Also see: Weekend getaways from Cape Town
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Cape Town's attractions packaged into a list of day trips, with maps (use info with caution - it may cause you to miss your flight from Cape Town and stay longer!). Plan you holiday in Cape Town by selecting from this list of day trips. A general tip is to try be in a good spot when the sun sets - unlike in Durban where it's the sunrises that are spectacular, in Cape Town it's the sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean which are the finest.
Step 1 is when you land at Cape Town Airport and hire a car. We've divided the day trips into 3 groups:
For the purposes of setting up the maps below, for day trips from Cape Town's City Centre we've assumed that you're based at The Table Bay Hotel (although it's easy to adjust them to start from wherever you are staying).
Here's the directions from Europcar at Cape Town International Airport to The Table Bay Hotel: (1) Take the N2 towards Cape Town, (2) turn right into the V&A Waterfront onto Coen Steytler Avenue (Walter Sisulu Boulevard), (3) at the traffic circle turn first left into Dock Road, (4) at the traffic circle continue straight onto Breakwater Boulevard (i.e. 2nd exit) and stay on Breakwater Boulevard until you get to The Table Bay Hotel.
When you visit a city it's handy to get a feel for where everything is, by visiting the high points. So on the first day get your bearings by taking a trip up Table Mountain. The cable car only operates if it isn't too windy (click link to check), so if it is windy on your first day, save this experience for when the "Cape Doctor" (Capetonians' affectionate name for the south-easter prevailing wind) dies down. To get the most benefit out of this trip get hold of a map of Cape Town, so that you can familiarise yourself with the major landmarks. If you're feeling daring, try abseiling off Table Mountain. An optional extra is to hike to Maclear's Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain - at times the path is very close to the edge, so if you have a severe fear of heights you may want to give this hike a skip. The top isn't as flat as it looks from in the city, so be sure to wear hiking boots. In the evening go for dinner at Pigalle Restaurant, which often has live music (e.g. jazz, swing & salsa) - book first.
Cape Town is all about funsunzi. Select a day when it's sunny and visit Camps Bay & Clifton beaches, which are both blue flag beaches. These beaches are popular because they're somewhat protected from Cape Town's prevailing winds (especially Clifton). Camps Bay Beach is more family friendly, and Clifton was voted as one of the best topless beaches in the world. There is a steep walk down to Clifton beach, and when there you'll understand why Clifton is home to some of the most expensive real estate in South Africa. To avoid basting in the sun, remember to apply suncream. If you're hardly ever in the sun during the year read this Wikipedia article on how vitamin D effects mortality rates. Pro tip: stay to watch the sun set.
Take in more views, by going on a drive to Signal Hill and Rhodes Memorial. Since 1806 Cape Town has been firing a noon-day gun at 12h00 to allow ships in the harbour and other interested parties to set their watches to it, and has the longest tradition in the world of doing this (Hong Kong, Nice and Rome also fire noon-day guns; but have started this more recently). The battery which fires the noon day gun on Signal Hill is open to the public on all days except Sundays and public holidays, from 11h00 until 13h00. But time your visit for 12h00 so that you can have a photo taken with the smoke rising up behind you.
Have lunch at Rhodes Memorial, and take in the views of the northern and eastern suburbs of Cape Town. The memorial has 49 steps - one for each year of Rhodes's life. For dinner sample the cuisine at the One and Only.
First check that Ratanga Junction is open on the day you plan to go! Ratanga Junction is a Theme Park with some tame family rides and white knuckle rides like the Cobra.
Since your hotel is at the V&A Waterfront, there's no need for any driving. Simply go exploring. There are many restaurants to eat at (don't forget the hotels, like the Cape Grace) and shops to get your retail therapy from. Take a boat cruise in the harbour. Go for a ride on the Cape Wheel (Cape Town's mini version of the London Eye).
If you prefer being shown around, go for a guided historical walking tour of the Waterfront - see the only boom defence ship left in the world, the SAS Somerset, the Pump House, the Clock Tower, the Swing Bridge, the Victoria Basin, the Rocket Shed, the Time Ball Tower, the Union Castle Building, the Breakwater Prison, the Robinson Dry Dock, and the Alfred Basin.
The Two Oceans Aquarium is a favourite for the kids (phone 021 418 3823) and is worthy of a day on its own (book online, it's cheaper)! After that hop onto a City Sightseeing canal cruise which stop at the Two Oceans Aquarium, the One & Only Hotel, the City Lodge Hotel & the Harbour Bridge Hotel, from which it moves on to the Westin Hotel and the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
No driving is necessary, since the launch point is at the V&A Waterfront. However, you will need to book in advance.
Take a drive to Bloubergstrand stopping first at Dolphin Beach to watch the kitesurfers (one of the premier spots in the world for kitesurfing, in season there are all sorts of foreign accents you can hear being spoken on the beach) - if you prefer windsurfing have a look on your right at the Rietvlei dam. Have lunch at On the Rocks, to enjoy the classic view of Cape Town with Table Mountain in the background, and then move to Big Bay and if the tide is down take a walk to the island, and finally onto The Blue Peter for sundowners on the lawn and munching on a humungous pizza :) Or possibly go to Die Dam Huis for supper (the oldest building in Melkbosstrand).
Lagoon Beach is one of those places you visit if it's not too windy (especially important to check this in summer when the south easter blows hard). It's perfect for the front on views it offers of Table Mountain nestled in between Devil's Peak, Lion's Head and Signal Hill. Like Clifton the water is cold, so it's not really for swimming, but great for making sandcastles with the kids or going for a romantic walk. If you're a photographer you're in for a real treat, especially in the summer when the sun sets behind Lion's Head. As night falls watch Cape Town light up.
Have lunch at Bloemendal Restaurant, perched high up on a hill, and enjoy the views. In the afternoon go tabogganing at Cool Runnings (check that they're open).
If you have kids, go to Deer Park for breakfast before your trip, they'll love playing on the swings & slides while you have breakfast (there are no deer there). Of the world's 6 floral kingdomes, the Cape Floristic Kingdom is the smallest and most diverse (by contrast the Holarctic region comprises the whole of the northern hemisphere except the equatorial regions). There are more species of plants in the Table Mountain National Park than in the entire UK.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden showcases plants from the Cape Floral Kingdom. Go on the guided tour, it costs a bit more but you'll get driven around and have important things pointed out to you. If you're thirsty, have a drink from Colonel Bird's Bath.
For dinner go to The Gardeners Cottage (phone 021 689 3158 to make a reservation).
Rugby is similar to American Gridiron but without the padding. See whether there's a local game on when you're here, alternatively go to Newlands Cricket Ground and watch a game of cricket, arguably the most beautiful cricket ground in the world - with its backdrop of Devil's Peak.
Before your trip check what plays are showing at the Baxter Theatre, Artscape, Theatre on the Bay, Kalk Bay Theatre, Barnyard Theatre or if there's a Kirstenbosch Summer Concert or Helderberg summer concert on the go.
Drive to Llandudno and spend the morning on this blue flag beach (if even wearing a speedo or bikini is too much clothing for you, take the walk to Sandy Bay - caveat: can be dangerous, don't go alone - expect to mostly see men there). In the afternoon visit the World of Birds in Hout Bay (sometimes referred to as the "Republic of Hout Bay" by its proud residents), which includes a monkey jungle.
Get a feel for the history of this former fishing village, by in the morning going to the Hout Bay Harbour to take a boat to seal island (Duiker Island) - if you suffer from motion sickness take some tablets beforehand, as the combination of the movement of the boat and the smell of the seals can be overwhelming.
Afterwards relax at a restaurant at Mariner's Wharf and look at the yachts colourful fishing trawlers in the harbour (if you've got somewhere to cook them and are feeling adventurous, you may be able to buy fish fresh from the trawlers).
Pack a picnic basket, and go for a hike in Newlands forest.
Hike from Kirstenbosch up Skeleton Gorge to the Hely-Hutchinson Dam & down Nursery Ravine.
The kids can go ice skating at Grandwest or play in the arcade. There's also a Numetro cinema and the option for the adults to gamble. Remember to wear shoes (they don't let you in barefoot).
If you've got a young family with you, they'd love to go for a morning at Green Point Park, which is one of the best legacy projects of the Fifa World Cup 2010. Pack a picnic basket, bring picnic blankets and get a spot under the trees, to read a book whilst the little ones run around and play on the swings and slides in the park. Enjoy the views of Signal Hill and the Cape Town Stadium. There's information on a range of plants.
Afterwards, drive around the block to the Green Point lighthouse (constructed in 1824), to park and go for a walk along the promenade. You'll pass:
the Mouille Point Adventure Playground (for children)
a miniature Blue Train for the kids to go on a ride (weather permitting it operates from 09h00 until sunset, phone 021-4344297).
A Putt-Putt miniature golf course
Three Anchor Bay, where a lot of kayakers and jetskis launch (hire a kayak from Kaskazi Kayaks if you want to join in the fun).
Now move from the Mouille Point Promenade to the Green Point Promenade
Ford Road Park, with swings for the kids, a merry-go-round and a bench to sit on.
Rocklands Beach Park, with swings, a slide, see-saw, jungle-gym, monkey bars and benches
Graaff's pool (which used to be men only)
Broken Path Beach (yes, step off the promenade and go strolling on the sand)
Sea Point Pavilion, which contains a salt water pool which is open to the public (at a fee)
A major shopping trip. Spend your morning at Cavendish and your afternoon at Canal Walk Shopping Centre (navigate to the Canal Walk link to see whether they've got any special activities on for the kids).
In the morning head to Durbanville to explore Tygervalley Shopping Centre. In the afternoon head to N1 City shopping centre.
It's a relatively easy walk up most of Lion's Head, except right near the top where there's a series of ladders. Enjoy views of Robben Island, Table Mountain, Green Point, Camps Bay and the city. Try pick an afternoon when there is a full moon, and start your walk 3 hours before sunset, packing sufficient water and snacks (in winter take a windbreaker and in summer a hat, don't forget your camera!). For safety don't hike alone. If you've got a head for heights, organise a tandem paraglide jump.
Head to Greenmarket Square to do some shopping at the informal market. Then go to The Company Gardens, which was proclaimed a public area in 1848, to sip tea and while away the afternoon, watching people walk by, and feeding the squirrels & birds (and perhaps yourself!). The first European settlers to arrive in the Cape used the area to plant vegetables. Visit the South African Museum and Planetarium to see a show above your head about the starry skies.The Delville Wood Memorial Garden commemorates the WW1 battle in which many South Africans lost their lives.
End your day with a tour of the Castle of Good Hope, which was built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch.
Book at least 1 week in advance for a 1 hour free tour of parliament from 9am to 12am on weekdays (excluding public holidays). Phone 021 403-2911
Discover your inner carnivore and enjoy a cold one or 2 at the same time, at Mzoli's or Amadoda. You purchase meat and then hire an entrepeneur with a braai stall to grill the meat. Mzoli's generally plays Kwaito and deep house music. If you like the township experience then Mzoli's is for you, otherwise go for Amadoda in Woodstock. If you go to Mzoli's then we recommend that instead of using your rental-car, hiring a taxi, going with a group of people and getting there early (like 11am for lunch), as it gets really busy.
For those who like eating freshly braaied seafood in the open, Die Strandloper restaurant in Langebaan is worth the 1.5 hour drive. Primary spots on South African braais are filled by lamb chops and steaks, so this is a rare opportunity where sea food is the focus. This review of Die Strandloper by Thabo Hermanus says it all: "The seafood braai was something out of this world and would knock many seafood platters I have tasted off the podium. I am not kidding when I say it was a ten course meal". Bookings are essential - navigate to Die Strandloper to make a reservation.
A tour of Langa Township leaves some feeling like a voyeur, whilst others feel that it's an essential educational experience to get a feel for how the majority of people in South Africa live. Visit a Church, a Sangoma, an HIV Clinic and try the home brew. Take (1) a hat if it's sunny, as there isn't much shade, (2) candy for the kids.
The history of South Africa has been heavily influenced by the discovery of gold - for instance the Kingdom of Mapungubwe was involved in gold trading as early as the 1200s, and the Anglo-Boer War fight was largely over who would benefit from the discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand. Get a sense of it by visiting the Gold of Africa Museum (only a 10 minute drive from the Waterfront).
Read Richard Rive's novel, Buckingham Palace District 6, and then go visit the District 6 Museum, which records how the coloured community was forcibly removed from District 6 in the 1970s by the apartheid regime.
The world's first ever heart transplant took place at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, on the 3rd December 1967. Visit the Heart Museum to understand this part of history.
The South African Jewish Museum is situated in the first Synagogue in South Africa, built in 1863, and takes you through the history of the South African jewish society, including those who fought apartheid.
The Cape Town Ostrich Ranch allows for a tour through its museum and leather factory. Get to sit on a live ostrich. Also have a look at the peacocks.
Photo credit: Andre Beukes
A large portion of the world's diamonds are found in southern Africa. Ladies, go in here with your man and you might leave engaged! You can get your ring made and engraved at the Cape Town Diamond Museum. The museum is pretty small, just a few rooms where you are taken on a half hour guided tour, learning how diamonds are formed, cut and polished; as well as the discovery of diamonds in South Africa and the diamond rush in Kimberley. From the museum you can see live diamond cutting in the workshops and then you go through a Shimansky showroom (but you aren't obliged to purchase anything).
Bo-Kaap is a brightly coloured area with a concentration of Cape Malays, and is also known as "The Cape Malay Quarter". House colours range from purple to green, and the area has a number of Mosques and shrines. Try a walking tour of Bo-Kaap.
If the weather is gloomy go indoors to enjoy the historic Long Street Baths, with its indoor swimming pool. Afterwards go to the Mount Nelson Hotel to enjoy its famous afternoon high tea.
For the purposes of setting up the maps, we've assumed that you're based at Tranquility Guest House in Fish Hoek (it's easy to adjust the maps to start wherever you are actually staying).
It's time to now set up a south Peninsula base, to save on driving time whilst seeing everything the south Peninsula has to offer. Your south Peninsula base is at Tranquility Guest House in Fish Hoek. This is fairly centrally situated for the next few trips.
On a Sunday morning visit Porter Estate Produce Market, and then go for lunch at Jonkershuis, Groot Constantia - enjoy the view of the vineyards and Muizenberg in the distance. Visit the Manor House in Groot Constantia, which contains a cultural museum portraying the early years of Groot Constantia. For dinner head to La Colombe at Constantia Uitsig.
Take a drive to Boulders Beach in Simon's Town to see the penguin colony, which was started in 1983. Pack your swimming costumes and go for a swim on the nearby beach, you may even find yourself swimming with the penguins! They look friendly, but be warned, they've got a nasty bite.
Also worth a visit whilst in Simon's Town is the South African Naval Museum. Especially if you've got kids, go to the Scratch Patch in Dido Valley (021-786-2020), where you can search for your favourite polished gemstone (adults may not find it quite as much fun!). There's also a scratch patch at the V&A Waterfront.
On your trip to Cape Point keep an eye out for some wildlife - buck & Chacma Baboons - do not feed the baboons, and make sure that your vehicle is locked so that they do not feed from your food! At Cape Point, if you're feeling fit hike down to Dias Beach and watch the wild waves smash down on the sand (if the weather's appropriate you'll understand why Dias called it the Cape of Storms).
There's a funicular which takes passengers to the old Cape Point lighthouse. Also hike down to the new lighthouse (yes, it's lower than the old lighthouse to keep itself beneath the fog).
After visiting Cape Point stop at the Cape Point Ostrich farm (phone 021 7809294). Take the alternate route back to Fish Hoek, passing Scarborough and Kommetjie.
Draw straws for who is the designated driver and go wine tasting at Steenberg (also try the MCC tasting), Constantia Uitsig, Buitenverwachting, Klein Constantia, Groot Constantia (the Cloete Cellar dates to 1791 & contains a Wine Museum), Eagles' Nest, Beau Constantia and Silvermist. On the way drive over Ou Kaapse Weg (Old Cape Road), which runs over the mountain, and listen to the Cicada beetles singing as you pass by.
Have a meal and spend time with the kids at Imhoff farm, where they can go on camel rides or even horse rides, if they know how. Then go for a 2 hour horse ride on Noordhoek Beach. Keep an eye out for the SA Kakapo (you're unlikely to see so much of her as in this photo, as the sand is usually covering her). After stopping in Table Bay harbour for coal on the 25th May 1900, the SS Kakapo headed out for Australia. In huge seas with zero visibility due to rain, the Captain mistook Chapman's Peak for Cape Point and ordered the ship "hard-a-port". With the engines running at full steam the ship suddenly run hard aground just north of the mouth of the Wildevogelvlei on Noordhoek Beach. There were no injuries amongst the crew.
Hike to Peers Cave, now a National Monument, where ancient man lived, when the sea was much closer (hence the sea shells found in the cave). Have lunch at the Noordhoek Farm Village (opens at 9am), whilst the children enjoy the playground.
Pack a picnic, your hiking gear and go to the Silvermine trail. There's a wheelchair-friendly walk around the dam. If you're interested in mountain biking, take a day tour through Silvermine with Cape Mountain Biking Tours. Go for a hike to the Elephants Eye Cave - there's a sign indicating the way from the parking lot at the end next to the dam, from which it should take about an hour.
Take Boyes Drive on the way back, for extra scenic views.
Not much driving necessary for this outing. The family will love splashing around at Fish Hoek beach and its gentle waves. Take a walk along the Catwalk (or Jagger Walk as it is officially known) in the morning, and in the afternoon walk to Clovelly Beach.
Take a drive along the cliffs of Chapmans Peak, and stop at the top and take some photos. Drive into Hout Bay and have lunch at Dunes Restaurant. After lunch work it off with a stroll on the beach.
In the morning spend time at St James, swimming in the tidal pool, and lounging on the beach in front of the colourful changing rooms. For lunch stop at Live Bait on the harbour in Kalk Bay. Take a walk along the strip and take in the art galleries and curio shops. Take in the views: catch a water taxi from Kalk Bay harbour to Simons Town and then catch a train back. If you've got a spot to cook it, purchase fresh fish at Kalk Bay harbour - approach the fishmonger with respect and a chirpy attitude and you're likely to be given their catch of the day (note that Tranquility Guest House does not provide facilities to braai fish, as they are right on a fire break).
Surf's up. Beginner surfers head to Muizenberg (a blue flag beach, and National Geographic named Muizenberg as one of its top surfing towns) and you can hire a wetsuit and surfboard from the surfshop on the beach. Experienced surfers head to Kommetjie - Outer Kom is the only place to be. If you're looking for something different to do, try hiring a blokart in Muizenberg.
To whet your appetite, here's some footage from Surfermag of surfing in Cape Town:
Go snorkelling with seals from Hout Bay Harbour. It's better for the soul than shark cage diving, less scary, and you don't have to drive 2 hours to Gansbaai. Don't be fooled by these creatures' clumsy displays on land - in the ocean they are streamlined, fast and inquisitive - just don't try grabbing hold of them, as they have powerful jaws and sharp claws.
Take a bicycle tour of the Masiphumelele Community, and get closer to South Africans and how they live, whilst at the same time assisting them in bettering their lives by contributing to the micro-economy.
We know how much of a factor crime is in South Africa, so get closer to it with a lunch at Pollsmoor Prison on Steenberg Road in Tokai. The low security prisoners serve up lunch at their "Idlanathi" restaurant. Phone them at 021-700-1270, open 7 days a week from 07h45 to 14h00.
If you know of any day trips which you feel should be added to this list, let us know, so we can expand it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by Rob Baker