Bo-Kaap Cape Town Sarah Latham Copyright

Looking to visit Cape Town and wanting to tick off all the major sights? Cape Town is found on the South-Western side of South Africa and is an absolutely stunning city, set with gorgeous natural backdrops and a complicated and deeply depressing history. While its reputation is anything but consistent, with reports of major crime while also being a tourist hot spot, after visiting Cape Town in South Africa, I was instantly enamoured by the city. Read on to discover the best things to do in Cape Town for first-timers.

Isn’t Cape Town dangerous?

Yes… and no. When I was researching my South Africa trip the one thing that kept popping up was: safety. And this was the same for Cape Town. With everyone happy to give their opinion, it was hard to know, who to believe, who was exaggerating, who was playing it down and basically the answer to: will I be safe? After visiting I found that Cape Town felt very safe and the only feeling of unease I got was from everyone (including locals) telling me to be careful of crime and I took that as: it must happen here a lot even though it doesn’t feel like it. As a result, we kept our valuables hidden (for the most part, we still felt fine to use our cameras in most places etc.), we took Ubers everywhere (and they are cheap in Cape Town – our most expensive one was about $8AUD, with most being about $3-4AUD a journey – the general safety advice around Cape Town was ‘don’t walk, just get an Uber’) and kept a sense of awareness around ourselves.

To be really honest, a lot of the safety advice provided felt a lot like what women just do on a day-to-day basis in any country due to threat of violence wherever we are, so… I think maybe that’s why I didn’t feel like it was ‘more unsafe’ than elsewhere I’d been. However, I just wanted to take all safety advice from locals seriously to avoid any upset in our trip.

Although, to be very clear, you could do all the safety precautions and still be the victim of crime anywhere in the world. I’m not here to put responsibility on potential victims to ensure they’re not targeted by criminals and I do think everyone needs to be very careful not to do that.

Things to do in Cape Town for first-timers

Cape Town is simply buzzing with things to do and see, making it far more than a quick day trip city. If you can visit for longer you should and see how many of the below things to do in Cape Town you can tick off while you’re here.

1. Wine, dine and enjoy the V&A Waterfront

One of the most well-known areas of Cape Town is the V&A Waterfront, which is a must for first-timers in Cape Town. As the name suggests, V&A Waterfront is situated on the water and is full of restaurants, bars, tourist offices, shops, seals (yes! – more on this later!) and street performers. V&A Waterfront is arguably one of the safest areas in Cape Town, with a constant security and police presence and a general feeling of ease. We stayed in the V&A Waterfront during our time in Cape Town so spent a lot of time eating and walking through this area.

2. Spin around the colourful houses in Bo-Kaap

One of the most popular (and Instagrammable) places in Cape Town is Bo-Kaap. If you’ve researched your first-timers trip to Cape Town, you’ll have definitely come across these beautifully vibrant and bright colourful buildings. Bo-Kaap is situated quite close to V&A Waterfront and Cape Town CBD (and normally I would’ve walked here, but due to safety precautions we took an Uber)

3. Learn at the Bo-Kaap Museum

There’s far more to Bo-Kaap than colourful houses and Instagrammable moments. Bo-Kaap, like a lot of Cape Town, is steeped in (often unpleasant and saddening) history. When visiting the area, make sure you add the Bo-Kaap Museum. Here you will learn about the area’s history and how it became home to freed slaves and Muslims. Prices are subject to change of course, but when I visited it was approximately £2.50 or $5AUD.

4. Camps Bay Beach for sunset

This city is known for its beauty and all Cape Town first timers must put Camps Bay Beach onto their Cape Town list. Found slightly away from V&A Waterfront and Cape Town CBD (although, as mentioned above, Ubers are very affordable – it was about £2 or $4AUD to reach here), Camps Bay Beach is full of pristine white sand, incredible mountain views and a buzzing waterfront with restaurants, cafes and bars. There were people trying to sell you tourist items on the beach, but this area felt very safe and is a really good place for a Cape Town first timers to enjoy a sunset.

Camps Bay Cape Town Sarah Latham Copyright

5. Eat and drink in Cape Town

As mentioned above, Cape Town is full of delicious places to eat and drink. Coming from London and Australia, we were also very impressed by the prices (especially in comparison to London!). Even in the tourist places like V&A Waterfront and Camps Bay Beach, we could eat out for lunch for about $7-10AUD, eat out for dinner for less than $15AUD and cocktails were often about $8AUD. Tipping is expected in South Africa, and the prices I’ve put above also included a 10% tip we added onto the bill.

One of the easiest places we kept going back to was Cooked in the V&A Watershed on the V&A Waterfront. The food was good, the serving size was good, the prices were good, the service was good – what’s not to like!

V&A Waterfront Cape Town Sarah Latham Copyright
Cooked at V&A Watershed

6. Hike Lion’s Head – A must for Cape Town first timers

I think one of the reasons I loved Cape Town was due to how outdoorsy and fresh the city felt. I simply loved the morning we woke up, got an Uber to Lion’s Head and went for an epic hike. I’m a pretty experienced hiker and this hike was a bit of a challenge as there was a little bit more climbing that I was used to but the views were incredible. We went on a clear Saturday morning and the hike was very, very busy but there was still enough room for people to enjoy it and it added to the feeling of safety. If you like hiking and are comfortable with what it entails, Lion’s Head hike is a perfect addition to your Cape Town first timers itinerary.

Lion's Head Cape Town Sarah Latham Copyright

7. Catch the cable car up Table Mountain, but be cautious of the weather

Table Mountain is one of the most famous sights in Cape Town and is a must do for all Cape Town first timers. We booked tickets online, concerned it would sell out, and mistakenly thought they wouldn’t be refundable in bad weather. We headed up thinking that the little bit of cloud we could see up there would leave, but we were unfortunately very wrong. If it’s bad or cloudy weather, save yourself the trip and don’t go – for us it was freezing at the top, no view and we just wanted to go back down (took over 30 minutes waiting in line to go back down because everyone had the same idea). However, if you get a clear day, it would provide spectacular views over Cape Town and the region. Avid hikers can also try out a few of the hikes in this area as well.

8. Go on a tour of Robben Island

Another popular Cape Town experience for first timers is to go to Robben Island. We were so eager to go, we moved around other parts of our trip to fit it in on their last remaining slot on our last morning – and, unfortunately, bad weather struck and it was cancelled on us. To try and prevent this happening to you on your first trip to Cape Town, I’d recommend booking early (it does sell out!) in your trip so that if it does happen you’re more likely to have other options to reschedule to rather than miss out. Also note, like most attractions in South Africa, there is a prominant price difference between South Africans and international guests (with international guests paying a higher rate) – something to keep an eye out for when booking tickets and looking at prices.

9. ‘Awww’ at Boulders Beach

Helloooooo cute little penguins. If you’ve done some research into your Cape Town first timers trip, you’ll likely to have come across photos of the cute little penguins at Boulders Beach. Found just outside of Cape Town, you’ll need transportation to visit the area, where you’ll be greeted by a number of gorgeous little penguins. Where we visited there was a boardwalk, preventing humans from interacting (annoying) the penguins and ensuring the beach is theirs to enjoy. However, from looking at Instagram there seems to be a few places nearby where you can access the beach. We stuck to the boardwalk section and still loved watching the little guys do their thing. Boulders Beach is a must on a Cape Town first timers’ trip.

Boulders Beach Cape Town Sarah Latham Copyright

10. Explore the Cape of Good Hope

The Cape of Good Hope is a popular spot for first timers to Cape Town, with gorgeous scenery, interesting history, animal spotting and the most South Western point of the Africa mainland. We combined our trip to Boulders Beach with the Cape of Good Hope by choosing a day tour from City Sightseeing South Africa. Our guide Charles was hilarious, and taught us a lot about the area that we wouldn’t have learnt if we had visited ourselves. In addition to the penguins, we saw baboons and ostriches, and could explore the beautiful area, famed for being the home of the Flying Dutchman shipwreck.

Cape of Good Hope Cape Town Sarah Latham Copyright

11. See the Berlin Wall – yes, really

When Nelson Mandela visited Berlin in the 90s, he was gifted with a piece of the Berlin Wall. Seen as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, you can find this section of the Berlin Wall in Cape Town (see here for more information and here for the Google Maps location).

Berlin Wall Cape Town Sarah Latham Copyright

12. Admire the seals

You don’t have to venture far to find seals in Cape Town. In fact, if you’re like us on our Cape Town first timers trip, we found them almost as soon as we stepped foot into V&A Waterfront. Seals are regularly spotted here swimming in the water or sunning themselves on deck. If you want to increase your experience there are also tour options available where you can kayak with seals in the ocean.

V&A Waterfront Seals Cape Town Sarah Latham Copyright

13. Cape Town walking tour

We decided to do a Cape Town walking tour once we had missed out on going to Robbens Island, and it was brilliant. I’d suggest partaking in a Cape Town walking tour to all Cape Town first-timers. We chose a Cape Town apartheid history tour where we were taken to notable areas in the city (including the Berlin Wall mentioned above!) and learnt about the Apathied. This was a really good way to get an understanding of their horrific history and what has shaped Cape Town and South Africa to how it is today. Our tour was with Cape Town Free Walking Tours and lasted about 2 hours. We paid with a tip for the guide at the end.

14. See a bit of the Garden Route

A lot of people visiting Cape Town for the first time will also continue down the Garden Route to explore more of the stunning scenery. If you’re a Cape Town first timer that isn’t going down this route, you can still see a bit of the Garden Route by partaking in day tours, like the whale watching tour off Hermanus and shark diving tours off Gansbaai, which can be brilliant experiences to complement your time in Cape Town.

Garden Route South Africa Sarah Latham Copyright

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