Cape Town is a magical place to explore! Here are our top things to do in Cape Town, from hiking Table Mountain to chilling with penguins!
Are you looking for the top things to do in Cape Town today?
Well you’re pretty spoilt for choice!
Here in Cape Town the majesty of Table Mountain lords it over the entire city – a buzzing and colourful sprawl which presents a rich tapestry woven together with many multi-cultural threads.
The list of things to do in Cape Town today is so long you would have to hang around for quite some time to get through even a fraction of them. Fantastic adventures and experiences can be had on land, sea and air. Head to the top of Table Mountain for views of the spectacular kind and if that isn’t quite thrilling enough sign up for a summit abseil. To get you flying even higher you can sign up for a skydive or paraglide.
As the sun starts to sink on your day of activity you can just position yourself somewhere to watch the sky turn purple and orange or, if you still have any energy left, head out on the town.
For all of you who would describe yourself as adventurous, an outdoor-lover or nature-passionate Cape Town is going to seem like paradise. And, if you have a bucket-list full of the extreme or unusual, spending some time here will give you the opportunity to tick off plenty… if not the whole lot.
Do nothing or do everything – you choose the pace and the vibe and Cape Town will do the rest…so lets see what you’ll be adding into your travel plans…
Top Things To Do in Cape Town Today – By Air, Land And Sea!
Cape Town By Land
1. Bo Kaap
Just a ten minute walk from Cape Town’s centre will bring you to the historically- and culturally-rich cobblestoned neighbourhood of Bo Kaap. Appearing as an almost toy-town-like rainbow splash on aerial photographs, this Signal Hill nestled area is a riot of colour just made for THE most fantastical Instagram and Facebook posts. Sunflower-yellow butts up against luscious lilac and lime-green rubs shoulders with full-on tangerine tones in row upon row of houses painted in a way which floods the senses.
Formerly known as the Malay Quarter – a community made up of descendants of the Dutch colonial slaves brought from Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka – Bo Kaap is a marvellous melting pot of Muslim culture. This aspect makes it a great place to sample great food – something which considerably enhances the ever-present elements of instant charm and colour.
Cost = FREE
2. Robben Island
Coming to Cape Town and South Africa in general without understanding at least a little of its history and political struggles is really not an option if you want to earn your respectful traveller’s badge. There is perhaps no better way of introduction to this theme than visiting World Heritage-listed Robben Island and its prison which sits just off the coast of Cape Town.
It was here that the apartheid era’s most famous figure – Nelson Mandela – was incarcerated for 18 of his 27years behind bars. When you see the tiny 8ft x 7ft concrete cell in which the man who was to become the first black president of South Africa spent almost two decades you can start to understand why Robben Island has become a symbol of ‘the triumph of human spirit over adversity’.
Cost = R360 for the boat, tour prices vary
3. Table Mountain
Whether you choose to get to its summit by cable car or take on the challenge of hiking it, once you arrive at the top of this iconic mountain any effort you made will have been worth it a thousand times over.
Overlooking Cape Town and known as Table Mountain due to its distinctive flat top, Table Mountain National Park makes up part of a region of such stunning natural diversity it is UNESCO World Heritage-listed. In fact it’s one of the top things to do in South Africa as well as just Cape Town!
It’s about a 2 hour hike to the summit – so pack plenty of water and sunscreen – or the cable car cost around 200ZAR each way. Both times I’ve tackled it I’ve opted to hike up and cable car down, which is a great combo.
Cost = FREE to hike, R200 each way for the cable car
4. The Penguins at Boulders Beach
Coming in that quintessentially South African variety of white-powdered-sand-meets-turquoise-ocean and home to some gorgeous rock pools Boulders Bay would register as visit-worthy no matter what. However, it also happens to be home to thousands of African penguins – the only penguin species on the continent. Now an endangered species, these noisy colonists first arrived in the 1980s and have refused to budge ever since.
The penguins can be seen year round but the summer months are when they gather at the beach in the greatest numbers. You’re free to get as close to them and hang out with them as long as you wish and you can even go for a refreshing dip with these rare birds. Call in at the visitor centre if you want to learn a bit more about them too. This small national park – about an hour’s drive from Cape Town – also offers some dune boardwalks so you can check out the penguin burrows up close.
Cost = R152
5. Bay Harbour Market
No matter where you are in the world there is typically no better shortcut to a window onto a country’s culture than visiting a local market. Cape Town has more than one but its most famous and arguably its most vibrant is the Bay Harbour Market which runs from Friday to Sunday every week.
The indoor market is not especially big but it manages to pack a lot in including live music and a range of eclectic stalls offering arts and crafts, clothing, jewellery, food and more.
Breath in the aromas of herbs and spices or seafood sizzling on a grill, catch the strains of a sax player and pause for a coffee or beer before you set off again around the market in search of that perfect South African travel memento. On Fridays the market keeps going until later and the always lively vibe morphs into that indefinable something special which marks a South African evening as the sun sets.
Cost = FREE (well except for all the food you buy!)
6. The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Treetop Canopy Walk
While botanical gardens might not generally register on your excitement meter Cape Town does many things a little differently and these botanical gardens are one of them. For starters the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens sit in the lee of the mighty Table Mountain so as settings go it is pretty special. Secondly while these award-winning and world-respected gardens do indeed have sections of manicured lawns, landscaping and cultivated areas it is also interwoven with the completely natural making a harmonious conservation-focused whole which is breathtakingly beautiful.
Set about with interesting sculptures, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which are now more than 100 years old also features the Boomslang – a snaking treetop canopy walkway which surrounds you at every level with stunning scenery – and an open-air amphitheatre which hosts concerts during summer months.
While every season here offers its own magic spring is the time when vast swathes of the gardens are cloaked with wild flowers making for a sensational multi-coloured display.
Cost = R60
7. The Cape Peninsula
Taking its own little separate meander off into the ocean, the Cape Peninsula south of Cape Town forms part of the Table Mountain National Park. Something of a hiker’s paradise, this area will appeal to anyone who enjoys endlessly gazing at the lovely and comes complete with beaches of the both dramatic and simply gorgeous kind.
The peninsula is something of a whale-watching hotspot in summer while its 3,000 strong African penguin colony at Boulders Beach can be visited year round. In fact, with so much to see and do the peninsula is really an entire destination in itself.
If nothing else you can stand on the entire African continent’s most south-westerly point at the Cape of Good Hope and view the natural phenomenon of Atlantic Ocean meeting Indian Ocean. The extreme southern-eastern tip of the peninsula is where you will find Cape Point and the New Cape Point Lighthouse. If you’re feeling lazy you can hitch a ride on the Flying Dutchman funicular to take you from the car park to the lighthouse.
Cost = depending on car hire or tour
Cape Town By Sea
8. Learn to Surf
Well known as a playground for avid surfers and as a stop on the professional world circuit, South Africa is also a great place to learn to surf. With year-round conditions, gorgeous beaches, plenty of sunshine and an abundant supply of instructors and surf schools you might never have a better opportunity to tick this one off the bucket list.
Cape Town just happens to have one of the best learn-to-surf spots in the entire world too at Muizenberg Beach. Here you’ll find a pumping little town littered with vintage stores, alfresco cafés and a very photogenic collection of rainbow-coloured changing booths perched on the powdery-white sands.
It’s the perfect base for any surfer heading this way and if you’re keen to sample Cape Town with some waves check out this awesome Cape Town Surf Adventure which combines waves with loads more Cape Town activities!
Cost = from R200
9. Shark Cage Diving
While opportunities for getting up close and personal with South Africa’s ‘Big Five’ safari animals is one of the country’s major draws this isn’t its only wildlife experience on offer. Not far from Cape Town is an area of coastal waters so teeming with great white sharks it has been dubbed the great white capital of the world.
As a result a large number of outfits now offer shark cage diving so you can literally gaze right into the gaping jaws of these majestic creatures. There’s no doubt that such an incredible encounter is sure to get the heart racing and the experience is definitely in the adrenalin junkie’s category. However, the emphasis on most of these experiences is as much about myth-busting and conservation education with regard to these much maligned creatures as it is about giving you the thrill of a lifetime.
Cost = From R2000
10. Snorkelling with Seals
With animals acting in general as something of a South African magnet for visitors, one of the more unusual wildlife encounters you can have from Cape Town at nearby Hout Bay is with Cape fur seals. Incredibly playful and curious in the water, seals seem to love interacting with humans and once you don a snorkel and mask you can be part of their world.
If you want to up the cuteness stakes a little further time your snorkel trip to coincide with when the seal pups are first plucking up courage to get swimming which is around March.
Steve and the team at Animal Ocean will take great care of you so say hi from me!
Cost = R900
11. Cape Town’s Beaches
Cape Town has so many beaches that you’d have to spend quite some time here to get round them all. What’s more, they tend to fall into the jaw-droppingly beautiful category, complete with bleached-white sand and turquoise waters, all basking in long sunshine hours.
Generally the Cape Town beach menu is divided into three sections – the west-facing Atlantic Seaboard with its sensational sunsets, the West Coast north of the city centre and False Bay. This latter is really one long, long 50km stretch which is divided up with different names and interestingly has sea temperatures several degrees higher than its West Coast or Atlantic Seaboard counterparts.
Beach time here can be whatever you want it to be. You can opt to exert no more effort that whatever it takes to raise a cold beer to your lips or you can pack your beach hours with adventure and activity. Sign up for a surf lesson, rent a kayak, go snorkelling amid kelp forests, explore marine-life laden rock pools….and the list goes on. You also have beaches with penguins and those from which you can spot whales along with picturesque coastal villages filled with bohemian vibes, arts and crafts and cute cafés.
Cost = FREE!
Cape Town By Air
If the idea of an awe-inspiring swoop through the air with views taking in Atlantic Ocean, coast, mountains and general South African magnificence is something which sounds appealing consider a tandem paraglide.
Cape Town’s main launch sites are Lion’s Head and Signal Hill with most of the companies offering photos and videos of you flying like a bird above it all within their prices. If you happen to get hooked after your virgin flight you can take a full course while those already paragliding-experienced can hire equipment in town too.
Check out the guys from Fly Cape Town for an epic time in the air – the team are all competitive paragliders so you’re in good hands!
Cost = R1300
13. Scenic Helicopter Tour
Often touted as the best way to experience Cape Town, a scenic helicopter flight gives you the chance to see all of that city and stunning surrounds magnificence as the birds do. Most of the scenic flight options last around 30 minutes but offer a diversity of options regarding routes.
You may get to do a Table Mountain fly-by, hover over Robben Island or swoop up and down the coast taking in an endless series of breathtaking coastal scenes along with landmarks both natural and man-made as you go.
Some operators offer combos such as flight+stand-up paddle boarding so you can up the adventure stakes a little higher. What’s more, take off at the right time of year and you might even get to see whales on your flight.
Cost = from R2000
Featuring on every single adventure-seeker’s bucket list, a tandem skydive is a fairly special thing to do no matter where in the world you decide to fling yourself out of an aircraft. However, opting to go for it in Cape Town rewards you with views that take in Table Mountain, the city bowl, several bays, Robben Island, the Langebann lagoon and the continent’s most south-westerly point at the Cape of Good Hope.
While each operator is different with regard to drop heights there are some common factors among all of them. These include a flight which is so scenic it is worth it for that alone, the chance to capture your moments of gut-wrenching fear on camera or video, a free-fall element which can last up to 40 seconds and a tranquil few minutes float to Earth under canopy afterwards.
Cost = from R1200
15. Abseil Table Mountain
While technically this activity might not qualify as an ‘air’ entry it is unlikely anyone is going to argue with you if you have the mettle to take on this hard-core vertical space challenge.
Claiming the number one spot on the list of world’s highest commercial abseils, it also gives you the opportunity of ticking off abseiling from one of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World. Most definitely not one for the faint-hearted, you will be stepping out into thin air from 1000m up with 112m of sheer cliff to navigate before you plant your feet back on horizontal(ish) ground again.
Cost = R750 (+ cable car)