South Africa is a beautiful country, and one of it’s most visited destinations is the port city of Cape Town, or as the locals affectionately refer to it, the Mother City. There are many reasons why this city is loved by locals and tourists, and that’s partly because there is always something to do; whether it’s a free event that highlights art and culture and brings people together, or a trip to a vineyard or a trendy bar to relax and eat good foods, this is a place where almost anything is possible.
Cape Town has it all in the way of natural beauty too; it is home to harbors, colorful neighborhoods, one of the most famous mountains -- the flat-topped Table Mountain -- and has pristine beaches with soft white sand. It’s also a city that is filled with political history, and there are monuments, museums, and even an island that serve as a memorial to the people whose lives were affected during the apartheid regime.
Below are 15 things you should do when you visit Cape Town, and five things that you could probably miss out on because it offers too much of a typical tourist experience or potentially interferes with the ecosystem.
20 Robben Island Was Once A Political Prison
Robben Island is an island that is entrenched in South African history because it was a former prison that held many political prisoners and influential figures in the rise up against apartheid. Most notably, it was the place where the former South African president, the late Nelson Mandela, spent decades of his life. According to The Independent, in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela discussed his experience of the island, writing,“Journeying to Robben Island was like going to another country. Its isolation made it not simply another prison, but a world of its own.”
Now, it’s a popular attraction where visitors go on a guided tour to some of the most historical sites on the island.
19 Cape Town Is The Place To Be Adventurous With Your Food
South Africa is a country that has so many different cultures and cuisines, and the food that you will find here is unbelievably good and bursting with flavor. In Cape Town, thee are tourist-focused restaurants like Moyo (which is located in Blouberg), which will let you eat exotic foods like Mopane worms or Springbok, but you don’t have to go to a restaurant like this to enjoy the foodie experience.
Cape Town is filled with amazing gastronomic restaurants, as well as simple cafes and farmer’s markets, and you will be hard-pressed to find something you don’t like.
18 Table Mountain Is The Flat-Topped Mountain You Need To See
You cannot visit Cape Town, affectionately referred to as the Mother City by locals, without visiting Table Mountain. Sure, it’s probably the biggest tourist attraction in the city, but this flat-topped mountain is beautiful and definitely worth a visit.
If you are athletic then ditch the very tourist cable car ride and hike up the mountain instead, but if the cable car is for you, well, there’s no shame in that either. Although, as Culture Trip notes, you can expect to spend some time queuing especially if you’ve arrived in the middle of summer.
17 Signal Hill Will Give You Unrivaled Views Of The City
If you’re going to be visiting Table Mountain then you should probably take a trip up to Signal Hill while you’re at it (the two are in relatively close proximity). Signal Hill connects Kloof Nek road to Lion’s Head (the mountain that lies between Table Mountain and Signal Hill) and the destination has become a popular spot for watching the sunset and enjoying sundowners. The winding roads to the top of the 350m high summit are beautiful and the view of the city is breathtaking.
16 Chapman’s Peak Drive Is Almost Like A Trip To 'Jurassic Park'
Cape Town does have buses that you can take to get around, but it’s a place that you definitely want to drive around in because then you can go on adventures like the Chapman’s Peak Drive, which serves as a gateway between Cape Town city center and the south peninsula and Cape Point Route. When you go there you may feel like you’ve teleported into a scene from Jurassic Park because of the large metal nets (crafted using cutting-edge construction) used to catch falling rocks, and it’s one of the most scenic drives you can take.
15 Visit The Spice Route To Eat Chocolate And Learn About Beer, Among Other Things
While not in the city of Cape Town, The Spice Route is located in Paarl, only around 58 km from the city. There are many wine farms in the Cape where you can enjoy tastings, but The Spice Route is one of the best destinations because it has something for everyone; here, among other things, you can learn about beer and do tastings, enjoy a meal at a casual dining restaurant or a restaurant dedicated to South African cooking, taste chocolate at the small-batch chocolate makers, and visit the glass blowing studio and gallery.
14 District Six Museum Is A Memorial To Those Affected By Forced Removals During Apartheid
If you are interested in South African history, then a visit to the District Six Museum is a must because the museum serves as a reminder of the multiracial area that existed, and the 60,000 inhabitants of the area that were forcibly removed during apartheid. According to Lonely Planet, inside the museum, you will find photographs, recordings, and testimonials, giving you a glimpse into what life would have been like then, and how heartbreaking it was for the residents to be moved and see their homes demolished.
13 Kloof Street Is Home To Trendy Bars And Busy Restaurants
Kloof Street may not be on the typical list of things to do when you visit Cape Town, but it should be because this street is buzzing with good restaurants, cafes, and trendy bars, and there is an atmosphere here unlike any other. In some places, it can be a little hipsterish, but that’s also the beauty of this street.
Some of the most visited spots, according to Cape Town Travel, include Yours Truly, a local watering hole that also has live music events, and burger joint, Hudsons and restaurant/bar, Van Hunks.
12 Marvel At Long Street’s Unique Architecture And Soak Up The Vibe
Long Street is located in the center of Cape Town city and is filled with nightclubs, youth hostels, bars, and cafes, and if you look hard enough you will find some real gems which are especially lively at night. But it’s not just the stores that are worth visiting as it’s also a chance to marvel at the unique Victorian architecture, and according to The Long Street Hotel, some of these buildings date back to the early 1800s.
Although a word of warning would be to watch your belongings at all times because there are pickpockets in this area that will take advantage of unsuspecting individuals.
11 First Thursdays Is The Culture Event You Have To Experience
Cape Town is a city filled with arts and culture, and every first Thursday of the month there is something called First Thursdays, where art galleries and other cultural places in the city center stay open until late in the evening.
It’s a free event and open to the public, and the best part is that you can go where you want, meaning there is no schedule or a guided tour. You can just walk around the events at your leisure and enjoy the buzzing atmosphere.
10 Always Remember To Haggle Over The Price Of Souvenirs
For many tourists, you cannot come to the city and leave without a souvenir, and you can buy them from Green Market Square, among other places. However, there is something to remember and that’s that prices the vendor offers you should never be the one you are willing to pay. The whole point of this exchange is to haggle for a price that you are happy with, but, as The Culture Trip points out, it’s in bad taste to ask for an impossible bargain and instead, the curio should usually be around 50 percent of the initial asking price.
9 Victoria & Alfred Waterfront Has Breathtaking Views
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, or V&A as it’s often referred to, is located on the edge of one of South Africa’s oldest working harbors. Spanning 123 hectares, according to TripAdvisor, the location is visited every year by millions of tourists because of the large shopping malls, luxury hotels, restaurants, leisure, and entertainment that is on offer. But that’s not all, the waterfront also has spectacular ocean and mountain views (which make for a great photo opportunity), and is home to the Two Oceans Aquarium.
8 The Brightly Colored Bo-Kaap Neighborhood Is Rich In History
The exchange rate for many currencies, when compared to the South African Rand, makes travel to the country very appealing, but Cape Town is definitely not the cheapest city to travel too and everything will be adding up. For this reason, and many others, the historic and colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood is must, and you don’t have to pay anything to walk through the streets here.
The brightly painted houses and cobblestoned streets are a mix of Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian architectural styles, and according to Cape Town Travel, you are actually able to visit one of the oldest buildings because it is now the Bo Kaap Museum.
7 Boulder’s Beach Is A Fantastic Viewing Point For The African Penguin
If you like penguins and want to see these adorable birds then you need to visit Boulders Beach. The beach is beautiful and sheltered from the wind by large granite boulders, but the reason for visiting it is not so much the clear water and soft sand, but because it's the place thousands of African penguins call home. They are most active in the summertime, and according to Cape Town Travel, while you can see the birds all-year, there are fewer sightings on the beach between September and October because this is when they spend much of their time feeding at sea.
6 Truth Coffee Roasting Is One Of The Best Coffee Shops In The World
Every local knows all about Truth Coffee Roasting, and despite whether you think it serves the best coffee or not, there is no denying that there is a vibe in this cafe unlike any other. Located on Buitenkant Street, Truth has a Steampunk theme which makes it incredibly different and very cool.
It may be their inspiration that sets them apart from the rest, but the company’s mission is all about quality, too. According to the Truth Coffee Roasting website, it was voted the world's best coffee shop by the Daily Telegraph for two years in a row.
5 Miss: There Are Better Safari’s In South Africa Than Those On The Outskirts Of Cape Town
Cape Town is not a city you typically travel to go on a safari, and while there are several tours that are recommended, including day trips, there are far better reserves you can visit in other parts of the country if the purpose of your travels is to see the Big Five. If you’ve never been to the bush or seen some of the most majestic animals in the wild before, then you will probably enjoy these trips, but preferred choices would be the Kruger National Park, or private game reserves like MalaMala, Sabi Sands, and Phinda, which were previously it into the Top 10 list of African Safari Parks, Safari Bookings reports.
4 Miss: Shark Cage Diving Is Controversial And Some Locals Are Mad About It
Shark cage diving has become a big tourist attraction over the years, but it’s an adventure that is controversial. Great White sharks are fascinating and dangerous creatures and being up close to them is an exhilarating experience, but many companies chum the waters in order to attract these predators. They do this by throwing bait into the waters, and some feel that this causes the sharks to approach humans and boats, leading to a rise in local shark attacks, The Guardian reports.
3 Miss: Camps Bay Beach Is Amazing, But Expect To Pay For The Restaurants
Camps Bay is a residential area that is loved by tourists and locals, but there are so many better places to go, unless of course, you want to go to the beach, in which case Camps Bay Beach or Clifton beaches are unrivaled and filled with people (as TripAdvisor will tell you). But if you are going just to walk the streets and have a meal, some of the restaurants here are overpriced, and there are other, more authentic local restaurants you can visit instead.
2 Miss: Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden Requires A Lot Of Time To Visit
There is no denying that Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden is a beautiful place to stroll and see the local fauna and flora of Cape Town, and is situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain and just 13kms from the city center, SANBI reports.
The entrance fee may not be much, but unless you are spending a lengthy amount of time in the city, or have a keen interest in plants, this is an attraction you can miss out on. You need to spend a good few hours walking around these gardens, and if you’re limited for time, there may be other things to prioritize.
1 Miss: The Hop On Hop Off Bus Only Stops At Certain Points
There is nothing wrong with this tour and it was given four out of five stars from the reviews that have been made on the Hop On Hop Off Bus’ website, but unless you want to specifically see the points of interest where it stops at, you could probably give this tour a miss.
This is more a personal preference, but if you want to have a typical tourist experience of Cape Town then there is no shame in jumping on one of these buses because it makes life simple and easy. That said, there are many hidden gems you’ll miss out on too if you only go this route.