3 Days in Cape Town: The Best Cape Town Itinerary On What to Do, What to Eat, Where to Stay
Having 3 days in Cape Town? Check out this 3 day Cape Town itinerary to see all the best places in Cape Town.
Oh Cape Town, where do I even start? A few years ago, I moved to Cape Town, South Africa 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.
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Introduction to Cape Town
South Africa has become such a hot travel destination in recent years due to its beauty, food, wine, and all the great things to do.
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 visit Cape Town:
- Climate in Cape Town is mild and opposite of northern hemisphere
- Many languages are spoken in Cape Town, such as English, Afrikaans, Zulu, Xhosa, etc.
- Known for its wine and has a lot of vineyards with cheap
- Strong European and Indo-Asian influence on its cuisine; other specialty is game meat (Ostrich, Crocodile, Springbok, etc) and seafood
- It’s customary to leave a 10% tip at restaurants in South Africa
- Be ready to have close encounter with animals (baboons) when traveling to Cape Town
- Get an international drivers’ permit if you plan to rent a car in Cape Town 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
- 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.
- Check out this post what to pack for South Africa.
Detailed Itinerary of 3 Days in Cape Town
Cape Town Itinerary Day 1
Start your day with a nice short hike (1 hour each way) on Lion’s head in Cape Town. 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 terrace 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 in Camps Bay, 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.
During your drive, you may see the colorful houses on the beach in Cape Town, this is Kalk Bay.
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 in Cape Town
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.
Cape Town Itinerary Day 2
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 summer.
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!
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.
Cape Town Itinerary Day 3
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!
Best Areas to Stay in Cape Town:
V&A Waterfront Area
V&A waterfront is one of the most expensive and posh area in Cape Town. It’s a touristy area with shopping center, restaurants and boat tours to Robbin Island and it is a very safe area to stay. The hotels at V&A waterfront area are expensive but they are often the best hotels in Cape Town.
Camps Bay is one of my favorite areas in Cape Town. I used to drive here every weekend for brunch or just to walk around the beach. Camps Bay is an expensive and safe area with tons of million dollar houses with infinity pools and ocean view. If you want to stay near Camps Bay then you should definitely have a car.
There are a lot of nice aribnbs at Camps Bay that you can rent, some with beautiful ocean view and good for large parties. If you want to stay at hotels, here are a few options: POD Camps Bay and The Bay Hotel.
Hout Bay is a bit further from the center of Cape Town but if you want a more quiet and nice area to stay, then check out Hout Bay. It’s very close to one of the most scenic drive in Cape Town, Chapman’s Peak Drive. It’s also a bit closer to Cape of Good Hope compare to the rest of Cape Town. There are many ocean view hotels and restaurants. Since it’s a bit further you definitely need a car to stay at Hout Bay.
Tamboerskloof is a nice residential neighborhood close to Table Mountain and Lion’s Head and very close to a lot of small restaurants (my favorite is Miller’s Thumb). I personally really like this area a lot. Some of the hotels here are Cape Cadogan Boutique Hotel, Trevoya Guest House, and 15 On Orange Hotel.
What to Eat in Cape Town
I can go on and on about how amazing and cheap the food is in Cape Town during my 3 months stay. The reason Cape Town food is so good is because of the various influences from different regions of the world due to its history. Depending on the dish you get, the food can have Malaysia/ Indian/ European/ Local South African influence. Some of the best things to try in Cape Down include seafood (local fish or sushi), game meat, Bunny Chow (Indian influenced dish where curry is put in the middle of the bread), Bobotie (Malaysian influenced dish where minced meat is put on top of eggs and milk), Braai (BBQ), and Milk Tart for dessert. Of course don’t forget wine tasting since Cape Town is known for its wine, especially white wine! In the itinerary above, I mentioned a number of restaurants that are my favorite so be sure to order these dishes from those restaurants.
Is Cape Town Safe?
There are many different opinions from people on how safe Cape Town is. As with any places in the world, there are safe and unsafe areas in Cape Town one should be aware of.
In general, there are definitely some areas that are unsafe in Cape Town, especially near the townships and anywhere late at night. This is not to say don’t go out at night, I have gone out at night to bars and clubs in Cape Town and it was perfectly fine. However, if you do go out late at night especially alone, then make sure to check your surroundings.
I was in Cape Town alone for 3 months and there was not a single moment that I felt unsafe. However I tend to stay in nice area like Camps Bay, V&A Water Front, Stellenbosch and other touristy areas. I also didn’t go out alone at night much and when I did I was always with someone.
I am listing below a few things you can do to help you stay safe in Cape Town:
Don’t walk around Cape Town with your camera
This one should be easy. If you walk around with a camera you are screaming you are a tourist. I have heard stories where groups of people from Harvard Business School were robbed at V&A Waterfront because they were walking around acting like tourists. This goes to show that camera will get you targeted immediately so put it in your bag.
Don’t go to sketchy areas of Cape Town
Generally I would not recommend anyone to venture into the townships. I know there are tours that take you to townships but I don’t really recommend those either. People live in townships because they don’t have the financial resources to move out, do you really want to be walking in screaming “I’m a tourist and I have money to travel to Africa”? I also don’t think it’s nice to go to someone’s neighborhood and see it as a tourist attraction when some people struggle to make a living.
Be aware of carjacking in Cape Town
While I was in Cape Town, my work gave all the females a training course on staying safe in Cape Town. Apparently carjacking is quite common. When walking into your car, first check from the outside to make sure nobody is hiding in the back seat. Also look around to make sure you are not being targeted when you are in a parking lot. Lastly, lock your door immediately once you get into your car!! Don’t sit there and play with your phone since someone can easily open the passenger side door and get in.
There also have been instances where I was told people run the red light late at night so they don’t have to sit in their car at night at a traffic light. At first I didn’t believe this “myth” but I witnessed it myself that someone in the next lane sped past the red light late at night.
Don’t leave anything in the front seat of your car (even when driving) in Cape Town
I don’t know about you but I tend to have a tendency to leave my bags on the passenger seat when I’m driving. In Cape Town there is sometimes a risk of people smashing your passenger side window and grabbing your bags at red lights. There was an instance that I drove near a township and there was a sign saying “Smash and Grab zone. Speed Home”. This article talks about the “hot spots” of smash and grab intersections in Cape Town. Obviously don’t leave anything in your car when you are not in the car but this should be no brainer.
Be Aware of People Crossing the High Way in Cape Town
It is an interesting phenomenon that you may see people that live in townships cross the high way when cars are going at 100km per hour. Make sure to keep an eye out for these jay walkers and avoid hitting them
People Washing Your Car or Watching Your Car when You Park in Cape Town
In Cape Town especially in more populated areas, there are sometimes random people wearing a vest claiming they are helping you park your car or watch your car after you park. They are obviously not legit parking people and they only want some tips from you for “watching your car”. It’s up to you whether you want to tip them or not and even if you don’t they generally won’t be hostile.
In addition when you are stopped at a red light during the day, there may be people randomly washing your windows and cars hoping you would tip them.
Final Thoughts on 3 Day Itinerary of Cape Town
I may be a little biased since I spent 3 months in Cape Town and it didn’t even seem enough. But I really do think that Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world out of the 50+ countries that I have traveled to. The climate in Cape Town is good and mild, the city has both beaches and mountains and the food and wine in Cape Town is so good. There really isn’t anything not to love about Cape Town and the city’s safety has been getting better and better over the years. I would encourage you to spend at least 3 days in Cape Town if not more and I’m sure you will love it as much as I do.
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