Visiting the Mother City? Make the most of your time in the city with GVI’s top tips on what to do in Cape Town.
Cape Town will capture your imagination. Set between a craggy mountain range and the ripples of the oceans, the city is where greens meet glittering blues.
Throw in white beaches studded with granite boulders, vineyard-carpeted valleys, and an edgy urban environment where art galleries and trendy restaurants thrive, and you have a city alive with possibilities for curious explorers.
Make sure you soak up the city’s most exciting, inspiring, and original experiences and check out the top nine things to do in Cape Town.
1) Climb Table Mountain, Cape Town
Table Mountain is a true icon of South Africa and a stalwart of Cape Town travel. Blanketed in the rich colours of South Africa’s Cape Floral Region, with a vast flat peak, the mountain is visually striking. The views from the top are unbeatable.
You can ride the cable car to the top, or take the more adventurous route and hike to the summit. There are multiple trails ascending the mountain, ranging from two to four hours one way.
2) Watch the sunset from Lion’s Head
Lion’s Head, Cape Town, is the smaller sibling of Table Mountain. From the top, you’ll have expansive views of the city, ocean, and across to the mighty Table Mountain itself.
It’s a popular spot to climb for sunrise or sunset. Getting to the top of the mountain at the crack of dawn is easier than it sounds – the walk only takes around one hour.
3) See the Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope promontory is the southwesternmost point of Africa. Located roughly an hour south of Cape Town, it’s also an excellent spot for a day hike.
The trails along the narrow peninsula of the Cape Point National Park encompass incredible scenery and give you the chance to spot some of the 250 bird species in the area.
Stand at the Cape of Good Hope lighthouse to get views out across the ocean, where the warmer Aghulas current meets the cooler Benguela current.
As an added bonus, you can head down Chapmans Peak Drive road on the way to Cape of Good Hope. This is a supremely scenic drive, winding around vertical cliff faces below Table Mountain.
The views across the Atlantic are stunning and worth the 47 rand (about 3 USD) toll to travel on the road.
4) Watch penguins waddle through the Boulders Penguin Colony
Seeing penguins on a sunny beach is a delightful sight. The Boulders Penguin Colony is a picturesque jumble of large rocks and sandy coves, where around 3,000 African penguins have made their home.
African penguins are an endangered species. Only around 20,000 breeding pairs remain in South Africa, according to the South African National Biodiversity Institute. Seeing them is one of the easiest and most rewarding wildlife experiences you can have near Cape Town.
On Boulders Beach you can walk among the adorable birds. Keep a safe distance though – it’s important to respect their space, as well as avoid pecks from their sharp beaks.
The majority of the penguin colony lives around Foxy Beach. A boardwalk connects the main beach to Foxy Beach and gives you a great view of the penguin nesting sites. From the nearby viewing platform, you can watch the penguins dive through the waves, fish, and socialise with each other.
5) Stroll through the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
More than 7,000 species of South African plants flourish in these lush botanical gardens, set in a prime location at the foot of Table Mountain. Here you can see the famous fynbos – plants endemic to South Africa, learn about medicinal plants, or indulge in the fragrance garden.
The roll call of activities in Cape Town’s botanical garden will keep you coming back again and again. For example, there is the Tree Canopy Walkway, which arcs through the treetops and gives glorious views of the area. Hiking trails lead from the botanical gardens up to Table Mountain.
Between November and April, there are the Summer Sunset Concerts, the best way to while away balmy evenings in the city. Then there’s the lovely Kirstenbosch Tea Room, a great place to get a very English cream tea.
6) Shop for meaningful souvenirs at Monkeybiz
If you want to shop for souvenirs, do it at Monkeybiz. This non-profit shop aims to preserve the traditions of African beadwork while providing work for local women. You’ll find a whole range of colourful, beaded creations here, from candy-coloured animals to tiny worry dolls.
By shopping at Monkeybiz, you’re not only getting a unique souvenir, but you’re also supporting the artists, helping to ensure they have the opportunity to be independent and earn a livelihood.
7) Explore Cape Town’s vibrant art scene
Here is a city bursting with creativity, from brightly-coloured houses in the Bo-Kaap heritage zone, to contemporary art galleries, thought-provoking street art, and afro-chic décor that shines in many bars and restaurants in Cape Town.
One of the top galleries in the city is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), a museum built into an old grain silo. The impressive and historic circular structure covers eight stories and more than 80 separate galleries.
From the basement to the rooftop sculpture garden, you can find a dazzling range of contemporary southern African art in MOCAA. A large number of the works come from entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz’s private collection.
Cape Town also has many open-air exhibitions, thanks to street artists. Walls throughout the city are painted in eclectic murals. By beautifying lower-income areas and providing a means of discussion around important issues, street art has gone from an illegal activity to a celebrated medium.
Street art works span the CBD to Woodstock. The best way to discover all the best pieces is to take a graffiti walking tour. These essential Cape Town tours will give you insight into the social commentary of the city’s murals.
8) Visit Cape Town’s beaches
Cape Town is surrounded by excellent beaches. Stretches of pristine sand are lined with colourful beach huts, penguin colonies, marble boulders, and tide pools. As an added bonus, many are west-facing, so you can watch incredible sunsets from Cape Town’s coast.
South Africa’s pleasant climate is ideal for beach life. The long summer months mean you can sunbathe and swim from October to April.
The best beaches in Cape Town are Muizenburg, popular for surfing, Milnerton Beach, famed for its lighthouse, and the dazzling white Clifton beaches, sometimes called the “Riviera of South Africa”.
9) Volunteer in the local community
Volunteering in local communities is the best way to learn more about Cape Town’s complex society. By working alongside people from vulnerable areas of Cape Town, you will be able to make your visit to the city more impactful, contributing to projects ranging from community development to women’s empowerment.
On GVI’s volunteer programs in Cape Town, you’ll have the chance to learn more about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and gain an understanding of how countries and individuals can work to achieve these goals.
You’ll develop your capacity as a global citizen while meeting like-minded volunteers from all around the world.
At the same time, volunteering provides you with a base from where you can explore all of the adventure opportunities in the area.
Zaytoen Domingo is a content writer and editor based in Cape Town, South Africa. She is currently enrolled in the Masters program in English at the University of the Western Cape. After graduating with an Honours Degree in English and Creative Writing, Zaytoen completed a skills-development program for writers and became an alum of the GVI Writing Academy.