TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN AND AROUND CAPE TOWN

As we at Magical Africa sit down to prepare this article we hear that Cape Town has once again been voted the “Best City in the World to Visit” by no fewer than 40,000 readers of Britain’s Telegraph newspaper. This is the seventh year in a row that tens of thousands of British travelers have voted in favor of visiting Cape Town!

What brilliant timing to spread the word!

Cape Town is the southernmost city of the great continent of Africa and first-time visitors to her shores are in for a great treat. Often referred to as the “Mother City” (because this is where the first settlers from the Dutch East India Company established a trade station back in 1652), Cape Town is widely acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world and is a bucket-list destination for many world travellers. Miles and miles of beautiful coastline hide some of the most stunning beaches in the world and the surrounding azure waters are chock-full of fascinating marine life including Great White Sharks and Southern Right Whales.

Within the city you will find a wide variety of world-class accommodation options in top hotels, guesthouses and rental villas – there is excellent tourist infrastructure in place and the list of tours and tour operators will surprise you. The city is also home to a diverse selection of excellent museums and galleries, restaurants, shopping and much more. Just beyond the city limits, you will find yourself in the famous Cape Winelands where some of the best quality wines in the world are produced and showcased.

Get ready to enjoy the time of your life in sunny South Africa as we unpack the top ten best things to do and see in Cape Town.

 

1. Table Mountain

Proudly standing guard over the beautiful city of Cape Town and her many attractions, Table Mountain is officially ranked as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature and is the only one which is located in an urban environment which is easily accessible to all. In fact, Table Mountain and Cape Point (or the Cape of Good Hope) are both part of an incredible urban National Park which extends from the center of the city to the very edge of the continent. Not only is the iconic mountain incredible to look at, but it is also a brilliant recreational asset. Hiking enthusiasts can hike to the summit (there are various trails to suit most levels of fitness) in under three hours (one-way) to earn exceptional bragging rights! If you are hiking the mountain for the first time you should definitely join a hiking group or hire a guide for the best experience. Once you have spent some time taking in the incredible views from the top you can take the easy way down using the aerial cable car. If you plan to travel both ways by cable car you are strongly advised to book in advance (online) if you are visiting during the peak season (November to March).

Table Mountain

 

2. Cape Point (Cape of Good Hope)

Forming the southernmost part of the spectacular Table Mountain National Park, Cape Point is another of the must-see attractions for all visitors to Cape Town. There is plenty to see within the park and visiting the Old Lighthouse is a must. You can either walk the steep path from the parking area or take the Flying Dutchman funicular to the top for dramatic views of the coastline and the crashing waves far below you. You can also hike the very scenic Olifantsbos Trail, (or Shipwreck Route), which meanders through the endemic fynbos (a fine-leaved form of plant found only in the Western Cape) to see the wreck of the SS Thomas T. Tucker, which met her end on the brutal rocks in 1942. There are quite a few beautiful and deserted beaches within the park and two tidal pools where you can cool off after your hike. It is always advisable to get to the Park gates early before the majority of tourist busses arrive. Choose a sunny day for the best photographic opportunities. You should see many baboons during your visit – avoid leaving your car windows open as they are skilled opportunistic thieves and will run off with your picnic in the blink of an eye.

Cape Point

 

3. Boulders Bay Penguin Colony

Forming part of the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, Boulders Bay is located close to historic Simons Town and can easily be incorporated into a day trip to Cape Point. This distinctive beach, which is protected from the wind by enormous granite boulders, offers a wonderful family beach experience with sparkling white sand, clean water and rock pools for children. However, the greatest draw-card for visitors is the thriving African Penguin Colony which has been living on this beach for decades. Numerous environmental factors caused the local population of African Penguins to drop to just two breeding pairs in 1982, but a concerted effort by conservationists has paid off and today there are over 3,000 birds in the Boulders Bay Colony. You can see the antics of these comical birds by walking along the accessible boardwalks which meander through the dunes and allow you to get really up close and personal for fabulous photos.

Boulders Bay

 

4. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

Widely acknowledged to be one of the finest botanical gardens on the planet, Kirstenbosch benefits from an outstanding location on the eastern slopes of Cape Town’s famous Table Mountain. You could easily spend an entire day walking around and enjoying the abundance of indigenous plants, but if you only have limited time in the gardens you should join one of the free guided tours which are available daily. Do not leave without viewing the gardens from the elevated canopy walkway. There are several restaurants on-site and you can also admire a variety of sculptures dotted around the gardens.

Kirstenbosch

 

5. Groot Constantia (Big Constantia)

We now move slightly away from the city’s natural wonders to explore some of her most popular historic attractions. South Africa’s first wine was produced by Groot Constantia Winery, which was established in 1685 and was integral in establishing South Africa’s wine industry. Wines from Groot Constantia were relished by European emperors and kings, (like Frederick the Great of Prussia and King Louis of France), who bought early examples of Constantia wines at European auctions. When you visit the estate today you can admire the original Manor House, built in the distinctive Cape Dutch style, visit the on-site museum, enjoy a wine tasting and even order your own stock of Groot Constantia wines to be delivered to your door when you go back home. You can download two audio guides before your visit to help you make the most of your Groot Constantia experience.

 

6. Stellenbosch

Nestled in the heart of Cape Town’s wine-growing region, the historic town of Stellenbosch is located about 45min from the center of Cape Town. This bustling university town is one of the oldest in South Africa – established in 1679 – and is a wonderful place to spend a few hours admiring the lovely old architecture, the shady oak-lined streets and the large selection of restaurants. Stellenbosch is surrounded by outstanding mountain vistas and is your gateway to dozens of prestigious vineyards and wineries, many of which boast excellent restaurants and offer winery tours and tastings. If you have your own hired car you can easily spend a marvelous day touring these famous Cape Winelands on your own. If you prefer someone else to do the driving so that you can concentrate on the tasting, you will find a variety of day tours from Cape Town. If you love art and nature you should consider visiting the world-famous Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden which is located close by. During the high season (from October to March) you will need to book a timed entry slot online before your visit.

 

7. Franschhoek

Franschhoek translates as “French Corner”, which very aptly describes this quaint and interesting village which was established in 1688 by French settlers. Today you will find the village surrounded by century-old vineyards, manor houses and prestigious wineries, all set against a dramatic mountainous backdrop. The town is a joy to explore on foot and features many craft shops, galleries and an abundance of exceptional restaurants which have earned it the reputation of being the “Culinary Capital of South Africa”. For a unique take on the Franschhoek Winelands you can board the vintage Wine Tram for a trip through the scenic vineyards, stopping wherever you fancy for a tour and tasting. To have a chance to properly appreciate the selection of restaurants and wineries you would need to spend at least one or two nights in one of Franschhoek’s delightful boutique hotels or B&B’s.

 

8. V & A Waterfront

The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is one of the most successful harbor rejuvenation projects in the world and is home to several must-do attractions. The multi-use development covers 23 acres and you will find several excellent hotels, a large shopping mall, dozens of restaurants, the impressive Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) and a working harbor. In addition, this is where you can visit the fabulous Two Oceans Aquarium or go on a shark cage-diving trips and  come face to face with a Great White Shark. You can take a harbor cruise from here or treat yourself to a scenic helicopter city tour. Art enthusiasts should not miss a visit to MOCAA, which is built inside an old grain silo and is worth a visit solely to admire the amazing architecture, even if you are not an art fanatic. The V&A is also home to a large craft market where you can do all your shopping for excellent African crafts and souvenirs to take back home.

 

9. Robben Island

If you would like to learn more about South Africa’s notorious Apartheid era, and see where former State President Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years, a visit to Robben Island is mandatory. Robben Island translates as “Seal Island”, and besides being home to seals it was also home to a high-security prison for political prisoners convicted of treason during the apartheid era. Tours to the island leave from the V&A Waterfront and you will be guided around all the historic sites on the island, including the actual cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. Tours take around three and a half hours and are weather dependant. Our ferry trip there and back offers excellent views of the city and Table Mountain.

 

10. Scenic Drives

Last but not least are the amazing scenic drives around the peninsula which are recognized as some of the best on the planet. At the top of the list is the drive around Chapman’s Peak from Hout Bay to Noordhoek. This amazing drive is frequently used as the backdrop for car adverts as it winds around the edge of the mountains as they dip into the ocean. There are several look-out points where you can stop for photos.

Victoria Road, which winds through Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Camps Bay and Llandudno to end up in Hout Bay, will take you past some of the best beaches on the Atlantic Seaboard, like Clifton, Bakoven, Llandudno and beautiful Camps Bay Beach. All of these are exceptional spots to stop and view the sunset.

Simons Town to Cape Point meanders along a section of relatively undeveloped coastline to end at Cape Point, offering majestic sea and mountain views.

Clarence Drive – arguably the best of them all, Clarence Drive extends from Gordon’s Bay to Hermanus, passing a spectacular section of coastline and the pretty holiday villages of Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond. Along this stretch of coastline, you can stop off to see another penguin colony and visit the Harold Porter Botanical Gardens (Betty’s Bay) to see a fabulous collection of unique Cape Fynbos. If you visit between September and December, when the Southern Right Whales gather off the coast to mate and calve, you can enjoy fantastic land and boat-based whale viewing from Hermanus.

Cape Town has an excellent road network but if you really don’t want to drive you can reach many of the major attractions including Cape Point, Kirstenbosch, Table Mountain Cable Car, and the Victoria Rd scenic drive using the Hop-on-Hop-off tour buses which depart from the V&A Waterfront.

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