Cape Town Travel Guide: What to Do, See, and Eat With Five Days in Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town from Table Mountain

Cape Town from Table Mountain

The only negative thing I can say about Cape Town is that the whole time I was there, I felt sad about the fact that I didn’t have twice as long in the city. We spent 5 nights in Cape Town, but I could have easily doubled that time and still felt like there was more to see, do, and eat. Cape Town is the kind of city that begs to be lingered in, so if I can give you one piece of advice, it’s to spend as much time as you can there, and take it at a leisurely pace.

Why did I love Cape Town so much? First, it’s natural setting was just spectacular. The city center sits in a “bowl” formed by Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, and Signal Hill. So while there isn’t a ton of green space in the city, everywhere you go you can just look up and see craggy peaks looming above. The city also has a very laid back, California-vibe. Whenever we met people, it never felt like conversations were rushed - people were alway really interested in having conversations that went beyond surface level, sharing their love for their city, while at the same time being really honest about it’s troubles as a city still trying to recover from the damage done by decades of apartheid.

Where to Stay in Cape Town

From what we heard, a lot of people stay in Sea Point, Camp’s Bay and near the V&A Waterfront, which are three really beautiful neighborhoods overlooking the ocean. If you want to stay outside the city at the beach, there’s a ton of neighborhoods like Clifton, Muizenberg, and Camp’s Bay that are less than 30 minutes from the city. If you’re a baller, check out Costantia, which we felt slightly embarrassed driving through in our rented Corolla.

Airbnbs are really affordable in Cape Town, and we were excited to find nice rooms with beautiful views that were $75 and up/night. We ended up staying in an Airbnb suite in the neighborhood of Tamboerskloof with the most incredible view of the city. If you’re going to Cape Town, I would highly recommend staying there - it’s beautiful, the neighborhood is safe, and the location was more easily accessible to hiking, restaurants and museums than the other neighborhoods we heard people talk about. Tamboerskloof is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Cape Town, built into the slope of Lion’s Head and Signal Hill, so everyone’s basically got an amazing view. Towards the bottom of the hill are beautiful old Dutch colonial homes, but higher up on the slope are these incredible modern mansions. Staying there I felt like a celebrity in Hollywood Hills. And I can’t say enough good things about our host Veronika, who was warm and friendly, and really helpful with traveling and safety advice.

Cape Town Airbnb
Like I said, best view in the city.

Like I said, best view in the city.

Dining out in Cape Town

The food in Cape Town was amazing - we had some of the best meals we’ve ever had in the city! I’m sharing where we ate in the recap below, but I did want to point out one of the few frustrating things about the city, which is that you need reservations for most restaurants that aren’t totally casual. It’s a little annoying for those of us who want to be spontaneous and not tied to a schedule, especially because it’s not super safe to walk around certain areas at night, so you’ll want to have a plan for dining. For some restaurants we went to or wanted to go to (La Colombe, Pot Luck Club, Short Market Club, etc) you’ll want to make reservations a few months in advance.

How to Get Around in Cape Town

We decided to rent a car, and although I probably should defer to my husband who did all the driving, I’ll speak for him and say I thought it was pretty easy to get around. They do drive on the other side of the road, so if that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to stick with Uber, which is probably less expensive than renting a car if you’re staying in the city. We used Uber at night so we wouldn’t have to drive in the dark, and could enjoy some cocktails at dinner, and there was always plenty of availability - just make sure you have data on your phone since wifi can get tricky.

There was also plenty of street parking. Don’t be alarmed to see someone in a yellow/orange vest pointing you towards a spot. From what we understood, the orange vests are “official” parking attendants (i.e. contracted out) and yellow vests are “unofficial” parking attendants - i.e. unemployed people who watch over your car for tips. I know there’s a lot of strong opinions about the unofficial parking attendants in Cape Town, and granted, I have no clue what they would do if someone was actually trying to steal your car, but as tourists in a town with an unemployment rate around 30%, just treat them kindly and give them a damn tip! People are trying to get by the best they can.

Safety in Cape Town

So that brings me to the last point about Cape Town, which felt like everyone’s first question when they found out we were going there. Cape Town has a really high crime rate, but you shouldn’t be afraid to go. Most of the crime is concentrated in some of the townships that have a lot of gang activity, which makes sense because between apartheid and government corruption that has literally robbed money from poor people (get ready for some deserved rants on former president Zuma if you go), there’s not a lot of opportunity. Again, people are just trying to survive. BUT, you also probably don’t want your camera stolen, so be smart and listen to your hotel/Airbnb host about where you can walk around at night, don’t be all flashy with jewelry and your fancy camera, and just be alert. Honestly, even though we were on alert (all the crime warnings kinda get to you), there wasn’t a single moment where we ever felt unsafe.

Day 1: Dinner on Kloof St.

We arrived late afternoon from our safari in Sabi Sands, so by the time we drove in from the airport and checked into our Airbnb, it was time for dinner. We had reservations at Mzansi, an African restaurant in one of the townships, but because our flight to Cape Town was delayed, we missed our reservations. We decided to wander along Kloof St., which is sometimes called restaurant mile. It’s a street with a lot of trendy restaurants and young professional nightlife. Our Airbnb host recommended The Black Sheep, but they didn’t have any tables (it was a Friday night), so they sent us down the street to their sister tapas-style restaurant The Dark Horse.

We sat outside on the patio and enjoyed a bunch of shared plates and a bottle of South African wine. It seemed like a really fun place to go to kick off a night out. One of the part-owners ended up serving us because a few people were out sick, and he stayed and chatted with us for quite a bit about Cape Town, growing up in Chile (where we went on our honeymoon), and the restaurant. My two favorite dishes were the raw oysters with wasabi cream, pickled cucumbers and ginger, and cilantro, and the braised springbok over mashed potatoes with crispy bacon.

Raw local oysters with wasabi cream, pickled cucumber and ginger, and cilantro

Raw local oysters with wasabi cream, pickled cucumber and ginger, and cilantro

Rye crisps with trout gravlax, beets, radish and dill mustard sauce

Rye crisps with trout gravlax, beets, radish and dill mustard sauce

Onion bhajis and atcha mayo, braised springbok with peas and crispy bacon over potato mash, steamed bao with pickled eggplant and tahini sauce

Onion bhajis and atcha mayo, braised springbok with peas and crispy bacon over potato mash, steamed bao with pickled eggplant and tahini sauce

Day 2: Exploring Cape Town

We only had one day to explore the city center, but I think we did a pretty good job with the day that we had. We started with a trip to Woodstock for breakfast at the Old Biscuit Mill. They have a HUGE market on Saturday mornings, but unfortunately we also made a HUGE foodie fail and missed the food market part until the end. When you walk in, turn to the right , and you’ll find a couple tents filled with dozens of the most incredible looking and smelling food stands. Instead, we turned to the left, where there’s a bunch of cute cafe’s, artists studios and shops, and a market setting upscale clothes and jewelry. We started with breakfast at Saucisse, did some shopping at the mill, and then finally noticed the food market, where we got a few different sauces and things to bring back home.

Breakfast at Saucisse: breakfast bowl with poached eggs, lemony spinach, sauteed wild mushrooms, arugula, and super creamy feta, and smoked salmon avocado toast on macadamia nut bread

Breakfast at Saucisse: breakfast bowl with poached eggs, lemony spinach, sauteed wild mushrooms, arugula, and super creamy feta, and smoked salmon avocado toast on macadamia nut bread

Shopping with a view of Table Mountain

Shopping with a view of Table Mountain

From there we headed to District 6 museum. District 6 was a multi-cultural, working class neighborhood. During apartheid, one day the residents essentially woke up to find out that their neighborhood was designated whites only. The museum holds memories of the people who grew up there, and the traumas of being kicked out of your home and seeing it bulldozed. We took a guided tour with an ex-resident, which was a really powerful reminder that apartheid really wasn’t all that long ago - our guide Noor was in his 70s, and was an adult when his family was forced to leave District 6.

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After our tour we went out to Bo Kaap neighborhood, which is famous for it’s brightly colored houses. It was originally where slaves from Malaysia and Indonesia lived, and today is the cultural center of Cape Malay people. After walking around the neighborhood a bit, checking out the Bo Kaap museum, and posing for a few obligatory instagram snaps, we got lunch at Bo Kaap Kombuis, a restaurant serving traditional Cape Malay food with a gorgeous view of the city. I went with the vegetarian tasting plate, while Scott got one of the traditional tasting platters.

Obviously I had to pose in front of the Clemson houses

Obviously I had to pose in front of the Clemson houses

Plate of potato waras, samosas, and dalchies

Plate of potato waras, samosas, and dalchies

Butter chicken, denning vleis (a sweet and sour lamb stew), and bobotie pie (a savory pie of ground lamb with an eggy topping)

Butter chicken, denning vleis (a sweet and sour lamb stew), and bobotie pie (a savory pie of ground lamb with an eggy topping)

Butter bean curry, sugar bean curry, and dal with spinach and mushrooms

Butter bean curry, sugar bean curry, and dal with spinach and mushrooms

Can’t beat the view!

Can’t beat the view!

After lunch, we went downtown to Iziko Slave Lodge Museum, which was once a lodge where slaves were kept prior to being sold, and is now a human rights museum focused on slavery, and raising awareness of equality in the present day. It was incredibly powerful, and definitely a place you should go to for more context on Cape Town’s history. The museum is right outside Company’s Garden, a pretty park lined with museums and government buildings, so we wandered around afterward. We also dropped into the Natural History Museum since it was free that day, but it was kinda meh.

Company’s Garden

Company’s Garden

At that point, most of the museums were closed and we had a bit of free time before dinner reservations, so we went over to the V&A Waterfront for a Belgian beer at Den Anker. The waterfront is super touristy, but it had a nice view of Table Mountain and the beers were cold, so we were happy for the stop after a long day on our feet.

Beers at V&A Waterfront Cape Town
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For dinner, we went to The Short Market Club. It’s run by the same people as The Test Kitchen (one of the top 50 restaurants in the world) and The Pot Luck Club. If you want to go to any of them, make sure you get reservations a couple months in advance! We missed the deadline, but luckily were able to get seats near the bar with a last minute opening. And I do hiiiighly recommend sitting by the bar, because their chef is a total babe 😍 We ordered the tasting menu plus wine pairing. A word of caution, DON’T order a cocktail on top of that because a cocktail comes with the wine pairing, plus they do heavy pours, so you miiiiight end up with a bit of a hangover that’s not so fun when you have plans to go hiking the next morning. Not speaking from experience or anything. Anyway, everything we ate was presented so beautifully, and we loved how they incorporated South African flavors and ingredients. Shared some of our favorite courses below:

Oops time to double fist…

Oops time to double fist…

Springbok and walnut tartar with ponzu and parmesan. We were served this little appetizer alongside crispy fried Cape Malay octopus, and a little mini corn served padang-style

Springbok and walnut tartar with ponzu and parmesan. We were served this little appetizer alongside crispy fried Cape Malay octopus, and a little mini corn served padang-style

One of my favorite dishes! Raw slices of tuna topped with herbs and sambal, topped with hot coconut oil tableside

One of my favorite dishes! Raw slices of tuna topped with herbs and sambal, topped with hot coconut oil tableside

Pan fried fish with lemon tarragon veloute, fried pannise, and the most incredible smoked mussel aioli, served with bulgur

Pan fried fish with lemon tarragon veloute, fried pannise, and the most incredible smoked mussel aioli, served with bulgur

Like I said, babe.

Like I said, babe.

Assiette of lamb with brown butter asparagus topped with parmesan and bottarga, crispy cauliflower, lemon porcini marmelade and raisin puree

Assiette of lamb with brown butter asparagus topped with parmesan and bottarga, crispy cauliflower, lemon porcini marmelade and raisin puree

I love when a vegetarian course is just as tasty and exciting as meat focused courses! Burnt lemon celeriac with truffle, tahini sauce, mint and lentil dressing and hazelnut crumble

I love when a vegetarian course is just as tasty and exciting as meat focused courses! Burnt lemon celeriac with truffle, tahini sauce, mint and lentil dressing and hazelnut crumble

Day 3: Hiking & Fine Dining

Despite our wine pairing + cocktail induced hangover, we managed to wake up bright and early to go for a hike up Lion’s Head. But first, we needed a little food to settle our stomach, and Manna Epicure came to the rescue. It’s this beautiful, bright and airy cafe off Kloof St., and we sat outside to enjoy the breeze. We continued our theme of smoked salmon, eggs and bread.

Breakfast croissant with smoked salmon, hollandaise, and scrambled eggs

Breakfast croissant with smoked salmon, hollandaise, and scrambled eggs

Coconut bread with poached eggs, avocado and smoked salmon

Coconut bread with poached eggs, avocado and smoked salmon

The Airbnb we were staying at had access to the trail to Lion’s Head, so we just left from there. Lion’s Head is a 2,000 foot mountain that looms over Cape Town. The hike is pretty tough - let’s just say it involves climbing up multiple rock scrambles and a couple steep rockfaces that involves staples and ladders. On the way up we passed both a guy with a broken ankle being carried down, and a woman in a crossfit t-shirt crying. But don’t let me scare you off! We also saw kids doing the hike, and the view from the top was worth it. Probably our favorite thing we did in Cape Town.

Cape Town Lion's Head
Clifton from Lion’s Head trail

Clifton from Lion’s Head trail

Table Mountain from Lion’s Head

Table Mountain from Lion’s Head

We were ravenously hungry after our hike, but wanted to make it over to Cape Town before it got covered in clouds (the first rule of Cape Town is hit up Table Mountain on your first clear day, as it has it’s own microclimate). Since we were in South Africa, we decided to hit up one of the OG Nando’s - a South African fast food chain that reeeeally needs to make it’s way to the south. We got peri-peri chicken, saucy rice, casa pap (pap is a typical South African dish of cornmeal porridge, kinda like thicker grits), and peri-peri chicken livers.

Cape Town Nandos

From there, we went to Table Mountain to take the cable car to the top. If we had planned ahead and brought food with us, there’s a trail you can hike from Lion’s Head. But the cable car was an experience too! The views from the top were incredible, as was the flora, and you could easily spend a couple hours up there hiking from one side to the other. Unfortunately after we spent some time exploring the south facing side, the clouds started rolling in and you couldn’t really see anything.

Cape Town Table Mountain
Cape Town Table Mountain
Cape Town Table Mountain
And then the clouds came rolling in…

And then the clouds came rolling in…

Dinner that night was one of the most incredible meals I’ve ever had at La Colombe. It’s one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, and definitely worth a splurge if you’re there (although considering the price of fine dining other places, it’s pretty reasonable comparatively). The drive out to the restaurant in Costantia weaves through the mountains and takes you past mansions and wineries - I basically had my face pressed to the window for the entire drive. We had the best seat in the house with views of the garden and mountains. I’d like to say because we’re special but more likely because I hopped on those reservations hella early. They only do tasting menus, and you can choose either a gourmande or reduced menu, and there is a vegetarian option too. The food was just unbelievable, and everything was so beautifully presented. Below are some snaps I took, but they definitely don’t do the food justice. Like, even the passion fruit palate cleanser was served on a bed of dry ice and foliage.

Started with Cape Malay snacks that were served in this wooden box filled with smoke. “Tacos” with Cape Malay spiced chicken meatballs and prawn crisps with curry aioli

Started with Cape Malay snacks that were served in this wooden box filled with smoke. “Tacos” with Cape Malay spiced chicken meatballs and prawn crisps with curry aioli

La Colombe’s famous tuna dish. You’re served a can of tuna, which you open up to find slices of perfectly seared raw tuna topped with wasabi cream, sesame, and an umami broth. I’d say it’s like magic but my packaging science husband explained how they do it.

La Colombe’s famous tuna dish. You’re served a can of tuna, which you open up to find slices of perfectly seared raw tuna topped with wasabi cream, sesame, and an umami broth. I’d say it’s like magic but my packaging science husband explained how they do it.

Seared Korean duck breast topped with langoustine and fennel in an umami broth

Seared Korean duck breast topped with langoustine and fennel in an umami broth

Chipotle glazed sweetbreads with slices of seared beef sirlion, baby corn and a buttermilk cilantro sauce and sweetcorn puree

Chipotle glazed sweetbreads with slices of seared beef sirlion, baby corn and a buttermilk cilantro sauce and sweetcorn puree

I will only accept cocktails served with a side of dry ice and garden foliage

I will only accept cocktails served with a side of dry ice and garden foliage

Seared fish with smoked mussel and saffron tortellini, and leek and white asparagus cream

Seared fish with smoked mussel and saffron tortellini, and leek and white asparagus cream

Karoo lamb loin with braised lamb neck with harissa and chermoula

Karoo lamb loin with braised lamb neck with harissa and chermoula

Smoked Stanford gruyere (ranked the best cheese in the world) with rhubarb, pickled onoins and pecan ice cream. Sounds weird, but when you eat a bite of it all together it’s incredible!

Smoked Stanford gruyere (ranked the best cheese in the world) with rhubarb, pickled onoins and pecan ice cream. Sounds weird, but when you eat a bite of it all together it’s incredible!

Wrapped up our meal with mint chocolate cotton candy, lemon thyme marshmallow sticks and rose geranium macaroons

Wrapped up our meal with mint chocolate cotton candy, lemon thyme marshmallow sticks and rose geranium macaroons

Day 4: Wine Tasting in Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek

If we had the time, I wish we could have done one day of tasting in each of these towns, but alas, we do have these things called jobs that require our presence on occasion. We left the planning up to our driver, Zakkie, who took us on a tour of the wine towns for the day so we wouldn’t have to drive. If you go to Cape Town, PLEASE email me and I’ll be happy to give you Zakkie’s contact info! My aunt hired him when she visited Cape Town years ago, and has set dozens of people up with him since, and he is the BEST! It was like driving around with your own personal professor of South African history. If you want to get a better understanding and context of the country, please reach out to him!

We started with Fairview Winery in Paarl. It was started by Jewish Lithuanian immigrants escaping Soviet pogroms in the early 1900s, which makes me kinda mad at my great parents for choosing the lower east side over a South African wine valley. This was our favorite tasting of the day, both the wines and the experience. We did the master tasting, which comes with cheeses and olive oil that are also made on the farm. Also, they have a goat tower. Yup, that’s a thing.

Cape Town Fairview Winery

Our next stop was La Motte in Franschhoek, which was my least favorite of the wines (still pretty great), but beautiful grounds and worth a stop if you have time in town.

Cape Town La Motte Winery

Then we stopped for lunch at La Petite Ferme, a winery in Franschhoek, and did a little shopping in town. I thought Franschhoek was the prettiest of the towns, one long restaurant and shop lined street you can wander down, with pretty little old Dutch colonial buildings and mountain views.

Views from La Petite Ferme

Views from La Petite Ferme

Terrine of some kind of South African game animal, onion bhaji, whipped ricotta and chutney

Terrine of some kind of South African game animal, onion bhaji, whipped ricotta and chutney

Ostrich carpaccio with apples, beets and fennel

Ostrich carpaccio with apples, beets and fennel

Spinach and ricotta squid ink ravioli

Spinach and ricotta squid ink ravioli

Dutch colonial building in Franschhoek

Dutch colonial building in Franschhoek

Our last stop was Tokara in Stellenbosch. We absolutely loved the wine, and the winery was really beautiful, open and modern.

Cape Town Tokara

On the way back, Zakkie briefly took us through one of the townships that his wife runs a program in, helping to prepare students for university. We had really wanted to do a tour of one of the townships when we were in Cape Town, but alas, the time issue again. If you decide to go, this was a helpful article looking at whether a visit is cultural immersion or poverty tourism.

We love Zakkie!

We love Zakkie!

For dinner that night, we really wanted to try African food. Unfortunately what we found was that most of the places in the city were kinda touristy, or we needed reservations like a week ago. So if you’ve been would love any recommendations! We went to Mama Africa, which was fine, and had really good music, but my bobotie pie was bleh and Scott’s chicken in peanut sauce tasted like something I could make.

Day 5: Cape Peninsula

Our last day in Cape Town we drove out and explored the Cape Peninsula, which isn’t a far drive from town. We started with a super satisfying breakfast from Truth Coffee Cafe, and it was by far my favorite breakfast of the trip. The bar is so cool, everyone is dressed in steampunk and looks SO cool. It’s like a hipster heaven.

Scott’s smoked salmon with cucumber fennel salad, blini, pickled mustard seeds and caviar and dill cream cheese

Scott’s smoked salmon with cucumber fennel salad, blini, pickled mustard seeds and caviar and dill cream cheese

Vegan breakfast burrito with sweet potatoes, mango salsa, and black beans

Vegan breakfast burrito with sweet potatoes, mango salsa, and black beans

From there, we drove along the coast on Chapmans Peak Drive, which hugs the coast out towards Cape Peninsula. We stopped at Simon’s Town to see the African penguins at Boulders Beach. There were hundreds and hundreds of them! They were so cute and awkward and entertaining, we could have spent hours there watching them.

African Penguins Boulders Beach
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From there we drove through the national park on Cape Peninsula, out towards the Cape of Good Hope. The land there was gorgeous, although we did get stuck behind a couple baboons humping in the middle of the road. Get a room guys. We hiked up the rocks around the Cape of Good Hope (the southernmost point of the peninsula) and then went up to the old lighthouse.

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope

Cape of Good Hope
Cape Lighthouse

Cape Lighthouse

There’s a lot of cute beach towns that people will visit on their trip to the cape, but we really wanted to see Kirstenbosch Garden. You may be wondering what’s so great about a garden, but Kirstenbosch is a must see, and considered one of the best botanic gardens in the world. It has a spectacular setting in the slope of Table Rock, at a site that’s really rich with history. My cousin told me the guided tour was incredible, so get there early if you’d like to do that, but we actually enjoyed having most of the part to ourselves for the couple of hours before closing. South Africa has incredibly rich plant biodiversity - there’s an entire floral kingdom that’s only found in South Africa, so you get to see plants here that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world.

Kirstenbosch Garden Cape Town
Kirstenbosch Garden Cape Town
Kirstenbosch Garden Cape Town

A couple we met at the cape told us about sunset on Signal Hill, so we decided to check that out. There’s a big open spot on the side of Signal Hill overlooking the ocean, where you can bring blankets, wine and a picnic and watch the sun go down. Funnily enough the couple ended up going too, and about 20 minutes after getting there we realized we were sitting right next to each other! On the way back down, enjoy views of Cape Town glittering at night.

Lion’s Head

Lion’s Head

Robben Island

Robben Island

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For dinner that night, we were craving more Cape Malay, so we went to Bo Kaap’s other famous restaurant, Biesmiellah. It’s super casual, and the food was incredible. We started with a samosa, then split prawn curry and tomato bredie, with lots of roti for sopping up the delicious sauce. For dessert we had a koeksister, which is a kind of fried spiced donut.

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If we had longer in Cape Town, some of the other things I wanted to do were to go to the Groot Costantia winery and museum, hang at the beach at Muizenberg, visit Robben Island (a former prison where Mandela was held during apartheid), and do a food tour. Cape Town is just such an incredible place - as I’m writing this I’m getting distracted thinking about going back there one day. If you’re planning a trip, please feel free to leave any questions in the comments!


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