Before we arrived in Cape Town, South Africa we were told that we would love this city because it was so much like San Francisco, where we are from. People raved about the waterfront and the beautiful vistas. We had pretty big expectations upon arrival. We were not disappointed in the least. Cape Town does have an amazing waterfront, and there are beautiful vistas seemingly everywhere where you turn. There is also amazing food, diverse culture, and plenty of outdoor activities to keep you busy. Here is a list of our top activities during our 3 days in Cape Town.
1. V & A Waterfront and Food Market
The V & A Waterfront and Food Market was designed after city planners visited Sydney’s Darling Harbour and San Francisco’s Pier 39 and saw the success of these revitalized waterfront areas. The revitalization in Cape Town has definitely worked as well. People flock here for the shopping, the restaurant options, and the outdoor entertainment. We explored this area on the first night and grabbed a bite to eat and a drink inside the V & A Food Market. The V & A Food market is located just after the pedestrian draw bridge upon entering the waterfront area. Inside there are plenty of vendors offering a variety of local cuisines as well as draft beers, chocolates, and even an oyster bar. Whatever you fancy in your diet, you are sure to find it here. We opted for wraps at Vagabond Kitchens and settled for a draft beer that suited our taste buds quite well. We also snagged a brownie for a late night snack!
2. Take a Hop on, Hop Off Sight-seeing Tour
Hop on, Hop Off tour buses are an easy way to see the city without the hassle of walking everywhere and worrying about public transportation or taxis. We booked with City Sight Seeing to explore Boulder Beach, The Cape of Good Hope National Park, and also explore the surrounding areas of Cape Town. Once you book your tour, you will get a map with the different bus routes all color coordinated, where to catch them, and the different pickup times. Each pickup stop will have a sign showing what the buses look like and also what the pickup times are throughout the day. We caught our bus a few blocks from where we were staying and took it to our first stop; the Cape of Good Hope National Park.
TIP: City Sight Seeing offered us a discount to their wine tasting tour at the end of our Cape of Good Hope Explorer tour if we booked that same day, and the pass was good for 5 days. Might be a good idea to wait and not book all the tours at once to see if they offer a discount on other tours upon completion of your first tour. Also, book your tickets online and save some extra money and avoid waiting in line at the office on Long Street.
3. Cape of Good Hope National Park
We purchased the Cape Explorer Ticket which included round-trip transportation to Cape of Good Hope National Park and Boulder Beach, entry into Cape of Good Hope National Park, and a very informative guide. The bus ride there took about an hour and a half, and the views of the coast line, False Bay, and seal island kept you entertained while in transit. It was absolutely gorgeous! Our first stop inside the park was a short hike up to the Cape of Good Hope Old Lighthouse at the top of the hill. The views here are breathtaking! After, we hiked down to the end of the peninsula overlooking the Old Cape Point Lighthouse. It is worth the hike, as we saw Souther Right Whales just below us. We then took a 45 minute hike down to the Cape of Good Hope, the south-western most point of the African continent. You will not be disappointed!
Check out more of our photos from Cape of Good Hope National Park below!
4. Visit the Penguins at Boulder Beach
Our Cape Explore Ticket also included a stop at Boulder Beach to see the penguins. The entrance fee to the park was 70 Rand and not included in the package. You could purchase on the bus for 10 Rand more to avoid the line, which we did. Once we got there we quickly realized that the line was not long at all, and there was no need to pre-purchase. Once inside, we saw a penguin up close and personal as soon as we started our walk to the beach. It was adorable! On the walk you can see penguins on both sides of the walkway, in the bushes, and even nesting their young. Once you reach the beach, you see penguins everywhere! It was so cool to see penguins in their natural habitat swimming in the water, walking to and from the beach, and just being penguins. They make the cutest sounds and we loved every minute of it!
Check out Boulder Beach covered with penguins!
5. Visit Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens in Cape Town is the largest in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was hands down the most beautiful botanical garden we have ever been to! The Botanical Gardens feature flora from the Cape Floristic Region, which is one of the world’s biodiversity hot spots. We enjoyed walking though the gardens, walking along the canopy bridge through the tree tops, and admiring the view of the backside of Table Mountain. Our absolute favorite though, was the massive Protea Garden. We really enjoyed watching all the humming birds pollinating and flying from flower to flower. The color and variety of the flowers was stunning and the number of humming birds was incredible. This was one of the high lights in Cape Town and we highly recommend you visit.
TIP: This is one of the stops on the City Sight Seeing Hop on, Hop off Blue Line Bus. This is how we traveled to and from the Botanical Gardens. When you exit the bus at the garden, look at the sign where you are dropped off and take note of pickup times so you know when to be back outside to meet the bus. This can save you from a 30 minute wait for the next bus.
6. Hike to the top of Lion’s Head
Lion’s Head is right across from Table Mountain and overlooks downtown Cape Town and its Atlantic Coast neighborhoods. It was not too bad of a hike to the top and took us about an hour to reach its peak. The first part is a somewhat challenging walk; a steep incline circling the mountain with views of the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain. It gets a little dicier towards the top where you have to climb over slippery rocks and boulders. You also have to hold onto chains while climbing along some of the ledges, and even have to climb up a few ladders on the way up. But the view of Table Mountain and the 12 Apostles from the top of Lion’s Head make the hike totally worth it!
TIP: Plan your trip to either watch the sunset or sunrise from the peak of Lion’s Head. We chose to watch the sunset and it was spectacular!
7. Take the Cable Car up to the Top of Table Mountain
In only takes 5 minutes for the cable car to reach the top of Table Mountain. As you go up, the cable car rotates a full 360 degrees so that you can take in the views no matter where you are standing. Pretty much, there is no bad seat in the house. Supposedly from the top there are amazing views across Cape Town, but when we went it was 4 degrees celsius, raining, and foggy. Our views were a little restricted to a few feet in front of us. To endure the cold, we sat inside by a heater drinking hot chocolate. There are also caves at the top to explore, but due to weather conditions we left after our hot chocolate.
TIP: The weather in Cape Town is notoriously finicky and can change quickly. 20 minutes after we descended Table Mountain, the weather cleared and it was sunny at the top with no clouds. We wish we would’ve had another hot chocolate and waited for the weather to clear. Also, if you book your tickets online you can avoid waiting at the purchase ticket line which can be crowded when tour busses arrive.