As we have been to Cape Town on numerous occasions, it seemed apt to create this “Cape Town things to do and see” list for the first-time visitor.
There are so many things to enjoy here that I think it’s important for first-time visitors to go back home with proper memories of this wonderful part of South Africa.
You can enjoy trips with a tour company, but doing your own thing with a hire car is really the best way to enjoy what’s on offer. A car will take you everywhere on short jaunts giving you the best overall highlights of Cape Town. The City Centre and its suburbs are pretty safe to drive around. The places on this list won’t take you anywhere you shouldn’t be as a tourist.
So whether you are on the Waterfront, up a mountain, in a prison or tasting wine, it’s all here!
This famous mountain towers over the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and is part of the Table mountain national park. The moment you arrive in Cape Town, you are drawn to it and want to go up to the top as soon as you can.
Unfortunately, the crowds can be horrendous if you don’t time it properly. We found that going up early evening was the best time as a lot of tours are winding down for the day. So if you’re driving, this could work for you. Checking their website also gives you an idea of waiting times.
The aerial cableway station is a 15 min drive from the city, taking you up the first 302 m (991 ft) of the mountain. From here you take the rotating circular cable car on a steep journey up to the top. From here it actually feels less crowded than when you first set out from the bottom. At a total height of 1,085 m (3,501 ft), the views from the top are magnificent.
One of the best Cape Town attractions to do, but plan your times carefully.
For hundreds of years, this island was used for banishment and imprisonment. It’s most famous inmate Nelson Mandala, was held here for 18 years and when you see his cell on the tour, it’s hard to imagine anyone spending so much time in such a tiny space. It was also used as a Leper colony in the 1700s.
It sits 4.3 miles off the mainline coast and can only be accessed through the official Robben Island Ferry tour. The ferry takes around 40 mins to get there where a coach will then transport you to the prison museum.
This 3.5-hour tour really brings home the fascinating history of the prison. It can get a bit choppy and cold on the ferry so wrap up!
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
The V & A Waterfront is the real hub for tourists in Capetown as there is always something going on here. From impromptu buskers to the full-scale concerts in the amphitheatre; the music draws in the crowds.
The choice of restaurants is huge, although we always found ourselves going back to Quay 4 for a quality harbourside lunch at a reasonable price.
The Victoria Wharf shopping centre has over 450 outlets to keep most shoppers happy. Although it can be expensive compared to the rest of South Africa.
The 2 Oceans Aquarium is also worth a look. It contains an impressive array of sea life along with walk-through exhibits. Can be a nice cool break from the hot weather too!
This part of the “Cape town things to do and see” is worth spending some time at. A whole morning or afternoon helps you appreciate the diversity of Cape Town, walking around and taking in the many sights, smells & sounds.
Groot Constantia Wine Farm
There are so many wine farms around the Cape Town area to choose from that it’s almost impossible to list them all. But it should be on your list of things to do in Cape Town.
One of the nearest to Cape Town with excellent wine is Groot Constantia. This winery has been around since 1685, consistently producing award-winning wines every year.
Situated on the other side of Table mountain, it’s a 25 min drive from the main V & A area. There are reasonably priced wine and food tasting packages to choose from, giving you a full range of their wines on offer. Wine farms are always such peaceful places to visit. Although this one is more touristy than some of the Stellanbosch estates, it is still a lovely place to get away from the hustle and bustle.
Just an hours drive from Cape Town, you will find one of its southern suburbs, famous for its historical naval harbour base. Simons Town has a wonderful laid back feel to it. You can spend ages walking through the small shops and admiring their quaint architecture.
The South African Naval Museum is worth a visit and is free to get in.
A statue of Just Nuisance can be found in town. A lovely story behind a Great Dane that was officially enlisted in the Royal Navy and was buried with full military honours.
2k away from Simons Town in Boulders beach, you’ll find the famous Jack-ass Penguins. So-called for the noise they make. They wander around freely and are now protected by the South African government after numbers started to dwindle.
When breeding, it’s not an uncommon sight to find them perilously walking across the road and stopping the traffic. But they are generally found around the beach areas.
This is a must on the “Cape Town things to do and see” list. Something you’re unlikely to find anywhere else in the world.
The best way to see Cape Town and Table Mountain in all its glory are from the sea.
We went out on the Spirit of Victoria sailboat and watched the sun go down.
The view of the mountain from the sea was just magnificent. The rigged schooner with its sails up and no engine made for a wonderful experience.
Signal Hill & Lions Head
These two other mountains are also part of the Table Mountain National Park and form the shape of a Lion (or Sphinx).
The highest point is the Lions head which can only be reached by a 2km hike from the Lions Head car park in Signal Hill Road. From the top, you have a 360-degree view of the whole of Cape Town. Definitely worth the hike if you don’t manage to get up Table Mountain.
Signal Hill (or Lions Rump) can be accessed by car along Signal Hill road and is a great spot for picnickers. It’s also one of the best spots in Cape Town for watching the sunset. If you’re brave enough, you can even paraglide off the edge.
Others to consider..
A beautiful view over Hout bay from another peak outside Cape Town
Shark Cage Diving
If you’re brave enough, get into a shark cage and see great whites close up
Run off the side of Signal Hill and glide over Cape Town
African curios / Market
A great side-of-road flea market for haggling of bargains. A lot cheaper than main Cape Town
Cape Town Stadium
Built for the 2010 world cup, this venue plays host to huge sporting events and concerts
Tea at Mount Nelson
Take high tea at Cape Town’s most luxurious hotel; the Belmont Mount Nelson
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