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CAPE TOWN
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The 14 best things to do in Cape Town right now

Whether you’re more into your cocktails or contemporary art, the best things to do in Cape Town are right up your street

Written by
Ashleigh Arnott
&
Rebecca Weber
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To be blunt, Cape Town is one of the most iconic cities on God’s green Earth. How could it not be? The Mother City has a thrilling blend of African, European and Malay influences that come together to create one of the great capital cities, all backed by a famous mountain that makes everything just that little bit more picturesque. Of course, we mean legislative capitals, but this isn’t the place for such a discussion.

This is the place to discuss the best things to do in Cape Town. That means everything from kicking back at the beach to cocktails on rooftop bars and restaurants, with history, nature, culture and art mixed in for good measure. Cape Town can be overwhelming, so check out the absolute musts in the Mother City. 

Best things to do in Cape Town

Table Mountain
Get Your Guide

1. Table Mountain

What is it? The clue’s in the name. A trip up this iconic landmark is absolutely worth your time. The more energetic may prefer to hike, but nobody’s judging if you plump for the cable car.

Why go? The views are simply spectacular (though be warned that cloud cover – known locally as the tablecloth – can swoop in very suddenly and obscure the panorama completely). There is also a short circular walking route to follow while you’re up there.

Robben Island
Robben Island Museum

2. Robben Island

What is it? Nelson Mandela served most of his 27-year sentence here, along with hundreds of other political detainees. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site. 

Why go? The Robben Island Prison Museum is a site of major – if horrific – historical importance. Just shy of 7km from the Cape Town coast, visitors are welcome on pre-booked tours. Former inmates provide part of the tours, offering direct insight into what it was really like during the struggle against apartheid.

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Neighbourgoods Market
Kaeli Justus

3. Neighbourgoods Market

What is it? An achingly trendy and wildly popular Saturday food market in Woodstock’s Biscuit Mill development, now home to dozens of independent businesses. It’s peak gentrification, but there’s no ignoring the quality of what’s on sale.

Why go? The sheer variety of influences on South Africa’s cuisine is showcased at Neighbourgoods. Expect to snack your way through everything from biltong to Black Forest gâteau via fresh juices, coffee and craft beer.

Kalk Bay
Debbie Knighton-Fitt

4. Kalk Bay

What is it? This cutesy suburb has a colourful selection of shops along its seafront, which mainly sell things you don’t exactly need but really want. The café scene is also excellent, so it’s a leisurely place to spend an afternoon pottering about.

Why go? You can definitely fit a few antiques or knick-knacks in that suitcase, so Kalk Bay Vintage is worth seeking out. And make like a local by having fish and chips from Kalky’s for tea.

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Woodstock street art
Photograph: Caroline Léna Becker / Flickr

5. Woodstock street art

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

Why go? Cape Town’s anti-graffiti laws mean there’s less public art than you might expect throughout the city. Come here to see the Capetonian landscape at its most vibrant.

What is it? An understated art museum showcasing a private family collection in a beautiful setting deep in the southern suburbs.

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. 

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Monkeybiz
Monkey Biz

7. Monkeybiz

What is it? A non-profit shop set up by South African artists that provides work for local women working in traditional beadwork. Their bold creations – everything from tiny worry dolls to life-size porcupines – are totally spectacular.

Why go? The beaded sculptures are always outlandish (don’t be surprised if the zebras are rainbow-striped) and made with considerable skill. Buy souvenirs to take home knowing you’ve helped hundreds of women support their families and gain some independence.

What is it? The largest collection of contemporary African art on the continent features works from all over the diaspora. London-based architect Thomas Heatherwick outdid himself in converting an abandoned grain silo into 80 galleries.

Why go? The works speak for themselves. Check out the Afro-futurist goggles by Cyrus Kabiru, anti-patriarchal needlework by Ghada Amer, oil portrait by Kehinde Wiley, and cowhide sculptures by Nandipha Mntambo.

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Boulders Beach
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9. Boulders Beach

What is it? A sandy stretch of shoreline on the Cape Peninsula with rocky outcrops and wild waves. 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. Who doesn't love penguins?

Why go? Didn’t you hear? There are penguins. They waddle, they swim, they squawk at each other, they smell a bit weird. And they are here in their hundreds. Penguins, buddy, penguins!

Kirstenbosch
Adam Harrower

10. Kirstenbosch

What is it? Some 1,300 acres of botanical garden sloping down from Table Mountain through Cape Town’s leafy southern suburbs. The Tree Canopy Walkway (also known as ‘the Boomslang’ or tree snake) provides 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? There aren’t many places to sit back and soak up some sunshine in Cape Town’s city centre – and certainly none quite this lush. Check the events schedule before you go if you want to catch a trail run, craft market or the Summer Sunset concert series.

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Publik
Publik

11. Publik

What is it? A chic but approachable bar that stocks an Aladdin’s cellar of unusual wines, mostly low-intervention. The food menu of seasonal small plates makes it doubly hard to leave.

Why go? The Western Cape’s wines are plentiful, affordable, and among the world’s best, so you’d be a fool not to make the most of being so near the vineyards. Also, Publik is a great place to experience the classily cool district of Tamboerskloof.

Long Street
Discover Antiques

12. Long Street

What is it? Browsing the dinky cafés, boutiques, and vintage shops on Long Street is a classic way to spend an afternoon in Cape Town. Its row of pretty Victorian buildings brings together traditional African crafts, spiritual trinkets and trendy bars, making it a great introduction to the city as it is today. 

Why go? Souvenirs aren’t all you’ll stuff your suitcase with after browsing the treasures available down the Long Street Antique Arcade and the vintage clothes at Mungo and Jemima.

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Lion’s Head

13. Lion’s Head

What is it? Hike, cycle or drive to the top of this peak with 360-degree views of the City Bowl and the bay.

Why go? Views, views, views. The sunsets are here are phenomenal and a favourite for locals and visitors alike. If you are an athletic type, consider adding the route up Lion’s Head to your holiday plans. 

Chinchilla Rooftop Bar
Hein van Tonder

14. Chinchilla Rooftop Bar

What is it? The beach-centred Camps Bay suburb is one of the wealthiest in the country and the top choice for a deservedly spenny sundowner.

Why go? If your preferred tipple is ‘a bottle of Grey Goose for the table’ then you’ll fit right in at Chinchilla, a rooftop bar with sandy, palm tree-speckled vistas on all sides. If it’s not, this is the most extraordinary people-watching spot in town.

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