Travel guide to Cape Town

Nicknamed the Mother City of South Africa, Cape Town is a beautiful blend of breathtaking coastlines, world-class winelands, a mountain that dominates the skyline, and a bustling city offering modern living.

The city is a Mecca for South African tourism, where international and local tourists descend on the city and its beaches, especially during the hot summer months and over the New Year period.

Brimming with diverse cultures and natural beauty, Cape Town is a gem; it was voted the best city in the world for a sixth consecutive year in 2018 by the British publication, The Telegraph.

Pack your bags, book your flight to Cape Town and get out your sunglasses; we're heading to the coast!

Here are a few must-know facts about Cape Town:
Currency: South African rand (ZAR)
Official language: Among South Africa's 11 official languages, the most spoken in Cape Town are English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa.

Cape Town railway station in 1896.

A historical point of view

The earliest signs of inhabitants in the region of Cape Town are located at the Peers Cave in Fish Hoek, and date back to between 15,000 and 12,000 years ago. Unfortunately, little is known about this time or the inhabitants.

The first time the Cape was documented in writing was by Europeans in 1488 when Bartolomeu Dias, a Portuguese explorer, reached the area and named it the Cape of Storms. John II of Portugal later renamed it to the Cape of Good Hope, as he saw its potential to open a sea route between the East and India.

European ships, mainly from Spain, France, and Portugal, docked at what is now known as Table View and traded with the Khoikhoi.

The first European settlers were employed by the Dutch East India Company to set up a trading post in the region in 1652. Led by Jan van Riebeeck, these settlers established a station which today is known as the Castle of Good Hope.

Landmarks in Cape Town

Cape Town has several noteworthy landmarks, but the first stop for many visitors is Table Mountain. Viewed as the defining landmark in the region, Table Mountain stands as tall as the clouds and overlooks the entire region around Cape Town. Take a cable car to the top or hike there; either way, you’ll be greeted by a majestic view of the sea and the city if the weather is clear.

Lion’s Head, near Table Mountain, is a popular hiking destination and Insta-worthy hotspot, also offering a splendid view of the surrounding area. 

Boulders Beach in False Bay is famous for its penguins. Although these birds are protected by barriers, visitors are allowed to venture down a walkway and watch these creatures up-close.

Robben Island is located 8km off the mainland and is reachable by ferry. It is a historical and national landmark because it was the prison where former president and freedom fighter, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela served for 27 years alongside fellow freedom fighters. Visit the island and take a tour through his prison cell to discover the remarkable story of a true hero.

Groot Constantia is a wonderful landmark of Cape Dutch architecture. Set on a beautiful estate, the manor is open to tour groups who can walk the grounds and enjoy the estate’s award-winning wines.

The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a must-see for any nature lover as it’s considered to be among the most beautiful gardens in the world. Within, a tree canopy bridge offers visitors a chance to view the grounds the way birds do – from high up above. 

Table Mountain and palm trees, Cape Town
The Blue Peter Hotel in Cape Town.

Where to stay in Cape Town

The cost of accommodation in Cape Town depends largely on where you choose to stay. Prices vary widely from area to area, with suburbs such as Camps Bay and Fresnaye being among the most expensive to stay in. Search for accommodation and compare for the best prices and deals online.

For the adventurous

Cape Town offers a range of thrilling adventures, from great white shark cage diving to paragliding.

Licensed scuba divers will find Cape Town to be a paradise of impressive reefs with unparalleled marine life. If you have an underwater camera, you won't get better use out of it than here.

Cape Town is also known for its strong winds, which is great if you love sailing or paragliding. Surfing is also a big part of the Capetonian lifestyle and you can catch a wave at many of the well-kept beaches.

Venture out from the city and you'll find expansive winelands and farms offering world-class food and drink. You'll also get the chance to see the country's Big Five at one of the many game reserves and national parks in the area, like the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve.

Kiteboarding in Cape Town.
Muizenberg in Cape Town.

Weather in Cape Town

Cape Town is famous for its sunny days and windy afternoons. On average, the hottest month of the year is February, the coldest is July, and the windiest is typically January.

Cape Town recently went through a devastating drought that saw the city's water reserves dipping to as low as 19.8% in 2017. Although the city has had recent rainfall and water reserves are now steadily rising, the city isn't yet out of danger and residents continue to consume water wisely. In fact, it's becoming a cultural norm there, with businesses doing their part as well; many hotels have removed the plugs from their rooms' baths to force guests to shower instead.

Food in Cape Town

Foodies can indulge in varied cuisines at world-class restaurants, street-side cafés, and food markets.

Because fishing is a big source of income for many in the region, local dishes often contain seafood. Fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat are in abundance, with many of the country's farms located in the region. 

If you're in a hurry and want to grab a quick bite, you'll easily find the usual fast-food fare such as KFC, McDonalds, and Nando's.

Sea food platter
Victoria and Alfred Waterfront with Table Mountain in the background

Crime and safety

Safety levels in Cape Town depend on the district. If you apply a high degree of alertness and avoid the troubled districts, your vacation to Cape Town might only be spoiled by petty crime.

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Travelling to and within Cape Town

Cape Town hosts thousands of South Africans from other provinces every year, especially during the festive period, as many citizens drive or fly to the coast to spend their holidays basking in the sun.

Driving in Cape Town

Cape Town has numerous vehicle rental agencies if you want to rent a car there, most of which can be found close to the airport and the city centre.

Driving in Cape Town can be a stressful experience, considering it was voted by Discovery Vitality members in their recent report as the city with the worst drivers in South Africa and the most traffic! Luckily, Uber and taxi services are available, as well as trains, trams and busses.

Cruise ship

The Port of Cape Town hosts many international cruise liners and offers excellent boat tours and yacht adventures near the Waterfront.

Flying to Cape Town

Most visitors will enter the city via Cape Town International Airport, although smaller airports are located in the surrounding regions. Book a cheap flight to Cape Town with any of the country's local airlines.

Front side view of the South African Airways plane
Arial view of Robben Island in Cape Town.

Tips for visiting Cape Town

Stay hydrated

Cape Town is among the hottest places in the country, so stay hydrated if you're going to be outside for more than a few hours


English, Afrikaans and Xhosa are the most spoken languages in the region, although South Africa has11 official languages and all of them are spoken here.

Water conservation

Water conservation is critical in the region. Ensure you learn more about how to conserve water during your stay to help the area maintain its minimal usage.

Water safety

South Africa has some of the cleanest drinking water in the world. Tap water is safe to drink within the city.

Information provided for informational purposes. Prices quoted correct as at time of publishing this article

Sources: Wikipedia, LonelyPlanet, The South African, Time and Date, Business Tech, Discovery Drivers