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I thought it was high time to share a proper Cape Town itinerary with you. The problem with most itineraries for any place is that they are incredibly ambitious, something that I personally don’t really care for. I don’t mind seeing the major sights but I do want to have enough time to spend an afternoon sitting at a cafe and soak up the local atmosphere. In addition, a lot of itineraries don’t seem to take into consideration real travel time within a city. In Cape Town, for example, there is incoming traffic from 7 to 10 am and outgoing traffic from 4 pm to at least 6.30 pm. This not only affects the major highways and roads from/to all the suburbs but also traffic in the City Bowl. This lightens up during school holidays and gets a little worse in winter because boy, Capetonians cannot drive when it rains.
In addition, some itineraries I have seen are set up in the same old way which may work if you have enough time and really want to cross all the major Cape Town sightseeing off your list but won’t work if you are short on time. Usually, Cape Town tours going to Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope will also go to Boulders Beach after. That makes sense geographically but I personally think the penguins are way more exciting than Cape Point so if I was short on time I would only go to Simonstown where they live.
I have also grown a bit tired of the itineraries out there because honestly they just seem to be copying each other. The other day, I saw a post about being an expat in Cape Town by a well-known travel blogger and the post was just so superficial. We all write these posts about ‘been there, liked that’ but I think if you actually know a destination well (as this person does because she lives here for part of the year) I think you can and should do better. So please believe me that after having lived and worked here for 7 years I know my way around thanks to countless visitors and after getting lost countless of times on a job assignment. And with that in mind, I wanted to give you real travel times and an itinerary to make the most of your time without rushing things.
Days that can stand on their own but build on top of each other in an order I would recommend to my friends. I have thrown in some good old favorites aka the best sightseeing but also add some personal insider tips for Cape Town and some ideas if you wanted to splurge a little. So whether you are just staying for a day, 3 days or 5 days in Cape Town you can make the most of your South Africa holiday.
Getting around & Car Rental in Cape Town
Before we get started, let’s talk about getting around in Cape Town. Cape Town’s public transport system is not the greatest. While there is the myCiti bus now it is still not ideal and most Capetonians have a car or cycle (though that would also depend on where you live and work). I highly recommend renting a car to get around or alternatively use Uber. I have previously gotten into an argument with someone on Facebook after I advised a woman who was about to move here to forego regular taxis and use Uber instead. This reader was berating me for not supporting the local economy with my tourism money and giving my money to an evil cooperation like Uber. Here is the thing though: while Uber may have its problems like most companies, I personally love the concept and that is not due to the price. I love that I can pay with my credit card on file and that there is some sort of accountability thanks to the rating system and the fact that you can track someone. To me traveling as a single female, this is huge and I know it is for many of my friends here who send their kids around with Uber too. Unfortunately, taxis in Cape Town were never very reliable with old cars and drivers who didn’t know where they were going. The local minibus taxis aren’t much better and are frequently caught speeding to meet their daily quota (honestly if you come across one on the road, just move away and don’t argue). So for me to go around via Uber has nothing to do with money or saving money but all to do with safety.
That said, and some may hate me (and have hated me in the past) for suggesting that – I think a great way to get an overview of any city if you visit for the first time is a Hop-on-Hop-off bus. You will cover most of the major sights with the Hop-on-Hop-off Cape Town busses, can decide which ones you are interested in and get a little bit of background information on the go. I know I know, it is oh so touristy but honestly, these buses are practical AF. So here it goes – my name is Annika and I am a travel blogger who likes Hop-on-Hop-off busses.
While you can do all of the items on the itinerary for Cape Town self driving I have also included some Cape Town tours that will take you. The usually have pick-up and drop-off included or offer it as an extra.
Splurge: A helicopter ride Cape Town is a must. Compared to many other cities it is pretty affordable and the scenery is simply spectacular even more so from above. I went on a trip with NAC which offer amazing Cape Town helicopter tours and I cannot recommend them enough.
Cape Town Weather
When planning your Cape Town itinerary in advance there is only so much you can do because Cape Town weather is unpredictable. The wind that is. Cape Town wind is crazy especially in summer and the infamous South-Easterly is infamous for good reason. So for most outdoor activities, you will need to take the wind into account and be flexible with your plans. Especially going up Table Mountain with the cable car, taking the ferry to Robben Island, and even just spending a lazy afternoon on the beach will all depend on the weather.
Eating out in Cape Town
While I have written a quite extensive Cape Town food guide which I regularly update I wanted to include some food options that are on the way or in the vicinity of your itinerary’s location/activity including some options for various budgets. Keep in mind though that during the summer months a lot of the good Cape Town restaurants will require a reservation often made far in advance. I have marked the restaurants where I would definitely recommend you have one as well as those where you can get lucky just walking in.
Do you have more practical questions about your Cape Town trip? Check out my comprehensive guide below where I will probably answer them.
Day 1 – Ocean & Mountain
Breakfast at Jason: Start your day early with breakfast to go from Jason Bakery. Under the motto “born & bread in Cape Town” Jason and his team make some of the city’s most beloved bread and pastries (including doughssants on Saturdays!) and since they open at 7 am you can get your breakfast and caffeine fix here before heading up to…
Table Mountain: There are plenty of hiking trails in Cape Town but none more beloved than Lion’s Head or if you wanted more of a challenge up Table Mountain. While the sunset from the top of Table Mountain is a sight to behold, I recommend you come here early in the morning for the best chances for good weather and shorter queues if you only have one day in Cape Town. You can either get your tickets for the cable car in advance or hike up Platteklip Gorge and just get a ticket for the way down (you can buy your ticket at the top and pay in cash or by credit card).
The hike is steep and depending on your fitness level will take you between 1 – 3 hours. Make sure to take enough water and wear sunscreen. This early in the morning it won’t be too hot or crowded yet so this is the perfect time to do it. The way up Platteklip is usually quite busy and therefore safe, but you can also book a tour if you prefer.
Regardless how long you are in Cape Town I recommend you get your Table Mountain visit ‘out of the way’ as soon as you have the chance because the Table Mountain cable car depends on good weather. If the weather doesn’t play along and the cable car stops operating (you can #AsktheCableway here and check if they are running) you can drive up Signal Hill as an alternative for some pretty views. There are hiking trails leading from various car parks too if you feel like a less strenuous walk or there is Lion’s Head. Mind you, you won’t be able to go all the way to the top either if the wind is too strong and right now the top is closed off due to construction of the ladders.
On top of Signal Hill, you will find a carpark and a few viewing platforms from which you can almost get a 360 degrees panorama over the city and the Atlantic.
Extra splurge: Again, this will depend on the wind but paragliding from Signal Hill is an awesome experience. If you are not quite daring enough you can just view the people taking the plunge from the top from here which is quite fun.
V&A Waterfront: Whether you hiked up Table Mountain or just took a quick spin on Signal Hill, traffic will have calmed down by now and it is time to head towards the V&A Waterfront. This is one of Cape Town’s biggest malls and touristic harbor but you know what? I still really like it here. There is usually some bands playing, seagulls screaming and there is even a little ferries wheel, the Cape Wheel, from which you can soak up the views. Yes, it really is touristy but I still recommend it to Cape Town first-timers.
In case you have time to spare and the weather is not so great head to the Zeitz MOCAA, the largest museum for contemporary African art in the world.
Note that this itinerary does not include shopping time. Honestly, the V&A offers your usual array of international stores so I wouldn’t waste my time on H&M and co. If you wanted to find some more unique souvenirs you should rather go to the Watershed behind the food market.
What not to do: Two Oceans Aquarium. I write this a little sad because I remember loving the aquarium when I first moved to Cape Town. However, since I have started diving, I have not been to an aquarium and will probably never go inside one again as I do not like seeing the animals that I so much enjoy in the wild in captivity. While the Two Oceans talks about conservation they also allow a lot of interaction with their animals something I cannot endorse. I understand that many people may never have the possibility to see certain animals in the wild and how fortunate I am in this regard, however, I’d rather watch Planet Earth than pet a penguin if it comes down to it. Whether you are alone or traveling with kids to South Africa there are so many amazing and responsible animal encounters you can have instead so I wouldn’t recommend the aquarium.
Lunch with an ocean view: For lunch, you have a couple of different options depending on your budget. If you want to grab a quick bite head to the V&A Food Market where you can find different stalls that serve anything from poke bowls to boerewors (South Africa’s equivalent to a Bratwurst, basically a sausage).
Alternatively, take a short drive to the Grand Africa. While this place is just a tad bit pretentious it is also pretty stunning – you are sitting with a first-row ocean view and your feet in the sand. The big sharing pizzas are also quite yummy so if you are keen for a leisurely (and probably boozy) lunch on a sunny day, this is a good choice.
Alternatively, head from the V&A Waterfront to Sea Point. Opposite the Sea Point pool at end of the promenade, you will find La Perla. This restaurant is as old school as it gets – think waiters in white jackets who have worked there for 20 years – but wonderfully so. The food is a great array of classics: tuna or beef carpaccio, fresh oysters, great pasta, and various simple yet wonderful fish and meat dishes from the grill. My family lives at La Perla for special occasions and it was a favorite of my late uncle which makes it dear to me. So while it might not be hip and happening, the food is wonderful as is the service and if you can snatch a table outside you are overlooking the Sea Point promenade and life won’t get any better.
Nap on the Beach: After lunch, it is nap time so head along Mouille Point and the Sea Point promenade towards Clifton and Camps Bay. Which beach you choose will again depend on the weather – you may easily get blown away in Camps Bay. I recommend Clifton 1st beach (there is 4 in total) which is small, secluded and doesn’t get too crowded or Beta Beach in Bakoven. The latter is tiny but you have some beautiful views of Lion’s Head and will only be surrounded by locals. Parking around both beaches can be tricky so this is definitely the time to use Uber.
Know that there is no shops or kiosks on those beaches. While there are sometimes guys who sell soft drinks and popsicles don’t count on it and make sure you bring everything with you what you may need.
Oh and have a mentioned that the water is… chilly? Perfect to cool off if you dare!
Victoria Drive & Winetasting: Head towards Hout Bay in the afternoon before traffic hits again. The drive on Victoria Road coming from Camps Bay is one of the most beautiful coastal roads in the world I think and Capetonians agree with me.
Driving into Hout Bay take a turn and head towards Constantia, Cape Town a from here. Constantia is not only a beautiful, leafy suburb but also home to some of the oldest wine farms in the Cape and known for the Constantia wine route. It is the ideal spot for some wine tasting if you only have one day in Cape Town and can’t make it out to Stellenbosch, Paarl or Franschhoek.
Groot Constantia wine tasting is probably the most famous in Cape Town and one of the oldest Constantia wine farms, however, I find them quite touristy and I am not a huge fan of their wines (at least not the ones that are offered at tastings). I recommend Klein Constantia or Beau Constantia instead. The last wine tasting in Klein Constantia starts at 4.30 pm and in Beau Constantia at 5 pm. If you are too late, you can always just buy a bottle and sit outside to enjoy the views.
Dinner in the ‘burbs: Obviously, you can head into town for dinner but there are some amazing options right in the vicinity so I recommend you stay and go for one of the Constantia restaurants for dinner. Some of the best fine dining in Cape Town is right around the corner like Chef’s Warehouse (which happens to be at Beau Constantia), La Colombe or Foxcroft. Those are all restaurants that will require an advance reservation and a bit of extra spending money but I dare say they are worth it. If I had to pick a favorite I would go with Chef’s Warehouse.
For some more low key options head back to Hout Bay for either the best pizza in Cape Town at Massimo’s or an Asian-Pacific tapas feast at Cheyne’s. Both are amazing restaurants so just choose according to what you are in the mood for. Both menus have some great options for vegetarians and Massimo’s does offer two different pizza bases for those who are gluten intolerant.
Day 2 – Penguins & Surfers
The surf’s up in Muizenberg: Start your day by heading against traffic towards Muizenberg. This beach is known for its colorful wooden beach huts and the surfer beach in Cape Town. Whether you are a pro or need lessons this is the beach to be. Alternatively, get a flat white to go and do a little photo session in front of those huts – you know you want to!
Seeing penguins in Simonstown: From Muizenberg carry on to the world famous Boulders Beach in Simonstown to see the penguins because really, you can’t come to Cape Town and not see the famous African penguins. You will need to pay a conservation fee to get in and from the entrance, there are a few boardwalks leading through the dunes from which you can view the penguins. To get really close you can head down to Foxy Beach but honestly, I would only recommend doing that if you come very early in the morning as the beach is tiny and gets super crowded. Needless to say but I will still say it: do not try to touch the penguins! They are wild animals and have really sharp beaks.
If you want some beach time I recommend you had to adjacent Windmill Beach. This one is super pretty and usually deserted but the occasional penguin might still swim over. So if you are hoping for a penguin encounter in the water this is the place you should go to.
Lunch in Kalk Bay: For lunch head to picturesque Kalk Bay, a little village full of fun antique stores and colorful facades. The harbor is definitely worth a visit if only for a seal selfie with one of the resident seals. Afterward, fish and seafood are a must-eat here and depending on your budget you should get fish ‘n chips at Kalky’s or have a fancy seafood lunch at the Harbour House. Both places offer really great food in their own way and serve fresh and local products.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens: Head back towards town and stop for a stroll in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. See the infamous Boomslang, a treetop walkway, and explore the scent garden which was planted for visually impaired visitors so they can enjoy the garden too, take a nap under a tree, and just soak up the greenery.
Extra Tip: If you are in town on a Sunday in summer check out the Kirstenbosch summer sunset concerts in the evening. You can bring a picnic and enjoy national and international artists on one of the most amazing concert stages right at the foot of Table Mountain.
A night out in town: While Long Street is still the center of nightly activities in town, I am not a big fan, to be honest. Rather head to Bree Street, Tjing Tjing for rooftop cocktails or Kloof Nek Road. This little road is home to some great bars and some of my favorite restaurants. The restaurant at the bottom of Tjing Tjing also makes some great Asian tapas like gyoza and porkbelly baos.
Day 3 – Art & History
Cape Town City Bowl: Use the morning to take in some sights in the Cape Town City Bowl. A must see is the colorful Bo Kaap, the Greenmarket Square if you are in the market for some very colorful African souvenirs, and the District 6 Museum. From here it is just a short walk to Truth, one of Cape Town’s favorite coffee shops.
Street Art in Woodstock: Afterward head to Woodstock, an industrial suburb of Cape Town that is now home to some beautiful street art, design companies, and cool shops like the Woodstock Exchange or the Old Biscuit Mill. Every Saturday there is the famous Neighboorgood Market happening here but even on a regular day, there is plenty to explore.
Stay for lunch and try to get a table at Pot Luck Club, my favorite of Luke Dale Robert’s restaurant serving innovative tapas with an awesome view over the city. It is definitely a splurge but oh so worth it!
Blouberg Beach Walk: After lunch head north before traffic strikes (get going before 3 pm on a weekday) towards Blouberg and Dolphin Beach. These beaches are beloved by kitesurfers and are perfect for a long walk with your nose in the wind. From here you also have one of the best views of Table Mountain so don’t forget your camera. While many people love Camps Bay for sundowners, I think it is pretentious and overpriced so I would recommend you head to Blue Peter on Blouberg Beach for that sunset drink.
Extra tip: Have some more time? Head even further north to the Atlantis Dunes for a jeep tour or to go sandboarding.
Afterward, head to De Grendel, a beautiful wine farm in Panorama with stunning views over the city. The food here is amazing and well priced as are their own wines. They offer a variety of tasting menus starting with two courses. Ask for a view on the terrace if the weather allows or by the windows because you don’t want to miss those views.
Day 4 – Good Hope & Cold Water
You decided that you have madly fallen in love with Cape Town and want to stay a bit longer? I don’t blame you. When I fell madly in love with Cape Town I stayed for 7 years!
Snorkeling with Seals: Now that you have seen and explored some of the main areas in town it is time to venture a little further. Today is all about the incredible nature of the Cape Peninsula. Start your morning early and brave the icy water to go snorkeling with seals in Hout Bay. There are many operators that will take you out for a snorkel at one of the seal colonies that live right offshore and are well worth getting into the water for. Seals, while stinky, are super cute and lots of fun to interact with.
Extra tip: If you don’t want to get wet, head to Hout Bay harbor where some of the resident seals are often fed by locals and come really close to shore. On the weekends you can go to the Bay Harbour Market, a local favorite for music, food, and souvenirs.
Lunch in Noordhoek: After you are back on land and have dried off head to Noordhoek via Chapman’s Peak. This coastal drive is steep and stunning and you should definitely make use of the many parking bays that overlook some of the viewpoints for a little photo shoot. Sometimes Chappies, as locals call it is, is closed due to bad weather and falling rocks. Signs leading to Chapman’s Peak from both directions will tell you but you can also check here beforehand.
Once you are through you will be in Noordhoek, a somewhat sleepy seaside village with one of the most stunning beaches in Cape Town. Stop for lunch at one of my favorite restaurant The Foodbarn (you will most likely need a reservation) in the Noordhoek Farm Village or head to the more casual Cafe Roux next door.
Cape of Good Hope & Cape Point: After lunch, it is time to head to the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point (not one and the same!). While neither is the most southern part of Africa as some people like you to believe and you can’t really see the two oceans collide both viewpoints are well worth a visit and are situated in the stunning Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. You will not only get amazing ocean views but can also spot many plants and cool animals like baboons, zebras, and bucks in the wild.
Extra tip: For those who are planning a whole South African holiday you can book a Cape Town tour to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa.
Silvermine Hiking: Driving back you can either take the same way via Chapman’s Peak or if you have some time left head up to Silvermine. Chances are if you went snorkeling this morning you won’t have time but depending on whether you are an ocean or mountain person you can prioritize accordingly. Silvermine is part of Table Mountain Nationalparks and a beautiful area for hiking in Cape Town or a swim in the Silvermine Reservoir. Do note that you will also need to pay a small fee to get in and the gate closes at 6 pm.
Chances are you will be tired after the long drive. Head to one of my favorites below or order room service. If you still have the energy to go out, remember that Cape Town is casual to a fault – you will be fine at most places even in your adventure outfit from the day.
Day 5 – West Coast & Wildlife
Most people love nothing more than to go wine tasting in Cape Town (which I totally get!). If that is your thing I recommend you spend your last days in Stellenbosch and the surrounding vineyards. There are plenty of Cape Town wine tours, either private or in a group, that I would recommend you book if you want to do some serious drinking.
Buffelsfontein Game Park: Alternatively, I say head up north to the West Coast National Park, one of my favorite day trips from Cape Town, especially for families. To be honest, the Western Cape is not the greatest place for a safari in South Africa (I recommend heading to Phinda instead) and safari in Cape Town is not really a major attraction. But there are a few game reserves near Cape Town like Buffelsfontein you could check out for a game drive if you are not planning to head to Kruger or any other of the big parks afterward. Buffelsfontein has 4 out of the Big 5 as well as giraffes, zebras, and many bucks. If you haven’t been on safari before this is definitely an exciting enough option.
After your game drive head further north to Langebaan for lunch at the Strandloper. This place is a local favorite and offers a communal braai with meat, fish and even crayfish when in season. The setting is rustic and beachy and you can bring your own cooler of alcoholic beverages. You will need to make a booking beforehand.
Kraalbaai & the West Coast National Park: Afterward, you should spend the afternoon at my absolute favorite South African beach: Kraalbaai. Halfway between Langebaan and Buffelsfontein is the entrance to the West Coast National Park. If you get lucky you can see ostriches, bucks as well as snakes and tortoises on the way driving through making this an additional mini game drive. There are maps that will guide you through to get to the beach which is crescent-shaped, turquoise, and shallow. Thanks to it being a bay the water is the warmest you will find and the most Carribean-like beach in Cape Town. Again, there are no shops around and no shade either so plan accordingly and bring drinks, sunscreen and an umbrella.
Extra tip: If you want to extend your stay you can even rent a houseboat in the lagoon for the night! Check out the Kraalbaai houseboats here.
Should you go and visit a township?
If you have read all the way through you will notice that I didn’t mention Cape Town townships or a visit thereof and here is why. Many visitors in South Africa are quite shocked when they first see a township and in Cape Town that will happen while you are driving towards the city center from the airport. While a township can be similar to a slum as in it starting out as an informal settlement with shacks its origin in South Africa stems from apartheid days or as Wikipedia defines it “a suburb or city of predominantly black occupation, formerly officially designated for black occupation by apartheid legislation”. Townships today are also communities where people work, play, go to school and church and are not necessarily a sad, poverty-stricken place. However, it will depend on the township and your own behavior how you will be perceived especially as a tourist and how safe it is.
Township or slum tours are booming all over the world and while I get the ‘fascination’, in a way, I think it really depends on how you go about it. I did a township tour back in the day when my mother came for a visit and a former co-worker of mine showed us around his neighborhood. It was incredibly informative and touching and most importantly it didn’t turn into a human zoo-like experience. At least it didn’t feel like it to me but I honestly speak under correction and would take any locals word over my own experience. With that said, I think whether these kinds of tours are okay or not is a tricky question and one I cannot definitely answer. I think going on a bus, taking clandestine shots from the ‘safety’ of your seat and assuming you had an authentic experience is not the way to go.
With that said, I cannot recommend a reputable tour company in Cape Town as ours was done in a private capacity and I think the issue is too important to just drop a link to any affiliate tour here. If you are interested in visiting a township in Cape Town I recommend you go for a meal instead either at Lelapa in Langa or the famous Mzoli’s in Gugulethu for a traditional South African braai.
Want to explore more of the country?
Check out this 2-week South Africa itinerary.
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