Cape Town Travel Guide
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
Cape Town is one of Africa’s most beautiful, most romantic and most visited cities. Its physical setting is extraordinary, something its pre-colonial Khoikhoi inhabitants acknowledged when they referred to Table Mountain as Hoerikwaggo – the mountain in the sea. Even more extraordinary is that so close to the national park that extends over much of the peninsula, there’s a vibrant metropolis with nightlife to match the city’s wildlife. Swim with penguins at Boulders Beach, see the continent’s southwestern tip at Cape Point, enjoy lunch on the chichi Atlantic seaboard and taste fine wines on a historic Constantia estate, before partying the night away in a Long Street club. It’s all in a Mother City day.
Welcome to the vibrant and colorful city of Cape Town, South Africa! Located on the southwestern tip of the African continent, Cape Town is a city like no other. With its stunning natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, and endless activities, it's no wonder that Cape Town is consistently ranked as one of the top tourist destinations in the world.
From hiking Table Mountain to exploring the colorful streets of Bo-Kaap, there is something for everyone in this bustling metropolis. Join us as we take you on a journey through Cape Town, sharing our favorite sights, sounds, and experiences along the way.
Cape Town is a destination that truly has it all, from breathtaking natural landscapes to a rich and diverse cultural heritage. The city is a melting pot of different cultures and traditions, with influences from Europe, Africa, and Asia.
This mix of cultures is reflected in Cape Town's architecture, food, and art, creating a unique and vibrant atmosphere that is unlike anywhere else in the world.
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From art and architecture to culture, nature and vineyards, Cape Town travel is diverse and rewarding.
Here are the best things to do in Cape Town.
Bo-Kaap is a colorful and vibrant neighborhood in Cape Town, famous for its brightly painted houses and rich cultural heritage. The neighborhood is located on the slopes of Signal Hill, and is home to a predominantly Muslim community with roots in Southeast Asia, India, and East Africa.
The houses in Bo-Kaap were originally built by slaves and political exiles brought to the Cape by the Dutch in the 18th and 19th centuries. The residents of Bo-Kaap began painting their houses in bright colors in the 1970s as a form of protest against the oppressive apartheid government.
Today, the colors of Bo-Kaap are a symbol of the neighborhood's rich history and cultural diversity. The houses are painted in shades of pink, blue, green, yellow, and purple, creating a rainbow-like effect that is truly unique.
In addition to its colorful houses, Bo-Kaap is known for its mosques, minarets, and cobblestone streets. The neighborhood is also home to several museums and cultural centers that celebrate the history and heritage of the community.
If you're visiting Cape Town, a visit to Bo-Kaap is a must. Take a walking tour of the neighborhood to learn more about its history and culture, and don't forget to take plenty of photos of the colorful houses!
Lying a few kilometres from the Waterfront, flat and windswept Robben Island is suffused by a meditative, otherworldly silence. This key site of South Africa's liberation struggle was intended to silence apartheid's domestic critics, but instead became an international focus for opposition to the regime. Measuring six square kilometres and sparsely vegetated by low scrub, it was Nelson Mandela's "home" for nearly two decades.
The ferry trip from the Waterfront takes about half an hour to reach the island. After arrival you are taken on a bus tour around the island and a tour of the prison. The bus tour stops off at several historical landmarks, the first of which is a beautiful shrine built in memory of Tuan Guru, a Muslim cleric from present-day Indonesia who was imprisoned here by the Dutch in the eighteenth century. On his release, he helped to establish Islam among slaves in Cape Town. The tour also passes a leper graveyard and church designed by Sir Herbert Baker.
Robert Sobukwe's house is perhaps the most affecting relic of incarceration on the island. It was here that Sobukwe, leader of the Pan Africanist Congress (a radical offshoot of the ANC), was held in solitary confinement for nine years. No other political prisoners were allowed to speak to him, but he would sometimes gesture his solidarity with them by letting sand trickle through his fingers as they walked past.
The revolving cable car is the city’s easiest route to the summit, where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views across town to Table Bay and the Atlantic. Table Mountain, a 1086m flat-topped massif with dramatic cliffs and eroded gorges, dominates the northern end of the Cape Peninsula. Its north face overlooks the city centre, with the distinct formations of Lion’s Head and Signal Hill to the west and Devil’s Peak to the east.
The massif’s west face is made up of a series of gable-like formations known as the Twelve Apostles. The southwest face towers over Hout Bay, and the east gazes over the Southern Suburbs. Fabulous hikes weave up and along Table Mountain, while the highly popular cable car offers dizzying views across town to Table Bay and the Atlantic.
Reckoned to be the most-climbed massif in the world, Table Mountain has suffered under the constant pounding of hikers – although the damage isn’t always obvious. Every year the mountain strikes back, taking its toll of lives. There are also full-day guided hikes tailored to your level of fitness. You may choose to come back the easy way by cable car, or partially abseil.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a must-visit destination for nature lovers and garden enthusiasts visiting Cape Town. Located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world, with a stunning array of flora and fauna on display.
The garden covers an area of 528 hectares and is home to over 7,000 plant species, many of which are indigenous to South Africa. You can take a leisurely stroll along the winding pathways that meander through the garden, taking in the colorful displays of flowers, shrubs, and trees.
One of the highlights of Kirstenbosch is the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, also known as the Boomslang. This elevated walkway snakes through the treetops, offering visitors a unique and immersive experience of the garden's flora and fauna.
Cape Town is known for its beautiful coastline and stunning beaches, which offer a wide range of activities and experiences for visitors. Here are some of the best beaches in Cape Town:
The four Clifton Beaches, known as 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Beach, are some of the most popular beaches in Cape Town. These beaches are known for their crystal-clear waters, soft white sand, and picturesque surroundings. 1st and 2nd Beach are particularly popular with the younger crowd, while 3rd and 4th Beach are quieter and more family-friendly.
Camps Bay is a trendy and fashionable area located just a short drive from Cape Town's city center. The beach is famous for its palm-lined promenade, stunning views of the Twelve Apostles mountain range, and its golden sand beach. Visitors can enjoy a variety of water activities, such as swimming, surfing, and kayaking, as well as a range of cafes, bars, and restaurants along the promenade.
Located on the False Bay coastline, Muizenberg Beach is known for its long, wide, and sandy beach, as well as its colorful beach huts. The beach is particularly popular with surfers, as it offers consistent waves that are perfect for beginners.
Llandudno Beach is a secluded and picturesque beach located on the Atlantic Seaboard. The beach is surrounded by large granite boulders, which provide shelter from the wind and create a natural amphitheater. Visitors can enjoy the crystal-clear waters, soft white sand, and stunning views of the mountains and ocean.
Boulders Beach is a unique and picturesque destination located in Simon's Town, just a short drive from Cape Town. This beach is home to a colony of African penguins, making it one of the few places in the world where you can get up close and personal with these charming birds.
The penguin colony at Boulders Beach started in 1982, when a pair of penguins took up residence on the beach. Today, the colony has grown to over 2,000 birds, making it one of the largest in South Africa. You can observe the penguins in their natural habitat, watching as they swim, play, and waddle along the sand.
There are several wooden boardwalks and viewing platforms that offer visitors a close-up look at the penguins without disturbing their natural habitat. The boardwalks also wind through the unique boulder formations that give the beach its name, creating a stunning backdrop for photographs.
Cape Point is the treacherous promontory of rocks, winds and swells braved by navigators since the Portuguese first "rounded the Cape" in the fifteenth century. Plenty of wrecks lie submerged off its coast, and at Olifantsbos on the west side you can walk to a US ship sunk in 1942, and a South African coaster that ran aground in 1965. The Old Lighthouse, built in 1860, was too often dangerously shrouded in cloud, and failed to keep ships off the rocks, so another was built lower down in 1914. It's not always successful in averting disasters, but is still the most powerful light beaming onto the sea from South Africa.
Most visitors make a beeline for Cape Point, seeing the rest of the reserve through a vehicle window, but walking is the best way to appreciate the dramatic landscape and flora.
There are several waymarked walks in the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. If you're planning a big hike it's best to set out early, and take plenty of water, as shade is rare and the wind can be foul. One of the most straightforward hiking routes is the signposted forty-minute trek from the car park at Cape Point to the more westerly Cape of Good Hope. For exploring the shoreline, a clear path runs down the Atlantic side, which you can join at Gifkommetjie, signposted off Cape Point Road.
A single main road runs from the Cape Point entrance to the car park, restaurant and funicular. A number of roads branch off this, each leading to one of the series of beaches on either side of the peninsula. The sea is too dangerous for swimming, but there are safe tidal pools at the Buffels Bay and Bordjiesrif beaches, which are adjacent to each other, midway along the east shore. Both have braai stands, but more southerly Buffels Bay is the nicer, with big lawned areas and some sheltered spots to have a picnic.
Long Street is one of the most iconic streets in Cape Town, and a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the city's vibrant culture and history. This bustling street is located in the heart of Cape Town's city center, and is lined with beautiful architecture, trendy shops, colorful street art, and a diverse range of restaurants, bars, and cafes.
One of the highlights of Long Street is the vibrant nightlife. The street comes alive after dark, with a wide range of bars and nightclubs catering to all tastes and preferences. From trendy rooftop bars with stunning views of the city to laid-back jazz clubs and dance floors.
During the day, Long Street is a great spot for shopping and exploring. The street is home to a variety of shops selling everything from vintage clothing to locally-made crafts and artwork.
Long Street is also known for its vibrant street art scene. You can take a self-guided walking tour of the area to discover colorful murals and graffiti art on the walls of buildings and alleyways.
Cape Town and its surrounding areas are known for their world-class wine regions, with a variety of vineyards and wineries offering wine tasting experiences for visitors. Here are some of the best places for wine tasting around Cape Town:
Located just a short drive from Cape Town, Stellenbosch is one of the oldest and most prestigious wine regions in South Africa. With over 170 wine estates to choose from, visitors can enjoy a wide range of wines, from rich reds to crisp whites, while taking in the stunning scenery of the vineyards and surrounding mountains.
Known as the food and wine capital of South Africa, Franschhoek is a picturesque town located in the Cape Winelands region. Visitors can sample a variety of wines from over 50 vineyards, while also indulging in gourmet cuisine from award-winning restaurants and cafes.
Located just a short drive from Cape Town's city center, Constantia is the oldest wine region in South Africa, with a history dating back over 300 years. Visitors can enjoy a range of award-winning wines, including the region's famous dessert wine, while taking in the beautiful views of the vineyards and surrounding mountains.
Situated just 20 minutes from Cape Town's city center, Durbanville is a relatively small wine region, but one that offers a unique wine tasting experience. Visitors can sample a variety of wines, including the region's famous Sauvignon Blanc, while enjoying the peaceful countryside setting.
The Upper City Centre contains the remains of the city’s 350-year-old historic core. The neighbourhood has survived the ravages of modernization and apartheid-inspired urban clearance to emerge as South Africa’s most charming city centre. It is a place where Europe, Asia and Africa meet in the markets, alleyways and mosques, while a jigsaw of Georgian, Cape Dutch, Victorian and twentieth-century architecture pieces together its complex history.
Among the drawcards here are Parliament, the Company’s Garden and a cluster of museums. North of Strand Street to the shore, the Lower City Centre takes in the still-functional Duncan Dock.
The V&A Waterfront is Cape Town’s most popular shopping venue, with a vast range of shops in a lovely harbour setting. Nearby, the Cape Quarter, accessed off Somerset Road on the border of Der Waterkant and Green Point, is smaller and more exclusive. While most South African malls tend to follow the American model, the city centre offers much more variety.
Long Street is good for crafts, antiques and secondhand books, while Bree Street and Kloof Street are perfect for unique designer goods. For something edgier, the increasingly gentrified city-fringe districts of Woodstock and the East City have clusters of cutting-edge design shops and markets.
Cape Town’s Green Map is a great source of information about ethical shopping and organic markets
East of the northern and southern suburbs, among the industrial smokestacks and the windswept Cape Flats, reaching well beyond the airport, is Cape Town’s largest residential quarter, taking in the coloured districts, African townships and shantytown squatter camps. The Cape Flats are exactly that: flat, barren and populous, exclusively inhabited by Africans and coloureds in separate areas, with the M5 acting as a dividing line between it and the southern suburbs.
Several projects are under way to encourage tourists into the townships but, as a high proportion of Cape Town's nearly two thousand annual murders take place here, the recommended way to visit is on a tour operated by residents of the Cape Flats, or in cooperation with local communities, emphasizing face-to-face encounters with ordinary people.
They include visits to shebeens, nightclubs and a township restaurant, chats with residents of squatter camps and the Langa hostels, and meetings with traditional healers and music makers, township artists and craftworkers. Some tours also take in "sites of political struggle", where significant events in the fight against apartheid occurred.
If you want to really get under the skin of the townships, there's no better way than staying in one of the township B&Bs which offer pleasant, friendly and safe accommodation.
Stretching east of the M5 highway and sprawling out past the airport, the windswept Cape Flats are Cape Town’s largest residential area. It takes in the coloured districts, African townships and informal settlements (shanty town squatter camps).
Once the apartheid dumping ground for black and coloured people, these township-covered flatlands now offer rewarding experiences of everyday African life and are best visited on a tour.
Whale watching is a popular activity in Cape Town, particularly during the winter months from June to November, when southern right whales migrate to the coastal waters of South Africa to mate and calve. Here are some of the best places for whale watching in Cape Town:
Located just a short drive from Cape Town, Hermanus is known as the whale-watching capital of South Africa. Visitors can enjoy shore-based whale watching from the cliffs or take a boat tour to get up close to these magnificent creatures.
False Bay, located on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula, is a popular spot for whale watching, particularly during August and September. Visitors can take a boat tour from Simon's Town or enjoy shore-based whale watching from Boyes Drive in Kalk Bay.
Cape Point, located at the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula, is another great spot for whale watching. Visitors can enjoy stunning views of the ocean from the cliffs, while keeping an eye out for southern right whales, humpback whales, and dolphins.
Walker Bay, located on the southern coast of the Western Cape, is another popular spot for whale watching. Visitors can take a boat tour from the town of Gansbaai or enjoy shore-based whale watching from the cliffs at De Kelders.
In summer the waters of False Bay are several degrees warmer than those on the Atlantic seaboard, which is why Cape Town’s most popular seaside towns line this flank of the peninsula. A series of historic, mountain-backed suburbs are dotted all the way south from Muizenberg, through St James, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and down to Simon’s Town.
Each has its own character with restaurants, shops and places to stay. Simon’s Town, one of South Africa’s oldest settlements, makes either a pleasant day-trip or a relaxing base for visiting Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.
RoughGuides TIP - looking for more things to do? Make sure to read our article things to do in Cape Town
Cape Town has plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets, though booking ahead is recommended, especially over the Christmas and Easter holidays. The long peninsula offers many different locations, all with hotly debated advantages and varying physical beauty.
You’ll need to choose whether you want to be central, with nightlife on your doorstep, or would prefer a quieter setting closer to the ocean, in which case you’ll travel further to get into the city. The greatest concentration of accommodation is in the city centre, City Bowl and the Atlantic seaside strip as far south as Camps Bay.
Eating out is one of the highlights of visiting this world-class culinary destination, where the Mediterranean climate nurtures farms, vineyards and small producers galore. Prices are inexpensive compared with Western countries. For the cost of an unmemorable meal back home, you can eat imaginative dishes by outstanding chefs in an upmarket restaurant. This is the place to splash out, and you’ll find the quality of meat, from steaks to springbok, is high, with many vegetarian options also available.
A few restaurants are dedicated to Cape Malay or African cuisine, though other genres are generally prepared more skilfully. Expect fresh Cape fish at every good restaurant as well as seafood from warmer waters. Try the delicious local fish such as yellowtail, which is not endangered. Also check out the fun neighbourhood markets, one of the top places to visit in Cape Town for local food.
The number of days you need in Cape Town depends on your interests and the activities you plan to do.
If you're interested in exploring the city's cultural attractions, such as the District Six Museum and the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, and taking in the views from Table Mountain, you could probably see the highlights in two or three days.
If you want to explore the surrounding natural beauty and outdoor activities, like visiting the Cape of Good Hope and the Boulders Beach penguin colony, hiking in the nearby mountains, or going on a wine tour in Stellenbosch or Franschhoek, you might need five to seven days.
For a more leisurely pace and to experience all that Cape Town has to offer, including its many restaurants and nightlife options, you could easily spend ten days or more.
The most common and fastest way to get to Cape Town from the UK is by flying. Many airlines offer direct flights from major UK airports, such as London Heathrow, to Cape Town International Airport. The flight time is approximately 12-14 hours.
If you arrive in Johannesburg, your best options to get to Cape Town are:
Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate, the warm, dryish summers balanced by cool wet winters. The best time to visit Cape Town depends on the kind of trip you’re planning; come prepared for hot days in winter and cold snaps in summer, and always pack a jumper and jacket.
For sun and swimming, the best time to visit is from October to mid-December and mid-January to Easter, when it’s light long into the evening and there’s an average of ten hours of sunshine a day.
Between mid-December and mid-January, the whole region becomes congested as the nation takes its annual seaside holiday. In Cape Town, this is serious party time, with plenty of major festivals and events; if this is when you plan to visit, arrange accommodation and transport well in advance, and expect to pay considerably more for your bed than during the rest of the year.
Despite its shorter daylight hours, the autumn period, from April to mid-May, has a lot going for it: the southeaster drops and air temperatures remain pleasantly warm and the light is sharp and bright. For similar reasons the spring month of September can be very agreeable, with the added attraction that following the winter rains the peninsula tends to be at its greenest.
Although spells of heavy rain occur in winter (June and July), it tends to be relatively mild, with temperatures rarely falling below 6˚C. Glorious sunny days with crisp blue skies are common, and you won’t see bare wintry trees either: indigenous vegetation is evergreen and gardens flower year-round. It’s also in July that the first migrating whales begin to appear along the southern Cape coast, usually staying till the end of November.