Cape Town, South Africa: A Complete Travel Guide

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Cape Town is arguably one of the most beautiful cities on the planet and is the crown jewel in any trip to South Africa. Nestled in the shadow of majestic Table Mountain, Africa’s “Mother City” offers a vibrant waterfront, chic boutique shopping, world-class vineyards and a lively nightlife. Even though Cape Town is a modern city with a truly Victorian-Dutch feel, it’s also totally African with an intriguing and colourful story to tell. It’s not a surprise that Cape Town has consistently been voted the “Best City in the World”.

About Cape Town

Cape Town dates back to the 17th century when the Dutch set up a way-station for ships travelling around the Cape of Good Hope to the far east. It has a complex colonial history but embraces both the past and the future like no other city can. Although Table Mountain looms large over the City Bowl, Cape Town has so much to offer. Experience amazing heritage sites, sample multicultural cuisine, explore the breathtaking coastal vistas and unforgettable scenery. Read on to find out the best that Cape Town has to offer.

Signal Hill, Cape Town, South Africa

What to see and do

Here are some of the best things to do and see in Cape Town:

  • Climb Table Mountain – Iconic Table Mountain towers over the city like a stoic giant. If you are up for an amazing and scenic hike (weather permitting), there are many trails that lead to the summit. Most visitors opt to take a ride on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. The cable cars rotate 360 degrees giving you awe-inspiring views of the city and the ocean.
  • Tour the Vineyards of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek – Some of the world’s best wines can be found in the Cape Winelands and are a really neat day trip from Cape Town. You will fall in love with these cute little towns with their white Colonial Dutch buildings and friendly townsfolk. Take the tour of the many vineyards aboard the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a double-decker open-air tram.
  • Relax at Clifton Beach – Clifton Beach is the most popular family beach in Cape Town because it is so clean and there’s no shortage of things to do in the glam neighbourhoods that surround this sprawling and vibrant beach. Clifton Beach sits in the shadow of the iconic and breathtaking Table Mountain and tourists and locals swarm to this amazing beach to hang out with friends and family, explore the eclectic eateries and dance the night away at the many nightclubs that line the beach.
  • Shop and Dine at the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront – The V& A Waterfront is where all the action is—day and night. Spend your day in the shadows of Table Mountain and enjoy the wide variety of shopping, eateries and attractions, like the Two Oceans Aquarium. Head out to sea from the Waterfront on whale-watching tours and harbour cruises around the cape. Things really come alive after the sun sets and everyone heads to one of the many neighbourhood bars and nightclubs.
  • Visit Colorful Bo-Kaap – The Bo-Kaap neighbourhood is a treat for your senses. Known for its pastel-coloured houses lining the picturesque cobbled streets Bo-Kaap and has been the home of Cape Malay people from the Dutch East Indies for hundreds of years. To learn more about the origins of the local residents, visit the fascinating Bo-Kaap Museum.
  • Walk in Nelson Mandela’s Footsteps at Robben Island – Head back down to the V&A Waterfront to catch the ferry to Robben Island for an unforgettable reminder of South Africa’s scarred past. Robben Island (named for its resident colony of seals) was the infamous prison used by the former apartheid government to keep indigenous prisoners during the height of their struggle for freedom. Former President Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison on this desolate island.
  • Take a Township Tour – To get a really interesting perspective of the people of Cape Town, book a tour of one of the townships of Cape Town, like Langa. You will get an eye-opening guided tour of Cape Town’s oldest black township.

Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Tours and activities

Below you can see some tours and activities you may be interested in. Click the “See more things to do” button for lots more ideas.

Where to stay in Cape Town

Cape Town has an abundance of great lodging choices for all tastes and budgets. From hip backpackers’ lodges to swank chic boutique hotels, you will not be disappointed with these places to stay during your visit.

  • Budget – Sunflower Stop Backpackers Hostel – The Sunflower Stop is nestled between Table Mountain and Three Anchor Bay. It is surrounded by lush gardens and has a traditional South African braai for cooking up your own meat. The Sunflower Stop is a 20-minute walk from the V&A Waterfront and they can also help you arrange a rental car to visit nearby attractions. This is a great place for solo travellers.
  • Mid-rangeSouth Beach Camps Bay Boutique Hotel. This great boutique hotel is in Camps Bay and offers award-winning 5-star luxury accommodations. The hotel is right on the beach at Camps Bay and has a Miami inspired look and feel, hence the name–South Beach. All suites are sea-facing and have balcony’s or private patio areas to enjoy the sun, sea and surf.
  • Luxury Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel. Right in the heart of Cape Town sits the most notable and iconic hotel in the city—the Belmond Mount Nelson. Relax in their iconic pink buildings, luxurious rooms and lush gardens. This legendary hotel has been a part of Cape Town culture since 1899 and is a tranquil hideaway just minutes from the city’s vibrant hotspots. Whether you are flying solo, looking for a romantic getaway or on the ultimate family vacation, this is the perfect retreat.

For more places to stay use our interactive map below which will help you to find hotels and Airbnb properties.

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When to go to Cape Town

It’s important to note that for most visitors to Cape Town, the seasons here are reversed and their summer is most of our winters. To enjoy the wide-open outdoors, the best time to visit Cape Town is during the hot and dry summer months between November and February. If you don’t mind a bit of chilly and wet weather and don’t want to fight the summer crowds, come during the winter months between June and August. Visit for the averages throughout the year.

Getting around Cape Town

Arriving at the city

Cape Town International Airport is about 12 miles from downtown Cape Town. You can get from the airport to all parts of the city in several ways:

  • MyCitiBus: This bus will get you from the airport to the Civic Centre Bus Station in downtown Cape Town. It leaves every 20 minutes and takes about 30 minutes to get from the airport to the bus station.
  • Taxi: You will find the taxi’s right in front of the Central Terminal. You can be downtown in about 20 minutes.
  • Rental Car: This might be your best option if you plan to do several day trips outside the city. All major rental car companies operate from the airport. Cape Town is car-friendly and parking is plentiful. Just remember to drive on the left side of the road.

Within the city

Cape Town is an extremely walkable city. When you need a lift, here are a few fun and cheap ways to get around to all the great sights:

  • Uber: This is a great way to get around Cape Town. It is versatile, safe and cheap.
  • My CitiBus: This is a great way to get around the city without a car. Just buy a myconnect card and load it with fare money and you are on your way. Download the app to get the timetables for each stop.
  • Rent a Scooter: If you want to feel more adventurous, tool around Cape Town in a scooter. They are fast and convenient—just wear your helmet!

Cape Winelands

General tips and Info for visiting Cape Town

  • Cape Town offers a wide range of exotic food. You can find amazing Indian cuisine, super fresh seafood and sushi, great steakhouse and a variety of African dishes all over the city.
  • Embrace the culture of the Rainbow Nation by participating in local music and folk festivals. Cape Town is home to many cultures and ethnic communities like the Xhosa, Zulu, San as well as residents who are descendants of French, German, Dutch, Indonesian and British settlers.
  • Cape Town is so modern you may forget you are in Africa. Unlike most cities on the continent, there are no shortages of ATMs, banks and Forex’s and almost all shops and restaurants accept credit and debit cards. The currency in South Africa is the Rand and 1 USD is equivalent to 14 Rand (at time of writing).
  • Cape Town is one of the safer cities in Africa, but as with any large city, there is still some petty crime around. Just be aware of your surroundings and lock up your valuables. Keep your important documents safely on your person.
  • Even though South Africa has eleven official languages, English is the most common language spoken in Cape Town. If you venture out into the rural areas, you will hear Afrikaans and Xhosa spoken, but English is widely understood.

Further reading and resources

It’s always handy to have a great travel guide to help you make the most of your visit. Your best bet is The Rough Guide to Cape Town, The Winelands and The Garden Route.

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James Stewart

Written by

James Stewart

Jim is a travel writer and retired lecturer of African Studies. He is a self-described life-long trekker and his career as a U.S. Air Force officer gave him the chance to experience amazing and exotic destinations in Europe, Asia and Africa. He is at home with a good Wilbur Smith book or anywhere there is a story to tell.

Read full bio | See more articles by James

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