10 Cape Town Day Trips
Known as the Mother City, with towering mountains, sparkling oceans, fragrant fynbos and fine architecture, Cape Town offers visitors many wonderful sightseeing options – whether local historical tours, scenic drives or day trips out to the pretty Wineland towns.
We’ve compiled an overview of excursions in and around the city that are sure to thrill, entertain and educate even the most seasoned travellers. Pick from a range of half and full day tours to fit with your time in Cape Town.
1. Hiking and/or Table Mountain Cable Car – Half Day
Towering 1,086 metres over Cape Town, and around 500 million years in the making, Table Mountain is a playground for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. There are around 60 hiking routes up the mountain, some more strenuous than others so it’s important to choose the route best suited to your fitness levels.
The most direct route, and considered the easiest, is via the Platteklip Gorge. This takes around two and a half hours and follows a well-constructed trail. Another popular route is the Skeleton Gorge which follows a lush ravine before emerging onto shrub covered slopes en-route to the top. All routes offer great views; hike up the east side and you’ll get jungle and city views, routes up the front offer city views while routes up the 12 Apostles offer glorious sea views. If you don’t fancy walking then the cable car will whisk you up the mountain in five minutes. Note the cable car is closed late July- early August.
2. Drive to the Cape Peninsular and Boulders Beach – Day Trip
Embark on a full day tour of the Cape Peninsula. Take in the beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay, before crossing over to Hout Bay, where you can join an optional boat cruise to Seal Island. From here, drive on to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve via Chapman’s Peak, one of the world’s most breath taking coastal drives (see below). Once there, you can either walk up the steps to get to the old lighthouse or take the funicular railway. The new lighthouse is part of an extended walk around Cape Point itself. At the tip of the Peninsula you can see the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet and enjoy spectacular views over False Bay.
After lunch and a quick look around Simonstown, continue on to Boulders Beach where you can visit the African Penguin breeding colony.
3. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens Tree Top Adventure – Half Day
On the way out to the Cape Peninsula, or as a separate visit, you can stop at the world renowned Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. Part of a 528 hectare estate bordering the Table Mountain National Park, the magnificent Kirstenbosch Gardens are set in around 36 hectares and showcase the country’s indigenous flora. Take a walk along the spectacular Tree Canopy Walkway, informally called ‘The Boomslang ‘ (meaning tree snake) which winds and dips its way through and over the trees of the Arboretum. With tree top views of Table Mountain and out over the city it’s a great way to start the day. Be sure to visit the Fragrance Garden section where visitors are encouraged to touch and smell the plants. There are free daily tours on a first come first served basis from the visitor centre as well as a payable self-guiding audio system.
4. Hermanus and Whale Watching (seasonal) – Day Trip
From July through November, Africa’s southern seas host migrating whales. Southern rights come from Antarctic feeding grounds where they’ve been krill-loading in preparation for mating and birthing; and humpbacks, also migrating from the Southern oceans, come to snack on the sardine shoals while en-route to the tropics.
The small town of Hermanus, the self-proclaimed whale-watching capital of the world, undeniably holds a few trump cards. Less than two hours’ drive from Cape Town on the north western side of Walker Bay, Hermanus’ seven-mile long coastal walkway enjoys incredible sightings. It’s not unusual to see whales very close to the shore, sometimes breaching just metres away as the water. Tracing a cliff edge that plunges into waters sufficiently deep for the whales to frolic, this stunning walkway is pretty much the best trail for land-based whale watching.
5. Winelands for the grape harvest (seasonal ) – Day Trip
This is an ideal day trip for wine lovers as well as anyone interested in Constantia Valley’s history as the birthplace of South Africa’s wine farming industry. As you drive through this historic valley, it becomes apparent why the first Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel, selected it as the perfect spot for his farm, Constantia. Today, visitors to Groot Constantia can tour the wine-making facilities as well as the historic manor house (now a part of the Iziko South African Museum), the beautiful grounds, and enjoy a meal at one of the estate’s on-site restaurants. Groot Constantia is part of the scenic Constantia wine route which is an easy day trip offering wine tasting and great restaurants for lunches and tea. If you visit in February to March you can be there during the wine harvest and enjoy one of the wine festivals in the region.
6. Hike up Lion’s Head – Half Day
Although only two-thirds the height of Table Mountain, this free-standing peak commands sensational views over Cape Town, Table Mountain, the Atlantic and Camps Bay. Available as a sunrise or sunset hike the walk is around one to two hours up and back. A little steep at times there’s nothing too challenging here and it’s a good alternative if Table Mountain is covered in cloud.
7. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and Two Oceans Aquarium – Half Day walking tour
South Africa’s most visited destination, the V&A Waterfront, is situated at the heart of Cape Town’s working harbour. Home to 22 landmarks, its rich and varied history can be traced back to 1654, when Jan van Riebeeck built the first jetty as part of his mission to establish a refreshment station for the Dutch East India Company. It is a lively district packed with restaurants, shops and bars where original buildings stand side by side with the new.
Two Oceans Aquarium is on the waterfront and well worth a visit, particularly if you are travelling with children. Huge glass panels allow up close views of hundreds of marine animals, from sharks to turtles and lots else besides. Meet penguins or enjoy the touch pool where kids can feel the furry, spiky, slimy creatures and plants of the oceans.
8. Scenic drive around Cape Town – Chapman’s Peak Drive – Half Day
Chapman’s Peak Drive is a stunning 9km route with incredible views that winds its way between Noordhoek and Hout Bay on the Atlantic Coast on the south-western tip of South Africa. Hacked out of the face of the mountain between 1915 and 1922, the road was at the time regarded as a major feat of engineering. Chapman’s Peak Drive toll road is one of the most spectacular marine drives in the world, affectionately known as ‘Chappies’. From stunning vantage points, some of which are up to 593m above sea level, it is not uncommon to see whales and dolphins frolicking in the ocean below, and baboon troops curiously observing passing tourists. This is a perfect place from which to take stunning photographs of the Cape.
9. Robben Island – Half Day
The tour starts with a 30 minute ferry trip from the V&A Waterfront across the bay to Robben Island. After disembarking at Murray’s Bay Harbour buses transport you to all the historical sites around the Island. From the 17th to the 20th centuries, Robben Island served as a place of banishment, isolation and imprisonment. Today it is a World Heritage Site and museum, a poignant reminder to the newly democratic South Africa and of the price paid for freedom. Interestingly the tour guides inside the prison are former political prisoners and very knowledgeable about the island’s history. The tour route includes the leprosy graveyard, the lime quarry, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the bluestone quarry, the army and navy bunkers and the Maximum Security Prison where thousands of South Africa’s freedom fighters were incarcerated for years. The tour culminates with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell.
10.Camps Bay – Day Trip
Camps Bay is a trendy suburb, close to the centre of Cape Town. Set against the impressive backdrop of the 12 Apostles mountain range, Camps Bay beach is one of Cape Town’s largest and most beautiful. Restaurants and bars line the palm-tree promenade, behind which are the luxury houses of cities wealthiest residents. Due to its protected position, the sea is relatively calm and good for swimming – although the water is pretty cold. There’s a tidal pool at the southern end while the northern part is great for surfers.
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We would be delighted to help you plan a holiday, or answer any questions if you’re at an earlier stage. Our team of experts have travelled widely throughout Africa. They can offer expert advice on every type of safari from family and beach holidays to riding and primate safaris. If you would like to talk to someone who has been there and done it, please just send us an email or give us a call.