My first trip to Cape Town simply wasn’t long enough. Seven days in Cape Town is not enough time to see, do, experience, and eat everything this incredible city has to offer. I did a lot of research and quickly figured out I would have to have to choose carefully what I wanted to do, because I couldn’t do it all.
Cape Town is a beautiful, vibrant city with amazing food, culture, hospitality, nightlife, and spirit of adventure. It was difficult to choose from all the great things to do, but I managed to squeeze in quite a lot in the week that I stayed here.
Here are some tips to help you plan your holiday to Cape Town!
I visited during peak season at the end of December through New Year’s. Many South Africans, Europeans, and North Americans use their school holidays to visit Cape Town during this time. It is South Africa’s summer, but the weather is mild and perfect for a holiday to this seaside destination. It does mean potentially long lines, but booking certain activities early can help you avoid long lines.
Timeline for Booking Cape Town Flights, Accommodation, and Tours
If you’re booking a holiday to Cape Town during peak season, don’t wait until the last minute to book flights, accommodation, or tours. I booked my flight in September, but waited until the end of October to book accommodation, so choices were limited. I got lucky and found a great cottage in a residential neighborhood on Airbnb.com, but it was a new listing. Most budget and midrange hotels, and many Airbnb options were booked already.
I suggest the following:
In September, book flights and accommodation near the beginning of the month.
In October, book any wine tours you’re interested in as they also fill up fast. Reserve a rental car.
In December, you’re interested in helicopter rides or paragliding, it’s a good idea to inquire now and find out when you should book. Keep in mind both are dependent upon weather, so your plans could change by hours or days even. Make sure that you can get a full refund if you are unable to do either activity because of weather.
Also, book a Robben Island tour. This tour fills up a week in advance it seems, according to what I experienced. I combined it with a Langa Township tour just a few days in advance, and we were not able to get the Robben Island tour at the time of day we wanted it.
Cape Town is unique because of it’s arrangement around Table Mountain, but that doesn’t mean it’s difficult to get around. In fact, other than the traffic going up Table Mountain, there weren’t any real traffic issues, even on New Year’s Eve around Long Street. There are several options for getting around Cape Town as a tourist.
Rent a car: We chose not to rent, but there are numerous car rental agencies in the airport. Reserve early. The cars that were the least expensive were Mercedes and BMW, and I didn’t want to be responsible for such an expensive car. I’m not sure why a Ford Escort was twice as much to rent, but it was.
UberX, UberBlack: You have three different Uber options. We used the cheapest every time and had no problems. It’s cheaper than a taxi, reliable, and be ready when you request your Uber because sometimes we waited less than two minutes! Sometimes, it took about 15-20 minutes at V & A Waterfront and on New Year’s Eve. UberBlack is more expensive because these are professional drivers (I don’t know what that means) and is rumored to be safer. Maybe a better option for solo female travelers?
Tip: To use Uber, you may need a local SIM card/service provider. In the airport, when you exit baggage claim, head towards the arrivals hall to the left and there’s Vodacom and other shops where you can get one. This proved invaluable to me, although Uber would not allow me to change my original number. But it enabled guides to call me when picking me up for tours.
CitySightseeing Hop On Hop Off Bus: This was a great option for us on our first day to get to Table Mountain, Camps Bay, and back to V &A Waterfront. For about 12 USD, you can get around on any of their three routes for the entire day. Other than Table Mountain, there was no waiting. The two-day combo ticket for 270 ZAR (20 USD) is an awesome deal and includes a harbor cruise and can be used on any two days within a three-day window.
Taxis: We didn’t use them. They were everywhere and are a good option if you’re not able to get an Uber. We stayed in a residential neighborhood though, so not a great option for us in the mornings.
Public transport: There are a number of buses (no subway) but we didn’t use them. I can’t speak to the efficiency, price, or safety.
There are lots of hotels, B & B’s, hostels, and Airbnb options in Cape Town. If you’re going during peak season, book early to get the most options and to ensure you get what you really want. I can’t recommend any specific hotels or hostels because I didn’t use these options. I waited too late and most were booked or way too expensive.
We used Airbnb.com and had a great two-bedroom house with a garden in a residential neighborhood. It was cheaper than a hotel, private, and came equipped with three cats to welcome us at the end of the day. I’m a huge fan of Airbnb! For solo travelers, there are a surprising number of great choices on Airbnb in Cape Town that are actually less than staying in a hostel, but you won’t have that social atmosphere if that’s what you’re looking for.
Note about neighborhoods: When looking for accommodation, it’s important to consider where to stay. Not all neighborhoods are safe for tourists. Friends from Cape Town and locals, as well as one of my guides, said neighborhoods west of the M5 are safe, including the city center.
What I Saw and Did in Cape Town
There’s so much to see and so many neighborhoods to explore in this fantastic city! I had no idea until I started researching it and reading other travel blogs. The following was all I was able to fit in to my week in Cape Town.
Table Mountain is probably the most famous sight in Cape Town, and for good reason. You can hike up here using numerous trails, or you can take the cable car. We took the cable car to save time, because it took quite a bit of time to get there due to traffic. John and I used the CitySightseeing Hop On Hop Off bus as transport (12 USD for one day). I had to wait in line for the bus, but I still had about three hours to explore Table Mountain.
Tip: Buy your bus tickets online before arriving and buy your Table Mountain cable car tickets at their main office at 81 Long Street when the bus stops there. They will wait for you to get off and back on. Lines for tickets for the cable car are long on the mountain.
The free Bo Kaap Walking Tour, also available through the CitySightseeing (it starts at 81 Long Street) was a highlight of Cape Town for me. This colorful Muslim neighborhood is easily accessible from Long Street if you want to take photos on your own, but the walking tour makes this experience much richer. Our guide was Ken, and he was very knowledgeable and entertaining. These guides work for tips only, and they tell you that, so keep that in mind and tip generously. These guys work hard and are trained guides. You can go to 81 Long Street about thirty minutes before the tour starts and sign up. Check their website for start times. I went at 14:00.
Tip: There’s a fantastic restaurant at the top of Wale Street in Bo Kaap called Biesmiellah that serves up an amazing bobotie (bo-boo-tee). There’s no alcohol here as it is Muslim, and the service, honestly, was slow and inefficient, but polite. Just go for great food at a great price.
Robben Island is where Nelson Mandala spent 18 years of his 27 years of imprisonment. This informative tour is led by former prisoners, some of whom were imprisoned with Mandala. You must book the ferry tickets in advance if you want to guarantee a spot during your time in Cape Town. Afternoon ferries depart at 13:00 and 15:00. The cost of the tour is included in the ticket price of 320 ZAR (22 USD). Once you arrive on the island, a guide on a bus leads groups around to different parts of the island. He then takes groups to the prison itself where a former prisoner will give an amazing lecture and show you around, including to Mandela’s cell, which you can no longer enter. The reason? You’ll have to wait for the tour to find out.
Long Street and The Company Gardens are worth a wander, good for photos and shopping, and you’ll end up on Long Street anyway no matter what you have planned. It’s a great place to spend New Year’s Eve. I ended up at a restaurant/bar called Tiger’s Milk because there was no line, and had the best ribs ever and craft IPA. If you’re looking for a nightclub, better show up before 9:00 or you’ll spend the night waiting in line.
Note: Panhandlers (and parking attendants!) will harass you mercilessly on Long Street and surrounding streets if you look like a tourist. I found this annoying, not threatening. They will follow you. Just ignore them, don’t speak to them, and they will eventually leave you alone. Whether you give them money or not, they will follow you. I couldn’t possibly give to all of them and also didn’t want to whip out my wallet in front of them. Use caution. Long Street and surrounding streets are pretty busy, so I felt safe, but they made me not want to return to Long Street.
Wine tours to Constantia (usually include a trip to Cape Point) and Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek book up quickly because they are truly a #1 reason to go to Cape Town. Many choose to stay in one of the beautiful B & B’s or hotels in these regions as well, at least for a couple of days, while touring. I did a day trip to Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek, and another day trip to Boulder’s Beach and Cape Point in the morning, with a wine tasting tour at two Constantia wineries in the afternoon. It’s a must, even if you’re like me and don’t know much about wine. The countryside is stunning and the wines are excellent. Both of my tours were private, but you can join group tours as well.
Luhambo Tours (140 USD each for private tour, 90 each to join a group tour, to Cape Point and Constantia)
Happy Trails Private Wine Tour via Viator (175 USD each for a private tour of Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek wineries)
Truth Coffee is in District Six on Buitenkant St and its steampunk décor, excellent coffee, and great service make this place worth a visit, even if you don’t drink coffee. My friend doesn’t, and he loved it! It’s also a full-service restaurant and at night, they serve alcohol. Their website? Awesome. Check it out here. Truth Coffee
After coffee at Truth, we walked two minutes to District Six Museum (30 ZAR or 4.50 USD). This fantastic museum has so much information about the removal of the blacks from the various districts in the city over several years time so that these areas could eventually be declared white areas. You can learn about how this forever changed the culture and economics of Cape Town, and it still affects this city today. Volunteers who were affected by the upheaval give tours of the museum.
V & A Waterfront is a great place to walk and shop and eat. It was a bit crowded for my taste, and I seemed to end up there more than I wanted to, but it’s enjoyable for an afternoon, and very photogenic at night. It’s the only place you should walk alone at night in Cape Town.
Camps Bay is a great place by the beach for lunch. We went here after Table Mountain on the CitySightseeing bus. There are plenty of fantastic restaurants serving up great seafood and other cuisine along the beachfront road. You can explore the boulders and enjoy the beach here as well. We had seafood at Paranga, which also serves a great gin and tonic with a twist.
Langa Township tour was recommended to me, but I debated whether or not to put it on my list. While the tour was certainly worthwhile, it wasn’t exactly a comfortable experience for me. White people walking around taking pictures of impoverished black neighborhoods just doesn’t seem right, although the money from the tours goes to help the local people. The guide was wonderful and it certainly was eye-opening and informative. The tour is about 500 ZAR (35 USD) and that includes a pick up in the city center. It costs about the same from the numerous companies that offer tours.
Tip: Don’t tour a township unless on a guided tour. Kids in the township clearly expected candy from us, but I cannot get on board with this tourist behavior. It creates very bad habits and attitudes in local children, in my opinion. Our guide specifically said not to give them money.
More to See and Do in Cape Town (Next time!)
I couldn’t fit everything I wanted to do into one week, possibly because I spent two full days on wine tours, but I have no regrets about that! Here’s some other things you might want to do on your visit to Cape Town.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden: This incredible space has the largest collection of plants in any one space in Africa. It is located at the base of Table Mountain on the eastern side. This stunning garden is steeped in history and well worth seeing. It’s on the CitySightseeing bus route. They offer free guided tours that last 50 minutes. Entrance fee is 60 ZAR (4.50 USD). Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Paragliding: I didn’t do it, so can’t recommend a company, but it’s on my list for next time. There are several companies launching from either Signal Hill or Lion’s Head, all with great safety records.
Helicopter rides: We did book a helicopter ride through Cape Town Helicopters (CitySightseeing big red bus company) for 90 USD each, but had to cancel because of our Robben Island tour. This company offers the same 12-15 minute tour all the others do, but it is less expensive than most and they were very understanding when we had to cancel and gave us a full refund. I will use them next time!
Old Biscuit Mill: This old mill on Albert Road in Woodstock has been gentrified and now has day and night markets, office space, several designer stores, and great food from farm stalls and upscale restaurants. You might need to make a reservation to eat at the restaurants here. The Old Biscuit Mill
Tribe Coffee: I do love my coffee, and really wanted to go here, but just didn’t have time. It’s not far from the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. It’s a cool space with even cooler coffee. Also, in Woodstock, there are walking tours featuring the street art. Tribe Coffee
Anytime I book a trip with a tour company, like the next half of this trip when I went to Botswana and Zimbabwe, I get my travel insurance through World Nomads. They have great coverage, very complete coverage, and their price is very reasonable. For all of my trips where I’ve used World Nomads, I have paid 89 USD for coverage. I have never needed to use my travel insurance, but I did have to call once and email once to ask a question, and their customer service was excellent. Travel insurance is always a good idea when traveling, even if you don’t use a tour company.
Vibrant and alive, Cape Town is a destination you will want to return to again and again. I am already ready to go back. Who’s with me??