Oh Cape Town, where do I even start? A few years ago, I moved to Cape Town for work for a few months and that was one of the best times of my life. Every single weekend I got to explore different parts of the city with my friend and coworker. We even got to do long weekend trips to surrounding areas, which I will write about later! After I left Cape Town, I just couldn’t get it out of my head, so I went back again a couple of years later and explored more 🙂
South Africa has become such a hot travel destination since the 2010 World Cup where the government cleaned up parts of the city and people from all over the world witnessed the beauty and prosperity of the “Mother City”. Located in the southern most part of the Africa continent, Cape Town enjoys a mild Mediterranean-style climate, with wet and cool and windy winters and a dry and warm summer. Don’t forget that since it’s in the southern hemisphere, its seasons are reversed compare to North America, Asia, and Europe. January would be summer and August would be winter! Given its location, Cape Town is full of different mountain formations, beaches, and lush green.
Things to know before you go:
- Climate is mild and opposite of northern hemisphere
- Languages spoken: English and Afrikaans
- Known for its white wine and has a lot of vineyards with cheap (<$5 wine tasting)
- Strong European and Indo-Asian influence on its cuisine; other speciality is game meat (Ostrich, Crocodile, Springbok, etc) and seafood
- It’s customary to leave a 10% tip at restaurants
- Be ready to have close encounter with animals (baboons)
- Get an international drivers’ permit if you plan to rent a car and explore the city yourself (which I think is the best way)
- Drive on the British and Japanese side (opposite from US, Canada, Germany, etc)
- Be vigilant about your surroundings and don’t show your money and camera
- Cars run red lights at night in order to not have windows smashed or robbed (it’s really not that scary)
- Prepare small changes to tip people who “help” you with parking or “watches” your car. These are pretty much unemployed individuals who employed themselves by offering to watch your car or help you with parking, but they expect you to pay them for their “services”. You would see more of these in the city center.
Best areas to stay in:
- V&A waterfront area: Expensive Hotel but with a lot of options for shopping and dining
- Camps Bay: Hotels or AirBnB with beautiful Ocean view, you probably will need a car there
- Hout Bay: More ocean view and restaurants, a little further from town, definitely need a car
- Tamberskloof: Nice residential neighborhood close to Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, close to a lot of small restaurants (my favorite is Miller’s Thumb)
Start your day with a nice short hike (1 hour each way) on Lion’s head. It’s the small mountain on the left side of my featured image as seen from Table mountain. The hike has a short incline in the beginning and the rest of the hike was pretty flat with beautiful scenery of the ocean and the city.
Camps Bay is the perfect spot for a nice outdoor brunch with an incredible oceans view. There are tons of cute restaurants along the beach, about 15 minute drive from Lion’s head. Why not get some seafood or mediterranean cuisine before starting a day of adventure? Restaurants that you can try:
- Paranga Restaurant: beach view terrance serving sushi and international dishes
- Blues: modern mediterranean restaurant with ocean view
- Ocean Blue: steak and seafood
- The Butcher: Croissants, sandwiches, international breakfast
After a nice brunch, you are ready for the rest of the day! Drive along the road (there is only one high way that connects Camps Bay to Hout Bay) towards Hout Bay and Simon’s Town (where penguins are). After driving through Chapman’s Peak (you will come back here later at night), you will eventually see a nice little vineyard called Cape Point Vineyard. We actually found this by accident, but the tasting is really cheap (5 wine to taste for less than USD 10) and you get a gorgeous view along with it 🙂
About another 20 minutes after the vineyard, you will arrive at Boulder’s Beach, home of the African penguins. I did not even know that Africa had penguins until I came to Cape Town. There will be plenty of of signs once you enter Simon’s Town and Boulder’s Beach area and also a parking lot. You have to pay an entrance fee to get in, but totally worth it to see these little cute creatures! Apparently, if you go to the opposite side of the entrance and walk through the little path, you will eventually come to a point where you can still see the penguins without paying and that’s what a local told me to do.
Cape point (Cape of Good Hope) is located about 30 minutes away from Boulder’s Beach. This is an area that’s the most south-western tip (NOT Southern tip) of Africa. It’s huge natural reserve with places to hike and tons of animals and nature. But the waves here are strong so don’t try to get into the water. I learned that when people first started trading with South Africa, ships would easily hit all the rocks near shore and the current is always really strong. In order to prevent more accidents, Cape Town built a light house on a cliff to help guide ships to safety. You can either hike up to the light house or pay for a ride on the funicular “Flying Dutch Man” (guess who built it) to get up to the light house.
Sunset and Dinner
Cape Point nature reserve closes at sunset, and it would be more difficult to drive in the dark without any lights and there is also spotty cellphone coverage there so I highly recommend that you leave the place about an hour before sunset.
Chapman’s Peak is where you would want to be for amazing sunset. There are a lot of areas to park and you can even walk around and explore the “gardens” along the cliff.
You can either go back to town to grab dinner or have dinner near Chapman’s Peak. There are a couple of restaurants around Chapman’s Peak drive, such as the Chapman’s Peak Hotel Restaurant and Tintswalo Atlantic hotel.
Start your day fresh and early to go up Table Mountain. The reason this mountain is so famous is because the top is naturally completely flat, which is very rare for mountains. Sometimes when it’s cloudy, there will be a layer of clouds covering only the top of the mountain, and the locals call it “table cloth”. Table Mountain is perhaps THE attraction in Cape Town, it draws millions of tourists every year. It’s not surprising because it has a 360 degree view of the entire Cape Town, it’s perhaps the best view you will ever get naturally in a city.
There are two ways to get up the mountain. One is to hike 4 hours; it’s a very popular thing to do but it’s pretty demanding and potentially dangerous. If you have the time and are fit enough, I would suggest you do this and take the cable car down (or the other way around). Another way is to take the cable car all the way up. The cable car rotates 360 degrees so everybody will get a chance to view the city through the little window inside the cable car. However, before you go, check their official website to see if the cable car is open or not. Cape Town can be very windy, so a lot of the times the cable car is not operating due to safety concerns. Definitely check online before you go so you don’t waste time! Here is the website.
One reason I say to go early is because when there are several days the cable car is not operating, everybody will want to visit when it opens, so try to go before it opens to avoid huge lines and crowd! Or you can just buy tickets online (hopefully it won’t be closed the day you pick)
If you visit Cape Town in the spring or summer, make sure you check out Kirstenbosch, the national botanical garden. It’s located really close to Table Mountain too! A garden is an understatement to describe this place. I was awed by its beauty when I stepped in. People bring their picnic baskets here with their friends or family. There are also a lot of concerts during the sumer.
Lunch and more wine!
Cape Town is known for its white wine and naturally there are TONS of wine farms (locals call them wine farms, not vineyards) all over the city. There are particularly 2 areas within Cape Town that is famous for wine: Stellenbosch and Constantia. Constantia is very close to Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch, so if you are short on time, just check out Constantia. If you have more time then definitely drive to Stellenbosch!
We decided to have lunch at La Colombe, located in Constantia. It’s one of the best (and most expensive) restaurant in Africa, and it’s also a vineyard. However, compare to the US and UK, Cape Town is actually quite cheap, so even though it’s an expensive restaurant by local standards, it’s really not that expensive compare to high end restaurants in the US and Europe.
You can have a wine tasting after lunch there or you can try a few other wine farms in the area, such as Groot Constantia, Steenberg Vineyards, Constantia Uitsig.
Afternoon and Dinner
V&A Waterfront is one of the most prestigious shopping and dining area in Cape Town. It has tons of shops, restaurants, an aquarium, and a hotel. You can literally spend an entire afternoon here if you wish. Don’t forget to try a couple of the restaurants here: Sevruga, Karibu Restaurant, Nobu Cape Town. If you are in the mood for sushi, locals love Willboughy & Co, althouhg I find it too pricey and not comparable to Sushi you get in North America or Japan. If you want something a little cheaper and local, then try Ocean Basket. Since it’s the V&A Waterfront, most of the restaurants are quite pricey by local standards, except Ocean Basket, which is a local chain
If you feel like exploring Cape Town a little bit more, you can drive more towards city center and try restaurants such as Miller’s Thumb (one of my favorite) and Fork (high end).
A lot of people I know also love this one restaurant next to the football stadium called “Grand Africa”. it’s especially happening on summer nights since it’s an outdoor restaurant on a nice beach.
Now you’ve seen some of the most famous things in Cape Town, it’s time to venture out a little bit. One of the most famous men in South Africa and perhaps the world was Nelson Mandela. For those of you who don’t know him, he was the first black president of South Africa. He was imprisoned on Robben Island for 27 years for his anti-apartheid political movements, with the first 18 years imprisoned on Robben Island.
Robben Island now is a museum offering daily 2 hour tours guided by former political prisoners. Tickets should be booked online way on their official website in advance to avoid disappointment. It’s a short ferry ride from Cape Town and you depart from one of the terminals at V&A Waterfront. It’s very sad to hear stories of abuse from former political prisoners. One of the stories we were told is that they were not given any winter clothes so during the winter everyone would freeze in their cell. Also, they were forced to work in Lime Quarry on the island, which caused severe lung damage overtime (that’s why Nelson Mandela had so many lung infections and problems).
Beach! Cape Town has some amazing beaches and the most popular one would be Clifton No.2 Get your bikini, sunscreen, and shades ready.
If you are not a fan of the beach, you can also schedule a tour of the football stadium, which is a short drive away from Clifton No.2
If you are a huge history fan, there are plenty of museums in Cape Town you can explore. One is the District Six Museum, which tells stories of forced movement of 60,000 inhabitants in District Six during the Apartheid.
Check out the Bo-Kaap, the colorful houses in city center.
Craving some game meat? Check out Mama Africa and try some exotic game meat!
Before you leave Cape Town, you should drive up to Signal Hill at night for some amazing night view of the city.
There are so many more things to explore in Cape Town if you have time, areas such as Table View has a lovely view of Table Mountain from a distance.
There are also BBQ places by the beach near Hout Bay, which would be an amazing experience!
No matter what you decide to do and how long you visit Cape Town, you will definitely fall in love with the Mother City!