Cape Town guide books tend to share the same tips on what to do and where to eat in the Mother City. Hiking up Table Mountain, shopping in the V&A Waterfront, visiting Robben Island and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are all great things to do when visiting Cape Town, but if you just stick to your guide book recommendations you miss out on a whole lot of other awesome things to do. We asked the Getaway team, our Twitter and Facebook community, and Capetonians in-the-know for their suggestions on the best things to do, see, eat and drink.
If you’ve got any better suggestions, please add them in the comments below!
Where to eat and drink in Cape Town
Cape Town is South Africa’s culinary capital, with most of the country’s top restaurants, fantastic wineries and the best food markets. Here’s our pick of the best restaurants, coffee shops and bars:
Power & the Glory (and next door Black Ram Bar) on Kloof Nek Road for craft beer, delicious hot dogs and great music.
El Burro in Greenpoint for fabulous Mexican food, a great vibe, and real tequila.
Everyone loves pizza! Here’s our pick of six of the best pizza restaurants in town – from gourmet to 2am munchies.
Origin on Hudsons Street in De Waterkant has great coffee, roasted on the premisis. At the back of Origin, you’ll find Nigiro, a Zen-like space for drinking tea out of glass teapots, and doing traditional Taiwanese tea ceremonies. Try Deluxe Coffeworks for coffee on the go. EspressoLab (at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock) is also a top roastery.
Cape Town is all about sundowner spots and cocktails in summer, but the city also has great places for a wintry tipple next to a roaring fire, such as Societi Bistro’s Snug Bar on Orange Street. Here are 20 of Cape Town’s best winter pubs and bars.
Sample Cape Town’s unique cuisine – Cape Malay food – at these restaurants (the Noon Gun Tea Room is the one with the best view over the city, just below the Noon Gun) and try making traditional curries, roties and samoosas on one of these Cape Malay cooking classes in the city.
Order a shisha pipe (double apple and mint flavour) at La Playa at the V&A Waterfront and chill on the balcony overlooking the ocean.
Eat at Eastern Food Bazaar or Food Inn on Long Street for lekker cheap Indian dishes.
For the best milkshakes in town, head to the Fire and Ice Hotel off Buitensingel Street in the CBD, Roxy’s, and Mr Pickwicks or Royale Eatery on Long Street.
Great hipster brunch spots: the Superette in Woodstock; Skinny Legs and All in Loop Street; and Clarkes in Bree Street.
Get 360 degree views of Sea Point and the city from the Ritz revolving restaurant in Sea Point.
There are great weekly restaurant specials, such as half-price cocktails at Rafikis on Kloof Nek Road on Thursdays and half-price pizza on Mondays, half-price sushi at Greenpoint’s Beluga (weekdays 12 to 7, Sunday all day) and a R13 breakfast at Beleza (bacon, eggs and toast) on Kloof Nek Road.
Eat at two of the city’s top restaurants: the Greenhouse at The Cellars-Hohenort Hotel in Constantia, and the Test Kitchen at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock.
The Old Biscuit Mill Neighbourgoods Market on Albert Street in Woodstock is the city’s most popular Saturday market. There’s fantastic food, from falafels to gourmet burgers, fresh fruit and vegetables, wood-fired breads, cheese and wine stalls, craft beer and cider, music and long communal tables to sit around and feast on the myriad offerings. (Tip: it can get really busy, so get there early – around 9am – to nab a table and avoid the crowds).
The Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay is fast becoming many a Capetonian’s favourite market. It has 150 traders who offer everything from hand-made craft goods to prints, decor and perfume. On the food side, there are burgers, breakfast rolls, wraps, steak rolls, fish and chips, home-made soup, flame roasted lamb ciabattas, spring rolls, potjie, bunny chow, sandwiches, hotdogs, pizzas, quiches, cheesecake, koeksisters and Italian ice cream. If you build up a thirst there’s a bar with plenty of beer on tap, Craft beer from Napier and Darling and cocktails from Naked Drinks. There’s a selection of teas, coffee and hot chocolate too. There are also bands which add to the festive atmosphere. Reggae is generally favoured on Friday evenings, whilst Sunday mornings are jazzy affairs.
The City Bowl Market in Hope Street in Gardens is a lovely, chilled Saturday morning market (9am to 2pm). It’s small, cheerful and friendly and there’s some delicious food and produce on offer: super-cheap fruit, a salad bar, sushi, oysters, paella, seafood potjie, falafel, Malay curries and loads of treats (dark chocolate cheesecake brownies, salted caramel truffles, pasties de nata) for dessert.
Things to do in Cape Town
Go for a surf at Muizenberg Surfer’s Corner (for the non-professionals) and then buy a boerewors roll from the man with the ‘juiciest boerewors’.
How to have fun on the cheap: play putt-putt in Sea Point for R20
Hunt for treasures at the Milnerton Flea Market. A mishmash of second-hand goods – ranging from vintage cameras, kitchenware and defunct computers to books and paintings – is on sale every Saturday and Sunday. Students, trendies and kitsch collectors have been known to furnish entire houses from there. Take in the sea air, Table Mountain backdrop and, happy-go-lucky atmosphere, then finish off the experience with a bunny chow from one of the food carts. Getting there: the market is on the ocean side of Marine Drive (which becomes the R27 up the West Coast) in Paarden Eiland.
Go for a toboggan at Cool Runnings Toboggan Fun Park in Bellville, 25 kilometres from Cape Town’s CBD. As your sled slips through the deep curves and S-bends of the 1,25-kilometre track, you can reach a speeds of up to 40km/h in the five to six minutes from start to finish.
Visit the Planetarium to learn more about the night sky, its planets and constellations. It’s R20 for adults and R6 for children. You could also do a night tour of the Cape Town Astronomical Observatory (second Saturday of every month at 20h00) and get a chance to look through one of the telescopes. Entry is free.
Do something to get your blood pumping with some great indoor adventures. Go indoor climbing at CityRock in Observatory.
The Labia Theatre on Orange Street and Kloof Street allows you to go to the movies without having to enter a mall. The Orange Street theatres are a bit grungy and grim but it’s all part of the Labia’s charm. This independent movie house shows documentaries, foreign-language films and art house films.
Pub quizzes can be found all around Cape Town on every weekday – all with low entry fees and really great prizes. Here is our comprehensive guide to Cape Town’s pub quizzes. One of the most popular pub quizzes in town is the Thursday night one at Fireman’s Arms on Mechau Street, where the quiz starts at 8pm and costs R20. A team of super knowledgeable Westerford teachers usually wins though, so if you’re going for gold then you may want to smuggle in an Encyclopaedia Britannica.
The Book Lounge, in an old Victorian building in Roeland Street, has won an award for the best independent bookshop in South Africa. Delighted bibliophiles find bestsellers and coffee table wonders upstairs, while downstairs you’re surrounded by books you seldom see elsewhere. Ask for a book and the assistants will often have read it, or will find it for you. There’s no hurry – you can read there all day if you like. There are book launches, talks and informal chats with authors. Contact: Tel 021-462-2425 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cape Town’s best hikes and walks
There’s the quintessential Cape Town hike: to the top of Table Mountain. If you’ve already done it, or want some more off-the-beaten-track options, try these hikes:
Hike up Lion’s Head on a full moon night for incredible moonlit views of the city, or in Silvermine Nature Reserve for sweeping vistas across Noordhoek and False Bay. For five more great hikes and walks in Cape Town, click here.
A well-kept hiking secret, Tranquillity Cracks is a series of deep, cave-like crevasses cut into the sandstone of Table Mountain’s Twelve Apostles above Koeëlbaai near Slangolie Buttress in Table Mountain National Park, above Camps Bay. A gnarled yellowwood guards the entrance to a cleft that leads deep into an outcrop known as Slangolie Face. Disregard side passageways and continue to a grassy enclosure surrounded by weirdly shaped rocks. Peep over the side and behold the Apostles marching northwards with the sharp point of Lion’s Head beyond them and Camps Bay far below. Getting there: walk along the Pipe Track above Camps Bay, then up Woody Ravine. Once on top, take the trail southwards. Not long after a rocky scramble past Slangolie Ravine, keep a lookout for a small rock cairn on your right. Follow the overgrown path to your right towards the rock face. GPS S33°58.811; E18°23.012.
If you’re looking for a walk with a difference, try Sex and Slaves in the City, a two-hour tour of the central Cape Town. Guides paint a fascinating picture of Cape Town in the early days and the relationship between the slaves and their so-called masters, through entertaining rhyme and street theatre.
For a walk that’s not about views, do an underground tour of Cape Town from Buitkenkant Street to the Castle of Good Hope. Not for the claustrophobic!
Cape Town’s best views and beaches
At the foot of Table Mountain there is a bench that overlooks the whole city, which offers the best view of the city by night.
A great way to end a day is by watching the sunset and full moon rise on Signal Hill, with the city on one side, and the Atlantic Ocean on the other.
If competing with the crowds and topless German tourists for a piece of Clifton beachfront isn’t high on your agenda, head south and you can have the seashore (almost) to yourself. Cape Point, part of the Table Mountain National Park, boasts kilometres of pristine, quiet beaches. Try boulder-strewn stretches along Neptune’s Dairy and Platboom Bay or the secluded, sandy Diaz beach below the Global Atmosphere Watch Station.
Noordhoek gets our vote for the best walking beach, and Bakoven in Camps Bay has a fantastic setting for afternoon sundowners – just find a boulder and crack open a bottle.
The best locals’ beach is Beta Beach, just past Bakoven towards Llandudno. It’s tiny and unfrequented by tourists, and has huge boulders which are perfect for sundowners
Where to explore in Cape Town
The laidback seaside suburb of Kalk Bay is full of interesting shops, great spots for coffee, and some fantastic restaurants. Take the train from Cape Town and enjoy the scenery as you wind your way through the southern suburbs and along the coast, or drive up Boyes Drive and park your car in one of the lay-bys to enjoy the fantastic views over the Kalk Bay harbour and False Bay (try to spot whales here too).Eat fresh seafood at one of Kalk Bay’s many restaurants, such as the Brass Bell, Polana, Harbour House, Olympia Café or Kalky’s Fish & Chips (the latter is the best spot for classic, greasy fish ‘n chips). Afterwards, explore the jumble of antique shops, boutiques and bric-a-brac stores and book shops (try Quagga Books and Kalk Bay Books) or get an ice-cream from the Ice Café on Main Road.
Long Street is the buzzing heart of Cape Town’s CBD. Wander along the street during the day and pop into cafes, coffee shops, sandwich spots, antique and vintage clothes shopping and perhaps a cocktail. At night, the street comes alive. Neighbourhood is great for chilled drinks, while Fiction and the Waiting Room are good for getting your dance moves on. Live bands often play at Zula Bar.
Bree Street is Long Street’s trendier sister, located parallel to Long in the CBD. Go for breakfast at Jasons, try the best falafels in town on a Thursday night at Middle Eastern deli Sababa, hang out with the hipsters (and eat delicious burgers and vegetarian sloppy joes) at Clarkes, drink inventive cocktails out of tea cups at the Orphanage, down artisan beers and munch on charcuterie at Brewers & Union, have a cupcake and tea at Lady Cupcake, or brunch at Skinny Legs and All.
Woodstock, between Observatory and the CBD, is full of restaurants and arty spots: there’s the Old Biscuit Mill Saturday market, the diner-style Superette for breakfasts and lunch, the Kitchen – for the best salads and sandwiches around – and galleries such as the Goodman Gallery and Michael Stevenson (which are next door to each other),
Kloof Street is packed with restaurants, bars, boutiques, art galleries and coffee shops. It’s got some of the best breakfast spots in town (click here for our five recommendations), On a rainy day, go to Cocoa Oola in Kloof Street and take advantage of their boardgames and pastas, try the freshly baked chicken pie at Tamboers Winkel just off Kloof Street, and unleash your inner artist at Da Vincis while you wait for your pizza.
Walk up and down steep Wale Street in the CBD, and visit the Bo-Kaap’s famous spice shop, Atlas Trading, pop in at installation and sculpture gallery Commune.1, and indulge in raw chocolate at Honest Chocolate next door and get your caffeine fix at Bean There, Cape Town’s first Fair Trade coffee shop.
If you’re a Cape Town local, what’s your best ‘secret’ tip for visitors to the Mother City?
Contributors: Adel Groenewald, Sarah Duff, Claire Reddie, Fatima Jakoet, Jacqueline Lahoud, Sasha van Zyl, Emma Odendaal, Rob House, Alex Matthews, Fiona Mcintosh
Photos by Shaen Adey, Jenna van Schoor, Lauren Manuel, Don Pinnock, Kate Goss.Main photo by Russell Smith.