9 Things to Do in Cape Town, South Africa

This past September, my friends and I spent a week in Cape Town, South Africa and we loved it! There is so much to do in the city, as well as in the surrounding Cape region, so this list is not exhaustive but these were 9 of the highlights from our trip!

1 – Go to the top of Table Mountain

You can’t visit Cape Town without seeing it from the top of Table Mountain! Whether you spend just a couple of hours taking the funicular to the top or spend the day climbing up, the views at the top are incredible. While it doesn’t make it easy to plan, make sure you visit on a clear day so the fog doesn’t block your view of the city and the bay below.

2 – Visit Robben Island

Visit the island that held hundreds of political prisoners during apartheid, including Nelson Mandela. It’s a good idea to book tickets in advance here, as there is a limited number and they may sell out, especially during the high season. Your ticket includes the ferry to the island and a tour led by a former Robben Island prisoner.

On the tour, you’ll see and learn more about the living conditions for the prisoners, see the cell Nelson Mandela stayed in during 18 of his 27 years as a political prisoner and drive through the town of Robben Island, where museum workers still live today.

Nelson Mandela’s cell

And an added bonus is the incredible view of Table Mountain from across the bay!

3 – Eat dinner and do some souvenir shopping at the V&A Waterfront

Visit the V&A Waterfront right on the Table Bay Harbour, where you’ve got the Atlantic ocean on one side and Table Mountain behind you. There are dozens of restaurants right along the water where you can sit down and eat with a view or grab something to eat at the V&A Food Mart if you’re looking for a snack or a quick lunch.

As we wandered around in the evening, there were bands playing traditional music in several of the squares. Keep an eye out for the painted rhino statues all around the waterfront, painted by different local artists to raise awareness for the endangered species.

Do some shopping at the Watershed Market, an awesome artisan craft market where everyone in our group found a souvenir to take home, even when we weren’t even planning on buying anything that day!

One of many local artists’ works at the Watershed Market

The ferry to Robben Island leaves from the V&A Waterfront, so I recommend making a day of it: visiting Robben Island in the late morning and coming back to enjoy dinner and a stroll around the waterfront in the evening!

4 – Learn more about the history of apartheid at the District Six Museum

District Six was a vibrant but poorer neighborhood near downtown Cape Town, where most of its residents were black. Then in the 1960s, the government declared it a whites-only area and over the next two decades, tens of thousands of residents were relocated to townships on the outskirts of the city. Nearly all the buildings were bulldozed and the government’s plans for development on the land never materialized, leaving a mostly empty space.

District Six Museum

At the District Six Museum, you can learn about what happened in District Six during apartheid, as well as the history of this neighborhood that was full of culture before the residents were forced out. The museum is located in what was once the Methodist Church (one of the few buildings not torn down) and it tells the stories of the former residents through photos, quotes and even artifacts collected by the museum when it was established after the fall of apartheid.

For more on planning your visit to the District Six Museum, check out this post!

5 – Explore the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden

Spend a few hours exploring the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden or make an afternoon of it by packing a picnic! Walk the Tree Canopy Walkway, a bridge the winds out from the trees above the gardens and see some of the beautiful and colorful Cape Flora. This region of South Africa is home to the smallest of the 6 floral kingdoms of the world so many of the plants can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Check out this post for more reasons to add Kirstenbosch to your Cape Town itinerary!

6 – Spend a day wine tasting in South Africa’s wine country

An easy day trip from Cape Town, both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are only about an hour outside of the city. During our trip, we rented a car for a day to visit a few wineries in Stellenbosch. My favorite of the ones we visited was Delheim, where we did a wine and fynbos cupcake tasting, where the wines were paired with cupcakes made with local flavors that are unique to the Cape Flora region.

If you don’t have time for a day trip, consider wine tasting in Constantia, a closer suburb of Cape Town. We spent an afternoon at Groot Constantia, the oldest winery in South Africa, where we ate a traditional Cape Malay lunch in one of their restaurants and did a wine and chocolate tasting in their tasting room.

The Constantia region is easy to fit into your Cape Town itinerary, it’s located only about 15 km from the city center and is close to Kirstenbosch. We were able to visit both Kirstenbosch and Groot Constantia on the same day by taking the hop-on hop-off bus.

7 – Visit the colorful neighborhood of Bo Kaap

If you’ve seen pictures from Cape Town of rows of colorful houses, they were probably taken in Bo Kaap, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. Learn about the history of the neighborhood at the Bo Kaap Museum or take a free walking tour of the area with Cape Town Free Walking Tours (the company offers 3 different free walking tours in Cape Town. We didn’t do their Bo Kaap tour, but their “Apartheid to Freedom” tour was excellent!).

8 – Spend a Saturday morning at Old Biscuit Mill’s Neighborgoods market

Located in what was once an operating mill in the early 1900s, the Neighborgoods Market is set up every Saturday from 9am-3pm. Dozens of vendors set up booths outside and several shops are open selling artisanal products, fashions from local designers and unique Cape Town souvenirs.

There’s also a large area of food vendors in the old warehouse of the mill, featuring cuisines from all over the world. Whether you’re ready for lunch or just a quick snack, plan to check it out while you’re there!

9 – Pay a visit to South Africa’s penguin colony!

South Africa has their own species of penguins living along the cape just about 45 km south of Cape Town. Visit the Boulder Beach Penguin Colony in Simon’s Town, managed by South Africa National Parks, to see them. They’ve built wooden boardwalks and platforms over the beach where you can observe the penguins waddling in the sand, swimming in the ocean and even mothers nesting with their babies. Though it was fairly crowded, this was one of the highlights of our trip!

It’s not easy to get to Boulder’s Beach by public transportation so I recommend renting a car. We made a day of it and visited the penguin colony as one of our stops along the way on our Cape Peninsula road trip – check out this post to read more about the penguin colony and other stops on our drive!

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