Updated: Sep 7, 2019
Cape Town is easily one of our favorite cities in the world. Full of history, beauty, amazing food and home to one of the world’s natural wonders, Cape Town checks every box on a backpacker’s list. With wildlife safaris to the north, vineyards to the east, beaches to the south, and mountains to the west, you are surrounded by every geographical landscape you can imagine.
There are so many stories about backpackers who have travelled to a foreign part of the world and have never left. People have simply cancelled their long trip because they can’t bare the reality of leaving one of their dream destinations…this was one of those places for us.
There is SO much to do in Cape Town. We were here 6 weeks and I found that we there were times where we needed to remind ourselves to rest every once in a while! Since we visited during the off season, we hardly needed to book tours way in advance. Similar to Australia, Cape Town is a very active place. People are always doing something or finding fun ways to spend the day. It’s also not a terribly expensive place compared to some of our previous destinations.
Hike Up Cape Town’s Iconic Mountains
Some of Cape Town’s most prominent features are its mountain ranges. You can’t go very far in the city without seeing Cape Town’s three iconic peaks. One of the best views of the mountains is from sea level, when you meander down to Cape Town’s Camps Bay and see the mountains against the beautiful beach. Just when you think that the view cant be beat, you climb to the peak of the mountain and take in a whole other angle of the city.
The views from the mountains are some of the best we’ve experienced...but that’s not to say that the hikes themselves are what we would categorize as “easy”.
Height: 2,195 feet, 2 hour hike
Lion’s Head is the most manageable of the hikes and in our opinion, has one of the best views of all three. You get a panoramic view from the peak and can see both Table Mountain and Devil’s Peak.
There is something magnificent about climbing a mountain and looking straight on to another one vastly superior with the ocean to your right and the city to your left. If you walk towards the other end of the peak, you can see Signal Hill and the World Cup Stadium.
Height: 3,583 feet, 5 hour hike
There are many trails to get to the peak of Table Mountain…and I am convinced we did the hardest. We did the Plattenklip Gorge trail which consisted of uphill stone steps...the entire way. It basically was nature’s version of the stairmaster 3000...that you're on for 5 hours.
Other popular routes include the India Venster which should not be taken lightly and Skeleton Gorge which starts in Kirstenbosch gardens. You’ll find a cable car that brings people up and down the mountain. Since the hike takes so long and many people want to be at the top for sunset, they take the cable car down.
Height: 3,281 feet, 5 hour hike
Devil’s Peak was one of our favorite hikes. Not necessarily an easy feat, this steep and deceiving mountain is full of areas that require you to seriously rock climb. The loose graveled path up to Devil’s Peak leads you to a deceiving boulder lookout area. Up until that point, we thought that boulder was the lookout area. It was only afterwards that we realized we had another two hours to go. Once you’re at the top, take time to reflect, absorb, and capture the city’s surroundings before your return down the mountain.
Try South Africa’s Finest Wines
Spend a weekend in Cape Town’s wine country. In almost every nice restaurant you go to in Cape Town, you will find a Stellenbosch or Franschhoek wine on their wine list. Other that their great selection of wines, the Cape Winelands are full of beauty and weekend activities.
You can go wine tasting, horseback riding, or hiking through the beautiful mountain ranges or even Segway your way through South Africa’s oldest town.
Sample Craft Beers from the Newlands Brewery
What better way to have some of Cape Town’s best beers than at South Africa’s oldest operating brewery. Book a Beer Experience Tour to gain insight into modern day brewing methods and Newland’s brewery history. The tour ends with a beer tasting and you get two coupons for free beers of your choosing and its only R80 per person for the whole tour.
Visit Museums for the Day
Visiting museums is a wonderful way to take in the culture and history of a city. There are plenty of museums throughout Cape Town, however, not all of them are worth going to. Below we have listed out our three favorite museums.
District Six Museum
In order to understand how colonisation and the apartheid affected Cape Town dramatically, head to the District Six Museum. The museum is committed to telling the stories of the lives of residents who underwent forced removals. The apartheid nationalist government destroyed District Six in the 1960s and this memorial museum is meant as a reminder of the old vibrant neighbourhood.
“In remembering we do not want to recreate District 6,
But to work with its memory of hurt inflicted and received of loss achievements and of shame.
We wish to remember so that we can all, together and by ourselves, rebuild a city
Which belongs to all of us, Which all of us can live
Not as races but as people.”
Known mainly for being a political prison to the late Nelson Mandela, Robben Island holds a weight that not many other prisons can boast. After the fall of the apartheid, the prison shut down and the island opened to visitors. Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration before being elected as the country’s first democratic president.
The maximum security prison was for both political prisoners and convicted criminals as well as any apartheid activists. Our tour guide was actually an ex prisoner and could provide a first hand experience of life in the Robben Island maximum security prison.
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa
The largest museum of modern art on the continent, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art or the MOCAA, collects, preserves, ,researches and exhibits twenty first century art from Africa. The museum is located at the V&A Waterfront and is a great way to spend the afternoon.
Stroll the Award Winning Botanical Garden
Situated on the eastern slope of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch is one of the most magnificent botanical gardens in the world. Pack a picnic and a good book and walk through the collection of rare South African plants. Whether you want to walk through the tree canopy walkway, discover the Namibian desert plants or gaze at the Zimbabwean stone sculpture exhibition there are plenty of sites to see within the garden.
Explore Cape Town’s Beaches
Cape Town has a diverse and spectacular selection of beaches along its Atlantic and Indian Ocean coastlines. Many of the beaches have a spectacular backdrop of the Cape Fold Mountain range and are some of the most scenic beaches in the world.
Cape Town has an abundance of surf spots along its coast with some of the best waves for both experienced and first time surfers. If you want to see some of Cape Town’s sea life, Simon’s Town is famous for its soft white sand, warm waters and its local African Penguin inhabitants! Whether you want to swim, sunbathe, surf, or explore wildlife, Cape Town’s shoreline offers everything!
Go Sea Kayaking in Simon’s Town
If you want to get up close and personal with the Africa penguins and the Cape Fur seals, head over to Simon’s Town and paddle the warm waters of False Bay.
Kayaking past the Naval Harbor and around Boulder’s Beach is a great way to see Cape Town’s penguin colony. If the weather is permitting, you can stop on the beach for a swimming break and get a close up look at the penguins on the rocks and the Cape Fur seals resting on kelp beds nearby.
Watch the Sunset from Signal Hill
Cape Town is renowned for its breathtaking sunsets and there are many beautiful spots with incredible views across the city. Nestled next to Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, Signal Hill is the ultimate Cape Town spot to watch the sunset. You can get vires of Table Mountain, Robben Island, Cape Town and its surrounding oceans. Signal Hill is easily accessible by car and captures all of the glory of a sunset from Lion’s Head mountain without the difficult climb.
Enjoy An Outdoor Concert
There is no better way to spend your Sunday night, than enjoying Cape Town’s warm weather at one of their summer outdoor concerts. The concerts are hosted at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and were undoubtedly the highlight of our Sunday evening events. The outdoor music concert venue hosts talented local and international musicians alike who play with a Table Mountain backdrop among the country’s indigenous flowers.
Tip: Don’t Forget a Bottle Opener! There is nothing more humiliating that having to load a Youtube tutorial on how to open beer bottles with your hands…which is what we did..
Pack a picnic and bring along a blanket to listen to some of South Africa’s favorites. You can book tickets online and in advance at Webtickets and see what artists are booked for the season.
Swim in the Sea Point Pavilion Pools
The Sea Point Pool is the perfect way to avoid overheating in Cape Town’s warm weather. This open air pavilion facility has a 50m Olympic size swimming pools, two kiddie pools, and a deep diving pool with a diving board! The pools are built right on the Atlantic Ocean, giving swimmers a spectacular coastal outlook.
Walk Around the Waterfront
I can’t tell you how much of our time was spent in Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront. Located at the foot of Signal Hill and surrounded by Table Bay’s waters, the Waterfront is where people gather to eat, drink, shop, socialize, and explore! There are hundreds of ways to spend your time at the waterfront, from helicopter tours to eating at Cape Town’s luxurious restaurants and shopping throughout the square, you can’t go wrong.
See the Marine Life at Two Oceans Aquarium
Fun Fact: Brendan worked here. Seriously.
Way back in the day when Brendan was studying abroad, he worked at the Two Oceans Aquarium to fulfill one of his Environmental Science Major Requirements.
Two Oceans Aquarium has an incredible display of sea creatures from all over South Africa. The Aquarium has daily timed feedings and educational lectures in the sharks and penguins exhibit as well as a walkthrough underwater tunnel!
Enjoy the culture in Nobel Square
A lively public space in the heart of the V&A Waterfront is Nobel Square. There are large tables open to everyone alongside the market. Four Bronze statues of Nelson Mandela, Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu and F.W. de Klerk stand in the center of the square in front of Table Mountain. Oftentimes a live band will come to play in front of the statues for your entertainment while you eat lunch outside.
Shop at the Watershed
Located conveniently right behind the V&A Food Market, is the Watershed. The light filled warehouse hosts over 150 vendors that sell South African Art and high quality products made locally in the Cape Town Area. If you need to buy a few gifts for friends, family and loved ones back home, this is the place to go!
Sandboard Cape Town’s Sand Dunes
This extreme sport is all the rage in South Africa. Similar to snowboarding, this adrenaline pumping sport is popular around the desert and coastal areas with tall sand dunes. There are several operators offering sandboarding tours in Cape Town.
The best part about sand boarding here in comparison to sand boarding in Namibia, is that there are dune buggies that will bring you back up the dune once you’ve sand boarded your way down! It doesn’t seem like much, but hiking up the dune with the desert sun beating down on you while holding your board…is no fun, and limits the amount of times you can go down.
The dunes are about 35m high and only a 40 minute drive from Cape Town. There are also some 250m dunes a little further away from the city in Betty’s Bay. You can ride the dunes dependent on which tour company you want to book with. For something closer to the city center, try the Hout Bay and Fish Hoek sand dunes. We booked with Downhill Adventures for a full day of sand boarding!
Dive with Sharks
This is an awesome experience..and TOTALLY safe. A popular activity to do in Cape Town, you may want to book in advance and 100% bring a GoPro. South Africa has a crazy amount of shark activity and cage diving gives you the chance to see a Great White shark in the wild. You don’t have to be a certified scuba diver since the experience isn’t really a dive. Great Whites can be seen from Gansbaai, about a two hour drive from Cape Town.
Cheer on South Africa’s National Rugby Team at Newlands Stadium
It’s a truly beautiful rugby ground and serves as a home stadium to some of the most renowned teams in all of Africa. You get a beautiful view of the mountain and sunset from one section of the stadium!
Book a Big Five Safari
Not necessarily located in Cape Town, if you want to get away from the city’s urban flair and vibrant nightlife, there are plenty of great wildlife safari trips you can take from Cape Town. Not as expensive as booking a fully catered two week safari, Cape Town offers plenty of weekend or day trips. If you’ve never been on a safari before, consider a Big Five Safari Full Day Private Tour at some of South Africa’s wildlife reserves.
Take a Road Trip on South Africa’s Garden Route
If you have a week to spare, driving the Garden Route of South Africa is an amazing journey full of gorgeous scenery, wildlife sightings and action-packed activities. There are a number of ways to drive the Garden Route, whether you book through a tour group or rent a car. You can make the trek as long as you want; some people take the route all the way past Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg! You have the opportunity to go bungee jumping, sand boarding, shark diving, ride ostriches, shark diving and surfing! The Garden Route packs all of these awesome experiences into a magnificent stretch of Indian Ocean coastline.