Top things not to do in Cape Town

Posted by Kati Auld on 13 May 2014

It’s easy to be a tourist in Cape Town, a city where even the lamp-posts are good-looking. It’s full of things to do. That’s the problem.

Things not to do in Cape Town

Don’t be taken in by the glossy campaigns and the sponsored ‘Top 10 things to do in Cape Town’ articles: this town, just like life, can still disappoint you. Here’s what to avoid – and what to do instead.


1. Go to the Waterfront

The V&A Waterfront started off as a small jetty, built by Jan van Riebeeck in 1654.

Putting a shopping mall next to a large body of water does not make the process of parting with your money any less painful. You have shops in your hometown, don’t you? The proximity to saltwater doesn’t magically make these ones any different, except that you get to pay more for the same things. Don’t get me started on that ridiculous wheel.

Instead: Respect the buying of things for what it is – a soulless, yet necessary task – and have fun somewhere without fluorescent lighting. You don’t have to be at “the Waterfront” to be in front of water – did you know that you’re on a peninsula?

(Edit: After the folks from the Waterfront patiently explained geography to me, I must admit that there’s more to them than salty price-tags. So if you promise to stay away from the designer handbags, you may cautiously explore these 12 affordable things to do at the Waterfront.)

2. Meet the penguins at Boulder’s Beach

Belligerence personified.

I love penguins! Who doesn’t love a smelly, noisy, badger-sized bird? Warning: penguins do not love you. They are filled only with belligerence and poo, and that’s why they are always trying to commit suicide by throwing themselves under cars. Think carefully before paying to be huffily snubbed by a freak of evolution.

Instead: visit the seals at Kalk Bay or Hout Bay harbour. Now these are noisy, smelly, belligerent sea-creatures that truly deserve respect. If you simply must experience the avian side-eye for yourself, go to the Two Oceans Aquarium, where at least you get some sharks thrown into the bargain.


3. Drink cocktails at that place in Camps Bay

Bathers in the turquoise water at Camps Bay, Cape Town. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe

There’s nothing exactly *wrong* with Camps Bay – especially if you like your travel experiences sanitised of anything euphemistically labelled “local flavour.” The big rocks are indeed beautiful, as are most of the bodies on the beach. Want to meet people? Make sure your personalised number plate says “T4LENT SCOUT” and talk about how crazy the traffic is getting in Los Angeles these days.

Instead: go to Muizenberg beach. You’ll meet a wider range of Capetonians, the water is slightly warmer than the razorblades-and-lemon-juice you’ll find at Camps Bay, and you won’t have to sacrifice a Krugerrand to find some parking. Check out these five cool things to do in Muizenberg.


4. Neighbourgoods Market, after 9am

A calendar of seasonal events, specialty celebrations, and live music feature throughout the year at the Neighbourgoods Market.

Salted caramel necklaces, organic clothing, bespoke cheese: everything here is either beautiful or delicious. That’s why the cool kids storm it like zombies on a highway every Saturday morning, and suddenly there’s an eternity of hungover youths with the wrong amount of change between you and everything you want.

Photoblog: Neighbourgoods Market in pictures

Instead: hypothetically, you could arrive and do your exploring early. If the hangover is strong with you too, the City Bowl market on Hope Street is smaller, and fills up less quickly than the Neighbourgoods market. This means that you don’t have to murder anyone with your elbows on your way to the green juice stand.


5. The Cable car

Win a Table Mountain Cable Card

There are as many ways to experience Table Mountain as there are reasons. Unless your reason is “I like my breath-taking sceneries to be accompanied by the sensation that I’m sitting on an automatic can-opener,” I don’t think it’s worth the money. Here’s why: Table Mountain isn’t just a pretty rock that you sail over. It’s covered in fynbos, birds, dassies, rock-streams, litter, and other things that you need to interact with before you can saturate your social media streams with them. I’m not joking: here’s a video of a caracal on Table Mountain.

Instead: If climbing it by foot is a physical possibility for you, you should do it. Climbing mountains is a noble pursuit. Think of Amundsen, and Bear Grylls, and Sherpas. You are part of a valiant tradition, continuing back until the dawn of humanity. You are a conqueror, a gentleman and a scholar. You could even climb all three peaks in one day if you wanted to.


6. Full moon hike up Lion’s Head

Photo by Chris Linegar

Romantic. Sure – but only if the timing is right. Are you visiting during the time that Capetonians call “season?” (Not the season, mind, just season.) This is the time when the rest of South Africa, and most of the civilised world, seeps down into Cape Town like an infection that can only be cured by sunburn and wine. During season, this full-moon hike is as romantic as a Saturday-morning-after-payday queue at Pick n Pay. It’s just at night, and you’re on a hill.

Instead: go the night before, or the night after the full moon. You’ll have a much better view that isn’t full of humans.


7. Burger-and-shake at Cafe Royale

Wimpy burger

And, for that matter, Hudsons. Cape Town is full of places where you can drink craft beer while being artfully ignored by a graphic-design student slash model with asymmetrical hair. We’re really good at it – here are nine of the best burger joints in town.


Instead: If it’s a good burger you’re after, head to the Dog’s Bollocks. If you’re more concerned with finding the grungy underbelly of town, go to Lefty’s – a hipster joint that proudly calls itself a “dive bar.” It’s the only one place in town that piles fried chicken and bacon on a waffle, drenches it with syrup, and lets you pay to eat it.


8. Buy spices from Atlas Trading Company


Disclaimer: these spices did not come from Atlas. That’s why they all taste different.

Atlas, I don’t know how to quit you. You’re so flippen authentic, sitting there in the Bo-Kaap, near all the bright houses and Rocksole and I can hear the guy singing from the mosque and it’s all so #Malay. But one of the problems of being the biggest spice warehouse in Cape Town means that the cumin sits next to the coriander which sits next to the garam masala. If you like basmati that tastes like incense, and ground almonds that taste like fennel, this is not a problem.

Instead: you should still go and poke your nose around the Bo-Kaap, and Atlas. But afterwards, visit a Cape Malay restaurant instead of pretending that you’re actually going to cook something edible with your sixteen bags of indistinguishable dust.

Don’t let my pessimism dampen your spirit: Cape Town is still the best city in the world. Have a look here for the perfect place to stay in Cape Town.




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