Cape Town’s Top Sights

Near the southern tip of Africa, Cape Town can feel like it sits on the edge of the world. If you make the epic journey to get there, you’ll be rewarded with some of the continent’s most memorable experiences. You can watch penguins in their seaside habitat, soar to the peak of Table Mountain in a cable car, and sample wines from the region’s legendary vineyards. From natural wonders to fascinating historic sites, here are Cape Town’s top attractions.

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.
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.
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.
Fearing a British takeover of its ill-gotten trading post, the Dutch East India Company built this star-shaped castle (known as Kasteel de Goede Hoop) between 1666 and 1679 to defend its territory. Now the oldest building in South Africa, the castle served as the center of Cape Town‘s civilian, political, and military life. The austere facade opens up to a striking central lawn and commanding buildings that, in their restored form, represent Dutch, English, and French architectural styles. History buffs will go nuts here: Check out the William Fehr Collection, the African pottery exhibit, and the Castle Military Museum.
143 Main Rd, Muizenberg, Cape Town, 7950, South Africa
Cape Town is driving country. It’s cheap and easy to rent a car, and once you get used to driving on the left-hand side of the road, the Cape Peninsula is at your doorstep. From the city, head out to Muizenberg, then along the False Bay road to Kalk Bay, Simon’s Town, and Cape Point. For the return trip, drive along the Atlantic Ocean, passing the far-flung suburbs of Scarborough, Noordhoek, and Long Beach, which have a hippie feel to them. Take the spectacular Chapman’s Peak Drive to the little town of Hout Bay, then continue on to Llandudno and the beaches at Camps Bay and Clifton. From here, the road takes you back to Cape Town’s city center. A drive around the peninsula takes a full day, so plan an early start.
25A Buitenkant St, Zonnebloem, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa
District Six was originally a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, laborers, and immigrants. Marginalization and forced removal of the residents began early in the last century and, in 1966, the neighborhood was declared a white area. By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to a barren spot aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers. An agreement about what to do with the land that was District Six has yet to be reached, and those who were forcibly evicted are still awaiting a fair settlement.

Established in 1994, the District Six Museum preserves memories of the area through photographs, traffic signs, and videos, and also focuses on forced removals in general. A large map of the district covers the floor of the museum and includes former residents’ handwritten notes about where they once lived.
Started by Athol Fugard, South Africa’s greatest living playwright, in a historic District Six building, this vibrant 320-seat cultural hub showcases plays, musicals, movies, and book festivals. You can while away time before a show at the downstairs bar, which serves wines from some of the Cape’s best vineyards. And if you’re in the area during the day, wander along Harrington and Caledon streets and drop b Dias Tavern, a beloved Portuguese eatery serving seafood and espetadas—beef skewers on an aromatic bay leaf stick. Just up Buitenkant Street is the Book Lounge, an independent bookshop known for its readings by famous authors.
Hout Bay is basically Eden. This ecological utopia has everything a nature lover could want, from imposing mountains and miraculous views (check out the Twelve Apostles range) to World of Birds, the largest bird park in Africa, home to 3,000 birds and over 100 walk-through aviaries. On weekends, you can shop for food and crafts at the lively market at the end of the harbor road. Besides Chapman’s Peak Drive, there are two other roads into Hout Bay, one from Constantia and another that passes the gorgeous surfer beach of Llandudno—also the exit for Sandy Bay, a nudist beach.
107 Bree St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
A once quiet downtown thoroughfare, Bree Street now has so many eateries that it is a sort of restaurant row. The feeding starts with breakfast and goes through lunch, afternoon snacks, drinks, and dinner at places like Bacon on Bree, Folk Coffee, the Culture Cheese Club, Café Frank (a must for breakfast or lunch), Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room (very popular for weekend brunches), Chefs Warehouse and Canteen (where it is essential to arrive early because the kitchen closes at around 8 p.m.), and the always packed (especially for drinks) La Parada. Just off Bree Street are many other options, such as the Hungry Herbivore and the House of Machines, whose customers often overflow onto the narrow side street.
44 Long Street
Two streets down from Bree Street, Long Street has a very different vibe, with a lively mix of shops, vendors, Victorian buildings, and backpacker accommodations. The hipster/eclectic tone of the place is reflected in names like the Widow Maker Saloon & Barber and the Grand Daddy Hotel, with its rooftop Airstream Trailer Park. Along the one-mile stretch, the offerings range from the Yours Truly coffee shop to the fabulous Clarke’s Bookshop to the Pan African Market to Mama Afrika restaurant. Some of the best burgers in town are found at the Royale Eatery. At the very top of the street is the 110-year-old Long Street Baths & Turkish Steam Bath—nothing fancy but worth visiting. Long Street and its extension, Kloof Street, come frenetically alive on weekend nights. There are a lot of foreigners doing Cape Town on the cheap here, as well as locals on the make, so keep your wits about you.
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.
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.
V&A Waterfront, Silo District, S Arm Rd, Waterfront, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
Touted as the continent’s most important art gallery even before it opened in late 2017, the six-story MOCAA occupies more than 40 old grain silos in the Cape Town harbor area. On top of the structure is the six-story Silo Hotel, an exclusive property that belongs to the well-known local hotelier Liz Biden. The museum, a partnership between the V&A Waterfront and former Puma CEO Jochen Zeitz, focuses on collecting, preserving, researching, and exhibiting contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. Spread across the more than 100 galleries will eventually be a permanent collection, a Costume Institute, temporary exhibitions, and centers for art education, photography, and the moving image.
Sea Point Promenade, Cape Town, 8005, South Africa
Almost any time of day, the Sea Point Promenade is filled with walkers and joggers, many of them residents from the apartments nearby. Though named after Sea Point, the best known of the areas the walkway fronts, the three-mile promenade begins in Granger Bay, closer to the city, then goes past the red-and-white-striped lighthouse of Mouille Point and continues to Sea Point itself (don’t miss the Art Deco Pavilion, site of many international fashion shoots), before curving around to dramatic, Riviera-like Bantry Bay. A path high above the cliffside apartments of Clifton extends for several more miles to Camps Bay. All along the promenade’s way (except along the fairly long Clifton stretch), there are restaurants and coffee shops.
78 Hout St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
Started by a British master weaver almost 20 years ago, Mungo weaves a wide range of quality linens, throws, blankets, bedding, towels, and apparel, which are sold internationally. The company says that ethical trading and integrity underpin its philosophy, and it is particular about sourcing quality natural fibers. The linen in raw form comes from Belgium, while the cotton, mohair, and wool are from South Africa. You can view some of Mungo’s weaving on its 19th-century Hattersley looms at its Old Nick Village headquarters, outside Plettenberg Bay. Better yet, just go to the Cape Town store (with its own micromill) on Hout Street and see the products for yourself.
72 Waterkant St, De Waterkant, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
Cape Town for a long time lacked the variety of African handicrafts and art that Johannesburg and cities farther north had in abundance. With more migrants has come an explosion of curios. While the three-floor Pan African Market on Long Street and the vendors on Greenmarket Square have plenty to offer and will negotiate on price, several stores stock a more refined selection. Africa Nova, in the De Waterkant district, is by no means cheap, but its handpicked array of ceramics, textiles, jewelry, and other curios is impeccable. The same goes for Tribal Trends on Long Street, which also has bigger items such as furniture. Several other alternatives worth a visit are Baraka, around the corner from Africa Nova; Artvark Gallery, in Kalk Bay; and Monkeybiz, on Wale Street in the Bo-Kaap, whose beaded artwork has been sold in some of the best shops around the world.
Hermanus, 7200, South Africa
Mostly known as the whale-watching capital of South Africa—southern right whales come here as early as June and stay for six months—the town, just over an hour from Cape Town, has lots to keep you busy between whale-spotting from its clifftops. Among the draws: loads of restaurants and cute shop-filled streets, two very long beaches, and several great towns and wine farms nearby. Hermanus is said to have the only whale crier in the world, who sounds his horn whenever a whale is spotted. Drive to nearby Onrus, with its well-hidden but must-find beach, and Stanford, which, though discovered, has managed to remain laid-back and quiet.
The Company’s Garden, in the heart of the city, dates back to the 17th century, when the Dutch used springwater running down from the mountain to establish a garden to grow fruit and vegetables for ships en route to the East. On Government Avenue, which runs through the garden for about a half mile, squirrels scamper around among the old oak trees. Along the way, you’ll pass the South African National Gallery, the Planetarium, the Holocaust Centre, the De Tuynhuis presidential offices, the South African National Library, St. George’s Cathedral (where Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu used to preach), and the Slave Lodge museum. Grab a bite at the recently opened Company’s Garden Restaurant, which has been getting great reviews for its breakfasts and lunches under the garden’s leafy trees.
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.

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