A sunny day on the beach at Camps Bay, Cape Town.
travel tips

Things to know before you visit Cape Town

Gina Marrs

Contributing writer

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Cape Town is Africa’s southernmost city and it’s also one of South Africa’s three different capitals – unusual, I know. But more importantly, it’s an incredible travel destination no matter where in the world you’re coming from.

The city has so much to offer, it’s almost difficult to know where to start. There’s incredible natural scenery (majestic mountains and sweeping coastlines galore) and oodles of fun activities to get involved in, no matter what you’re into.

And to top it all off, Cape Town is an absolute haven for those who consider themselves foodies, coffee aficionados, wine experts, and beer fundies – with so many options for eating (and drinking) out, and at reasonable prices, you’re not going to know what to do with yourself.

But, as with anywhere in the world, Cape Town has a few quirks (like loadshedding). So, to help ensure that you have the best possible experience, I’m going to give you a quick overview of some of the most important things to know before you visit Cape Town – practical advice from a local that you may not read elsewhere, but it should better prepare you for your trip down south!

Rough seas in Cape Town with Table Mountain partially obscured by clouds

1. Cape Town's weather is unpredictable – always be prepared!

In Cape Town, the weather really is incredibly unpredictable. I’m talking in terms of seasons, from one day to the next, from place to place, and even within a day!

Just because it’s summer, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be hot every day, and just because it’s winter, doesn’t mean it’ll always be freezing. No matter what time of year you visit, make sure you always have options just in case the weather turns on its head!

So, how do you possibly prepare for such sporadic weather? And in a single day, no less? Well, as the unofficial Capetonian proverb says, wear layers. Or, if you’re dressing for summer, take a jacket!

And, never – I repeat, never – underestimate the wind or the potential for the city to go from calm to windy in a heartbeat!

The stunning route around Chapmans Peak in Cape Town

2. Don't rely on public transport - hire a car

Public transport in Cape Town has improved a lot over the years – we now have functional tourist buses (MyCiTi buses) that you can use in busy, touristy areas, and some of our trains have also recently been refurbished and replaced.

However, unless you’re down south, perhaps, near Kalk Bay, I wouldn’t recommend using the trains. And while the MyCiTi buses are fairly decent in the CBD and other busy areas, you can’t rely solely on buses to get around the city.

The solution, in my opinion, is to hire a car if you’re comfortable with driving – that way, you can go wherever you like, whenever you like... And Cape Town does have some pretty incredible drives. Hiring a car is also a practical option for getting around the rest of the country.

Alternatively, Uber is pretty efficient in most areas of Cape Town these days, or, you can always book tours via a local tour guide, and they’ll drive you everywhere you need to go in their private vehicle.

Camps Bay beach on a sunny day

3. Seriously consider the location of your accommodation

Cape Town has a lot to offer, and you can stay in many different areas depending on your preferences.

However, it’s important to note that not all areas are great for being able to walk around, explore on your own, or get to other places easily. Also, if you’re using Uber, you may struggle to order rides in quieter areas. So, considering where to stay in Cape Town is really important.

So, make sure you consider if you want to be, for example, in the city (where you can walk around, use more public transport, and easily order Ubers) or somewhere a little quieter but with more character (perhaps somewhere closer to the beach, if you have rented a car).

Walking along an elevated walkway in Kirstenbosch Gardens, Cape Town

4. Visit Cape Town the shoulder season

Unsurprisingly, Cape Town (and South Africa in general) gets incredibly busy during peak season – that is, especially in December and January when there are throngs of international and domestic tourists around.

This means higher rates, more traffic, and just generally, so many more people. So, if you want a slightly more authentic experience of Cape Town, but you still want good weather, I’d suggest visiting towards the end of January, or February.

5. Locals are generally friendly – just ask for advice!

Last but not least, the one thing that I always come back to about Cape Town is that, for the most part, locals are friendly and helpful! In fact, tourists are often taken aback by locals striking up random conversations in the shops or on the sidewalk, just to be nice!

So, if you’re ever lost or need some friendly advice, don’t hesitate to approach a stranger – they’ll probably go out of their way to help you, and who knows? You may even make a friend!

Colourful houses in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town.

6. Be realistic about safety and security in Cape Town

A lot of fears about safety in Cape Town are seriously overhyped, however, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t genuine concerns to be aware of. I’m not saying you need to be scared (by any means), but you do need to be vigilant and aware.

For instance, it’s inadvisable to go walking about at night (especially on your own) in most areas, but the best rule of thumb if you’re unsure is just to ask a local.

Here are some other basic tips:

  • Never leave your belongings unattended

  • Be wary of strangers persistently offering you (unrequested) help, especially in tourist areas

  • Never hike alone

  • Lock all your doors (car, home, etc.)

  • Don’t flash valuables around

Overall, it’s a pretty safe place, especially in the places where you’ll be going as a tourist. But still, one of the most important things to know before you visit Cape Town is to always be aware of your surroundings!

Rickety Bridge Winery railway station for tourist tram ride between vineyards in the Franschhoek Valley Southern Africa

7. Explore the towns just outside of Cape Town

There are loads of things to do in Cape Town itself, and it’s true that you really don’t even need to leave the city to have an incredible holiday. But, if you have time, you should really consider doing a mini road trip (another reason why you should hire a car) and visit one of the nearby towns or regions in the Western Cape.

It all depends on what you’re into, but Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, for example, are two towns (and wine regions) about an hour from the city where you can have an epic time and enjoy totally different vibes!

Other cool ideas for a holiday within your holiday include exploring the Garden Route on the East Coast, which is known for its unbelievable scenery, or venturing up the West Coast for the small-town experience and the joys of tranquil, seaside living.

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Gina Marrs

Author - Gina Marrs

Gina is a freelance copywriter and editor from South Africa. She is based in Cape Town, and loves all things outdoors - in her free time, she enjoys running, surfing and playing field hockey. She has a passion for travel and hopes to see as much of the world, and her own country, as she possibly can! 

Last Updated 16 October 2023

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