An aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa.

3 days in Cape Town: an itinerary for first-time visitors

Gina Marrs

Contributing writer

Planning a trip to Cape Town? Here are our top picks...

Stay: Atlantic Gold

Walking tour: Bo-Kaap with a local

Food tour: African food and storytelling

Day trip: Wine tour to the Cape Winelands

Car hire: Compare rates with Discover Cars

One of South Africa's three capital cities, Cape Town is a southern-hemisphere destination that simply has to be on your travel bucket list. With sprawling coastlines, soaring mountains, and just about everything in between, Cape Town is full of things to do and places to see.

The city has a fascinating history, exceptional multi-culturalism, magnificent natural landscapes, and a modern, cosmopolitan flair. Cape Town, commonly referred to as "the Mother City", really does have something to offer everybody – whether you enjoy nature or wine, there's no way you'll be bored down south.

How long should I spend in Cape Town?

Cape Town is the kind of place you could spend weeks (if not months) exploring if you had the time. Along with the city centre and nearby neighbourhoods, many small towns surround Cape Town proper, perfect for day trips or weekends away.

That said, three days will give you enough time to see the highlights of the city, while still leaving you time to explore the rest of South Africa.

Below, we’ve put together the perfect itinerary for three days in Cape Town. For this itinerary, you will need to hire a car, although we've suggested some tours you can book if you don't have access to a vehicle.

Cape Town waterfront with Table Mountain in the background

Day 1: Table Mountain, Bo-Kaap and the V&A Waterfront

One of the first things you'll see when you get to Cape Town is the city's iconic Table Mountain. Start your three days in Cape Town by hopping into the cable car and heading to the top of Table Mountain – from there, you’ll be able enjoy unparalleled views of the city, and observe the local fauna and flora that abounds.

Fun Fact: Table Mountain is believed to be one of the oldest mountains in the world, with some of its rocks dating back to 600 million years ago.

Visit the Bo Kaap neighborhood, located at the foot of Signal Hill (where you can watch the paragliders or give it a go yourself). With a history dating back to the mid-18th century, the Bo Kaap was originally used as an area to provide housing to Indonesian and other African slaves.

These people soon became known as the “Cape Malay” people, and many of the families that live there today have been there for generations. The houses in the neighbourhood are colourful, the atmosphere is vibrant, and the Bo Kaap is home to oodles of the city’s cultural heritage and history.

Fun Fact: The houses in the Bo Kaap used to have to be white, but after the local residents were released from slavery and given permission to purchase their homes, they painted them in bright colors as a symbol of their freedom and independence.

While you’re visiting the Bo Kaap, a few must-see attractions include:

  • Auwal Mosque: The first established mosque in South Africa.

  • Biesmiellah and Bo Kaap Kombuis: Two restaurants in Bo Kaap that serve traditional Cape Malay food.

  • The Noon Day Gun: A Cape Town tradition (since 1806), the cannon is fired at noon every day (other than public holidays) to signal the end of the morning.

  • The Bo Kaap Museum: Located in one of the neighbourhood’s oldest buildings (mid-18th century), the museum showcases Islamic heritage and culture and the history of slavery in the area and the Cape Malay people.

Top Tip: Join a walking tour of the neighbourhood or, if you enjoy trying local cuisine, try a food tour or cooking class!

Colourful houses in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town.

Continue your exploration of South African history by visiting Robben Island, an island located in Table Bay about eight kilometers from the mainland. The island was used as a stopping point for ships during the 16th and 17th centuries, and it holds plenty of history from the 1500s up until the present.

However, Robben Island is most famous for its time as a maximum-security prison – from 1960 until 1991 – and for being the place where one of South Africa’s most famous anti-Apartheid activists, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, was imprisoned for 18 years.

Today, visitors can tour the island and the prison, where you're able to visit Mandela's cell, visit the Robben Island Museum, and more. Ferries leave from the V&A Waterfront.

Spend the afternoon and evening at the V&A Waterfront, where you can stroll around the outdoor shopping centre, wander into the mall itself, and enjoy a meal at one of the many top-notch restaurants with stunning views. On the weekends, you’ll be able to watch local artists perform in and around the amphitheatre.

Restaurant Recommendations: For a unique Zulu fine-dining experience, make a reservation at Emazulwini Restaurant next door to the V&A and Maker's Landing. Other great options include Sevruga, Brauhaus, and Harbour House, or try Mitchell’s if you prefer something more casual.

No car?Book this one-day tour to see the above attractions.

Penguins on Boulders Beach in Cape Town, South Africa.

Day 2: Cape Point, Boulders Beach and Kalk Bay

Your second day in Cape Town will take you to my personal favourite part of the city. The southern part of Cape Town – which is known as "the Southern Suburbs" has areas that are playfully referred to as "the Dirty South", far less cosmopolitan and a lot more suburban.

The Southern Suburbs is mostly made up of middle to upper class neighborhoods, while the Dirty South is characterized more by a laid-back attitude and its seaside and surfer culture.

Fun Fact: Contrary to popular belief, the southernmost part of Cape Town, Cape Point, is not the southernmost tip of Africa – neither is it where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. In fact, Cape Agulhas, a small municipality about 200km east of Cape Town, takes both of these titles.

Cape Point Nature Reserve is an absolute must-visit while you’re in Cape Town. Once inside, you can drive through the reserve and gaze out at the incredible scenery that surrounds you – sheer cliffs, a jagged coastline, boundless fauna and flora, rolling hills, and pristine beaches.

Within the reserve, you can hike, cycle, and even go fishing – in fact, locals regularly launch fishing boats and other vessels from within the reserve.

Drive back towards the city through the town of Simonstown, full of colonial-style architecture and naval heritage. Stop off at Boulders Beach where you can enjoy the beautiful seaside and even have a swim if the weather allows it! Boulders Beach is home to African penguins and is, in fact, the only place in the world where you can view them so closely within their natural environment.

It’s an incredibly special experience to share the beach with these adorable, flightless birds – and if you go swimming, you may even be lucky enough to see a few glide past you in the water! Boulders Beach is, undeniably, a must-visit during your three days in Cape Town.

Fishing boats in Kalk Bay Harbour on a sunny day.

Make some time to stop in what used to be the quaint fishing village of Kalk Bay, about 15 minutes from Simonstown along the coastline. While the town has experienced inevitable gentrification, it is still home to many families who have lived there for several generations and continue to fish in the harbour as part of their livelihood.

If you visit today, walk down into the harbour and then along the main road – it’s a great place to experience the convergence of old and new. Kalk Bay has also become a wonderfully trendy spot for locals and tourists, full of coffee shops and restaurants, and it absolutely buzzes during the summertime.

Here, you’ll find plenty of shops and several restaurant options if you’d like a coffee, drink, or a bite to eat!

Restaurant Recommendations: For a casual meal, try the Brass Bell Restaurant – the restaurant is a local favorite, it offers incredible views, and has been there for many years. During the summer, Sirocco on the Main Road is the perfect place for an afternoon drink and meal in the sunshine, and Ohana alongside the railway line serves delicious breakfasts.

An essential stop on any trip to Cape Town is the Constantia Winelands, no more than 15 minutes from Kalk Bay. With 10 different wine farms in the region, you’ll feel like you’ve entered another world as you’re surrounded by vineyards and fine wines. It’s no secret that South Africa has an incredibly successful wine industry and produces excellent wines, and now, less than 20 minutes from the Cape Town CBD, you can test them out for yourself.

Most of the wine farms in the area allow visitors to taste a selection of their wines for a small fee (which is usually dropped if you end up purchasing wine), or, you can just buy a bottle to drink as you enjoy your surroundings.

Order cheese or charcuterie boards, and what more could you want? Some of these farms even have their own high-end restaurants if you’d like to stick around for a meal!

Some of the best wine farms (based mostly on the tasting experience and views from the venues) are Beau Constantia, Buitenverwachting, Steenberg, and Constantia Glen.

Top Tip: Make sure to check each wine farm’s hours as they tend to close from about 16:00 in the afternoons, and some are only open for wine tastings on the weekends. And don’t forget to make a reservation!

If you’d like to grab dinner nearby, there are plenty of great restaurant options (in addition to those on the farms), including Foxcroft, La Parada, and Blockhouse Kitchen.

No car? If you don't have your own transport, book this one-day tour to see the above attractions.

Hikers enjoying the view from Lion's Head in Cape Town.

Day 3: See the two Oceans

Your third and final day in the Mother City will take you from one coast to the other, starting by looking out over the Indian Ocean and ending at the beaches of the far cooler Indian Ocean.

No trip to Cape Town would be complete without hiking Lion's Head – ask any Capetonian or anyone who's ever visited the city. It's about 5km in total and will take you anywhere from two to three hours, depending on your fitness, and how long you spend enjoying the views.

From the top (and along the way), you'll be able to enjoy panoramas of Table Mountain, the Twelve Apostles, and the entirety of the Atlantic Seaboard. Enjoy the unique fynbos flowers around you as you climb and keep your eyes peeled for little animals!

Safety Tip: Never hike alone, take plenty of water, and take a cell phone along just in case.

About 5km away lies the District Six Museum, and in it are stories that outline both general and personal experiences of people of color during the oppressive Apartheid era. In 1966, the District 6 Municipality, was legally declared a "white area" under the Group Areas Act of 1950, thus prohibiting the people of color who resided there to stay.

Consequently, 60,000 people of color were "relocated" to alternative (less favorable) areas and their homes were demolished. The mission of the District 6 Museum is to give life to the memories of once lively, multi-racial areas, and this fascinating museum is a great place for tourists to visit to gain valuable insight into South African social and political history.

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

Next up, it's time to visit the west coast of Cape Town, referred to as the Atlantic Seaboard. As you drive over Kloof Nek, you'll be able to look out at the Atlantic Ocean and its gorgeous coastline.

If the weather is good and you're up for a beach day, head down to Clifton. Clifton has four different beaches, but the best one for just enjoying some fun in the sun is Clifton 2nd, while Clifton 1st is better for surfing – both are pretty sheltered when it’s windy (which is often in Cape Town).

Camps Bay, a few kilometres down the coast, has another beach with fancy hotels and restaurants all along the promenade. This is a fun place to have a meal, grab a drink, or just spend some time at the beach. Nearby, just off the beachfront but still in Camps Bay, you'll find The Lawns at the Roundhouse, a favourite among locals and tourists in the area.

This is a great place to have a few afternoon drinks or a breakfast with a view! And if you want a really special fine dining option, make a booking at Salsify at the Roundhouse.

No car? You can go on an organised hike up Lion's Head and take a tour of the District 6 Museum

People playing in the sea outside the colourful beach huts on Muizenberg Beach in Cape Town, South Africa.

If you have more time:

Unfortunately, there are just some things that you simply can't fit into just three days. But, if you have a bit more time, I’ve included a few extras in case you aren’t able to (or don’t want to) visit any of the attractions I’ve listed.

  • Oranjezicht Market: A local farmers’ market that’s a little more on the trendy side of things as far as farmers’ markets go. You’ll find fresh produce, coffee, drinks, and delicious food.

  • Learn to surf at Muizenberg Beach: If the weather’s nice and the waves are good, head down to Muizenberg Beach, hire a board and a suit, and learn to surf.

  • Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens: See and learn about Cape Town’s indigenous flora.

  • Franschhoek Wine Tram: Check out the town of Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands (about an hour and a half from the city) and enjoy the hop-on-hop-off tram that’ll take you to and from the best wine farms in the area.

  • Kalk Bay Theatre: Get your fix of culture when you enjoy a night out at the Kalk Bay Theatre – an unconventional theatre right on the water!

  • If you want to see wildlife, you can also do a guided safari from Cape Town.

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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 6 November 2023

Overlooking beautiful Clifton Beach

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