Once upon a time, my husband played for the Singapore Indoor Cricket Masters Team, which meant a trip to Cape Town, South Africa to compete in the World Masters Tournament. Cape Town never featured on my travel bucket list before. But I spent a week exploring Cape Town and would go back in a heartbeat. And if it’s not on your travel list, I’m here to recommend it wholeheartedly. I hope this DIY itinerary of things to do in Cape Town is helpful!
Day 1: Downtown Cape Town
One of the best ways to understand a new place is through the food, so I kicked off my Cape Town explorations with a food tour. There are lots of options online but in the end I chose Eat Like a Local. The price was sensible and it offered non-alcoholic prices. Rupesh, the owner and guide, is a trained chef and a food critic – and I’m pleased to say, he knows his stuff.
Read more about the highlights of my 4.5 hour Cape Town food tour here – and if you get the chance, book yourself on a food tour – you won’t be sorry.
Our tour included the brightly coloured neighbourhood of Bo-Kaap where the food is as flavourful as the houses. Other stops included Heritage Square, Youngblood Art Gallery, biltong tastings in central Cape Town and more.
We finished our tour at Honest Chocolate. This was such a cosy cafe, I stayed on for a few hours to enjoy the free wifi and a milkshake.
Our food guide Rupesh did a great job explaining the beginnings of Cape Town and pointing out landmarks around the city on our tour. Now, by myself, and with Table Mountain always in view, I felt ready to explore on foot. A short walk took me to The Company Gardens in the middle of Cape Town.
This park and heritage site was created in the 1650s by the first European settlers. There were lots of people enjoying the park on a Friday afternoon. Plenty of shady trees and open spaces made for a pleasant oasis. There is a lot of history in the garden and it was good to see people on guided tours of the gardens.
From there it was a 35 minute walk down through down to the harbour and my next destination – V&A Waterfront.
V&A Waterfront stands for Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and is commonly just called The Waterfront. Prince Alfred was the son of Queen Victoria who visited Cape harbour in 1860. He was sixteen years old and the first ever royal family member to visit the colonial settlers. They named the first Navy Yard basin after him, and the second after his mother. Covering a few old piers and harbourfront it is a vibrant complex that includes malls, restaurants, buskers, shops, ticket sale offices for helicopters, boat rides, a food market, and much, much more.
There was a happy vibe and I enjoyed wandering around soaking it all in. I love that there are spots for buskers who move around the Waterfront doing their thing. The music and dance of Africa is a lot of fun at the Waterfront.
I grabbed an evening meal from the V&A Food Market shed (a wrap for 70 rand from Vagabond Kitchen – delish) and enjoyed my meal on the outdoor tables as the sun went down. The Waterfront lights came on and continued partying long after I took an Uber ride back to my hotel.
Uber works great in Cape Town. The drivers are courteous and communicative if they are running late for any reason. I used Uber for the first few days before hiring a car.
(If you have very limited time in Cape Town you could consider this City and Table Mountain tour.)
Day 2: Back to nature
I went to one of the largest Neighbourgoods (twist on neighbourhood) markets in Cape Town. It is every Saturday from 9am at the Old Biscuit Mill. Local artisans, designers and foodies ply their wares at an old biscuit factory site which is now trendy offices, workshops and stalls.
The breakfast options in the Neighbourgoods food section was amazing. Cape Town does great food. From large pans of paella, braai (food cooked over a grill, or barbecue), sandwiches, smoothies through to local dishes with strange names like bobotie and chakalaka. Which, thanks to my food tour, I now understood – I felt like such a local already.
When I was satisfied with my Old Biscuit Mill market perusals, I called an Uber and headed off to my next destination.
It was a 20 minute drive around Table Mountain to one of the great botanic gardens of the world, Kirstenbosch Gardens. I got there around 10.30am. It cost 75 rand to enter and the ticket line was very short. Being a stop for the popular Hop On Hop Off bus I wondered if there might be long lines, but thankfully, 3 minutes after arriving I had a ticket in hand.
Nestled at one end of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch Gardens was better than I expected. Read my more in-depth review here. A delicious lunch at Moyo restaurant in the gardens cost 154 rand (plus tip). Note: a tip of 10—15% is expected in restaurants.
I understand now why it is a highly recommended activity for a Cape Town itinerary, and why it is a stop for the Hop On Hop Off bus.
After a relaxed lunch at Mojo restaurant in the garden which you can read about in my other blog post I decided to catch the Hop On Hop Off bus back to the V&A Waterfront via Camps Bay.
Hop On Hop Off bus
From the tourist office at the Gardens I purchased a day ticket for the bus. I upgraded that to a Premium Pass once I got to the Waterfront. You can get a Premium Pass cheaper than I did through our affiliate partner here.
With the complimentary earplugs in place and a seat on the top deck I learned a lot as we headed to the beautiful vineyards of Constantia. You can get off the bus here and take a smaller shuttle bus to the Constantia vineyards if you want.
But I stayed on, and the bus continued around Table Mountain down into Hout Bay. The disparity between the informal shanty settlements and the large gated estates is unsettling. South Africa has come a long way, but there are still tensions for sure. Hout Bay is a beautiful beach where you can get off and visit seal islands, swim, eat fish and chips and ice cream if you want.
I stayed on the bus and we lumbered over another hill saddle to drive the stunning coastal route that goes past the beach community of Llandudno and stops next at Camps Bay.
I stretched my legs at Camps Bay which has featured as Miami and French Riviera in different movies. The movie industry is alive in well in Cape Town apparently – with Charlize Theron being the megastar of the moment.
The bus finished it route at V&A Waterfront. After upgrading my Hop on Hop Off day ticket to a premium ticket I enjoyed some more buskers before grabbing dinner from the Food Market again.
There are lots of African flavoured shops around the Waterfront, but be sure to check out The Watershed at the Waterfront before you get too carried away. This “shed” is home to over 150 vendors who offer locally designed goods and souvenirs. A lot of the African goods at street markets in South Africa are actually made in China. But at the Watershed, you’re buying local.
Day 3: Relax
Sunday; so for me, this meant church. I was invited to lunch at a local home by some of my new friends. They were a young family, he is of Indian descent, she is Afrikaans, and their children are gorgeous. He cooked up the most amazing Indian feast.
Did you know that South Africa has the biggest Indian population outside of India?
Hop On Hop Off Bus and sunset cruise
I had plans to go back downtown and explore some of the other bus routes and do the sunset cruise but ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with my new friends before going to the Montague Arena to cheer on my husband and his Singapore Indoor Cricket Masters team.
I had dinner with the team at our hotel.
Day 4: Table Mountain
Hike up Table Mountain
I was excited to go hiking up Lion’s Head with Keith but the universe had other – better – plans. Airbnb Experiences is a great way to find local guides who will show you their hometown – that’s how I found Keith.
I planned to hike up Table Mountain later in the week and chose Lion’s Head hike as a warm up. However, things changed and I ended up hiking up Table Mountain with a guide. It was one of the highlights of the week.
I was so pleased my Table Mountain experience happened on a weekday. The number of people going up and down in the weekend is crazy. Read more about hiking up Table Mountain here.
Dinner at V&A Waterfront
That afternoon I relaxed, then with my husband and some of his teammates we headed to the Waterfront for dinner. We ate at Quay Four on the edge of the water. It was a very cold evening, so we ate inside. The food was delicious, the service was good and the live music was so good we all got up for a quick dance before we left.
Day 5: Head down the Cape
After breakfast at the hotel, my Uber headed out to Simon’s Town on the coast. It was an hour plus from our hotel at Bellville, north of Cape Town. I asked my Uber driver to go via Muizenburg for the coastal views. Today was all about the coast and the water! Cape Town has some stunning beaches.
This is where most locals go swimming, the water here is warmer by a few degrees than water on the other side of the peninsula. We stopped briefly to look at the beach and see the painted beach huts, and admire the surfers out enjoying the Tuesday waves.
I chose the Simon’s Town Boat Company. Their boats are smaller than some of the bigger operations down at Hermanus and I liked their attitude to responsible whale watching. You need to book via their website.
The sun was shining as I checked in at their desk on the wharf at 10am. We were told to pay after the trip because there would be a discount if we didn’t see any whales. However, we saw whales and were all happy to pay the full price of 990 rand upon return. Water and biscuits were available on the boat at no extra charge. There were about 20 of us aboard, 8 of us on the top deck.
We motored out into False Bay and it wasn’t long before we spotted a Great Southern Right Whale and her baby. Woohoo! Coming from New Zealand, I’ve seen plenty of dolphins, but I’ve never seen whales in the wild.
It was amazing.
A local researcher on board too happily informed us as we watched and answered all our whale questions. There is a definite whale watching season in Cape Town, so if you want to see whales your best bet is between June – November.
After getting our fill of whales, and seeing seals at rest and playing at sea, we got back to shore at 1pm.
Right there, on Wharf Street is Salty Sea Dog Fish and Chips. Keith, my Table Mountain guide, had recommended them so it seemed like an appropriate lunch. I tried snoek (a local fish) and chips and had a chocolate milkshake (cost 126 rand + tip). It was OK; I wouldn’t go there again though.
There are public toilets upstairs in the Blue Boardwalk Centre. Take advantage of them before you head to Boulders Beach to see the endangered African penguins.
Boulders Beach penguin colony
This is a popular thing to do in the Cape of South Africa.
It is a 30 minute walk, or a 5 minute Uber drive, from Simon’s Town wharf to Boulders Beach Penguin Colony. My Uber driver, a young guy from Zimbabwe, wanted to show me the beach where you could see them for free, but I was happy to pay the conservation fee (152 rand) to see them.
I got there about 2.30pm – right between some bus tour groups, thankfully. There are two boardwalks to the beach. Take time to walk them both, as they go to either end of the beach.
The penguins are everywhere, and in October, there were downy ones, moulting ones and fully grown ones. It was fun to see such large numbers of penguins doing their thing, oblivious to the crowds they drew.
It was also cool to see not one, but two dassies! These are largeish, but cute mammals also called rock hyrax or Cape hyrax. They are native to Africa and were both dust bathing, having a great time.
My Uber driver agreed to wait for me and take me to the Cape of Good Hope and back to Cape Town. He did not expect extra money for waiting, I just updated my Uber trip as we went and paid him through Uber. To be honest, seeing the Cape with a personal Uber driver was expensive, and if I did it again, I’d hire a car and do it myself rather than on a tour bus with everyone else.
Cape of Good Hope
You’ll need to buy a ticket to drive on to the Cape (cost 303 rand for international visitors, cheaper for locals). The Cape is gorgeous and part of the Table Mountain National Park; lots of protea and flowers in bloom with stunning coastal views.
There are two viewpoints. On the way to the first one – the lower one without the lighthouse – we saw a mother ostrich and her babies cross the road in front of us. This became the best wildlife day ever.
My driver and I kept our eyes peeled for land tortoise – he’s seen them before – but we didn’t see any. At the lower carpark, my driver waited while I walked up the path to the rocky viewpoints.
The Cape of Good Hope is not the most southern point of South Africa as many think. It is the most southern point of Cape Peninsula though, and was of significance to sailors coming down the west coast of Africa. At the Cape of Good Hope, they knew it was time to start sailing more eastward than southward.
You can walk from the lower carpark to the lighthouse point, but we drove there as most people do. At the lighthouse carpark you look down to where you were 10 minutes earlier. And if you haven’t yet seen them, this is where you’ll meet baboons.
If you prefer to join a tour and spend a day seeing Muizenburg, the penguins, the Cape and more, check out this Cape Peninsula Day Tour.
Mind the baboons
They hang around the carparks waiting for a glimpse of a paper bag, a drink bottle or anything that might resemble food. I saw one baboon run for a woman carrying a 1.5l plastic water bottle. She did the right thing and dropped the bottle which was quickly snatched up.
Another baboon targeted a woman coming out of the gift store. The baboon snatched her paper bag and started eating the soap she’d just purchased. After a couple of minutes, it dropped the soap realising it wasn’t food after all.
A few days later I returned to the Cape with my husband and the baboons had just finished trashing the public bathrooms. Basically, obey all the signs that say “watch for baboons, and don’t feed them.” They have teeth and can be aggressive.
Anyway, back to the Cape.
At this upper carpark there are walking paths or a funicular (80 rand for return trip) which will take you further up the slope to the lighthouse built in 1859. The last funicular down is at 5.30pm and that’s the one I caught back down after checking out the views from the lighthouse. There is also a restaurant with sea views at this carpark.
I considered having dinner at Brass Bell restaurant at Kalk Bay, and if I wasn’t supporting my husband playing cricket, I totally would have. The restaurant was recommended by a South African friend, but instead, I got dropped off at Montague Arena and picked up a shwarma (kebab) for dinner and cheered for my favorite indoor cricket team.
Day 6: Farm visits around Paarl
Time to stop feeding the Uber machine and be kinder to my budget and rent a car!
Is it safe to hire a car in South Africa as a solo traveller? I can only comment on around Cape Town, not all of South Africa. The answer is yes, if you are a confident driver. I was given common-sense rules such as: never pick up hitchhikers and always travel with the doors locked.
I booked online with Firefly (budget division of Hertz) and picked up the car from the airport for convenience. Then I hit the road to Paarl, north of Cape Town.
Spice Route Destination Farm
Paarl is north of Cape Town. I stopped at Spice Route farm first. This is a lovely place to visit for local artisanal food and products. It is a collection of 13 different artisans including restaurants and cafes, gin distillery, craft beer, glass and ceramic shops and a chocolate factory.
One day, when I grow up I want to own a chocolate shop or factory. The De Villiers chocolate factory passed the taste test for sure. Spice Route Farm has magnificent views over the valley too. Unfortunately, it was grey and rainy this day. The pizzeria was well patronised and warm and comforting, but I pushed on.
Olyvenbosch Olive Farm
Driving back past an Alpaca Farm it wasn’t far to Olyvenbosch Olive Farm. I have my own olive grove and appreciate good olive oil so I was keen to see what Paarl had to offer.
Once you’re off the main road, carry on till you see the large entrance gates to your left. Follow the drive up through the olive trees past buildings to the very end where you will find their small shop.
They sell a lot online, but Lezelle was there to let me try their olive products, dips, and vinaigrettes. All are delicious. They also sell some olive oil skincare products. I got a bit of history of the farm and we talked olives for a while. At least until my stomach rumbled. I was overdue for lunch so asked for a recommendation.
Domain Brahms Winery and Under Oaks Winery
Following directions from Lezelle, it was a few minutes further to Domaine Brahms to check out the Toeka Stoor and Café.
What a fascinating place the Toeka Stoor (store) is. If you’re at all interested in antiques or Afrikaans farming history stuff like tractors, you’ve got to stop here. It’s part museum of EVERYTHING, part store, part café, and wine tastings. It’s eclectic and a great place to stop – especially for kids.
The café wasn’t calling my name though so I drove on to the second recommendation, the pizzeria at Under Oaks.
By now the rain had settled in. I was very happy tucked up with a plate of delicious pasta in the Under Oaks pizzeria. I didn’t want to leave really, it has a lovely ambiance.
But, Paarl was calling.
Paarl is a small town that would look a whole lot better on a sunny day. The rain was not helping it’s cause. I put my plans to visit the Afrikaans language monument on hold and decided on some window shopping instead. The Paarl Mall is of a good size, on one level.
Day 7: Wine country
I’m a teetotaller, but the winelands around Cape Town make for a gorgeous drive. They are a popular thing to add to your Cape Town itinerary, and well worth it. After breakfast at the hotel, I hit the road north again.
Afrikaans Language Monument
This is a stunning piece of art built to commemorate the Afrikaans language. Noticeable from miles away if you know where to look, it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re anywhere near Paarl.
Built high on a hill by Jan van Wijk the Afrikaans Language Monument commands magnificent views over Paarl Valley. It opened in 1975, 50 years after Afrikaans was formally recognised as a language in its own right. (entrance cost: 40 rand).
The monument with its towering obelisks, fountain, curves, generous spacing, and half-spheres represent the different languages that helped shape Afrikaans, and places South Africa, as a whole, in context with Africa.
Franschhoek and Franschhoek Pass
Settled by French immigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries, Franschhoek is a gorgeous town amongst vineyards. This is a starting point for lots of wine tours. At the end of a valley, encompassed by towering hills this town has a good feel to it.
Take the time to walk the main road of the village and explore the art galleries, cafes, shops, and old buildings. I had lunch by the indoor fire at the River Café (130 rand) before driving over the Franschhoek Pass. On the way out of town, you’ll pass the large monument and gardens in honour of the Huguenots.
The terrain on the other side of the pass is very different. You’ll drive along a large lake and over a long bridge before driving through fertile lands and the orchards of Grabouw. I followed Google Maps to Stellenbosch.
I parked in the centre of town on Blom Road. There are parking wardens everywhere you park. Most times you pay when you return (like here in Stellenbosch), though sometimes you pay upfront (like at Signal Hill in Cape Town).
The centre of Stellenbosch has lots of quaint streets and stores with Cape Dutch architecture.
Go ahead and visit the Stellenbosch Village Museum. This is an unpretentious museum with a difference, which I enjoyed. It is made up of four houses, each with a guide in period costume. You start at house number one – the oldest house in Stellenbosch – and walk through gardens, or cross the road to get to other houses. Once the guide has given you a bit of history, you are free to explore each house and its gardens as you choose.
Before heading off for the drive back to the hotel I fuelled up at Mugg & Bean. Think Starbucks but with better food. This chain serves meals and the hugest cakes you’ve ever seen.
Dinner that night was at a mall near our hotel. We chose Hussar Grill which has a few locations. South Africa has vegetarian restaurants and meals, and then they have restaurants dedicated to serving great steak. Hussar Grill was one of the latter, and we enjoyed our meals with gusto.
Day 8: Last sights
Our last day. This was filled with some quick sightseeing for my husband.
We drove up Signal Hill for amazing views over Cape Town (that’s where this video was taken) and took a madcap dash to the Cape of Good Hope in the rental car in the afternoon. At least I knew the way – haha!
My husband enjoyed visiting the Cape, but the only thing not already noted elsewhere in this blog post is the dinner. We had delicious pizza at Col’cacchio at Camps Bay.
If I did it again
If I did it again, I would add on a couple of days and spend a night or two on a game reserve or safari. There are some a few hours’ drive from Cape Town, but to go there and back in one day is very rushed.
I did not visit Robben Island; a major attraction of Cape Town. Enjoying it from afar – from the top of Table Mountain was enough for me. For some, it is a must-do and it is easily organised. Ferries run from V&A Waterfront to the island daily (weather permitting).
Trip taken October 2019.
If you like Southern Hemisphere destinations, check out this New Zealand road trip from Auckland to Queenstown!