If you ask 50 Capetonians what their idea of the top Cape Town attractions are, you’ll get 50 different answers. There are the obvious ones, like Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront, and then there are the less obvious ones. We’ll give you a mix of both: the ones you CANNOT miss, and the ones that will add immense value to your visit.
Take the Cable Car Up Table Mountain
There are not many flat mountains in the world, and few that afford you such amazing views from the top. Take the cable car with its panoramic windows up the mountain and give yourself enough time for a stroll on top. The silence up there is immense, you’ll have 360 degrees views of the Cape Peninsula, get a good idea of the fynbos that grows in the region and even meet the tame hyraxes (“dassies”) that bask in the sun waiting for tourists to feed them. Table Mountain has been one of the most popular Cape Town attractions for decades.
A Working Harbour
This beautiful development has the distinction of being part of a working harbour, so while you shop up a storm in some of the 400 or so upmarket shops, life outside goes on as always, with fishing boats coming and going and tug boats guiding passenger and tankers in and out of the harbour. Apart from the many shops and restaurants, the V&A Waterfront has worked hard to retain a sense of history in museums and historical buildings.
Made famous by one of the most most loved activists in the world, Nelson Mandela, Robben Island is a must on the list of places to visit. Take a ferry from the V&A Waterfront – the boat ride to the island is part of the experience – and enjoy a guided tour of this living museum that tells the story of heroic endurance and forgiveness. Robben Island has been one of the most loved historical Cape Town attractions since 1994.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
The Cape is famous for its unique flora that includes hundreds of species that are endemic to this area and don’t grow anywhere else. The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, which is another great option on the list of Cape Town attractions, is devoted to South Africa’s indigenous plants – the first botanical garden to do so. Allow yourself enough time to stroll through every section, from the greenhouse with its succulents to the ‘garden for the senses’, a patch of garden with aromatic plants. The garden is part of a bigger reserve, and has lots of spaces for picnics on the lawns.
In the 80s, a pair of penguins waddled up onto a beach just outside Simon’s Town. They decided to breed, despite the presence of humans living right on the coast. Today Boulder’s Beach houses a colony of thousands of penguins who co-exist happily with the residents. Take the very scenic drive out to Boulders and go and see these comic birds at their antics from close-up. There are boardwalks to bring you in close proximity, or you can take a kayak from Simon’s Town and join them in the ocean.
The Foot of Africa
The Cape Peninsula comes to a dramatic point at a place where it’s often rumoured the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Located in a nature reserve where zebra, antelope, ostriches and baboons roam wild, the coastline forms soaring cliffs. Take the funicular to the top of these cliffs for dramatic views of the two oceans on either side crashing on the rocks.
The Company’s Garden and Places of History
The Company’s Garden was first planted in the mid 1600s to provide fresh food for passing ships. It was named after the Dutch East India Company who was behind creating a victuals station at Cape Town. Take a leisurely stroll through the gardens with its lovely flora, many historical landmarks and the cheeky squirrels that will come out to be fed. In the surrounds of the garden, you’ll find quite a few historical buildings, including the Houses of Parliament, the South African Museum and the St George’s Cathedral, to name a few.
A Visit to the Townships
On the outskirts of Cape Town is a world completely different to the cosmopolitan vibe of the city. The outlying townships are where much of the city’s workforce resides and they are vibrant, colourful places that deserve the attention from tourists. These townships are testament to people’s love of life, ingenuity and generosity of spirit. There are many guided township tours that provide you face-to-face interaction with residents in their home. Mingle with the locals, drink traditional beer in shebeens, and get a general feeling for the heartbeat of the township.
The Cape Winelands
The Cape area is famous for its wines, but even if you’re not a wine lover, a tour on any of the many wine routes will be a pleasant, most memorable way to spend the day . Whether you choose Paarl, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch or one of the more rural wine routes, you will be entranced by spectacular scenery, beautiful Cape Dutch architecture and warm hospitality. Many of the wine estates have excellent restaurants where you can while away over lunch al fresco in summer, or in front of a roaring fire in winter. Each route is dotted with wine farms that make a range of wines, so it’s easy to go taste-hopping. The Cape Winelands is definitely a must on your list of Cape Town attractions, especially for the wine connoisseur.
Toast the Sunset
Cape Town may be as cosmopolitan and sophisticated as they come, but it’s still a city at the foot of Africa, and as such, it has the added benefit of awe-inspiring, spectacular African sunsets. Signal Hill, the gentle slope that flanks Table Mountain is the perfect spot to do so. Bring your sparkling wine, a blanket and a picnic and toast the sun as it goes down over the Atlantic Ocean and the light of the city start flickering on. A Cape Town attractions experience not to be missed.
As an alternative to a picnic on Signal Hill, board a catamaran or yacht from the V&A Waterfront and make your leisurely way out the harbour and up the beautiful coastline with its soaring mountains, coves and giant boulders on a sunset boat cruise. Drop anchor at glamorous Clifton with its beach babes and sun-gazers and wait until the setting sun paints the mountains gold and pink.
Experience Cape Town Attractions with a Scenic Drive
Take a drive from the city towards Cape Point, past the famous beaches of Clifton, Camps Bay, llandudno and Hout Bay. Stop off in Hout Bay for fresh fish and chips to take away while you stroll around in the fishing harbour, then take to the road again via the spectacular Chapman’s Peak, through Noordhoek to the Cape Point Reserve. Continue from there past Simon’s Town, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay and Muizenberg – quaint little towns where you can stop for lunch, tea and cake or just an ice cream. Continue on Boys’ Drive with its amazing views of False Bay, through the Constantia vineyards towards the city. It’s a drive that will leave you under the impression of Cape Town’s amazing diversity and beauty. This is just a great way of experiencing Cape Town attractions.
Most of the photographs of Table Mountain you’ll ever seen, were taken from Bloubergstrand. From its beaches across Table Bay, the mountain literally appears as flat as a table! Take a drive out towards this beautiful beach perfect for long, peaceful walks and the ultimate photographs of the mountain. There are many restaurants on the promenade and you may find yourself lingering so long over tea or coffee, that you may end up having lunch there too.
Two Oceans Aquarium
Watching fish swim around in an enormous glass space amongst a swirling kelp forest with rays of sun penetrating the water can be pleasantly hypnotising. The Two Oceans Aquarium is situated at the V&A Waterfront and showcases species from both the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. For a thrilling experience, make sure you visit when it’s feeding time for the sharks, the fish and the penguins.
On the edge of the city, distinctive, colourful houses creep up on the flanks of Signal Hill, a community with cobbled streets, mosques and spice merchants. Take a walk up these steep roads and soak in the atmosphere of the Bo-Kaap, a mostly Malay community where many an indigenous dish originated from. Treat yourself to a spicy samoosa from one of the corner cafés, or go for lunch at a restaurant hosted in a home. Keep your camera ready, because you’ll find a photo opportunity around every corner.