Cape Town Central, the epicentre of South Africa, is a wonderful place to visit and is lovingly known as Africa’s Mother City.
There are many things to do in Cape Town Central, from scaling the mighty Table Mountain and visiting the humbling Robben Island to enjoying great food and drink in the Victoria and Albert Waterfront restaurants and markets.
Exploring the surrounding Cape Peninsula is also a must when you are in Cape Town Central. Read about the 10 Sensational Locations to Visit on a Cape Peninsula Road Trip and discover where to see penguins on a beach, snorkel with seals and relax on one of South Africa’s best surf beaches.
I spent 3-nights in Cape Town Central at the starting point of my 2-week South African Road Trip Adventure. I travelled along South Africa’s Garden Route to enjoy a spectacular safari stay at Quatermain’s Safari Camp near Port Elizabeth before returning to Cape Town and heading back to the UK.
This post will highlight the best things to do in Cape Town on your first visit to get the most out of your trip to South Africa.
This article may contain affiliate links – read the full disclaimer here.
Need to arrange travel insurance, car hire or accommodation for your trip to South Africa? Check out my resources page to help you plan your trip.
Take the Cable Car to the Top of Table Mountain #1
Table Mountain is the iconic landmark of Cape Town and stands imposingly above the city. The views from the top are incredible and you can spot Robben Island, Nelson Mandela’s place of imprisonment, from the summit. Table Mountain Cable Aerialway will whisk you to the top in minutes, or if you like a challenge (like I did), then you can hike to the top of Table Mountain!
Whatever your preference, a visit to Table Mountain must be put high on your list of things to do in Cape Town. A trip to Africa’s “Mother City” wouldn’t be the same without this experience.
The Cape Town City Pass will give you free entry to over 90 of Cape Town’s top attractions including free transport on the Hop On – Hop Off bus.
Hike Cape Town’s Lion’s Head Trail #2
A popular 5km round-trip hike in Cape Town is the Lion’s Head Trail giving walkers magnificent views of the ocean and the city. The hike will take between 1-2 hours, depending on your speed and fitness levels. You can hike alone, but you need to be vigilant as there are occasional criminal activities on the trail. If you want to hike with a tour guide, check out this great Lion’s Head tour site. It will give you insider information, including Lion’s Head safety, Lion’s Head hike time and Lion’s Head directions.
Lion’s Head Tours can be also be booked here.
Get Snapping in Bo Kaap Neighbourhood #3
The most colourful neighbourhood in central Cape Town and one of the most instagrammable places in South Africa! The houses are all painted in vivid colours – green, red, blue, orange, yellow and purple – and line Bo-Kaap’s streets. The houses were painted in different colours as a sign of individuality and freedom after the abolition of apartheid.
Find out about the history of Bo-Kaap at Iziko Museum, set in an 18th-century Bo-Kaap building.
Feel like experiencing an authentic meal in Bo-Kaap? You can book a 3-hour Cape Malay cookery course and sample one of Cape Town’s traditional cuisines.
Angie’s Top Tip: Combine a visit to Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, Signal Hill and Bo Kaap in one day. All four attractions are located close to each other.
Eat, Drink and Shop at Cape Town’s Victoria and Albert Waterfront #4
The V & A Waterfront is a fantastic place to eat, drink and sleep. The best Cape Town restaurants offer both traditional and contemporary dishes, and it was in Karibu Restaurant that I had a mixed platter consisting of warthog, crocodile, kudu and ostrich. It was strange eating such unusual meat, but in South Africa, this is the norm. Everything tasted ok to me apart from the crocodile, which had a strange fishy taste to it!
Fashion boutiques, artisan shops, diamond dealers, and the fantastic V & A Waterfront food market are all waiting to be discovered in the V & A Waterside. If you are a coffee lover, head to Truth coffee, the best coffee shop in Cape Town.
I would recommend staying around the V & A Waterfront as it is a perfect base for exploring Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula. I stayed at the Lawhill Luxury Apartments, which were spacious, beautifully decorated and a short walk away from the V & A Waterfront.
Other Accommodation in the V & A Waterfront
The Table Bay Hotel – ultimate in 5-star luxury hotel accommodation in Cape Town with the backdrop of Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean.
The One and Only – The resort’s 5-luxury vibe is contemporary whilst drawing on Africa’s culture and heritage. Rooms have views of Table Mountain.
Queen Victoria Hotel -Recognised as one of the top 25 luxury hotels in South Africa, the hotel is located in a historic precinct close to the V & A Waterfront.
Cape Grace Hotel – This premier hotel is located on a private quay by Cape Town’s prestigious yacht marina. Expect first class service and luxury.
V&A Waterfront tours & activities
Discover the Underwater World at Two Oceans Aquarium #5
Explore South Africa’s underwater species at Two Oceans Aquarium in the V & A Waterfront. Please find out about their Save Our Sea Shark Exhibit highlighting these threatened creatures’ plight in South Africa’s waters. If you are heading off to do a Shark Cage Dive while you are in South Africa, you may like to visit the aquarium either before or after your experience.
You will undoubtedly spot several of the Cape fur seals that spend their days resting on the specially build seal landing behind the Two Oceans Aquarium while you are by the aquarium. Seals prefer to spend their time on offshore islands, so it is fantastic to get such a close view here.
Discover World-Heritage Listed Robben Island #6
Before you take a trip to Robben Island, you must have a look at the Nelson Mandela Gateway Museum in Cape Town’s Victoria and Albert Waterfront. Nelson Mandela spent 27 years in captivity, and the first 18 years were spent in Robben Island Prison. The Nelson Mandela Gateway museum covers the political and personal aspects of his life and is the departure point for trips to Robben Island.
You may like to read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography – A Long Walk to Freedom, before your visit.
Robben Island one of the most famous landmark attractions to see in Africa, and a tour takes around 4 hours, so leave yourself plenty of time to look around. The boat journey from the Nelson Mandela Gateway Museum takes 30 minutes.
Robben Island tours and activities
The Cape Town Diamond Museum #7
No trip to Cape Town is complete without visiting the Diamond Museum. An interactive museum in the heart of the Victoria and Albert waterfront, highlighting the history (the good and the bad) of diamond mining in South Africa. Of course, the tour ends conveniently in the diamond showroom, so if you have some cash to splash, you may want to buy a gem to take home. We enjoyed the museum and the showroom and didn’t feel pressured to buy anything.
Discover Cape Town’s Best Beaches #8
Camps Bay is one of the most popular beaches in Cape Town. With stunning views and a long sandy beach, it is the perfect place to dip a toe in the water. The water is cold – this is the Atlantic Ocean- but if you are brave, it is very refreshing.
The road running alongside the beach is lined with restaurants, cafés, bars, and small shops. We chilled out in one of the bars with a cocktail while watching one of the famous Camps Bay sunsets.
There are four beaches at Clifton, and they are simple and inviting and draw a regular crowd of sun worshippers. There are no trendy cafes or cocktail bars here just sandy beaches and the ocean.
Angie’s Top Tip: Combine a visit to the Victoria & Albert Waterfront with Robben Island and then relax on one of Cape Town’s beautiful beaches.
Get back to nature at Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens #9
Kirstenbosch is one of the world’s leading botanical gardens, and for a good reason. The gardens have over 5000 plant species and are located in the shadow of Table Mountain. A short 20-min drive from central Cape Town and you will be able to wander around the beautiful botanical gardens. Head to the Tree Canopy Walk and get a birds-eye view of the surrounding landscape.
Enjoy wine tasting in Constantia #10
South Africa’s Cape Winelands are a 60-minute drive from Cape Town, but you can include them in your Cape Town itinerary if you have the time. The South African vineyards are home to some of the finest wineries in the world. You can enjoy wine tasting tours, sample fabulous food and even stay the night in some incredible Cape Wineland properties.
Visit the wineries in a day on a self-guided tour or with a pre-arranged Cape Winelands Tour. By travelling around the different wine regions, you will sample many different varietals of South African grape.
If you don’t have time to spend a whole day in the Cape Winelands, there is an option. A 25-minute drive from central Cape Town will take you to the town of Constantia, where you can sample wines from sensational wine farms such as Constantia Glen.
Angie’s Top Tip: Combine a visit to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Constantia wineries. Both places are a 20-30 minute drive from Central Cape Town.
You could also include these two stops on a road-trip along the Cape Peninsula. Check out my post 10 Sensational Locations you must see on the Cape Peninsula for more information and a route guide. This is where you will see African penguins, incredible scenery and Cape Point with its diverse flora and fauna.
Make a stop at Cape Town’s Museums #11
Learn about Cape Town’s History at District Six Museum
A museum exploring the memories of District Six and other communities affected in the 1970s by forced relocations and demolition of homes under apartheid. A poignant reminder of a marked time in South Africa’s history.
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art
If you are interested in art, then the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world, MOCAA, is in Cape Town. MOCAA is located six floors below the unique Silo Hotel, the titleholder of the best city hotel in Africa 2020 and with one of the best rooftop pools in Cape Town. The Silo Hotel is a work of architectural brilliance in its own right, adding a new dimension of luxury to Cape Town hotel accommodation.
Angie’s Top Tip: Visit both museums and afterwards enjoy cocktails and dinner at the sensational Silo Hotel.
Adrenaline Adventures in Cape Town #12
Best adventure activities in Cape Town for adrenaline junkies.
A Word About Safety in Cape Town
Before we arrived, we were told to be extremely vigilant and that muggings and kidnappings happen all the time. While this does happen, I have to say that while we were in Cape Town and during our Garden Route road trip, we felt safe at all times. I believe the main reason is that we were VIGILANT.
Criminals generally target vulnerable people. They don’t like it if visitors are hot on awareness and know what is going on around them. Of course, you ask for trouble if you head out dripping in diamonds with the latest camera slung around your neck, so be sensible and think before you act.
There is no reason for fear to overshadow your trip to one of the most beautiful cities in the world because let’s face it bad things can happen to good people wherever you travel.
Checklist for staying safe in Cape Town
Don’t take your passport and valuable items with you when you go out. Please leave them in the hotel safe.
Don’t drive with windows wide open – criminals can lean in and grab bags of front seats or worse.
Never leave stuff on the seats of a locked car – you may return to broken windows and all your belongings missing.
Wandering around the city at night is a No-No – this is when the undesirables come out to hunt!
Make sure you only use official taxi’s like Grab. Don’t get into a random car even if the driver claims to be a legit taxi.
Don’t hike up Table Mountain, Signal Hill or Lion’s Head at night. Human predators are often waiting for susceptible prey!
And finally – always keep your bag with you. Never hang it off the back of your chair or leave it on the restaurant table when you go to the toilet. Keep it zipped up at all times so small hands can’t remove contents!