Yes, these are the most common things to do in and near Cape Town, but there is a reason why — they are exceptional experiences.
1. Table Mountain
Table Mountain is the iconic backdrop to Cape Town rising over 3500 feet and is a large national park. In the summer, clouds can develop creating a “tablecloth.” There are a lot of hiking options (allow 3+ hours one-way and be very well-prepared) but also a comfortable cable car to take you to the top for incredible views of the city and the ocean. The cable car runs every 15 minutes 8:30am-7:30pm depending on the season — Adults R195 round-trip or R100 one-way / Child (4-17) R95 round-trip or R50 one-way. The cable car is a 10-minute ride and floor rotates 360 degrees so everyone gets a good view. It is slightly cheaper if you buy tickets online.
2. Robben Island
Robben Island is where Nelson Mandella was imprisoned for 18 years of his 27-year sentence. Technically, it means “Seal Island.” Tours are about 2.5 hours long, and a portion of the tour is guided by past prisoners.
You the boat at the V&A Waterfront at the Clock Tower at 9am, 11am, 1pm, or 3pm, and plan on 3-4 hours for the tour and boat ride (adults R220 / kids R110). There is also a museum at the ticket office worth some time before or after the boat. You need to purchase tickets in advance as they do sell out. The boat does not run if the weather is bad, and your ticket is refunded in this case.
There are no restaurants or snack bars on the island, so enjoy a meal before or after the tour in the Waterfront area.
3. V&A Waterfront
The is the tourist hub of Cape Town with plentiful restaurants, shopping, and bars. There are also free performances at the V&A Waterfront Amphitheater at 5:00pm.
The Two Oceans Aquarium (9:30am – 6:00pm with feeding at 3pm / Adult R100 / Teen R75 / Child R48) and Scratch Patch (polished rock factory for R15-R90) are good options for the kids.
Just opened in early 2012 is the Cape Town Diamond Museum (9:00am-9:00pm / Adult R50 / Child free).
4. Peninsula Tour
This is a full day tour from Cape Town down to the southern tip of South Africa. Typically, the tour takes you to west coast of Cape Town, south to Cape Point and back up the east side, but you may go clockwise instead.
Starting west of Cape Town, you will drive through many scenic and chic suburbs and beautiful beaches. Many tours stop briefly at Hout Bay with the Twelve Apostles string of mountains overlooking the town. Here you can do a boat tour to Druiken Island to see the fur seals or visit the World of Birds (9:00am – 5:00pm / Adult R75 / Child R40). South of Hout Bay is 10km of Chapman’s Peak Drive, one of the most scenic coastal drives in the world.
Continuing south, you get to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve on the very southern tip where you can walk or take the Flying Dutchman funicular (9:00am-6:00pm / R45 round-trip) to lighthouse on the tip of Cape Point for nice views and visits with baboons (don’t fee them!). There is an old lighthouse, which proved useless in fog, and a new lighthouse, which is the most powerful in South Africa. Nearby is an Ostrich Farm here, which is popular with young kids (Adult R40 / Child R20).
Heading back up the east coast of the peninsula, your tour will stop at Boulder’s Beach near Simon’s Town to see the African penguin colony from viewing platforms (Adult 30 / Child R10). Kids may like the Warrior Toy Museum (10:00am-3:45pm / R5) and Scratch Patch in Simon’s Town.
There are many cute towns along the way with nice restaurants and shops including Simon’s Town, Fish Hoek, Kalk Bay, and Muizenberg. The beaches along this coast are lovely and have some of the warmest water in the area for swimming. The St. James Tidal Pool is one of the most photographed beaches in the area because of the colorful bathing changing rooms, and Muizenberg is popular for surfing. It is a 30 minute drive back to Cape Town from Muizenberg.
Optional stops on the way back to Cape Town are at the one of the wineries along the Constantia Wine Route (Groot Constantia, Klein Constantia, Buitenverwachting, etc.) and/or the Irma Stern Museum, one of South Africa’s greatest painters.
5. Tour to Wine Country
The main towns in wine country are Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl. Each town is worth a short visit, and there are many nice hiking opportunities in the area.
There are dozens of wineries to choose from as well as brandy distilleries.
This can be done as a day tour or with an overnight.
6. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
Kirstenbosch is a large botanical garden on the southeastern side of Table Mountain. It has an exhibition of flora from a number of South African regions, sprawling lawns, and miles of hiking trails. Allow at least one hour, but you can also easily spend half a day here.
In the summer, there are concerts every Sunday night.
Open daily 8:00am-6:00pm or 7:00pm / Adult R40 / Child R10.
7. Whale Watching in Hermanus
Whale season in South Africa is June-November, but September-October are the best months. Hermanus is on the southern coast of South Africa, and whales can be seen from land (Hermanus Cliff Path) or in a whale watching boat.
There are also lots of other activities in the area:
- Shark cage diving
- Sea kayaking
- Horseback riding on the beach
- Playing and relaxing at the beach
- Quad bikes, ziplines, and paintball
- Weekend markets
8. Caged Shark Diving
The great white sharks can be found near Simon’s Town (a 1-hour drive south on the peninsula) from March to mid-September and then near Gansbaai (a 2-hours drive southeast of Cape Town) from mid-September to February.
They can be seen breaching on the surface, so you can see them from the boat without diving.
For cage diving, the cage is on the surface right next to the boat. You do not need to be scuba certified and even kids can do it.
9. Going to the Beach
Very near Cape Town are a variety of beaches to enjoy. There are some good surfing areas, but the water is very, very cold. The coast is also great for watching the sunset.
- Clifton Beach is perhaps the most popular beach, is very large, and is typically wind-free. It has 4 bays called 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. The 4th is the most popular as it has changing rooms, bathrooms, snack shops, and rentals. The 1st and 2nd are for surfers and beautiful people. The 3rd is for more alternative people.
- Camps Bay is a wide beach good for beach games (kites if it’s windy). It has strong surf but nice tidal pools. The town has countless trendy restaurants and bars good for a sundowner.
- Llandudno is quieter with rocky areas good for exploring and great sunsets.
10. Eating, Drinking, and Shopping
The V&A Waterfront is the hub for this sort of activity. There are also many restaurants, shops, bars, and discos along Long St. and Adderley St. It is worth the experience to have an ethnic meal in Bo-Kaap. Not to mention numerous shopping malls. Greenmarket Square is an open air market with lots of stalls and cafes surrounding the market (Mon-Sat 9am-4pm).
- Tickets for Robben Island, Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts, and more: http://webtickets.co.za/
- Cape Town Tourism: http://www.capetown.travel/
- 10 Things to do in Cape Town you might not know about