Wondering what to do in Cape Town South Africa? Check out 25 fun things to do in Cape Town that don’t involve sharks or parachutes.
We decided to travel to Cape Town with mild trepidation. Let’s face it – we’re not exactly adventure travelers unless you consider eating snails in Vietnam or ant eggs in Mexico to be adventurous.
Cape Town is famous around the world as an urban paradise where visitors can dive with sharks and paraglide off a mountain on the same day. To many, these Cape Town activities would be part of a South Africa dream vacation.
With this in mind, we were concerned that there might not be enough fun things to do in Cape Town to keep us entertained over the course of a month. Long story short – our concerns were unfounded.
Fun Things To Do In Cape Town
With a little research and a lot of energy, we ended up finding 25 fun things to do in Cape Town. And the best part? None of these activities 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.
1. Ride A Cable Car Up Table Mountain
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.
Buying advance tickets is a must. Table Mountain is one of the preeminent Cape Town tourist attractions.
Spend some time at the cafe at the top of Table Mountain if you like beautiful views and free Wi-Fi. The cafe has a full range of coffee and treats as well as ample spots to plug in devices.
2. Cruise Around Town On The Hop On Hop Off Bus
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.
Book a Hop On Hop Off tour.
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.
Wear sunscreen if you plan to sit on the upper deck of the bus. The African sun is stronger than most tourists expect, and you’ll get sunburnt if you’re not careful. This is not the kind of souvenir you want from a day of sightseeing in Cape Town!
3. Stroll Through Kirstenbosch Gardens
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is living proof that Cape Town is an urban paradise. Founded over a century ago by forward-thinking Capetonians who wanted to protect the local fauna, Kirstenbosch is a green oasis filled with pretty flowers like flowering aloes pictured above, scenic vistas in front of looming mountains and modern sculpture from African artists like Euwitt Nyanhongo.
Just 13 kilometers from the city center, this UNESCO Heritage site feels like a whole other world. Picnicking is allowed in the Garden with certain restrictions. Trust us – you don’t want to miss a visit to this urban paradise, especially if you want to explore nature in Cape Town.
Catch an outdoor sundowner concert at Kirstenbosch during the summer months – a truly magical Sunday night experience. Come prepared with a blanket and a picnic so that you can sit back and sway to the music in comfort. If you love music, you can check out South Africa festivals in Cape Town during your visit too.
4. Taste Wine At South Africa’s Oldest Wine Estate
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.
Be sure to walk around the wine estate’s grounds. Walking through the field of grapevines with a mountain view is nothing short of epic.
5. Watch The Sunset From Signal Hill
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.)
Camps Bay is another great spot to enjoy a Cape Town sunset, with or without sundowners.
6. Drink Third Wave Coffee
The Cape Town coffee scene is on fire. The city has dozens of outstanding specialty coffee shops, each serving coffee drinks brewed with freshly roasted single-origin beans.
Discover the best Cape Town coffee shops.
According to roastmaster David Donde, there are over 150 coffee roasters in the Mother City. Donde’s Truth Coffee leads the way with its internationally recognized steampunk decor and attention to coffee excellence, but other shops like Deluxe Coffeeworks, Origin, Tribe Coffee and Kamili Coffee are also worth a visit.
There’s no need to drink at Starbucks when you’re in Cape Town. In fact, it would be kind of silly to do that. Watch our YouTube video to learn more about the best coffee in Cape Town.
Though Cape Town coffee shops offer free Wi-Fi, many limit the usage.
7. Walk Around Hout Bay
As we quickly learned, Cape Town gets hot during the summer. Luckily our apartment was air-conditioned.
Even still, Hout Bay was a great spot to walk around on a hot day and dip our toes into the surprisingly frigid ocean. As much as we enjoyed walking on the white sand beach, we also enjoyed snacking on calamari and beer on the patio at Chapman’s Peak Hotel.
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 many scenic drives to take in and around Cape Town.
8. Eat Braai
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 you’re 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.
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
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.
Although you don’t need to purchase advance tickets for the District 6 Museum, advance tickets for Robben Island are a must.
10. Get Festive At A Festival
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.
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. Do Dinner And A 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 a few 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. At the time of our visit, first-run movie tickets cost us 50R (less than $4 USD) each, 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) at the time of our visit – 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.
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. Buy your tickets in advance. Since seats in the Labia are limited, popular movies sell out in advance.
12. Eat Your Way Through A Food Tour
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 neighborhoods while sharing laughs with our tour guide and the other food tour attendees.
Schedule a food tour early in your visit so that you can get restaurant tips for your time in Cape Town.
13. Drive Down A Wine Route
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.
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 Colorful Houses In Bo Kaap
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.
In Bo-Kaap, you can sample Cape Malay food at takeaway shops or in sit-down restaurants. You can also purchase spices and specialty coffee in this gentrifying neighborhood.
15. Eat A Cookie 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. We liked the big, buttery, crunchy, decorated cookies best of all.
Bring a friend with you to Charly’s Bakery. The cookies and other desserts are big enough to share.
16. Swim With Penguins
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.
17. Shop At A Market
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.
Bring your appetite when you shop at a Cape Town market. You will want to taste food from one or more vendors.
18. Ride The Ferris Wheel At The V&A Waterfront
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.
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
Founded back in the 17th century by Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company (thus why the word ‘Company’ 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 chessboard. We appreciated the park for its tree-lined shade and interesting people watching opportunities.
Due to its close proximity to the Parliament building, the Company’s Garden closes when the Parliament is in session.
20. Drink Craft Beer
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.
You can also drink good craft beer in the Cape Winelands. Cape Brewing Company (CBC) has an impressive facility and tasting room.
21. Eat Ice Cream On The Beach
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. This rule applies whether you’re a little kid or just one at heart.
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
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 specialty coffee. For us, watching the aforementioned seals was the best part of our visit to Kalk Bay.
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
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.
See what it’s like to take a day trip to Durbanville.
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.
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
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?
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
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.
Smile for the camera. You’ll be glad later when you look at the photographic memento of your Cape Town adventure.
Once you figure out where to stay, you can use this Cape Town guide to find helpful tips on planning your vacation.
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About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on their website 2foodtrippers. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers a unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: July 15, 2017