I’m going to come out with a bold statement here and say that Cape Town is one of the world’s coolest cities. I mean, just look at it. You’ve got that unusual long mountain surrounded by sweeping bays, a shiny waterfront and up-and-coming suburbs sprinkled with street art. Once you’re done admiring the scenery there are hikes and surf, penguins and whales, and some exceedingly good value wineries to explore too.
So without further ado here’s my top picks for the 10 coolest things to do in Cape Town.
1. Take The Cable Car Up Table Mountain
See the suburbs that lie snug on the sides of Table Mountain as well as the golden bays that surround it by taking the cable car to the summit. The great thing about the Table Mountain Cableway is that the floor of the carriage rotates so all passengers get a 360 degree view. There’s also some open windows, which may not delight those with vertigo but are fantastic for photographers who want a clear shot. I recommend spending at least 45 minutes at the top – there’s a circular track you can follow to see all sides of the city and on a clear day you may be able to gaze all the way to Cape Point. Be aware that in peak season you may have to queue to catch the cable car back down so give yourself ample time.
For the more active amongst us I’ve heard that hiking Lion’s Head before sunrise gives you spectacular aerial views too – I say heard because this girl wasn’t really made for hiking. (Sorry!)
2. Explore Bo Kaap – The Malay Quarter
You may have seen Bo Kaap before on many an Instagram profile (mine included!). The traditionally Malay Quarter of Cape Town is known for its rainbow-coloured houses – I’ve been there twice now and I think they are getting brighter each year. Once you’ve finished photographing the vibrant streets consider taking a cooking class to learn more about the Cape Malay culture and its aromatic cuisine. I recommend the Cooking With Love class with Faldela which I did in her purple house on a previous visit.
3. Street Art Walking Tour In Woodstock
Another colourful neighbourhood of Cape Town is Woodstock, known for being a hub for artists and creatives. You’ll find great shopping and coffee at the likes of The Woodstock Exchange and The Old Biscuit Mill, plus over 100 works of art by street artists who share inspiring messages about social change and wildlife conservation. To learn more about the messages behind the murals, as well as those who painted them, take a street art walking tour with Woodstock local, Juma. Find out more here.
4. Shop At The Watershed
Cape Town’s V & A Waterfront attracted over 24 million visitors last year with its mix of traditional harbour architecture and modern collection of bars, restaurants and souvenirs shops. One of the new additions to waterfront is the Watershed – an airy warehouse space filled with craft, fashion and design retailers. Prices here are (understandably) higher than in the local markets but it’s a great place to pick up fashionable clothing, jewellery or a handmade souvenir by a local designer.
5. Eat At The V&A Waterfront Food Market
Just next door to the Watershed is a historic pumphouse filled with food! At the V&A Food Market you can graze your way around 40 artisan stalls selling everything from craft beer to chocolate-covered cashew nuts. There’s live music, a kiddie play area and bar on site so it’s the perfect place to spend a food-filled afternoon. It’s also the perfect pitstop to pick up some South African rooibos tea or try some of Cape Town’s best coffee by Truth.
6. Visit Robben Island
Follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela to Robben Island where he spent 18 years of a 27-year imprisonment. Tours of the prison are run by former political prisoners who can tell you first hand what life was like here during Apartheid. You can also step foot in the miniscule cell Mandela was held in and be amazed at how it did not break his spirit. Robben Island tours leave from the V&A Waterfront and take approx 3.5 hours from start to finish. The tour route includes stops at other significant sites on the island including Robert Sobukwe’s house, the Bluestone quarry and the army and navy bunkers.
7. Drink At the Durbanville Wineries
You do not need to travel far to experience some of South Africa’s fine wine farms. Just 20 minutes outside of Cape Town is the Durbanville Wine Valley – home to 12 superb wineries.
For a fantastic dining experience head to Diemersdal Wine Farm who host hearty Sunday lunches in their old stables. The menu changes according to what’s in season but you can expect to feast on the likes of wholesome veg from the kitchen garden, homemade pies bursting at the seams, BBQ beef brisket and broccoli souffle all washed down with a glass (or 2) of the Diemersdal Estate wine. (3 courses and a glass of wine costs just $22AUD per person. Find out more here.)
For a wine tasting experience with a difference, stop at Klein Roosboom, a family-run boutique winery who host tastings on vintage furniture inside their old wine stores. The eclectically decorated cellars (watch out for the one with swing seats) are a great place to hang for an afternoon and you won’t be surprised by the bill at the end of it as wine tasting in South Africa is fantastic value for money. At Klein Roosboom you can sample 7 wines (each named after family members) for just $3AUD and tuck into an incredibly photogenic 2 person cheese and meat platter for just $17AUD.
8. Watch Sunset At Camps Bay
You’ll find a lot of cool (and wealthy!) Capetonians hanging out on the palm tree fringed promenade of Camps Bay. This upmarket beach suburb, backed by a majestic mountain range known as the 12 Apostles, is one of the most expensive places to live in South Africa. Head here for sun-downers to try on the Cape Town high life for size.
9. See The Penguins At Boulders Beach
Prepare for cuteness overload at the Penguin Sanctuary at Boulders Beach. Nestled in a bay on the spectacular Western Cape, Boulders Beach is home to approximately 3500 African penguins. There is a boardwalk setup which allows you to get fairly close to where these happy penguins like to flap about in the surf. The penguins live at Boulders year round but you may see less if visiting during September and October when they tend to feed at sea.
Note: Boulders Beach has an entrance fee of R65 so bring change.
10. Drive The Scenic Coast To Cape Point
And finally, take a scenic drive to Table Mountain National Park to enjoy the cliff-top views from Cape Point and boast-worthy claim of standing at the most south-westerly point of the African continent at Cape Of Good Hope. The Flying Dutchman Funicular will escort you to the highest point of Cape Point; watch out for the cheeky monkeys if you decide to take the walking path back down. The National Park boasts over 1100 indigenous plant species and various wildlife including antelope, ostrich and the Cape mountain zebra. You’ll need a full day to visit the Point from Cape Town, longer if you plan to do some of the hiking treks.
Where To Stay
For a stylish base on the beach check out the brand new Bliss Boutique Hotel. With incredible views of Table Mountain (especially from the hammock on the terrace) and direct beach entry, the location of Bliss is perfect for those who like early morning strolls on the beach and sunset views over the mountains. The tastefully decorated rooms can be accessed via an e-key on your mobile phone – the first hotel in Africa to utilise this technology. There’s also a restaurant and pool on site and a free shuttle to scoot you into town, approx 15 mins drive away.
For short hops around Cape Town taking a metered taxi or Uber is a cheap and easy way to get around. Try to avoid rush hour though as congestion on the major highways gets pretty bad. For journeys to the wineries, penguins and Cape Point, if you’re not comfortable hiring a car and self-driving you can book an escorted tour instead. We travelled with the very patient and sweet Francois from Hylton Ross who taught us lots about South African history and culture whilst also driving us safely from place to place.
The Cape Town Travel site has heaps of useful articles and tips about travel to the Mother City.
Thanks to South African Tourism for supporting my visit.