Long story short – our concerns were unfounded.
With a little research and a lot of energy, we ended up finding 25 adventurous things to do in Cape Town, none of which scared our pants off or left us gasping for air. During one whirlwind month, we experienced breathtaking views, ate fantastic food and learned about the Mother City’s unique culture and history. If you’re skeptical, then keep reading.
Sure, you can climb Table Mountain, but that takes a lot of time and energy – time and energy that could be better spent drinking wine. A better option is to take the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway up the mountain. You’ll see the same amazing views of the entire Cape Town skyline, Signal Hill and Lion’s Head without breaking a sweat. Riding the cable car is a fun activity in itself since the car literally spins 360 degrees during the ride, providing great views for everybody of both the shoreline and the imposing Table Mountain ridge. Most days, it’s best to arrive early in the morning for the full experience and the best photo ops since the winds of the Cape Doctor and the accompanying ‘tablecloth’ fog typically arrive in the late afternoon. Plus, Table Mountain is less crowded during the morning hours.
Advance tickets are a must since Table Mountain is one of the preeminent Cape Town tourist attractions. You can find out all the logistics and order your tickets here.
Proving that bus tours aren’t just for old people, Cape Town’s Hop on Hop Buses provide a great way to sightsee for tourists of all ages. The red bus pictured above stops at key points within the city, alleviating the need to park and deal with car guards. As for us, we loved our Mini Peninsula tour on the blue bus with stops at utopic Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, the vineyards of Constantia, oceanside Camps Bay and the local culture-filled Imizamo Yeth Township. We don’t usually like tour buses, but this one provided us with a fun, cost-effective way to see many of the best Cape Town attractions along with an open roof deck that allowed us to soak up plenty of sun.
You don’t have to journey far from Cape Town to try great South African wine. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the Cape Town metropolitan area. Groot Constantia, which literally translates to Great Constantia, was the first vineyard in South Africa and has a history that includes 300 years of wine production. This is a great spot to take an educational cellar tour and taste local wine varietals like Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc.
Locals and tourists ascend Signal Hill on a nightly basis to watch the best free show in town – the sunset. From Signal Hill’s elevated vantage point, the sunset is utterly captivating with views of the city, Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and the ocean. Crowds come prepared with sundowners to toast the sun’s colorful display, with many lingering past the fiery globe’s disappearance into the ocean below. Seeing the sunset from some of the large hill’s quieter corners involves a little bit of easy hiking through wooded paths, but it’s worth the extra effort. If you’re driving, arrive early and park your car at the visitor’s center or, even better, take the late evening Hop On Hop Off bus (see above.)
Pro Tip: Take a drive on Hout Bay’s Chapman’s Peak Drive for amazing photo ops of one of the best beaches in Cape Town. This is just one of the many scenic drives to take in and around Cape Town.
8. Eat Braai
Pictured here is braai for two at Mzoli’s. This township restaurant is the perfect place to experience a range of grilled meats along with a braai party in Cape Town.
For the uninitiated, braai means barbecue in Afrikaans. In South Africa, braai is more than a food style – it’s a way of life. For visitors, it’s not difficult to find braai. If lucky, you can attend a braai in somebody’s backyard. As for us, we attended our first braai at Mzoli’s, an experience filled with lots of charcoal grilled meat, pap (a corn porridge), booze, house music and occasional dancing. Wherever you go for braai, make sure you go hungry. You’ll need a car to get to Mzoli’s and, if the idea of driving alone into the local Cape township scares you, hire a guide.
Pro Tip: Since September 24 is National Braai Day, this is the perfect day to eat braai wherever you are in the world.
9. Learn about Apartheid at the District 6 Museum and Robben Island
Cape Town’s District 6 Museum provides a fascinating overview of the city’s Apartheid past.
Although South Africa is one of the world’s most beautiful countries, there’s no argument that the country (including Cape Town) has a dark past, especially during the Apartheid years.
District Six Museum
District 6 was a thriving, mixed race area of Cape Town that was torn down by the government during the 1960s to achieve and maintain racial separation. We delved into the city’s dark history at the District 6 Museum where tour guide Noor Ebrahim walked us through the fascinating museum while sharing his personal experience as a “colored” person during the Apartheid era. Ebrahim also provided us with a wonderful picture of today’s South Africa.
Robben Island offers a different slice of Cape Town’s dark past as this is the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years during Apartheid. The oval island’s history pre-dates Apartheid, serving as a prison for political dissidents since the 17th century. Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the most popular places in Cape Town for tourists. Adding a unique twist, former prisoners lead many of the tours.
Pro Tip: Although you don’t need to purchase advance tickets for the District 6 Museum, advance tickets for Robben Island are a must. Click here to purchase advance tickets for Robben Island.
10. Get Festive at a Festival
Musicians add to the festive spirit during the annual Gin and Tonic Festival at the Old Biscuit Mill.
Did we mention that Capetonians like to party? We learned this pretty quickly after we arrived in Cape Town, but we didn’t have any friends to party with. For us, and other tourists, Cape Town festivals are a great way to join the festivities without a special invitation. We had fun attending the Gin & Tonic Festival at the Old Biscuit Mill. Just like they like to party, Capetonians also enjoy a stiff G&T.
Pro Tip: Most of the Cape Town festivals occur during the summer months. Plan your visit accordingly if you want to get festive in Cape Town.
11. Take a Date for Dinner and a Movie
Cape Town’s Labia Theatre is a great movie venue. Why not combine dinner with your movie?
The Labia Theatre in a cinematic gem that shows sophisticated movies in a grand art house that originally existed as an Italian Embassy ballroom. We caught most of this year’s Oscar nominated films at the Labia, a perfect setting for our movie-binging nights. The theater’s vibe is laid back with cocktails sold at the concession stand, and prices are cheap. A first run movie ticket cost 50R (less than $4 USD), and popcorn is also a bargain. In fact, the best deal in town may be dinner and a movie for 110-120R (under $10 USD) – for two people – at the Labia. To us, this is the perfect date night and one of the most romantic things to do in Cape Town for couples.
Pro Tip: Purchase vouchers for dinner and a movie at the nearby restaurants listed at the theater and then exchange them for movie tickets at the box office. Also, make sure to buy your tickets in advance. Seats in the Labia are limited, and popular movies sell out in advance.
12. Eat Your Way through a Food Tour
Culture Cheese Club’s Luke Williams serves cheese to tour guide Stephanie and the rest of our hungry food tour group.
Food tours are a great way for tourists to learn the culinary ropes of a city. With this in mind, we participated in an eight-hour food tour operated by Cape Town Food & Wine Tours. This tour took us around town with stops for coffee, samosas, beer, chocolate, biltong and cheese. We also learned about the city’s different neighorhoods while sharing laughs with our tour guide and the other food tour attendees.
Pro Tip: Schedule a food tour early in your visit so that you can get restaurant tips for your time in Cape Town.
13. Drive Down the Wine Route
Stellenbosch is one of the ten wine routes near Cape Town.
The Western Cape grows a lot of wine, and most of it is of good to excellent quality. Although we bought a lot of wine at the local grocery store during our Cape Town visit, we drank the best South African wine along the area’s ten wine routes. Yes, the Western Cape has ten different wine routes. We managed to hit five of these wine routes during our visit including Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Durbanville and Crostantia. We loved them all, though Stellenbosch, with its grand vineyard estates and incredible, world class reds, was our favorite.
Pro Tip: Consider an overnight, or better yet a multi-night, visit to the Cape Winelands. Though the routes are a short drive from Cape Town, you’ll surely want to stay longer to enjoy the great restaurants and wonderful wine.
14. See the Colorful Houses in Bo Kaap
These distinctively colorful houses are the trademark of Cape Town’s Bo-Kaap Neighborhood.
Formerly known as the Malay Quarter and just a few blocks from trendy Bree Street, the Bo-Kaap neighborhood is a former township in the heart of Cape Town. The neighborhood, whose name in Afrikaans means “above the cape”, is famous for the colorful row houses that line the mostly cobble-stoned streets, but it’s also a great neighborhood for sampling Cape Malay food.
Pro Tip: In Bo-Kaap, you can sample Cape Malay food at takeaway shops or in sit-down restaurants. You can also purchase spices and third wave coffee in this gentrifying neighborhood.
15. Eat a Cookie at Charly’s Bakery
We loved the glittery iced cookies at Charly’s Bakery.
We loved the cookies at Charly’s Bakery, the colorful bakery in the District 6 neighborhood. Long popular with Cape Town natives, the bakery achieved international fame in recent years due to Charly’s Cake Angels, a popular reality TV show. The family-run bakery sells all types of baked goods, but we liked the big, buttery, crunchy, decorated cookies best of all.
Pro Tip: Bring a friend with you to Charyl’s Bakery. The cookies and other desserts are big enough to share.
16. Swim with Penguins at Boulder Beach near Simon’s Town
African Penguins have made Boulders Beach their home.
Although we didn’t actually swim with the penguins, we got a vicarious thrill by hanging with the colony of African penguins on Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town. Since 3,000 penguins live in the area, it’s easy to find them chilling on the beach on any day of the week. We even saw two African penguins procreating during our visit, but we’ll save that photo for another time and place.
Pro tip: Boulders Beach is a great stop to make when driving between Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope.
17. Shop at a Market
Saturdays are market day in Cape Town. Locals stock up for the week at the city’s many urban markets including this one at the Old Biscuit Mill.
Thanks to the city’s favorable climate, Cape Town has ample access to fresh produce, meat and cheese. In recent years, farmers have been bringing their wares to local markets like Oranjezicht City Farm Market, our favorite Cape Town market. Shoppers can buy all kinds of fresh produce at these markets plus artisan food products, freshly prepared food and more.
Pro Tip: Bring your appetite when you shop at a Cape Town market. You will want to taste food from one or more vendors.
18. V&A Waterfront
Tourists flock to the V&A Waterfront to enjoy Cape Town attractions like the Cape Wheel.
A hub for tourists as well as locals, the V&A Waterfront features some of the top tourist attractions in Cape Town including the Cape Wheel pictured above. In addition to tourist attractions, the area sports a range of shops and restaurants catering to all price points. We shopped and dined at the V&A Waterfront for a change of pace from the city’s CBD restaurants and shops.
Pro Tip: The V&A Waterfront was named after Victoria and Alfred (Victoria’s son). Don’t assume that the “A” stands for Albert.
19. Stroll through the Company’s Garden
Locals lounge and play human chess in the Company’s Garden.
Founded back in the 17th century by Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company (thus why the word ‘Company’s is possessive), this public park has a storied past. During Apartheid, only white people could sit on the benches at the Company’s Garden. Today, the park is fully integrated and offers a green respite to the city with its rose garden, fish pond, aviary, restaurant, craft vendors, statues and human chess board. We appreciated the park for its tree-lined shade and interesting people watching opportunities.
Pro Tip: Due to its close proximity to the Parliament building, the Company’s Garden closes when the Parliament is in session.
20. Drink Craft Beer
People don’t just drink wine in Cape Town. Craft beer, like the beer on tap at Devil’s Peak Brewing Company, is increasingly popular in the Mother City.
With the availability of low cost, high quality wine in Cape Town, you might that Capetonians drink wine all the time. You would be wrong. The Mother City has a booming craft beer scene with a number of microbreweries and taprooms around town. We’re happy to report that there’s no need to drink mass-produced beer from South African Breweries (SAB) with the local craft beers brewed by the likes of Devil’s Peak Brewing Company, our favorite Cape Town brewery.
Pro Tip: You can also drink good craft beer in the Cape Winelands. Cape Brewing Company (CBC) has an impressive facility and tasting room.
21. Eat an Ice Cream Cone on the Beach
This ice cream cone we enjoyed at Icezeit in Sea Point provided a treat to accompany our ocean view.
Ice cream is popular in Cape Town due to the city’s warm weather and holiday vibe. We enjoyed several cones at ice cream shops during our visit, with our favorite cones hosting the artisanal flavors at Unframed Ice Cream. However, there’s’ something special about eating a soft serve ice cream cone from Icezeit on the Sea Point beach whether you’re a little kid or just one at heart.
Pro Tip: Locals often forego ice cream cones on the beach for granadilla lollies made with sticky, sweet yellow granadilla fruit. You should try one too.
22. Hang with Seals in Kalk Bay
Seals lounge and frolic at the Kalk Bay Harbor.
If Cape Town isn’t laid back enough for you, then head to picturesque Kalk Bay to chill out with the seals. Seals abound in this fishing village located on the outskirts of Cape Town. The city also has its share of upscale restaurants, local fish markets, funky shops and third wave coffee. For us, watching the seals was the best part of our visit to Kalk Bay.
Pro Tip: Buy some freshly caught fish at the Kalk Bay Harbor before you head back into town. The fish for sale in Kalk Bay was the freshest we saw for sale in the entire city.
23. Enjoy a Durbanville Day Trip
Enjoying a glass of wine during the sunset is the ideal way to end a day trip to the Durbanville Wine Valley.
Looking for fun day trips from Cape Town? Why not consider a day trip to the Durbanville Wine Farms.
A quick 20-minute drive up the N1 transported us to the Durbanville Wine Valley, one of the Western Cape’s wine routes. Flying under the radar with tourists, the Durbanville Wine Route has 12 notable wine farms. We spent a day visiting, eating and drinking at three of these wineries – De Grendel, Durbanville Hills and Phizante Kraal. Seriously, make time to visit the Durbanville Wine Farms while you’re in Cape Town.
Pro Tip: Take an Uber to the Durbanville Wine Valley. This cost effective transportation option will allow you to taste wine without worrying about the consequences.
24. Visit the End of Africa at the Cape of Good Hope
The views from the Cape of Good Hope are extraordinary.
Although it’s not actually the most southern tip of Africa, The Cape of Good Hope feels like the end of the world with its rugged cliffs and hurling waves. Climbing to the top of the cliff may have been the most physically adventurous thing we did during our trip to Cape Town, but the stunning view from up high made the effort a worthy endeavor. Plus, where else in the world can you see the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean at the same time?
Pro Tip: Don’t forget to make a pit stop at Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town to see the African penguins. Because… penguins.
25. Pose inside a Big Yellow Picture Frame
All tourists must pose inside a big yellow picture frame. It’s an unofficial Cape Town rule.
One of the top things to do in Cape Town is to find the jumbo frames strategically placed around town and take a selfie with Table Mountain in the background. An iconic symbol of the city, Table Mountain is majestic at all times of the day, including dusk when we shot this photo atop Signal Hill.
Pro Tip: Smile for the camera. You’ll be glad later when you look at the photographic memento of your Cape Town adventure.
Hungry for more? Check out our Cape Town Food Guide for the best spots to eat and drink in the city.
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