The Mother City, the Windy City, the Cape of Storms. Regardless of what you call it, Cape Town is a city that defies description and trumps the rankings – it’s actually taken the title of ‘World’s Best City to Visit’ 6 years running! For us there is no better place to tuck into delicious food, experience dynamic culture, laze on pristine white beaches, slurp down fine wine or summit breath-taking mountains than Cape town. We might be a little biased though – Lee is Capetonian and James called this vibrant city home for over 4 years. Either way, we think we know ‘Slaapstad’ (Afrikaans for ‘sleepy city’) better than most, so read on for our travel tips and what we believe is the perfect Cape Town itinerary!
And don’t fret if you’re looking for more than Cape Town, we’ve also included some excellent day trips in the surrounding areas; all of which could extend your Cape Town jaunt.
Whether you’re looking to take in a game of rugby, rub shoulders with tuxedo-suited African penguins, tuck into Cape Malay cuisine or hug the curvy coastal lanes in your convertible, let’s get started.
Our 5 day Cape Town itinerary
- Day 1 – Exploring the City Bowl
- Day 2 – Franschhoek & Stellenbosch
- Day 3 – Table Mountain & Hanging out with the hipsters
- Day 4 – Beaches and Chapmans Peak
- Day 5 – Southern Suburbs
Why go to Cape Town?
If you’ve found this article on our perfect Cape Town itinerary, we hope that you’re already 100% decided on exploring one of our favourite cities in the world. But just in case you need a little more inspiration as to why Cape Town should be your next destination, we’ve come up with some of the top reasons as to why you should go.
- If you like your wine, Cape Town (and the surrounding regions) grows some of the best in the world. And let’s be honest, there really is nothing better than spending your days hopping between wonderful wineries and trying out a glass or two of the special stuff.
- The food isn’t too bad either. Well actually that’s probably a bit of an understatement: it’s superb! Whether you’re a meat lover, keen on Indian curries or a vegetarian, the multicultural mix of the city has created unbelievably good options – we’ve listed some of our best eateries later in this article.
- There are some of the best coastal roads to drive in the world, from the scenic Chapman’s Peak to the Garden Route – go on, hire a convertible, let the top down and enjoy.
- There’s some really interesting recent history to learn about, with trips to Robben Island and museums to understand more about Apartheid and how Nelson Mandela and his motley crew struggled to overcome oppression and gain freedom for his country.
- You can dive with Great White sharks or even spot some whales off the coast of Hermanus. Of course if the ocean is not for you, Cape Town offers plenty of other wildlife. No, lions aren’t roaming the streets but there are a number of top-notch game reserves a short drive from the city centre.
- Beach bums will love Cape Town. There is a plethora of stunning white sand beaches, many of which hold the world’s coveted ‘blue flag’ status. Plus the surfing ain’t bad either.
- By European standards it’s super affordable – and compared to a lot of Africa it has great infrastructure. If you haven’t visited Africa before, Cape Town gives you a gentle nudge into the continent: think ‘third world’ country with ‘first world’ tendencies
- Last, and definitely not least, there is Table Mountain. Standing guard over the city laid out before it, you have to see one of the natural wonders of the world in the flesh (or the granite?).
Where to stay in Cape Town?
We’ve lived in most neighbourhoods in this fair city: the Northern and Southern Suburbs, Llandudno, Tamboerskloof, Sea Point, Camps Bay and the city centre to name a few. We could prattle on all day on where to stay (and there are a LOT of wonderful options!) but here are some of our faves for an extended stay or even just a few days.
Budget: If you want to stay right in the heart of the action, the 91 Loop Boutique Hostel has great rooms.
Mid-range: We loved Sea Point when living there, so if you’re keen to be near the beach, great restaurants and looking for a really well priced hotel, the Atlantic Affair Boutique Hotel is for you.
Luxury: If you’re looking to splash the cash, there are so many options, but Camps Bay with it’s stunning sunsets would be our preferred place. And the POD Camps Bay Hotel gives you proper luxury.
When is the best time of year to go to Cape Town?
There are two times of the year that we think are the best to visit Cape Town: October/November or February/March.
October and November are shoulder seasons in that the weather is nice and warm, and generally is less windy than other months (it isn’t called the Windy City for nothing). Most tourists head to Cape Town in December or January but these months are obviously quite hot but also very busy, since other South Africans will head down to the Mother City for their own summer holidays and Christmas season.
February and March are also good options since the weather is still warm, however it can be a little more windy.
By April, the weather in Cape Town is really starting to get a little colder and from June to August the weather can be wet and cold.
How long do you need in Cape Town?
You could spend months exploring the city and the surrounding area and never get bored. But if you are only there for a short holiday, we’d recommend at least 5 days for exploring Cape Town. We’ve optimized this itinerary for those five days but of course if you have less time (3 or 4 days in Cape Town), you could make it work.
Able to stay longer? Excellent! We’ve also added in some bonus options, to allow you to plan for longer.
If you’d also like any other advice on your Cape Town itinerary, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us or leave a comment below.
Day 1 – Exploring the City Bowl
Hike Lions Head
Our number one thing to do as part of the perfect Cape Town itinerary is to climb Lions Head (part of the Table Mountain range) and see the entire city in front of you. It’s 45 minutes each way, is relatively steep and there are some short climbing sections (ladders and ropes) so make sure you’re wearing some good sturdy shoes! But it is well worth the effort. We always do this hike as our first thing in Cape Town, often straight off the plane before we’ve even caught up with friends and family! It’s best to do the hike nice and early, before it get’s too hot… and you’ll get some beautiful lighting for those Instagram pics.
This is also a spot where they do paragliding; the more adventurous way of seeing the city. If you have a rental car, you can drive up to the start of the hike and park there.
Location: Lions Head, Cape Town
Explore Bo Kaap
One of the most colourful and interesting neighbourhoods of Cape Town is called Bo-Kaap, known for its brightly decorated homes and narrow cobbled streets. It’s a great area to wander about and get some amazing photos.
Bo Kaap was formerly known as the Malay Quarter of Cape Town and recently declared as a National Heritage Site of South Affica, which will ensure that the area will retain its Cape Malay character. If you’re looking for some authentic Cape Malay food – and you really should try some – we recommend Biesmellah.
Location: Wale St, Schotsche Kloof, Cape Town, 8001
Shopping and lunch at the V&A Waterfront
Known as South Africa’s no.1 tourist attraction (weirdly as it’s just a shopping centre and restaurants), the V&A Waterfront is a great place to head for some lunch. There are a number of great options at the V&A food market. However, you could also try your luck at Quay Four – it’s usually quite festive. There is also a very popular sushi restaurant inside the mall – Willoughbys. Capetonians swear by the sushi since it’s fantastic but it can be a little strange to sit in the middle of a shopping mall and down your rainbow rolls…
The Waterfront is also where you can find the aquarium which is pretty good if you have the time. There is also a great little drinking hole, the Bascule Bar at the Cape Grace hotel – it’s a Cape Town institution, and known globally for its selection of fine whiskies.
Location: V&A Waterfront, 19 Dock Rd, Cape Town, 8001
Shopping mall opening hours: Daily 9.00am – 9.00pm
Robben Island Tour
The V&A Waterfront is also the location from where you can take the Robben Island Tour. Robben Island is most famous for being the island prison which housed three former South African presidents, most notoriously Jacob Zuma. However, the island has a much longer history as a political prison, dating back to the end of the 17th century! The island has also been used as a whaling station and a leper colony. So a very sad history and a sombre place to visit.
The guided tour of the island, which is both a UNESCO World Heritage site and National Heritage Site of South Africa takes around 3.5 hrs and costs 550 ZAR (36.50 USD / 30 GBP)
Location: Nelson Mandela Gateway, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, 8002
Tour times: 9.00am, 11.00am, 1.00pm and 3.00pm daily – weather dependent.
Day 2 – Franschhoek & Stellenbosch
After a good day exploring the city centre, for day 2 we would suggest heading out of Cape Town to explore some of the surrounding wineries. You can’t go to Cape Town without visiting Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and these two towns produce some of the best wines in the world.
This bustling town is home to one of the larger universities in the country and so mixes fine dining and wine with some very cool, more affordable places to eat and visit. The town centre itself is buzzing with sneaker-clad students but has some lovely small restaurants if you want to eat in the town, like The Big Easy, a restaurant run by famous South African golfer, Ernie Els. If you’re there on a weekend and looking for a cool market experience, you can also visit Root 44, a gorgeous epicurean market under the trees.
However, the thing to do in Stellenbosch is to taste wine. And you’ll be spoilt for choice! Here are a few great wine estates to check out:
- Spier: One of the largest estates in Stellenbosch, Spier is a great property since it not only offers wine tasting but you can order a relaxed picnic in the grounds. There are a number of superb restaurants on-site and even a birds of prey sanctuary where rescued birds are being nursed back to health, for release back into the wild.
- Lanzerac: The country’s first ever bottle of Pinotage (a local South African red blend) was born here at Lanzerac, and they do a delicious red wine and chocolate pairing that you must experience. Ladies, Lanzerac also has an acclaimed spa, so feel free to book in a massage here!
- Waterford: We might be a little biased since the chief winemaking family, the Arnolds, are close friends of ours, but Waterford is an award-winning winery that you MUST visit in Stellenbosch. The property is beautiful and not only do they offer a delicious wine and chocolate pairing but even a wine safari, a landrover tour of about 3 hours through the estate.
- Delaire Graff: If you want high-end, this is the place for you! We highly recommend not just the luxurious wine-tasting but to have lunch at the leafy restaurant on-site. You’ll have incredible views over the valley and some of the most incredible food.
- Muratie: This is one of the older wine estates and is a bit more of a vintage wine-tasting experience
- Meerlust: One of the most renowned winemakers in the country, Meerlust is famous for it’s iconic ‘Rubicon’ wine, a full-bodied, velvety red. Actually Meerlust is also a national monument so well worth a visit.
Insider Tip: Nestled between Stellenbosch and your next stop, Franschhoek, is Babylonstoren. More than a wine estate, it offers a gourmet food store, two wonderful restaurants and the main attraction: beautifully appointed gardens where you can while away a few hours drinking in the views (and your vino!).
The prettiest town in the Western Cape, Franschhoek (meaning ‘French Corner’) is one of the oldest villages in South Africa and the epicentre of the wine industry. Known for it’s gorgeous colonial architecture and centuries-old vineyards, the town saw French settlers arrive in the 17th century, bringing their viticulture expertise to this region. We love Franschhoek for it’s darling main street flanked with little boutiques and luxurious restaurants, but of course also the world-class wineries that it boasts in droves.
The best way to see many of these estates is through booking the Franschhoek Wine Tram. It takes you around the many breath-taking wine farms in the area, with stops and tastings at each. In terms of stops, one of the obvious ones on the route is at Richard Branson’s wine farm, Mont Rochelle. The restaurant is relatively affordable or you can order a picnic.
Some of our other recommended estates for the area include Haute Cabriere, who do a mean lunch and method cap Classique (South Africa’s version of champagne), Holden Manz or La Motte. If you’re just keen for lunch, top of the fine dining list is Le Petit Ferme, right next door to Haute Cabriere.
Day 3 – Table Mountain & Hanging out with the Hipsters
Obviously you can’t come to Cape Town without visiting it’s most iconic landmark. Table Mountain towers over the city, so for the best views either take a trip up the cable car or if you’re pretty active and enjoy a good hike, why not climb up?! The summit of Table Mountain is just over 1,000m, so it’s a decent climb and will take you a couple of hours (so pack some water and wear sturdy shoes), but we really think that walking up is a great way to experience the national park.
Location: Tafelberg Rd, Gardens, Cape Town
Costs & Opening Hours: The costs and cable car operating hours alternate throughout the year, so best have a look at their site to check out the latest.
Hanging out with the Hipsters
If you are looking for some incredible food and wares we’d suggest that you head to the Old Biscuit Mill, in the very trendy Woodstock area. If you are able to, see if you can also reserve a table at The Test Kitchen, which is by the Mill. This is the best restaurant in South Africa, and one of the Top 50 restaurants in the world but, beware, the waiting list is as long as your arm – book early!
If you can’t get a reservation, try their other sister restaurant, the Pot Luck Club. There is also some great street art in Woodstock, so if you’re interested in a street art tour, check out the Love Cape Town site.
After visiting Woodstock, head back into the city centre to Bree Street for hipster boutiques and gourmet food; the original and best place to see (and be seen) is Jason Bakery. Then circle back via Long Street but watch your wallet (the street is known for pickpockets, especially in the evenings). For dinner options try a burger at Royale on this road. Or if you like bacon and cheese, Bree Street has a dedicated bacon and a dedicated cheese restaurant.
If you’re interested in picking up some local arts and crafts, take a detour off Long Street to Greenmarket Square – here you will find some great affordable local art.
Day 4 – Beaches and Chapman’s Peak
Relax on Cape Town’s finest beaches
From the palm-tree flanked streets of Camps Bay to what feels like thousands of steep steps down to world-famous Clifton Beach, Cape Town is renowned for it’s beautiful sandy shores. Each beach in Cape Town has it’s own personality: a bit cool and upmarket on Clifton 4th to quieter, family-orientated (but often windy) beaches like Blaauwberg /Blouberg. Pick one that suits you!
Camps Bay: The place to be seen and also a great place to relax and then head to one of the main strip’s restaurants for some lunch. It’s also a great place for some sundowners and to watch the sun disappear off the horizon. If you’re keen to get some sunset views, head here last.
Clifton 4th: If it’s windy, your best bet is to head to Clifton 4th beach. Be warned, it has as lot of stairs but that steep staircase means you’re protected in the bay. A bonus? Clifton has the imitable singing beach vendors, selling ice-cream and cool drinks with a twinkle in their eye.
Llandudno: If you want quiet and a bit of beauty go to Llandudno beach. It’s also one of the better surf beaches in Cape Town.
Blouberg/ Blaauwberg: Along the west coast and with the best view of Table Mountain, you’ll find Blouberg. The beach means blue (mountain) , but might as well be ‘blow’ as it can get pretty windy. If you like windsurfing, this is the perfect place for you.
Boulders Beach: Possibly the most famous beach associated with Cape Town, but actually in Simonstown is Boulders Beach, which is where you’ll find a number of penguins just chilling on the stunning white sand. In our opinion it’s a must see – if so, you might want to combine it with a few more things to do in Simonstown. Check that out in our additional ideas section.
Insider tip: If heading to Boulders beach, don’t just linger on the viewing platforms. You can get down onto the beach and amongst the penguins. Keep your distance though – these critters are known to bite!
Drive Chapman’s Peak
If you head out of Cape Town via Sea Point and Camps Bay, you’ll end up in Hout Bay. Originally a suburb for self-proclaimed hippies, Hout Bay has transformed itself into a mecca for arts and culture, plus delicious places to eat. On the very affordable side are fish and chips stalwarts like Snoekies and Fish on the Rocks but if you go a bit more upmarket, try beachfront restaurant Dunes, Cape Dutch homestead and Asian fusion restaurant Kitima or the Lookout Deck. For the market lovers, Hout Bay has it’s own local market each weekend to buy some African curios and eat delicious traditional food (it’s open Friday night and weekends during the day).
Then, the important part is to drive back via Chapman’s Peak, often described as one of the world’s most beautiful roads. Hug the coast as you breath in fresh sea air and try to avoid the rocks hanging precariously overhead – try to do it just before sunset, for golden hues. There is a toll to pay to use the road, which is 50 ZAR (3.25 USD / 2.75 GBP). Don’t forget to check it is open before starting out!
Location: Chapman’s Peak
Day 5 – The Southern Suburbs
The biggest attraction in Cape Town’s southern suburbs is undoubtedly Kirstenbosch National Garden. Did you know that Cape Town and it’s Cape peninsula boasts one of the world’s seven floral kingdoms? You won’t find the flora anywhere else in the world, with flowers like proteas and ericas only found in this area. Kirstenbosch is the ideal place to see these in all their glory, spread over more than 5 square kilometres.
You can spend hours at Kirstenbosch, taking in a picnic, eating at one of the smaller restaurants or just walking around the many flower beds and regions. One of the best things to do in the park is to traverse the tree canopy walkway known as the Boomslang (Afrikaans for tree snake). The snaking bridge literally takes you through the trees, so you can see the park from above.
Insider tip: Kirstenbosch has a very popular concert series which runs every Sunday in summer. The line-up usually includes an eclectic mix of the best South African artists and is a fun afternoon out. Head over to their website to check the dates and book your tickets. They also offer an open-air cinema between October and April each year.
More (food and) wine
Okay, okay, we know we’ve told you about a lot of wine farms. But the Southern Suburbs is also host to some of the world’s best wine estates and it would be rude not to sample some of their wares, right? If you’re not into wine, all of our recommendations also have on-site restaurants, many of which are some of the leading restaurants in the country:
Klein Constantia: Head to one of the original properties in Cape Town (this was the home of Dutch colonialist Simon van der Stel) to try the Vin de Constance, a deliciously sweet muscat wine.
Beau Constantia: One of the most incredible views we’ve ever seen, Beau Constantia is a small glassed-in boutique winery which boasts a wonderful tasting menu and a renowned restaurant, the Chefs Warehouse, too.
Buitenverwachting: Think elegant yet casual dining as you take in the rolling vineyards through the huge glass windows while eating your duck eggs and salmon mousse. The farm has a great tasting area too.
Many tourists also like to head to La Colombe, a world-class fine dining establishment, when in this area. It’s hugely popular so book ahead!
Bonus: Additional ideas to add to your Cape Town itinerary
Cape Town sightseeing bus
Now if you have a chance to spend more time in the city, we actually really like the Cape Town sightseeing bus tour. Unlike some city bus tours this one gives you a good understanding of the city, and it’s actually really nice to sit up top on a sunny day. So definitely a good addition to the Cape Town itinerary!
It might sound crazy but we would recommend doing a township tour. It’s a really good insight into authentic South African life and actually very interesting and fun to chat to some of the locals. We have sent some people on this one and had some great feedback.
The West Coast near Cape Town is known for a few things: whale watching, seafood and shark cage diving! If in Langebaan, don’t go to the main lagoon but instead try Kraalbaai – it’s a secret spot that feels like you’ve wandered into Greece. Drive there or, ideally, rent a kayak.
If possible, do a day out at the Strandloper restaurant. For 325 ZAR (21.50 USD / 17.50 GBP) p/p you get a 10 course traditional seafood lunch, all with your toes in the sand as you sit outside on the beach.
Alternatively, drive out to the gorgeous town of Paternoster, one of the oldest fishing villages in the country.
Cape Point, Muizenberg & Simon’s Town
Many people go out to Simonstown to spend the day on Boulders, the penguin beach (see as part of our Beaches section), or as part of a longer trip to Cape Point. There are some great tour options for a day trip.
The best way to get there is via Muizenberg beach – stop and take a photo at the brightly coloured houses or, if you’re a wave runner, do some surfing. Then either go directly to Simon’s Town for the day, or stop on the way in Kalk Bay; one of our favourite towns in the area! Must do is a stop at Olympia Café for tea or lunch (try the scones!).
Catch a game of rugby or cricket at Newlands
As passionate sports fans, we love to attend sporting events when we visit places. And if you know much about South Africa, much of the population is rugby mad! Lee actually used to work very closely with the largest team in Cape Town, The DHL Stormers (or DHL Western Province). So we absolutely have to recommend trying to get some tickets to watch a home match at Newlands Stadium.
And slightly confusing, but a stadium with the same name, Newlands Cricket Ground (located right next door to the rugby stadium) is James’ favourite sporting experience in Cape Town. It’s probably one of the most stunning cricket grounds in the world, and a day of cricket watching makes for a very fun, slightly drunken day out.
Drive the Garden Route
Cape Town is also the place where most people depart to drive the infamous Garden Route – a coastal drive that actually starts in Mossel Bay and finishes at Storms River near Port Elizabeth. Described as the ultimate South Africa road trip, you’ll get to explore numerous stunning coastal towns such as Knysna, Wilderness, Plettenburg Bay and many more. Allow yourself at least 3 days to do this as you’ll want to stop at many places along the way.
Although Cape Town isn’t really known as the place to go on safari – and we’d definitely suggest that you head to the Kruger for a real South African safari if you have the time – there are some great game reserves within easy reach of Cape Town. A few recommendations on places to check out include:
- The Aquila Private Game Reserve – which is located about 2 hours from Cape Town, where they do day safari trips, spa packages along with overnight stays.
- About an hour from Cape Town – Buffelsfontein Game Reserve – is home to some of Africa Big 5 including lions, buffalos and white rhinos and you’ll also see giraffes, cheetahs and South Africa’s national animal, springboks.
- Or if you’re looking to see all the Big 5 – check out the Inverdoorn Game Reserve. A little further from Cape Town (about 2.5 hrs) but well worth it.
Our Cape Town food recommendations
We’ve added a few of our most beloved places to eat throughout the article, but just so it’s nice and easy when on your Cape Town itinerary, we’ve added our favourites right here (aren’t we helpful?!). If you’ve got any other recommendations then do let us know in the comments below.
- Eastern Bazaar – crazy busy but cool takeaway with food from across the East (Indian, Chinese, Turkish etc). You MUST try the Bunny Chow. This is a uniquely South African dish.
- Ocean Basket – this is a chain of seafood restaurants. It is not very fancy but the seafood is always top!
- El Burro – good, affordable Mexican with a trendy vibe.
- La Boheme – romantic, cute little place in Sea Point. The food is fantastic and really reasonable.
- HQ – if you’re looking for really decent steak (and chips), with a great atmosphere.
- Test Kitchen – Simply the best restaurant in Cape Town – if you can get a table that is!
- Pot Luck Club – The more relaxed sister restaurant of Test Kitchen, and slightly easier to get a booking, this place is unbelievable.
- The Codfather – a favourite of James’ while he was living in Camps Bay. Choose the fish you want, how much you want and how you’d like it cooked. Amazing.
Is Cape Town safe?
It’s a pretty good question – the number of people we have met on our travels who are really keen to go to Cape Town, but have been put off by media reports is astonishing. But of course, where there’s smoke there’s fire right?
Well our honest response to people has always been the same: if you are cautious, and take the right precautions then you won’t have any issues. Use common sense. Don’t use unlicensed taxis late at night (use Uber), don’t flash the cash or walk around with your phone on display, and there are certain areas not to go. But the same can be said of pretty much every major city.
Tourism is a really important to Cape Town so you are very unlikely to encounter any issues, but as with all major cities keep your wits about you and stay in the well-worn tourist areas. Even a solo female traveller should be fine in South Africa.
Can you do overland tours from Cape Town?
Some of the best African overland tours depart from Cape Town, so if you are looking for what to do after visiting Cape Town, we can’t recommend African Overland Tours highly enough. The company was started by our good friend Andrew and has grown into the leading Africa overland operator. You won’t regret it!
If you need some inspiration on some great reads for before you go or while you are there, check out our best South African books list here!
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