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 this part of South Africa.
1. Camp’s Bay
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 Camp’s 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
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.
3. Exploring the Cape of Good Hope
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
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
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
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.
7. South African wine: Franschhoek and the wine region
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.
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