Sitting snugly between the harbor and Table Mountain, and affectionately known as the Mother City, Cape Town is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Add to this the rich history of the city, the cultural diversity of its citizens, and the well-developed tourism industry which offers a host of activities, and it is easy to see why Cape Town is one of South Africa’s top tourist destinations attracting visitors from far and wide.
There’s a European feel to the upmarket areas, mixed with African vibrancy in its street life and craft markets. Cape Town is a fascinating mosaic of Asian, European, and African traditions. These streams of history flow together in the city but, particularly because of the legacy of the apartheid system, visitors to Cape Town are often amazed by the dramatic contrasts that remain between sectors of the city. The stunning natural beauty of the city, and vastly different sub-climates around the peninsula, create an enormous diversity of vegetation. The city has a population of 4.7 million people descended from every corner of the world and is connected by freeways. Twenty minutes from the bustling city center, you could be on a beach, on a wine farm in the leafy Constantia valley, or even in a shanty township. It is truly fascinating to discover the different areas of the city and experience the diversity of culture in Cape Town.
Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa and is the country’s legislative capital. SA’s main tourist center offers plenty to see and do and has a rich history. Robben Island, where former President Nelson Mandela and many other political prisoners were incarcerated during apartheid, is a must-see.
Beyond the city are the world-famous Winelands and a peninsula that eventually tapers to a windswept point, The Cape is world-famous for its superb wines, which have given rise to a tourism sector all of its own. Wine estate tours are a must and include tastings, wine sales, and excellent restaurants in the wine-growing regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek, with some charming towns to visit on the way.
One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, you simply can’t miss Table Mountain: its famous flat-topped silhouette is the first thing you’ll see when flying into Cape Town and there’s no excuse not to visit it.
Table Mountain has mass appeal: firstly, it offers unparalleled views of the city, and suburbs and, on a clear day one can see as far as Cape Point. Secondly, for all the budding botanists, the 35-square-mile area comprising Table Mountain and the Back Table is home to more than 1,470 floral species, many of which are endemic to the area.
For wildlife fans, there is the possibility of sighting some very interesting animal species. While leopards once roamed the mountain (pre-1920s), the biggest cat you may see today is the rooikat. Other animals that call the mountain home include rock hyrax (dassie), porcupines, mongooses, snakes, tortoises, and the very rare Table Mountain Ghost Frog. There are several exceptional raptors that are often spotted such as jackal buzzards, booted eagles, peregrine falcons, and African harrier-hawks.
Standing at 3,563 feet, Table Mountain is hike-able providing you are suitably fit. There are several routes with Platteklip Gorge, a prominent gorge up to the center of the main table, being one of the most popular routes up the mountain. While quite steep, the ascent is pretty straightforward and should take between one and three hours depending on your fitness level.
If you don’t fancy all that exertion – after all you are on vacation – there is a cableway, which carries up to 65 passengers per trip. The journey takes about 5 minutes and the car rotates a full 360 degrees during the trip, giving you spectacular views of the mountain below. This is an enjoyable experience in itself. If you want to hike, we’d recommend hiking up and taking the cableway down so you get to try out both experiences. Or, even better – visit more than once!
There is a curio shop at the cableway station and a restaurant. There are also easy walks on the plateau; the Dassie Walk, the Agama Walk, and the Klipspringer Walk. There are also free guided walks that depart – on the hour – from the Twelve Apostles Terrace.
The walk paths cover a distance of more than 1.24 miles at the top of the mountain and you can walk to lookout points from which you can view spectacular vistas over the City Center, sprawling suburbs, the V&A Waterfront, Robben Island, Signal Hill, Cape Peninsula, and Devil’s Peak. On a clear day, one can see as far as the Hottentots Holland Mountains on the far side of False Bay.
If you are feeling energetic and adventurous, there is an option to rappel 370 feet down a sheer cliff, which takes about 45 minutes, including the demonstration and a short hike back up to the top.
Table Mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park, which in turn forms part of the Cape Floral Region, one of South Africa’s eight World Heritage sites.
Founded in 1913 to preserve the country’s rare flora and fauna, KIRSTENBOSCH NATIONAL BOTANICAL GARDEN is an 89-acre World Heritage site renowned for its beauty and diversity.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is an oasis not far from Cape Town’s city center. Nestled beneath Table Mountain’s eastern slopes, the garden celebrates South Africa’s incredible botanical diversity; and in particular, its endemic indigenous plants.
Kirstenbosch includes a fragrance garden, a medicinal garden, 2,500 species of plants found on the Cape Peninsula, a Protea garden (best seen in spring!), a braille trail, a tree canopy walkway, and a cycad amphitheater. To immerse yourself in all that the Garden has to offer, it is worth taking one of the free guided tours that depart from the Visitors Center at 11 am and 2 pm from Monday to Saturday.
The Kirstenbosch Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway is a new curved steel and timber bridge that winds and dips its way through and over the trees of the Arboretum. Inspired by a snake skeleton, and informally called ‘The Boomslang‘ (meaning tree snake), it allows visitors to see the forest and the trees the way a bird or a monkey might.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is a fantastic place to visit, you may want to return as you won’t have time to do all the trails in one day, one of which takes you up Table Mountain. There is a lovely restaurant inside the gardens, it is a beautiful spot to grab a drink, snacks, or a full meal. The menu is full of exciting dishes, including crocodile and Mopani worms!
South Africa has 46 Blue Flag Beaches, 10 of which are in Cape Town.
From the mountains to the beaches, as much a part of the city as Table Mountain, Cape Town’s coastal regions offer something for everyone – whether it be world-class surfing, sailing, or sunbathing. After sunset – which can be viewed at multiple stunning locations – the bustling nightclubs, restaurants, and theaters are popular with locals and visitors alike.
The Atlantic suburbs of Camps Bay, Bantry Bay, Llandudno, and Clifton boast impressive apartment blocks built into the mountainsides and historic cottages sit side-by-side ultra-contemporary houses above the fabulous beaches. Clifton is very sheltered and the perfect place for a picnic at sunset. Camps Bay is picturesque with excellent restaurants and cafés. The frigid Benguela current of the Atlantic Ocean makes swimming without a wetsuit a chilling experience. The buzzing suburbs of Sea Point and Green Point, particularly the Sea Point Promenade, are the best microcosm of humanity you could hope to find. Rollerbladers, women in saris, men playing rugby, dog walkers…it’s all here. The mountain backdrop, tall apartments, and open lawns along the crashing sea are perfect places for a walk. The main road has every kind of shop and plenty of restaurants. There is also a small red-light district!
Read here for more about Cape Town’s magnificent beaches.
The city itself is best enjoyed on foot to make the most of historical buildings and cultural icons such as the Renaissance-style City Hall, Houses of Parliament, St George’s Cathedral, Bo-Kaap Museum, Gold of Africa Museum, South African Jewish Museum, the Slave Lodge in Adderley Street and the many art galleries.
Referred to as the city bowl because of the way it is contained between mountain and sea, the heart of Cape Town incorporates neighborhoods of great historical significance such as the Bo Kaap, Tamboerskloof, and Oranjezicht. Within the city limits, visitors can take a trip into the past by following the Footsteps to Freedom walk or visiting the Castle of Good Hope and the Slave Lodge. The beautifully landscaped Company Gardens with its views of Table Mountain and its tree-lined avenues has within its boundaries both the South African National Gallery and the South African Museum and is a must-see for visitors to Cape Town. The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden set on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain is often used for outdoor concerts and is another attraction that nature lovers will appreciate.
Long Street and Greenmarket Square are well known for their relaxed arty atmosphere where visitors can enjoy exploring the antique shops, book shops, as well as the little shops containing a mishmash of African curios and fascinating souvenirs, while the many coffee shops, restaurants, and bistros invite visitors to take some time out to relax and watch the world go by. Nightlife in the city is vibrant with theaters, clubs, live music venues, and restaurants offering both local and international entertainment and cuisine. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is one of Cape Town’s biggest attractions, incorporating an abundance of specialty stores, offices, hotels, exciting entertainment options, and the fascinating Two Oceans Aquarium which every member of the family is sure to enjoy.
Since 1982 Boulders Beach has been home to a colony of an estimated 2,000 – 3,000 African penguins, formally known as jackass penguins, the only penguins found on the African continent. Boulders Beach has protection from large waves and the wind thanks to the surrounding ancient granite boulders, making it an ideal place to spend the day.
The beach falls under the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, therefore, it is always clean and safe which further contributes to it being a wonderful place to spend a day.
Robben Island, lying approximately 30 minutes (by boat) off the coast of Cape Town, is famous, or rather infamous, as the holding place for the imprisoned Nelson Mandela. Mandela served 18 of his 27 years in prison incarcerated on the island’s prison, but Robben Island has also housed a hospital, mental institution, leper colony, and military base during its rich history.
Today, Robben Island is a must-see travel destination studded with historical buildings, a key insight into the oppression of the apartheid regime, and diverse wildlife, including a flock of adorable but highly endangered African penguins.
Tours to Robben Island leave daily from the V&A Waterfront.
Cape Town is home to some of the best food in the world; whether you want freshly caught fish, African cuisine, Boerwors or petit-fours you will find it in Cape Town.
Sampling the cuisine of a destination is a highlight of any vacation experience. Cape Town has a unique multicultural heritage that influences much of its cuisine. There are a few dishes or foods that stand alone as “traditional”. Rather, you’ll find a mix of styles, flavors, and techniques—from Cape Dutch to French, from Malaysian to Indian. South African cooking mainly consists of chicken, game, tomatoes, lemons and limes, corn (mealie) in the form of bread and flour, beans, as well as ginger, chili, and spices.
Here are some foods you will want to try in Cape Town:
Fish and Chips: Cape Town’s proximity to flourishing oceans and the history of British colonial rule have resulted in a vibrant fish and chips culture.
Gatsby: Originated in the Cape Flats and dates back to the mid-70s. The Gatsby is a large submarine-style sandwich that is crammed full of a variety of meats, french fries, and sauces. This is a no-frills meal available at almost any local food truck or local eatery.
Bunny Chow: A classic South African meal that draws on the country’s Indian influence. It’s a filling fast food dish that is essentially half a loaf of hollowed-out bread filled with curry.
Bobotie: Bobotie, a meat pie of coarsely ground lamb or beef with plenty of curry, bay or lemon leaves, and fruits, covered with a custard of milk and eggs, is homey and as much-loved as meatloaf is in the United States.
Biltong and Droëwors: Biltong and droëwors are made by drying meat and adding a special blend of spices. Biltong is simply cured and dried, and then sliced or left in solid sticks. Droëwors is essentially a dried sausage.
Braai: Braais are similar to the traditional barbecue, very meat-heavy, and take place in backyards around South Africa. However, there are plenty of restaurants specializing in South African braai food. So, if you’re craving meat, search for one of these eateries!
Traditional desserts: There are a handful of traditional sweet treats worth seeking out to round off your meal. Milk tart, malva pudding, and koeksisters will keep most people with a sweet tooth satisfied.
Cape Town’s Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is one of South Africa’s favorite destinations, and for good reason: this world-class shopping and entertainment venue sits right in the middle of a picturesque working harbor and has nothing less than Table Mountain as its backdrop.
There are a hundred ways to spend your time at the V&A Waterfront, with activities ranging from helicopter tours of the bay to some of the city’s top-rated restaurants and sightseeing attractions.
The V&A Waterfront is somewhere you can visit more than once, aside from the 80+ restaurants there are several bars where you can mix with locals and tourists over a beer and live music. If you enjoy live music check out Kapstadt Brauhaus and Quay Four Tavern, who regularly have live bands playing.
The V&A Waterfront is also a touring hub. If you find yourself unsure what to do for a day, head to the waterfront and see what tours take your fancy, including Harbor Cruises, Sunset Cruises, Hop-On Hop-Off Cape Town Canal Cruise, Helicopter Tours, Robben Island, and City Sightseeing Bus Tour and many, many more.
No trip to Cape Town is complete without a trip to the serene green valleys of the Cape Winelands. There are more than 20 wine-growing regions surrounding Cape Town but the term Cape Winelands generally refers to the three most popular: Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Paarl, each set in rolling countryside with spectacular views.
The vineyards of the Western Cape yield some of the world’s finest vintages. You can stop by for a tasting session, a tour of the cellars, or a gourmet meal in a farm-to-table restaurant with breath-taking rural views.
Although the Winelands are only a 45-minute drive from central Cape Town, it is worth spending a night at a vineyard to get a more rounded experience of life in this beautiful region.
No trip to Cape Town is complete without a tour of the Cape Peninsula. The Cape Peninsula is a 32 mile long rocky peninsula South of Cape Town. A drive along its roads is a full-day activity that can quickly become two if you want to partake in the various activities you’ll discover along the way, such as surfing in Muizenberg.
The Peninsula is made up of Hout Bay, Chapman’s Peak Drive, Noordhoek, Kommetjie, Scarborough, Cape Point, Simon’s Town, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, St James, and Muizenberg.
Chapman’s Peak Drive is one of the most scenic drives in the world. It’s a spectacular 3.1-mile ocean road linking Hout Bay with Noordhoek. The views are incredible and there is an abundance of photo opportunities.
Cape Point is inside the Cape of Good Hope Reserve. Sitting at the most southerly tip of the Peninsula, it offers some incredible views of the mesmerizing Atlantic Coastline and False Bay. There are hiking routes, wildlife, stunning beaches, and scenic drives. At the Point itself, one can walk up to the lighthouse – or ride on the funicular if you prefer – for some of the best views over the Cape of Good Hope. One can also drive down to the actual Cape of Good Hope, just 10 minutes away.
Simon’s Town is famous for its resident colony of African penguins which live on Boulders Beach, and are an absolutely unmissable stop on any Cape Peninsula route! We’re talking about thousands of penguins, all going about their daily business, preening, cuddling, waddling, swimming, and mating.
There are various options for how visitors can sightsee around the Cape Peninsula, including City Sightseeing Tour, a private tour guide, and renting a car. If you travel with Ntaba African Safaris, we can incorporate the tour into your trip.
Cape Town is a year-round destination due to its varying climates and activity opportunities. If there is something specific you wish to do in Cape Town, the time of the year you visit should be considered.
The Cape has beautiful hot, dry weather in its summer months between November and April. The best time for a Cape Town beach holiday is from late January to late April, the tail end of the city’s dry summer months. The best time to visit for whale watching is from July to September, while the best hiking weather in Cape Town is from late April to early June when the days are crisp and clear.
Finding the right accommodation is one of the things Ntaba African Safaris dedicates the most time to after helping you decide on your destinations. Great accommodation options are plentiful in Cape Town and you will find well-known international hoteliers such as Radisson Blu, Hilton, and Marriot, as well as several beautiful, boutique hotels.
Whether you are traveling as a family, a couple, solo, or on a honeymoon, you will find somewhere which suits your requirements and budget. For help finding the right accommodation, you can contact us, here.
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