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CAPE TOWN
Photograph: Shutterstock

The 13 best things to do in Cape Town right now

Whether you’re searching for scenic beauty or multicultural urban adventures, South Africa’s cosmopolitan ‘Mother City’ never fails to impress

Written by
Ashleigh Arnott
,
Rebecca Weber
&
Richard Holmes
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With the Atlantic Ocean on the doorstep and Table Mountain National Park as the ‘back garden’, it’s little wonder Cape Town is hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful cities. But beneath the visual spectacle there’s a rich cultural and historical tapestry to be discovered. Centuries of history as a trading port have given Cape Town a cosmopolitan multiculturalism that fuses warm African hospitality with Mediterranean charm.

It’s a city where you’ll spend your days outdoors and your nights enjoying the city’s legendary culinary scene. Not sure where to start? Don’t miss these must-do experiences handpicked by a local writer. 

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The best things to do in Cape Town

Table Mountain
Photograph: Get Your Guide

1. Table Mountain

What is it? Table Mountain has long defined this corner of South Africa, from the early San people’s reverence of ‘Hoerikwaggo’ (the ‘mountain in the sea’) to modern-day locals who’ll use it to give you driving directions. There are myriad hiking routes to explore or there’s the option to ride the scenic aerial cableway and be whisked to the top in a few minutes. 

Why go? The views are spectacular, with panoramic vistas over city and ocean. On the summit you’ll find a choice of easy paths to explore and longer hikes to the ‘back table’ – but be warned that cloud cover (known locally as the tablecloth) can swoop in suddenly and obscure the panorama completely.

Robben Island
Photograph: Robben Island Museum

2. Robben Island

What is it? Former president Nelson Mandela served most of his 27 years behind bars on the island, alongside hundreds of other political detainees. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a sobering reminder of South Africa’s tumultuous past.

Why go? The Robben Island Museum is a site of key historical importance. Lying nearly seven kilometres offshore of the city, the island welcomes visitors on pre-booked tours, which reach the island by scheduled ferry. Many tours are led by former inmates, offering personal insights into the struggle against apartheid.

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The Old Biscuit Mill
Photograph: Sareena Singh/Shutterstock

3. The Old Biscuit Mill

What is it? A creative hub set in an old biscuit mill in the heart of Woodstock, a suburb on the up.

Why go? Though most famous for the weekly Saturday Neighbourgoods Market, The Old Biscuit Mill is host to a wonderful array of boutiques and restaurants that make it worth a visit any day of the week. Don’t miss Imiso Ceramics and Abode for African design, Espresso Lab for micro-roasted coffee, and The Pot Luck Club for globally inspired tapas plates.

Kalk Bay
Photograph: Sunshine Seeds/Shutterstock

4. Kalk Bay

What is it? This boho-chic seaside suburb is packed full of colourful boutiques touting everything from African antiques to items from local designers.

Why go? It’s worth a few hours of wandering, even if you’re only window shopping. There’s also an excellent selection of restaurants, from The Brass Bell’s no-frills fare with a superb sea view to Olympia Café and its legendary mussels and ciabatta. Kalk Bay Harbour is a charmer, while locals flock to Dalebrook tidal pool throughout the year.

READ MORE: The best neighbourhoods in Cape Town

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Woodstock street art
Photograph: Cape Town Tourism

5. Woodstock street art

What is it? Some call it gentrification, some say it’s the city’s most exciting emerging art space. Either way, this neighbourhood is so full of colourful public artworks that it seems like there’s a mural on every block.

Why go? There’s a growing appreciation for street art in Cape Town (evidenced by the annual International Public Arts Festival) and the city boasts a large number of incredible murals. The best art is often in the less salubrious suburbs, though, so consider joining a guided tour rather than exploring on your own.

Norval Foundation
Photograph: Dave Southwood, courtesy Norval Foundation

6. Norval Foundation

What is it? In the leafy suburb of Constantia, the Norval Foundation celebrates contemporary African artists and global creativity with an impressive roster of exhibitions.

Why go? Art-lovers will appreciate the permanent and temporary exhibitions, which have set the bar high by featuring some of South Africa’s best-known artists. The outdoor sculpture garden, set below the mountains, makes for an excellent aimless ramble.

READ MORE: The best museums in Cape Town

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Kayak the Atlantic
Photograph: Shutterstock

7. Kayak the Atlantic

What is it? Zip up your lifejacket for a guided kayaking adventure on the city’s Atlantic Seaboard. Guided kayak tours depart daily from Three Anchor Bay, weather permitting. 

Why go? You’ll enjoy an all-new perspective on Cape Town, with the chance to paddle alongside pods of dolphins and, if you’re lucky, southern right whales.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa
Photograph: Hufton + Crow

8. Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

What is it? Billed as the world’s largest collection of contemporary works from the continent, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa features works from across the diaspora. London-based architect Thomas Heatherwick outdid himself in converting an abandoned grain silo into striking gallery spaces.

Why go? The works speak for themselves, and across a roster of rotating exhibitions you’ll discover the depth and breadth of African creativity. Arts aside, the central atrium is magnificent.

READ MORE: The best museums in Cape Town

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Boulders Beach
Photograph: Get Your Guide

9. Boulders Beach

What is it? A sandy stretch of shoreline on the southern Cape Peninsula. Not so super for lounging on or swimming, but it makes for a wonderful coastal walk. The main draw is the colony of wild African penguins.

Why go? African penguins are listed as an endangered species, and this is one of only two breeding colonies on the South African coastline. It’s endlessly entertaining watching them waddle, swim, honk and parade about.

READ MORE: The best beaches in Cape Town

Kirstenbosch
Photograph: Adam Harrower

10. Kirstenbosch

What is it? First established in 1913, Kirstenbosch is South Africa’s flagship botanical garden, stretching across 90 acres on the flanks of Table Mountain. The canopy walkway known as the ‘Boomslang’ – ‘tree snake’ in Afrikaans – offers an elevated spot perfect for bird-watching and selfie-snapping. Don’t miss the Protea Garden, dedicated to South Africa’s national flower.

Why go? It’s a wonderful respite from the bustle of the city, with manicured gardens melding into wild fynbos vegetation. Pack a picnic and enjoy a few lazy hours or join a free guided tour. The sunset concert series in the summer months is hugely popular.

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Discover the Bo-Kaap
Photograph: Finn Stock/Shutterstock

11. Discover the Bo-Kaap

What is it? The city’s Cape Malay Quarter is rich with history, and as famous for its spice shops and cobbled streets as its brightly painted houses.

Why go? To take a deep dive into the multicultural history of Cape Town. A guided walking tour is ideal, unpacking the history of the suburb and its links to slavery, and stopping for a taste of traditional Cape Malay cooking in local kitchens. And, of course, to grab a selfie in front of the kaleidoscopic houses.

READ MORE: The best neighbourhoods in Cape Town

Explore Cape Point
Photograph: Shutterstock

12. Explore Cape Point

What is it? The south-western tip of South Africa is as iconic as Table Mountain, and it’s also the halfway-point of a memorable full-day tour along the coastal roads of the peninsula.

Why go? Cape Point Nature Reserve is the wildest section of the Table Mountain National Park, and there’s a chance to spot baboons and antelope up-close, as well as clearly marked hiking trails to explore and tidal pools for a swim. Don’t miss the walk out to the historic lighthouse (or ride the Flying Dutchman Funicular) to admire the views. But don’t be fooled: despite what guides may tell you, this isn’t where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet – that’s at Cape Agulhas, 150km to the east.

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Oranjezicht City Farm Market
Photograph: A. Emson/Shutterstock

13. Oranjezicht City Farm Market

What is it? A bustling market filled with fresh produce, street food stalls and local designers, set right on the water’s edge, close to the V&A Waterfront.

Why go? Why wouldn’t you? If you’re stocking your fridge you’ll find fabulous fresh produce from local artisans. If you’re searching for souvenirs, an entire section of Oranjezicht City Farm Market is devoted to local craft and design. And if you’re just plain hungry, the food hall section is brimming with global dishes and local flavours. Enjoy your order at the communal tables overlooking the ocean.

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