When it comes to taking care of children, the Mother City certainly lives up to its name. From animal encounters on sheltered beaches to amusement parks with rides galore, all manner of kid-friendly fun is on offer. But what about the rest of the family? Sure, it’s fun to watch the little ones screaming on a rollercoaster or cooing over a baby penguin, but it’s nice to have a little grown-up fun as well. Here are 10 Cape Town days out designed with the entire family in mind.
The V&A Waterfront
It seems an obvious place to start, but there’s so much happening at the V&A that it would be madness not to take the family there for a day. The star attraction for kids is the Two Oceans Aquarium, with its interactive exhibits, kids’ play area and wealth of oceanic creatures. Try to coincide your trip with feeding time – the penguins and sharks are the biggest hits. The adjacent Watershed is great for some souvenir shopping and kids will love watching the crafters at work. Plonk tiny tots on the new Hamleys train that choo-choos around the &A grounds, then take a seat at one of many family-friendly restaurants, with great views, kids’ menus and the chance for a little – ahem – adult refreshment.
City Sightseeing Tours
Like many top tourist cities, Cape Town has a fleet of red double-decker buses that ferry visitors between the main sights. And not only do you get to experience places like the Castle of Good Hope, Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch, you also get some seriously pretty views as the bus trundles along the coast and around the mountain. If you’d like an alternative view, try a half-hour boat trip around the V&A harbour or see Cape Town from above on a short helicopter ride. For the big kids, there are even sidecar tours that follow the spectacular coastal route past the 12 Apostles and stop in at the Constantia Winelands for a taste of some Cape grapes.
Giraffe House, a wildlife park less than an hour’s drive from the city, doesn’t boast any of the Big Five, but there’s still plenty of local fauna to entertain the kids. Walk freely through the open-air sanctuary, peering at meerkats, listening out for the clicking hooves of the resident eland and witnessing the curious companionship of a ground squirrel and his lazy warthog buddy – as close as you’ll get to those Lion King scenes. And of course, there’s the star attraction, Gerry –the giraffe that gives this place its name. Nearby there are wineries and restaurants galore, ensuring that the rest of the family will enjoy the trip as well.
The Cape Peninsula
While big game don’t call Cape Town home, there is plenty of smaller animal life to be found in the Cape Peninsula. Ostrich roam alongside zebra, hartebeest and the handsome bontebok, while visitors should always be aware of marauding baboons, known for their penchant for other people’s picnics. Stop off at some of the windswept coves, then hop on the Flying Dutchman – a funicular train that transports you to the old lighthouse at Cape Point. Heading north out of the national park, be sure to visit the penguin colony just outside Simon’s Town. The birds huddle en masse at Foxy Beach, while at nearby Boulders Beach you might just find yourself paddling alongside a diminutive African penguin in the chilly Atlantic waters.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Sitting midway between the city and the Cape Peninsula, beautiful Kirstenbosch has something for every member of the family. Renowned for its incredible array of plant life, there are guided walks for those who want to dig deeper into local botany. For kids there are expansive lawns on which to run around and plenty of birds to go cuckoo over, as well as the Boomslang, an elevated walkway allowing you to wander among the tree tops. A stone’s throw away, life-size bronze sculptures of dinosaurs peep out from among the cycads – plants that existed when the giant lizards roamed the earth. And when energy levels dip, there’s the charming tea room, where you can sit outside and enjoy freshly baked cakes, devilishly rich hot chocolate and light fluffy scones topped with jam and cream.
A ride on the steam train
It’s a rare adult that isn’t transformed back into a child when they hear the chugging and tooting of a genuine steam train. Once or twice a month, such a train inches its way out of Cape Town station for a two-hour jaunt along the track to Stellenbosch. Run by a volunteer group of rail enthusiasts, the trips get booked up well in advance so be sure to plan ahead. On arrival you can either wander the town centre, or better still, jump off at Spier Wine Estate, where you’ll find wine tasting, lunch and a birds of prey show waiting for you.
Families with kids of any age could easily spend a full day in gorgeous Hout Bay. Build sandcastles on the sheltered beach or enjoy fish ‘n’ chips on the sand, pay a visit to World of Birds, or crawl, swing and climb through the trees above the bay at Acrobranch, a series of ziplines and obstacles hidden in the forest. For something more sedate, try Clay Café, where kids old and young can paint their designs on a range of pottery, enjoy tea and cake or jump around on the jungle gym. Nearby is Massimo’s, one of Cape Town’s most family-friendly restaurants, with an inventive kids’ menu and a wonderful, enclosed play area where kids can scramble for hours while parents relax over a dish of freshly-made pasta.
At first glance, Century City doesn’t look like the sort of place where wildlife thrives. The 250-hectare space just north of Cape Town is packed full of office buildings, cookie cutter housing developments and one of the country’s largest shopping malls. But at its heart lies Intaka Island, a 16-hectare wetland that is a sanctuary for some 120 species of birdlife. Visitors can explore on foot, following a series of paths, bridges and boardwalks, but a better way to see Intaka is by boat. Highly informative, 40-minute boat rides leave throughout the day, giving the history of the island as well as the modern development going on all around it. A nice touch is the chance to hop off for a little shopping at the Canal Walk mall and be picked up on the water later on. All boat trips must be booked in advance.
Poor old Muizenberg is often overlooked in favour of its more glamorous coastal counterparts, but the surf town’s star is finally beginning to shine. Long considered the best place in Cape Town for novice surfers to learn how to handle a board, the beachfront strip is now lined with surf schools catering to both adults and children. Although cold, the waters are also suitable for swimmers, while there’s an outdoor pool for those who want to avoid the waves altogether. Further along are a pair of well-loved waterslides and a mini-golf course. The often uncrowded promenade is just a great place to push a pram or find a place for lunch, coffee or a nice cold craft beer.
Naturally, the Cape Winelands are best known for pursuits more suited to adult visitors, but among all the cellar tours and tutored tastings, there are family-friendly activities to be found on the wine farms. Spice Route, just outside Paarl has chocolate tasting and glass-blowing demonstrations as well as wine and beer tasting for the grown-ups. Not too far away, Warwick Estate offers picnics on the lawns, a jungle gym and safari-style drives through the vineyards. Just the other side of Stellenbosch, Middelvlei is known for its braai (barbecue) lunch, where kids get marshmallows and bread to toast; Blauwklippen offers pony rides on weekends while at Spier there’s grape juice tasting, bird of prey shows and Segway rides through the vines.