Unless you've heard me live on social media and heard my accent, you may not know that I was born and raised in South Africa. We still have family there and in Cape Town too. So I decided to write a blog post with some of these "must have" experiences for your Cape Town visit. Think of them as an insider's tips for this amazing city. Some of these are categorized into day trips because of their geographic location, others are just going to be listed. We've done most of these, albeit on different trips. I'd highly recommend having at least one week in the Cape Town area. Two weeks would allow you more time for relaxation and time to enjoy the culture, history and beauty of the area.
Cape Town activities
Cape Town is a diverse city with a unique culture of its own. There are plenty of amazing places to go and experience, here are a few of our favorites.
Make sure you visit the Bo Kaap area of Cape Town. It is renown for its brightly colored painted homes. There are also a few restaurants in the area that offer Malay cuisine as this area continues to be the home of locals who have a Malay heritage (from the Spice trade days).
Fun colored houses in the Bo Kaap part of the city.
If you are interested in art, head to the Zeitz MOCAA museum, where you will find modern contemporary African art. Just going to see how the old grain silos have been transformed architecturally into a modern building is also worth the visit. The art fits the genre of modern art.
Take a walk up Lion's Head, which is about 3 kilometers from the parking lot to the top. Make sure you have plenty of water for this walk. It's fairly exposed and could be extremely hot on a summer day. The views of the city below the mountain (see photo below) are totally worth it and you will also have front seat views of Table Mountain and over the Atlantic Ocean as you wind your way around the mountain.
If you are lucky and are there during the winter or early spring you might see some daisies or orange watsonia flowers blooming. Also be prepared to climb some fixed ladders which help you over some cliffs (this might be tough if anyone is afraid of heights). The photo below shows you Lion's Head from Camps Bay on the Atlantic side of Cape Town.
If you enjoy shopping, head to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront or V & A Waterfront for some retail therapy. There are also some wonderfully "made in South Africa" stores in that shopping area if you are wanting to buy some mementos of your Cape Town time. You can also see a wonderful panoramic view of Table Mountain from the waterfront.
The V & A Waterfront is also the jump off point for heading to Robben Island for a tour of the prison there. If you are wanting to understand a bit of South Africa's political history, you need to do this tour. I have no doubt you have heard of Nelson Mandela, and this was where he and other political prisoners were imprisoned during South Africa's apartheid era. Another couple of spots to visit in Cape Town if you want to further understand the history of the area are The District Six Museum and the Castle of Good Hope.
Robben Island is rather bleak and windswept. I can only imagine it was extremely tough being a prisoner here.
Mojo Market in Sea Point is a fun place to visit especially for a local meal. There are a combination of boutique type stores and food vendors of quite a variety of cuisines. Besides, it's a one stop spot for a meal that will satisfy everyone's tastes. It's definitely a spot the locals hang out or meet with friends for meals and it has a great vibe.
Get in some beach combing or beach time at a local beach in the Cape Town area. My favorites are Bantry Bay, Clifton and Camps Bay.
Teeny sea urchin's like these are sometimes found as well as other types of shells.
I usually like hunting for sea glass because I use the pieces I find in my sea glass jewelry range and the heavy surf and waves on the west coast of Cape Town really weather the sea glass nicely. My favorite sea glass hunting beaches are Gordon's Bay, Bantry Bay and Bloubergstrand.
Here are some of my jewelry designs made with sea glass that I found while visiting this area.
Green sea glass, probably from a wine bottle, is made up into this modern geometric sterling silver pendant.
Somewhat bohemian style light olive green sea glass earrings with handmade sterling details and earrings.
Make sure you spend at least a morning or afternoon at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
In these gorgeous gardens you will be able to see plants that are native to the Western Cape as well as the bird life that thrives in this region. Make sure you head out to the tree canopy bridge that takes you to tree top level and the amazing views of the Cape Town suburbs below you.
The Boomslang tree canopy bridge is inspired by and modeled after a local snake, the Boomslang, a very poisonous snake that is often found in trees.
Protea flowers like this may be blooming at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
Don't forget to fit in an afternoon or morning visiting the top of Table Mountain, which is right above Cape Town city center. Make sure you book your ticket (you'll save a ton of time and potential frustration by doing this).
Day Trip Suggestions.
If Cape Town is your base, these are some day trips that I'd suggest.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting the Western Cape from July to November, it is whale calving season for the Southern Right Whales and most of the action happens in Hermanus which is about 2 hours from Cape Town City center. Start early on this day so that you have time to stop off, take in the scenery, enjoy a meal in the old part of Hermanus and hopefully see some whales from the viewing stations there. Head over the Sir Lowry's Pass to Hermanus to get you there as quickly as possible. You can meander a different way back.
Keep an eye out for whales in the bay at Hermanus and bring binoculars for viewing too.
After doing some whale spotting and watching, enjoy a meal at one of the town's many eateries - there are too many to attempt to recommend so I won't even try. Head out on the R43 and then switch to the R44 which is the coastal road. You are going to want to stop off and admire the scenery on this section of the coast. You may also see more whales here too.
High vantage points on the road give you incredible views and the opportunity to see more whales. Isn't this view of False Bay incredible?
Somerset West area
Yes, this area is really worth a whole day trip. Firstly head to the Helderberg Nature Reserve, where you'll be able to hike or take a walk in the native fynbos which is the name for the native plant species. If you head on one of their steeper walks you'll also have incredible views of False Bay and may even see proteas like this one or the local sunbirds feeding off the nectar of these flowers.
Enjoy a coffee or ice cream at the local restaurant or coffee shop and then head over to the historic wine estate, Vergelegen. This wine estate was established in 1700 and has traditional Cape Dutch architecture. You can admire the well laid out gardens, have a wine tasting, tour the historic home or enjoy a meal at the local restaurant, the Stables.
Traditional Cape Dutch architecture is a nod to the fact that this area was a Dutch colony during the spice trade years.
If you have time before you head out from this area, head to Gordon's Bay beach where you can get incredible fish and chips (or fresh calamari) from Ooskus Fisheries and enjoy them on the beach or go to the Strand for a lovely beach walk and add a dessert to your meal from the local ice cream spot on the beach road. They have the most sublime soft serve ice cream with a Flake chocolate inside it and dipped with caramel crunch topping.
This is also a full day trip if you are going to be able to stop off along the way. Head towards Muizenberg Beach and make sure you take Boyes Drive for the panoramic views of False Bay that you will see from its vantage point. Stop off in Kalk Bay which has fun shops and cute colorful beach changing rooms like these.
Another fun stop off is Simon's Town which has a quaint historic seaside feel to it. Make sure you don't miss Boulders Beach where you'll be able to see the local African Penguins nesting and swimming with their colony buddies.
Aren't these penguins too cute?
Continue your drive along the road on the western side of False Bay and make your way to Cape Point Nature Reserve. This is not actually the most Southern point of Africa, but it is where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans both meet. Just be warned, don't eat any snacks while on the pathways up to the lighthouse or near by pathways. The local baboons have a keen sense of smell and sight and can be quite aggressive. (I'm speaking from personal experience here).
Cape Point on a particularly calm day.
On your way back towards Cape Town, some spots to visit are Noordhoek beach or Scarborough. Enjoy the scenic Chapmans Peak Drive which has a toll fee. When you get to Hout Bay, head towards the harbor and enjoy fish and chips or calamari and chips at Fish on the Rocks. Trust me, you'll thank me for this recommendation!
Catch a sunset at Clifton, Camps bay or Bantry Bay. Being on the western side of the peninsula, the sunsets are usually good.
Possibly the most instagrammed spot or sundowners location, Camps Bay often has clouds coming over the Twelve Apostles (mountain range)
Bantry Bay didn't disappoint with this sunset over wild waves.
Stellenbosch and Franschoek
Head out towards Stellenbosch whichever route you want to take. The town itself has tons of history as well as being a local university. There are plenty of lovely cafes, coffee shops and restaurants as well as fun boutiques, curio stores etc. in this quaint town.
Pop into the Rupert Museum which has a good representation of renowned South African artists. This is the private art collection of the Rupert family. I believe the entrance fee is R20 or $1.50 which is a steal of a deal for the quality of the art that's here.
There's even art on the parking lot with these cute warthog sculptures. And yes, that's me.
When you are finished in Stellenbosch head over the Helshoogte pass (translation Hell's Heights) through some gorgeous views and vineyards towards Franschoek. This lovely town is worth spending a night in. Its origins are a group of French Hugenots who came out to the Cape colony when they were being persecuted for being protestants in France a good few centuries ago. Needless to say, they brought out some wine growing skills and established this adorable little town. If you happen to be here around the middle of July, they have an incredible Bastille Day celebration which is very festive and fun. There are also wineries that are worth visiting for wine tastings and for purchasing some wine.
Where to Stay
There is a thriving hotel and hospitality industry in Cape Town and the Western Cape with all the usual chains. AirBnB also has participants and the whole bed and breakfast industry is worth looking into for the area as well as the rest of South Africa. Staying at a B&B is quite often your most reasonably priced option and they are in the city, in the outlying areas, beach towns and suburbs and will also give you an authentic exposure to South African hospitality.
I hope that you've enjoyed the information and 20 tips that I've shared here for your Cape Town visit. Perhaps you've enjoyed the photos and been surprised by the beauty there. I hope that I've inspired you to at least visit the area.
If you've enjoyed the tips in this travel blog post you may want to read these other travel blog posts that I've written.
Barcelona Travel Tips
Maui Travel Tips
Spring Time in the Pacific Northwest
Oh, and if you like the style of handmade jewelry that I make you can find it here.