Posted: 2/13/2020 | February 13th, 2020
Cape Town is one of those places I can never get enough of. Its natural beauty, climate, people, chill atmosphere, and delicious food scene always make my visits memorable.
Backed by Table Mountain, Cape Town is really one of the most beautiful cityscapes in the world.
There’s a lot to see and do in the city, so to help you make the most of your trip, here is my suggested itinerary for four (or more) days.
Suggested Itinerary Overview
Day 5 (or more): Kalk Bay, Signal Hill, Slave Lodge, & more!
Cape Town Itinerary: Day 1
Take a Free Walking Tour
For a thorough introduction to Cape Town, I recommend taking at least one free walking tour. As you know, I always do that when I arrive in a new city, to help me get a sense of the destination’s culture and history and orient myself. Some of my favorite walking tours are:
Just be sure to tip your guide at the end, as that’s how they make their living.
Explore the City Center
Your next stop should be Cape Town’s city center. You’ll find all kinds of shopping, cafés, restaurants, and markets along Long Street. Take several hours to explore and see it all. To see more of Cape Town’s eclectic neighborhoods and get a feel for the local pace of life, here are some specific areas worth exploring:
- Green Market Square – Right off Long Street, this is a perfect place to find local handicrafts and souvenirs. There are all sorts of crafts and gifts here. Don’t be afraid to haggle for a good deal!
- Victoria and Alfred’s Waterfront – This is another impressive shopping locale, with a large variety of shops and entertainment. It’s on the historic working harbor, the architecture is quite charming, and it’s extremely popular with both tourists and locals alike. Grab a seat on a waterfront restaurant’s balcony, have a drink, and soak up the atmosphere.
- Bo-Kaap – Not far from the city center is Bo-Kaap, a colorful Muslim neighborhood. This area, previously the home of Cape Town’s slave population, is known to be quite Instagram friendly (you’ve likely seen it on IG already!). Each home is painted a different color and you can tour the area on your own (although you’ll probably enjoy it a lot more if you take a free walking tour). If you don’t tour with a group, be sure to get a overview of the area’s history at the Bo-Kaap Museum. It’s small, but the staff is quite friendly and super knowledgeable. Admission is 20 ZAR ($1.36 USD) per person.
- De Waterkant – A nice place to spend the evening is the De Waterkant neighborhood. Not far from Bo-Kaap, this trendy area (think NYC’s Greenwich Village) is the perfect place to stroll, window-shop, and enjoy an upscale dinner. The architecture is quite stylish in what is Cape Town’s “pink” (gay-friendly) district. The Cape Quarter shopping mall is here as well.
- Woodstock – This is one of the coolest neighborhoods in Cape Town. In recent years, it’s become a hub for art galleries, co-working spaces, breweries, and hip restaurants. What was once an old, rundown industrial area is now one of the coolest places in town.
Visit Table Mountain
A visit to Cape Town isn’t complete without taking in the view from Table Mountain. It’s a bit of a walk up there, but it’s totally worth it. The shortest trail takes about two hours, but if you’re short on time, you can take the cable car, which takes about five minutes each way (it’s a bit pricey at 330 ZAR ($22 USD) for a round-trip ticket, though). Up top, you’ll have a 360-degree view of Cape Town, the harbor, the mountains, and the beaches. Try to come up during sunset, or if you can, bring some food and drink and have a picnic!
Keep in mind that the clouds can move in really fast here, so be sure to check the weather before you hike up.
I suggest hiking up and then taking the cable car down if you’re short on time. If you want to extend your stay, hike both ways and spend some time relaxing and taking in the view. If you pack some water and snacks, you can easily make this a full-day activity. There are shops at the summit as well as several other hiking trails to explore if you’re looking to work up a sweat.
Note: I put this at the end of the day so you can do the walking tours in the morning, but you can also make this a full-day activity if you want! It’s worth taking it slow here if you have the time.
Cape Town Itinerary: Day 2
Visit Robben Island
Hop on a ferry from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and head to Robben Island, located about 8km from shore, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years behind bars. Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1999, the museum is an important symbol in South Africa, representing the triumph of democracy over apartheid. The tour guides are former prison inmates, and you can to sit in the cells where the political prisoners once lived.
No visit to Cape Town is complete without coming here. Do not skip this!
Ferries operate three times a day, starting at 9am (a fourth ferry operates during the summer season). Admission is 320 ZAR ($22 USD) for adults and 200 ZAR ($13.50 USD) for anyone under 18, which includes the ferry ride. Expect the entire trip to take at least four hours.
Visit Kirstenbosch Garden
Located in the southern suburbs, these gardens were established over 300 years ago and have more than 22,000 types of plants found on the African continent. Spanning over 1,300 acres, this is unlike any other botanical garden you’ve seen! Be sure to do the tree canopy walkway. There are restaurants and cafés on-site, but they are expensive, so I’d bring your own food and have a picnic on the grounds.
Rhodes Drive, Newlands, +27 0800-434-373, sanbi.org/gardens/Kirstenbosch. Open daily 8am-6pm (7pm in the summer). Admission is 70 ZAR ($5 USD) per person (discounts available for students and children).
Watch the Sunset from Lion’s Head
Table Mountain’s little sister, Lion’s Head, is perfect for an evening hike. It takes just 45 minutes to hike to the top, so time your trek so you’re at the peak for sunset. It’s one of the most scenic spots in town. Also, remember a flashlight for the trek back down.
Cape Town Itinerary: Day 3
See the Penguins
While you’re in Cape Town, you won’t want to pass up seeing the area’s cutest inhabitants: African penguins! This colony is home to over 3,000 penguins. They live at Boulders Beach Park, and you can view them from a raised boardwalk (further down the beach you can swim with them if you’re really bold — expect freezing water!). Just keep in mind that they are wild animals. The beach is their home, not yours — so keep your distance and don’t try to feed or pet them. They are wild animals after all.
Visit Slave Lodge
Built in 1679, this is one of the oldest remaining buildings in Cape Town. It is where the Dutch East India Company housed their slaves until 1811. Over 60,000 African and Asian slaves were brought to the city, and almost 300 men and women were forced to reside in the lodge at a time. Today, the lodge is a museum where you can learn about the hardships slaves faced in their daily lives in Cape Town.
Corner of Adderley Street and Wale St, +27 2- 467-7229, slavery.iziko.org.za/slavelodge.
Take a tour of the parliament of South Africa and learn about South African politics — including how the country was governed during the apartheid era. Dating back to 1884, the Houses of Parliament are National Heritage Sites; the original building was granted approval by Queen Victoria when Cape Town was a British colony.
Today, they host daily hour-long tours during the week, and you can even book a spot (at least one week in advance) to watch debates if you’re interested.
120 Plein St, +27 (021) 403 2266, parliament.gov.za/visiting-parliament. Tours are held daily, but advance booking is required. Admission is free.
Hike Signal Hill
For some beautiful sunset views, hike up to the top of Signal Hill. The climb is tiring and takes around 90 minutes, but the views are worth it (you can also drive or take a taxi up to the top). You’ll get a sweeping vista of Cape Town, including a view overlooking Table Mountain too. Just be sure to give yourself lots of time, so that you don’t miss the sunset.
Cape Town Itinerary: Day 4
Visit the District Six Museum
In 1867, District Six was established for freed slaves, immigrants, and marginalized individuals. Under apartheid (1948–1994), the district was declared a “white area” and the existing residents were forced out. Over 60,000 people were forced from their homes, and this museum highlights their struggles and stories. It provides important context to the city’s modern history and ongoing struggles.
25A Albertus St, +27 21-466-7200, districtsix.co.za. Open Monday-Saturday 9am-4pm. Admission is 45 ZAR ($3 USD) or 60 ZAR ($4 USD) for a guided tour.
Hit the Beach
Cape Town has some incredible beaches, so make sure you spend at least part of a day on one of them. Clifton Beach is probably the most popular. The sand is super white and the water a bright blue. Unfortunately, it’s cold pretty much year-round, so don’t expect warm tropical waters. The scenery is gorgeous though, with the mountains behind you and mansions and upscale restaurants lining the beach road.
Another option is Muizenberg Beach, which is a 30-minute drive from the city center. This beach has a famous boardwalk and is great for surfing.
Check Out the Wildlife
If you head down Muizenberg Beach, be sure to stop at Hout Bay. This harbor is home to tons of seals and seabirds. If you’re visiting between June and November, keep your eyes peeled for the migrating whales. Right whales, humpback whales, Bryde’s whales, and dolphins can all be found here.
If you’re looking for a meal, the fish and chips in this area of town are to die for. And don’t miss the Bay Harbour Market on the weekend: vendors sell everything from fresh fish to jewelry to local art, and there are often live bands too.
Explore the South African National Gallery
The Iziko South African National Gallery is home to an extensive collection of both South African and African art, as well as English, Dutch, and French pieces. The collection focuses on works from the 17th to 19th centuries, including paintings, sculptures, sketches, and lithographs.
They also facilitate an ever-changing rotation of contemporary artwork from both locals, as well as visiting exhibitions from across Africa and around the world (visit the website to see what temporary exhibitions are available during your visit).
Additionally, the gallery has a lot of insightful information about art and censorship during apartheid.
Government Ave, +27 21 481 3970, iziko.org.za. Open daily 9am-5pm. Admission is 30 ZAR ($2 USD).
Cape Town Itinerary: Day 5 (or More!)
If you have more than four days in Cape Town, here are some other fun things to see and do during your trip. Most of these will take you out of the city, so you can see more of this beautiful region of the country. Consider renting a car to make things easier!
Visit Kalk Bay
This fishing village makes for a nice spot to go window-shopping (or actual shopping if you want some souvenirs). There are plenty of seaside cafés you can relax in for a few hours, away from the busy city center.
Journey to the Cape of Good Hope
The Cape of Good Hope is where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, and the drive there from Cape Town is one of the best on the continent. You’ll want to take the route along Chapman’s Peak, a winding and scenic road along the Atlantic coast. It’s a toll road, but the views are very much worth the price.
The Cape of Good Hope is located in Table Mountain National Park, which stretches all the way from Table Mountain in Cape Town to the tip of the continent. This nature reserve is home to numerous birds and animals, including antelope, Cape mountain zebra, eland, and baboons. Keep in mind that, while the baboons may look cute, they are still wild animals, so be careful around them and keep your food secured and out of sight.
There is a lot to see, so plan for a full-day excursion. If you don’t have your own car, you can book a tour with the Cape Point Explorer for 740 ZAR ($50 USD).
Enjoy Some Wine
If you love wine, head to the Stellenbosch area. If you have a car, it’s just 45 minutes outside of the city and is home to hundreds of vineyards. The wine from this region is world-famous, and the scenery is breathtaking, offering towering mountains and lush valleys. Tastings typically run about 60-75 ZAR ($4-5 USD), and food pairings are available as well. Some suggested wineries to check out are:
- Spier Wine Farm (one of the oldest in the region)
- Marianne Wine Estate (offers a classic French winery experience)
- Waterford Wine Estate (they pair their wines with decadent local chocolates)
If you don’t have a vehicle and want to take a tour, expect to pay at around 1,000 ZAR ($68 USD) per person for a half-day tour of the region and its wineries. Many hostels run their own tours to the region or have partnerships with local tour guides who can take you as well. Be sure to shop around!
Learn to Surf
Cape Town is a super place to learn how to surf (though it’s also terrific for experienced surfers). Surfer’s Corner at Muizenberg Beach is known for its beginner waves, and there are plenty of surfing schools around where you can rent a board and take lessons. Expect to pay around 500 ZAR ($34 USD) per person for a 2-3-hour lesson.
Cape Town is one of my favorite cities on the African continent. With its terrific hikes, beautiful scenery, and important history, Cape Town has something for everyone. And, thanks the rand’s value, it’s affordable enough, so it’s easy to visit without breaking the bank.
Let this Cape Town itinerary help you make the most of your visit there.
Map of Activities
P.S. – Want to meet other travelers in real life? This year we launched The Nomadic Network, a platform created to help travelers connect, learn, and get inspired in real life! Here are our upcoming events if you want to take part: Seattle (2/17), Austin (2/18), Fort Lauderdale (2/19), Portland (2/19), San Francisco (2/20), Los Angeles (2/23), Detroit (2/24), Boston (2/24), Dublin (2/24), San Diego (2/24), London (2/25), Chicago (2/25), and NYC (3/10).
Book Your Trip to Cape Town: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines, because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the most comprehensive inventory. If you want to stay somewhere else, use Booking.com, as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels. My favorite places to stay in Cape Town are:
- The Backpack Cape Town – A fair-trade hostel with a swimming pool and garden, as well as activities most nights. They do a lot of good work for social change!
- Ashanti Lodge Gardens – You can hang out at the pool or the landscaped gardens here, or in the awesome Kumasi Bar, with its views of Table Mountain. They have a great bar menu too!
- 91 Loop – When you stay here, you get a free breakfast, free city walking tours, the opportunity to take part in organized activities, and discounts on the Honey Badger restobar.
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all those I use to save money — and I think they will help you too!
Looking for more travel tips for South Africa?
Check out my in-depth South Africa travel guide for more ways to save money, tips on what to see and do, suggested itineraries, informational reading, packing lists, and much, much more!