The top things to do on a first-time visit to Cape Town!

As I've waxed on about before, I absolutely love Cape Town– it now holds a firm spot as one of my favorite cities in the world. It has a little bit of everything: mountains, history, ocean, and wine country. What more could you want?

Last year, I was lucky enough to visit Cape Town not once, but twice. Now that I've spent a few weeks in the city and surrounding areas, I wanted to write a guide on what to do in Cape Town.

A few tips – spend at least five days in Cape Town. Cape Town is not a city to be rushed – plus, there are so many day trips, so give yourself plenty of time.

Secondly, I recommend buying a South African SIM card so you can call Ubers around the city. This is essential because Cape Town isn't very walkable, and it's unwise to take taxis off the street. You can buy a SIM card for around $20 at any Vodaphone store, which are all over the city.

Without further ado, here's what to do on your your first trip to Cape Town.

 

1. Stroll the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood

Bo-Kaap is the technicolor neighborhood you've seen all over Instagram, that historically has been home to the Cape Malay community (South Africans of Indonesian descent).

It's full of Pantone-colored houses and mosques, and is one of the most photogenic spots in Cape Town. Don't forget to bring your camera!

How to visit Bo-Kaap: It's not 100% safe to walk around Bo-Kaap, so I recommend taking a tour. Cape Town Free Walking Tours offers a Bo-Kaap Tour every day at 2:00 PM and 4:20 PM.

 

2. Take the Cablecar up Table Mountain

One of my best ways to enjoy Cape Town's natural beauty is by taking the cable car up Table Mountain. As it ascends, the cable car rotates, giving you panoramic views of the ocean, mountains, and city. Once you reach the top, you're rewarded with even more beautiful views.

How to visit Table Mountain: The easiest way to get there is to take an Uber to the base of the mountain, listed as Table Mountain Aerial Cableway on Google Maps. Buy your cablecar ticket in advance – the ticket line can be more than two hours. See all rates here.

You can also hike up Table Mountain, though it's challenging, very steep, and takes about two hours to summit. Make sure to pack snacks, a reusable water bottle, sunscreen, and a jacket in case you get cold. I would also wear hiking boots if you have them! You can hike Table Mountain independently or hire a guide.

 

3. Hike Lion's Head

If you do one hike in Cape Town, make it Lion's Head – Lion's Head is one of my favorite hikes in the world. It's not for the faint of heart; on the hike, you climb ladders, hold onto chains, and free-climb up the mountain on via ferrata, a.k.a. bolted-on hand holds. It's slightly terrifying but super fun.

Important info about hiking Lion's Head: Some guidebooks recommend hiring a guide for Lion's Head, but I don't think that's necessary. The hike takes about three hours round-trip and I would classify it as moderate. If you want an easier hike, don't summit the mountain – take the easier path around the mountain, which doesn't involve chains or free-climbing.

 

4. Laugh like crazy at the Cape Town Comedy Club

One fun way to experience South African culture in Cape Town is by checking out a local comedy club. My friend and I spent a night the Cape Town Comedy Club, and had a great time.

While we didn't understand all the jokes, we still had a blast watching a lineup of hilarious female comedians.

How to book tickets at the Comedy Club: The Cape Town Comedy Club is located at the Pumphouse at the V&A Waterfront. You can buy your tickets in person or by contacting the club via email. Shows cost between $5-12. See more here.

 

5. Have Dinner at The Pot Luck Club

Absolutely delicious peri peri chicken at The Pot Luck Club

Cape Town has lots of amazing restaurants, but my favorite is The Pot Luck Club. Not only does it offer stunning views of Table Mountain, it also has fantastic food and cocktails.

The food is super sophisticated – my favorite dish was the smoked beef fillet with black pepper and truffle café au lait. The menu, naturally, has a South African flair, with dishes like peri peri chicken and springbok carpaccio.

Cocktail drinker? You'll really like The Pot Luck Club. They have a massive cocktail menu with delicious cocktails that cost about $5 each (such a bargain). I think I ordered the Guava Collins three times – it was that good.

How to book a reservation: Book reservations for The Pot Luck Club three months in advance – it's insanely popular. You can book a reservation by emailing the restaurant – see their website here. We made reservations for 6 p.m. which was perfect, as we got to watch the sun set over Table Mountain.

 

6. Check out the super trendy bars

Cape Town has lots of quirky, hipster-friendly bars. My favorite was Honest Chocolate, a hidden gin bar in the back of a chocolate shop.

 

7. Soak up the steampunk vibes at Truth Coffee Roasting

The best croque madame ever, in the world, at Truth Coffee

Another amazing find? Truth Coffee Roasting, a steampunk coffee shop where everyone is dressed like Mad Max and the decor is straight out of an Aldous Huxley novel. It's trippy.

In addition to their wardrobes, the staff at Truth Coffee also takes coffee seriously. The brunch was also excellent – I was raving about my Croque Madame (above) all week.

 

8. Go boutique shopping

Sorry for the glum expression, but had to show off my new culotte jumpsuit

On my last trip to Cape Town, I did a lot of shopping. But it's okay! In affordable Cape Town, you can buy from local designers for a fraction of what you would pay back home.

If you like geometric patterns and bright colors you're in luck – South African designers love them too. But if you're more into neutral colors and simple jewelry (me), there are also plenty of options.

Here are some of my favorite places to shop in Cape Town:

The Watershed – a warehouse with more than 400 shops, with everything from jewelry to handicrafts to clothes. If you want beautiful, well-made women's clothes, check out Hannah Lavery.

117onlong – an pottery shop with modern, geometric wares.

Mungo and Jemima – a women's clothing boutique featuring South African clothing and accessory designers.

Neighbourgoods Market (Saturdays only) – A lively food and crafts market held every Saturday in the Old Biscuit Mil. Most vendors are cash-only, so bring some cash along.

 

9. Visit the Cape of Good Hope

Now onto the day trips portion of this post.

One of the most beautiful places I visited while in South Africa was the Cape of Good Hope, which is the southernmost point of the African continent (okay technically there's another peninsula a bit further south, but close enough.)

How to visit the Cape of Good Hope: The Cape of Good Hope is located south of Cape Town on the Cape Peninsula. As it's located close to Boulders Beach, I recommend visiting them in tandem.

We arranged a day trip with our hostel and had an excellent time – for $100 each, our private driver took us to the Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach. You can also rent a car and drive there yourself, but keep in mind, you'll be driving on the left side of the road.

 

10. Spot the penguins at Boulder Beach

If you want to see penguins while in South Africa, head down to Boulders Beach. While the penguins reek to high heaven, they're pretty cute.

For a small fee, you can view the penguins from a deck. (Sidebar – I have no idea how so many Instagrammers have pictures right next to the penguins at Boulders Beach, as you're not allowed off the platform.)

How to visit Boulders Beach: Boulders Beach costs 65 rand ($5.25) for adults and 35 rand ($2.80) for children under 12. Like the Cape of Good Hope, Boulders Beach is located south of Cape Town on the Cape Peninsula. As they're located close to one another, I recommend visiting them in tandem.

 

11. Visit the Cape Winelands

I saved the best for last! Cape Town has wine country that rivals any in the world. Plus, the Cape Winelands are located fairly close to the city – Constantia, the nearest wine town, is only 45 minutes from Cape Town.

I recommend spending two full days in the Cape Winelands if you're a wine lover, like me – there are so many amazing wineries and wine towns to see.

Here are my favorites:

Stellenbosch – Stellenbosch is a cute college town that is famed for its Cape Dutch architecture. It's probably the most famous of Cape Town's wine towns. Though I haven't done it myself, I've heard great things about the Vine Hopper tour.

Franschhoek – Less well-known than Stellenbosch, Francshhoek is my favorite wine town. One of my favorite vineyards in Franschhoek was Mont Rochelle, Richard Branson's vineyard, where you can arrange horseback riding through the vineyards. (I really wish I had done that). At Chamonix winery, you can arrange a wine tasting that includes a game drive with safari animals.

Constantia – Of all the wine towns, Constantia is closest to Cape Town. If you're pressed for time, check out a few vineyards in Constantia. I especially loved Buitenverwachting. You can arrange a wine route with City Cityseeing. More info here.

Beautiful Franschhoek

What would you most want to do in Cape Town?


Books to read before visiting South Africa: Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (I've heard the audio version is even better!).

Blogs to read before visiting Cape Town: Miss Moss is a local Capetonian blogger who has a fantastic city guide. See her blog and the guide here.


Cape Town travel tips:

Where to stay in Cape Town: I've stayed at both hotels and Airbnbs in Cape Town, and you get much better value for Airbnbs. Get a $40 Airbnb coupon code for your next stay here.

Travel gear – Before your trip, make sure to buy a South Africa travel adapter plug.

Transportation – Hiring a driver in Cape Town is expensive – it costs around $140 USD a day. Instead, we took Ubers everywhere. If you're new to Uber, get $20 off your first ride here.

Safety – Most parts of Cape Town are safe, and I felt safe walking around down alone during the day. However there is crime, so avoid walking alone, especially at night. Petty theft is fairly common so ladies, pack a crossbody bag.

Health – You don't need a yellow fever vaccine to travel to South Africa. But if you're traveled from a yellow fever risk country, you will need a yellow fever certificate. See more information on which vaccines you will need here.

Make sure to purchase travel insurance before your trip to South Africa. I've used World Nomads for years and highly recommend it.

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Ashley

Ashley

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.
Ashley
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