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Calling Cape Town home means that I constantly miss being warm. Honestly, Germany’s weather is the greatest downside of being here and I had to restrict myself to one complaint per day and I eventually chose to spend as little time as possible in my official home country.
Most people can understand that but they are usually surprised that I chose to even do a Cape Town winter this year. To be honest, my main was everything that happened in Mexico. I was in serious need of some TLC from my friends and family and lots of wine.
When you are looking for the best time to visit Cape Town, winter aka June – August usually doesn’t occur to travelers. But if you want to explore South Africa on a budget and without the crowds and too much heat, you shouldn’t rule the winter months out. In fact, Cape Town winter is a well-kept secret worth investigating for its own merit.
Why? So glad you asked! Here are 10 good reasons why winter is the new summer and some great things to do in Cape Town in winter.
10 Reasons to explore Cape Town Winter
1. Winter is relative
I know Europeans might hate me for saying that but a lot of Cape Town winter days rival the best of British/German/Dutch summer. Sorry, but that’s a fact. While temperatures might not be suitable for endless tanning sessions, you will still get low to mid-twenties on many days in addition to crisp autumnal air. I even had blue skies for three weeks (minus two rainy days) which makes Cape Town weather in winter ideal for all of those who don’t really like heat.
Once winter gets really going yes, there will be rain. But in fact cape town rainfall has been so low during the last winters that it led to a serious water crisis. So bring your rain jacket but chances are you will be absolutely fine.
In addition, winter sees a lot less wind than summer, which makes most activities so much more enjoyable and even if a day starts gloomy, bursts of rain are usually short-lived.
From flights to tours and accommodation – winter is the time to save big in South Africa, an already quite affordable country. Most airlines schedule fewer flights, but with excellent conditions. Coming from Europe chances are you will have a layover in Johannesburg. Make sure you have enough time as you will need to get your luggage and go through customs here before rechecking bags. The process is relatively painless but adds quite a bit of time to your trip and I have seen many people miss their connecting flights to Cape Town due to this.
In addition to inexpensive flights, most hotels will offer special winter rates. Whether that means a lower room price or special package deals, there are many winter hotel specials in Cape Town which are worth a little splurge.
3. Space Odyssey
Capetonians are afraid of the rain. There I said it. And if you are Capetonian you can hate me, you might even be the exception to the rule but you still know that I am right.
Streets tend to be emptier and I guess just like in any other country people tend to huddle up inside a bit more in winter. That is great news for you, dear visitors, as everything is just so much more relaxed for a lack of crowds – tourists and locals – alike. No lines to get up Table Mountain, cozy fireplace winetasting at the vineyards and fewer customers usually means better service too!
The only downside to this – beware when you are renting a car and driving yourself, Capetonians are not used to rain on the roads as it seems and drive a bit…ahem…precariously.
4. No reservation
I’d want to have my last meal in Cape Town. The food scene is incredible and you will have a hard time finding a bad meal (or wine) even for little money. The cuisine is so varied that carnivores and vegans, daring eaters and home cooks, fast food fans and gourmets will be equally spoilt for choice here. One of my favorite things to do in Cape Town winter is to eat everything.
Winter is the perfect time to try everything because most restaurants offer incredible winter specials in Cape Town. While they are actually meant to attract locals during the slower business months, nobody will hold it against you to take advantage of them too. Not only will you eat like a queen, but you will also be able to get into some usually hard to get into places. Some great restaurants which offer winter specials in Cape Town and personal favorites worth standing in line for if you had to:
5. Inside(r) tips
I won’t lie to you. There will be a few days when the weather is just kak in winter. That’s why it’s called winter. And while Cape Town has the most to offer when it comes to awesome outdoor activities, it also has great options when you rather want to stay dry and inside.
Spend an afternoon at the Zeitz MOCCO followed by tea and cake at the chic Silo Hotel, have a gin strawberry slushie and a classic movie at the Labia, see a show at the Fugard Theatre or do sightseeing without getting wet from the lower deck of the Hop-On Hop-Off bus.
If you want to burn a little (or big) hole in your wallet check out one of many indoor markets like the one at the Woodstock Exchange, the Hout Bay or the Old Biscuit Mill weekend markets. And if you are a bad traveler traveling anthropologist and want to spend your day at a mall, head towards the iconic V&A Waterfront for some seriously good people watching and window shopping.
And a local favorite: drink wine. Don’t miss out on wine tasting in winter. Now you might not be able to enjoy the iconic vineyard views in Stellenbosch or Franschhoek but you can enjoy cozy fireplaces and Pinotage. In addition, there are so many cool food & wine pairings on offer these days including pizza and wine tasting at Brenaissance which is perfect for a chilly day. If you want to take it a step further, head to the wine farm Delheim as they offer cheese fondue in winter.
Check out these tours for a rainy day:
6. Surf’s up
Storms between Cape Town and the Antarctic push in the most swell between May and August which sounds a lot scarier than it is because it also makes for the best surfing and diving conditions. While I am not a surfer myself, I know that Cape Town is a mecca for those who like to board up and for good reason: whether you are a newbie or a pro you will find no shortage of suitable waves here. You will still need a wetsuit for any prolonged water activities but the water is a lot warmer in winter even in the Atlantic!
7. Jaw dropping
While this may seem an odd reason for some, for others like myself, increased shark sightings is an excellent reason to come to South Africa during the winter months. Between May and September,
60,000 Cape Fur seals come to breed and with that offer themselves up on a plate for sharks.
Winter is just the right season for sharks in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Shark Alley, a narrow strip of water in Castle Rock Marine Protected Area, is especially popular for cow sharks and their prey and an excellent spot for free divers. I expect it may come in handy to have your breath taken away when free diving… Officially freediving is not allowed here and you would need to go for shark-cage diving in Gaansbaai (something I am not a fan of for environmental and ethical reasons) so I would recommend going scuba diving in Cape Town – you will see enough sharks and seals in most areas of the Peninsula and the Atlantic including the Sevengill Shark which will remind you of grandpa shark (and get you humming underwater in no time!).
Some great tours if you don’t want to get wet:
8. Whale Watching
If you prefer watching marine life from the sidelines head to Hermanus where whale season starts in July. While I’m now spoilt for life after almost touching a whale shark up close, one of the best things to do in Cape Town in winter is going whale spotting. Sometimes they come super close to shore or you follow the Whale Crier to find the Southern Rights. Hire a boat if you want to feel like Captain Ahab and get really close and cozy.
And yes, you will occasionally see whales off the coast of Cape Town, however, if seeing them is the main objective your trip you must come to Hermanus.
9. Fifty Shades of Green
It’s always greener on the other side – that has never been truer than for the South African winter. Lush is the word to best describe the vegetation. Trees, bushes, and grass have 50 shades of green after the summer heat is gone and the soil had some rainy days.
Hiking is a favorite of the winter activities in Cape Town with no scorching sun and all that greenery to feast your eyes on. Take a leisurely stroll through Kirstenbosch or Green Point Park or if you want a bit of a challenge get up Lion’s Head or Table Mountain. Here you gotta make sure that it is dry enough as the paths can get too slippery otherwise. Most hikers on Table Mountain will hike up and take the cable car down. If you are planning to do the same, check on their website here before to make sure it is running.
If you come in late winter or early spring you are in for a special treat: the Namaqualand flowers up the West Coast are in full, glorious bloom. Make sure to hire a car and see them – these are winter getaways in Cape Town you shouldn’t miss.
10. Lions and tigers and bears
Just kidding, there are no tigers and bears in South Africa except in the zoo. But if you are not one for marine animals you should still consider a winter trip to South Africa as game watching is at its best now.
There are few good game parks in the Western Cape but I do like the looks of Gondwana and Botlierskop. If you want to have a serious safari you will need to head to the Kruger Park (perfect to add a Johannesburg stopover) or my personal favorite Phinda which is not far from Durban.
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