Cape Town is a spectacular city. It has culture, beauty and adventure, but is also a gateway to discover the Cape Peninsula, the Garden Route and the Winelands. If Cape Town isn’t already on your bucket list – put it there!
I spotted Table Mountain from my window seat. There she was, looking majestic in the bright blue skies. Table Mountain, the iconic landmark, is something that you can’t help but stare at, over and over again. This was my second visit to Cape Town, my first was for my honeymoon (a long time ago!) and this time, with two kids in tow, it was going to be a completely different experience….
My initial reaction was of surprise. We were staying at the V&A Waterfront, and I was amazed to see that it hadn’t changed that much in 20 years. Yes it was bigger, there were more shops, bars and restaurants, but it still looked the same. Similarly with downtown, it is a bit trendier now, has some cool bars and a younger vibe, but overall Cape Town was just how I had remembered it.
It is difficult not to love this city. She is visually beautiful, with Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill, visible from almost anywhere; it provides a stunning backdrop to the city below. The cost of living is so low, an average lunch cost us €30 and dinner about €50-€70, including drinks and wine, for a family of four! English is widely spoken, they drive on the same side of the road as us and there is so much to see and do! Are you lovin’ Cape Town yet? The people are so friendly too. Yes there are some undesirables wandering around, but no more than what you would find walking around any big city, including Dublin. When I think of the amount of times I was asked “is South Africa safe?” before I left, I found I was almost looking for trouble! Needless to say throughout my holiday, we found none. Instead we found genuinely friendly people, that were happy to help us at any time, and even pose for pics!
We flew into Cape Town and spent our first four nights of our sixteen day South African holiday here. We enjoyed an action packed four days and probably could have done with more time. We tried to tick off the ‘top things to do in Cape Town’ list and almost got there! Here are our highlights.
We were staying at the Waterfront, which is probably one of the best places to stay for first time visitors to the city. It feels safe and you can just walk everywhere. Our first morning we pottered around, enjoying the curio shops, street artists and sampling fudge and other local dishes in the V&A Food Market.
Unusually for Cape Town, it started raining (they are currently having a severe drought), so we decided to pop into the Two Oceans Aquarium, also located on the Waterfront. This is really worth a visit if you are travelling with kids. We saw scuba divers feeding turtles and stingray, and all of the exhibits were impressive. Being able to climb inside the clown fish (Nemo) exhibit was a particular highlight for the kids!
Luckily when we came out of the Aquarium, the rain had stopped. We decided to visit Bo-Kaap, one of Cape Town’s most colourful districts. Located in the heart of the city, it is about a 30-minute walk from the Waterfront. People are living in these colourful houses, so I found it astonishing how accepting they were, when tourists posed for pictures outside their front door. We got chatting to a few people and they didn’t seem to mind at all. It is an instagrammers paradise, although I thought there would be more to do there. I expected to find some cool café’s and souvenir shops, but there was only one. It is definitely worth a visit for the photographs alone, but a half hour stroll is enough time to see it.
Fortunately the following day we woke up to blue skies, as I had booked to paraglide off Signal Hill. It was my first time to do it and although I was nervous (probably an understatement) it seemed like the easiest choice when I looked at some of the other adventurous things to do in South Africa, like bungy jumping and shark cage diving! The fact that I was strapped to one of the world’s best paragliders definitely helped, would you believe his Dad was from Cork! We arrived at Signal Hill and despite signing my life away, (even Cormac, my husband, had to sign as a witness that I signed the waiver), we got off to a flying start – excuse the pun! Within minutes of arriving I was suited and booted and off I went. Initially I was terrified, but once I was up in the air, it was surprisingly relaxing. I loved it and would definitely do it again. I booked through Paraglide.za and opted for the photo and video package. In total it cost 1300 rand, about €90, which I thought was worth it. I was seriously proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone and facing my fears!
Signal Hill is very close to Table Mountain so it made sense to see them both in the one day. The lads from Paraglide.za very kindly dropped us to the free shuttle bus stop, which brought us directly to the cable car. The queues were crazy for those who hadn’t bought tickets online, so needless to say, out came our phones and we pre-booked tickets while standing in the queue. I would safely say it saved us an hour. I asked one of the staff members and he told me that in peak season you can queue for 2-3 hours for the cable car. Luckily for us, once we booked online we were straight in. It is pricey though, considering how cheap most things are in South Africa, I was amazed that it cost €20 per adult and €10 per child. However it is worth it, the cable car is awesome, it rotates as it rises so everyone has a chance of the best views. You can also hike to the top, something that looked extremely difficult, but I’m told it only takes about 2 hours. A good alternative to beat the queues in peak season perhaps, but some degree of fitness would be required!
Table Mountain was officially named a New 7 Wonder Of Nature and once you see it, you will know why. Simply walking around is spectacular. There are numerous trails, all with jaw dropping views of Cape Town. You could spend hours there and still not see everything. Luke and Alex (ages 7 and 10) loved seeing the dassies, these are small animals that look like a rodents but are actually related to elephants! These friendly creatures are so used to visitors they come really close. We had some pizza slices in the cafe which offered superb views, even if a bit chilly. Note – temperatures are at least 10 degrees colder than the city, so you need to bring sweaters or coats with you.
Cape Peninsula Drive
We decided not to get a car until our last day. You really don’t need one in Cape Town if you are staying in a central location. Taxis are extremely cheap so we walked or used taxis for the first three days. Make sure you agree a price before you start your journey though, and ideally take a metered taxi. See more tips like this in my tips for visiting South Africa blog post. Europcar dropped the hired car to our apartment early on our last day and off we went for our coastal drive. This was one of the highlights for me, there is so much to see. The beaches are incredible. We stopped for lunch at Dunes Beach bar on Hout Bay – an absolute stunning location. We parked right outside the door (on the beach) and enjoyed fabulous pizza and cold beers. It was heaven.
We were not long back in the car when we came across Noordhoek beach. This must be one of the best in the world. Located on the stunning Chapmans Peak drive, I was genuinely blown away when we stopped here. We drove on to the Cape of Good Hope, the most south-western point of the African continent and finally on to Cape Point. The 30-minute hike to the lighthouse is worth it for the stunning views. You can take the funicular if you are feeling tired, but a hike is a good way to stretch the legs if spending a day in the car.
The highlight for the kids was Boulders Beach. There were penguins walking around freely, it was incredible. We could have swam with them, although the water was freezing! The kids paddled in the water and the penguins came so close. It really was an amazing sight. We also visited the penguin colony next door ,where there are thousands of penguins, even small babies! When we were walking back to our car, we spotted a sign saying, make sure you check under your car for penguins before starting it!
Our next stop was Muizenberg beach. Famous for its colourful beach houses, we arrived a little late, but just in time to get the sunset 💛. We continued our South African adventure with a two night stay in the Winelands followed by ten days along the Garden Route. Read my top tips for visiting South Africa and watch out for more blog posts coming soon.
How to get there:
We flew with Ethiopian Airlines who offer a service four times weekly from Dublin airport via Addis Ababa. Their flight prices are one of the lowest on the route, and include two 23kg checked bags with free meals and drinks on board. At the time of issue return flights from Dublin to Cape Town are €474 including taxes. We booked all our accommodation in Cape Town and throughout South African, through GoHop.ie, who are African specialists. The meet and greet service at the airport was excellent where we received a full travel digest of things to do in Cape Town and in all of our stops. This also contained travel distances, maps with Sat-Nav coordinates and top travel tips.
Where to stay:
We stayed at the Waterfront Village apartments and loved them. We had a luxury 2 bedroom apartment, which was beautifully furnished, and ideally located just minutes walk from the V&A Waterfront. We had the luxury of a spacious apartment for a fraction of the price of a hotel in a similar location. There is a pool, gym and free wifi at reception. You were supposed to pay for WiFi in the apartments but I always managed to log on to a WiFi network in the room, without paying… It is also next door to the luxurious One & Only Hotel so if you don’t fancy a night in the waterfront, there are three restaurants there, as well as kicking cocktails!
Where to eat:
There are so many great restaurants in Cape Town and prices are extremely cheap! Try The Yard for breakfast or lunch, ideally located in the Silo area of the Waterfront, this modern restaurant offers amazing Indian curries and delicious breakfasts.
Belthazar on the waterfront is a great grill and seafood restaurant. They serve delicious steaks and seafood platters. Make sure you try their signature onion blossom, which is seasoned and then deep fried! They also happen to be the biggest ‘wine by the glass’ bar in the world.🍷
Reubens in the One and Only Hotel is a great choice if staying in the Waterfront Village. It is just minutes from the apartments and offers international cuisine and a great kids menu. The burgers and steaks are particularly good, as is the South African traditional desert – the malva pudding. The smile on my son’s face says it all about the vanilla sundaes!
Colcacchio offers the best pizzas in Cape Town. You can make your own salads and pizzas and they give kids play dough (actual pizza dough) to play with and let them draw on the table covers. It’s not just for kids though, they also have the best gourmet pizzas! I had a half and half, butter chicken on one side with Asian pork ribs on the other – both paired with different wine choices – it was amazing!
If you like sushi and seafood don’t miss Willoughby & Co in the V&A waterfront. Located inside the shopping centre it is probably more of a lunch place, but it is packed with locals. Be sure to pre-book, I tried for two days and couldn’t get a table. I’m told La Colombe is a great choice if you fancy fine dining.