Cape Town, the lifestyle capital of South Africa, is a vibrant city full of culture, beaches and natural beauty. I spent a week and a half in Cape Town and with so much to see and do, I still didn’t have time to experience everything I wanted to.
Go to a Braai – South Africans will use any excuse to have a braai (the Afrikaans word for “barbecue”), which is a social event used to get people together and celebrate.
Mzoli’s – A definite must! Mzoli’s is a restaurant in a township on the outskirts of Cape Town. It’s a great cultural experience and one of the best Sunday fundays in Cape Town. The place gets packed with people dancing, a DJ playing, and people enjoying braai (delicious bbq meat). The best way to describe it is like a backyard party and the whole neighbourhood is invited. And it’s BYOB!
Table Mountain – One of the New Seven Wonders of Nature and one of the oldest mountains in the world with amazing views of Cape Town. You can hike (about two hours) or take the cable car (return R220, about $23). Check the weather before you go (which can change quickly)- cloud and high winds are common, which cause the cable car to shut down.
Hike Lion’s Head – A 45-60 minute hike to the top will give you amazing views of Cape Town and Table Mountain. I liked Lion’s Head better than Table Mountain because if you want to go, you have to earn it because there’s no cable car, which means it’s not touristy and it’s a lot less crowded than Table Mountain, and the top of the mountain is really narrow, so you can see a 360 degree view from anywhere you’re standing. I actually preferred my photos of Table Mountain, rather than my photos from Table Mountain. It’s a good idea to bring a flashlight for the walk down after the sunset in the dark.
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront – Where you can experience beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean, an endless amount of restaurants and cafes (my favourite- Market on the Wharf, where you can find just about any kind of cuisine), live entertainment, artisan textiles, fashion and jewelry, and a massive shopping mall.
City Sightseeing Tour – With a few different routes to choose from, the hop on hop off tour of Cape Town covers all the places you’ll want to go. It’s touristy as hell, but it’s convenient and easy as hell.
Long Street – A fun, grungy, bohemian backpacker mecca in the city centre with shops, cafes, hostels and bars.
Camps Bay – Often compared to the French Riviera with its upscale hotels and restaurants overlooking a beautiful beach with turquoise water. It’s great for having an overpriced lunch on one of the many patios with a beautiful view.
Long Street – At night, it’s just as grungy as the day, but it’s a fun place because the street is riddled with lively bars.
Shimmy Beach Club – Located at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, Shimmy Beach Club is a trendy Ibiza-style club, with an infinity pool overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. On the weekends, it’s a pool party during the day and a club at night. It is more upscale, but since it’s a beach club, you can get in at night even if you’re wearing casual beach clothes. Sunday during the day is the best time to go, which is the favorite day for South Africans to party.
Outside of Cape Town
Shark Cage Diving – A popular activity in South Africa. Read more on my experience here.
Stellenbosch – With over 140 vineyards, Stellenbosch is a great place for trying the world renown South African wine. And it’s only 50km away from Cape Town, making it an easy day trip. It’s best to book a day tour with a tour company, unless you can find someone who won’t drink (or you can stay in Stellenbosch overnight if you really want to get your wine drinking game on). I booked with African Story for R650 (about $65), which includes tastings at four different wineries, one proper wine tour, lunch, and cheese tastings.
Other places worth checking out (but I ran out of time):
Robben Island – Take a tour of the prison where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned during the apartheid.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – At the foot of Table Mountain, this UNESCO World Heritage Site showcases South Africa’s rich and unique biodiversity.
I stayed in Green Point, which I highly recommend. It’s the trendy SoHo of Cape Town, near the waterfront and it’s pretty central to most things. It’s nicer and cooler (temperature-wise) than Long St (the backpacker hub) because it’s near the water. I stayed at Atlantic Point Backpackers and Never @ Home, which are both great hostels.
Good to know
- South Africans drive on the left.
- Uber is great for getting around. The buses in Cape Town are good, apparently, but I never had to take one because Uber is ridiculously cheap, even by backpacker standards.
- Cape Town is a windy city on the water, so the weather can change quickly.
- Amarula is South Africa’s favorite liqueur, which tastes just like Bailey’s, so it’s obviously delicious.
- Peri Peri is a delicious South African spice blend that is amazing with chicken or even cashews.
- At night, take a taxi, don’t walk alone or go anywhere by yourself.
- The food and drink is so cheap in South Africa that it might as well be free.
- You can drink the tap water in Cape Town.
- Unfortunately, racial tension in South Africa is still an issue.