30 best things to do in Cape Town, South Africa

Griffin Shea, CNNPublished 27th July 2018
(CNN) — Cape Town is one of the world's most beautiful cities. From almost any vantage point, there's a mountain or an ocean in view, and often both.
The weather is notoriously fickle -- it's easy to experience four seasons in a day, and some residents keep a jacket, an umbrella and a bathing suit in their cars all the time, to prepare for any eventuality.
But that just reminds of the variety of things to do. If it's too cloudy to hike on the mountain, then there's art galleries, wineries and beaches. Swim with a penguin, burrow deep into the city's history, or just walk along cobblestone streets and take it all in.
Recent water shortages may have tested the city's resolve, but it's still one of the planet's most extraordinary destinations.
Here are 30 of the best things to do in Cape Town when you travel here:

Table Mountain

Cape Town is defined by Table Mountain. Locals give directions based on whether to drive towards or away from it, and by which side of the mountain something is on.
The mountain affects weather, views, and in a particular way, moods. When the day is clear and the mountain's edges are crisp, life just seems better.
The top is easily accessible by a cable car, with tickets available online in advance. When the clouds roll across, park officials close the top until visibility improves.
Hikers can walk all the way up (but never alone, for safety). Among the plants that cling to the rocks are species not found anywhere else in the world.
This is a unique ecosystem that feeds off the moisture in the clouds themselves.

Simon's Town/Boulders Beach penguin colony

Officially part of Table Mountain National Park, the Simon's Town penguin colony is down the coast from the city center, on the way to Cape Point.
Once, this was a regular neighborhood where a group of penguins had rather unexpectedly decided to take up residence on the beach, and in the gardens of the homes along the shore's hillside.
Over the years, as more and more visitors arrived, the beach became more organized to accommodate visitors, with designated boardwalk paths to prevent the accidental trampling of penguin nests.
But at the far entrance, the beach's original charms remain, where bathers can still get in the shallow water and wait for a penguin to swim by.

Kalk Bay

Kalk Bay is a small fishing community on the shore of False Bay.
Kalk Bay is a small fishing community on the shore of False Bay.
RODGER BOSCH/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
In the small community of Kalk Bay, art galleries and boutiques line the main road, with restaurants and bars overlooking the ocean.
Across the street and under a pass, families bring children to swim in tidal pools that protect against currents and keep the water (relatively) warmer.
Down by the marina, past the smarter dining options, is Kalkies', which serves up Cape Town's best fish and chips on picnic tables.

District Six Museum

Before apartheid, District Six was a mixed-race neighborhood where freed slaves, migrants, workers and merchants lived together.
In the early 20th century, blacks were forcibly removed, and in 1966 it was declared a whites-only area. Bulldozers razed homes, and tens of thousands of people were forced into the scorching Cape Flats on the outskirts of the city.
The District Six Museum recreates the vibrant life that existed before the removals, and the trauma caused by the displacement.
District Six Museum, 25A Albertus St & Buitenkant Street, Zonnebloem, Cape Town, 8000; +27 (0) 21 466 7200

Mzoli's Place

Part butchery, part restaurant, part social hub, Mzoli's is known by many names. including Mzoli's Meat, Mzoli's Place, KwaMzoli.
They're all the same place -- a butcher's shop that people dress up to visit, buy fresh meat and cook it one of the open flames on a home-style braai, or BBQ.
Mzoli's is in one of Cape Town's biggest townships, Guguletu, where it attracts tourists, locals, celebs and an array of beautiful people.
Mzoli's Place, Ny 115, Guguletu, Cape Town, 7751; +27 (0) 21 638 1355

Robben Island

The notorious Robben Island prison that held Nelson Mandela and other heroes of the liberation struggle is now a museum, unique in that the tours are given by former inmates.
While the prison itself is a sobering window on the conditions suffered by political prisoners, it's the first-hand accounts that give life to the place.
The only access is on a ferry that leaves from the Waterfront. Tickets are best booked online well in advance, as tours fill up quickly.

Company's Garden

Best Cape Town Company's Garden 9
Company's Garden was created in the 1650s by the first European settlers and is now a park and heritage site.
courtesy The Company's Garden
When Europeans first settled at the Cape, this is where they planted their gardens to feed settlers and ships plying the trade routes between Europe and Asia.
The gardens were named after the Dutch East India Company.
Now they're a gorgeously landscaped space that runs from St. George's Cathedral, past the Parliament and the National Library, and up to the posh Mount Nelson Hotel.
Company's Garden, 19 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town; +27 (0) 21 444-1901

Slave Lodge

Near St. George's Cathedral and the entrance to the Company's Garden, Slave Lodge is a museum to an often-overlooked chapter of South Africa's past.
The Dutch East India Company built the structure in 1679 to house its slaves. Up to 9,000 slaves were kept inside its walls.
Revealingly, the building was later used as government offices, parliament, and the Supreme Court. Now it houses displays that show the conditions slaves suffered through during their voyage to the Cape, examines the conditions of their lives, and traces the fates of their descendants.
Slave Lodge, Corner Adderley and Wales Streets, Cape Town; +27 (0) 21 467 7229

Cape Wheel at the Waterfront

The Waterfront attracts tourists from around the world, and during the peak summer season the piers can get crowded with shoppers and sightseers. But worth a ride is the Cape Wheel, a 40-meter high Ferris wheel with enclosed cabins that offer dramatic views of the mountains, the city and the sea.
Cape Wheel, Dock Rd, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, 8000; +27 (0) 21 418 2502

The Old Biscuit Mill

Best things to do in Cape Town, restaurants
The Test Kitchen is a fine-dining emporium in the Old Biscuit Mill.
courtesy The Test Kitchen
So named because the site was once in fact a cookie factory, it's now the trendiest weekend market in the city, the sort of place that sells more than one variety of homemade kombucha, but also healthy portions of fancy French fries and gourmet burgers.
There's also permanent businesses here, including The Test Kitchen, one of the country's top-rated restaurants, art galleries, a coffee roastery and designer ceramics.
The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Rd, Woodstock, Cape Town, 7915; +27 (0) 21 447 8194

The Promenade

Cape Town's Atlantic coast is fronted by park space that runs from Mouille Point to Sea Point, past lighthouses, public swimming pools, and sculptures for visitors to engage with — whether by taking selfies or letting children clamber over them.
The Promenade is prime jogging space, but also a perfect spot to watch the sun set.

Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap's brightly painted homes along cobblestone streets make the neighborhood a postcard image of Cape Town.
But it's also one of the city's most culturally distinct areas.
After emancipation, many freed slaves settled there. Their culture became known as Cape Malay, a fusion of the cultures from across Asia that comprised the slaves' heritage.
Biesmiellah's restaurant serves up a fine menu of traditional Cape Malay cuisine, now claimed by the city at large.

Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden

At the foot of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch preserves the plants of the Cape which aren't found anywhere else in the world.
Trails from the garden lead to the mountain top, but it's easy to spend the day wandering among the plants and marveling at the many varieties of proteas growing throughout.
During summer months, the gardens host a popular series of outdoor concerts for picnickers.
Kirstenboch National Botanic Garden, Rhodes Dr, Newlands, Cape Town, 7735; +27 (0) 21 799 8783

Chapman's Peak

Beautiful south africa Scenic view from Chapmans Peak
Chapman's Peak is a mountain on the western side of the Cape Peninsula.
courtesy South African Tourism
The drive past Chapman's Peak is the sort of route favored for car commercials: a winding road that clings to the edge of the mountain, with a sheer drop to the ocean below.
The cliffs are prone to rock slides, which means the road is sometimes closed.
Driving conditions are routinely posted to the Chapman's Peak Drive website and to the Chapman's Peak Facebook page.

Cape Point

The Cape of Good Hope offers spectacular scenery along winding roads that end at Cape Point.
Even by car, exploring the park takes the better part of a day, but cycling or hiking through the park makes for more adventure.
The road ends at a visitor center, with a restaurant and a trail to the lighthouse atop the hill.
The Flying Dutchman Funicular ferries visitors to the top, but the walk includes many stops for a rest and photographs of the ocean crashing into the cliffs.

The Labia Theatre

This art-house cinema is the oldest in Cape Town, and retains many of the theater's original features, including the seats, ticket booth, and the concession stand.
Originally a space for performing arts, it now shows art films, cult classics and foreign films.
The Labia Theatre, 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town; +27 (0) 214245927

The Fugard Theatre

Located in District Six on a site that housed textile suppliers and a gothic church, the Fugard Theatre is an anchor of Cape Town's cultural life.
There's a cinema and two performance stages, as well as a rooftop bar.
The Fugard Theatre, Corner Caledon & Lower Buitenkant Street, District Six, Cape Town, 8001; +27 (0) 21 461 4554

Babylonstoren

Best Cape Town Babylonstoren  Lunch at Babel
The Babel restaurant is housed in an old cow shed at Babylonstoren north of Stellenbosch.
courtesy Babylonstoren
The oldest buildings at Babylonstoren, an historic Cape Dutch farm turned hotel and restaurant, are among the oldest in the Cape, dating to 1690.
But the food embraces modern notions of farm-to-table dining, with many ingredients produced in the farm's gardens.
The wine is award-winning, and the guest rooms are simple but stylish takes on country living.
Babylonstoren, Klapmuts Simondium Road, Simondium, 7670; +27 (0) 21 863 3852

Spier Wine Farm

Spier is one of the best-known wine farms in the Cape, with the excellent food and wine that the region is known for, but also a vast collection of contemporary South African art, sprawling and child-friendly grounds for picnics, and quirky tours that can be done by Segway and occasionally by steam train.
Spier Wine Farm, R310 Stellenbosch, Stellenbosch; +27 (0) 21 809 1100

Franschhoek

Franschhoek Tram 021
Franschhoek boasts centuries-old vineyards, fine dining and typical Cape Dutch architecture.
Franschhoek Wine Tram, CNN
This small town is just an hour from the city, settled by French Huguenots who left a culinary tradition that turned it into one of the world's great gastronomic destinations.
With only 20,000 people, Franschhoek's restaurants and wines routinely feature on lists of global greats.

High tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel

This luxurious hotel across from the Company's Garden puts on a high tea that's the stuff of storybooks.
Either indoors or on the terrace, the treats are delectable and the teas come in glass pots, to show off the floating leaves and petals as they infuse.
Mount Nelson Hotel, 76 Orange St, Gardens, Cape Town, 8001; +27 (0) 21 483 1000

Dancing at Marco's

Best Cape Town places Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel Terrace Lounge
The Mount Nelson Hotel is the place for a spot of luxury afternoon tea near Company's Garden.
courtesy Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel
Marco's is one of the best choices in Cape Town for sampling African food.
On the edge of Bo-Kaap in a renovated warehouse, the restaurant pulls a mixed crowd of tourists and locals who come as much for the food as for the dancing.
Diners not brave enough for the dance floor can still enjoy the music from tables on the balcony.
Marco's African Place, 15 Rose St, Schotsche Kloof, Cape Town, 8001; +27 (0) 21 423 5412

Castle of Good Hope & Tunnel tours

Not all Capetonians know about the tunnels under the city, which the Dutch began excavating in the 1600s when they built the Castle of Good Hope.
The underground passages were sewer lines until the late 1800s, but now carry water flowing from Table Mountain to the ocean.
Castle of Good Hope, Darling St & Buitenkant St, Foreshore, Cape Town, 8001; +27 (0) 21 787 1260

Department of Coffee in Khayelitsha

Department of Coffee brings cappuccino culture to Khayelitsha, one of Cape Town's biggest townships.
Prices are about one third of what a fancy coffee costs in the city centre.
With its location right outside the Metrorail train station, the coffeeshop also provides a jumping-off point for exploring the neighborhood.
Saturdays often include a band, and bike tours of the township can be organized to meet up outside their hutch.

Maboneng Township Arts Experience

The Maboneng Township Arts Experience is a feast of local color and creativity.
The Maboneng Township Arts Experience is a feast of local color and creativity.
courtesy ROWAN/MAKHULU/MabonengArtsFest
The Maboneng project trains township residents in how to curate an art gallery by turning their home's walls into gallery space.
The organization runs tours every day to connect the homes into a unique experience of South African life woven into everyday life.
Maboneng Township Arts Experience, 337 Lower Main Rd, Observatory, Cape Town, 7925; +27 (0) 21 824 1773

La Boheme Bistro & Wine Bar

This neighborhood eatery in Sea Point is filled with in-the-know locals attracted by the smart and creative meals with an extensive and well-chosen wine list.
La Boheme Bistro, 341 Main Rd, Sea Point, Cape Town, 8005; +27 (0) 21 434 8797

The Book Lounge

This beloved independent bookstore in the city center hosts a brilliantly curated collection of literature, in a warm and friendly building.
The Book Lounge is also a pillar of the Open Book festival, which draws global luminaries to the city every September.
The Book Lounge, 71 Roeland Street, Cnr Buitenkant & Roeland Street, Cape Town, 8001; +27 (0) 21 462 2425

Long Street

Activities/Things to do in Cape Town, South Africa
Long Street is a famous Bohemian hangout in the City Bowl area of Cape Town.
GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
Lined with quirky shops, restaurants and nightlife, Long Street is a place for window shopping and people watching.
In the day time, the shop windows are filled with books and local fashions and artifacts from around the continent.
In the evenings, music spills onto the street and the city's young and trendy visitors and residents fill the sidewalks.

Seal Island

Cape fur seals fill this island, where pups slip into the water and parents bark after them.
The boat ride from the Waterfront is less than an hour. The glass-bottom boats offer views of the seals swimming underwater and playing on land.

Cheetah Outreach

Cheetahs have become endangered in part because of farmers shooting them to protect their livestock.
The Cheetah Outreach project helps address that problem by training Turkish Anatolian Shepherd dogs, which are exceptionally well-suited to chasing cheetahs away.
Visitors can meet cheetahs at the compound in Somerset West, and if they're lucky, play with the cubs as well.
Cheetah Outreach, Firgrove, Cape Town, 7110; +27 (0) 21 851 6850