The Ultimate Cape Town Travel Guide for Visitors to South Africa

When people say that a city “has it all”, it tends to sound a little cliché these days. There are a lot of incredible travel destinations in the world, but few of these destinations really have something for everyone to enjoy. In this Cape Town travel guide, I am going to explain why I think Cape Town comes as close as any city in the world to being a complete travel destination.

With breathtaking beaches, incredible wildlife, top-tier restaurants and nightlife, amazing shopping, and some of the most gorgeous mountain landscape you will find in the world, Cape Town is the crown jewel of South Africa. Whether you are looking for a beach destination, like to spend your time shopping and trying wonderful restaurants, or you are looking for a little adventure, Cape Town really does have it all.

Cape Town Travel Guide

While I am sure you are excited and anxious to start making plans to visit Cape Town in South Africa right away, I would strongly suggest that you take the time to research the city first. This way, you can be sure to see everything that you want to see, eat at all the restaurants you want to try, do all the things you want to do, and have a trip that you will remember for a lifetime. One of the best ways to do that is to read this detailed Cape Town travel guide that I have prepared for you.

In this guide, I am going to provide you will all of the information that you need to plan a successful trip to see Cape Town in South Africa. I cover the best times to visit and the best ways to get there so that you can maximize what you are able to see and do on your trip. 

I also outline all of the top things to see and do while you are there and where the best places to stay and eat are. With the information in my Cape Town travel guide in hand, you can be confident that your trip to see one of South Africa’s most beautiful cities will be one that you remember for the rest of your life.

At a Glance

Before you start making any travel plans, you will want to make sure to take care of all of the passport, VISA, and immunization requirements for your trip.   In addition, you will want to make sure you have a clear understanding of what languages they speak in South Africa and what currency they use so that you can plan any translation needs you might have for your trip and exchange currency before your trip if necessary.  I have included some of this key information in my Cape Town travel guide below for you to review as you start to make your travel plans.

Passport requirements exist. See below for details.
Immunization recommendations are listed below.
The official languages in South Africa are Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu, Southern Sotho, Northern Sotho, Venda, Tswana, Tsonga, Swati, and Ndebele.
The official currency in South Africa is the South African Rand.

Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements

In order to assist you in navigating the legal requirements for visiting South Africa, I have included a link to my South Africa Passport, VISA, Customs, and Immunization Requirements for Visitors Guide for you to review below.  This guide will give you all of the information that you will need to meet the VISA, passport, customs, and immunizations requirements and recommendations for visiting South Africa.

I have also outlined all of the vaccination requirements and recommendations for travel to South Africa in the guide below. You will want to be sure to review this section of the guide thoroughly to ensure your health is protected during your visit.

In addition to this passport, VISA, and immunization advice, I have also included links to supplemental guides that I have created on why I recommend getting the Rabies pre-exposure vaccination before traveling internationally and how to protect yourself from tick and mosquito-borne illnesses when travelling. Even though Cape Town isn’t in a high-risk area for malaria, it is still good to protect yourself just in case.

Packing Tips

Outside of taking care of the passport, visa, and immunization requirements so that you can get into South Africa and don’t get sick, there is no more important pre-travel planning task than making sure you pack the right clothing and gear for your trip.  To help make sure you are properly packed and prepared, I have included links to some of my packing resources for you to review in my Cape Town travel guide below.

Top Things to See and Do

Cape Town Travel Guide - V&A Waterfront

Not only is the city of Cape Town very big and spread out, but it is also jam-packed with incredible things to see and do. Whether you plan on visiting to do some sight-seeing, plan to do some hiking or get out on the water, or you’re a foodie looking to try some of the city’s many incredible restaurants, visiting Cape Town is certain to be a memorable experience. In order to help ensure that you have all of the top sights on your itinerary, I have outlined the top ten things I would recommend seeing while touring Cape Town in my Cape Town travel guide below.

Cape Town Travel Guide - Top Things to See in Cape Town Map
Top Things to See in Cape Town Map

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Table Mountain

Cape Town Travel Guide - Table Mountain

When you visit Cape Town, one of the most prominent features that you will see on the skyline is the incredible flat-topped mountain known as Table Mountain. This iconic mountain acts as a breathtaking backdrop for this beautiful coastal city and is one of the most popular attractions for visitors to Cape Town to explore.

If you are adventurous, you can make the 4.3-mile (or roughly 7km) hike up to the top of the mountain. There are several different viewpoints that you can stop at along the way and hiking to the top and back down will take a typically hiker 4-5 hours to complete (with time at the top to explore). However, you don’t need to hike to the top to explore the incredible views from on top of Table Mountain.

There is also a revolving aerial cableway that will take you to the top of the mountain as well. It is a popular attraction, so make sure you arrive early or purchase your tickets in advance if you want to be guaranteed a spot. For more information on times and prices, please refer to the official Table Mountain Aerial Cableway website.

Cape Town Travel Guide - Table Mountain Hiking and Cableway Map
Table Mountain Hiking and Cableway Map

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Lion’s Head

Cape Town Travel Guide - Lions Head

Another absolute can’t miss spot when visiting Cape Town is the incredible Lion’s Head Mountain. Standing at roughly 2,194-feet (or 669 meters) high, Lion’s head is one of the more prominent and notable mountains within Table Mountain National Park. It’s pointed peak is said to resemble that of the head of a sitting lion.

In addition to forming a dramatically beautiful backdrop to the city, the views of Cape Town and the coastline from the peak of Lion’s head are breathtaking. If you would like to hike to the top of Lion’s Head, it is a fairly easy 3-mile (or 5km) hike that will take you roughly 2-3 hours to get up and back down. If you have the time, it is definitely worth it!

Cape Town Travel Guide - Lions Head Hiking Map
Lions Head Hiking Map

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Signal Hill

Cape Town Travel Guide - Signal Hill

If Lion’s head is the head of the sitting lion, then Signal Hill (which is the last of the prominent mountain features that I cover in can’t miss spots in Cape Town) is the lion’s rump. This flat-topped hill sits adjacent to Table Mountain and forms the continuation of the city’s beautiful mountainous backdrop. Previously known as “The Lion’s Flank”, Signal Hill is a great place to get an aerial view of the beautiful city of Cape Town.

Visitors have the option to hike to the top of Signal Hill on a 2.6-mile loop trail that takes roughly 1.5 hours, or you can drive to the top of the mountain to enjoy the views. In addition to offering incredible views of the city, you can capture some of the best pictures of Table Mountain from this vantage point.

Cape Town Travel Guide - Signal Hill Hiking Map
Signal Hill Hiking Map

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Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront

Cape Town Travel Guide - V&A Waterfront

After you have spent a long day exploring the Cape Peninsula or hiking to the top of Table Mountain or Lion’s Head, I can think of no way to wind down the day better than spending some time at the Victoria and Alfred (V&A) Waterfront. This mixed-use area, located right on the waterfront of Cape Town with Table Mountain as a beautiful backdrop, is a great place to eat, shop, listen to live music, and just people watch.

There are a variety of incredible restaurants to try and a seemingly endless number of wonderful shops and craft stores to explore. When you have ate your fill and shopped until your feet hurt, you can sit, enjoy a beautiful sunset, and listen to some live outdoor music to end your day. It’s also where the incredible Two Oceans Aquarium is located. This incredible aquarium is great for families or those who want to learn more about the incredible ocean ecosystem off the coast of South Africa.

Cape Town Travel Guide - V&A Waterfront Attractions Map
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront Attractions Map

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Boulder Beach Penguin Colony

Cape Town Travel Guide - Boulders Beach Penguins

In my opinion, one of the most incredible things to do when visiting Cape Town is to visit the Boulder Beach penguin colony on the Cape Peninsula. Located near the city of Simon’s Town, Boulder Beach is home to one of Africa’s most unlikely animal populations.

It is here, sheltered on a beach made of inlets between granite boulders, off a coastline where currents from Antarctica keep the water cool, that you will find a colony of African Penguins. While these delightful penguins can bet found from southern Namibia all the way around the South African coast to Port Elizabeth, nowhere else offers as wonderful and reliable an opportunity to see then as Boulders Beach.

As part of the effort to conserve these beautiful penguins, you do have to pay to access Boulders Beach, but the admission is reasonable, and the payoff is spectacular. For more information on cost and hours of operations, please see the South African National Parks website.

Cape Town Travel Guide - Boulders Beach Penguins Map
Boulders Beach Penguin Colony Map

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Camps Bay

Cape Town Travel Guide - Camps Bay

If you are looking to plan a low-key day during your visit to Cape Town, I would strongly suggest planning to spend that day exploring the Camps Bay area. Not only is the beach at Camps Bay spectacular, but the area is also chock-full of incredible shops, bars with a fun nightlife, incredible restaurants with patios overlooking the beach, an intimate theatre that offers stage amazing shows, and one of the best malls you will find anywhere in Africa. You can easily spend a day drifting from the beach, to shopping, to an outdoor patio for lunch, and back to the beach for a sunset viewing at Camps Bay.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens

Cape Town Travel Guide - Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Nestled into the eastern foot of Table Mountain, the breathtaking Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is widely regarded as one of the most spectacular botanic gardens in the world. Not only does the gardens feature more than 7,000 different unique plant species, which are mostly South African plants, the gardens are also set in one of the most breathtaking locations that you will find any botanical garden in the world.

Few botanical gardens elsewhere can compete with the sheer beauty of the landscape, which is why Kirstenbosch is such a popular destination for visitors and locals alike. If you have the time during your visit to Cape Town, I strongly recommend adding a stop to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden to your itinerary. For information on fees and hours of operations, please visit the South African National Biodiversity Institute website.

Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point

Cape Town Travel Guide - Cape of Good Hope

No visit to Cape Town is complete without visiting the beautiful Cape Peninsula. In addition to its incredible penguin colony and some of Africa’s most breathtaking coastline, the peninsula is also where you will find two of Africa’s most interesting and important geographical locations. While it is a common misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the most southern tip of Africa (that is actually Cape Agulhas), it is a very important historical and geographical location on the continent.

Discovered in 1488 by Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias, the Cape of Good Hope was originally known as the “Cape of Storms”. For centuries it served as an important trading post for explorers and traders who circumvented the African continent to trade between Europe and Asia. That’s why the point is also known as the “Graveyard of Ships”, because so many vessels met their doom on this harrowing journey and forever rest on the ocean floor just off the coast.

It’s a beautiful drive down to the Cape of Good Hope, with plenty of beautiful pull-offs to take pictures of the beautiful coastline and some great photo opportunities at the Cape. If you have the time, you can take the short hike up to the viewpoint to enjoy the incredible views. If you have the time, there is also a boardwalk that you can hike down to the Cape of Good Hope that offers hikers some truly incredible views.

The nearby Cape Point is equally as beautiful and definitely worth stopping at as well. There is a trail that you can hike to take you to the top of Cape Point, but it is fairly steep and will take you a few hours to get up and back down. If you don’t have the time, I would suggest purchasing a ticket to ride the vernacular to the top of Cape Point. You won’t regret it as the views are amazing. For more information on fees and hours of operation for the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, please visit the South African National Parks website.

Cape Town Travel Guide - Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point Map
Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point Map

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St. James Beach

Cape Town Travel Guide - St. James Beach

While most of the tourism buzz surrounding Cape Town generally focuses on the beautiful Table Mountain National Park, the Cape of Good Hope, and the Boulders Beach penguin colony, the city is also one of the most underrated beach destinations in the world. There are some truly fantastic beaches around Cape Town for visitors to enjoy.

One of my favorites is the incredible St. James Beach. It is a wonderful destination for swimming and enjoying a day in the sun because the location is protected from the wind and there is a rock tidal pool for kids to safely swim in the water. However, one of my favorite parts of the beach is brightly colored changing rooms. If you are into photography, they make a great subject for beautiful photos of the beach.

Robben Island

Cape Town Travel Guide - Robben Island

The final must-see attraction on my list of the top things to see in Cape Town is the notorious Robben Island. Located roughly 5-miles (or 8km) west of the mainland and 6-miles (10km) north of Cape Town, this small island has a dark history.

During parts of its history, the island was the home of male and female leper colonies, as well as a Dutch and then British penal colony. After fortifications were built during World War II, Robben Island served as one of South Africa’s maximum-security prisons from the 1960’s until it was closed in 1991.

The prison was infamously used to house many black political prisoners during the period of Apartheid, including the renowned peace figure Nelson Mandela. Today, the island can be toured to learn about its dark history and is also home to another large colony of African penguins. If you are into photography, the island is also a wonderful place to photograph Cape Town with Table Mountain as a backdrop.

Cape Town Travel Guide - Robben Island Map
Robben Island Map

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How to Get There

Cape Town Travel Guide - Coastline

If you are visiting Cape Town from outside of South Africa, the easiest way to visit is to fly directly into the Cape Town International Airport (CPT). From the airport, it is easy to rent a car or to catch a taxi or ride share to your hotel. If you are visiting Cape Town as part of a tour, most likely your tour operator will arrange an airport pickup for you.

If you have the time and are comfortable driving, I definitely recommend renting a car when visiting Cape Town. It is a great way to get around and see what you want to see on your own time schedule. Otherwise, the city does have a Hop-On-Hop-Off tour bus service that will take you to all of the top attractions in-and-around the city.

Cape Town Travel Guide - Cape Town Airport Map
How to Get to Cape Town Map

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If you plan to visit other locations within South Africa during your trip, I recommend flying between cities to save yourself valuable trip time. South Africa Airlink is a great airline that offers very competitive airfare prices and has wonderful service, so I highly recommend them. However, many visitors will fly into Cape Town and then drive up the coastline to the Garden Route. For information on how far the drive is from Cape Town to other major cities in South Africa, please refer to my driving distance table that I have included in my Cape Town travel guide below.

CityDistanceDrive Time
Mossel Bay385km4hrs 15min
George429km4hrs 30min
Plettenberg Bay521km5hrs 45min
Gqeberha749km8hrs 30min
Durban1,635km17hrs 45min

Best Time to Visit

Cape Town Travel Guide - Cape Point Lighthouse

While Cape Town is a city that can be enjoyed year-round, depending on what you would like to do when you visit there will be better times of year to plan your travel. In order to assist you in planning your visit to Cape Town for the optimal time of year, I have included some valuable information on the best times to visit Cape Town for you to review in my Cape Town travel guide below.

January to March

If you are planning on spending a lot of time outdoors while visiting Cape Town, the month of January is probably the best time to visit. The weather is warm and dry and most of the beaches are filled with activity.

February is the peak holiday season in Cape Town, so the city can get very busy during this time of year. If you plan to visit in February, I suggest making your travel plans well in advance and giving yourself plenty of time for travel between locations.

During the month of March, the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens holds a series of festivities for people to enjoy, which makes this a great time to visit if you are interested in seeing the gardens. The weather is typically a little cooler in March as well, so it is also a great time to visit to enjoy the nice weather but avoid the heat.

April to June

When the calendar hits April, autumn has arrived in Cape Town. This is a great time to explore the city’s many indoor markets, enjoy some live music, and try the city’s many wonderful restaurants. The Cape Town Jazz Festival also happens in April, so if you love to visit festivals when traveling, then April is the time to visit.

In May, the weather definitely becomes a little cooler and the city starts to see more rain. If you are planning to visit the aquarium, do some shopping, and enjoy the city’s many wonderful indoor events, this is a great time to beat the crowds and enjoy the city.

The best time for foodies to visit Cape Town is undoubtedly in June. Even though winter has hit the city and the evenings might be damper and cooler, many of the restaurants will have fireplaces going to keep you warm while you enjoy some wonderful local wine and cuisine.

July to September

Starting in July, the whales arrive off the coast of Cape Town, making this a great time to spot migratory southern right whales off the coastline. A very popular spot to look for whales is in the city of Hermanus, which is located just outside of Cape Town.

Beginning in August, the winter rains start to subside, and the temperatures start to warm up in Cape Town. You will see a lot of beautiful wildflowers bloom at this time of year, which makes it a very beautiful time to visit the Cape Peninsula. During August the whale migration is really starting to heat up as well, so whale viewing off the coast continues to be good.

September is the official start of spring in Cape Town, and you can start to expect the daytime temps to start to get warmer. You will typically still need a jacker in the evenings as they can still be cool though. During September the city is green and looks as alive as it does all year after all of the winter rains.

This makes Table Mountain and the Cape Peninsula look especially beautiful. September is also the last of the prime months for whale watching off the coast of Cape Town, so make sure you visit by the end of September if seeing the whales is a priority.

October to December

If you would like to visit the beaches of Cape Town, but want to avoid the summer crowds, then the month of October is definitely your best bet. The temperatures are warm and the weather is sunny, but the crowds of the peak summer months have yet to show up. You are also able to find some great deals on hotels and excursions during this shoulder month, which makes it one of the best overall months to visit Cape Town.

Beginning in November, the weather starts to really warm up. It isn’t quite peak season yet, so if hot weather and a beach getaway is your desire, then November is another good month to spend outdoors in Cape Town without having to fight the large crowds. This is also a very good month to drive from Cape Town up the coast to the Garden Route as you will see some of the best weather of the year up and down the coastline.

By December, summer is in full swing in Cape Town and the large crowds start to appear. You can expect long sunny days and perfect beach weather all month long. However, you will also need to plan further in advance as accommodations are harder to come by, attractions book up quickly, and lines are longer. If you want to get out on the water, this is also the best time of year to try scuba diving and snorkeling in Cape Town, though you should be aware that the water is cold all year round off Cape Town because of the cool Antarctic currents.

Average Temperature (°F)

The summer months of December thru February are the hottest months of the year in Cape Town, with high temperatures reaching into the 90’s Fahrenheit. If you plan on doing a lot of hiking outdoors, you may want to avoid these months or plan to bring plenty of water with you. However, these are great months to hit the beaches in Cape Town. During the winter months of June thru August it can get rather cool, especially at night. So, if you plan to visit during these months, make sure you bring a light jacket to wear in the evenings.

Average Precipitation (Inches)

If you are looking to spend a lot of time outdoors and would like to plan your visit for when you can expect the best weather, the months of October thru March are typically the driest months of the year in Cape Town, with October and November typically getting very little rain. Conversely, the winter months of May thru August are typically the wettest months of the year, so plan accordingly if you plan to visit during these months and have outdoor activities planned.

Where to Stay

Cape Town Travel Guide - Cape Town Colorful Houses

One of the most important decisions you are going to have to make when planning your trip to see Cape Town in South Africa is where you will stay.  When you travel, the accommodations you choose are oftentimes amongst the biggest expenditures for your trip.  So not only do you need to be comfortable where you are staying, but you also need to be comfortable with how much you are paying to stay there. 

Finding the right accommodations for your trip involves looking at the amenities, the location, and most importantly, the price.  If you are starting to plan your trip to South Africa and want some hotel and hostel suggestions, I have included some great options at different price points in my Cape Town travel guide below for you to review.  As always, don’t be afraid to expand your search to room sharing sites such as Airbnb or VRBO if you aren’t finding a hotel or hostel that meets your needs.

Cape Town Travel Guide - Cape Town Hotels and Hostels Map
Cape Town Hotels and Hostels Recommendations Map

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Where to Eat

Cape Town Travel Guide - Cape Town Restaurants

When most people plan a trip, the primary focus is on how to get there, where to stay, and what is on the list of things to see and do.  What many travelers neglect to plan, is where to eat when you are there.  Granted, it is sometimes fun to be spontaneous when choosing a restaurant while traveling, and it is always smart to get recommendations when you arrive.

However, it can also be advantageous to have some ideas of restaurants you would like to try during your trip written down beforehand as well.  This way you can be assured that you won’t miss out on a highly recommended culinary experience that you will regret.  To help you decide on some restaurants in Cape Town to add to your list, I have included a list of some highly recommended options for you to review in my Cape Town travel guide below.

Cape Town, South Africa Restaurant Recommendations
Restaurant Cuisine Price
Food Lover’s Eatery Icon Building Cafe, Veggie and Vegan Options $
JARRYDS Brunch & Bistro Cafe, Veggie and Vegan Options $$-$$$
Karibu Restaurant African, Grill, Wine Bar $$-$$$
Mzansi African, Healthy, Veggie $$-$$$
Miller’s Thumb Cajun & Creole, Seafood, International $$-$$$
Nelson’s Eye Steakhouse, Grill, Gluten Free Options $$-$$$
The Pot Luck Club International, Veggie and Vegan Options $$$$
Reverie Social Table International, Veggie and Vegan Options $$$$

Cape Town Travel Guide - Cape Town Helicopter Tour

There is an abundance of amazing things to see and do in Cape Town and one of the best ways to experience those things is on a tour.  If you are looking for fun tours and excursions to fill out your trip, I have included some category links to recommended tours and excursions you can review in my Cape Town travel guide below.

One thing that Cape Town is not in short supply of is amazing things to photograph. I was able to capture a lot of great photographs while touring the Cape Town, and I have included some of my favorites in a gallery in my Cape Town travel guide for you to review below.

If you would like to view some more of my top photos from this trip, as well as photos from some of my many other travel adventures, make sure you are following me on Instagram as well!

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  1. What a thorough job you did on this guide, Josh! I didn’t realize it’s so far from Johannesburg but that makes sense when I think about it.

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