The crown jewel of South Africa, Cape Town and its environs offer adventure, shopping, beaches, history, culture, fashion, food, and wine. From the V&A Waterfront, right in the heart of the Mother City, to the wilderness of Cape Point, the city is a delight to discover. Here are the top 10 things to do in and around Cape Town, in our humble opinion.
1. Explore Table Mountain
The majestic, flat-topped peak that towers over Cape Town is the city’s biggest playground. A handful of hiking trails wind up, down, and around the mountain, while the revolving tram takes those pressed for time straight to the top in mere minutes. Whichever way you explore Table Mountain, you’ll be treated to the sight of rare flowers, shy antelope and some of the best views in the world.
2. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Located on the lower slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch showcases over 7,000 indigenous South African plant species, including many that are rare and threatened. Visitors can also explore themed sub-gardens, such as the Fragrance Garden, the Medicinal Garden, and the Water-wise Garden.
3. Boulders Beach
The colony of African penguins is the big draw at Boulders, but it’s also great for swimming, especially when it’s too windy or rough at other Cape Town-area beaches. Located in a protected cove in Simon’s Town (30 miles/43km from Cape Town), the beach’s huge namesake boulders keep the currents, wind and waves out.
4. Cape Point
This peninsula 40 miles (68km) south of Cape Town is a nature-lover’s paradise and a maritime buff’s playground. Visitors can hike the trails through the fynbos and observe 250 bird species, 1100 indigenous types of plants, and animals such as ostriches, eland, baboons, and zebras in the unique Cape floral ecosystem. There’s also a trail which allows you to view ancient shipwrecks, and a funicular that ascends to the decommissioned lighthouse. And as if that weren’t enough, there are also swimming spots, dive sites, tidal pools and a restaurant.
5. V&A Waterfront
Cape Town’s revitalized Victorian-style waterfront is Africa’s biggest and most famous shopping and entertainment precinct, with hundreds of stores, dozens of restaurants, and some of Cape Town’s best-loved attractions, such as the Two Oceans Aquarium. Excursions to Robben Island depart from here too.
6. Robben Island
Though it was once a leper colony and a military base, Robben Island is most notorious as the site of an apartheid-era prison that held political prisoners in harsh conditions — most notably, the late Nelson Mandela. It’s now a museum that visitors can tour. Tours are often led by former prisoners, adding a poignant dimension to the experience.
7. Bo Kaap
This colorful district of Cape Town is home to a large Cape Malay community (primarily Muslim descendants of former slaves from southeast Asia). It’s perfect to wander on foot: stop for curry and samoosas, browse the stalls at Greenmarket Square, visit the Bo Kaap Museum, and marvel at the oldest mosque in South Africa.
8. Hout Bay
The quaint beachside village of Hout Bay is only 25 minutes from Cape Town but feels like it’s a world away. Many Capetonians come here for weekend getaways, which they spend browsing the arts and crafts markets, ducking into the quirky shops, indulging in fresh fish and chips, and staying in relaxed B&Bs.
9. Constantia Winelands
The Cape’s oldest winemaking region is just a 20-minute drive from Cape Town city center. Visitors flock here to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can tour vineyards, visit historic manor houses, play golf, get spa treatments, and eat at world-class restaurants such as La Colombe.
10. Chapman’s Peak Drive
The most scenic way to drive between Hout Bay and Noordhoek is on Chapman’s Peak Drive, a winding 5.5 mile (9km) road that hugs the side of a mountain, with sheer cliff on one side and the ocean 500 meters (1600 feet) down on the other side. It’s recommended that you drive slowly around the 114 curves, and stop periodically at one of the numerous vantage points, in order to savor the view over the Atlantic — dolphin and whale sightings are common. There’s also a hiking trail that leads up to the top of Chapman’s Peak.