Cape Town Essentials

These are our recommended must-see and do items within Cape Town. This post focuses on the City itself. You could see/do all of these things without having to rent a car if you are staying in the city or nearby. We used Uber throughout our trip. It was inexpensive and we never had a problem, all the drivers were friendly and very knowledgeable about the area.

Table Mountain:

Table Mountain is a major presence from anywhere within Cape Town. It towers over the city and offers incredible views of the city and surrounding ocean. If you want to take in the views from the top there are a few options. There is a cable car you can take, or you can go up one of the many paths to the top. There was only one day that worked with our volunteering schedule, so I decided to hike up then take the cable car down. One of the other volunteers we were staying with started the hike but quickly turned around due to the heat and pace in order to make it in time. She turned around and decided to take the cable car up to meet me at the top. The hike is steep and it was an extremely hot day (unusually hot for December). I decided on the Platteklip Gorge hike as it seemed to be the most direct and fastest to the top. If you are going to climb Table mountain be prepared that it is quite a hike, be prepared with sun protection, water, and enough time. The Platteklip Gorge hike took me just under 2 hours, but I was moving pretty quickly. The sign said 2.5 hours from the start to the cable car so make sure you plan accordingly. The climb itself was not too technical, it was basically like walking upstairs for 2 hours. I went up in the late afternoon so the final 1/3 of the hike was in the shade which was an incredible relief. At the top, it feels like you are on a different planet, to the South you see the Twelve Apostles – the mountain range parallel to the Atlantic, and directly below you are the Clifton beaches (there are 4 of them). If you walk towards the cable car, you will get some of the best views of Cape town and Lions Head with the Atlantic and Robben Island in the distance. You can get a one-way ticket down the cable car in the gift shop if you don’t want to climb back down. There is also a cafe at the top and drinking fountains.

V & A Waterfront:

The waterfront area is a great place to walk around. This is where the V & A Food Market is located where you can find lots of different food options. We would highly recommend trying some biltong and droëwors. Biltong is similar to jerky, it is a cured meat (usually game of some kind) sliced very thin. Droëwors is a dried sausage. Both are great snacks. The watershed market is also worth walking through. It is full of stalls selling art, clothing, and jewelry. There are several restaurants in this area as well, it is a more touristy area but it does offer great views of the water and of table mountain. We ate dinner here the last night of our trip and got a table with a great view of the water and of Table Mountain. We were able to watch the tablecloth (the clouds) flowing over the mountain as we ate.

Bo-Kaap Neighborhood:

This is a former township within the city. It is traditionally a primarily Muslim neighborhood that is known for its colorful houses. It is worth wandering through as you are walking around the city. There are several streets lined with brightly colored houses that are beautiful to see. There were lots of other tourists walking through taking photos while we were there. Do be mindful when taking photos that these are people’s homes so do be respectful of that.

Clifton Beach:

Clifton is an affluent neighborhood within Cape Town. Clifton beach is a series of four beaches, somewhat separated by large boulders. Clifton Four is the most popular beach, the other three are slightly less crowded. We spend a few hours one afternoon relaxing at the beach. There are vendors selling drinks and snacks and umbrellas along the beach. As you walk to beaches three, two, and one it becomes progressively less crowded. All the beaches are beautiful and offer amazing views. You can see the Twelve Apostles mountains from anywhere on the beach. This area is lined with apartments, hotels and is a very crowded area, if you drive yourself be prepared that parking is difficult to find near the beach. There are parking lots but they fill up fast.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens:

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is a beautiful area. There are lots of open spaces where you can have a picnic or just relax and enjoy the park. There are concerts in the park but we did not make it to a concert during our trip. There are two restaurants in the park. One is a tea garden with Mediterranean food, the other serves traditional African food and is more expensive. There is an aerial walkway that winds through the treetops and provides excellent views of the park and of the city surrounding it. The park is at the base of Table Mountain and there is access to the mountain if you want to hike. We hiked up partway through Skeleton’s Gorge. This side of the mountain is forested with large trees, small streams, and waterfalls which you will pass along the way up. This path is also mostly shaded since you are in more of the forest than the other side of the mountain where the cable car is.

Gin and Tonics in Cape Town:

If you are a Gin and Tonic fan (or even if you aren’t) Cape Town will not disappoint! There are multiple gin bars downtown and you can find great gin and tonics at most bars and restaurants downtown. There are some very unique gins in the area because of all to botanicals grown on table mountain. This is something we did not know before our trip but we were very happy with the gin and tonics we had at each place we went downtown!

Long street is the main party street downtown. This street is full of bars and restaurants and lots of people! This is definitely a place to watch your personal belongings and be mindful of pickpockets. While this is not really our scene we did find some awesome street meat on Long street. There are multiple vendors selling homemade sausage similar to a brat in the U. S. We were taken by our friends who were living in Cape Town to find an older man who has been selling on Long Street for years. He was working alone, grilling up sausage and onions, and offered multiple sauces and toppings you could add on. You can smell the onions grilling as you walk towards his stand. This is a great late-night snack after walking around and enjoying your gin and tonics!

Cheetah Outreach:

Just as a warning, you would need a car to get to the Cheetah Outreach. Their primary goal is to promote the survival of the South African Cheetah through environmental education and conservation initiatives. This place is about a half-hour outside the city. One of our friends who was living in Cape Town at the time of our trip was volunteering at the Cheetah Outreach Nature Preserve. As a visitor, you can walk through and see all the animals. They have fox, jackals, meerkats, and several other smaller cats. Also, you can pay an additional fee to enter with a volunteer and handler and pet the Cheetahs while you’re there. You can give them your camera and they will take pictures of you with the animals. Make sure you bring cash for this because credit cards are not accepted.

View our other South Africa posts below:

We know there is a ton to see and do around Cape Town, what did we miss, leave us a comment below!

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