Cape Town Travel Guide
Cape Town is South Africa's crown jewel and the most European city you'll find on the continent. Founded by the Dutch East India Company in 1652, it was South Africa's first attempt at a modern metropolis, earning it the nickname "The Mother City." Because of its strategic location at the southwestern tip of Africa, for centuries it played an important role in global trade. Today it's one of South Africa's three capital cities. The metro area covers 950 square miles and is home to 3.5 million people. The city's setting, a dramatic coastline in the shadow of Table Mountain National Park, is as picturesque as its history is problematic. Like the rest of South Africa, Cape Town is still trying to recover from the apartheid era which ended in 1994. While crime and corruption are still issues, in 2010 the city helped host the FIFA World Cup and tourism has only grown since then.
Best Time to Go
Cape Town is worth visiting year-round. That said, it looks different each season. Late December through March is South Africa's summer. It's when Cape Town is alive with tourists escaping their own winters back home and locals enjoying the gorgeous weather. It's sunny, dry, and warm enough to warrant a dip in the ocean. The city's social calendar is packed with events, and while prices might be higher during this peak season, at least everything is open. If you're looking for lower prices and fewer people, visit during the winter, late June through late September. Pack a raincoat because winter means wet. If your goal is to see whales, check out the Hermanus Whale Festival usually held in late September. However, July and August are also considered great months for whale watching. Finally, the shoulder seasons can be just as unforgettable. Spring, September through early December, is when the wildflowers are in full bloom. Autumn, late March through early June, is thought to be the best time to go cage diving with great white sharks.
Things to Know
Currency: Rand (ZAR)
($1 USD = 14.27 ZAR; Check the current exchange rate)
Tipping: Tipping is greatly appreciated in Cape Town. If the service is good, 10% is customary. Sometimes gratuity is added at restaurants, especially for groups, so check your bill before accidentally tipping twice.
Language: Most sources say there are 11 official languages in South Africa (some say 12). Xhosa, English, and Afrikaans are among the most spoken. That said, most people speak English, and all signs in Cape Town are in English. There's no need for Google Translate. However, it can be helpful to know a few common terms.
Lekker: great or nice; "That was a lekker surf session."
Braai: outdoor barbecue; "If you're lucky, locals will invite you to their weekend braai."
Bru: friend/pal; "My bru works at a winery in Stellenbosch."
Calling Code: +27 21
Outlets: South Africa uses type C,D,M, and N plugs. Pack an adapter or be prepared to buy one in Cape Town. The voltage is 230V and standard frequency is 50Hz. So, you may also need to buy a converter if you're using an appliance requiring more voltage.
How to Get Around
Trains: Cape Town's trains exist as the Metrorail, but they're not particularly reliable. If you ask locals, they can also be unsafe. It's not recommended to ride them alone, especially at night. If you do want to take one, the most popular line is the South line running to Simon's Town. Tickets can be purchased at stations or from Metrorail officials with portable ticket machines.
Buses: While there are several local buses and minibuses, basically vans shuttling commuters, the best buses for visitors are the MyCiTi buses. They connect with the airport and serve scheduled stops in high traffic tourist areas. Fares are loaded onto myconnect cards which can be purchased at station kiosks and select retailers and ATMs. Another option is the City Sightseeing Bus. These Hop-On-Hop-Off buses also make scheduled stops at popular tourist destinations and include commentary in 15 languages. The Red Line covers the northern part of Cape Town, and the Blue Line goes all the way to Hout Bay in the south. Tickets can be purchased online.
Taxis/Rideshare: Ubers are everywhere in Cape Town. They're reliable, safe and extremely affordable. A 45-minute Uber from downtown Cape Town to a Muizenberg can cost as little as $12. They also service the airport. If you don't have Uber and want to use a traditional taxi, try to use a call ahead car service that is verified.
12 Apostles Hotel and Spa
Address: Victoria Road, Camps Bay
Phone: +27 21 4379000
It's hard not to miss this five-star oceanfront property because it's the only building on its stretch of the scenic drive to Chapman's Peak. Each of its 70 rooms has either a sweeping view of the 12 Apostles mountain range or the Atlantic Ocean where it's not uncommon to see seals sunning themselves or whales breaching. Between the adjoining spa and the food and drinks served in the fabled Leopard Bar, guests never even have to venture into town.
The President Hotel Cape Town
Address: 4 Alexander Rd, Bantry Bay
Phone: +27 21 434 8111
This esteemed four-star hotel in the quiet residential community of Bantry Bay is just blocks from the beach. Dozens of shops and restaurants are within walking distance. The property, popular with business travelers and conferences, is also home to a restaurant, spa, salon, gift shop, and large outdoor swimming pool. Rooms are generous in size and include apartments available for long-term stays.
Address: Dock Rd, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, 8001
Phone: +27 21 431 5888
An urban resort you'd expect to find on a tropical island, the One&Only offers Cape Town's most exotic accommodations. The property boasts several swimming pools, including the largest infinity pool in the city. This pool is home to two private islands with several suites ideal for families. In terms of other amenities, the One&Only has a kids club, spa, fitness center, and an array of destination restaurants including Nobu.
Bliss Boutique Hotel
Address: 25 Albus Dr., Cape Town, 7441
Phone: +27 21 551 0441
A popular choice among couples and honeymooners, this boutique hotel has just eight rooms. But they're so well-appointed they even feature pillow menus. The property is located along Sunset Beach (with exclusive beach access), 15 minutes north of Cape Town but close enough to have impressive Table Mountain views. Facilities include private viewing decks, a solar-heated pool and splash pad, and a restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
La Rose Bed & Breakfast
Address: 32 Rose St, Schotsche Kloof
Phone: +27 21 422 5883
The hearts and brains behind this budget-friendly retreat belong to the husband and wife team of Adheera Bodasing, a South African of Indian descent, and Yoann Nicolas, a Frenchman who fell in love with South Africa in his 20s. Each of the nine rooms is unique, paying homage to different cultures via art and décor collected by the couple on their travels. The property is located in the eclectic Bo-Kaap, formerly the Cape Malay quarters, neighborhood.
Mojo Market (food court with local pop-ups)
Address: 30 Regent Road, Sea Point, Cape Town, 8060
Phone: +27 21 422 4888
Open seven days a week, Mojo Market is Sea Point's trendy indoor market where diners can find more than 15 local food stalls and "traders." Choose from fresh mussels, artisanal pizza, build-your-own burritos, sushi, and even Cape Town's only macaroni and cheese joint. While there's live music every night and plenty of TVs, the best entertainment here is people watching.
Mzansi Restaurant (African)
Address: 45 Harlem Ave, Langa, Cape Town, 7455
Phone: +27 73 754 8502
Reservations are definitely required at this popular African restaurant ranked #1 on TripAdvisor out of nearly 1,000 restaurants in Cape Town Central. Food is served buffet style with signature dishes being flavorful plays on traditional Xhosa meals. While the restaurant serves specialities like chicken feet and sheep's head (upon request), it's also vegetarian-friendly.
Die Strandloper (seafood)
Address: Jan Olfsen Str, Leentjiesklip, Langebaan, 7357
Phone: +27 22 77 22 490
Family-owned and operated, Die Strandloper is famous in Cape Town for its 10-course seafood lunch or dinner served on the beach. Allow for at least three hours to enjoy everything from smoked angelfish to barbecued mackerel and even kreef, South Africa's spiny lobster. Reservations are required.
Wine Studio (wine pairings)
Address: Dock Rd, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, 8001
Phone: +27 21 431 4511
Brand new as of 2021, the One&Only's Wine Studio showcases the property's award-winning wine collection in a unique reverse pairing experience. Head sommelier Luvo Ntezo hosts these exclusive private dinners featuring rare vintages, special guests from local wineries, and even the opportunity to create your own signature blend. Reservations are required.
Café Caprice (contemporary café)
Address: 37 Victoria Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town, 8005
Phone: +27 21 438 8315
Ask a dozen locals where the best place to sip a cocktail and watch the sunset in Cape Town is and at least half will mention Café Caprice. Open seven days a week, the café serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's also the best place to see and be seen in Camps Bay, so dress to impress or at the very least, be impressed.
Kauai (healthy fast food)
Multiple locations throughout Cape Town
Cape Town's best fast food option is this beloved South African chain serving fresh wraps, salads, omelettes, and smoothies. Ingredients are what you'd expect to find at a pricey health food store, still it's easy to get a filling meal for $5. There are several locations throughout Cape Town, and they're open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Things to Do
Surf at Muizenberg
Address: Beach Rd., Cape Town, 7950
Phone: +27 82 412 8781
The ocean around Cape Town is cold, but it's also home to one of the best beaches in the world to learn how to surf. Muizenberg, a surfing community about 40 minutes from Cape Town, is famous for its historic colorful changing houses. It also boasts great beginner waves all day every day. While there are a number of surf schools in Muizenberg, if you're staying in Cape Town it's worth it to go with a mobile school like Stoked Surf School which includes roundtrip transportation.
See the penguins at Boulder Beach
Address: Kleintuin Road, Sea Forth, Simons Town, 7975
Phone: +27 21 786 2329
Billed as the only place where you can get close to African penguins in the wild, Boulder Beach is a must if you find yourself on the False Bay side of Cape Town. For a small entrance fee, visitors can observe the comings and goings of the colony who live on this white sand beach named for its truck-sized boulders. It's also possible to swim with the penguins, but be forewarned; the water is frigid.
Hike in Table Mountain National Park
Address: 5821 Tafelberg Rd., Table Mountain, Cape Town, 8001
Phone: +27 21 424 8181 (aerial cableway)
Table Mountain is South Africa's most famous landmark and the namesake for this sprawling national park stretching from the city all the way down the cape peninsula to include the southernmost point of Africa. In addition to striking geological formations, it's home to incredible bio-diversity including distinct vegetation not found anywhere else in the world. Hike one of many trails to the top of Table Mountain (3,563 ft.) or ride the cable car to the top where even more trails converge and offer panoramic views for miles.
Visit Robben Island
Address: Private Bag Robben Island, Cape Town, 7400
Phone: +27 21 413 4200
Located in Table Bay, visible from almost anywhere in Cape Town, Robben Island looms in the background much like Alcatraz in San Francisco. But this infamous island has 400 years of its own fascinating history. Once occupied by wildlife and indigenous peoples, it was important for trade and hunting during the Age of Exploration before later becoming home to everything from banished convicts to a whaling station and even an insane asylum. Today, it's where visitors can tour the former prison and see the cell where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. Other attractions on the island include a penguin sanctuary and lepers' graveyard.
Visit the Cape Winelands
Address: Stellanbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl
There are hundreds of wine farms growing grapes in Cape Town's fertile backyard known as the Winelands. Most are within an hour's drive of the city and are open to the public for tastings and tours. This region, one of the oldest wine regions outside of Europe, is famous for its Pinotage, a bold red wine birthed in South Africa. Even if you don't drink alcohol, it's a scenic drive through pastoral communities including Stellenbosch, a 350-year-old university town filled with Cape Dutch architecture.
Address: 19 Dock Rd, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, 8001
Phone: +27 21 408 7600
A destination in itself, the V&A Waterfont is home to an indoor and outdoor mall featuring more than 450 retail stores. Whether you're looking for Adidas, Armani, or Crocs, Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre probably has it.
Address: Main Road, Kalk Bay, Cape Town, 7990
This quiet former fishing village turned popular day trip is about a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, but it's worth it if you're into eclectic shops you won't find elsewhere. Spend the afternoon browsing in independent bookstores or hunting for antiques. Most shops can be found on Main Road, but you never know what treasure awaits in an alley in Kalk Bay.
Address: Burg St &, Longmarket St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8000
Since 1696 when the cobblestones were laid Greenmarket Square has been a popular meeting space. Today, it's where locals and visitors alike barter with vendors who set up shops—from formal stalls to makeshift tables—filled with home goods and African arts and handicrafts. It's open every day, but the first Thursday of every month during Cape Town's city-wide First Thursdays celebrations is the best time to catch live music and street performances.
Address: 373 Albert Rd, Woodstock, Cape Town, 7925
A beautifully restored old biscuit mill couldn't be a more perfect setting for this farmers market open every Saturday. This is where shoppers find souvenirs that aren't mass produced. They're made by entrepreneurial locals selling everything from leather bags to soaps and sustainable fashions. Of course, there's also fresh seasonal produce and delicious street food.
Neighborhoods to Know
City Bowl: Nestled in a natural depression between the coast, Table Mountain and Signal Hill, City Bowl is the heart of Cape Town. It's home to the central business district, impressive municipal buildings, and several of Cape Town's oldest and most Insta-worthy streets. There's the well-preserved Dutch colonial architecture on Long Street, the colored houses lining the hills of the Bo-Kaap, and the V&A where you can paddleboard on canals winding through the bustling waterfront district.
Cape Flats: Although most tourists never step foot here, it would be remiss not to mention the Cape Flats. This lowland area is home to Cape Town's most infamous suburbs or townships. It's where the black and colored populations were forced to relocate during the Apartheid years. Although it's a bit off-the-beaten tourist path, it is possible to visit the townships with a guide and learn about life in them with the locals. Most visitors start with a walking tour of Imizamo Yethu in Hout Bay.
Atlantic Seaboard: Informally called Cape Town's Riviera, the Atlantic Seaboard is a string of oceanfront communities on Cape Town's west coast. This is where one finds the fanciest hotels (mostly boutique properties although there are chains like Radisson), high-rise luxury condos for rent, and of course the eye-catching mansions belonging to Cape Town's elite. Each community, centered around a beach, has its own character from the uber posh Camp's Bay to the fishing village vibes of Hout Bay.
Woodstock: Technically a part of City Bowl, Woodstock is like Cape Town's answer to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. If you're interested in art, theater or anything hipsters like, this former industrial area is a destination in itself. It's still a little rough around the edges, and you probably shouldn't wander the streets alone at night, but it's not to be missed. If nothing else, in 10 years you can say you visited Woodstock before everyone knew how cool it was and property developers ruined it.
Cape Town has four seasons although they're not as distinct as northern destinations. It has a Mediterranean climate. Summers are dry and not too hot, and winters are rainy, but mild. The highest temperatures occur in February when it can reach the mid-80s°F. The coolest temperatures occur in July when temperatures are typically in the mid-50s°F. June is usually the wettest month with around 14 days of rain. Cape Town is famous for its strong winds. Today, they're good for kitesurfing. Hundreds of years ago they were the cause of many historic shipwrecks.