Affectionately known as the "Mother City" by South Africans, Cape Town is far and away one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A cosmopolitan metropolis blessed with sublime mountainous topography overlooking beautiful sandy beaches already places Cape Town in rarefied air. Combining that with innumerable microclimates; a rich immigrant diaspora with great in-town neighborhoods; quests that range from active and daring to those that are haute and historical; scenic coastal drives; and stunning vineyards and beachtowns in its suburbs and exurbs, there are few cities that can absolutely dazzle and delight its first-time visitor or habitues like Cape Town. Given the diversity and variety of its pursuits, there is truly "something for everyone". Most people will anchor their South African sojourn with a safari (and rightfully so) with just a few days in Cape Town. Given the demands of the modern schedule, we know how hard it is to extend your trip. But we would encourage you to spend at least 3 days in Cape Town as getting here for most visitors is an arduous flight so why not squeeze as much as possible out of that trip. We were very fortunate to be able to have an extended stay in Cape Town and spent essentially 7 full days in the Western Cape / Greater Cape Town Area. Whether you are here for just a handful of days or a full week, we will outline our highlights to help you fill-in/complete your very own Cape Town Itinerary!
WHEN TO GO:
In our opinion, the best time to go to Cape Town is January-May & September-December.
June-August bring more rain which can significantly hamper your plans to explore the beautiful outdoors and considered low-season.
For a predominant beach holiday, December-February are best and considered high-season. If you are more into hiking and exploring than March-May & September-November are best and are considered mid-season. Of course, individual months can vary from historical averages.
As South Africa is a huge country, your travel plans in Cape Town will have to be balanced with your plans in other parts of the country (i.e. safari, other cities/regions) as the weather maybe different elsewhere. If you are looking to explore other parts of the country, please refer to our introduction blogpost: http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2017/8/3/south-africa-introduction-preparation.
We decided to go to in May to balance the best time to go to Safari in Kruger National Park and see Cape Town/Western Cape itself: https://www.safaribookings.com/kruger/best-time. The earlier your trip in May, likely the better to avoid rainfall in Cape Town based on historical averages.
UBER is relatively cheap in Cape Town. We found the service to be reliable, safe, and helpful. We used UBER often. Use UBER's fare estimate tool to get an idea of what you would pay: https://www.uber.com/cities/cape-town/
Given the ease and pricing of UBER, you don't really need to rent a car as you can easily use UBER to explore most of the Greater Cape Town area. If you go shark cage diving, you can get transportation through a tour group. For more information, please refer to: http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2018/3/14/south-africa-great-white-shark-cage-diving-gansbaai. There are two scenarios where we thought renting a car could be helpful. First, if you decide to do the day trip around the Cape of Good Hope, we felt it would be much better to rent a car and do it on your own then go through a tour group. For more information on the Cape of Good Hope, please refer to: http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2017/10/26/south-africa-cape-of-good-hope-drive. Second, if you decide to spend a night in the Cape Wineland Regions in Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, or Paarl, it may be helpful to have a rental car to go from/back to Cape Town. However, that being said, you would still need to use an UBER there to go between vineyards. Please drink responsibly. If you are not spending a night in the Cape Winelands, you can actually UBER from Cape Town to the Cape Winelands and back at a reasonable cost of approximately $50-60 USD one-way at the time of this writing on UBER Fare Estimate tool (please see above). For more information on the Cape Wineland regions, please refer to: http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2017/9/9/south-africa-cape-winelands.
WHERE TO STAY:
We will preface this by saying we absolutely love Cape Town and reiterate that it is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. We 100% hope to go back at some point in the future. And we would encourage anyone who has any interest at all to go to South Africa to visit Cape Town; it is a must. That being said, it is not as safe as most western cities for a pedestrian to go between places. It is best to use UBER to go from point A to point B; this would minimize/mitigate any issues during the transit portion because we found the actual attractions, restaurants, bars, hotels, and cafes to all themselves be safe, fun, and exciting. However, taking walks of several blocks between points of interest should likely be avoided, especially at night. Instead always take the UBER between points of interest; we did so both during day and night. Now, this is only our opinion based on our own meticulous research beforehand and anecdotal evidence in real-time. We met at least 2 different couples that were robbed for petty cash and/or cellphones at some other point on their trips while walking around (both at night). This is not to scare, but inform our readers as minimizing risk will help maximize your trip. https://wikitravel.org/en/Cape_Town (please refer to Safety section).
Picking a neighborhood to stay is of ultimate importance. In no particular order, we felt some of the safest neighborhoods were Tamboerskloof, Gardens, Camps Bay, Bantry Bay, and VA Waterfront. These are all centrally located to most attractions. During our one-week stay in Cape Town, we stayed at hotels in both Tamboerskloof and Bantry Bay. We used UBER to go to most points of interest day/night from these hotels. The two hotels we stayed in and would recommend are:
52 de Wet (Bantry Bay) - a luxurious boutique hotel along the Atlantic Seaboard, it has breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the neighborhoods below as it is situated high on the hills. The rooms are spacious with modern touches/amenities, a generous balcony, and large bathrooms. Given its perch on the hills, you have great views both from your room and in the dining room during your delicious made-to-order complimentary breakfast. The customer service was stellar, the hotel was pristine, and we felt very safe/secure here. Please note that since you are up on the hill, allow a few extra minutes for UBERs to get there. http://www.52dewet.co.za/ & https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g312654-d1817016-Reviews-52_De_Wet-Bantry_Bay_Western_Cape.html
Derwent House (Tamboerskloof) - a boutique hotel with a fantastic location from multiple restaurants, bars, cafes, and attractions it will truly feel like a "home away from home." The staff are extremely warm, affable, and go out of their way to help answer any of your questions. If you need to print anything, they will let you use their office space. They can even provide you a loaner mobile phone or plug adapters to help charge your electronic devices if you forgot to pack them. The included made-to-order breakfast was a tremendous treat and feast. The common spaces are immaculately decorated and are a fun place to wind down the night. It was very easy to get UBERs here as well. There are different style rooms so one should browse the site to see a room that fits their needs. Our room and bathroom were slightly on the smaller side but suited our needs as we were mostly outside the hotel during daytime hours. Once again, to us, the hospitality and customer service really stood out. http://www.derwenthouse.co.za/ & https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g312659-d638954-Reviews-Derwent_House_Boutique_Hotel-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html
WHERE TO EAT:
Test Kitchen - Perennially ranked as one of the world's best restaurants, if you are looking to experience gastronomic excellence at an award-winning restaurant in South Africa this is the place for you! It is perfect for "foodies", a special occasion, or a truly romantic dinner. The service was excellent without the air of pretentiousness that restaurants of its caliber often possess. There were some very unique, inventive dishes that not only piqued our palates but also satisfied our appetites. And as a cherry on top, it is cheaper than tasting menus in many other parts of the world. Please remember that reservations need to be made well in advance. For example right now, for reservations for July, August and September 2018 the reservation book will open June 1st 2018 at 08:00am South African time; often times these reservations will book up quickly from the 1st day the reservation book opens so set your alarms! https://www.cntraveler.com/story/best-restaurants-in-the-world-where-you-can-actually-get-a-table and http://www.thetestkitchen.co.za/home/
Kloof Street House - when an immaculately decorated Old World Victorian Garden merges with a tinge of Alice in Wonderland, you have Kloof Street House. It is the perfect place to grab a pre-dinner drink, dinner itself, or a night cap! So stunning and fun that we came twice in 7 days! http://www.kloofstreethouse.co.za/ and https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g312659-d3931659-Reviews-Kloof_Street_House-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html
Mzansi Restaurant - if you are looking to get a great home-made African meal with the "warmth of family", look no further than Mzansi Restaurant! This is a very different experience from the haute/gastronomic experience at Test Kitchen, but just as memorable. Located in the Langa Township, the owner of the restaurant (Nomonde) has an amazing vision that has provided guests with an unique, special experience along with providing valuable employment opportunities for several residents of the Langa Township. You will enjoy an awesome African buffet menu and a live local band which you can even join at the end of the night! We were fortunate to have Nomonde sit with us and tell us about her family, growing up during the apartheid era, how the restaurant has grown, and how much pride several residents of Langa Township have in the restaurant. Please note that when we were there, they took only cash. Please also note that when you are approaching the restaurant, it may seem stark and scary as you enter the township, but we had no issues at the restaurant at all. http://mzansi45.co.za/ and https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g312659-d5996581-Reviews-Mzansi-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html
Hudson's Burgers - a gastropub that is a great post-hike spot to grab some greasy grub fare http://theburgerjoint.co.za/?utm_source=tripadvisor&utm_medium=referral and https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g312659-d1724605-Reviews-Hudsons_The_Burger_Joint-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html
Other Restaurants (have heard great things about these restaurants, but didn't get a chance to try them):
Afternoon Tea @ Belmond - Mount Nelson Hotel. We skipped out on this because we had plenty of afternoon tea sessions during our safari trip but have heard this is a fun experience. https://www.belmond.com/hotels/africa/south-africa/cape-town/belmond-mount-nelson-hotel/afternoon-tea and https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g312659-d3869675-Reviews-Afternoon_Tea-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html
WHAT TO DO IN CAPE TOWN:
Please note that these days are independent so you can do them in any order. We will throw our 2 cents on how/why we ordered them the way we did, where applicable.
Day 1 - Kloof Corner (and Getting Time Adjusted)
So for the vast majority of travelers, you have taken a monster flight to get to Cape Town. If you have switched multiple time zones, you are also battling major jetlag. But as any veteran traveler will tell you, the key to getting time adjusted is part will-power and part getting some sunlight exposure to help adjust your circadian rhythm. We landed at 10AM in Cape Town and we wanted to try to make it to 9PM at least before going to bed. If you are coming during the South African summer, a great idea would be to hit the pool or go to the beach (Camps Bay or Clifton Beach). Since we went in May, we decided to do a short hike instead to get our blood flowing and reset our clocks. Kloof's corner is the perfect introductory hike. You can take an UBER to the Kloof Corner Parking Area on Tafelberg Road. From there it is about a 20-30 minute one-way hike to the top. It is an easy-to-medium hike depending on your fitness level. It has some great views as you spot Lion's Head and the Atlantic Ocean. It is a favorite hike of locals. While its views won't match those of Lion's Head or Table Mountain, you want to be much fresher to really appreciate those mountains. Afterwards, we headed to dinner and then got some much needed rest. We found this link helpful: http://www.travelstart.co.za/blog/cape-town-hikes/
Day 2 - Lion's Head (including Wally's Cave and Watchman Cave)
For us, this was one of the true highlights of our entire Cape Town trip! You will never be short of spectacular views and hikes in Cape Town, but in our opinion this topped them all. As Lion's Head comes to a narrow, flat top, you will be rewarded with dramatic 360 degree panoramic views of Table Mountain, Twelve Apostles, the Atlantic Ocean, Robben Island, Camp's Bay, Clifton Beaches, and the City Bowl. Since there is no aerial cableway here, this is an easy-to-medium level hike depending on your level of fitness. Of course, bring water and wear shoes. We would recommend doing this hike in broad daylight as there are some narrow ledges and it is better to be safe (especially if it is your first-time here). You can take an Uber directly to the Lion's Head Parking Area. From there the trail starts easy with a broad dirt slope. Much of the first half of the trail is essentially like a corkscrew as you keep circling your way around the mountain to the summit. If you were going straight to the top and back down, we would actually allot approximately 2.5-3 hours round-trip for the hike; this would allow you time to savor the views at the peak. We however were on a mission to find the "secret caves" at Lion's Head and were fortunate to locate both Wally's Cave and Watchman's Cave! Watchman's Cave is the first one you can get to as it is just above the main path when the path is overlooking Signal Hill. The first time the corkscrew trail is overlooking Signal Hill, look up to spot the cave; you can then do a short scramble up to the cave and spend some time enjoying the views from Watchman's cave. You can then scramble back down to the main path and continue going to the top or try to find Wally's Cave. If you want to find Wally's cave we would recommend these sites to familiarize yourself: https://www.thewholeworldisaplayground.com/capetown-hiking-lions-head-how-to-find-wallys-cave/; https://insideguide.co.za/cape-town/caves-cape-town/; http://www.lifeofmike.co.za/exploring-lions-head-caves-cape-town/. Even with this research, we were halfway to Wally's Cave and still had a little trouble finding it. Luckily, as we were trying to figure out what the next step was, we saw some people returning from Wally's Cave and they directed us down the right path. If you are fortunate to find Wally's Cave, it is the ultimate bonus treat. Sometimes the paths to Wally's Cave maybe closed for safety reasons so check ahead of time. Since some of the ways to Wally's Cave are "off-trail" make sure to go and leave during broad daylight hours. When we were done with Wally's Cave, we returned back to the main path and then continued up to the summit. The second half of getting the trail to the summit is a mix of rocky trails, ladders, and scrambling to get to the top of Lion's Head. Up at the summit, saying it was breathtaking would be an understatement! We spent a good 30-40 minutes at the top to take it all in. Overall, we spent about 4.5-5 hours total at Lion's Head between the secret caves and the main path and it was worth every minute! Other helpful resources include: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g312659-d481585-Reviews-Lion_s_Head-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html and http://bbqboy.net/essential-must-hike-cape-town-lions-head/
Day 3 - Great White Shark Cage Diving
As discussed in our earlier blogpost, there are very few places in the world where you can go Great White Shark Cage Diving. And, perhaps, this may be the best place to view Great White Sharks and makes it the easiest for the beginner. Given variability in weather and shark activity, please don't save this for the very last full day as you want some flexibility ideally. For more details on Great White Shark Cage Diving, please refer to our prior blog post: http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2018/3/14/south-africa-great-white-shark-cage-diving-gansbaai
On either the evenings of Day 2 or 3, when you have the energy and time, head to Camp's Bay approximately 1-2 hours before sunset. You can ask your Uber to drop you off at Maiden's Cove Parking (off of Victoria Road). At this site, you can climb some rocks and get a gorgeous view of the Twelve Apostles and the entire beach. Afterwards you can grab food and drinks at the many establishments along Victoria Road. You could also do this at the end of the Cape of Good Hope drive as we've detailed on a prior blogpost and below on Day 5: http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2017/10/26/south-africa-cape-of-good-hope-drive
Day 4 - Table Mountain and Constantia Vineyards
For the morning, we wanted to check out the iconic Table Mountain! For the true hardcore hikers, there are multiple hiking routes to Table Mountain such as Platteklip Gorge, Skeleton Gorge, or India Venster. These can range from 3-5 hours one-way (and you can come back down the aerial cableway). These hiking routes would require their own research outside of our purview. Having done a full hike at Lion's Head a few days prior and to save a lot of time, we just took the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway both ways. Luckily, it was open during the day we wanted to go to Table Mountain (it maybe closed due to weather conditions). To save even more time, you can buy and print these tickets ahead of time so you can go straight to the Aerial Cableway when you get to Table Mountain National Park: https://www.tablemountain.net/. Once up there, you could spend 2-3 hours enjoying various short and long walks along the top of Table Mountain to see Cape Town in all of its angles including Devil's Peak, Lion's Head, Twelve Apostles, the beaches, the harbor, etc. With the Aerial Cableway, this attraction can work for individuals of various ages and fitness levels. It would certainly help to have some flexibility on the day you decide to go to Table Mountain National Park as the cloud cover can quickly envelope the mountain blocking its spectacular views. Thus, it is best to play close attention to the forecast once you are in Cape Town and then plan accordingly. If there are good conditions, GO, GO, GO! https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g1026865-d317744-Reviews-Table_Mountain-Table_Mountain_National_Park_Western_Cape.html
For the afternoon, we wanted to check out some amazing Vineyards in Constantia (a nearby Cape Town suburb). For those who do not have time to check out some of the other wine regions further out in the Western Cape, this is a must. For more details on exploring Constantia, please refer to our prior blog post: http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2017/9/9/south-africa-cape-winelands
Day 5 - Cape of Good Hope Drive
After days of several active pursuits, time to hit the road for an amazing coastal scenic drive for a perfect full-day road trip in a rental car. There are so many gorgeous stops and vistas for people of all interests. For more details on the Cape of Good Hope Drive, please refer to our prior blog post: http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2017/10/26/south-africa-cape-of-good-hope-drive
Day 6 - Robben Island and Bo-Kaap
For the morning we booked our tickets to Robben Island. You can book your tickets on: http://www.robben-island.org.za/ and http://webtickets.co.za/events/tourism/robben-island-museum-tour/76219. The tickets include a round-trip ferry ride across Table Bay from V&A Waterfront to Robben Island and a full tour with a guide and bus-ride on Robben Island. Robben Island was used as a place to house political prisoners fighting to end apartheid, segregation, and economic/social/political oppression. Given the fact that apartheid only ended in the 1990s, this is a must for any historical buff who has read about this centuries long struggle for civil liberty and rights. The sacrifice of the patriots imprisoned, beaten, and many of whom died here helped give birth to a new South African nation. Here you will see the brutal living and work conditions of the prisoners as well as Nelson Mandela's small individual cell. Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 imprisoned years here at Robben Island. It is a powerful experience and gives special appreciation for what Nelson Mandela (and others) sacrificed and how he was able to mentally, psychologically, and physically survive this ordeal and forgive this long dark chapter to peacefully lead a new South Africa as president. While some tour groups are led by ex-prisoners from Robben Island, many of these prisoners have passed away or severely injured from years of working and being abused in poor conditions at Robben Island. We had a younger tour guide who was passionate and delineated the atrocities of the apartheid era. Our one negative was that the tour groups are extremely packed and it did seem slightly rushed. The tour may also be cancelled due to weather/winds given the ferry ride so if this tour is very important to you, make sure to not save it to the last day. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g312659-d311008-Reviews-Robben_Island-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html
For lunch and the afternoon, we explored Bo-Kaap / Cape Malay Quarter (home of the gorgeous, colorful pastel houses). It is a former township in the City Bowl (dating to the 1700s) where many of the early Muslim settlers to Cape Town lived. We would definitely recommend going on a bright sunny day for gorgeous pictures to make your Instagram dreams come true. If you are hungry, you can check out restaurants such as Bo-Kaap Kombuis which has great views and above average food in the neighborhood. Outside of eating, we would allocate about 30-45 minutes here, walking around and soaking in some history, and snap some amazing photos! We took the rest of the afternoon easy given a full-week of exploration and since we were headed out to Stellenbosch the next day. https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g312659-d481271-Reviews-Bo_kaap-Cape_Town_Central_Western_Cape.html
Day 7 - Stellenbosch
There are several wine regions to chose from in the Western Cape and we chose to explore Stellenbosch for a day. We left Cape Town in the morning to head to Stellenbosch in a rental car. We explored a couple of vineyards and the town during the day and night. For more details on exploring Stellenbosch, please refer to our prior blog post: http://www.seekingsky.com/blog/2017/9/9/south-africa-cape-winelands
Day 8 - Leave Stellenbosch and head straight to Airport