Cape Town, South Africa truly has it all. Home to idyllic, white-sand beaches, unique flora and fauna, history, cuisine and culture, the Western Cape also happens to produce some of the best wine on the African continent. You could easily spend forever exploring Cape Town and its surroundings, but if you only have time for a brief getaway, here are all the things you must see, do, eat and drink during your trip.
How to Get to Cape Town
While there are a number of ways you can fly to European or African hubs from the US and then onward to CPT, United has recently launched the first nonstop flight between Newark and Cape Town. The flight is seasonal, running through March 27, 2020, but the flight will return for the 2020-21 season, hopefully in late November.
Winetraveler Tip: If you’re planning a trip to Cape Town, be sure to get notified when flight deals come up and take a look at some of the best hotels to stay at.
Walk Through the Colorful Bo Kapp
One of Cape Town’s most colorful neighborhoods, Bo Kapp’s hilly streets are lined with brightly painted houses, shops and restaurants. Once a Muslim township, the area is now occupied by a mix of all different types of residents.
Bo Kapp is fighting over-tourism and gentrification (as many other neighborhoods around the world are) so, by all means, get your Instagram shot, but be respectful of the locals that live there while doing so and consider how your tourist footprint might be affecting the neighborhood.
Sip wine in Stellenbosch & Franschoek
As mentioned earlier, Cape Town boasts some of the best wine regions in all of Africa — including both Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, famous for varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinotage, Merlot and Shiraz. Driving to these beautiful wine regions is an easy and quick trip from Cape Town. If you’d rather not drive, consider a wine tour through these regions instead.
Stellenbosch in particular has over 200 wineries, many of which have unique wine experiences that both visitors and locals alike can enjoy. After all, who can say no to picnics and Pinotage, safaris and Shiraz or cupcakes and Cabernet Sauvignon?
Enjoy the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
One of Cape Town’s most beloved tourist attractions is the 300-acre V&A Waterfront located on the Atlantic seafront. The complex features over 450 shops, as well as museums and restaurants. Don’t forget to make a stop at the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, located in what was once a former grain silo.
Although you can enjoy beautiful views of Table Mountain from the waterfront itself, one of the highlights is taking a ride on the Cape Wheel. It’s a 40-meter-high Ferris wheel featuring 30 closed cabins offering epic views of the Western Cape and beyond.
Head to Table Mountain
One of Cape Town’s most iconic landmarks–Table Mountain–is a flat-top mountain easily reachable by a number of different hikes or by cable car. If you choose to take the cable car, get there early, because lines can be extremely long on a sunny day.
Once you reach the top, you can walk around, admire the gorgeous 360° views of Cape Town and see some of South Africa’s typical plants. Keep an eye out for the native dassies (small herbivorous mammals with short tails) that run around on top of the mountain.
Admire a Sunset from Signal Hill
Also know as Lion’s Rump, Signal Hill is located next to Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. Hike for about an hour-and-a-half and your reward will be a glowing sunset over the endless ocean waters. Or, you can drive up if trekking isn’t your thing.
Hit the Beach
Although you have a number of beaches to choose from on the Western Cape, Camps Bay is one of the most famous. This beach is known for its white sands and crashing waves.
The nearby four different Clifton Beaches each have their own vibe — trendy, local, gay or family-friendly, so pick the one that’s right for you. Muizenberg is where you’ll find those colorful beach huts/bathing boxes, perfect for taking memorable photos on the beach.
Try Cape Malay Cuisine
Although South African wine pairs better with biltong, a type of South African dried beef, make sure to sample Cape Malay cuisine. This Cape Town gastronomic specialty is a mix of Malaysian and South African dishes. One of the most famous is bobotie, which is curried ground beef with Asian spices baked with egg or mixed with chutney. Find some of the best bobotie at no-frills joint Biesmiellah in Bo Kapp.
See the Penguins
Boulders Beach in Simon’s Town is famous for its colony of over 3,000 African penguins. The beach has special outdoor viewing decks (accessible with a small fee) so you can observe the penguins in their natural habitat, frolicking around the sand and sea.
Just make sure not to touch, feed or disrupt them. Besides the fact that you simply shouldn’t mess with this protected species, the birds won’t hesitate in at nipping you.
Immerse Yourself in Nature
You don’t have to go far from the city to surround yourself with native African trees and plants. The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are just a short drive from Cape Town’s city center, home to thousands of special plant, flower, herb and tree species.
The gardens also feature a special elevated Canopy Walk, a sculpture garden and incredible views of Table Mountain.
Spot the Big Five
Although you definitely won’t spot any lions in the city center of Cape Town, you don’t have to go all the way to Kruger National Park to find wild game. You can see animals like rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalos and leopards around nearby game reserves like Aquila and Sanbona, which are just a few hours drive from Cape Town.