-300)
- 52 De Wet:
- Place on the Bay: The location can’t be beat. It’s on the main strip of Camps Bay literally a stones throw from the beach. The rooms could be redone but it’s all about the location here.
- Glen Boutique Hotel and Spa: Really this place is a high end hotel but priced in the mid-range
Higher End Options ($300+)
- 12 Apostles Hotel: One of the most famous hotels in South Africa. The 12 Apostles is known for its luxury and high end finishes. Located in a hilltop area 2 km south of Camps Bay, this hotel offers stunning views of Cape Town, and peaceful serenity unlike any other.
- South Beach Camps Bay: An amazing luxury hotel just outside the main strip of Camps Bay. This hotel has an amazing infinity pool offering views of the ocean and the surrounding mountains. Some rooms even have a private pool.
- Pod Hotel Camps Bay
Airbnb and Afristay in Cape Town
Cape Town has REALLY stepped up its homestay game in recent years. The options available in some of Cape Town’s prime neighborhoods are absolutely stunning. I prefer staying in other people’s apartments for my own travels as you regularly find more stunning accommodations at a cheaper price. In addition, the pictures you see are exactly what you get whereas you never know what room you’ll be getting at a large hotel.
Just as an example, check out the following Airbnb options and the prices they charge during summer months:
Where to eat in Cape Town
Cape Town is as cosmopolitan of a city as it gets. The culinary scene has been on a tear in recent years and you can find some of the best restaurants in the world here. While this list will surely always change as new restaurants open and old restaurants close, here are some of all time favorites:
Budget Eat Options
- Nandos: This is South Africa’s crown jewel in my opinion. The grilled peri peri chicken here is a must have especially for those that don’t have Nandos at home. Even if you do, it is supremely better tasting in South Africa.
- Market on the Wharf: Located in the V&A Waterfront, this is a permanent food market that has some incredibly tasty options. Make sure to visit the exotic food stall to try some game meats.
- Mzoli’s Place: Located in the township of Gugulethu, this is a local experience like no other. On Saturdays and Sundays, locals and tourists alike come here for the ultimate braai (bbq) experience. You pick you meats raw and bring them to the braai area where they are grilled to perfection. Local liquor stores across the street will have all you need for drinks and the making of a good time.
- Neighbourgoods Market: Located in the Old Biscuit Mill, every Saturday this market features dozens of the best local vendors serving up affordable and delicious bites. Drinks are also served here and it’s a great overall hangout.
- Hussar Grill: There are two locations in Cape Town, one in Greenpoint and one in Camps Bay. This is a famous old school steakhouse that serves some delicious steaks as well as game meats. Best of all? Steak in South Africa is not an expensive endeavour, even by local standards. A steak here will be R150-200 and will more than fill you up.
- Bo-Kaap Kombuis: I think Cape Malay Cuisine is the most unique food in South Africa. It mixes local flavors with that of the traditional southeast Asian and Indian foods belonging to the slaves that were brought over centuries ago. Located in the Bo-Kaap district of town, this restaurant offers stunning views of nearby Table Mountain as well as some delicious food!
- Pot Luck Club: Located in the V&A Waterfront, this is a permanent food market that has some incredibly tasty options. Make sure to visit the exotic food stall to try some game meats.
High End Cape Town dining options
- The Test Kitchen: Consistently ranked in the top 50 restaurants of the world, The Test Kitchen offers some of the most innovative and delicious food in South Africa. It has likely changed a lot since I went in 2014 but one thing is still true, be sure to make reservations well in advance.
- Carne SA: Delicious Italian influenced restaurant that specializes in meats, including various cuts of beef and numerous different samplings of game meat.
- La Colombe: One of South Africa’s most acclaimed and iconic fine dining destinations. La Colombe is located in a wine farm nearby to Cape Town is always consistently delicious.
Where to go after Cape Town?
Most people use Cape Town as the launching point for traveling in South Africa or the rest of Africa. It would be a shame to fly all the way to the southern tip of the world and only stay for a few days in Cape Town after all!
From Cape Town, the following options come to mind:
- Garden Route: Rent a car and drive the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth. This is one of the best road trips in the world in my opinion. Read about my Garden Route roadtrip itinerary.
- Safari: Fly to Johannesburg and go on a safari in the Kruger, Limpopo, KZN, or North west province. There are game reserves around Cape Town too but the best that South Africa has to offer is in the Northeast of the country near Johannesburg and Durban
- Namibia: Drive north along the west coast of South Africa and visit Namibia. Namibia has the most unique and stunning desert I’ve seen in my life. The red desserts of Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are a sight to behold.