Cape Town is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa visited by over 2.6m international visitors every year. Located in South Africa’s Western Cape province, the Mother City, as it is fondly called, is blessed with everything a tourist can desire: culture, history, mountains, beaches, vineyards, botanical gardens, nightlife, food, wine and penguin colonies. Tourists need at least a week to see it all.
Here are the top 10 places you absolutely must do on a trip to Cape Town:
#1 Table Mountain
Table Mountain is the landmark that frames Cape Town. The view of the mountain is spectacular during the windy months from October to March when it is enveloped by clouds, creating the same visual effect as a white tablecloth falling from an elegant table.
Table Mountain has the best views of the Cape Town and the Atlantic ocean. Tourists have two options to get to the top. The first is by hiking up the mountain using one of eight routes which take 2.5 – 6hrs and costs ZAR900-2,100 ($55-130) per person. The second option is to take the cable car up in a five minute journey that costs ZAR90 ($5.50) one way and ZAR180 ($11) return.
Aside from the view, visitors can wander around the 3km site to see the mountain’s flora and fauna. South Africa’s national flower, the protea, is just one of the many plants that thrive in this World Heritage site along with mammals such as porcupines. Baboons moved off the mountain in the late 1990s.
#2 Robben Island
Robben Island is a UNESCO world heritage site that served as a maximum-security prison for over two hundred years. It is located 6.9km away from Cape Town and is accessible by ferry which can take up to 30 mins in rough seas.
Robben Island housed political prisoners including Nelson Mandela, who served 18 out of 27 years in prison number 466/64. Visitors can tour Nelson Mandela’s prison cell and the limestone quarry where Mandela and his compatriots including Jacob Zuma worked in the blinding sun that caused retina damage in later years.
Robben Island offers tourists an appreciation of the apartheid struggle and insights into the wounds that will take generations to fully heal. You’ll leave the tour wondering how Nelson Mandela could find it in his heart to forgive and thinking the world would be a much better places if we all walked in the footsteps of Madiba. He will forever be missed.
#3 Khayelitsha township
Khayelitsha is a township located in the Cape Flats and is one of the poorest areas in Cape Town. A tour of the mostly black township illustrates the economic divide between the blacks and coloureds who live in Cape Flats and the white-dominated wealthy suburbs of Constantia and Llandudno.
In recent times, Khayelitsha has rebranded itself as a hotbed for culture, music and enterprise which reflects the growing income of its residents. Walking tours give tourists the opportunity to meet local residents and understand the history of the fastest growing township in South Africa.
Khayelitsha gained international notoriety when the British honeymooner, Anni Dewani, was murdered in a hit allegedly organised by her husband.
#4 Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
Kirstenbosch is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. The gardens were opened in 1913 and was the first botanical garden in the world to be named a UNESCO world heritage site. Kirstenbosch is set on 1,300 acres at the foot of Table Mountain and hosts over 7,000 plant species from across Southern Africa.
Aside from learning about the different plant species and hiking from the gardens to Table Mountain, visitors can relax at the Kirstenbosch Tea room or bring their own picnic hamper to enjoy the lush green gardens. Kirstenbosch is a popular venue for weddings and great for people spotting. The entry fee is ZAR40 ($2.50) for adults.
#5 Wine country
Constantia is located on the outskirts of Cape Town and is a popular residential area for the wealthy. Margaret Thatcher’s son, Mark, and Princess Diana’s brother, Earl Charles Spencer, are among the suburb’s most famous past residents. One must visit Groot Constantia which dates back to 1685 and was the first wine farm in South Africa. Visitors can tour the original Cape Dutch Manor, the museum and finish off with wine-tasting. Groot Constantia has won numerous awards for its Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Shiraz.
Unlike Constantia, it is worth spending at least two nights in Stellenbosch to maximise the wine experience. Wine estates such as Lanzerac, which was founded in 1692, now offer luxury accommodation and spa-stays in addition to wine tasting. Lanzerac is famous for putting Pinotage on the map. Visitors are spoilt for choice of wine estates to visit in Stellenbosch as there are more than 150 wineries.
Franschhoek is located an hour away from Cape Town. The city was named “French corner” in Dutch and was where the French Huguenots settled when they fled religious persecution in France. Like Paris, Franschhoek is known for its restaurants, cafés and amazing cuisine.
#6 Cape Point
Cape Point, which is located in the Cape of Good Hope, is one of the most popular destinations in Cape Town for two reasons that are not entirely correct. Cape Point has been marketed as the southwestern tip of Africa and where the Atlantic and Indian Ocean meet.
In reality both titles belong to Cape Agulhas which is due East but lacks the aesthetic appeal of its doppelganger. Cape Point is worth the one-hour drive from the city centre just to take Instagram-worthy photos of the Atlantic Ocean bashing against the rocky cliffs of Cape Town. An adult ticket costs ZAR340 or $22.
#7 Penguins at Boulder Beach
Boulders beach is home to the endangered species of African Penguins whose numbers have dwindled to less than 3,000 since the penguins first settled on the beach in 1982. Visitors will get the opportunity to see the penguins up close and also swim in False Bay. An adult ticket costs ZAR147 ($9).
Cape Town has lots of beaches for those who prefer a more relaxing holiday. Some beaches such as Camps Bay offer everything from beautiful people, glorious sunsets and happening night life. Other beaches such as Llandudno are quieter and therefore sometimes used for fashion photo shoots. Pack lots of bathing suits – you’ll need them.
#9 V& A Waterfront
V&A waterfront is one of the few shopping malls in the world that is an attraction in itself. Set in the city centre against the backdrop of Table Mountain, V&A is where visitors can shop for locally made products such as jewellery, art and crafts.
#10 Long Street
Long Street is the Roppongi of Cape Town. It is famous for its nightlife and is some of the hottest bars and clubs in Cape Town.