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Discovering Cape Town: the top things to see and do

Jack Bryant / 25 May 2017

Affectionately known as the Mother City, Cape Town boasts an endless array of activities and sights suitable for every traveller. From climbing one of the most stunning mountains in the world to wine-tasting in picturesque settings on one of the many vineyards, this enchanting city has it all.

Boulders Beach, Cape Town, South Africa
The famous Boulders Beach penguins. Image supplied by Jack Bryant

But if you are only visiting for a short period of time what are the must do’s when it comes to making the most out of your visit here?

Here is a guide on some of the must-see attractions and activities that you should do on your next holiday:

Table Mountain

Naturally to begin with we have the mountain that dominates the city. Table Mountain is the first recognisable sight that can be seen as the plane descends towards the runway.

Offering an impressive backdrop for any snap you take the mountain can be seen from wherever you are in the city. There’s two ways to get to the top and experience the amazing views.

The first is the easy way - taking the cable car up to the top - this takes a couple of minutes which means you aren’t too tired to explore the top of the mountain and take in the stunning scenery.

The second is the harder way - using your own two feet. There are many routes up to the top, some more difficult than others, so if you’re feeling adventurous and want a real sense of achievement pack some water and get your walking boots on; plus there are two cafes up the top if you need a well deserved rest.

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Lion’s Head

Adjacent to Table Mountain is the smaller Lion’s Head. If you choose to hike Table Mountain it will take the best part of a day, Lion’s Head on the other hand is a very-doable forty-five minute hike to the summit.

The best time to walk up is for either sunrise or sunset which is popular with both tourists and locals alike hoping to witness nature at it's most beautiful.

Make sure to bring a nice bottle of South African wine, a camera and enjoy the views of the city.

Bo Kaap

This area, translating into ‘Upper Cape’ is also known as the Malay Quarter and is famous for its vividly painted houses alongside the cobbled streets.

It’s a quaint area which housed the freed slaves after their emancipation in the mid-18th century. In order to express their newfound freedom they painted their houses in any colour they wanted just because they could and no-one could stop them.

Don’t feel shy about taking photos of the houses; the residents are really friendly, used to it, and proud that so many people from across the world come to view their homes.

The most photogenic streets are Wale and Chiappini.

Victoria and Albert Waterfront

Evoking images of the early Victorian activities of the harbour, the V&A Waterfront is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.

Set against the backdrop of the sea this area is great for shopping and eating in high-class restaurants. Many tours also depart from here including Robben Island, dolphin and seal-watching.

The maritime museum explores the history of the area from prehistoric times to present day, plus there is also a self-guided heritage trail around the area giving relevance to the historic buildings which now cater to tourists.

Robben Island

The former political prison of Robben Island is a must and should be high on any list of things to do in Cape Town. Tours are conducted by former political prisoners which really brings the history of the place to life.

Stories are told of Nelson Mandela from the prisoners that were actually imprisoned with him, and they recount their own experiences in the same exact cells where you sit.

A sobering yet inspiring experience to have whilst in Cape Town. Read The Long Walk to Freedom to get a real sense of the struggle that Mandela and other prisoners endured whilst locked up here.

Kirstenbosch Gardens

Providing a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the city Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens has been dubbed the ‘most beautiful garden in Africa’.

Few botanical gardens can match the sheer grandeur of its location.

Set against the slopes of Table Mountain in an area which receives the most rainfall in the city you can explore the fynbos floral kingdom, as well as the various floral kingdoms across the African continent.

The entrance fee is only £4 entrance fee which is well worth it, plus tickets also include entrance to the tree canopy walkway.

Cape of Good Hope

South of the city is the peninsula that boasts some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Classic stops include Simon’s Town where you can get up close to a colony of around two-hundred African Penguins at Boulders Beach.

Visitors can view them from a raised boardwalk giving the animals enough personal space. Further south you enter the national park to see the most southwesterly point of the continent, a beautiful place where the Indian Ocean and Atlantic ocean meet.

Further inland within the national park you might be able to spot Ostriches if you’re lucky and if you’re unlucky you might get too close to a nasty Baboon.

Make sure you drive on Chapman’s Peak which has some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in the country.

Wine Tasting in Stellenbosch

If you love wine then you’ve come to the right place!

Stellenbosch is the best place to try South African wine in the whole country, with hundreds of vineyards ranging from the larger ones you may have heard of to the smaller boutique ones that are only available here in South Africa.

It’s best visited on a tour as you will not have to worry about driving home and can relax and enjoy tasting some delicious wine.

South Africa, often described as a whole world in one country, is blessed with the lion's share of sights and experiences. Find out more about our holidays to South Africa here

It’s not hard to see why Cape Town is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The city seems to have almost everything to keep you busy during your stay, from world-class museums to beaches to the most beautiful sunset spots in the world.

Of course there are so many more things to see and do than mentioned above, but for those of you with a limited time in this beautiful city these highlights are sure to show you the best that Cape Town has to offer.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.