Note: Cape Town is currently experiencing a severe water shortage. If you plan to visit, be sure to educate yourself about the situation and minimize your water usage as much as possible.
Cape Town is a destination we’d heard people rave about for years, so we were beyond excited when we had the chance to spend a few days exploring the South African city for ourselves last November.
It quickly became one of our favorite places on the planet, and now we’re the ones raving about it! (Psst…go to Cape Town!)
Located on the South African coast, Cape Town has it all. The landscape is stunning, the food is fantastic, the beaches are beautiful, and it is full of enough activities to keep visitors busy for weeks.
These are 6 things to do in Cape Town, South Africa, for first-timers:
Things to do in Cape Town, South Africa
Take the Cable Car up Table Mountain
Table Mountain is the most iconic landmark in Cape Town, and the panoramic views from the top are truly spectacular.
The easiest way to reach the summit is by cable car, which takes less than 10 minutes. Just be aware that windy conditions at the top frequently cause the cable car to stop running. We recommend allowing some wiggle room in your itinerary in case you have to delay your trip up Table Mountain.
For active travelers looking for a bit more adventure, it is also possible to hike up to the top of Table Mountain. The ascent takes roughly 2.5 hours. Be sure to pack water!
Allow several hours to walk around at the top and take in the views from various angles. Robben Island, the Lion’s Head, and the harbor are all visible from Table Mountain.
We grabbed some pizza at the restaurant at the top and ate outside enjoying one of the most scenic views in the world.
Tip: We recommend buying your cable car ticket online in advance to avoid waiting in a long ticket line. Just be sure to look at the weather forecast first!
For ticket information and pricing, click here.
Explore the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
With scenic views of the harbor and Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront is a great place to eat, shop, and people watch.
The food we ate at the V&A Food Market—which is an upscale food court—was delicious!
If you’re looking for a souvenir to take home, check out the handcrafted goods at the Watershed.
Catch some Rays at St. James Beach
For some laid-back beach time, head to St. James Beach. It is immediately recognizable by the row of brightly colored Victorian beach huts. And the tidal pool here means the water is perfect for swimming!
Just be warned that it can become super crowded during weekends and school holidays.
Surfers should make the trip to nearby Muizenburg Beach, as it is considered the premier surf destination in South Africa.
Frolic with Penguins at Boulders Beach
Who doesn’t want to hang out on a beach filled with PENGUINS?! Weird, unhappy people. That’s who.
Just a short drive from Cape Town, Boulders Beach is the perfect place to spend a day soaking up the sun, swimming, and frolicking with adorable locals.
To see the greatest concentration of the playful birds, head to the viewing areas along the boardwalk. If you want to get up close and personal, you can go to the swimming portion of the beach and climb on the boulders. You might just find yourself a waddling companion!
Entry costs R35.
Further Reading: The Ultimate South Africa Safari Guide
Take a day trip to Cape Point
If you’re ready to go a little further afield, a day trip to Cape Point is a fantastic experience we recommend to everyone who visits Cape Town.
Located roughly 1.5 hours from Cape Town, Cape Point marks the southwestern tip of the African continent, and the rugged landscape, ocean vistas, and unique vegetation make for some fantastic views. I couldn’t get over the vibrant blue color of the ocean here!
Either hike or take the Flying Dutchman Funicular up to the lighthouse for the best vantage point.
We were in a rush the day we visited, so we didn’t get to explore as much as we would have liked. We recommend allowing a full day for this road trip so you can fully soak in your surroundings. Some of the views along the drive to Cape Point are almost as beautiful as the point itself!
Note: We combined our visit to St. James beach, Boulders Beach, and Cape Point into a single day trip, as they are all along the same route. We would have liked to spend more time at each of these places, though, so we recommend breaking it up into a few day trips if you have the time and don’t want to feel rushed.
Entry to the park costs R145 for adults and R75 for children.
Cage dive with Great White Sharks
For adrenaline junkies (and my fellow Shark Week fans!) one adventure experience in Cape Town stands out as an absolute must-do: cage diving with Great White Sharks!
Okay, so this activity is technically not in Cape Town either. You will need to travel to Gansbaai, which is several hours away. But most cage diving tour operators offer round-trip transfer from Cape Town for an extra fee. We did our excursion with Marine Dynamics, and a shuttle driver picked up up from our hotel. Just be prepared for a super long day. (We were picked up at 2:30am!!)
Sadly, we didn’t see any Great White Sharks the day we went. A rogue killer whale was apparently murdering them and eating their livers. What??! But we did have a few up-close encounters with copper sharks and we spotted a Southern Right Whale family breaching.
Tip: We HIGHLY recommend taking some motion sickness medicine before getting on the boat, because the sea in this region can be super choppy. More than half the people on our boat suffered from severe motion sickness during our excursion.
Read about our experience here.
Sadly, we didn’t have time to do everything on our first visit to Cape Town that we would have liked, which obviously means we have to return! On our next trip to Cape Town, we’d like to visit trendy Camps Bay, see where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, and hike the Lion’s Head.
What is on your Cape Town bucket list?
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