So, you only have a couple of days to spend in Cape Town? Well, I hope that was not planned intentionally because this fabulous city deserves at least a week of your time. If you can still change your mind about how many days to stay in Cape Town, try with 5 for a start. But, if you are stuck with just a few days because you spent too much on a safari in Kruger park; or if you are visiting Cape Town on business and want to make the most of it, you came to the right place. In this post I will share 5 things to do in Cape Town (almost) for free, and add some tips how to “upgrade” your visit without spending too much money along the way.
Before we start with things to see you might want to read basic information about Cape Town in this post. All of the suggested Cape Town sights or activities are well worth the visit and will most likely keep you busy for a couple of hours. So, even if it might seem that you’ll spend too much time for one of them, it will be worth it. After over 20 years of traveling experience, I have (slowly but surely) learned that it is better to shorten your bucket list of activities and enjoy them to the fullest, than run around like mad to see them all.
1. Hike the Lion’s Head mountain
With its peak at 669 meters above sea level one could hardly call Lion’s Head a mountain. But the hike up to the summit is challenging enough to take it with respect. Nestled between Table Mountain and Signal Hill, Lion’s Head offers spectacular 360-degree aerial view of Cape Town and its surroundings. Hiking Lion’s Head is a must for all nature lovers and it offers a good alternative if you don’t have the time (or if the weather doesn’t permit) to hike the famous Table Mountain. The first part of Lion’s Head trail is rather easy and if you are not very fit, you can do it half way only – the awesome views start quite soon and even if you stop and turn at any time, you won’t regret doing it. The last third of the hike involves some climbing so make sure to wear some decent shoes (“Nike” should be fine, if you are used to hiking). Try to get up as early in the morning or as late in the afternoon as possible – summers can be quite hot, and you’ll catch better light for photos.
- Duration: 70-90 minutes to reach the summit (give or take; we did it in 50) and the rest is up to you.
- Cost: There is no entrance fee to Lion’s Head. Parking is subject to availability and is free of charge.
- Combine this activity with: If you rented a car, drive a bit further to Signal Hill (literally around the corner). From there you’ll see the Olympic stadium, which is really a nice sight. Then go to your room, take a shower and spend the rest of the day in Camps Bay or in V&A Waterfront.
2. Swim with penguins at Boulders Beach
Well, in theory you CAN swim with African penguins but in reality, the water is a little bit too cold for most of the people. Nevertheless, a trip to Boulders beach is an absolute must for everyone visiting Cape Town. It is not every day you meet the penguins in their natural habitat! Boulders Beach is a National Park, so you will need to pay an entrance fee. Sure, there are signs on the road that say “Penguins crossing”, but don’t get too excited – they don’t just wander around. As the matter of fact, they are more or less congested in two places, one in each entrance. First one is the “open beach” entrance side where you can literally swim with them. The first part of this beach is open for swimming, and penguins occasionally come here too. After climbing some big rocks (boulders) you will get to the second part of the beach where you will be rewarded with really beautiful scenery. Take your time and observe the penguins going in and out of the water. They are super cute! If you don’t want to climb the rocks, just go to the other entrance (where most people go), walk along the wooden pathway and observe them from the deck. Still a sight to remember.
- Duration: 40 – 50 minutes to reach Boulders Beach from Cape Town by car. If you visit Cape Town in Summer you might want to spend the whole day there and catch some vitamin D.
- Cost: You’ll pay around 10 USD per adult to enter the Boulder’s Beach National park. Hint: if you want to save money and still see the penguins, there is another beach just a mile before Boulders. You’ll see a sign “Penguin watching” on the road. This is a public beach, quite crowded and not really a sight for sore eyes. But the penguins ARE there.
- Combine this activity with: Stop in lively Simon’s Town for lunch or drinks. Since your feet are already sandy, turn back to the West side of Cape peninsula towards Long Beach near Kommetjie. Take a looooong walk on the beach and just observe people playing with their dogs. I am used to beautiful beaches but the crystal-clear water here really knocked me down. Pity one can’t swim in it!
3. Visit Cape Point (and Cape of Good Hope) National park
Cape Point National park entrance fee is considered amongst the highest in Cape Town but once you see its glory and realize what it takes to maintain the area, you’ll get over it in a second. And yes, it is worth the visit. First, you’ll meet a lot of baboons (which are supposed to be dangerous so you shouldn’t feed or reach for them). Second, you’ll reach Africa’s most South-Western point (*rolls eyes*). Third and most important, you’ll see some fantastic cliffs and wild beaches. If you’re up to stretching your legs, there are quite a few hiking trails in the park.
- Duration: 1 hour to reach Cape Point National park entrance gate by car from Cape Town. Nature lovers will easily spend the whole day there.
- Cost: around 20 USD per person; there is also a restaurant (with a view), so if you are in the mood for some fancy dining, prepare to open your wallet a little bit more.
- Combine this activity with: If you are in a hurry, you can combine this one with Boulders (it is practically on the way). You can do both in one day and still enjoy yourself. Days in Cape Town are long, especially in Summer.
4. Eat, drink and shop in V&A Waterfront
You don’t leave Cape Town without seeing its oldest harbor, the so-called Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Words can hardly describe the vibrant pulse of this huge and carefully planned area, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from one and Table Mountain from the other side. There are million things to do in V&A Waterfront, such as museums, Two Oceans Aquarium, boat trips to Robben island or harbor cruises, scenic helicopter rides, hop on City Sightseeing bus… or, you can try the local food in the V&A food market, shop local products and souvenirs in V&A Watershed… oh and don’t forget to breathe and enjoy the street music. This place is almost out of this world, well done, Cape Town!
- Duration: Urban enthusiasts will easily spend a whole day there; others combine it with Lion’s Head hike or take the cable car to Table Mountain.
- Cost: Free parking is available on the streets (might take some walking), or in several covered parking garages (1 hour costs less than 1 USD!). City Sightseeing Bus from 15 USD (well worth it!); Helicopter ride from 100 USD, 2 Oceans Aquarium 12 USD…
5. Show your beach body and watch the sunset in Camp’s Bay
Have you been to Miami Beach? Well, Camp’s Bay is similar but better. Vibrant panoramic coastal road with hundreds of more or less glamorous hotels, bars and restaurants, nestled between vast white sandy beach and fantastic 12 Apostles Mountain Range. I won’t tell you what to do in a place like this 😉 If this is your cup of tea, go ahead and knock yourself out. Just make sure you stick around till sunset because sundowners at Camps Bay are gorgeous. Hint for cappuccino lovers: Café Caprice is a must.
- Duration: Like I said, do your own math. Just keep in mind that the ocean is too cold to swim.
- Cost: Street parking is usually free. Cappuccino in Café Caprice: less than 3 USD. The food is a bit more expensive than in the rest of Cape Town but still very reasonably priced.
- Combine this activity with: Table Mountain (cable car or hiking trail) and Lion’s Head are very close; you can also make a scenic drive along the coast, all the way to Chapman’s Peak scenic drive. I should have mentioned this one before, but honestly it doesn’t take much planning and time. Just follow the map and drive… But be sure to do it! Either on your way to the south, or as a part of visiting Hout Bay, it is Cape Town’s classics.
Like I said, 2 days in Cape Town are not nearly enough to enjoy the city. Especially because I didn’t even mention some great spots and sights, such as Hout Bay (gorgeous bay with “swimmable” beach and nice beach restaurants), Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden (a must for plant enthusiasts), wine tasting in one of the farms or with one of the organized tours… you can check more photos in my Facebook album. Oh, Cape Town you are so damn gorgeous, I’ll definitely come back. Rather sooner than later!
Have you been to this gorgeous city? What were your favorite things to do in Cape Town? Or what would you like to see? Scroll down for comments 😉