How to Spend 36 Hours in Cape Town

Like most of the world’s greatest cities, one cannot see all of Cape Town in only a couple of days. It’s an energetic, trendsetting city with an almost-dizzying array of sights to see and things to do. Oh, and did we mention that all of this is set against one of the world’s most beautiful backdrops? Once you’ve visited, you’ll be planning a return trip immediately.

We’re cruising to Cape Town for the first time in 2020 and we couldn’t be more excited. Our voyages there embark, debark, or both, in Cape Town. In addition to booking a pre- or post-cruise safari, you'll want to extend your stay in the Mother City by a few days. These two independent exploration itineraries offer a glimpse at what you can do while you’re there.

An aerial view of Cape Town, South Africa.

36 Hours in Cape Town: For the First Time

If you’ve never been to Cape Town before, you’re in for a treat. We know you’ll fall in love with the dynamic city. But there’s no need to simply take our word for it. Join us on a voyage and see for yourself!

First-time visitors will want to see Cape Town’s most famous and iconic landmarks during their vacations. Here’s how to spend 36 hours in Cape Town when you’ve never been before. Already been? Keep scrolling to find our off the beaten track itinerary.

Day One: Morning

8:00 a.m.

Begin your trip to Cape Town at the city’s most iconic sight, Table Mountain.

Table Mountain is visible from almost anywhere in Cape Town, but nothing compares to standing atop it. The aptly named flat-topped mountain was formed more than 500 million years ago and is flanked on each side by two more mountains: Devil’s Peak on the east and Lion’s Head on the west. In 1998, President Nelson Mandela designated Table Mountain a National Park.

Don’t forget your camera for this trip, as the views from the top of Table Mountain are unparalleled. You’ll be able to spot many of Cape Town’s other famous sights: Robben Island, the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town Stadium, and Camps Bay Beach.

Visitors can take a cable car to the top of the mountain, or get a little exercise by hiking instead. There are many different routes to the top, varying in difficulty. The Platteklip Gorge route is most popular and takes anywhere from two to four hours depending on fitness levels and breaks. Taking a cable car up, and hiking down, will be a less-strenuous experience that still allows an opportunity to see the beautiful flora and fauna that the trails are known for. Plan to spend two to three hours at Table Mountain.

A view of the cable car at Table Mountain in Cape Town, South Africa.

Whether you plan to hike, or take the cable car both ways, wear light layers for your Table Mountain trip. Wind and clouds at the top of the mountain make it much chillier than the temperature below, even on a hot day.

11:00 a.m.

After your trip to the top of Table Mountain, you’ll have worked up an appetite. But try to hold off – because we recommend you grab lunch about an hour away, in Simon’s Town. As you drive through Table Mountain National Park, keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife. There are over 300 species of birds in the area, and waters along the coastline are home to dolphins, whales, seals, and sharks. You’ll see your fair share of baboons, too. Keep your car windows closed! They’ve been known get a little too up close and personal.

 

Day One: Afternoon

12:00 p.m.

Stop for a quick lunch in Simon’s Town, a charming, historic hamlet on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula. A meal in this town will be a real treat for any seafood lovers! The Salty Sea Dog, Bertha’s, and Fran’s Place are all popular spots.

Simon’s Town is home to the South African Navy and has served as a naval base for more than 200 years. It’s also home to the Boulders Penguin Colony.

Penguins at the Boulders Beach colony in South Africa.

More than 3,000 African penguins reside on shores of Simon’s Town, making it the most adorable stop on your itinerary. Walk the boardwalk from Foxy Beach to Boulders Beach and marvel at the aquatic birds, and snap a few photos.

If time allows, you may want to continue on from Simon’s Town to the Cape of Good Hope. This is the most southwestern point in Africa. (Contrary to popular belief, it is not the most southern point in Africa. That honor goes to Cape Agulhas, about 3.5 hours away.) The Cape of Good Hope is about a half hour from Boulders Beach (approximately 1.5 hours from Cape Town) and boasts a picturesque, rugged landscape with sweeping views of the ocean below. For the best panoramic views, climb the stone staircases (or take the Flying Dutchman Funicular) to the lighthouse.

However, if your afternoon is getting on, you may prefer to return to Cape Town and rest before your evening activities.

Day One: Evening

7:00 p.m.

Spend your first evening in Cape Town’s most glamorous neighborhood, Camps Bay. If you can, arrive before sunset, as the views in this part of the city can be quite stunning. The Camps Bay Strip is lined with bustling bars and restaurants on one side, and a beautiful beach on the other (the one you spotted from your perch on Table Mountain earlier in the day).

Find a bar or restaurant with a great view, and partake in a classic Cape Town libation, a sundowner. A sundowner isn’t a particular type of drink, but is actually local lingo for a cocktail consumed while the sun is going down. Another word for it? Delightful!

Cape Town at sunset.

Camps Bay is a great place to enjoy a swanky dinner, pretend you’re a celebrity, and toast to your first incredible day in the Mother City. If you’re not exhausted from your big day of explorations, Camps Bay is the place to dance the night away.

Day Two: Morning

8:00 a.m.

Begin your second day bright and early, at the Victoria and Albert Waterfront. Here, at Nelson Mandela Gateway, ferries depart for tours of Robben Island.

The entrance to Robben Island in South Africa.

Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner for 18 of his 27 imprisoned years, as well as many other freedom fighters during South Africa’s apartheid era. Visiting the island is a moving, educational experience that will help shed light on South Africa’s difficult history.

Robben Island Museum operates tours from Monday to Sunday at 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., and 1:00 p.m. Tours last approximately three and a half hours, and should be booked in advance.

Day Two: Afternoon

1:00 p.m.

Following a tour of Robben Island, explore the rest of the V&A Waterfront. This part of Cape Town may be popular with tourists, but for good reason—it’s an undeniably enjoyable spot! There are plenty of shops and restaurants in this area, making it easy to find a spot for lunch.

The V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa.

While you’re exploring the waterfront, don’t forget to make a stop at the famous, bright yellow V&A Waterfront picture frame. It perfectly borders Table Mountain, providing a postcard-perfect photo backdrop.

Don’t spend your whole afternoon at the V&A Waterfront. Instead, make your way to the Gardens neighborhood in Cape Town’s City Bowl. It’s about a half hour’s walk or an even quicker taxi ride.

Gardens is home to plenty of great restaurants and shops but offers a more local feel than the V&A Waterfront. It’s a great place to do a little shopping, check out art galleries or museums, and grab dinner.

For souvenirs, check out Greenmarket Square on Burg Street. The square was built in 1696 and is one of Cape Town’s oldest markets. Like many places in South Africa, the square has a dark history. In its early days, it served as a slave market. In 1989, Greenmarket Square was the site of an anti-apartheid protest. Today, vendors sell their wares here from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. You’ll find handcrafted jewelry, art, clothing, carvings, and more.

When you’re ready for a reprieve from shopping, make your way to Company’s Gardens for a break. On your way there, walk past Cape Town City Hall on Darling Street and the Houses of Parliament on Plein Street and admire the architecture. The lush, historic Company’s Gardens is a beautiful place for a stroll, and also hosts the Iziko South African Museum, the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, and the South African National Gallery. If you prefer art to shopping, the National Gallery is where you should spend your afternoon.

The parliament building in Cape Town, South Africa is pink with columns.

Day Two: Evening

6:00 p.m.

Remain in the Gardens neighborhood for the remainder of your evening. It’s a great place to dine, catch some live music, or just walk around.

The main streets you’ll stroll in Gardens are Bree Street, Long Street, and Kloof Street. Cape Town Tourism says, “There’s an unofficial competition to determine the coolest street in Cape Town”—and these three streets are the main contenders.

Bree, Kloof, and Long Streets are all lined with trendy restaurants, hip boutiques, salons, rooftop bars, beer gardens, and more. For dinner, you’ll be able to choose among dining on burgers, sushi, tapas, game meats, and more. It’s the perfect way to cap off 36 excellent hours in Cape Town.

You’ve Got The Perfect Itinerary, Now All That’s Left Is Booking!

What a whirlwind 36 hours! Are you feeling inspired to visit Cape Town now? The truth is, as amazing as Cape Town is, there’s even more to see and do in South Africa than explore one city. It’s a diverse, exhilarating, captivating country. Browse our incredible South Africa itineraries here, and let us introduce you to this magical travel destination in 2020.

36 Hours in Cape Town: Off the Beaten Track

If you’ve been to Cape Town before, perhaps you’ve already climbed Table Mountain, toured Robben Island, and observed penguins in Simon’s Town. Still, you’ve only scratched the surface of what Cape Town has to offer! Here’s an alternative 36-hour itinerary that will take you off the beaten path.

Day One: Morning

9:00 a.m.

Visiting Robben Island isn’t the only way to gain a deeper understanding of the troubles and turmoil South Africa has faced.

Begin your first day in Cape Town by grabbing breakfast in the city’s central Gardens district. Then, make your way to the District Six Museum on Albertus Street. The District Six Museum was founded in 1994 and honors the legacy of non-white South Africans who were forced out of their homes in District Six in the early 1900s.  

During the Apartheid era, the government’s resettlement policy forced the removal of millions of people from their homes. This included the forced relocation of approximately 60,000 inhabitants from the inner city District Six neighborhood to barren outer areas.

When you visit the District Six Museum, take time to read the handwritten notes that cover a large map of the district. Former inhabitants of the neighborhood provided them to indicate where their houses were located. The Museum also offers various programs relating to restitution.

Only a five to ten-minute walk from the museum, you’ll find the Iziko Museums Slave Lodge. The Slave Lodge, where more than a thousand slaves once lived, is one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town. It dates back to 1660, and in addition to housing slaves, has been a jail, a brothel, a mental asylum, a post office, a library, and the Cape Supreme Court. Today, the museum explores the long history of slavery and human rights issues in South Africa.

Around the corner from the Iziko Slave Lodge, you’ll see St. George’s Cathedral. This iconic church is the oldest cathedral in southern Africa and the mother church of the Anglican diocese in Cape Town. It’s known as “The People’s Cathedral” thanks to its role in the resistance movement during Apartheid and was the only church open to people of all races during Apartheid. The interior is beautiful, and it’s open to the public.

Cape Town is forever changed due to the atrocities of racism and Apartheid. Visiting the District Six Museum, the Slave Lodge, and St. George’s Cathedral is one way to explore that history and deepen your understanding of the city during your travels.

Day One: Afternoon

12:00 p.m.

For lunch, make your way from the cathedral to the nearby Bo-Kaap neighborhood. It should take about fifteen minutes on foot.

Bo-Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter, is a great place to grab a bite to eat and spend the afternoon. Look for a restaurant serving authentic Cape Malay cuisine, like Biesmiellah. Cape Malay cuisine blends influencers from Malaysian, Indonesian, and East Africa. Stews, curries, meat kebabs, and salted fish are core to the cuisine.

The cuisine is just one of the ways that tradition and heritage has been preserved in Bo-Kaap. The neighborhood was established in the late 1700s and populated with Europeans, free black people, and freed slaves who’d been taken from their homes in Asia, East Africa, and Madagascar by the Dutch. Many of the freed slaves were Muslim. After emancipation in 1834, more freed slaves moved to Bo-Kaap and the neighborhood became predominantly Muslim. In 1957, the Apartheid government declared Bo-Kaap a “Malay group area” and forcibly removed other groups.

The colorful houses in Cape Town's Bo Kaap neighborhood.

Today, Bo-Kaap is well-known thanks to the neighborhood’s photogenic, brightly colored houses. After you’ve had lunch, stroll the streets to appreciate the vibrant local life, take in the public street art, and do a little shopping. If you have time, visit the small Bo-Kaap Museum for additional insights into the neighborhood’s distinct personality.

Day One: Evening:

6:00 p.m.

In the evening, head to the suburb of Bloubergstrand in time to catch the sunset. The views of Table Mountain from the Bloubergstrand Beach are, simply put, epic. You’ll want to bring a camera.

A view of Table Mountain at sunset in Cape Town.

Afterward, grab dinner in the area. This is one of the best places to eat seafood and sushi in the city. Restaurants in Bloubergstrand include Catch 22 for casual oceanfront dining, Blowfish for a la carte seafood, and Café Orca for a local feel.

Day Two: Morning

9:00 a.m.

On your second day in Cape Town, head outside the city to quaint Kalk Bay. Pack your swimsuit, as it’s going to be a beach day!

While visitors returning to Cape Town have likely visited Simon’s Town and Boulders Beach, there’s so much more to see on the Cape Peninsula. Kalk Bay is a charming beach town about a 45-minute drive from the city.

Plan to spend about an hour strolling around town and checking out the sights at Kalk Bay Harbour. It’s very picturesque, offering yet another opportunity to pull out your camera. You’ll want to visit in the morning, as that’s when the working harbor is liveliest thanks to a bustling fish market.

A fishing boat in Kalk Bay in South Africa.

When your stomach starts rumbling and it’s time for lunch, head to The Brass Bell. This Kalk Bay institution is the perfect place to enjoy a fisherman’s platter and a beer while you watch the waves crash.

Day Two: Afternoon

1:00 p.m.

After lunch, drive to Muizenberg for a relaxing afternoon at the beach. Muizenberg Beach is one of the most popular beaches in Cape Town thanks to the great surfing conditions. You can take a lesson with one of the local surf schools, or just enjoy the shallow, warm water.

Colorful huts at Miuzenberg Beach in Cape Town, South Africa.

When you’ve had your fill of lounging on the beach, embark on a leisurely walk from Surfer’s Corner in Muizenberg to St. James Beach. The coastal walk, known as the “golden mile” is about two kilometers long and best done at low tide (or, barefoot). To return to Muizenberg you can enjoy the coastal walk again, walk down Main Street, or take the train.

Day Two: Evening

7:00 p.m.

Spend your last night in Cape Town enjoying a staple of the city: live jazz music. Cape Town is home to the fourth-largest jazz festival in the world, and the evolution of jazz in South Africa has roots closely tied to the struggle against slavery and Apartheid.

Begin your evening in the Gardens neighborhood for dinner. If you’d like to enjoy some classic South African game meat during your visit, try Arnold’s on Kloof Street. Then, return to a place you’ve already been during this visit: St. George’s Cathedral. Beneath the iconic church is The Crypt, a popular music venue that hosts live jazz music five nights a week.

Are You Ready To Return To Cape Town?

Like we said, one trip to the world’s greatest cities never suffices—and Cape Town is no exception! This off the beaten track itinerary probably has you itching to return to the Mother City, and South Africa in general! Join us onboard for an incredible voyage to Cape Town, South Africa, and beyond in 2020! Click here to browse and book.

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