Cape Town: The Ultimate City Guide

Cape-Town-City-Guide

Cape Town is hands down one of my favourite places on Earth. I dream of one day buying a little apartment in Camps Bay and moving to the Mother City!

As far as cities go, Cape Town is hands down one of the most beautiful ones on Earth. It has everything a person could ever want, and has a truly endless amount of opportunities for exploration, adventure and fun.

So, if you are heading to SA in the future (and lets face it, you should be) here is a little guide to making the most of your time in Cape Town.

cape-town-city-guide

WHEN TO GO

Summer time! I am usually a fan of off-season travel, but Cape Town is so incredibly beautiful in the warmer months that visiting in the high season is worth braving the higher numbers of other travellers.

Summer weather in Cape Town is pretty much perfect – picture 26°C-30°C heat with minimal humidity, almost no rain and so much gorgeous sunshine. November is my favourite time to visit Cape Town as it is just a little cooler than during December and January; and also, visiting in this time has the benefit of technically being shoulder season, so accommodation is cheaper.

It is worth noting that prices of accommodation go sky high during New Years, so if you are on a budget, this is a good time to get out of the city.

Cape Fur Seal colony near Hout Bay
Cape Fur Seal colony near Hout Bay

HOW TO GET THERE

For many people, getting to Cape Town first requires arriving in Jozi. South African Airways flies into Joburg from a huge number of international destinations and though it may not be the most budget of all the airlines in SA, but it is by far the best.

A little hot tip: If you are flying from Jozi to Cape Town during the day, make sure you get a window seat, the views from above Cape Town are absolutely stunning!

WHERE TO STAY

Budget: Green Elephant Backpackers

I have said it before and I will say it again – the Green Ele Backpackers is the best hostel in Cape Town. Located in the super cool university district of Observatory, it may seem like a hike away from the city centre, but it is well connected via public transport. Not only this, the hostel has an amazing vibe, the staff rock and the world famous Neighbourgoods markets are just a short walk away. Dorm beds start at $20/night.

Click here to learn more.

Mid-Range: This awesome Airbnb

If hostels aren’t your thing, you should definitely check out one of the bajillion awesome Airbnb options in Cape Town. Apartments, houses, flats and cottages by the seaside – with a tonne of options, you are sure to find one that suits you and your budget. The better options start at around $120/night.

Click here to learn more.

Luxury: Tintswalo Atlantic

Talk about ridiculous luxury! Tintswalo Atlantic is the only hotel in all of Table Mountain National Park, and for good reason – it is a seriously stunning hotel! Suites start at around $550/night.

Click here to learn more.

HOW TO GET AROUND

Uber

Uber has become incredibly popular in Cape Town, mostly due to it being perceived as safer than regular cabs. Some taxis in Cape Town are completely fine, but there are also a fair few dodgy ones out there! As a result, Uber in Cape Town has flourished and is seriously easy to use.

MyCiti Buses

MyCiti buses were introduced in Cape Town several years back, and they have fast become a popular way to get around. The bus cards are easy to buy and easy to top up with money. The buses themselves are comfortable, air conditioned and safe.

Minibus Cabs

The use of minibus cabs is a little controversial. These ‘cabs’ are essentially minivans that drive along a particular route, picking up as many people as possible along the way. They are cramped, loud and often uncomfortable, but they are also by far the cheapest way to travel within Cape Town.

Some people will tell you that these cabs are absolutely and completely not safe – and for some routes this may be true. However, some routes are just as safe as any other form of transport – so make sure to seek advice from your particular hostel or hotel before jumping on board.

Taxis

Metered cabs in Cape Town are usually pretty alright, but there is an annoyingly high number of dodgy cabs without meters. These cabs can be fine, but they can also lead to people being ripped off – or worse. So if you are using a cab, make sure that it has a working meter before you get in.

Trains

Cape Town has a surprisingly good train system. These trains are cheap, fast and safer than people give them credit for. However, some of the smaller stations are not particularly well signed, so be prepared to ask a local to point you in the right direction.

Touristy Sightseeing Bus

Ugh, city sightseeing buses. I usually hate these gigantic red eyesores with the fiery passion of a thousand suns, but those servicing Cape Town do actually have a couple of upsides. The ‘purple route’ goes through the beautiful Constantia Winelands and makes exploring these wine farms as easy as a drunken stumble. Also, there is limited-ish public transport that services Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, so for those who don’t want to catch cabs or Ubers but still want to get to Kirstenbosch – this is a good alternative.

Public Transport - not always comfy, but so damn cheap!
Public Transport – not always comfy, but so damn cheap!

WHAT TO SEE

Table Mountain

When people land in Cape Town, the first thing they want is do is head for Table Mountain! Though this is for good reason – Table Mountain is unbelievable – a little patience can go a long way.

Weather in the Mother City is pretty bipolar, and weather can change in seconds. It is not uncommon for the day to start out clear and become completely cloudy by the afternoon. Though cloudy weather isn’t necessarily bad, it does seriously hinder the amazingness of the views from Table Mountain!

So, if you are planning to hike up Table Mountain – get up at the ass crack of dawn (or earlier) and get moving ASAP to get the best chances of a stunning view. Alternatively – if you are planning to take the Cable Car up the mountain, as soon as the weather is clear, get up and go immediately. If you wait a few hours you may completely miss your window.

Table-Mountain-Cape-Town-South-Africa

District 6 Museum

A visit to the District 6 Museum is a must for anyone visiting Cape Town. This museum shares the history and stories of the 60,000 people who were forcibly removed from District Six after it was declared a ‘white area’ during apartheid in 1966. What was once a vibrant community of freed slaves, immigrants, merchants and artisans was eventually bulldozed, and all who once called it home banished to a barren area of land now known as the Cape Flats. Don’t miss it.

Click here to learn more.

Kloof Street + Bree Street

If you have heard of any street in Cape Town, it will most likely have been Long Street. However, Long Street has become an overly touristy haunt and as a result, a few other city streets have become far more popular amongst local Capetonians.

Kloof Street is home to some of the best eateries and watering holes in all of Cape Town. Don’t miss Liquorice and Lime and Cafe Paradiso for delicious eats. As for drinking, you can’t go past Asoka.

Bree Street has a fairly decent mix of restaurants and bars- however, it’s the nightlife that really stands out here. A few noteworthy bars include Mothers Ruin, The Orphanage and Arcade.

Constantia Winelands

If you want to spend a day sampling some of Cape Towns finest wines, but can’t be arsed driving all the way to Stellenbosch – consider the Constantia Winelands a fantastic alternative. Though the area is home to only a few vineyards (or as the South Africans say – winefarms) the ones that do live on this wine route are fricking fantastic. Make sure to check out Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia if you want spectacular views to go with your glass of wine (or 12).

Cape-Winelands-Constantia-South-Africa-Cape-Town

Robben Island

Robben Island is possibly one of Cape Towns most important and famous historical sites. Used as a maximum security prison in the 20th century – and also famously known for being the site where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years – this island went from being a place defined by oppression and injustice, to one being remembered for truimph, democracy and freedom.

If you want to visit Robben Island, plan ahead – tickets can sell out weeks in advance during the high season. Click here for more information.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Famed as being one of the most beautiful gardens in all of Africa, Kirstenbosch really is the kinda place that you won’t want to miss. Tucked in at the Eastern foot of Table Mountain (and not too far from the Constantia Winelands) – Kirstenbosch is the setting for concerts, exhibitions and also the starting point for some of the most beautiful hikes up Table Mountain.

Entrance will set you back R60 – click here for more info.

Boulders Beach

Granite boulders, perfectly blue waters and warm white sands aren’t the only things that make this beach on the Cape Peninsula so appealing.

Check out these little guys! Home to a truly awesome colony of African penguins, Boulders Beach is the perfect spot to set yourself up and watch these tuxedo-clad little chaps live and interact with each other. Entry to the beach will set you back R65 as it is set within the Table Mountain National Park, but seriously, it is so worth the moolah.

To get there – catch the train from Cape Town Station to Simonstown – from there it is just a short cab ride (or pleasant 30 minute walk) away.

Cape-Town-City-Guide

WHAT TO DO

Dust Off Your Hiking Boots

Seriously, there are so many wonderful hikes in and around Cape Town, it would be a shame to stay in sandals for your entire trip. Table Mountain has more trails than you can poke a stick at, but if you ever manage to do the impossible and tire of TM, you can always go hike Lion’s Head, the Kogelberg trail, the Woldfberg Arch trail or to Chapmans Peak. Fill up your water bottle, pack your sunscreen and get moving!

Table-Mountain-Cape-Town-South-Africa

Be Brave and Go Abseiling

Want to do one of the world’s highest commercial abseils? Abseil Africa has you covered! While this may not be the longest actual descent offered by a commercial abseiling company, the starting point of 1085m above sea level is certainly one of the highest on offer.

For R1450 you can get a guided hike and abseil, but the abseil only option for R995 is a better option. Hiking up Table Mountain may be physically demanding, but it certainly isn’t impossible, and anyone with an average level of fitness could handle the more popular routes independently.

For more information, click here.

table-mountain-cape-town-abseil-south-africa

Go Paragliding and Soak In The Best Views of Cape Town

Want to see Cape Town from above? Go paragliding! With tandem launches available from either Signal Hill or Lions Head (weather dependent) for only R1150 – this really is an experience like no other. Click here to read more about organising a flight.

Take A Cooking Class

Want a break from the harsh Cape Town sun? Check out the Bo Kaap Cooking Tour.

Bo Kaap local – Zainie Misbach – runs regular cooking tours inside her very own home. For a modest R700, Zainie will take show you around her stunning home of Bo-Kaap – including showing you where she buys all of her traditional spices and ingredients. Then, she will teach you the ins and outs of Cape Malay cooking, before sitting down with you and helping you devour all the deliciousness that you just made! Not only that, she will happily regale you with stories of what it was like for a local Cape Malay woman to live through Apartheid, and what forced removals meant for this colourful neighbourhood.

cape-town-bo-kaap-south-africa

THE BEST BEACHES

Beta Beach

Beta Beach is a part of Camps Bay, and unlike the popular stretch of sand below the main drag of shops and restaurants, isn’t filled completely to the brim with other people. Flanked by boulders, Beta Beach is secluded, quiet and the perfect place for people just wanting to laze away the day.

Muizenberg

Learning to surf? Muizenberg – or ‘Muzies’ is a great place to learn. Located around 30 minutes from central Cape Town and easily accessible by train, Muizenberg Beach may not be the most beautiful in Cape Town, but with abundant surf schools and lovely shallow water, it certainly holds a lot of appeal.

Oudekraal

This hidden gem is located within Table Mountain National Park. Popular with locals and unknown to a lot of tourists, this beach in a cove is a wonderful place to have an afternoon braai while watching the sun disappear and the stars begin to shine.

Smitswinkelbaai

Located not far from the Cape Point Nature Reserve, it takes a bit of effort to get to Smitswinkelbaai, but it is well worth it. Calm and clear waters create a great spot for snorkelling, and you can bet that you won’t find the place full of other people.

MARKET-HOPPING

Neighbourgoods Markets at The Old Biscuit Mill

Located in the seriously trendy industrial suburb of Woodstock, the Neighbourgoods markets have become an institution. Full of life, food and bustling with excitement, a visit to these markets is a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. Just make sure you get there early to nab a table and remember to bring cash. The lines for the ATM are LONG and foreign cards are often not accepted.

Neighbourgoods-Market-Woodstock-Cape-Town-South-Africa

Hout Bay Markets

Neighbourgoods is by far the most popular Cape Town market, but personally, I preferred the Hout Bay markets. Maybe it was the deep fried oreos, or maybe this unbelievable seared tuna with mango salsa. Maybe it was the live band, maybe it was because it wasn’t so crowded. Whatever it was, the Hout Bay markets are definitely worth a visit.

Hout-Bay-Markets-Cape-Town-South-Africa

WHAT TO AVOID

The V&A Waterfront

Ugh, how this place makes it on every ‘must sees of cape town’ list I have no idea.

This waterfront is touristy, it is expensive, the restaurants are mostly chains, it is crowded and it really isn’t all that pretty. I definitely do not get the appeal.

Doing A Township Tour

Spin it whatever way you want – touring poverty is all kinds of fucked up.

Sure, your hostel may “recommend” a township tour to you, but most locals will agree that they hate them. In fact, I personally met one local who went as far as to say “township tours are for dumb and rich white girls who just want a picture with African children for Facebook.”

Don’t be that person.

EASY DAY TRIPS

Stellenbosch

If you loved the Constantia Winelands and just feel like getting out of the city for a day or two, the Cape Winelands are a wonderful way do so. Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek are home to a few hundred different winefarms, each with its own distinct design, style and wines. You could easily spend months sampling everything this region has to offer, so make sure you have time to head east of Cape Town, at least for a short while.

Stellenbosch-Cape-Town-South-Africa

Cape Point and The Cape of Good Hope

Want to see ostriches, baboons, hike along some stunning coastline and visit the most south-western tip of Africa?

If you answered ‘yes’, then a day spent cycling around the Cape Point Nature Reserve would be a day very well spent.

Cape-Good-Hope-Cape-Town-South-Africa

FINAL WORDS

Cape Town is one of the most vibrant, exciting and colourful cities on Earth – if you are planning a visit, do your best to get as much time as possible. You could spend months in the Mother City and still have things left on your ‘to-do’ list.

Mostly though, just prepare to fall in love with a city that is truly like no other.

Posted by

20-something year old Australian backpacker writing her way around the world.

37 thoughts on “Cape Town: The Ultimate City Guide

  1. Spent a month in SA in 1997 on a British Lions rugby tour! 4 days in and around Capetown with highlights being Stellenbosch and the Cape. A stunning place to stay, but Durban, Kwazulu Natal overall and Kruger Park worked for us too.

  2. I agree about the township tours. I’ve never been to South Africa but exploiting places people live as a tourism destination is disgusting and creepy. Poverty should not be a spectacle.

  3. Cape Town is my home and I think you’ve covered most of the highlights well, but there’s still LOTS more to discover so I think you’ll have to come back sometime!

  4. Looks like you definitely made the most of what Cape Town has to offer! We didn’t spend much time there when we were in SA but I’d like to go back.

  5. Hey Ellen. Nice guide it’s one of our favourite cities. You should include a township visit? We thought that was incredibly powerful and so educational. It’s such a contrast to see the other side of the beauty we all see from the outside. Love the post though makes me want to go back…

      1. Funny you didn’t find it useful, maybe we did a different kind of township tour as we got to meet the locals and the kids themselves. I wonder if there’s a difference between those and the one you were suggested. Sorry about the number of comments it’s late here and I missed it when reading

  6. Where did you fly into for Cape Town? I think Johannesburg is the only direct flight from Atlanta, but wondering if it’s easy to get to Cape Town with a car rental. I’ve never been to Africa, so no idea what the conditions are like outside of the bigger cities!

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