12 Top Activities in And Around Cape Town
By Philip Briggs | Updated March 24, 2021
Cape Town is one of the world’s great cities. Perched at the base of iconic Table Mountain, its varied bouquet of attractions includes stunning beaches, towering mountains, compelling historic sites, characterful wine estates and a superb culinary scene.
In a previous blog, we discussed some of the amazing marine and terrestrial wildlife experiences that can be enjoyed here. But South Africa’s oldest city boasts many other facets, and here we look at another dozen activities that every visitor to Cape Town should consider adding to their itinerary.
Stand on The Summit of Table Mountain
Whether you ascend it by cable car or along the more arduous Platteklip Gorge Trail, 3,588ft Table Mountain offers some truly spectacular views in all directions. Looking northeast, the view extends across the city bowl to Table Bay, Robben Island and the distant peaks of the Hottentots Holland. To the west is gorgeous Camps Bay and the Atlantic seaboard, while the hilly spine of the Cape Peninsula undulates southward for 30 miles.
Sample Some of South Africa’s Finest Wines at Groot Constantia
Cape Town lies at the hub of South Africa’s thriving wine industry, and it’s no exaggeration to say that hundreds of different vineyards lie within day tripping distance. If you only visit one, make it Groot Constantia, which is the country’s oldest wine estate, founded in 1685, and was the official supplier to Napoleon during his exile on St Helena. Boasting some fine examples of Cape Dutch architecture (now preserved as museums) and a picturesque setting below the Constantia Mountains, the estate also produces more than its fair share of award-winning wines – sample the oaked Chardonnay or blended Rood (red) in the atmospheric tasting cellar or at the historic Jonkershuis Restaurant.
Pay Tribute to The Victims of Apartheid at The District Six Museum
Even if museums aren’t your thing, do take the time to visit this award-winning community-funded memorial to District Six, a vibrant multiracial suburb that was destroyed after being rezoned as a ‘whites-only’ area in the 1960s. Displays include a painted floor map of District Six, reconstructions of shop and house interiors, a tribute to the suburb’s distinctive ‘Langham jazz’ scene, and personal effects of some of the 60,000 residents who were forcibly relocated from their homes by the apartheid regime.
Head to The Beach
A multitude of scenic beaches around Cape Town offers something to everyone. Families and surfers favor suburban Muizenberg, hipsters and foodies congregate at the terrace cafes lining Camps Bay, hikers can pull on their walking shoes at Noordhoek, and amateur biologists will love the tidal rockpools at Bordjiesdrif. Don’t miss out on Bloubergstrand, with its picture perfect view across Table Bay to the CBD and Table Mountain.
Dine Alfresco at Victoria & Albert Waterfront
A contender for the world’s most scenic shopping mall, the V&A Waterfront – developed on the old Victorian docklands – is also a lovely spot to enjoy a chilled beer or plate of fresh seafood. The choice of restaurants is daunting, but we’ve a soft spot for the Belgian cuisine and peerless waterside location of Den Anker, while traditional South African fare can be sampled at stylish Karibu.
Shop Till You Drop
Few places in Africa do retail therapy quite so engagingly as Cape Town. The best known venue is the mall-like V&A Waterfront, but conscientious souvenir hunters might prefer to buy from individual vendors at Greenmarket Square’s daily market. Then there is bohemian Long Street, lined with everything from quirky clothing and craft boutiques to antiquarian book shops.
Experience Ehat End-Of-The-Continent Thrill at Cape Point
Cape Point, at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula, is often claimed to be the most southerly point in Africa. Pedantically, that distinction belongs to Agulhas, 100 miles further southeast. All the same, few would dispute that Cape Point’s 800ft-high buttresses possess a windswept sense of place befitting the edge of a continent. Hike or take a funicular railway to the century-old Cape Point Lighthouse, which offers breathtaking views over wave-battered cliffs to the open sea. If you’ve sufficient energy, a separate footpath leads to an equally spectacular beach at the cliff base.
Visit Nelson Mandela’s Prison Cell on Robben Island
South Africa’s answer to Alcatraz, Robben Island, lapped by the waters of Table Bay, first served as a place of exile for political prisoners in 1658. It achieved international notoriety in the 1960s, when inmates included prominent anti-apartheid activists such as Robert Sobukwe, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela. The island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site; guided tours led by former prisoners incorporate a ferry ride across Table Bay and a visit to the cramped cell occupied for 18 years by Mandela.
Ramble Through Rondebosch Botanical Garden
Established on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain in 1913, Rondebosch is one of the world’s great botanical gardens, and you could easily spend half a day exploring its colorful flora and plentiful birdlife. For those with limited time, highlights include the winter-blooming king proteas that adorn the Fynbos Walk, a labyrinthine rockery planted with massive tree aloes and other bizarre dry-country succulents, and a jungle-like copse of prehistoric spiky-leaved cycads.
Ramble Through Rondebosch Botanical Garden
A must for history buffs, the pentagonal Castle of Good Hope, constructed over 1666-79, is the oldest functional building in South Africa. Although its tall seaward walls have been isolated from the harbor by land reclamation, the castle remains the military headquarters of the Western Cape, and it houses two museums and an art gallery. Its most interesting architectural feature is the baroque Kat Balcony designed in the 1780s by the Dutch sculptor Anton Anreith.
Stroll Through The Historic Company’s Garden And Surrounding Museums
Established in 1652 as a source of fresh produce for passing Dutch ships, the Company’s Garden was repurposed as a botanical garden in the 18th century and now forms a 44-acre oasis of greenery in the heart of the CBD. There’s a tea garden, an aviary, groves of ancient trees, squadrons of tame squirrels and innumerable historic statues and memorials, all set below the distinctive outline of Table Mountain. The garden is abutted by several museums and art galleries, most poignantly Iziko Slave Lodge, which charts the history of the slave trade in a handsome building that dates to the 17th century.
Feast on traditional Cape Cuisine in the atmospheric Bo Kaap
Notable for the brightly painted houses that line its narrow roads, the characterful Bo Kaap (literally ‘Upper Cape’) is the spiritual home of the Cape Malays, a community of Afrikaans-speaking Muslims descended from slaves and artisans transported from Malaysia in the Dutch colonial era. Here, the low-key but popular Bo Kaap Kombuis is an excellent place to try traditional Cape Malay dishes such as bobotie (a type of mincemeat bake), fruity curries (eaten with roti flatbread) and marinated sosaties (satay-like kebabs).