Things to Do in Cape Town
For nearly 300 years, Robben Island was a place of isolation, where political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned and cut off from the rest of the world. It also served as a voluntary sanctuary for lepers. Despite this unsavory past, Robben Island is an important piece of South Africa's history, as well as a reminder of the difficult road to South African Democracy and the victory over apartheid.
Robben Island was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999, and the Robben Island Museum is dedicated to preserving the memory and contributions of the freedom fighters held within its walls. The museum's exhibitions detail the life, times and struggles of its prisoners, particularly those of Robert Sobukwe and his commitment to Pan Africanism. A multimedia exhibit educates visitors on the history of South Africa's democracy.
The Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve is a nature lover's paradise. See fynbos, Dutch for "fine bush," and indeed, the native flora is as spectacular as it is varied, as well as the native flora, which includes zebras, elands, ostriches and baboons. Further south is Cape Point, where you superb bird watching, whale watching and breathtaking ocean views in some of the cleanest air in the world - the visibility is bar none.
While the Cape of Good Hope is famous for its wildlife, humans have near-limitless options for recreation. South Africa is famous for its fantastic surf, and Cape Point has some of the best breaks in the world. Scuba aficionados have access to spectacular dive sites - the treacherous rocks of the reef are home to 26 recorded shipwrecks, and many more are yet to be discovered. If ocean activity sounds a little rough, the action on land is sure to pique your interest. Cape Point is great for shopping and dining; in particular, the Two Oceans Restaurant.
There are a lot of beaches in Cape Town that are likely to be on your must-see list - from surfing meccas to nightlife hotspots - but one beach in particular attracts countless visitors even though they can’t even walk on the beach itself. You may not be able to stroll on Boulders Beach, but it’s the place to go to see wild African penguins up close.
The colony of African penguins that calls Boulders Beach home first settled there in the early 1980s, and has grown to a population of more than 3,000. The area is protected - it’s part of the Table Mountain National Park - and visitors are encouraged to visit the part of the beach where raised walkways keep people away from the penguins and their nests. The walkways are only a few feet off the ground, however, so you still get a great view of the birds. The restricted area of Boulders Beach with the raised walkways is actually called Foxy Beach.
The brightly colored houses of this lively neighborhood in the Central Cape are perched among the rocky crags of Signal Hill. Cobblestone streets wind through the multicultural township where freed slaves and Muslim immigrants settled. Visitors can follow guided walking tours through Bo-Kaap’s major sites, or delve into the history of the area on their own.
The Bo-Kaap Museum, which examines the contributions made by Muslim settlers, is housed in the quarter’s oldest home. It is the ideal place to start exploring the culture of this colorful neighborhood. Afterwards, check out the historic Mosques that dot the streets of Bo-Kaap, including one built in 1844, before visiting the well-known Karamats. The township is home to three of these burial sites that honor saints of Islam. Travelers can also learn to make famous Malay Curry during a traditional cooking class, or sample local fare and purchase traditional works of art at the food and craft market.
Chapman's Peak is a mountain on the Cape Peninsula, with a 5.5-mile road known for its scenic beauty. The road winds from Hout Bay to Noordhoek, clinging to the side of the steep mountain almost the whole way. The road was built in the early 20th century, and boasts 114 turns in its short 5.5-mile distance.
The road itself may not be long, but you'll want to take your time – not just because of the many curves, but also because of the gorgeous views. There are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the scenery along the way.
The Cape Point Nature Reserve sits on Cape Point, at the tip of the Cape Peninsula, and features a great variety of animal and plant life. The reserve occupies more than 19,000 acres of Cape Point, including nearly 25 miles of coastline. The old lighthouse, built in 1859, was replaced in 1911, but it still remains standing and is a popular attraction. The Cape Point Nature Reserve is part of the larger Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest floral kingdom in the world.
Contrary to popular belief, Cape Point is not the southernmost point of Africa – nor is it the point off which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Still, the point is an absolutely beautiful spot to visit, offering spectacular views, great hiking, and excellent bird-watching.
Originally called the Green Point Stadium after a structure that previously stood here, this state-of-the-art complex was home to the 2010 World Cup. In addition to the 60,000-plus sports fans that flooded its seats during the big event, the Cape Town Stadium has hosted concerts by performers like Michael Jackson, Metallica, Paul Simon and Robbie Williams.Today, visitors can catch a local Rugby match or even a live performance if the timing is right. But the stadium also offers daily tours for travelers on a budget—or those whose schedules don’t match up with the local calendar of events.
Table Mountain National Park is one of the region’s most-visited attractions—with good reason. This vast world heritage site stretches from Signal hill to Cape Point, and includes some of the area’s best hikes and most scenic views.
Despite its proximity to the ever-popular Long Street, Table Mountain feels far removed from the hustle of Cape Town. Hop a taxi from the main drag, or walk the short—but very vertical—distance to the bottom of the hill. Travelers looking to stretch their legs can take one of the short (but challenging) hikes to Table Mountain’s peak, or ride the popular cable car to the top for picturesque views of the city and sea.
The nearby rocky cliffs of Cape Peninsula and Cape of Good Hope, another much-visited attraction in the national park, overlook clear blue seas where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. Paved paths and a well-kept boardwalk wind through the southern-most point on the continent and lead to impressive heights.
Once known as “Lion’s Rump,” Signal Hill is a relatively flat peak next to Lion’s Head and Table Mountain. The summit of this landmark once flew flags to signal changing weather and anchoring directions for ships that came to port. A well-paved road takes visitors to the top of Signal Hill, where spectacular Cape Town views await.
Along the way, travelers can stop at the impressive tombs of several Muslim missionaries or spend the night at Appleton Scout Campsite. Those venturing to Signal Hill for a mid-day trip will likely hear the Noon Gun—two massive cannons signaling the strike of twelve—fire, too. In addition to its incredible views, Signal Hill is home to the last bit of the endangered Peninsula Shale Renosterveld vegetation in Cape Town, which means it is one of the few places nature lovers can find the extremely rare Moraea aristata flower and Medusa’s Head succulents in the wild.
This quaint harbor on the western side of the Cape Peninsula has a seaside charm that attracts both travelers and locals to its sheltered shores. Whether it’s sampling ocean-fresh seafood from one of the restaurants lining its harbor or exploring the shelves of world-class antique shops, Hout Bay has proved itself a worthy destination despite its small size. Visitors love wandering along the bustling docks where commercial fishing boats unload their daily catch, and its close proximity to Seal Island and World of Birds makes it a perfect lunch stop on a tour of the Cape.
More Things to Do in Cape Town
Just beyond the peaks of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, lies the Twelve Apostles, a range of rocky cliffs that line the coast of the Cape Peninsula. Travelers can enjoy the views during a scenic drive from Cape Town, or while relaxing on the sandy shores of Camps Bay. Grab lunch along the bustling promenade and then head to the trails, since a climb to the top of the Twelve Apostles offers an unmatched view of Clifton and the bay. Afterwards, relax with a sun downer at the Leopard Lounge, known for extensive collection of South African wines and its famous Twelve Apostles cocktail.
This iconic peak in Table Mountain National Park stretches some 2,000 feet above sea level and its Lion-shaped apex is visible from almost anywhere in Cape Town. Visitors can make the challenging hour-long climb to the top and enjoy epic views of Table Mountain and the city skyline, and those seeking a high adventure can use the slopes of Lion’s Head as a launching point for paragliding.
Duiker Island is very small, sitting in Hout Bay, home to an abundant variety of wildlife. The island is sometimes known as Seal Island due to the large population of fur seals that is often found there, and the area is also home to sea birds.
The island itself isn't even one acre, so visits are not usually very long. There are several daily cruises out to the island, however, so you can see the seals and birds up close – either from the boat or from the island. Hout Bay is also known for diving.
The Kirstenbosh National Botanical Gardens, established in 1913 to protect indigenous flora, was the first gardens of its kind in the world. It covers five of the six of South Africa's unique biomes; many of these are found inside an indoor greenhouse. The Kirstenboash gardens are also home to various exhibitions of sculpture ranging from Zimbabwean stone sculptures to the world-famous bronze animals of Dylan Lewis.
Nature lovers are bound to enjoy the gardens and so will hikers. Near the Gardens are a series of trails that lead to Table Mountain and the pass at Constantia Nek, which is the site of the oldest restaurant in Cape Town. From Constantia Nek, hikers can reach Constantiaberg, the reservoirs of the "back-table" of Table Mountain and Cecilia Forest. Following the same path north leads to the Rhodes Memorial and the slopes of Devil's Peak.
The exclusive coastal town of Clifton lies on the northwest tip of the Cape Peninsula. Elaborate homes of some of South Africa’s most famous celebrities and wealthiest entrepreneurs line the rocky hills of this affluent suburb. The impressive architecture makes for a uniquely scenic drive, but it’s the beautiful beaches that draw visitors away from Cape Town to the picturesque shores of the Atlantic.
Four distinct beaches make up Clifton Beach, which attracts a ritzier crowd full of scenesters eager to see and be seen. Year-round rigid water temps keep sunbathers firmly on the shores, but rented chairs, multi-million dollar yachts and tasty cafes along the main drag offer plenty of opportunities for people watching, as well as a chance to brush elbows with Cape Town’s most elite.
Combining the thrill of an African safari with a 4-star luxury vacation, the Aquila Game Reserve is a top adventure destination in the Cape Town area. You'll see wild game in their natural environment from the vantage point of either a 4x4 offroad vehicle, horseback or quadbike, depending on your package.
Get as close as you (or your guide, anyway) dare to elephants, rhinos, lions, leopards and buffalo, as well as spot some of South Africa's unique bird such as the sacred ibis and the notorious buzzard.
The Camps Bay suburb of Cape Town is all about beaches and nightlife, whether you're a Cape Town resident in search of a weekend getaway or you're a visitor.
The wide, white sand beaches of Camps Bay sit beneath the imposing Twelve Apostles peaks and Talbe Mountain itself. Vacationers play beach volleyball, go surfing, and simply relax in the sand. By night, Victoria Road hums with activity – it's the place to see and be seen, lined with trendy nightclubs and restaurants. Camps Bay Beach has been listed as a Blue Flag Beach since 2008, meeting strict environmental standards.
Located on the Victoria & Albert Waterfront in Cape Town, the Two Oceans Aquarium is - as the name suggests - a celebration of the unique collection of marine life that lives off the coasts of South Africa. The Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet off the country's southern shore at Cape Agulhas, 138 miles from Cape Town.
There are two galleries in the aquarium, one for each of the two oceans in the name, among seven total galleries with large windows to see the sea life. Among the creatures in the Atlantic Ocean Gallery, there are rare Knysna seahorses, and in the Indian Ocean Gallery you'll see clownfish. There is also a penguin exhibit, an activity center for kids, and a predator exhibit with sharks and stingrays. Certified divers can even dive in the tank with the sharks.
Originally a jetty built in 1654 to refresh sailors for the Dutch East India Company, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is now one of the most-visited attractions for foreigners in South Africa. The area is a development consisting of two harbors, retail shops and museums, seascapes and mountain views, and plenty of places to bed down, drink up or eat away.
The V&A Waterfront describes itself as a "Haven for Sailing Enthusiasts" and offers full amenities alongside historical charm. Walking and bus tours, sports and mind-blowing boats are sure to cast a hook for visitors of all types.
When people talk about wildlife in Africa, they usually mean the Big Five: Elephants, rhino, buffalo, lions and leopards. But World of Birds, a unique park just outside Cape Town that’s home to more than 400 different species of wild birds, proves there’s more to this diverse continent than just its massive mammals.
More than 3,000 birds and other small animals call this aviary home. Visitors can explore their well-kept habitats, which spread over a generous four hectares of land. The scenic backdrop of Table Mountain, Little Lion’s Head and the Twelve Apostles makes it an ideal spot for photos, too.
If you're visiting Cape Town, Table Mountain is a must-see. Whether you choose to hike or drive to its flat-topped summit (hence the name) or take the Aerial Cable Way, you'll be treated to spectacular views of the city, Devil's Peak and Lion's Head.
Once you're at the top, there a 3 different walking paths to take: the 15-minute Dassie Walk, the 30-minute Agama Walk (providing you with a panomramic view of Cape Town and the peninsula), and the Klipspringer Walk, which ends above Platteklip Gorge. All of these provide you with plenty of photo opportunities, especially if you are into animals; rock hyrax, porcupines, mongooses and more live on the mountain, as well as some poisonous snakes (don't be afraid, just be careful).
A former Cape Town neighborhood is remembered in the District Six Museum, built in the neighborhood itself.
District Six was created in the 1860s, but by the mid-1960s the government began forcibly removing the non-white residents to a slum-like township miles away in order to make the neighborhood whites-only. In all, some 60,000 people were relocated, and their homes destroyed. Very little development was ever started in the area, however, and post-apartheid the government said they would recognize property rights of former residents. The District Six Museum was founded in 1994 to honor those who were forcibly removed from their homes. Some fragments of the former neighborhood are on display, and there is a district map on the floor where former residents have noted where their houses once were. The museum and District Six Foundation also exist to help people moving back to the neighborhood develop the area into a thriving community again.
When the Dutch East India Company arrived in the area of what is now Cape Town in 1652, one of the first things they did was create a garden to help feed the settlers. The Company's Garden still exists, today as a public park.
Company's Garden covers a whopping 19.76 acres in the middle of Cape Town, near the parliament building, and includes a fish pond, rose garden and multiple statues and monuments. There's a tea room restaurant on the grounds, and an 18th-century sundial. Attractions near the garden include the Iziko South African Museum, St. George's Cathedral and South Africa's National Library. Of particular note among the many historic trees is the oldest cultivated pear tree in South Africa, planted around 1652.