7 best things to do in Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is one of the world’s most spectacularly situated cities with the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Cape Fold mountain range, which includes the iconic Table Mountain, on the other.

Spending some time exploring Cape Town and South Africa’s wine region is a great way to begin your exploration of South Africa, a truly diverse and fascinating country.

With the Australian dollar strong against the South African rand, travelling in South Africa is affordable – think a glass of wine with dinner for about $2, main meals for around $8 and accommodation in a boutique hotel for about $60.

Where else can you enjoy world-class wine, fine dine, see spectacular coastline and spot a vast array of animals on safari without breaking the bank?

You can easily spend a week or two exploring Cape Town and the nearby wine region. Here are my favourite things to do when visiting South Africa.

1. Camps Bay

Camp’s Bay in Cape Town is a great place to enjoy the seaside and surrounding mountains
Camp’s Bay in Cape Town is a great place to enjoy the seaside and surrounding mountains

One of the best things about Cape Town is its location so plan on spending lots of time enjoying the outdoors while you’re here.

Camp’s Bay is my pick of places to stay – it’s a lovely seaside suburb that is very safe and offers great views of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and the Atlantic Ocean. It means you’re close to the Cape Peninsula and everything it has to offer, as well as the Table Mountain cableway. It’s about a 10-minute drive from Camp’s Bay into the centre of Cape Town.

Camp’s Bay has a great stretch of beach lined with cafes, restaurants and bars. Make sure you try a steak at the Hussar Grill on Camps Bay Drive. This was a local recommendation and is THE place to go for steak in Cape Town. You won’t be disappointed.

2. Central Cape Town

Cape Town’s colourful Bo-Kaap neighbourhood
Cape Town’s colourful Bo-Kaap neighbourhood

Exploring central Cape Town is a must and can be done in a day if you get going early. The colourful buildings of Bo-Kaap make for some great photos before moving on to visit the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.

The waterfront is very commercial and you’ll feel like you could be anywhere, but there are certainly lots of places to eat, drink and enjoy the views to Table Mountain from here.

The Waterfront is also the departure point for tours to Robben Island, the infamous prison complex that once held Nelson Mandela. A trip to Robben Island can be a frustrating experience because of the poorly organised nature of the tours where visitors face long queues for the ferry and are then loaded onto buses and driven around the island.

I just wanted to get out and explore but unfortunately, you can’t do that here. However, it is interesting to learn about the prison complex from the former inmates (all ex-political prisoners) who run the tours and you do get to view Nelson Mandela’s cell.

The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is Cape Town’s premier destination for food, shopping and entertainment
The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is Cape Town’s premier destination for food, shopping and entertainment

3. Exploring the Cape of Good Hope

Lion’s Head, Camp’s Bay and the Twelve Apostles as seen from Chapman’s Peak
Lion’s Head, Camp’s Bay and the Twelve Apostles as seen from Chapman’s Peak

Spend a day driving around the Cape Peninsula and you’ll see some of Cape Town’s most iconic attractions.

The Cape of Good Hope is an area of the Cape Peninsula featuring dramatic headlands, beautiful beaches and rugged scenery. The remote and unspoilt atmosphere of the peninsula will make you feel a million miles away from the city.

The cape forms part of the Table Mountain National Park and is the only part of the Table Mountain National Park that is fenced as it is home to a number of animals including zebra, eland and the red hartebeest.

Begin your drive on the Muizenberg side of the peninsula so you will be able to enjoy the setting sun on your return along the Chapman’s Peak Drive and Camps Bay side. The untouched beaches along the Atlantic side are really very beautiful.

Chapman’s Peak is one of the most popular drives in all of South Africa. The short drive (about 15 kilometres) runs to Hout Bay and hugs the side of Chapman’s Peak. The views are spectacular, particularly if you’re arriving in the late afternoon when the sun is starting to set.

4. Visit the penguins at Boulders Beach

Penguins at Boulders Beach just outside Cape Town
Penguins at Boulders Beach just outside Cape Town

The penguin colony at Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town is another must-do in Cape Town.

You can walk along boardwalks down to the beach to watch the penguins as they go about their business. These little guys are funny to watch, particularly as they surf into the beach and climb around on the rocks.

Remember to look out for the penguins as you walk down towards the beach as they are often hanging out under the trees away from the water. The main boardwalks down by the beach can get rather crowded so take your time to enjoy the penguins on your way down to the end of the main boardwalk.

If you drive past the first access point to Boulders Beach and keep going to the second, there’s a small car park and a little café/restaurant with views over the ocean if you feel like a coffee break.

Accessing the penguin colony from this side means you follow a boardwalk back to the main entrance, but you will often spot penguins along the way. There is also a pretty little beach if you feel like a swim.

5. Cape Point

Just a short drive from Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula, with Cape Point at its end, offers stunning coastline and plenty of outdoor activities
Just a short drive from Cape Town, the Cape Peninsula, with Cape Point at its end, offers stunning coastline and plenty of outdoor activities

Cape Point is at the very tip of the Cape of Good Hope and there are a number of things here to keep you busy. Make sure you do the Cape Point walk for some great scenery – at some points the cliffs are up to 200 metres above the ocean below.

The walk up to Cape Point is quite steep. If you’d prefer, you can catch the Flying Dutchman Funicular up instead.

Try and get a table on the deck of the restaurant at the base of the Flying Dutchman and enjoy lunch with spectacular views out over the peninsula and False Bay.

6. Hiking Lion’s Head

The trail up Lion’s Head provides great views of Cape Town from all angles
The trail up Lion’s Head provides great views of Cape Town from all angles

Hiking up Lion’s Head is a fantastic way to get outdoors and enjoy Cape Town’s spectacular scenery.

The trail circles the mountain and gives great views over the city – particularly Camp’s Bay, Green Point and of course, Table Mountain itself.

This is one of Cape Town’s most popular hikes and with good reason. When you get towards the top of Lion’s Head the views of Table Mountain are simply stunning with the city nestled at its base.

The hike is steep but undulates enough to provide some respite between the particularly challenging sections. There are chains and ladders along some of the rocky sections to help you climb the mountain.

The views from the top are stunning and you’ll get views of the city with Table Mountain in the background – something you don’t get from the top of Table Mountain.

Table Mountain as seen from Lion’s Head
Table Mountain as seen from Lion’s Head

7. South African wine: Franschhoek and the wine region

The food and wine in Franschhoek is among the best in the world
The food and wine in Franschhoek is among the best in the world

Just 45 minutes from Cape Town, South Africa’s wine region is internationally recognised for its outstanding food and wine and is a true foodie paradise. I suggest you stay in Franschhoek, which is smaller and more picturesque than neighbouring Stellenbosch.

Franschhoek is set among the Groot Drakenstein Mountains and is home to an incredible amount of outstanding wineries, restaurants and cafes.

A great way to explore the many wineries on offer is to book a ticket on the Wine Tram, which will shuttle you to and from many of the wineries, meaning you can sample plenty of wine and food while enjoying the views without having to worry about driving.

There are plenty of places to eat but I recommend you book well in advance for The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais, which is one of the world’s top restaurants. If you don’t manage to get a reservation, they offer light meals in their bar and outstanding cocktails.

Lunch at La Petite Ferme is also highly recommended. Not only is the food outstanding, the views are simply superb.

The chef’s menu at Le Bon Vivant is fantastic – go for the wine pairings so all you need to do is enjoy the experience. The glass window through to the kitchen means you can watch the chef at work.

Finally, be sure to visit the historic Grande Provence Estate Restaurant which is one of the loveliest in Franschhoek. The cellar door is a great spot for tasting local wines and you can order from a small menu here.

The view from La Petit Ferme in Franschhoek – a great spot for lunch
The view from La Petit Ferme in Franschhoek – a great spot for lunch

Need more tips for South Africa?

Popular Tours in South Africa

  • Worried about traveling alone and the logistical hassle of planning a trip to South Africa? G Adventures is our preferred recommendation for group tours for their quality, adventure and service to giving back to local communities. See all South Africa group tours here. 
  • You may also want to compare Intrepid Tours, another small group tour company we can recommend. See their South Africa tours here. 
  • Our partner, the Get Your Guide tour company offers tour operators with many  South Africa tours and attractions tickets. They have the lowest prices, guaranteed — no booking fees or hidden charges.

You can pre-book tickets and skip the line at top attractions and cancel up to 24 hours before.

Plan your trip to Cape Town

We’ve been traveling consistently for 17 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights, and car rental. Below are our preferred partners:

Accommodation

  • Booking.com has over 650 properties in Cape Town including hotels, apartments, and guesthouses. You get free cancelation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Flights

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Car Rental

  • RentalCars.com is the world’s biggest car rental booking service that compares all the major brands like Hertz, Avis, Alamo, and Europcar.

Do you have any tips for exploring Cape Town? Share in the comments below.