Tips + Trends

Ultimate Cape Town: Don’t Leave the Mother City Without Seeing Its Top Spots

Cape Town quite literally has it all — exquisite beaches, breathtaking scenery and wildlife, world-renowned gastronomy and buzzing nightlife. No matter what you’re looking for, you’ll find it in the “Mother City.” Here are eight of Cape Town’s not-to-be-missed highlights.

Table Mountain

One of the world’s most recognizable landmarks, there’s a reason this flat-top mountain is on everyone’s bucket list. In a city rich with incredible natural beauty, Table Mountain is its crowning glory, gifting visitors with incomparable vistas of the city and surrounding coastline.

Thanks to a glass-enclosed cable car that rotates 360 degrees, the views getting up the mountain are almost as good as the panoramas that await you once you arrive. Aim your visit for sunset and do as the locals do by bringing along a bottle of wine to enjoy an unforgettable “sundowner.”

Robben Island

What you experience on this infamous island will stay with you long after your trip to Cape Town is over. An indelible reminder of South Africa’s turbulent past, this is the island on which Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year sentence.

Tours of the prison are led by former inmates who give firsthand accounts of their own experiences with prison life under the apartheid regime. You’ll see the tiny cell where Mandela lived and the quarry where he and other inmates did hard labor. It’s perhaps Cape Town’s most disturbing yet inspiring site.

Constantia Valley

Some of the country’s best wine lands lie just an hour or two outside of the city. If you don’t have the time to devote a day to wine tasting, Constantia Valley, one of Cape Town’s southern suburbs, has several wine farms (as they are called in South Africa) that are well worth a visit.

things to do in cape town
Sip your way around the region’s wine farms. (Photo: Getty Images)

One of the most popular is Groot Constantia, a sprawling estate winery that dates to 1685. The whitewashed manor house, with its rounded gable and thatched roof, is an excellent example of Cape Dutch architecture (as is the Protea Hotel by Marriott Cape Town Mowbray, for those interested in staying on an estate dating back centuries).

Victoria & Alfred Waterfront

In a city overflowing with jaw-dropping natural assets, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is one of the its most picturesque manmade attractions. Charming, colorful buildings, some dating back to the 19th century, fill the harbor and offer an opportunity to do some shopping or grab a cocktail.

The lively area is often filled with buskers and live music, and seals sunning themselves on the docks are a common site. It’s a good idea to catch a boat tour of the harbor and relish singular views of Table Mountain. The V&A Waterfront is also where you’ll find the Two Oceans Aquarium, which is a must-see, especially if you’re traveling with kids.

Bo-Kaap

Undoubtably Cape Town’s most vibrant attraction — and an Instagrammer’s paradise — this historic neighborhood of brightly painted homes is one of the oldest districts in the city.

things to do in cape town
Snap pics of the colorful houses in Bo-Kaap. (Photo: Getty Images)

Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, most of the residents are the descendants of “Cape Malays,” who were slaves brought from Malaysia and Indonesia by Dutch settlers.

In this predominantly Muslim community, you’ll find the Auwal Mosque, the oldest in the city, as well as the small but interesting Bo-Kaap Museum, which explores the area’s history in depth.

Clifton Beach

There’s just something so magical about a major metropolis with a beach. Well, Cape Town has dozens of incredibly gorgeous shores peppering its coastline. Clifton Beach, which is actually a series of four small beaches separated by large boulders, is hands-down one of the most popular spots to go because of its luminous white sands and gentle waves.

But be warned: Because Cape Town is on the Atlantic Ocean, many locals find the waters too cold to do much swimming, though visitors from more northerly climes tend to find the azure waters irresistible.

District Six Museum

Learn more about one of the most shameful events in Cape Town’s apartheid past at this poignant museum. District Six was originally established as a mixed-race community and was home to a vibrant neighborhood of freed slaves and laborers.

things to do in cape town
Discover Cape Town’s history at the District Six Museum. (Photo: Alamy)

In 1966, the government declared the area a “white only” district, and more than 60,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes and sent to live in the Cape Flat township. The museum memorializes the stories and struggles of those who were displaced through exhibits and photos and also through the stories told by staff members who personally experienced the eviction.

The Neighbourgoods Market

If Cape Town’s ethos — its vivacity, beauty and joy de vivre — could somehow be represented by a single place, Neighbourgoods Market would be it. Every Saturday locals and visitors are greeted by a vast collection of baked goods, prepared meals, biltong (dried, cured meat), fruits and vegetables, pottery, clothing, jewelry, wine, beer and more.

There’s no other place in the city where you can sample, smell, sip and buy such an eclectic and amazing selection of the products the Mother City has to offer. Just be sure to arrive with an appetite.