Cape Town, South Africa, what a blessing and a treat it’s been to explore this city not once, but twice in my life already. The city will forever hold space in my heart and as a seasoned traveler it’s a destination I highly recommend!
On my first trip to South Africa in 2018, I went to Johannesburg and Cape Town with my best friend and podcast co-host Tori. My more recent trip at the end of April, early May 2022 was extremely special and empowering for a few reasons, including the fact that I traveled on my own and had the experience of spreading my mom’s ashes here.
This blog posts covers a number of things to do and see in Cape Town, a summary of everything I did there in 2018 and on my trip last year (you can learn a bit about my trip’s purpose here). Whether you’re interested in learning about the city’s complex history, enjoying the outdoors, or trying new foods and drinks, Cape Town has something for everyone!
Typical Tourist: must-do in Cape Town
First up are a few must-dos, including learning about the complex and recent history with the Apartheid and British colonization, and of course, no trip to Cape Town is complete without a visit to Table Mountain.
A short ferry ride off the coast of Cape Town is Robben Island. The island has a long, rich history, which you’ll learn about on the ferry ride over, but its likely most famous for being where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners of the Apartheid were held.
Included in the tour is a look inside the conditions the prisoners endured and, of course, a peek at Mandela’s actual jail cell. What made this tour especially memorable for me was the fact that our guide was once a political prisoner on the island.
Another way to learn more about the history of the apartheid and Nelson Mandela’s legacy is by doing a walking tour! The walking tour we went on was free, but it’s strongly encouraged that you tip the guide at the end. The tour takes you around key locations in the city while giving you a deeper understanding of the city’s past and present.
Table Mountain Cable Car
For one of the best panoramic views of Cape Town, take a ride on their iconic cable cars to the top of Table Mountain. From the top you can see the entire city, the sweeping coastline, the top of Lion Head mountain, and Robben Island off in the distance. It’s truly breathtaking, and it’s the location where I chose to spread my mom’s ashes.
The V&A Waterfront is a must-visit destination for anyone traveling to this beautiful city. This bustling hub is located in a stunning setting, surrounded by the harbor and Table Mountain. With its mix of shops, restaurants, and markets, there’s something for everyone here. Whether you’re looking to grab a bite to eat, do some shopping, or take in some live music, the V&A Waterfront is the perfect place to pass an afternoon or evening in Cape Town.
On the Water
There are a number of ways to explore the seas while in South Africa. Whether its on the beach or by boat, I’d recommend experiencing the aquatic side of Cape Town with at least one of these on-the-water activities!
For an active way to get out on the water, try a kayaking tour! We went for a guided sunset paddle. Seeing the golden hour glow blanketing the city and mountains from out on the water was simply gorgeous.
For a less active ride on the water, try a sunset catamaran cruise. Depart from the V&A waterfront and enjoy a classy evening on Cape Town’s coast with beautiful views and a champagne toast.
For a true underwater adventure, snorkel through the kelp forests of the south Atlantic ocean (I talk about my snorkel experience in detail here). Swim with seals, sharks, and stingrays on this ecotourism adventure!
Take a trip out to Simon’s Town to explore beautiful beaches, charming restaurants and cafes, and a variety of local shops and boutiques. Just a short drive from Cape Town, Simon’s Town is famously home to several colonies of South African penguins. Get up close (but not too close!) and watch these charming birds waddle, swim, and interact with each other in their natural habitat. The penguins are friendly and curious, making for great photo opportunities.
For those who prefer to stay on land, there’s plenty of options for you too!
Lion’s Head and Table Mountain are two of the most popular outdoor destinations in South Africa. Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or a first-time adventurer, these iconic peaks are sure to leave a lasting impression
Table Mountain is a flat-topped mountain that stands majestically over the city, providing breathtaking views. As I mentioned earlier, it’s accessible by a cable car but it’s also an iconic, albeit challenging, hiking spot. As there are a number of trails to ascend the mountain that vary in difficulty, I recommend doing a guided hike like this one.
Lion’s Head is known for its iconic peak, which offers a stunning panoramic view of the city and the Atlantic Ocean. Personally, I found Lion’s Head to be a bit less challenging than Table Mountain, in fact we did this hike without a guide. Guided hikes are available too, though!
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
Kirstenbosch is the most stunning botanical gardens I’ve ever been to! With over 23,000 types of plants, many of which are unique to South Africa, there is so much natural beauty to take in.
For a super unique way to experience Cape Town I highly recommend booking a helicopter tour to get a true bird’s eye view of the city. I booked my helicopter tour with Cape Town Helicopters. They offer an unforgettable experience for an affordable price!
Whether you’re a first-time tourist or a local, Cape Town has so much to offer. From history and culture to outdoor activities and beautiful scenery, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in this vibrant city.