You will have to be dragged away from Cape Town. Most have absolutely no idea how beautiful the city is, from Table Mountain looming large in the mist, to evenings sipping wine in Camps Bay as the sun goes down.
If you’re planning to visit Cape Town, make sure you schedule a few days here – there’s a lot to do, as you’ll read in this list of the best activities in Cape Town. From hikes to scenic drives, to nature encounters and wineries, you could easily spend a week in Cape Town. But if you’ve only got a few days, check out this 3 days in Cape Town itinerary for some ideas.
Hike Table Mountain
Table Mountain is one of the most iconic landmarks in South Africa. While it’s possible to head up the mountain via cable car, a hike to the top is a rewarding and memorable thing to do in Cape Town.
The most popular hiking route is via Platteklip Gorge and it takes an average of two hours to reach the top. To access the trail, take a bus or car to the lower cable car station. From here, take the path up to the Contour path and turn left. The path weaves along the side of the mountain for about one kilometre before meeting the Platteklip Gorge trail.
From here the hike is a steep two-kilometre climb up through the gorge and a narrow canyon to the top. It is rated as moderate difficulty, but the steepness can feel challenging at times.
Once you reach the top of the canyon, turn right to head to the main tourist area and cable car station or left for more trails along the plateau. The views from every angle at the top are simply superb.
Our best tips for hiking the Platteklip Gorge trail:
- Hiking the Platteklip Gorge trail is a popular activity and as a result can be very busy. We recommend starting early to avoid the crowds.
- If you don’t plan to hike back down the mountain, make sure you purchase your cable car ticket to descend the mountain when you arrive at the top.
- Table Mountain is often blanketed in cloud so if you have flexibility in your South Africa itinerary check the weather each morning and take the opportunity to climb on a clear day for the best views.
- Take plenty of water as there is no water along the trail until you reach the top cable car station.
Recommended by Rachel of Adventure and Sunshine
Take a free walking tour of Cape Town
Learning about the city’s history during a visit to Cape Town is as important as exploring the abundant nature surrounding the city. One of the cheapest, most fun and easiest ways to do this is by joining a free walking tour led by Free Walking Tours.
There are a variety of tours from which to choose, where you can learn about different aspects of Cape Town, and these tours leave multiple times per day (11:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 4:20 p.m.), so a free Cape Town walking tour can be flexibly adjusted to your itinerary. You can either join the Historic City Tour, the Bo Kaap Tour or the Apartheid to Freedom Tour. There’s no need to pre-book, just show up at the meeting point, choose the tour you’re most interested in and learn about Cape Town.
The guides are only paid what you tip them, so be generous, but if you are on a really tight budget they’ll understand if you only leave a small tip.
Recommended by Lena of The Social Travel Experiment
Drive the Cape Peninsula
One of the best day trips from Cape Town is driving the Cape Peninsula from Cape Town to Cape Point. This is one of the world’s most scenic drives and can be done by rental car (which are inexpensive), motorbike (a lot of fun!) or group tour.
You’ll need to start early and allow a full day as there’s so much to see along the way including beaches, mountains, penguins, cute towns, vineyards, the rugged cliffs of Cape Point and the stunning Chapman’s Peak Drive.
It’s best to drive the Cape Peninsula in a clockwise direction so that you are driving on the sea side of the road (you drive on the left in South Africa) and can end with sunset at Camp’s Bay.
The views are beautiful the entire drive and if you have your own vehicle you can choose your own stops. The highlights are the colourful beach huts at surfer town Muizenberg, trendy fishing village Kalk Bay where you can shop at unique boutiques, the historic naval base Simon’s Town, seeing penguins at Boulders Beach, and the stunning views of two oceans at Cape Point where you can also go hiking.
On the way back to Cape Town, stop at Noordhoek for a walk or horseride along the immense white beach (there’s also a great food market at Cape Point Vineyards on Thursday evenings), enjoy the views on the gorgeous Chapman’s Peak Drive and end with a sundowner at the upmarket beach suburb of Camps Bay.
A final tip: make sure you take cash for the toll road.
Recommended by Erin of Never Ending Voyage
Sip wine (and taste cupcakes!) in Stellenbosch
At a mere one hour drive from Cape Town, the lovely Stellenbosch is one of the nicest places to visit in South Africa. Most people go there to taste the incredible wines in one (or more) of its vineyards, but the city is a pleasant place to explore even when not on a mission to taste wine. There are a few good museums and art galleries, and the overall vibe is very relaxed and charming.
Even on a day trip from Cape Town, it‘s possible to make the most of Stellenbosch and explore a few of its wineries. There are so many scattered around that picking the best one is actually a hard task.
Lanzerac is very close to the centre of the city. It has a fantastic restaurant for brunch, and offers wine tasting paired with cheese and, for real gourmets, even with chocolate. Tastings are guided by the expert sommeliers at Lanzerac.
Muratie is an incredible winery a bit outside the city, where everything looks vintage and the wines have been given the name of the various people that have had an impact in the vineyard. The annexed restaurant is a great place for lunch, but keep in mind it‘s closed on Mondays.
The nearby Delheim offers wine and cupcakes tastings – a seemingly odd combination but one which makes perfect sense when tried. The surroundings of the vineyard are gorgeous. You have to drive through Muratie to get there.
Middelvlei offers wine blending experiences. Visitors are provided three different bottles of wine, tannin and sugar drops, and all the tools to create the perfect blend, which they can then have while savouring a traditional South African braai (barbecue).
Spier not only has incredible wines and a fantastic restaurant, but it has made it a mission to have as small an impact on the environment as possible, and it virtually runs completely green.
Recommended by Claudia of My Adventures Across The World
Reflect on history on Robben Island
South Africa’s horrible history of apartheid is now thankfully in the past, but that doesn’t mean you still can’t see its legacy throughout the country. One of the most recognizable symbols of this time is Robben Island, the prison which once held political prisoners like Nelson Mandela.
Visiting Robben Island is an important experience that allows visitors to get a sense of how the freedom fighters were treated. However, the tours are quite tightly managed because of the large number of visitors. You won’t be able to wander around and see it at your own pace.
After getting the ferry from the mainland to the island, the tour is run in two parts. One is a bus ride around the island to see different parts of the prison complex. This includes an old quarry which has a pile of stones put there spontaneously by a reunion of former political prisoners in 1995.
The other part of the tour is a guided walk through the main building, with a former prisoner giving background information and personal insight. This includes a brief stop at the cell that held Nelson Mandela.
The tours can get full during busy periods so it‘s worth booking as far in advance as you can. A tour will cost R360 for an adult or R200 for a child, including the ferry ride over.
Recommended by Michael of Time Travel Turtle
Visit Hermanus for whale watching
One of the best things to do in Cape Town, especially from June to November, is to go and watch the whales migrate to the southern tip of Africa for breeding. There are many places around the Mother City that you can watch the giant mammals swim around the continent, but the best place is by far Hermanus, particularly for land-based whale watching.
You can walk along one of the best beaches in South Africa, Blue Flag Grotto Beach, and see the friendly whales breaching or flapping their tales. You can also choose to kayak along the coastline or take a boat out to see them. The boat is the recommended way as you get really close to them and as you see them from above, you get a really good idea of their size. There‘s also some great surf in Hermanus at Voelklip Beach or Kammabaai.
And when you’re all beached out, you can always pop into the Hemel en Aarde wine valley and have some of the country’s top Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, made in the Burgundy tradition. The top three wineries are Bouchard Finlayson, Hamilton Russell and Newton Johnston (also a great place for a meal).
A nice boutique winery that has brilliant Sauvignon Blanc is Bartho Eksteen and his other brand, Wijnskool. If you’re not into wine, Hermanus town is a bustling place with boutique stores, coffee shops and restaurants of all kinds. You can even sit in the main square at restaurants like Lemon Butter or Ocean Basket and watch the whales while you eat.
Recommended by Cal of Once in a Lifetime Journey
Go diving in an aquarium
Two Oceans Aquarium is one of the most respected animal care institutions in the world. As the name implies, this aquarium is located in between two oceans – the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Two Oceans Aquarium highlights the rich marine diversity in the Western Cape region.
If seeing the animals while dry isn‘t enough for you, one of unique things to do in Cape Town is to try diving Two Oceans Aquarium. Seeing any aquarium from the inside offers you a completely different perspective!
The dive operation here is very laidback. But when it comes to protecting the animals, they are very strict. After your briefing and gearing up, you will start your underwater journey from the top side of either I&J Ocean or the Predator Exhibits.
You will come face-to-face with the aquarium’s residents, including several sea turtles, rugged-tooth sharks, galjoen, and stumpnose fish! Even better, you may be able to feed some of these animals, while kids watch you from the outside.
So if you’re scuba certified, get in the water at Two Oceans Aquarium – it’s one of the coolest things to do in Cape Town!
Recommended by Halef and Michael of The Round The World Guys
Go horse riding in Noordhoek
When the sun rolls over the horizon in Noordhoek, it makes quite an entrance. Behind the sandy beach, jagged mountains rise up in dark green and charcoal. The swell moves as though it‘s the only one on earth, its own rhythm of surf and withdraw, tumble and crush pounding as the morning mist skips along its surface.
And what makes this view all the more striking? Seeing it from the viewpoint of a horse: riding, wading, swimming through the waterways, surrounded by bright pink flamingos.
Sleepy Hollow Riding School is one such outfit that takes visitors out along the beach at Noordhoek. Priding themselves on their accessibility, both beginners and advanced riders are welcome. But criteria are strict, for safety purposes. Absolutely no alcohol is allowed, helmets are mandatory and there’s a 90 kilogram passenger limit (with a weight check on arrival.) There’s an age limit, too: 12 to 65 years only.
A 30-minute preparatory session takes place at the stables before a well-qualified guide leads the horses out to the sand. The rules of Table Mountain National Park keep the pace to a walk, a trot, or a canter but the view is so spectacular, few people feel the need to go fast.
It’s the perfect way to start the day, and it pairs up nicely with a cultural and authentic cooking lesson back in the colourful district of Bo Kaap.
Recommended by Abi of Inside the Travel Lab
Hike Lions Head
While many visitors attempt to scale the more famous Table Mountain while visiting the Mother City, the trek is long, challenging and the tablecloth-like fog can throw a last-minute wrench in your plans.
Turn your attention instead to the smaller, equally as beautiful Lion’s Head.
The hike up to the top of Lion’s Head is shorter and equally as rewarding and is a must-do activity on any Cape Town itinerary. The hike starts off easy as you walk the dirt path that circles the base of the mountain. The path thins and gradually becomes rockier until you’re met with a literal (and metaphorical?) fork in the road. If you feel unsure, take the longer but easier path to the left. Feeling brave? Hang a right and scale the rocks with the chains and ladders secured into the rock. Whichever path you choose, you’ll be met at the top with the best view Cape Town has to offer.
The best time to hike Lion’s Head is sunrise or sunset. Sunrise has the benefit of conquering the easiest part in the dark, reserving the challenging last bit for last when you’ll have a bit of daylight to help. Descending the rocks on your way down (particularly the chains/ladders) with full morning light, versus the darkness after sunset, will also be easier.
Lion’s Head is moderate in skill level. It’s not necessary to be an experienced outdoorsman to hike Lion’s Head but it will be easier if you’re active and have a bit of endurance. Be sure to pack your reusable water bottle, snacks, and importantly a flashlight if ascending in the dark or descending after sunset. A headlamp is recommended but between you and me, a phone can do in a pinch.
Finally, bring your camera! The view below of Camps Bay, the city and Table Mountain is something you’ll want to remember forever.
Recommended by Erin of Sol Salute
Visit a winery
Visiting a winery is one of the best things to do in Cape Town and should definitely be near the top of any list. One of the great things about Cape Town is that there are wineries right on its doorstep that are very easy to visit – and the City Sightseeing bus stops by three of them!
Groot Constantia is particularly worth visiting as the oldest wine estate in South Africa. It’s also very pretty and there is a restaurant, deli, cellar tours, wine tasting and a historic manor house. It’s worth taking a few hours to tour both the cellars and the historic manor house and then have lunch. The perfect way to finish the cellar tour is with some tastings to choose the perfect wine for lunch or a leisurely afternoon sitting in the vineyard. There are many different wines to try and, since the region is known for its pinotage, make sure this is sampled!
You need to purchase a ticket for cellar tours, the manor house and tastings. This is currently R105 for adults and free for kids and the glass is included.
There are many other wine farms in this region so try to visit a few.
Recommended by Sharon of Simpler And Smarter
Explore the V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is a popular part of Cape Town to visit or even stay in, thanks to its history, closeness to the city centre, and wealth of things to do. In fact it is reportedly the city’s second most popular tourist attraction after Table Mountain.
It‘s one of the oldest parts of the city of Cape Town and started life as a small jetty for arriving and departing ships in the 17th century. It later grew to be a mostly industrial harbour, and it is still where you depart the mainland to get a boat for a tour of Robben Island.
Beginning in the early 1990s, the area has undergone something of a revamp to become a tourism hub as well as a still-working harbour. This now means there are lots of things to do at the V&A Waterfront, which is named after Queen Victoria and her second son Alfred (rather than her husband Albert). These new activities include the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art and The Watershed, a huge and impressive warehouse celebrating the best in South African design.
If you get hungry you should pop into the V&A Food Market which is home to street food-type stalls selling freshly cooked dishes from near and far. Inside the Alfred Mall you’ll find more shops and restaurants that you can visit in one day, and if you’re travelling with kids you should also check out the Two Oceans Aquarium or South African Maritime Museum.
Recommended by Frankie of As the Bird Flies Blog
Visit the District Six Museum
The District Six Museum is the best place in Cape Town for visitors to learn about apartheid and how it affected the residents of the city. District Six was once a vibrant and diverse community made up of labourers, merchants, artists and immigrants of different races and backgrounds. It was an example of how diversity could make a community stronger and was not something to be feared.
In other words, it represented the exact opposite of what the apartheid government wanted people to believe. Apartheid rulers passed a whole series of laws that were enforced throughout South Africa and, to a lesser extent, Namibia, and were designed to keep people of different races from mingling with each other.
In 1966, District Six was declared a “whites only” area, and all of the people of colour living there were forcibly evicted. Their homes were destroyed, and they were moved to barren areas on the outskirts of the city, known as the Cape Flats.
The museum’s permanent exhibition, titled “Digging Deeper”, documents life in District Six as it once was, using a multimedia and interdisciplinary approach to storytelling.
The museum is located inside the Methodist Church building at 25A Buitenkant Street and is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday. In addition to the museum itself, there’s also the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre at 15 Buitenkant Street, just two blocks away, where film screenings, workshops and other activities are held regularly.
The entrance fee is R45, or R60 if you would like a guided tour led by a former resident of District Six. The guided tour is highly recommended, as there is so much information in the exhibits that it can be a bit overwhelming to try to take it all in on your own.
Recommended by Wendy of The Nomadic Vegan
Drive Chapman’s Peak
Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the most scenic drives in the world and certainly the most beautiful drive in Cape Town.
The drive itself is about 5.5 miles connecting Hout Bay and Noordhoek in Cape Town. Most people either drive to Chapman’s Peak for the beautiful view or pass by it on the way to/from Cape of Good Hope.
Chapman’s Peak is also one of the best spots for sunset in Cape Town. There is a particular spot on the Chapman’s Peak drive with parking spots and a picnic area open to the public. It’s the perfect spot to stop by to walk around, take some photos, or have a picnic.
It‘s not hard to see why it’s the perfect spot for sunset and one of the most romantic spots in Cape Town. From the view point you can see the ocean, Hout Bay, Noordhoek Beach and the Southern Cape Peninsula. If you feel like hiking, there‘s a trail that climbs up a bit higher for an even better view of the area.
Because of the beautiful scenery, Chapman’s Peak drive is a photographer’s heaven and even if you are not a pro photographer, you are guaranteed beautiful photos at this spot. There‘s a nice winery and restaurant on Chapman’s Peak drive also, making it the perfect destination to visit in Cape Town.
Recommended by Serena of Serena’s Lenses
Learn how to cook in Bo Kaap
A must-do in the candy-coloured neighbourhood of Bo Kaap, Cape Town, besides taking stunning photos, is stepping indoors for a Cape Malay cooking class. It’s an excellent way to experience a culture through its food and get to meet and talk to local people.
The historic Malay Quarter, as Bo Kaap is otherwise known, dates back to 1760s whose population are descendants of Malaysian, Indonesian and African slaves. The local cuisine is just as colourful, bright and tasty as the district.
The cooking class begins with a tour of a spice shop to learn about the ingredients of traditional Cape Malay food. Then it’s hands on and cooking up a storm, sprinkling an exotic mix of spices like a pro with a hostess inside a family home. No cooking experience is required; this cooking lesson is for all abilities and ages.
The workshop is relaxed and extremely fun. You will make Cape Malay chicken curry from scratch, learn how to successfully fold samosas so they don’t leak, and learn how to knead, roll and make fluffy roti bread wraps. The kitchen will be filled with delicious smells, conversation and laughter. And once you’ve finished cooking up a storm, it’s time to take a seat and eat the scrumptious meal you’ve just prepared. Book your authentic cooking experience through Andulela.
Recommended by Sharon and Darrin of What the Saints Did Next
What are your favourite activities in Cape Town? If you’ve got more tips, leave them in the comments below?