Seductively between the mountains and the sea, Cape Town proudly shows off its natural beauty. The iconic Table Mountain, which rises above the city, provides the perfect plateau for panoramic views stretching out to the glittering Atlantic Ocean, botanical gardens beckon from the slopes and the city’s long blond beaches, backed by towering peaks, are among the best of South Africa. An irresistible adventure bubbles beneath the surface. Travelers can take part in a variety of outdoor activities, including hiking, cycling, surfing and paragliding, whale watching and cage diving with great white sharks.
As the oldest European settlement in Africa, Cape Town has a rich and sometimes turbulent past. On Robben Island, historians can see where Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. In the hinterland, elegant Stellenbosch is a Nirvana for gourmets. Scenic drives race along the rugged coast in mountains that plunge to the sea, penguins waddle across pristine beaches and Cape Point is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with one of the richest floral kingdoms in the world.
Read also: Where to stay in Cape Town
1 Table Berg
Rising 1,087 meters south of the city centre, the flat-topped Table Mountain is the most photographed landmark in South Africa and a constant reminder that nature is queen in this beautiful seaside city. Built from massive beds of sandstone and shale, the mountain forms the northern end of the Cape Peninsula and lies within Table Mountain National Park . The park protects an astonishing diversity of plants and more than 1,470 species of flowers – the richest floral kingdom on the planet – as well as animals such as adorable ruffed dassies (rock hyraxes), caracals and baboons. Within the park, Devil’s Peak flanks the mountain to the east, and Lion’s Head to the west, while the rocks are known as the Twelve Apostlesdoom over the seaside resorts on the Atlantic coast.
A layer of clouds called the ‘tablecloth’ often covers the top of the mountain, but when the clouds are clear, visitors can enjoy spectacular views of Cape Town and the entire Cape Peninsula from the summit. Bring a sweater as it can be cold and windy at the top. For those who have little time and energy, a revolving cable carclimbs to the top, covering the distance of 1,244 meters in seven minutes. The cable car runs daily – except in high winds, so it’s a good idea to check the website or call for current conditions before heading out. Also try to reserve tickets online to avoid long lines. At the upper station of the cable car, a café has a small viewing terrace and serves as a starting point for three short hikes, which emphasize the gigantic scale of the landscape. Those who want to climb the mountain on foot can choose from more than 350 different routes that vary in difficulty. Depending on the departure, the climb takes between two to four hours. For stunning views of Table Mountain and the best vantage point to photograph this iconic landmark, hike or drive upSignal Hill or Lion’s Head – both offer breathtaking views from their peaks.
Official site: https://www.tablemountain.net
2 Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
In a beautiful setting on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are part of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Cape Floristic Region. The site was bequeathed to the state by Cecil Rhodes in 1902 and the gardens were established in 1913 to preserve the country’s native flora – one of the first botanical gardens in the world with this mission. More than 20,000 native South African plant species are collected, grown and studied within the hilly 528 hectare nature reserve of native forest and fynbos. Of particular historical interest are a hedge of wild almond trees planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1660 and an avenue of camphor and fig trees planted by Cecil Rhodes in 1898. The flowers, shrubs and trees are arranged so that a show of blossoms and color brightens the gardens all year round. Don’t miss the proteas, the fragrant garden; the impressive collection of cycads; the Sculpture Garden and the Botanical Society Conservatory, a custom-made greenhouse with plants from arid regions. Well-marked trails run through the wooded slopes and the Tree Canopy Walkway offers panoramic views over the ridge-lined gardens. One of the trails leads through a ravine to the top of Table Mountain. In summer the gardens are an attractive location for open-air concerts. Well-marked trails run through the wooded slopes and the Tree Canopy Walkway offers panoramic views over the ridge-lined gardens. One of the trails leads through a ravine to the top of Table Mountain. In summer the gardens are an attractive location for open-air concerts. Well-marked trails run through the wooded slopes and the Tree Canopy Walkway offers panoramic views over the ridge-lined gardens. One of the trails leads through a ravine to the top of Table Mountain. In summer the gardens are an attractive location for open-air concerts.
Green thumbs and garden enthusiasts should also visit Bedrijfstuin , an oasis of exotic trees, flowers, aviaries and ponds in the heart of the city. While here, visitors can also visit the Iziko South African Museum and Planetarium and the Iziko National Gallery .
Address: Rhodes Drive, Newlands, Cape Town
Official site: https://www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch
3 Signal Hill and the Noon Gun
Signal Hill is a five-minute drive west of the city center and offers breathtaking views of Cape Town, Table Bay and the glittering Atlantic Ocean from its 350-metre peak. The hill forms the body of the adjacent Lion’s Headpeak and was named for its historical use when signal flags were flown from here to send messages to approaching ships. Many locals and visitors drive up to watch the sunset and stay to watch the glittering lights of Cape Town ignite after dark. Every day (except Sundays and public holidays) at noon, a cannon fires activated by an electronic impulse from the observatory fired a single shot. In the past, this ‘noon gun’ served to give the exact time to ships anchored in the bay. Tourists are welcome to attend a free presentation on the history of the Noon Gun at the Lion Battery and then stay to watch the shooting. Those going to the top of the hill for sunset views should bring a jacket as it can be chilly after the sun sets. On busy weekends and holidays, start looking for a parking space early.
4 Beaches at Clifton and Camps Bay
About four miles from the city center, the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton lure the buff, the bronzed and the beautiful – as well as the big bucks. In Clifton, Cape Town’s St. Tropez, some of the city’s most expensive real estate overlooks four gleaming white-sand beaches flanked by smooth granite boulders and washed by sparkling, yet clear, blue seas. First Beach is a favorite volleyball venue and offers decent surfing when conditions are right. Just south of Clifton, trendy Camp’s Bay boasts another stunning beach, backed by the stunning Twelve Apostles and the landmark peak of Lion’s Head. People-watching is an art along this beautiful, palm-tree-lined stretch, as well as in the chic cafes and boutiques along Victoria Street – especially during weekends and public holidays when locals and tourists mill about to enjoy the scene. Camp’s Bay and Clifton’s Fourth Beach boast the coveted Blue Flag status awarded for clean water, safety and environmental stewardship, making them a good choice for families too.
5 The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Stretching around two harbor basins, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a vibrant entertainment district reminiscent of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. It was once a shabby fishing port. This redeveloped waterfront district is now one of the city’s top tourist attractions and many of the old buildings have been preserved and restored. Millions of visitors each year come here to the shops, jazz venues, restaurants, hotels, theatres, drama schools, cinemas and museums. Sports fans will love the Springbok Experience Rugby Museum , which follows the story of South African rugby through interactive exhibits. Two Oceans Aquariumcontains more than 300 species of fish from the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, mainly from the area around the Cape of Good Hope. Highlights include a touch tank, penguin encounters, predatory fish experiments and diving experiences, which allow visitors to get up close to fascinating sea creatures. Trips to Robben Island depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway on the waterfront, but everyone is welcome to explore the museum exhibits here. West of the waterfront, the trendy Green Point district is also home to the beautiful Green Point Urban Park with its biodiversity garden as well as the Cape Town Stadium , which hosted many FIFA World Cup matches in 2010.
Address: 19 Dock Road, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
Official site: https://www.waterfront.co.za
6 Editor’s Pick Chapman’s Peak Drive
Chapman’s Peak Drive, affectionately called ‘Chappies’ by locals, is approximately 25 kilometers from the city center and is one of the most breathtaking drives in the world. Carved into the sheer face of Chapman’s Peak, which plunges towards the sea, this spectacular toll road winds its way for some nine kilometers between Noordhoek and Hout Bay panoramicly passing Chapman’s Peak pointen route. With 114 curves carved into the rock face, some more than 500 meters above the sea, this is not a route for those prone to motion sickness. Around sunset, cars drive past the panoramic viewpoints as tourists seek out a spot to watch the sun set while sipping a cool drink in the time-honored South African tradition known as ‘sundowners’. Look for whales and dolphins to the south in the glittering Atlantic Ocean below and drive slowly and carefully. The road has been closed on and off for several years due to the dangers of the sun, but it has now been stabilized and is open every day – except during severe weather conditions. In addition to being used as a location for TV commercials, Chapman’s Peak Drive is the setting for the popularCape Argus Cycle Race and Two Oceans Marathon . After admiring the beautiful sea views, hungry travelers can feast on fresh fish at one of Hout Bay’s excellent seafood restaurants.
7 Robben Island
For almost 400 years, Robben Island in Table Bay was a brutal prison where Nelson Mandela had spent 18 years in a small cell during the apartheid era. Today the island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see attraction for anyone interested in South African history. Tours to the island begin with multimedia exhibits at the museum at the Nelson Mandela Gateway on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront before travelers board ships to the island. The boat ride lasts approximately 30 minutes to an hour depending on weather conditions and can be rough during large waves. On the island, visitors visit the maximum security prison, Mandela’s former celland the limestone quarry where prisoners were forced to endure back-breaking labor. Perhaps the best part of the tour is that the guides are former prisoners of Robben Island who share their experiences and offer insight into the atrocities of apartheid and the power of forgiveness. After leaving this hellish island of six square kilometers, Mandela said: “As I walked out the door to the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I would still be in prison.” These wise words are even more powerful after a tour here. Book well in advance.
Official site: https://www.robben-island.org.za/
8 Great White Shark Cage Dives
In the chilly waters off the coast of Cape Town, thrill seekers can come face to face with one of the ocean’s most feared predators: great white sharks. Protected by the thick bars of an iron cage, divers score a good dose of adrenaline as these beautiful creatures swim within inches of the bars. Tour operators in Cape Town offer shark cage diving in areas such as Simon’s Town , Dyer Island , Mossel Bay, Seal Island , and Gansbaai, the ‘Great White Shark Capital of the World’. The best time to see these beautiful creatures is between April and October. No diving license is required as divers are enclosed in the custom-made cages and part of the money goes towards shark research and conservation. Those who appreciate these awe-inspiring creatures from a distance can witness all the excitement from the boat. There are also seal, dolphin, penguin and whale watching tours available for more timid animal lovers.
9 Town Hall and the Castle of Good Hope
History buffs can visit two notable historic buildings within a five-minute walk of each other in central Cape Town. Built in 1905, Cape Town’s City Hall is a striking mix of Italian Neo-Renaissance and British Colonial style. The 60-meter-high clock tower, with a chime installed in 1923, was modeled after Big Ben in London. Highlights of the interior are the beautiful mosaic floors, the marble staircase and the impressive stained glass. Note the balcony overlooking Grand Parade where Nelson Mandela, the country’s future president, addressed a cheering crowd in 1990 after 27 years in prison. Music lovers should also try to catch a performance by the Cape Philharmonic Orchestra based here.
Across the Grand Parade, The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest surviving stone building in South Africa. It was built in 1666-79 as the governor’s residence and for the protection of the early settlers, but the castle, which is shaped like a five-pointed star,
was never exposed to attack. A highlight here is the William Fehr Collection , featuring photographs, porcelain, fine glass, ceramics and furniture from the 17th to 19th centuries from South Africa, Europe and Asia.
A short walk from the fort to the shopping heart of Longmarket Street leads to Greenmarket Square , an atmospheric small cobbled square with a number of Art Deco buildings as a backdrop. Shoppers can browse the small flea market here every day of the week except Sundays. https://www.cpo.org.za/index.php?view=venueevents&id=2%3ACity+Hall&option=com_eventlist
10 The Heart of Cape Town Museum
The Heart of Cape Town Museum was opened at the Groote Schuur Hospital in 2007 in honor of the fortieth anniversary of the first heart transplant performed here by Christiaan Barnard. Expert docents take visitors on a fascinating two-hour tour to see recreational opportunities from the operating rooms to the actual areas where the surgery took place. The tours also explore everything from the ethical implications of the time to the history of the recipient and donor. Even visitors without a medical background appreciate learning about the history of this life-saving procedure.
Official site: https://www.heartofcapetown.co.za/
11 Museum of South Africa
The Iziko Museums in South Africa consist of 11 museums led by a council appointed by the Minister of Arts and Culture. A top museum in this group is the Bo-Kaap Museum in the Bo-Kaap District , an old Malay neighborhood of brightly painted two-story houses still inhabited by the descendants of slaves brought from the Indies in the second half of the 17th century were brought to the Cape. This excellent museum illustrates aspects of 19th-century Islamic life in a rare early Cape Dutch house circa 1763. A room on the grounds houses a collection of carts and carriages.
The Old Mansion is another popular attraction in the museum group. It was originally built in 1755 in a Dutch-Rococo style and is located in central Cape Town at the western end of Green Market Square . The former Town Hall, formerly the City Hall of Cape Town, now displays a collection of photographs presented to the country by Sir Max Michaelis in 1914, consisting mainly of works by 17th century Dutch and Flemish masters including Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Jacob van Ruysdael and Jan van Goyen.
Another highlight of the group is the Koopmans-de Wet House , built in 1701 on a U-shaped plan, with a facade by Louis Thibault (1771). The original interior has been preserved and gives a vivid impression of the lifestyle of a successful businessman of the 18th century. Also in the group, the South African Museum and Planetarium and the National Gallery , in Company’s Garden , are worth a visit for natural history enthusiasts and budding astronomers.
Official site: https://www.iziko.org.za
12 The District Six Museum
In 1966, 70,000 residents of multi-ethnic District Six were displaced when the South African government decided that the community would become white. This moving museum honors the people of this now-vanished district. On the floor of the museum is a large-scale map where former residents are encouraged to label their old homes and features of their neighborhood.
Address: 25A Buitenkant Street, Cape Town
Where to stay in Cape Town for sightseeing
We recommend these convenient hotels in Cape Town with easy access to top attractions such as Table Mountain and the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront:
- Manna Bay: luxury boutique hotel, bordering Table Mountain National Park, stylish decor, high tea, beautiful outdoor swimming pool.
- Blackheath Lodge: boutique hotel right in the centre, great staff, home away from home, heated pool, native gardens.
- Antrim Villa: affordable prices, convenient location, tropical African decor, fresh fruit, saltwater pool.
- Holiday Inn Express Cape Town City Centre: great rates, modern high-rise, central location, breakfast included.
Day trips from Cape Town
Penguins in Boulders Bay
Penguins are cute in any environment, but seeing them waddle in their natural environment is a special thrill for nature lovers. About an hour’s drive from Cape Town, Boulder’s Bay in Simon’s Town protects a breeding colony of more than 2,000 endangered African penguins. This beautiful sheltered, white sandy beach is part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area and the park charges an entrance fee to access these shores. But it is worth it. Visitors can enjoy up-close encounters with these charismatic creatures, all in a stunning setting of giant granite boulders, rock pools, tranquil coves and blissfully out-of-control stretches of shiny sand. A short walk from here, Foxy Beachis also great for watching the penguins with a walkway that passes the top sites. This is a fantastic family-friendly excursion for animal lovers and beach lovers.
Official site: https://www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain/tourism/attractions.php
About 60 kilometers from Cape Town, Cape Point lies at the southernmost tip of Table Mountains National Park and is part of the Cape Floral Region , a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the richest areas of flora in the world. The scenic drive from Cape Town along the Cape Peninsula takes travelers past the surf breaks of Muizenberg , and the pretty seaside resort of Kalk Bay , as well as the prim penguin viewing beaches in Simon’s Town. Wildlife is also diverse on this soaring seacliff. About 250 species of birds can be found here, as well as eland, Cape zebra, reptiles and troops of cheeky baboons. Visitors can enjoy the view from the Cape Point Lighthouse by theFlying Dutchman funicular or climb the many stairs to the top. Other activities include whale watching, shipwrecks from the beach and nature walks. For a twist on this dazzling coastal scenery on the return journey, drive along the 114 bends of Chapman’s Peak drive and stop for a succulent seafood feast in Hout Bay or Noordhoek. Cape Point is the southwesternmost point of Africa, not to be confused with Cape Agulhas , about 150 kilometers away, which is the southernmost point of the continent where the currents of the two oceans – the Indian and Atlantic Oceans – meet.
Whale Watching in Hermanus
Hermanus is about 120 kilometers east of Cape Town and is one of the world’s hotspots for whale watching. From July to November, large numbers of southern right whales migrate through these waters and visitors can even see them from shore – especially during the early months of September, October and November. On foot, the best places to see these beautiful creatures are from the 7.5-mile Cliff Path , the Old Harbor View Terraces, and Sievers Point. Alternatively, tourists can join a guided sea kayaking tour, embark on one of the popular whale watching tours or enjoy a scenic flight for a bird’s eye view. Hermanus celebrates these beautiful creatures with an annual whale festival in September, and the town is also popular for its beautiful beaches and many water sports, including fishing, swimming and shark cage diving.
Stellenbosch: A Foodie’s Dream
Stellenbosch, about 53 kilometers east of Cape Town, is one of the most beautiful cities in South Africa. Elegant Dutch estates spring up amid a patchwork of vine fields and centuries-old oaks with mountains in front. This vibrant university town is nestled in a picturesque valley and its fertile lands nurture some of the country’s best produce, which the city showcases in its acclaimed restaurants, atmospheric outdoor cafes and popular markets. To soak up some of the region’s history, visit the Village Museum , a group of four restored houses and gardens dating from 1709 to 1850. Rupert Museum spotlights works by South African artists, and the botanical garden at theStellenbosch University is a lovely place to stroll and relax with an organic tea in the café. Outdoor adventures await in the beautiful Jonkershoek Nature Reserve where nature lovers can hike and cycle the wilderness trails. North of Stellenbosch, Paarl also boasts beautiful scenery and a rich agricultural heritage, while the charming town of Franschhoek , about 35 minutes from Stellenbosch, is known as the culinary capital of South Africa. Closer to Cape Town, the Constantia Valley is another hotspot for foodies.