Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa, ranking just below Johannesburg in terms of population. Affectionately called The Mother City, it’s known for its natural beauty, which is represented most poignantly by Table Mountain. But there’s much more to Cape Town than its mountains, beaches, and rolling hills. Visitors are greeted by an assortment of restaurants, a dynamic nightlife, and activities that will sate the appetites of even the most adventurous travelers.
If you’ve been planning to get away and would like to avoid “run of the mill” travel destinations, spending a couple of weeks in Cape Town may be the perfect solution. The city offers a curious blend of cultures, a phenomenon that stems from a long history of receiving travelers from around the world.
We’ll offer a few suggestions below to help you plan your trip. You’ll learn about interesting things to do in The Mother City, and find several recommendations on where to eat and where to stay. Use the following as a springboard for creating an itinerary that makes the most of your time in Cape Town.
Fun Activities To Enjoy In Cape Town
There’s a lot to do and see in Cape Town. If you’re a foodie who loves to taste new dishes from faraway lands, you’ll find plenty of culinary gems from which to choose (see the section on restaurants below). If you’d like to learn more about the city’s cultures, immerse yourself in the local markets, festivals, and nightlife. If you’d prefer a more scenic experience, you’ll have countless opportunities to enjoy Cape Town’s natural wonders. Here are 4 activities to consider making time for during your stay.
#1 – Hike Table Mountain
Located south of the city, Table Mountain is unique because it boasts a 3-kilometer plateau with dramatic peaks on the left and right sides. It’s a part of the Table Mountain National Park, which was established to protect the surrounding environment. If you’re in good physical condition, you can hike to the top via one of the well-worn trails. An alternative is to take the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway to the summit. Cost of hiking to the summit: free. A roundtrip ticket on the cableway will cost approximately $25.
#2 – Visit The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
While you’re hiking – or riding the cableway – to the summit of Table Mountain, set aside a couple of hours to visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. They’re located on the eastern side of the mountain. You’ll see thousands of indigenous plants, creating a colorful canvas you’re unlikely to observe elsewhere. A large greenhouse hosts species that are brought from various regions of South Africa. If you’re planning to visit Cape Town in the summer, visit the gardens on a Sunday evening to enjoy an outdoor concert amid the plants and flowers. Cost of entry: approximately $5.
#3 – Shop At Greenmarket Square
Greenmarket Square has a long history, having been built in 1696. Since that time, the square has served a number of functions, including hosting a farmer’s market and slave market. Today, it hosts a popular flea market. There, you’ll find an assortment of goods for sale alongside various forms of entertainment. The vendors at Greenmarket tend to be “motivated” and will go to great lengths to encourage passersby to buy their goods. Don’t be intimidated. Be friendly, be direct, and don’t be afraid to say “no.” Cost of entry: free.
#4 – Visit Cape Point
Set aside 5 or 6 hours to visit Cape Point. It’s located approximately 65 kilometers to the south of Cape Town. You can visit a working lighthouse and have lunch at the Two Oceans Restaurant. There, you’ll enjoy delicious seafood with an ocean view. When you visit Cape Point, be sure to take your camera. The area offers some of the most breathtaking views available in South Africa. Also, be aware that a cool breeze comes in off the water. So, take a light jacket to keep warm. Cost of entry: approximately $12.
A Quick Guide To Cape Town Restaurants
The cuisine in Cape Town is one of the city’s great delights. There’s a restaurant to accommodate every budget and nearly every culinary desire. You’ll find burgers and fries at the Royale Eatery. You can enjoy steak at Carne SA. French food can be found at Bizerca Bistro while Italian fare can be ordered at 95 Keerom.
We recommend stopping by The Bombay Bicycle Club. It’s a relatively new restaurant that offers a host of local favorites served in an easygoing atmosphere. Customers are encouraged to stay as long as they like. Sit back and enjoy the jazz music playing in the background while admiring the eclectic furnishings. Start with mushroom risotta balls before digging into a lamb shank braised with red wine. End the meal with a delicious Bombay cigar.
The entire meal will cost approximately $45.
For a romantic dinner with your significant other, visit Pigalle. The restaurant is renowned for its seafood cuisine and live jazz music. Both are presented in a plush environment designed to stimulate the senses. From the fixtures and paintings to the furniture and chandeliers, Pigalle is a feast for the eyes as much as the taste buds. Begin with the trinchado, a helping of pan-seared beef fillet dressed with a tangy sauce. Then, move into the lobster thermidore, freed from its shell and sautéed with a light cream. For dessert, enjoy the crème brûlée with biscotti.
The cost? Plan to pay approximately $70 per person.
If you’re traveling with young kids, and would like to introduce them to African cuisine at a price that won’t break your budget, stop by Jonkershuis. The restaurant offers a kids’ menu in addition to its full menu and wine list. The atmosphere is calm, cozy, and peaceful, and the decor is simple. Start with a plate of smoked snoek pâté to whet your appetite before moving on to prawn curry with basmati rice. Enjoy a slice of chocolate mousse cake for dessert.
The cost? Less than $30 per person.
Where To Stay During Your Vacation
There are plenty of great hotels in Cape Town, including large resorts and boutique establishments. Rates are reasonable, rooms are comfortable, and the personnel are motivated to make guests feel at home. The best months to travel are March and April, when the temperature is still in the mid to low 70s. We’ll use that time of the year as a gauge for hotel rates.
The Cape Grace Hotel sits on the waterfront, providing guests with a serene view of the water. The hotel offers an outdoor pool, restaurant, and full-service spa. The rooms are designed with furnished balconies and patios, so you can relax outside while enjoying the cool breeze. Each room also comes with cable television, premium channels, and deep-soaking bathtub.
Rooms can be reserved for $500 to $600 a night during March.
The African Pride Crystal Towers Hotel is moderately priced, yet offers much of the same luxury and comfort you’ll find at more expensive hotels. The lobby and public areas are designed with a chic, contemporary style. The rooms offer a modern decor with a stunning view of The Mother City. You’ll find plenty of amenities at your fingertips, including climate control, DVD player, and blackout curtains. In addition, the rooms are soundproofed to make your stay more comfortable.
Rates typically range between $250 and $300.
Many budget-conscious travelers rave about the Cape Royale Luxury Hotel and Spa. It is located near the V&A Waterfront and is within minutes of the Camps Bay beaches. The hotel offers 2 restaurants, a full-service spa, and fitness center. There’s also a sky bar designed to provide guests with a breathtaking view of the city. Each room offers air conditioning, dishwasher, and separate dining area.
Reservations at the Cape Royale hover between $170 and $200 during March. But book your room well in advance since the hotel fills up quickly.
How To Get Around Cape Town
There are several options for traveling throughout Cape Town. If you plan to stay in a particular area, such as near the waterfront, you may be able to get by with walking (make sure to pack a good pair of walking shoes). But there’s a good chance you’ll want to visit a few distant sites, such as Table Mountain and the Greenmarket Square. If that’s the case, you’ll need transportation.
You can rely on taxis during your stay in Cape Town, but realize they’re expensive. They can also be relatively difficult to find if you’re on the street and need a quick ride. The best way to use the taxi service in the city is to call the cab company directly and schedule a taxi to pick you up.
Buses are also available, and can be an inexpensive way to get around. Just be aware that bus schedules and pick-up times are considered guidelines and estimates. Don’t be surprised if a bus arrives late. (The same warning applies to trains in Cape Town.) If you’re willing to endure the inconvenience, this can be a good way to get from place to place.
The best option for most people is to rent a car. You’ll spend more, but you’ll also have a lot more control over your transportation. Two notes of caution: first, invest in a good map that clearly shows the roads leading to various spots in the city. Don’t rely on road signs to get you to your destination. Second, keep a reserve of change for tips and parking fees.
Dollars And Sense: Flying To South Africa On A Budget
By far, the largest expense of your trip to Cape Town will be airfare. Getting to The Mother City and back is not cheap. One of the reasons is because there are fewer flights leaving the major hubs than is the case for more popular travel destinations, such as Rome and Hawaii.
How much will a round trip ticket cost? Expect to pay close to $2,000 if you’re planning to leave from Toronto (during March). You can expect to make at least 2 stops along the way. Flights that make a single stop typically cost much more ($3,000+).
Flying to Cape Town from Vancouver is even more expensive. Round trip tickets will cost up to $3,600 with 2 stops. Single-stop flights may cost $4,300 or more.
Flights from Montreal are a bit more affordable. You should be able to reserve a seat for $1,800 during March.
If you don’t want to take any risks at your flight being cancelled, get peace of mind by purchasing trip cancellation insurance. Getting all-inclusive coverage and trip cancellation/interruption is easy if you use Kanetix’s online travel insurance quoting service. For more information on trip cancel insurance, read this article on Kanetix.ca.
Few people visit Cape Town due to the cost of getting there, its distance, and personal preferences for more popular destinations. But the city offers a unique travel experience you’ll remember throughout your life. If you’re open to having an adventure few others enjoy, use the suggestions above to plan a trip to The Mother City.