An aerial view of Cape Town

Pay a visit to Cape Town Stadium. (Photo: Getty Images)

Weekend Getaways

Discover Coastal Beauty and Cosmopolitan Charms in Cape Town, South Africa

Surrounded by the ocean on three sides, with Table Mountain National Park towering in the center, Cape Town is famous for its abundance of natural beauty. But there’s more to South Africa’s so-called Mother City than the beautiful beaches and lofty mountain peaks.

A few days here will allow you to delve a little deeper into the evolution of the oldest permanent settlement in South Africa, starting with the historic trading routes that saw the city established in 1652 and tracing its journey into a cosmopolitan city famous for seafood, creativity and culture. A week would be better, but if you’ve only got three days, here’s how to spend them.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: Go on an Urban Adventure

marlay quarter in Cape Town, South Africa
There’s so much to see in Cape Town. (Photo: Getty Images)

Start your day in the Victoria & Albert Waterfront, a vibrant shopping and dining precinct set around the historic working harbor. Grab a pastry and a pour-over at Origin Coffee Roasting while you debate how to spend your morning. The V&A, as locals call it, is great for families, offering the Two Oceans Aquarium and entertaining boat tours in the harbor. It’s also the departure point for tours to Robben Island, the infamous island prison where Nelson Mandela was detained for nearly two decades. Be sure to leave time for the superb Zeitz MOCAA gallery of contemporary African art.

Next, discover the city center. Bree Street has become a bustling boulevard of boutiques, bars and restaurants — Clarke’s is an institution in the city, and a great lunch stop for salads, sandwiches and burgers — or keep wandering uphill to explore the colorful Bo-Kaap district, the historic home of the city’s Cape Malay community. Loop and Long Streets are filled with shops and galleries — try Merchants on Long for African design — while the shady Company’s Garden is a welcome respite on hot summer days. The garden will lead you to the National Gallery of Art, South African Jewish Museum and Iziko South African Museum; all are worth a visit.

From here, Table Mountain frames the skyline, and you can’t leave the city without riding the aerial cable car to the top. Book tickets online to skip the lines. The ride to the top takes five minutes, with rotating gondolas offering panoramic city views on the way.

From on high, you’ll marvel at the shimmering beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton — two of the city’s best sundowner spots. In Camps Bay, head to Chinchilla rooftop bar for sunset views and live music, or pack a picnic and head for Clifton. Alcohol is not allowed on public beaches, so plan accordingly. For dinner, circle back via Sea Point for old-school Italian cuisine and a seafood-heavy menu at La Perla, or book ahead for multicourse fine dining at PIER in the V&A.

Saturday: Discover the Fairest Cape

Beach huts in Cape Town, South Africa
There’s a lot more than sand to see at Cape Town’s beaches. (Photo: Getty Images)

Whether you rent a car or opt for a guided tour, you’ll want to spend a day discovering the Cape Peninsula. A remarkable coastal road traces much of the route, and this day out delivers endless ocean vistas, wildlife encounters and a parade of charming seaside suburbs.

Your first stop is Muizenberg, a laid-back beachfront suburb that’s home to one of the best surf breaks in the city. Fuel up with a hearty scramble at Empire Café, then hit up one of the surf shops strung out along the beach for board rentals and lessons. If lounging is more your speed, five minutes farther on you’ll find the tidal pools and colorful beach huts of St. James and Dalebrook; they’re popular with locals year-round.

After your morning of surf and sand, it’s on to Kalk Bay, a delightfully bohemian suburb of antiques shops, cafés and galleries. Grab a pastry to go at Olympia Café and Bakery, a 103-year-old institution, and wander the charming harbor, where local fishing boats sell their catch on the quayside.

Keep following the coastline south, past historic Simon’s Town to the world-famous African penguin colony at Boulders Beach. Raised walkways offer close-up encounters, but there are also idyllic coves if you fancy a swim.

Then turn off at Cape Point Nature Reserve to explore this southern tip of the peninsula. There are walking trails and picnic sites, and it’s worth tackling the climb to the historic lighthouse. From here, the road bends north.

Stretch your legs and watch the surfers at Long Beach, or grab a late lunch at Noordhoek Farm Village before the glorious coastal drive around Chapman’s Peak. Browse the boutiques of Hout Bay, or hurry along to the pristine beach at Llandudno in time for sunset, before Victoria Road winds you back toward your city hotel. End your evening with dinner at the moody Belly of the Beast, which specializes in nose-to-tail tasting menus.

Sunday: Gardens, Grapes and Gastronomy

A tree way at the kirstenbosch botanical gardens
Stroll one of the city’s botanical gardens. (Photo: Getty Images)

Cape Town is famous for its foodie scene, and you’ll want a day to sip and sample your way through some of the city’s finest restaurants and cellars. Start amid the bustle of the Oranjezicht City Farm Market, where you can stock up for picnics and grab a bite for breakfast from one of the many stands — whatever you do, don’t miss the pastéis de nata from Vadas Smokehouse & Bakery. Next, grab a taxi or ride-share to the Constantia winelands, a 20-minute drive from the city.

This is where, more than 350 years ago, the roots of South Africa’s vibrant wine industry took hold. Today this scenic valley is home to a dozen of the country’s leading cellars. It’s a history well told in the excellent museum at Groot Constantia, one of the oldest farms in the Cape.

Nearby Klein Constantia is famous for the iconic Vin de Constance sweet wine, while the modern tasting room at Steenberg Farm is a fine showcase for the cool-climate white wines of the region. Prefer red? Constantia Glen produces award-winning Bordeaux-style blends, while the tasting room dishes up fine vineyard vistas.

Though most wine estates offer their own cellar restaurants, the valley plays host to some of the best chefs in the country. Chef’s Warehouse at Beau Constantia delivers wonderful views alongside a superb set menu of small plates, while La Colombe keeps all eyes on the table with their inventive 14-course degustation menu.

In late afternoon, walk off the indulgence with a wander through Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, a century-old oasis of indigenous flora that showcases the remarkable diversity of the Cape floral kingdom. In summer, sunset concerts here see local artists take to the stage against the dramatic backdrop of Table Mountain. If your multicourse lunch hasn’t left you utterly stuffed, end the day with dinner at The Pot Luck Club in Woodstock for Asian-inspired small plates, seafood-forward dishes like grilled octopus and crispy squid, and sparkling city views.