One week in Cape Town, South Africa Itinerary
What to do in cape town?
Traveling to Cape Town, South Africa
The best advice you can get when traveling is always from a local. They’ll save you countless hours and always point you in the right direction. That’s why I reached out to my favorite South African – Lauren Meyer– to have her create the ultimate one week Cape Town itinerary. Below you’ll find her thoughts on how to make the most out of your trip with her one week in Cape Town itinerary.
If you are planning on spending less than a week in South Africa, and have decided that Cape Town is your destination, don’t bother going! A week is the minimum of time needed if you truly wish to immerse yourself into the culture of South Africa and the mother city – to really experience all Cape Town has to offer, you may need at least two/three weeks – and even then you will miss a lot of the hidden gems. Interests and budget may vary, but here is the OW&Ws one week (7 days) Cape Town itinerary to ensure you make the most of your time in Cape Town and the surrounding areas(super useful ‘insider’ tips will be marked with a ** as we go along.)
…..after that smooth landing we’d like to welcome you to Cape Town, where the mountain is flat, the trees are flat and the people are wonderful people...
Getting to know Cape Town…
South Africa – a land of stark contrasts. And nowhere are those contrasts more noticeable than in what is known as the ‘Mother City’ – Cape Town.
Nestled between the folds of the iconic Table Mountain and the icy waters of the Atlantic ocean, this picturesque city was once a trading point for the Dutch East India company, who established a fort on its shores during the age of the great spice race via the Cape of Storms.
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Today, Cape Town has become a vibrant city, with a large variety of cultures which have been crossed with others and adapted to create its own ‘Ubuntu’ style. Travelling around the city and its outlying areas, you will feel strangely at home, but also very much like a foreigner in a foreign land.
Nowhere in the world are the super-rich and the impoverished living so closely together. Nowhere does the history and conflict of the past play itself out as much in the present as it does here. The Mother City will warm your heart and rip it out at the same time – its beautiful scenery and luxurious lifestyle marred by the sights of the homeless begging on the streets and the dilapidated shanty towns.
But for all the heartbreak of the past, there is an optimism running through the city.
You will feel it on every corner – that buzz of something coming. Whether you hear it in the echo of drums from street musicians, taste it in the delicious unique foods, smell it in the salty air along the Waterfront, or see it in the warm smiles and friendly welcoming of the people, you will know that – although the past is never far here, the future is something to look forward to.
Thing to know before you go…
- South Africa is an ex-British colony, so we speak English english (not American) and drive on the left. We use our own colloquialism – for example, a traffic light is a robot (don’t ask!!), a braai is a barbecue and ‘now now’ means later – if you’re not sure what we are talking about, just tell them you’re foreign and they will help you out!
- Double check with your mobile network provider to make sure if your phone would work here and what the charges are. SIM cards aren’t as easily available here as they are overseas, as there needs to be a form of governmental verification before purchase and it is a massive pain to get.
- Everyone can speak English. Hurrah! English (along with at least two other African languages) You will come across street signs and names with both English, Dutch, French and African flavours. You will pronounce them incorrectly…. If you need directions, you may want to write down place names and show someone where you are trying to get to as your pronunciation will probably make us giggle a bit…. (but we are nice people, and we will help you!!)
- November to March is summertime and peak season. It is hot – don’t over pack! Shorts, t-shirts, peak caps, and trainers or sandals are perfect! Don’t forget your sunglasses. Please don’t wear safari suits – it’s not 1845 and you’ll look like a right twat.
- Please be careful – pick pocketing and mugging is very common, so please make sure you take extra precautions with your personal items and don’t wear any flashy jewelry. If an area feels unsafe, don’t go there – and stay in well lit, well populated areas at night. Keep handbags/purses closed, zipped and tucked under your arm. Wallets should be deep in front pockets, as should mobile phones, cameras etc.
- Google, google, google. Please do your research before you get here. Decide on what you want to see and do! There is SO MUCH on offer in Cape Town in a limited time – make sure you know what you want to see and where you want to go because you WILL run out of time!
- You can safely drink the water out of the tap. Fill up a water bottle and take it with you!
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Money is called the ‘Rand’ because gold was found on the rand (pronounced with the heavy rolling R’s and flat A’s of Afrikaans) in Johannesburg area. After SA broke away from the UK in the 60s the pound was replaced with the Rand in honour of that area. It is designated as ZAR for the Dutch Zuidelike Afikaanse Republic (South African Republic – and that’s also why South Africa’s internet domain is .za instead of .sa)
- You will need to hire a car for this trip – easy to book online and pick up/crop off at the airport. I recommend hiring it before you arrive.
- Unlike in the UK and the United States, we have attendants at the petrol station, no need to get out your car.
- We have parking attendants EVERYWHERE. They will expect a tip of some sort – normally small change or coins.
- Cape Town has two main highways that get you in and out of the city to outlying areas – namely the N1 and the N2. All are well marked, as are any turnoffs etc. Try to orientate yourself before leaving the hotel so you have a basic idea of where to go.
Related: International Travel Tips
Money & Budget Notes
- Exchange rate is good for everyone and shops ONLY accept South African money. A few really fancy places might accept other currency, but just change your cash before arriving – it is a lot easier and always have some spare change about you.
- Please tip your waiters in restaurants – poor service should not be tipped, average service should get 10% of the bill and if the service is exceptional, tip what you like. Waiters work purely on tips, so be nice! This applies for bartenders too!
- There are PLENTY of good B&B’s, youth hostels etc if hotels are too expensive. Look around and see what suits your pocket and your location. Accommodation is NOT a problem at all
- Leave space in your luggage for souvenirs and wine. Especially, the wine!!!
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Don’t miss (The Big Things)…
Table Mountain – take the cable car (or hike) up the mountain for breath taking views. (Very nice in the evening in summer time….)
V&A Waterfront- shopping and amazing views of the water.
Robben Island -where Mandela was imprisoned – if that’s your thing. If not, the view of Cape Town from the Island itself is GORGEOUS on a good day!
WINE ESTATES!!!!!!!! We call them ‘wine farms’ not vineyards. We don’t grow grapes, we grow wine….. The outer edge of Cape Town is surrounded by the Hottentots Holland Mountain Range, and in the valleys of the mountains you will find some towns (which look like France) which are based around the growing and bottling of wine and cheese etc.
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Places like Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franshoek and Paarl are beautiful. Some of the vineyards date back to the 1700’s. There are hundreds of wine estates in the greater Cape Town area and a good 99% of them offer wine tasting (at the very least), wedding venues, dining venues and artisan shops.
We are big drinkers and brew amazing artisan beers and distill some amazing whiskey. Checking out one of the breweries or distilleries is an afternoon well spent.
Game farms. In my opinion, the true African adventure happens in the northern borders of South Africa at the Kruger National Park, but Cape Town has plenty of little places if a safari thing is your thing.
Food and Drinks…
Restaurants abound! You WILL get everything here. South Africans are semi carnivorous by nature and you will be fed well and have BIG meals. Prices vary on where you go, but there are a few basics that you MUST try to say that you have been to South Africa
A braai which basically a barbeque with more meat than anyone can eat, garlic bread and potato salad. Always has other things too, but that disappears first,
Boerewors (pronounced b-ooh- ra- vors) – its just a beef sausage really, but with our own blend of spices which elevates it from sausage to cultural icon. You will find it at every braai, on the street corner from a vendor, in a fancy restaurant with some special sauce or another on it to make it expensive or while watching a rugby/cricket match. Its our hotdog equivalent.
Biltong Our jerky is raw air dried meat, smothered in spices and vinegar. Don’t insult it, you will upset the ENTIRE nation, regardless of colour or creed. It is a national treasure.
Boboetie – it is a Malay inspired dish – a meatloaf with a twist. Curry flavours raisons – sounds disgusting but it is to DIE for. Must be eaten with the traditional condiment – Mrs Balls Peach Chutney. Another South African favourite
Melktert – it’s a dessert and it’s a milk tart. Its an old Afrikaans lady thing and its DELICIOUS!
Wine – Some of the best wine estates (and believe me when I say that the list is ENDLESS) include Beyerskloof (Pinotage), Nederburg, Robertson, Jacobsdal, La Motte, Rijks.
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Without further adieu, here is the official Of Whiskey & Words
One week in
Cape Town Itinerary
Arrive into Cape Town International, pick up your hire car and head to your hotel. Assuming you are staying within the greater CBD area, head to the V&A waterfront and take a leisurely stroll around, giving you time to acclimatise and de-jetlag! Plenty of food, restaurants and bars on offer here – everything from the freshest seafood, craft beer, wines, pizza etc.
**Don’t go crazy with the shopping just yet…. – there are plenty of shops about!
**Take something warm – it can get chilly out on the open water!
Indulge in a large breakfast and head up to Table Mountain. Parking is available (but limited) on the mountain and purchasing your tickets to get up the mountain in advance online is strongly suggested. Table Mountain gets really busy in peak season, and the waiting line may be a long one!
** When entering the cable car, everyone rushes to look towards the ocean. The cable car turns a full 360 degrees as it goes up the mountain, so my top tip is to get a spot at the back facing the mountain. As it moves and gets to about half way up, you will have the best view over the ocean and towards Robben Island, and as you get to the very top, it would have rotated enough so that you can see it pulling in and docking into the mountain. Magnificent!
** It can be cold on the mountain, even on the warmest of days. Take a jacket with you just in case
Spend some quality time up the mountain, enjoy the scenery and clamouring around the rocks. Most people spend about 2 hours from getting into the cable car to getting back down off the mountain.
In the afternoon, grab your swimsuit and head to Camps Bay (you can see it from the top of the mountain!) for a beautiful beach stroll and swim. The water around Cape Town is freezing, but the beach is gorgeous. Have an early dinner and sundowner cocktails at any of the restaurants and bars in this ultra-trendy/ Miami-esque area.
Head out of the Cape Town area via the N1 for a short 45 minute drive towards the mountains and into Paarl. Spend a lazy late morning/afternoon experiencing the popular ‘Spice Route’, tasting decadent chocolates, wines and other products.
Go slightly further afield in the afternoon to the historic French settled and inspired Franschoek for more quaint shops, wine tasting and magnificent views over the Cape Town area.
Make an early morning bee line for the heart of the wine country – Stellenbosch. With (literally) hundreds of wine estates to choose from, you will have a magnificent day tasting wine, cheese, chocolate and every artisan product your heart could possibly desire, Stellenbosch is a must see. This thriving university town with quaint shops, magnificent bars and eateries available is picturesque, historic and unforgettable!
Make an early start and head out to any of the game lodges in the area that offer overnight accommodation and game drives (eg Fairy Glen). I strongly suggest getting a few good game drives in, especially at night-time, and staying at the lodge overnight.
This way, you can enjoy your final night in true ‘African’ style by sitting near an open fire, listening to the bushveld and far away from civilization.
**Don’t get out the car unless your guide says its ok.
For any last minute shopping, head to Canal Walk where you can find any curios, food, clothing etc that you might have missed out on. International and local brands are right next to each other, and the shopping centre is located on the N1 – which also makes it easy to get to the airport from.
Grab any snacks or things you might need and make sure you are at the airport at least three hours before your flight departs
There you have the OW&Ws
one week in Cape Town Itinerary
There are very few places in the world where you would be able to wake up in the morning in time for an early morning surf, have breakfast and a leisurely stroll through one of the largest shopping malls in the southern hemisphere, spend your afternoon tasting some of the finest wines that the world has to offer in the heart of the mountains, and have dinner while on safari looking for the big five.
Cape Town has that and much more on offer.
You should see it for yourself and be sure to use our one week in Cape Town itinerary as a guide to a great trip.