It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love Cape Town. South Africa stole my heart in a way no other country ever has, and Cape Town is easily one of my very favorite cities in the world! There is so much to do in Cape Town—you could spend two weeks here and not get bored. But, I’ve narrowed the list down to eight can’t miss attractions to help you start your planning. If you’ve never been to Cape Town before, you will love it like I do. I promise.
THE 8 BEST THINGS TO SEE IN CAPE TOWN AND WHY
1. Robben Island
Robben Island is number one on my list, because it is the one thing you cannot leave Cape Town without seeing. You can’t understand South Africa and its culture without understanding its history, which is so deeply tied to apartheid and Nelson Mandela. Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner for eighteen years before the fall of apartheid. What is most impactful is that often the tour guides are former prisoners themselves, which makes this the most meaningful experience you will have while in Cape Town. This is a crucial place to visit in Cape Town, and I recommend you visit early in your trip to help you understand the rest of South Africa and its beautiful culture.
You can get to Robben Island via ferry from the V&A Waterfront. Plan for about 4 hours total, with 30-minute ferry rides each way. Your ticket includes the ferry, a tour, and access to the museum. If you’re lucky, you just might see some whales while on the boat as well!
2. Botanical Gardens (Kirstenbosch)
Cape Town (and all of Africa) is filled with plants and animals unlike anything we see elsewhere in the world. The Botanical Gardens, called Kirstenbosch, are some of the most amazing and extensive gardens in the world. If you have time, plan for an afternoon in the gardens and bring a picnic. You won’t regret it. And you can’t miss South Africa’s most famous flower, the protea. If you’re really lucky, the king protea might even be in bloom!
3. Table Mountain
Kirstenbosch sits at the base of Table Mountain, so it is nice to plan these two activities together. Table Mountain is the landmark everyone knows in South Africa, and one way or another you need to get to the top for the best views of the Cape! You have two choices: hiking or cable car. I strongly recommend the cable car both ways, especially if you are short on time. Hiking is possible, but it’s dangerous and only for the most experienced hikers.
Make sure to note that it is significantly cooler at the top of Table Mountain than at the base. We were enjoying a lovely sunny day, and then went to the top where we were above the clouds and absolutely freezing, so bring a jacket. When the clouds pour over the mountain, the locals charmingly call it the “tablecloth!”
4. Cape Point
You can’t miss Cape Point to see the southwestern point of Africa. It is where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, and the views are absolutely breathtaking. Come prepared to walk a lot and take tons of pictures. You can take a funicular to the top to get the incredible view of the point, and enjoy a picnic or eat at one of the restaurants on site for lunch.
There are a few ways to get to Cape Point. You can either take a tour group, hire a private van and driver, or drive yourself! There is no bad option, but it is a long way outside of the city (about an hour and a half depending on your method of getting there) and there is no public transportation.
South Africa is known for its wine production, and a half or full day trip out to visit the winelands of Stellenbosch and Franshoek will be a highlight of your trip. This can again either be done with a private driver, driving yourself (with a DD, of course), or using a wine tour such as this super fun hop on and off tram. You can’t go wrong with any of the wineries, but a few personal favorites that I visited include:
- Kanonkop: This gorgeous, historic estate is known for their South African Pinotage wine, which is a deep, bold, red. My personal favorite is their Pinotage rose! And, as a huge bonus, we can sometimes find the Kanonkop Pinotage rose at local liquor stores in the United States if we’re super lucky, which is always a delightful treat and reminds us of our time in South Africa.
- JC LeRoux: If you are a fan of bubbles, this is the winery for you! We did a full tasting of sparkling wines complete with candy to accompany the tasting, and you can learn all about how sparkling wine is made and the different methods of production. This delightful winery also gave us champagne popsicles when we left, and we had so much fun!
- Delaire Graff Estate: Delaire is the most upscale and fancy of the three I’ve mentioned. The grounds are insanely gorgeous, and you can also stay there if you’re looking for a fancy getaway outside of the city. Definitely make lunch reservations and enjoy the terrace with views of the mountains, and let them take you on a tour of the grounds and tell you all about the wine!
6. Boulders Beach
While you’re already out this direction, you must make sure to stop at Boulders Beach to visit the resident penguin colony! These adorable little penguins have made a home at Boulders Beach, and there is a raised walkway to allow visitors to view the penguins but not disturb them. Depending on the weather, this is another great spot for a picnic and maybe a swim in the very cold water!
7. V&A Waterfront
If you’re looking to do some shopping, the Waterfront is the place to go. There is a huge mall there which has many stores to find souvenir treasures, as well as a grocery store to stock your hotel or airbnb. There are also so many restaurants to eat at, and we enjoyed every meal at the Waterfront. Just pick a place that looks good and you won’t be disappointed! But, the crown jewel of the Waterfront is the Watershed. The Watershed is where local artists display their goods, and the items for sale are incredibly high-quality and lovely souvenirs to bring home for yourself and loved ones. My two favorite local vendors were Chapel Bags, who made beautiful, durable leather goods, and Tiffany Marx who makes unique jewelry in precious metals. Make sure to follow her on Instagram to see her work. It’s incredible.
8. Nature Preserve
If you have time and you aren’t going on to safari in Kreuger or another park, try to get out to one of the nature preserves surrounding Cape Town. This is your opportunity to see elephants, water buffalo, giraffes, and hopefully a lion or two in the wild! You can do a day trip to many of the parks, or even stay the night if time allows. I recommend Aquila Safari, which is under two hours away from Cape Town and will give you an unforgettable experience with these beautiful animals. Most importantly, they are committed to conservation and social responsibility in the protection of these majestic creatures.
Cape Town is magic. I hope you get the chance to see the wild beauty of Africa and explore Cape Town with its rich, vibrant history and culture. Don’t be afraid to try some food that’s out of your comfort zone, and enjoy the incredible wine selection!