13 Can’t Miss Things to Do in Cape Town
Local flavors, stunning views, and fine wines: Cape Town has far more than these great experiences, but start here. Active travelers will delight in the number of outdoor experiences by land and sea. Travelers focused on culture will enjoy the variety of local markets and dining options. These are the activities you can’t miss before departing Cape Town.
Groot Constantia Rd, Constantia, Cape Town, 7806, South Africa
The oldest winery in South Africa, Groot Constantia has a long history of producing some of the best wines in the world. Groot Constantia is also a rarity in its proximity to Cape Town itself. In the 19th century the European heads of state included wines from Groot Constantia in their cellars. Today the wine makers at this famous winery are still making their excellent wines and guests can visit for a full tasting. It’s also a great spot for a picnic, as long as you watch out for baboons. This is South Africa after all.
Lion's Head, Signal Hill, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
The hike up Lion’s Head affords incredible views. Since the trail winds around the mountain, you’ll have the unique opportunity to see every side of Cape Town from above. When you start, the ever-stunning Table Mountain will be just to the left, but soon enough, you’ll be facing Robben Island in the distance, with all of Cape Town below. The Lion’s Head hiking trail is eight miles round-trip and takes about three to four hours to complete, depending on your pace. If you happen to be in town during the full moon, be sure to start hiking mid-afternoon and bring your headlamp and a picnic dinner. Along the way, you’ll meet many a local honoring their monthly tradition of hiking up, eating dinner during the sunset, and hiking back down in the moonlight glow.
Tafelberg Rd, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa
Cape Town’s Table Mountain National Park, which hugs the perimeter of the city, is so popular that the line for the cable car to the top can be longer than a queue for a Disneyland ride. But why stand in line when you can put your feet to use? There are several routes that lead to the top of the 3,562-foot, flat-topped mountain, including the two-mile Platteklip Gorge trail. Yes, it’s steep, but startling views of the city and the Atlantic await. Trek, get hungry, then picnic on local provisions—crackers, Dutch-style Gouda, and biltong, the thick-sliced South African jerky—before riding the cable car back down.
Corner Adderley Street and, Wale St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa
History buffs and those who are curious about the slave trade and its impact on South African development (specifically the Western Cape colony) will find a visit to the Slave Lodge very insightful. The theme of the museum is “from human wrongs to human rights.” Through posters and historic artifacts in the exhibits, you’ll gain an understanding of the history of the slave trade, as well as of human rights violations that persist in the world today. Plan on giving this museum at least an hour to walk through. (Iziko operates 10 other museums in South Africa, including the planetarium.)
Cape Point, Cape Peninsula, Cape Town, South Africa
While Cape Point is not, in fact, the southernmost tip of Africa—as is often claimed—it is generally accepted that the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet somewhere between here and the real tip, Cape Agulhas. Still, Cape Point is about as dramatic as you can get, with the land falling steeply away on three sides, the wind whipping around the cliffs, and the ocean churning below. The road to the point, at the end of a drive from Cape Town, goes through 20 miles of nature reserve full of baboons and antelopes. For those who don’t want to walk up to the lighthouse, there is a funicular, but to reach the point itself, you’re going to have to hike.
373 Albert Rd, Woodstock, Cape Town, 7925, South Africa
A compelling reason to be in Cape Town on a weekend morning (especially Sunday, if you want to eat your way through the food-focused Oranjezicht City Farm Market, too) is the dynamic Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in up-and-coming Woodstock. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., hip locals and tourists alike weave their way through what can only be described as an abundance of all things artisanal—edible, wearable, and otherwise. The most jam-packed part of the market is usually the massive tent lined with vendors specializing in mushrooms, bread, paella, pizza, honey, cakes, cheeses, and craft brews. It’s a veritable smorgasbord, so wear your stretchy pants, and work it off afterward by strolling the other section devoted to micro-merchants selling baby moccasins, brightly colored swimwear, offbeat home accessories, recycled brass jewelry, and more.
Rhodes Dr, Newlands, Cape Town, 7735, South Africa
Founded in 1913, this famous botanical garden was the first in the world dedicated to its country’s own flora. The spectacular, 90-acre plant haven forms part of a nature reserve that borders Table Mountain National Park. Besides numerous gardens and forests—some of which you can traverse on high via the futuristic Boomslang (Tree Snake) walkway—Kirstenbosch has a greenhouse, a restaurant run by the popular Moyo group, and a nursery for green thumbs who want to take a piece of the garden home with them. Spend five minutes here and you’ll realize why Kirstenbosch’s displays at the Chelsea Flower Show in London often win gold.
Kalk Bay, Cape Town, 7990, South Africa
One of Cape Town’s most picturesque corners, this small fishing harbor sees boats sail in daily with their catches (often trailed by hungry seals waiting for tidbits). Recently, however, the area has also become known for its antique stores, restaurants, and shops—one of the best collections of African curios, materials, and artwork for sale can be found at Artvark, on the edge of town. Expect to see everyone from hipsters to surfers to an old couple who’s lived here for 50 years. A seaside promenade connects Kalk Bay to the colorful beach cottages of St. James and to Surfers Corner in Muizenberg, another gem of an old-world suburb that is becoming a second Kalk Bay. Don’t miss Cucina Labia, a restaurant housed in a mansion built by an Italian who wanted to create a little Venice here.
71 Wale St, Schotsche Kloof, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
The Bo-Kaap was one of the few Cape Town neighborhoods to escape apartheid’s bulldozers—the cluster of bright buildings, once known as the Malay Quarter, housed many of the slaves who worked for the 17th-century Dutch colonialists. In this colorful area, you can also see some of the oldest, most beautiful mosques in the country, including the Auwal Mosque on Dorp Street. Upscale shops have been moving in lately, but don’t miss one of the originals, the spice merchant Atlas Trading Company. To go back in time, explore the Bo-Kaap Museum, furnished like the house of a typical 19th-century Muslim family.
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
Probably the most visited attraction in the city, the V&A combines many elements of the greatest commercial waterfront projects around the world. There are plenty of draws for tourists (the Cape Wheel, helicopter rides, boat trips to Robben Island) and locals (450 retail outlets, from H&M to a major supermarket), but it remains a working harbor, with small seagoing vessels sailing between the main harbor and the dry dock that lies adjacent to the excellent Two Oceans Aquarium and Watershed craft and design hall. There’s even a fast-growing residential section, connected by canals that stretch toward the city. The latest addition, however, is the Silo District, which became one of Cape Town’s must-visit attractions soon after opening in late 2017. Here, a number of restaurants and boutiques, anchored by the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, are located amid old grain silos.
V & A Waterfront, 17 Dock Rd, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, 8002, South Africa
If you only have time to shop one place while in Cape Town, make it the Watershed market on the V&A Waterfront. A magnet for, well, virtually everything, the stalls and shops feature all the classic South African goods, from gorgeous green malachite bowls and bracelets to souvenirs made of springbok hide, recycled bottle caps, and even pressed protea flowers. There are also outposts of beloved local brands like Skoon (for sustainable beauty products), plus art (both affordable and aspirational), East African kitenge fabrics fashioned into simple Western styles, adorable baby clothes, and hand-painted leather clutches that are guaranteed to get compliments no matter where in the world you take them.
Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa
A colorful working-class neighborhood near downtown that had fallen on hard times, Woodstock has been revitalized with a mix of galleries, artists’ studios, boutiques, and restaurants. Much of the area’s original vibe remains, however, thanks to the long rows of colonnaded shops that edge Albert and Victoria roads. Among the nearby storefronts that are open throughout the week are Espresso Lab Microroasters and Luke Dale-Roberts’s award-winning restaurant, the Test Kitchen. Continuing down Albert Road, you’ll find spots like the Woodstock Co-op and the very trendy Woodstock Exchange, with a great array of places to eat and stores selling local goods. At the end of Albert Road, there’s a concentration of galleries, including the Stevenson, Goodman, and SMAC. On Saturdays, Woodstock draws crowds to the Neighbourgoods Market, a prepared foods extravaganza in the Old Biscuit Mill.
Robben Island, Cape Town, 7400, South Africa
One of South Africa’s most famous sights, Robben Island is located four miles to the west of Cape Town. Its history as a prison is almost as old as the first Dutch settlement on the cape, dating all the way back to the 17th century. Today, the island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and museum, offering guided tours by former prisoners. After visiting the graveyard and maximum-security facility, guests can finish with a stop at the cell of the island’s most famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela. The half-hour ferry ride to Robben Island includes breathtaking views of Cape Town and Table Mountain. Just note that the ferry only runs three times a day in the low season; in the spring and summer, there’s an additional departure in the late afternoon. Book your tickets far in advance.