Cape Town is one of the worlds most recognisable cities, with the iconic Table Mountain overlooking the city centre on one side and enclosed by the harbour and the Atlantic ocean from the other side. Cape Town is renowned for its natural beauty and spectacular landscapes surrounding the city. Apart from visiting Table Mountain, what are the top free things to do in Cape Town?
I can tell you now that there are plenty of nice and great things to do in Cape Town. So how to choose what to do in Cape Town from all the things that are on offer if you have limited time and budget? I have made a list of 17 free things to do in Cape Town. These things will give you a very good overview of what the city has to offer. It will save you some money for the rest of your visit to South Africa as well as to allow you to explore other things in Cape Town. When you don’t have a rental car to get around town, you can get a bus ticket for MyCiti which has routes to any of the mentioned free things to do.
17 Free things to do in Cape Town
Hike Lion’s Head
Lion’s Head, located between Table Mountain and Signal Hill, is one of the more popular hikes in and around Cape Town. The top gives you a 360 degree view over the Cape Town city bowl, the Atlantic ocean and Table Mountain. The climb is worthwhile since the views are just spectacular and breathtaking.
Hiking up Lion’s Head is not too difficult. I managed to do it and I’m not an avid hiker at all. Any time during the day is great to climb up Lion’s Head, from early morning till late night. Many people stay up at the top to view some of the best sunsets and will climb down in the dark. Don’t forget to bring a torch or headlamp when you are planning to go up for sunset views. A hike up Lion’s Head is also very popular during Full Moon.
Watch the sunset on Camps Bay beach
The white sandy beach of Camps Bay, one of Cape Towns upper class suburbs, is one of the most beautiful and largest beaches in Cape Town. With the backdrop of Table Mountain on one side and the breathtaking views of the Atlantic ocean at the other side, Camps Bay beach provides one of the best sunset spots in Cape Town. You can either sit on the white sandy beach or walk the palm tree lined promenade along the beach.
Watch the Noon Gun
Watching the Noon Gun being fired at 12 o’clock is a part of Cape Towns history. It takes you back to the year 1806 when the guns were fired to check the accurate time as well as to notify the farmers to bring their fresh produce to the city. To this day, it is one of Cape Towns oldest living traditions.
The gun is fired every day, except on Sundays and public holidays. You can watch the gun being fired at 12 o’clock exactly at the end of Military Road on Signal Hill, you can follow the Noon Gun sign from the Bo-Kaap area. One important thing is to protect your ears while watching, the bang is really loud. While you are up there, enjoy the view over the city, harbour and V&A Waterfront.
Hike Table Mountain
One of the must do activities when in Cape Town is going up Table Mountain. The views from the top are impressive. On a clear day the view over the surrounding area can stretch out far away, including the mountain range all the way along the Cape Peninsula. The easiest way to get to the top and back down again is via the Table Mountain cable car. It’s a rotating cable car to provide the best overall view no matter where you stand.
Since we are talking about free things to do in Cape Town, lets leave the cable car for another day. A very popular activity for the more trained hikers is climbing Table Mountain. There are various ways to walk/climb up, some more challenging than others. Best is to inform yourself properly before starting the hike, as well as listen to the weather forecast. It can get pretty unsafe if you want to climb the iconic Table Mountain on a misty or windy day. Some of the major and more popular routes to climb are via the Platteklip Gorge, the Smuts Track and Maclear’s Beacon. Find here some more information about the hikes, level of difficulty and safety in general.
Watch the sunset on Signal Hill
One of the hills surrounding the Cape Town city bowl is Signal Hill, located right next to Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. You can get there via Signal Hill road, by driving all the way to the end where there is a small parking lot. On Signal Hill you get to see some wonderful views of Table Mountain as well as the Atlantic seaboard. It is also one of the launches for paragliding. The best time to visit Signal Hill is during sunset, to see the sun slowly disappearing behind the horizon over the Atlantic ocean.
Attend a free concert at the De Waal Park in summer
The De Waal park is a green lung in the city bowl in the Oranjezicht suburb. It’s a very popular park for families and dog owners, since the park is fenced. It’s a great place for a picnic and to relax in the shade on a hot summer day. The park is also famous for their ‘Concerts in the Park’ during summer time. Those are bi-weekly free concerts supporting mainly local South African bands. Last summer they had bands like FreshlyGround and Hot Water. It’s worth a visit, the ambience is really great and don’t forget to bring some drinks and food along.
Soak up the ambience at the V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is one of Cape Towns largest and most visited tourist attractions. The V&A Waterfront is part of a running commercial harbour. It is a colourful entertainment, shopping and leisure area, constructed out of renovated sheds and warehouses. There are plenty of restaurants, bars, souvenir shops as well as a large shopping centre and movie theatre. What I like about the Waterfront is that there is such a vibrant atmosphere, with street artists / buskers and free concerts in summertime in the small out door but centrally located amphitheatre.
Visit one of the Iziko Museums on a public holiday
Cape Town is home to some very interesting museums. The Iziko museums in Cape Town hosts a combination of museums all with a South African heritage collection. The entrance free is not high, but there are some days you can enter each one of these museums for free. To check out the exact dates of these free entrance days, which is normally on public holidays, you can have look at the website of the Iziko museum itself.
Take some colourful pictures in the streets of Bo-Kaap
With colourful painted houses and cobbled stone streets, Bo-Kaap is one of the most photogenic areas in Cape Towns bustling city centre. It used to be known as the Malay Quarter, and is now a multicultural area on the slopes of Signal Hill. It’s a beautiful area to take colourful photos, discover some historical buildings and to get to know more about the Cape Malay culture.
Visit the Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay
Cape Town hosts various markets, with local food and crafts. Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay is a great one to visit. It takes place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and offers apart from selling crafts and tasty food, live music. The entrance to the market is free of charge. It’s a great place to meet people, soak up the music vibes and taste good food.
Watch the penguins outside Boulders Beach
The best place to see the African penguins in Cape Town is in Boulders Beach (part of Sanparks), Simon’s Town. However, if you want to see penguins free of charge, you can walk on the beaches close to Boulders Beach and see some penguins as well. There won’t be the amount of birds you can see in the park, but you might be able to spot a few. Just beware not to disturb them and don’t get too close. Provide space, especially when they are breeding and nesting in the dunes.
Visit the colourful beach houses in Muizenberg
Muizenberg is a small town south of Cape Town, famous for its vibrant surfing community. The beach is the main attraction and for good reason. White sandy beaches with turquoise waters makes it a great swimming spot, as the sea water temperature in Muizenberg is noticeably warmer than on the other side of the peninsular at Camps Bay and Clifton. Another thing that attracts visitors to Muizenberg Beach are the attractive and colourful Victorian beach houses. They make a great background for a photoshoot. While you are at the beach you might get the opportunity to see the fisherman bringing in their catch of the day.
Take a photo in all the Table Mountain frames
In various places in and around Cape Town you can find large yellow frames. They have been installed to give the visitors the best vantage point for taking pictures of themselves with Table Mountain in the background. The city of Cape Town has installed these frames to commemorate being chosen as World Design Capital in 2014. There are frames on Signal Hill, V&A Waterfront, Eden on the Bay in Blouberg, Lookout Hill in Khayelitsha, Cape Town station and Heritage Square. Find them all and take the best photos of yourself and the iconic Table Mountain.
Watch the kite surfers in Table View
Cape Town is renowned for its wind, also named the ‘Cape Doctor’. The wind can blow very hard, especially during the months of October to May. That’s also the time the kite surfers can be found in the ocean conquering the waves and the wind. One of the best places to see the kite surfers is in Table View or even Bloubergstrand, located 15 kilometres north of Cape Town. Another great reason to visit Table View is the wonderful view you have of Table Mountain from the beach. It’s a great place to walk, play in the white sand, watch the kite surfers and enjoy the sunset with views over Table Mountain.
Take a stroll in the Company’s Garden and watch the squirrels being cheeky
The Company’s Garden in Cape Town city centre dates back to 1652, when the settlers needed a place to grow fresh produce to supply the ships on their way to the East. It’s currently the oldest garden in South Africa. It’s nice to take a walk, discover the botanical gardens and observe the cheeky squirrels that inhabit the park (please don’t feed them). From the Company’s Gardens you have a great view of the Parliament building.
Go for a walk on the Sea Point Promenade
What is better than having a walk along the Sea Point promenade inhaling the fresh sea breeze and being active? You see a lot of people walking, jogging, cycling, roller skating and walking their dogs. It’s a nice and relaxed outdoor atmosphere. There are also plenty benches to sit on and watch the ocean from. Or go looking for shells on the beach, or take some photos at the various art sculptures you find along the promenade.
Watch the seals at the V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is home to a colony of Cape Fur Seals. They swim and play in the water of the harbour and try to sneak some fish brought in by the many fishing boats. You can see them sunbathing on the seal landing close by the Clock Tower and the Swing bridge. It’s nice to see them from close by, how they interact with one another and the loud sounds they make. Just beware of the smell, which can be pretty overpowering.
Where to stay in Cape Town
Cape Town has plenty of accommodations, ranging from budget to luxury. However, it is highly recommendable to book in advance especially during the Cape Town spring and summer months from September till May. Accommodation during that time fills up really fast.
Click on the name of the hotel (link) to check for the latest reviews and availability!!
- Ashanti Lodge Gardens : Ashanti is a beautiful Victorian mansion, with some of the best views on Table Mountain. It is walking distance from the city centre. You can either stay in their main house or book a room in their nearby Guest House, which I recommend.
- Ashanti Green Point : From the same owner, Ashanti Green Point is located in the bustling suburb Green Point, as the name already indicated. I have stayed in both lodges and I can recommend both of them. It will depend in which area you prefer to stay.
- Once in Cape Town : Once comes highly recommended. It’s located in the vibrant heart of Kloofstreet, where all the hip bars and restaurants are found. It is also located walking distance from the city centre.
- Taj Cape Town: Located in the heart of the city centre right next to the Company’s Gardens, a hotel with a touch of India.
- The Table Bay Hotel: This 5star luxury hotel has a perfect location right next to the V&A Waterfront
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