13 Experiences You Must Have In Cape Town, South Africa
By Shontel Horne
Cape Town, South Africa is a bucket list destination for countless travelers, but as one of the most robust cities in the world, it can also be overwhelming if you don’t have a solid plan in place when it comes to what you want to see and do. You could visit Cape Town multiple times and still not see all that the “Mother City” has to offer, but if you want to start with the highlights, these experiences are not to be missed.
Take the cableway to the top of Table Mountain
A visit to Table Mountain is the best way to start your trip to Cape Town, but make sure the aerial cableway is in operation! The cableway is often unavailable in the winter months due to the weather, but when it is in operation, it’s the most convenient way to access the mountain, which offers breathtaking views of Cape Town that you won’t find anywhere else.
Take a Cape Malay cooking class
Cape Town’s Cape Malay population are a diverse group of people who are descendants of Southeast Asian slaves that were brought to South Africa in the 16th century. Food is an essential part of the history of the Cape Malay people, so take a cooking class like this one offered on Airbnb Experiences to learn more about the history and flavors that are distinct to the Cape Malay culture.
Visit Robben Island and Drakenstein Correctional Centre
Beginning in 1962, Robben Island, a tiny island located in Table Bay just 4.5 miles from Cape Town, held black and “colored” anti-Apartheid political prisoners, and it was where the future president Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of his 27 years in prison. For his final years in prison, Mandela was sent to Drakenstein Correctional Centre, where he was housed in a cottage for 14 before his release on February 11, 1990. Tour the locations with Mandela’s former warder for a moving look into the life, struggles, and hardships of Mandela, and to get a deeper understanding of his fight for equality in his native land.
Relax in one of Cape Town’s tranquil gardens
Walking through one of Cape Town’s many public parks or gardens is an ethereal experience, and there are so many to choose from! Locals love the green lawns at De Waal Park and the trail at the Green Point Park and Biodiversity Garden is perfect for an inspiring morning run. Play a life-size game of chess at Company’s Garden or visit the Durbanville Rose Garden between October and May to see thousands of rose bushes in bloom, all free of charge! Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is one of the most popular gardens in the region, and though there’s a fee to get in, the garden is one of the most celebrated gardens in the world and worth the visit.
Have a photo shoot in Bo-Kaap
The homes in the beautiful neighborhood of Bo-Kapp are painted in bold, beautiful colors, which makes them the perfect backdrop for a fun photo shoot. Grab a friend or a tripod and head to Bo-Kaap to get your perfect, vibrant photos for the ‘gram.
Have a night out on Long Street
Want to see how Cape Town parties? Long Street is Cape Town’s answer to Bourbon Street and it’s the place to be if you to go bar hopping and dancing in the city center. There are plenty of bars, clubs, and restaurants to choose from, but if you want a relaxed vibe, visit during the day to enjoy cafés, shops, and bookstores.
Learn about South African wine
Within the Western Cape, you’ll find several wine regions which all produce the pinotage, MCC (South Africa’s version of sparkling wine), and Chardonnay that the country is known for. Take a tour of wineries in the beautiful town of Paarl or marvel at the centuries-old vineyards in Franschhoek, but if it’s your first time in Cape Town’s wine region, you’ll want to do your first wine tour in Stellenbosch.
Hang out with penguins at Boulders Beach
Head to Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town between September and February to see thousands of adorable African penguins frolicking in the water, playing in the sand, and living their best lives under the African sun. You can get pretty close to the penguins, but it’s safe to keep a nice distance since they’re known to bite.
Browse artwork at Zeitz MOCAA
With more than six floors, Cape Town’s Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is the largest contemporary art museum in all of Africa. Here you’ll find paintings, video installations, sculptures, and mixed-media work by artists from countries throughout Africa and the African diaspora, and the museum gorgeous museum is conveniently located at the bustling V&A Waterfront.
Go shopping at V&A Waterfront
After you’re down browsing art at Zeitz MOCAA, spend the rest of the day shopping at the V&A Waterfront and the Silo District. There’s something for everyone at this sprawling mixed-used space, so whether you want to shop at stores that are recognizable or you want to support local artists, designers, and merchants, you’ll find everything you’re looking for here.
Stroll down St. James Beach
The row of colorful bathing boxes along St. James Beach is instantly recognizable, and the beach itself is tiny and ideal for a picnic or a dip in the tidal pool. During the summer months, the picturesque beach gets packed, so you’ll want to go early in the day during the popular season or visit when the crowds are smaller during the winter.
Learn about slavery in South Africa
Located in one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town, The Slave Lodge is a museum that explores the history of slavery throughout South Africa. The museum has a collection of antique ceramics, silverware, and household objects, and the galleries feature both permanent collections of artifacts and rotating contemporary art exhibits.
Watch the sunset at the Cape of Good Hope
Rugged and serene, the cliffs, rocks, and natural vegetation you’ll find at Cape Point (which is in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park) is a reminder of the natural beauty that can be found all throughout Cape Town. Spend some time watching the waves crash as you walk along the rocks and be sure to stop by the lighthouse.