Things to Do in Cape Town, South Africa

by Elizabeth Hansen,

Beautiful Cape Town is easily my favorite city in South Africa. It may be that I just feel comfortable here because the climate and the vibe are so similar to my hometown – San Diego, California – but I think relative safety and natural attributes are also factors.

South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winners on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize winners on the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town.

The best way to see this sprawling city’s sights is with a private guide from a reliable company such as Jarat Tours. They will personalize your experience, transport you safely from place to play, and provide informative commentary.

If I only had one day in Cape Town, I’d spend it all at Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden – but, admittedly, I’m more passionate about gardening than most visitors. The first time I went to South Africa I traveled with my friend Sue from Durban. The second time (several years later), I was with my husband – and neither of them wanted to spend as much time at Kirstenbosch as I did.

Having said that, these Cape Town gardens are world famous for a good reason. The spectacular plantings of southern Africa natives sprawl up the eastern slope of Table Mountain in dramatic fashion. Of these, the protea gardens are by far my favorites. It took my husband and our guide pleading in unison to finally convince me it was time to move on.

A couple of tips:

The gardens are more crowded on the weekends when Cape Town families come for the day; it isn’t safe to wander around alone in isolated areas; wear comfortable shoes because some of the paths are steep.


Many visitors (including Barack Obama) consider Robben Island the top attraction in Cape Town. The island is almost synonymous with Nelson Mandela who was imprisoned here for 27 years. Robben Island has been a museum and a World Heritage site since 1997.


Make a reservation for one of the high-speed ferries to Robben Island before you arrive in Cape Town  because they are often booked out a week or more ahead of time.  Peak season is mid-December to mid-January. Take sunglasses and a hat.

Table Mountain:

Table mountain, reached via an aerial cableway, is another top Cape Town attraction. The view from the top, where there are native animals and wildflowers, is broad and glorious. However, be forewarned that “take the cablecar to the top of Table Mountain” is on every visitor’s list and, if you don’t like being surrounded by tourists, you might want to spend your time elsewhere.

On our last trip to Cape Town, the parking lot at the base of the cableway was full of tour buses and the wait to go up to the top was four hours. We enjoyed the view from part way up the mountain and then continued on to the scenic…


Table mountain,

Victoria & Alfred waterfront, where a high-energy African dance troupe was performing. We also lucked out and stumbled upon a small jazz band playing near the wonderful line-up of statues of South African Nobel Peace Prize winners. Some scenes from the movie Blood Diamonds were shot on the V&A waterfront.

I loved the drive down to the Cape of Good Hope because we saw Southern Right Whales offshore and had up close views of baboons, ostriches, zebras, antelopes and yes – gorgeous yellow protea – along the road.800px-Cape_of_good_hope

A short detour took us to Boulders Beach, where there is a colony of tiny penguins, and then we arrived at the southwestern tip of the African continent. The Cape of Good Hope is a beautiful, windy spot – just remember to bring a jacket.

Boulders beach,

Boulders beach,

I’ve already recommended staying at the luxurious Steenberg Hotel in the Constantia Valley wine region, 20 minutes outside of Cape Town, but you can also just go there for a meal, wine tasting, to enjoy the spa, or to play golf. The estate – where low mountains shelter vineyards, a winery, and picturesque whitewashed Cape Dutch buildings – is well worth a visit. My favorite meal at the Steenberg is Sunday brunch – and I’m not alone. Lots of well-heeled Capetonians also enjoy the picturesque setting, abundant buffet, and local wines. Just be sure to book in advance.

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