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3 nights in Cape Town and 10 things to do

On a recent trip to South Africa, we had three nights in Cape Town before heading out to the Eastern Cape for a safari experience at the Shamwari Game Reserve.  Cape Town has to rank as one of my favourite cities in the world – it offers so much variety and here is a whirlwind tour of some of what we got up on this latest visit. Even with limited time, you can still do achieve an awful lot, even at a relatively relaxed pace. 1. Victoria & Alfred Waterfront On our first day, after a long flight, we didn’t so much as venture out of the V&A Waterfront where our hotel was located. This is an exceptionally safe and famiy friendly part of the city with a very relaxed atmosphere, with shops, restaurants, bars and more. We had lunch at Harbour House which I knew from my last visit to the city – a lovely spot that receives a fresh catch of seafood on a daily basis and adapts its specials boards accordingly. Tian of prawns Seafood at Harbour House There are more than 80 eateries at the waterfront alone, as well as numerous bars. Pictured here is the rather atmospheric bar at the Belthazar Restaurant. Bar at Belthazar Restaurant On our last night we went on the Cape Wheel – the only observation wheel in South Africa – offering spectacular 360-degree panoramic views of the city, day or night. Cape Wheel Those who are after a little retail therapy could easily spend the day, browsing through more than 450 shopping outlets, as well as the Red Shed, home to a range of local arts and crafts retailers. On our second day, we did a Cape Point and Peninsula tour which took in a number of the attractions that follow: 2. Chapman’s Peak Drive Winding its way between Noordhoek and Hout Bay is a 9km stretch of road known as the Chapman’s Peak Drive. You’ll take in majestic feats of engineering, overcoming the steep and often unstable, rocky slopes of Chapman’s Peak. Chapman's Peak Drive You’ll also be spoilt with some great sea views. Chapmans Peak view We saw this lone horse and rider on an otherwise desserted beach. Talk about having the beach to yourself! Horse on beach Keep your eyes peeled carefully and you might be lucky enough to see dolphins or whales out at sea, too. 3. Hout Bay Hout Bay has an active fishing harbour, surrounded by Chapman’s Peak. From here we went on a seal island cruise with Drumbeat Charters in search of the Cape fur seal. Even before we’d reached Duikier Island, we’d already seen several but, once at the island, we saw hundreds! The island is also a bird sanctuary ad home to the Cape cormorant, the bank cormorant, black back gulls, kelp gulls and Hartlaub gulls. Seals Back from the cruise, we browsed the hawkers’ stalls and bought a few handmade souvenirs to take home. Hout Bay trader 4. Cape of Good Hope We drove on to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, a Natural World Heritage Site, and on to the Cape of Good Hope itself. As the sign says, this is most south-western point of the African continent, with unique vegetation and bird life. Cape of Good Hope Take your camera and keep a look out for baboons (beware – they can be aggressive), ostrich, Nyala, Cape mountain zebra, tortoises and more, all whilst soaking up the beautiful scenery. Ostrich on the Cape Peninsula 5. Cape Point Make sure you take in Cape Point. It’s a short walk – or an even easier funicular ride – to the top of a hill here where you can then get a commanding view all around. Beach at Cape Point Sea birds 6. Boulders Beach Many people are surprised to hear that you can see penguins in Africa, but it’s true! The penguin colony at Boulders Beach is probably the best known and a highlight of any tour of the Cape Peninsula. Boulders Beach penguins 2 Numbers here have increased from two breeding pairs back in 1982 to around 3,000 birds today. You can get really close to this thriving colony of African penguins and see their nesting sites, without disturbing them, thanks to a series of wooden walkways. Boulders Beach penguin We even spotted a dassie here.  Although quite rodent-like in appearance, one of their closest relatives of these herbivorous creatures is apparently the elephant. Dassie at Boulders Beach We stopped for lunch at the naval town of Simon’s Town close by before moving on to… 7. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens On my last visit to Cape Town, I had stayed in Constantia very close to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens but hadn’t made it there on that occasion, so it was good to make amends. The gardens were founded in 1913 and are one of eight national botanical gardens, covering five of South Africa’s six different biomes. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden close-up 4 A relatively new addition is a tree canopy walkway that was established a year ago to mark the gardens’ centenary.The curved steel and timber bridge takes visitors from the forest floor and up through the canopy. Once at the top you can enjoy uninterrupted views across the Cape Flats. Kirstenbosch treetop walkway You could easiliy spend a whole day just at Kirstenbosch, learning about all the plants from a number of different regions, including savanna, fynbos, karoo and others. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden close-up Don’t miss the Bird of Paradise, a yellow variety of Strelitzia that’s otherwise known as ‘Mandela’s gold’. Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden bird of paradise 8. The hop-on hop-off bus On our final day in the city, we took one of the City Sightseeing tourists buses. These are a great way to see some key sites as you can get on and off at whichever stops you like, and you are provided earphones for a running commentary, to help point out the key points of interest along the way. It’s multi-lingual and there’s even a special channel so that children can listen to something that’s more engaging for them. Cape Town tourist bus Tours are colour-coded according to their route. We took the Red City Tour, a short circular route that took in Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles (pictured) as we passed through Camps Bay. City Sightseeing tour 9. Table Mountain No trip to Cape Town is complete without venturing up Table Mountain. You can hike up (it’ll most likely take a couple of hours) or you can take the easy option of the cable car.  Buying tickets in advance will allow you to avoid the queue and be likely to save you a lot of time at peak periods. Table Mountain cable car The views from the top are stunning so this is well worth a visit on a clear day if you can. If it’s cloudy on the top, you will see little and if it’s windy, there’s a chance that cable car won’t be running, so pick your day carefully! Table Mountain view 10. Camps Bay After Table Mountain we hopped back on the bus and got off at Camps Bay – somewhere my wife and I had stayed more than a decade earlier, but had never taken our children.  It brought back a lot of fond memories and we had a late lunch at Blues, a restaurant that we remembered from last time. Mussels at Blues Prawns at Blues Camps Bay has a really relaxed feel to it and a lovely beach where our two boys had a lot of fun running in and out of the sea. Playing at Camps Bay Another must-see: Robben Island Last, but by no means least… Robben Island – where Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned. Sadly we didn’t actually make it to the island on this trip, but did enjoy the view from Table Mountain and it’s a must-visit if you get the chance. Just make sure you book your tickets well in advance as interest seems to have reached new heights since Mandela’s passing. It’s really worth taking the boat trip across if you can, though – not only will you be able to see Nelson Mandela’s cell, but you can hear all about what life was like as a prisoner on the island from a former inmate. Robben Island Of course, there are many other things to do in the city… the aquarium, helicopter tours, paragliding off Lion’s Head, shark cage diving and, of course, let’s not forget the Winelands. I have just shared with you what we managed to pack in with the three nights we had in the city and I hope it provides some inspiration for your own trip to the Mother City. Disclosure: The above formed part of a luxury trip to South Africa sponsored by Hayes & Jarvis, specialists in personalised, luxury holiday itineraries for discerning travellers to over 55 destinations worldwide.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for sharing your trip to South Africa!

    I’m surprised at how many different wild animals are roaming around the coastal areas, though I guess I shouldn’t be. AFrica is famous for all its wildlife. It must be just amazing taking a drive and seeing seals, penguins, ostriches and all sorts of other creatures. Cool you spotted the dassie. Who could ever tell it was related to elephants?! Crazy.

    I’m an avid nature lover, so I really must make a point of getting to S Africa someday soon.

    I missed an A+ opportunity to do that in early 2001. In Thailand I met two South AFrican brothers who I got on very well with. One is a TV producer in Cape Town and he invited me to visit over Christmas. He said he might not be home the whole time, but I was welcome to stay at his house, drive his Vespa and explore the area as long as I’d like.

    What an offer! I was very close to booking a flight, but in the end I stayed in SE Asia. Drat. Next time I’ll know not to pass up such amazing opps.

    I will have to get there soon, though. Thanks again for all the great photos and narrative.

    cheers, Lash

  2. Great article / post, thankyou.. My husband is from stellenbosch & we are desperately trying to save to get back. What a fantastic city it is…

  3. Hi Lash

    Next time you get an opportunity like that, you should take it! :)

    As a nature lover, you’ll also love the next part of our trip which will be published in the next 48 hours – a safari at the Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. We saw four of the Big 5 but lots of other species also, plus a springbok that had only just been born (we saw it take its first few steps!).


  4. I’ve made it to Stellenbosch on a previous trip, Mary (I have fond memories of the goats at Fairview!) but sadly not this time… we didn’t really feel it was fair to drag the children around the wineries!

  5. Hey Paul,

    Yes, indeed, I learned to not pass up great opportunities from that error of judgement!

    Wow, a new-born springbok! I’d probably be stopped dead in my tracks with my mouth hanging agape for at least an hour. You’d have to drag me back into the safari truck.

    Looking forward to the post about your safari. Can’t wait to see the photos! :))

    cheers, Lash

  6. We were some distance from the baby springbok so didn’t get great pictures of that one. Apparently when one is born, they’re all born in very quick succession (all within a matter of days, I believe) which I find quite incredible.

    As for wildlife pictures, here’s a teaser for you (one of my favourites from the trip!) whilst I’m just putting the final touches on to the post:


  7. Haven’t visited Cape Town yet, but it looks like it could keep you busy for some time, it has a bit of everything. Still, I was wondering if it would make a good destination for children, as a stand-alone trip. Did they enjoy it?

  8. Hi Paul
    What a great write up. Factual, well researched and easy to read. I am from Cape Town.Just 1 question. Are you sure you stayed in Stellenbosch, or was it perhaps Rondebosch, very close to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. That was the only part of the article that did not make sense to me.

    Hope you will be coming back for another visit to our lovely city, province and country,
    Kind regards,
    Di, Cape Town

  9. Thank you, Di… that’s praise indeed from a Capetonian!

    And thank you for highlighting the bit you rightly didn’t follow – my fault, I was muddling my wine regions and should have said ‘Constantia’, not ‘Stellenbosch’ (article now corrected, thank you!).

    I had had a brief stay at The Cellars-Hohenort last time around (which is REALLY close to the gardens, I think!) – you can read about the hotel here: https://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2014/03/27/short-stay-the-cellars-hohenort-cape-town/

    And yes… I hope it won’t be long before we get the opportunity to visit once again. You live in a wonderful city! :)


  10. Hello Paul,

    Thanks for this info as I’ll be visiting in Dec 2015.
    We’ll be getting off a cruise + our flight is in the late evening. Can you offer some suggestions on what we can do before heading to the airport ? Thanks !

  11. Hi Brenda

    Does your cruise get in in the morning?

    If you have most of the day, I’d suggest any of the following for a first time visit:

    Table Mountain (if weather permits)
    The V&A Waterfront (your cruise ship might dock here if it’s a small one)
    Robben Island (be sure to book ahead)
    CitySightseeing tourist bus

    Some of the other things mentioned above (Boulders Bay, Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope, etc.) are out of the city – there’s plenty to see that’s closer, allowing you to do more with the limited time that you have.

    The city centre to Cape Town International Airport is only about 20 minutes by taxi so fairly convenient.

    Hope this helps,


  12. Hi Paul,

    I’ve already enjoyed your post about the Table Bay Hotel a lot. This one makes our desire to finally travel to South Africa even stronger. Al these wide variety of landscapes and animals makes this place feel like heaven for a photographer.

    Great tips!

    Jempi & Nina

  13. Paul-What a through and beautiful post. I had no idea there were penguins in Africa. Such a variety of wildlife you and your family got to observe. Looks like an amazing vacation, with a perfect combination of good food and activities. I look forward to reading the next post about your safari.

  14. Thank you, Alison… a lot of people don’t realise so you are not alone; their numbers are sadly far lower than they used to be. The following is from Wikipedia:

    “Roughly 4 million penguins existed at the beginning of the 19th century. Of the 1.5-million population of African penguins estimated in 1910, only some 10% remained at the end of the 20th century. African penguin populations, which breed in Namibia and South Africa, have declined by 95 percent since pre-industrial times.

    The total population fell to 200,000 in 2000. In 2010, the number was estimated to be only at 55,000. If this decline is not halted, the African penguin is expected to be extinct within 15 years.

    5,000 breeding pairs were estimated to live in Namibia in 2008; in 2009, about 21,000 pairs were estimated to live in South Africa, with the majority of those numbers on St Croix Island in Algoa Bay.”

  15. I hate to admit that this is a part of the world I’d not particularly thought of travelling to until recently and Paul you are really twisting my arm here – the views, the wildlife, everything sounds wonderful.

  16. Hey, Paul! Your post is very interesting and informative. Thank you for sharing your experience! You really made a nice job. It would be great if I try all of your 10 things to do in Cape Town!

  17. Thanks Paul.
    What do you suggest I do with my luggage ?
    Is there luggage storage near the V&A waterfront ?

  18. Hi again, Brenda… there’s a discussion on Tripadvisor about this very topic from a couple of years ago, and the conclusion then was that there wasn’t a known place and that the hotels probably won’t undestandably want to take luggage from someone who is not staying.

    I have enquired at the Table Bay Hotel where we stayed ( https://www.aluxurytravelblog.com/2014/09/29/short-stay-table-bay-hotel-va-waterfront-cape-town-south-africa/ ), though, to find out whether they do a day rate on hotel rooms and apparently that is an option. They tell me that rates do obviously vary dependent on the time of year, so it best would be for you to make contact through their Reservations Department, on tbhres@suninternational.com or by telephone 021 406 5000.

    I hope this helps and that you are able to sort something.


  19. Great post! We are planning our South African tour and your article was very useful. Can’t wait to go there and enjoy all the wonderful things Cape Town has to offer! Thank you again for all the tips provided!

  20. Thanks for sharing some wonderful sights of your capetown trip. I am really enjoying this post by reading the all trip story. Also all the images which you have taken are really looking nice and especially that food image is unique. I thoroughly enjoyed your post!!

  21. Great post! I just returned from a trip to Cape Town, fun to see all the similar places we visited :) We missed out on Table Mountain due to weather unfortunately, but your photos look gorgeous!

  22. HI Paul

    Thank you for a fantastic review

    We are planning to go to Capetown this Septemeber .

    Can you advise on some wonderful yet affordable hotels there with a beach front

    Thank you

  23. Hello Giridhar

    Take a look at the Camps Bay area for some excellent hotels and B&Bs. Not necessarily beachfront, but maybe with very good proximity to the beach. Lots of restaurants in easy walking also.


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