1. Check out Historical and Government Sites
If you head to Cape Town’s colonial center, you can take a tour of the Castle of Good Hope, the oldest surviving building in South Africa. Tours are offered every hour from 11 AM to 4 PM. Some additional attractions at the Castle include the Key Ceremony, demonstrating the unlocking of the Van der Stel entrance at 10 AM and 12 PM, and the Cannon Firing, which takes place hourly from 10 AM to 12 PM.
Just a short walk from the Castle of Good Hope are Cape Town’s City Hall and the Parliament building. Built in 1885 during the British colonial rule, the Parliament building is available for free tours during the week, but reserving a tour in advance is essential. As a nod to the colonial past of Cape Town and South Africa, a Queen Victoria statue sits in front of the main entrance to the Parliament Building.
After you’ve visited City Hall and Parliament, make sure to stop by The Company’s Garden, a garden that was first built by European settlers in order to cultivate fresh produce in the 17th century and is now known as Cape Town’s green lung.
2. Take a Tour of Robben Island
Robben Island, accessible by ferry, is the island in Table Bay where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Ferries depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront three times per day (9 AM, 11 AM and 1 PM). Keep in mind that, depending on the weather, the ferry ride can sometimes be very rocky. Tours should be booked in advance through the website and last 3.5 hours, including the ferry ride to and from the island. Once you arrive on the island, you will take a short walk to a bus that will take you around to all of the historical sites on the island.
Once you’re done with your tour, spend some time walking around the V&A Waterfront. There’s plenty to see and do at the waterfront, including dining, shopping and sightseeing. We recommend checking out the V&A Food Market for lunch — it’s a multi-level building with a variety of different dining options.
Depending on where you’re staying, you may find that the Bo-Kaap neighborhood is on your way back from the waterfront. This is the neighborhood you have likely seen in photos, with rows and rows of brightly colored houses. Even if the neighborhood is not on your way back, we recommend making a short trip at some point during your stay.
3. Visit Table Mountain National Park
Table Mountain is the most identifiable site in Cape Town, and offers one of the most stunning views of the city on a clear day. You can buy the tickets for the cable car online, and it’s best to go early in order to beat the crowds and ensure a better chance that Table Mountain isn’t wrapped in clouds, which tend to move in during the afternoons. If the chance of cloud cover is low, sunsets are also a great time to visit the mountain. At 12 PM every day, you can hear the gunshot from Signal Hill (with the exception of Sundays and public holidays).
4. Take a Day Trip to the Cape Peninsula
The Cape Peninsula, which is also part of Table Mountain National Park, is a great day trip from the city of Cape Town. Take a scenic route to the Cape Peninsula, making sure to visit Chapman’s Peak Drive, which offers a panoramic view of Hout Bay on clear days. It’s important to check ahead of time that the drive is open, as it often closes when there is bad weather.
Before you head up Peak Drive, make a stop in Hout Bay and take a quick boat tour to Duiker Island to see large numbers of Cape Fur Seal. Watch out for Great White sharks hunting the seals in the waters around Duiker Island.
Your drive will take you to the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern tip of Cape Peninsula. It is the most south-western point of the African continent. Just a short drive from Cape of Good Hope is Cape Point, where you can either walk a paved walkway with stairs or take the paid Flying Dutchman funicular up to the old Cape Point Lighthouse. Watch out for Baboons at Cape Point, as they are fearless when it comes to tourists and are always looking to steal any food or shiny objects you might have on you. One even jumped into our small tour bus and sat in a seat while we were on the bus. Luckily, he didn’t find anything appealing and left when our driver shooed him away. To be safe, though, don’t take any food with you while walking around Cape Point.
After visiting the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point make sure to stop in Simon’s Town on your way back. Simon’s Town is a small town where you can enjoy some lunch in one of the restaurants along St. George’s Street. The town is home to the South African Navy’s Naval Base, but the stars in town are the African Penguins that live on nearby Boulders Beach. For an entrance fee you can take the wooden walkway down to the beach and penguins.
5. Visit the Botanical Gardens
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, also located within the Table Mountain National Park, is a beautiful garden close to central Cape Town. After paying the entry fee, you can either choose to walk around on your own or take a free guided tour. The tours last approximately 1.5 hours. Whether you choose to take a tour or not, make sure to check out the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, a new curved steel and timber bridge that winds and dips its way through and over the trees of the Arboretum offering stunning views of the gardens below.
6. Drink Some Local Wine
Finally, South Africa is known as one of the world’s ‘New World’ wine producing countries, along with Argentina, Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States. Just east of Cape Town is a famous wine region with several vineyards you can tour and participate in tastings. We have explored Cape Town’s wine region more extensively in this post, but wanted to mention here that it’s definitely worth either booking a wine region tour or at least purchasing some South African wine to enjoy in your room on your trip.