24 hours in Cape Town, South Africa is just enough of a teaser that you’ll want to return and explore it more fully. The city is chock-full of interesting sights, incredible restaurants, and a vibrant, cosmopolitan feel.
First off, Cape Town reminded me of – get ready for it – Nice, France. It has something to do with the way the city is built around the crescent shaped curve of Table Bay, with houses rising up a hill on one side. Even geologically, it really reminded me of being in Nice. I wasn’t expecting that familiarity at all.
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I also wasn’t expecting modern shopping malls and high-end gourmet restaurants. But Cape Town has it all.
But in order to fit a lot into a short 24 hour visit, you need to have a plan. So here are some of the highlights to see if you only have 24 hours in Cape Town.
Take a Bus Tour
A great way to get a feel for Cape Town in a short amount of time is by taking a bus tour. The Hop-On Hop-Off Bus will hit the major sights, such as St. George’s Cathedral, The South African Museum, Kirstenbosch Gardens, and more.
This City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off Bus was one of the better bus tours we’ve experienced. It took us through the city’s business center, past the ritzier, gated neighborhoods, and even up to the next major attraction:
You can take the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus (take the Red City Tour) to Table Mountain, or you can arrive by public transit bus, car, taxi or bicycle. The mountain overlooks downtown Cape Town, so it’s very accessible if you’re staying in the city.
You can reach the summit of Table Mountain one of two ways – on foot or by cable car. We wanted to hike up to the summit, but unfortunately it was too windy, and the hiking trail was closed for safety reasons. Still, the view just from the road was pretty spectacular:
Two Oceans Aquarium
Two Oceans Aquarium is a great stop for kids and adults alike. You’ll find it on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront – in fact the Hop-On Hop-Off bus stops right in front of the entrance!
The aquarium holds over 300 different species of mammals, fish and crustaceans. The collection includes sea turtles, sharks, stingrays, the obligatory penguins, and some pretty impressively-sized giant crabs.
Once you’re done with a visit to the aquarium, take a stroll along the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. This area is chock-full of shops, nightclubs and restaurants. The taller building to the right in the above photo is the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre.
You can also book a boat tour along the waterfront, including trips to Robben Island. Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is best known for being the Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years.
For dinner, I would recommend going to Quay Four. It’s one of the oldest restaurants on the waterfront and has a wonderful terrace. As one might expect from a waterfront restaurant, the menu covers a wide variety of fresh seafood.
But they also serve more exotic fare. Their menu items include ostrich, springbok, and other locally sourced meats.
Mark decided he was feeling adventurous and ordered their Game Platter, a dish featuring a trio of wild game. This included kudu, springbok and gemsbok. Each chunk of meat came with its own identifying flag.
For more information on what to see and do in Cape Town, check out their Tourist Information website.
Suggested Day Trips from Cape Town:
If you happen to have a few extra days in Cape Town, you should have time to squeeze in a day trip or two. Here are my top recommendations:
Explore the wineries
South Africa is famous for wonderful wines. Johan Anthoniszoon “Jan” van Riebeeck, a Dutch navigator from Schiedam, was the first person to plant grapes in the region. He produced the first South African bottles of wine in Cape Town back in 1659. The wine was intended for sailors travelling the spice route between India and the East to prevent scurvy.
We went to Morgenhof Estate in Stellenbosch for a lovely wine tasting. But there are numerous other wine regions nearby as well!
Distance from Cape Town:
Constantia Wine Route – 15 minutes
Durbanville Wine Route – 20 minutesMornin
Paarl Wine Route – 40 minutes
Stellenbosch Wine Route – 45 minutes
Elgin Wine Route – 1 hour
Franschhoek Wine Route – 1 hour (For something different, try the Franschhoek Wine Tram hop-on hop-off tour!)
Wellington Wine Route – 1 hour
Swartland Wine Route – 1 hour
Did you know that there are penguins in South Africa? Boulders Beach, located in False Bay at Table Mountain National Park offers something that most beaches don’t have – a colony of African Penguins. Two breeding pairs of African Penguins took up residence here in 1982. The population now sits at around 3,000 penguins.
The penguins residing here are the only species of penguin found breeding on the African Coast, hence their name: the African Penguin. Unfortunately, they are listed as endangered. It’s estimated that there are approximately 140,000 in the world, with a drop of about 2% each year. The biggest threats to their survival are habitat loss, oil pollution in the water, and human interference.
This is why access to Boulders Beach is controlled by the SANparks authority, and park rangers are around to keep an eye on these adorable little critters.
African penguins are very social birds and tend to mate for life. Eggs are incubated by both parents, and while the female often lays two eggs, normally only one will hatch. This is what the younger penguins look like (not a baby, more of a juvenile):
A unique feature of the African penguin are the pink glands above their eyes. These glands help them to stay cool in hotter temperatures. The warmer the penguin gets, the more blood that flows to these glands to be cooled by the surrounding air.
You can reach Boulders Beach by car, bus or train. Note that the train only goes as far as nearby Simon’s Town. From there you either will need to take a taxi the remainder of the way or walk, which takes approximately 30 minutes.
Boulders Beach is on the way to Cape Point. Also note that the beach charges a conservation fee.
Distance from Cape Town: 45 minutes
Cape Point is one of the world’s most stunning promontories. The jagged cliffs and rough water create quite a dramatic backdrop for hiking and exploring the area. It’s also great for bird watching and spotting other local wildlife, such as dassies, otters and deer.
You can read more about Cape Point here: What to See and Do at the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa
Distance from Cape Town: 1 hour
Where to Stay
Need a place to stay for your 24 hours in Cape Town? Start your search here: