People who have traveled to South Africa talk about it – and keep talking about it. Before visiting South Africa, we asked ourselves, ‘what in the world could make people rave about it so much?’ And then we visited the Mother City. It is a modern, worldly city with an appeal that keeps visitors coming back again and again. While the many Cape Town attractions can fill your days, it’s also a great city for just living in the moment.
First time visitors (including us), start with a list of things to do in Cape Town. We had our own list of “must see” Cape Town attractions: Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront and Robben Island. At least, that was the plan.
Many of the top attractions have banded together in a marketing initiative called the Cape Town Big 6 with slickly produced brochures touting the Cape Point, Groot Constantia vineyards, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, Robben Island, Table Mountain Cableway and the waterfront district.
We quickly learned that you plan your visits to the various attractions around the weather. When you can see Table Mountain, it’s not in clouds and the wind isn’t blowing too strongly, visit Table Mountain. And when the seas are calm, visit Robben Island.
Unfortunately, poor weather during our trip prevented us from visiting Robben Island. So, we came up with our own list of Top 5 Things to Do in Cape Town!
No visit to the cape is complete without riding the Table Mountain Cableway (Cable Car). Table Mountain’s sandstone face forms a dramatic backdrop for the city and dominates the skyline where you are in the city. The Table Mountain National Park is populated with unique plantlife not found anywhere else on Earth.
However, visitors come for the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, a cable car system that whisks visitors over 2,500 vertical feet in under five minutes. For people with a fear of heights, the trip can be a real challenge, but we promise the views are worth it!
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is the front porch of the city. Early visitors and settlers came by sea, so this wharf area was their first stop. It is not only one of the top Cape Town attractions with over 23 million visitors annually, but the V&A Waterfront is also the most visited attraction in all of Africa.
This area has a large mall, numerous restaurants, several hotels and serves as the launching point for Robben Island tours. It’s nearly impossible to visit Cape Town and not visit the waterfront. One of our favorite places was visit the massive food market called the Market on the Wharf – two floors of vendors selling fresh, made-to-order lunches from burgers and salads to ethnic and exotic foods.
But for a more poignant experience, visit Nobel Square which honors the South Africans who have received the Nobel Peace Prize: Nkosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela.
The Western Cape Winelands
While the Groot Constantia winery is part of the Big 6 marketing initiative, there are several distinct wine regions that can be visited as an easy day trip from the city. There’s the Constantia Wine Route, home to Groot Constantia and the Constantia Wyn – a deliciously sweet white dessert wine devoured by the royalty of Europe.
There’s also the Stellenbosch Wine Route, known for bold warm-weather red varietals. If you can’t decide, why not visit both the Stellenbosch Wine Route and the Constantia Wine Route? We did!
The peninsula is a beautiful piece of rock cutting deeply into the sea. The Cape Peninsula and the Cape of Good Hope are actually on the same spit of rock and an easy day trip from Cape Town. Connecting the city, the Cape Peninsula and the Constantia Wine Region is The Cape Point Route – probably one of the world’s most thrilling drives featuring breathtaking views, steep cliffs, and exotic wild animals (including penguins).
Most lists of local attractions tend to focus on the activities in the city. However, we found one of the best things to do is to just relax and enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere. For us, there’s no better way to enjoy ourselves than fine dining.
This is a worldly city and features many exceptional restaurants with cuisines from around the world. A highlight for us was the hip Asian eatery called Umi Restaurant in the trendy Camps Bay section of town. We enjoyed buttery delicious langoustines with spicy lemon and garlic as well as beef filet with Shimeji mushrooms and yuzu truffle sauce. With so many top restaurants, the challenge is choosing!
Of course that’s just our pick for the best activities, but there other options. We drove by the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and it looked lovely, but just wasn’t our thing. We really wanted to go to Robben Island, but the weather and rough seas didn’t cooperate.
There are a number of excellent museums in Cape Town, but we were looking for less formal activities. There’s a ton of sea-based activities from deep sea fishing to scuba diving with the Great White Sharks (again, the weather did not cooperate with us).
No matter what attractions you select, you’re bound to have a phenomenal time in this worldly city. There are so many great activities here that you could easily fill a week and only begin to scratch the surface!
Lance Longwell is a travel writer and photographer who has published Travel Addicts since 2008, making it one of the oldest travel blogs. He is a life-long traveler, having visited all 50 of the United States by the time he graduated high school. Lance has continued his adventures by visiting 70 countries on 5 continents – all in search of the world’s perfect sausage. He’s a passionate foodie and enjoys hot springs and cultural oddities. When he’s not traveling (or writing about travel), you’ll find him photographing his hometown of Philadelphia.