Capetonians love their city and rightfully so. Cape Town is a great place to live in for mountain and ocean lovers alike, it has plenty on the weekly calendar in terms of activities, and the food, as well as the wine, is second to none. No, we locals (and I am still counting myself as one of them) think we have hit the geographical jackpot despite a really bad drought that is currently forcing everyone to smell a bit more ‘au natural’ than usual.
We completely get why tourists are flocking to the Mothercity as soon as the sun comes out though we may bitch and complain about it when we can’t get a dinner reservation at our favorite restaurant or are stuck in chockablock traffic on the way to the beach (or work) in summer.
The best thing about Cape Town? You don’t need to have a lot of money to have a great time. While visitors who come with dollars, pounds or euros are usually delighted at the (for us) crappy exchange rate, there is plenty of free things to do in Cape Town – for everyone.
My favorites? Here you go…
Free things to do in Cape Town
Cape Town Beaches
Going to the beach in Cape Town is free – everywhere. From windswept Noordhoek to cool Clifton, getting your tan on is for everybody. The only exception: Boulders Beach in Simonstown. This beach is world famous as you can see and sometimes even swim with the African penguins here.
However, the beach is part of Sanparks and you will have to pay R 75 entrance fee. If you want to avoid this I recommend driving just a little further from Simonstown to Windmill Beach. This little bay is incredibly pretty, deserted, and free. The best thing about it? You may have the penguins all to yourself!
And of course, another great part that comes for free at Cape Town beaches: surfing, the South African’s favorite past time after braaing. For good waves head to Muizenberg, Llandudno or as a kitesurfer Blouberg Beach.
Promenade Walk & Workout
The Seapoint Promenade is the place to see and be seen. Here you will not only find an array of joggers, dog walkers, and their ‘children’ but also find stunning views over the Atlantic and the paragliders landing after gliding off Signal Hill.
Perfect area to catch a whiff of local life and to work out for free. Even if you are not a jogger there are plenty of work out possibilities on the lawn and a proper outdoor gym. And if your workout consists of lifting a glass full of yummy South African wine you can do so here while watching buff Capetonians doing their pull-ups – usually shirtless!
Free Walking Tours
I love walking tours especially if they are free. Personally, I am much more inclined to book another tour after checking out a company/guide for a tip first.
These free tours in Cape Town all start at the Greenmarket Square and cover different areas of the city and its history: Historic City Tour, Bo-Kaap Walking Tour or From Apartheid to Freedom Tour are on offer.
Eat the City
While eating out in Cape Town can be inexpensive it is of course not free. Unless you head to one of the many markets and sample your way through.
Good old favorite is, of course, the Neighborgoods Market every Saturday at the Old Biscuit Mill though I prefer the more relaxed Hope Street Market every Thursday evening and Saturday morning or the Hout Bay Harbour Market running from Friday evenings throughout the weekend.
You may end up spending a lot to stock up on the goods you tried before but in theory, it is possible to visit a market completely free!
If you want to combine eating cheaply and exploring Cape Town’s nature I recommend foraging. Veld and Sea offer great workshops and events around foraging but of course, you can always explore on your own.
Tokai forest and the area around Rhodes Memorial are great for mushroom hunting in September whereas the fynbos areas around Cape Town offer many edible plants – for free! And of course, the ocean provides plenty of bounties all year round. Get a mollusk or crayfish permit from the post office and you can pick your (almost free) crayfish, mussels, and sea urchins straight from the ocean.
Drink the City
Of course, in a city like Cape Town, you not only want to eat but also drink all the lovely South African wine. Wine tasting at a vineyard will cost a small fee, however, this fee is usually waived if you buy wine at the same time.
If you prefer to stay in town head to Wine Concepts on Kloof Street. This wine store not only has an amazing selection of wine and MCC (Méthode Cap Classique, South Africa’s equivalent to champagne) but also free wine tastings every day.
Table Mountain & Lion’s Head
Some of the best hiking routes in Cape Town are free including getting to the summit of Table Mountain. You will need a good fitness level but for those who are on a budget, it is definitely possible to skip the cable car. The route via Platteklip Gorge is the quickest, most direct, and most popular aka crowded to the summit. It is easy all things considered but not ‘easy’ for someone who is putting on hiking boots for the first time.
The way via Skeleton Gorge takes you through a lush ravine and is somewhat longer, however, a lot more scenic.
South Africans who are keen to get up Table Mountain but don’t want to hike should wait for their birthdays. With a valid SA ID, you get a free cable car ticket for your birthday week.
If you rather want views of Table Mountain then I recommend a hike up Lion’s Head. Especially nice during a full moon when many locals and visitors make up their way in the dark (do take a torch, the full moon is usually not enough to light the way adequately). If you are lazy take the car up to Signal Hill where you will have the same views minus the hike.
Gardens & Parks
If you are more for leisurely strolling and chilling in the sun, head to one of Cape Town’s many parks and gardens. I personally love Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens for a walk or a picnic and their weekly concerts in summer. However, they come with a price tag.
For free alternatives head for a walk in adjacent Newlands Forest, the Greenpoint Urban Park or Company Gardens in town. And if you are looking for a free event in Cape Town head to De Waal Park. Each Sunday there is a free concert here, a great and cheap alternative to the Kirstenbosch summer concerts. You can find the schedule here – don’t miss the local favorite, Freshlyground, on March 18th.
If you want to get more art and culture on the low head to the Iziko museums on commemorative days to get in for free. You can see a list of museums and days included here.
If you want to initiate an engagement (or scare someone off) head to the Cape Town Diamond Museum at Shimansky. Entrance is free, probably in the hopes that you will linger in the gift shop after to buy a little something…
One of my favorite free things to do in Cape Town is First Thursdays. As the name implies it happens every first Thursday of the month and is a great way to explore the inner city by foot.
Galleries, restaurants, and bars as well as shops open their doors to the wanderers and can be explored for free.
First Thursdays usually provide a great atmosphere on the streets (Cape Town is usually not really a walking city) and give the opportunity to see some great art for free (there might even be some free wine provided here and there!).