Cape Town is proud to show off its picturesque location between the ocean and the mountain ranges. Some of the best beaches in South Africa can be found in and around the city of Cape Town, which is also known for its proximity to the iconic Table Mountain and the botanical gardens that line its slopes.
Activities range from whale-watching tours and cage dives with great white sharks to more traditional outings like hiking, biking, surfing, and paragliding. There is always something fun to do in this area, though the specifics may change with the seasons.
Cape Town, the first European settlement in Africa, has a long and sometimes troubled history. Visitors interested in Nelson Mandela’s 18 years of incarceration can do so at Robben Island. Elegant Stellenbosch, located in the countryside, is a paradise for foodies.
Cape Point is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with one of the richest floral kingdoms, and scenic drives along the rugged coast provide opportunities to see penguins waddling on pristine beaches.
Best Places to Visit Cape Town
Our list of the best Cape Town tourist attractions will help you plan your trip to the “Mother City” of South Africa.
1. The Table Mountain Climb
Table Mountain, the most photographed landmark in South Africa, rises 1,087 meters south of the city center and serves as a constant reminder that nature reigns supreme in this beautiful coastal city. Located in Table Mountain National Park, the mountain marks the northernmost point of the Cape Peninsula.
More than 1,470 different types of flowers and animals, including the adorable snub-nosed dassies (rock hyraxes), caracals, and baboons, are all safe in this park. Within the park’s borders, the mountain is bookended by Devil’s Peak to the east and Lion’s Head to the west; on the Atlantic coast, the Twelve Apostles tower over the beach resorts.
2. Explore the National Botanical Gardens at Kirstenbosch
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, a part of the Cape Floristic Region UNESCO World Heritage site, is located in a stunning location on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Cecil Rhodes donated the land in 1902, and the gardens opened in 1913, making them among the earliest botanical preserves dedicated to protecting native plant species.
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The 528-hectare indigenous forest and fynbos nature reserve is home to more than 20,000 plant species native to South Africa and is used for cultivation and research.
3. Relax on the sands of Camps Bay and Clifton
Camps Bay and Clifton, located about 6 km from the city center, are popular destinations for the buff, the bronzed, and the beautiful, as well as the wealthy. Four pristine white-sand beaches, backed by smooth granite boulders and washed by sparkling, but crisp, blue seas, make Clifton, Cape Town’s St. Tropez, home to some of the city’s most expensive real estate.
When the waves are right, volleyball fans flock to First Beach, which is also a popular surfing spot. Camp’s Bay, just south of Clifton, is home to yet another beautiful beach, with the majestic Twelve Apostles and the distinctive Lion’s Head as a backdrop.
4. Find Great Deals at the V&A Waterfront
Like San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront stretches across two harbor basins and serves as a lively entertainment district.
This waterfront area, which was once a rundown fishing harbor, has been transformed into one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations, and many of the original buildings have been preserved and restored. There are millions of annual visitors to the area’s numerous restaurants, hotels, jazz clubs, theaters, drama studios, movie theaters, and museums.
5. Experience the Cape Wheel
You can’t miss the Cape Wheel in the Market Square part of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The giant wheel has 30 climate-controlled cabins that go around in four circuits, giving riders a total of 15 minutes to take in the breathtaking views.
At the top of the wheel, you’ll be about 120 feet in the air, and on a clear day, you can see the Cape Town Stadium in nearby Green Point, Table Mountain, and even the Paarl Mountains.
6. Robben Island
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island in Table Bay for 18 years during the apartheid era. The island has been used as a prison for nearly 400 years. The island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important part of South African heritage.
Before boarding boats to the island, visitors view multimedia exhibits in a museum at the Nelson Mandela Gateway on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Depending on the waves, the boat ride can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
7. Take a drive on Chapman’s Peak Drive
Located roughly 25 kilometers from the city center, Chapman’s Peak Drive, or “Chappies” as the locals call it, is one of the most breathtaking roads in the world.
This breathtaking toll road winds its way from Noordhoek to Hout Bay, passing the scenic Chapman’s Peak point along the way, and is cut into the sheer face of Chapman’s Peak, which plunges to the sea. It’s not a good route for people who get motion sickness, as it winds around 114 bends in the rock face, some of which are 500 meters or more above the water.
8. The Noon Gun and Sunset from Signal Hill
Signal Hill, located five minutes west of the city center, rises 350 meters above the surrounding area and provides breathtaking views of Cape Town, Table Bay, and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean.
Historically, signal flags were flown from atop this hill to communicate with ships passing by, hence the hill’s name and the fact that it is the body of the neighboring Lion’s Head peak.
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Tourists and locals alike flock to this spot to take in the sunset and stay to witness the city of Cape Town come to life after dark. A cannon is set off by an electronic impulse from the Observatory and fires once every day at noon (except Sundays and public holidays).
9. The Old Biscuit Mill
The Old Biscuit Mill, a popular restaurant and bar in Cape Town’s hip college neighborhood Woodstock, is open seven days a week and hosts the bustling Neighbourgoods Market on weekends.
Some of South Africa’s most innovative artists and designers can be found at the Old Biscuit Mill, which bills itself as a hub for creative types to network and exchange ideas while also selling their wares.
10. Visit the Town Hall and the Castle of Good Hope
Central Cape Town is home to two historic landmarks worth seeing for history buffs. Cape Town City Hall, completed in 1905, is an impressive fusion of Italian Neo-Renaissance and British colonial architecture. The bell tower is 60 meters high and features a carillon that was first played in 1923. It was inspired by London’s iconic Big Ben.
The stunning mosaic floors, marble staircase, and magnificent stained glass are just a few of the highlights of the interior. Take note of the balcony that looks out over Grand Parade, because that is where Nelson Mandela, the future president of the country, addressed a cheering crowd in 1990. The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra, based in the city, is another great musical attraction.
Cape Town, the capital of South Africa, is one of the most popular vacation spots in the world. The city’s vibrant shopping scene, lively nightlife, and deep blue coastline with white sands will make you want to stay a little longer than you had planned.
It’s likely that you can think of a hundred different reasons to visit Cape Town, but the city’s many tourist attractions are really just a huge magnet.