The Best Things To See & Do In Cape Town
Beaches, restaurants, adrenaline rushes, animal encounters... and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Regularly voted 'Best City in the World', Cape Town is a lively international hub made for nature-lovers and thrill-seekers alike. A unique blend of African, Malay, and European influences, Cape Town is South Africa's beating heart, and we've rounded up some of the absolute best things to see and do! Word of warning: you're going to want more than a few days here.
Throw down your towel for a day on the beach
Beach bums will be glad to know that Cape Town has no shortage of surf, sand, and sea. When travelling South Africa, Clifton's beaches are the trendy spots to be seen at, Camps Bay is palm-fringed with a bunch of boutiques and bars right across the road, and Muizenberg has epic surf if shredding's your thing. One you definitely can't miss is Boulders Beach, a sandy stretch of shoreline on the Cape Peninsula known for its 3000-strong colony of wild African Penguins. They waddle, they squawk, they're adorable, and they're pretty unbothered by your presence. You'll have to pay a conservation fee to enter, but it's worth it to see these little guys frolic in their natural habitat. You can even officially 'adopt' one, though don't try to put him in your backpack...
Eat your heart out
Capetonians know their food! Fresh, local ingredients are the norm, and the melting pot of cultures makes for a brilliantly diverse gourmet culinary landscape. No matter your tastes, budget, or dietary reqs, you are bound to find something mouthwatering when backpacking South Africa. For great vegan and veggie options try Royale Eatery, hit up Chefs for a minimalist lunch, or to really blow out your budget, try to book a table at The Test Kitchen.
Knock back a glass of vino
Along with great cuisine, South Africa really knows how to do wine. And we mean REALLY. Only an hour's drive from Cape Town, the world-class Cape Winelands have splendid wines flowing, tasty food on the menu, fascinating architecture, rolling vineyards, and epic scenery to top it all off. Forward-thinking wineries have become lifestyle destinations in their own right, offering deluxe tastings, art viewings, and farm-to-table dining. Whether you're a serious wine-head or curious casual drinker, indulging in a tipple is a must when travelling Cape Town.
Soar above the city on Table Mountain
A trip up this famous landmark is something you HAVE to do during your visit to the Mother City, and will reward you with spectacular panoramas of Cape Town and the Atlantic. If you want to work off some of the great food you'll undoubtedly eat - feel free to hike up - but no one will judge if you hop in the cable car.
Literally soar above the city by paragliding off Signal Hill
Right next to Lion's Head is the flat-topped Signal Hill, a popular lookout spot where you can opt to tandem paraglide from the top. Aim for the skies and get your adrenaline pumping to gain the ultimate birds-eye view of Cape Town.
Tour the townships
Opt to explore the vibrant communities of Cape Town's townships; informal settlements that are leftover scars from Apartheid. Despite their dark history they now host rich communities, and visiting a township on an ethical tour is a chance to bridge a social divide, remove stigma, and share culture whilst travelling South Africa.
Walk the Gardens of Kirstenbosch
For a slice of tranquility, head to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Made a World Heritage Site in 2004, its 1300 acres of greenery cascade down the mountainside and through Cape Town's suburbs, creating a lush oasis to explore. The Gardens are said to be amongst the most beautiful and biodiverse in the world, and if you visit in spring they'll be coated in a blanket of stunning cape wildflowers. Don't miss the Tree Canopy Walkway (aka the Boomslang) that snakes through the trees, providing the perfect elevated position for bird - and people - watching.
Have a WHALE of a time
If you're in Cape Town for a few days and eager for a day trip, an hour and a half from Cape Town is Hermanus, a town at the heart of the whale route. It's one of the best places in the world (as officially recognised by the WWF) to witness these magnificent beasts as they migrate. Watch from the shore at the Cliff Path, or jump on a whale-watching boat tour to get up close and personal with some of the mightiest animals that have ever lived.
Dine on the V&A Waterfront
The Waterfront is a famous shopping mall, but also one of the city's best-loved eating spots. Replenish your energy after a day of shopping with fresh produce from the land and ocean, insane views of Table Mountain as your backdrop, and plenty of restaurants to choose from! Not sure what you're craving? Head to the Food Hall and see what makes your stomach growl.
Browse the local markets
The sheer variety of influences on South Africa's culture and cuisine is always on display at local markets. Expect to nibble your way through biltong, curries, and fresh fruit, washing it all down with specialty coffee, juice, or craft beer.
Visit Robben Island for an important history lesson
While Cape Town is a wonderful place to visit, it's also been the epicentre of some of South Africa's most tragic events. Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site where Nelson Mandela and plenty of other political detainees served much of their prison sentences that you can now visit when backpacking South Africa. The lasting impacts of oppressive Apartheid policies are still present today, so to really understand Cape Town it's crucial you delve into its history. Take the ferry to the island (now a prison museum), and go on a tour guided by a former political prisoner who will offer firsthand insight into what the struggle against Apartheid was like. It's a very eye-opening experience, a stark reminder that our human rights should never be taken for granted.
Watch the sunrise from Lion's Head
You can hike, drive, or cycle to this peak with 360-degree views of the City Bowl. The sunsets here are incredible, but for the ultimate experience aim for sunrise. Sunrises are beautiful anywhere in the world of course, but seeing the sun light up everything from the Atlantic to Table Mountain will be one of the most memorable mornings of your life. Every yawn will be worth it.
Bo-Kaap is a proud, culturally-rich suburb on the edge of Cape Town CBD. The former Malay Quarter is famous for its rainbow insta-famous streets, but the area has dark origins. In the 1700s when slaves from Malaysia and Indonesia were imported by the Dutch they were allowed to live in these single-storied houses that could only be painted white. When slavery was abolished in the 1830s, the emancipated residents chose to express themselves through the striking colours that define the suburb today. Bo-Kaap is an increasingly popular destination due to its instagrammable backdrop, but remember that this is a living neighbourhood with a complicated past, so exercise respect when visiting!
Discover contemporary African Art
Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art hosts the largest collection of contemporary African art on the continent. Here you can be amazed by needlework from Ghada Amer, oil portraits by Kehinde Wiley, and sculptures from Nandipha Mntambo. For something different, Norval Foundation is an understated museum showcasing a private collection, including a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden. And if street-art is more your scene, the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Woodstock is full of breathtaking public murals around every corner.
Drive Chapman's Peak & Explore Cape Point Peninsula
The Chapman's Peak Drive (Chappie's for short), is a narrow road between Hout Bay and Noordhoek that hugs the dramatic cliffs, making for insane views over the ocean. It's one of the most scenic drives in Cape Town, if not all of Africa, so is a must-do on any itinerary when travelling South Africa. For a full day trip, why not go all the way around Cape Point Peninsula? Hout Bay is a gorgeous little fishing town hosting a fur seal colony, the lighthouse at Cape Point is an awesome photo spot, and at its base is an easy trail that leads to the Cape of Good Hope.
Stroll Long Street
You can't visit Cape Town without spending an afternoon browsing the eclectic cafes, vintage boutiques, and bars of Long Street - a collection of Victorian buildings that now house modern African culture. Buzzing with people from all walks of life, locals and tourists alike flock here to soak up the atmosphere at the heart of Cape Town.
Indulge in a sunset sesh
Backpacking South Africa and want to get a little loose? A night out in Cape Town can be as classy - or crazy - as you want it to be. From speakeasy dive bars to swanky pubs, here you can pick your poison. Check out Publik, a chic nook that stocks unique wines and offers seasonal small plates to munch on, or head to Chinchilla, a rooftop bar with tropical palm tree-dappled views all around - perfect for a sunset sesh. Other hotspots include Grand Africa Cafe & Beach, Love Thy Neighbour on Bree Street, Shimmy Beach Club on the V&A Waterfront, and Aces n Spades, a rock n' roll bar overflowing with music enthusiasts.
Ready to leave the mundane behind and travel South Africa for yourself? You're in luck, as our South Africa Adventure will have you doing a bunch of the things on this list and so much more! From JoBurg to Kruger to Cape Town, this 12-day trip will have you cruising golden savannahs spotting the Big Five one day, summiting Table Mountain the next. With your accommodation, transport, activities and loads of meals included, plus the help of an experienced group leader AND an instant new crew of mates to travel with, what are you waiting for? South Africa awaits. Check out the trip here!