You might be disappointed to only have 48 hours in a city as beautiful and inviting as Cape Town, but a good traveler knows that a few days, while not enough to see or do everything on your list, is enough to get a good feel for the city you are visiting. And even though Cape Town’s attractions sprawl far and wide, one weekend will allow you to experience the Mother City’s best and brightest, even though it might leave you wanting more.
TIP for budget travelers: Check our round-up Best Hostels in Cape Town for backpackers.
There is nothing quite like spending the day in Cape Town’s bustling city centre, with Table Mountain shadowing you and the smell of the ocean not far away.
Start your morning right in the centre of town by taking a stroll through the urban pedestrian walkway of St George’s Mall. There are plenty of breakfast spots and Motherland Coffee Company has the best brews in town, which will let you explore the paved alleyways with renewed energy. There are loads of cute shops and market stalls along the way, with the famous Greenmarket Square offering all the tourist craft goods your heart could possibly desire.
Once you’ve walked to the top of St George’s Mall, cross the street to the beautiful Company’s Garden, which has sprawling lawns, a quaint lunch spot and a stunning rose garden. While you’re walking through the gardens you’ll spot the Houses of Parliament and many other historic buildings and if you’re a museum lover, the Gardens are also home to some of Cape Town’s best offerings.Check out the Iziko South African National Gallery, which showcases some of the best contemporary South African art; or go next-door to the South African Holocaust Museum, which has a deeply detailed, informative and emotional installation. If you’re a science enthusiast, or are visiting with kids, make sure you go to the South African Museum at the top of the gardens to check out their collection of fossils, insects and more.In the afternoon, you have to make sure you tick off the iconic trip up Table Mountain. Normally I would recommend tackling the jaw-dropping beautiful hike to the top before taking the cable cars down, but, when you’re on a timeline, the cable cars provide spectacular views to the top too. Nothing beats the top of this famous landmark, where you get a 360 degree view of the city.After descending the magnificent mountain, head to the V&A Waterfront to close the day. Apart from the world-class shopping options, you can also wander through the harbor or check out the amazing Two Oceans Aquarium. While you’re in the area, head to the craft market before checking out the wildly popular food barn, which has delicious food and drinks at reasonable prices. You can enjoy your food right at the water’s edge.
Alternatives for Day 1:
Not everyone is keen on all the same things, so here are some honorable mentions for those who are looking for something slightly different:
Instead of meandering through the streets of St George’s Mall, you could head to the nearby suburb of Observatory, home to Cape Town’s young artist crowd. This quaint neighborhood is full of adorable Victorian houses, hidden coffee shops and cafes, vintage clothes and furniture stores, art galleries and bars. Walk down Lower Main Road for a taste of all of the above, and if you’re in the area on a Saturday, do not miss out on the Old Biscuit Mill, the city’s most popular weekend market. The food is divine and there are loads of stalls full of local arts and crafts.
The trip to Cape Town’s infamous Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spend over a decade incarcerated, will take you roughly 4 hours in total, and is well worth the trip, especially if you are a history buff. Book your tour as far in advance as you can, because its a popular trip and can be unavailable up to a few weeks in advance during the busy summer season.
Also worth a visit are the beaches of Sea Point and Camps Bay, where you can enjoy a gourmet lunch and cocktails before soaking in the sun on the trendiest strips shoreline around the city. This is where the city’s affluent and glamorous inhabitants spend their weekends, so keep your eyes peeled for celebs.
To get a well-rounded experience of the Mother City, I would start my second day at the incredibly beautiful Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. The gardens feature a huge variety of Cape flora, including the country’s national flower, the Protea. After exploring the gardens, you could opt for a picnic on one of the countless lush green lawns or head to the gardens’ restaurant for lunch. The recently-built tree canopy walkway (known by the locals as the “boomslang” – snake in Afrikaans) takes you high above the trees and offers incomparable views of the surrounding mountains.After a relaxing morning in the gardens, head to the nearby Constantia region for an afternoon of wine tasting. South Africa’s wine is world renowned and a visit to Cape Town wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the many stunning wine farms. Constantia is nearby and offers delicious and well-priced wine tour and tastings. The farms are truly spectacular, and you can sign up for a tour of the wine cellars, which will give you some insight into the long history of the Cape Winelands.If wine tasting hasn’t left you too tipsy to go out for dinner, I would recommend ending your 48 hours at one of the city’s many top class restaurants. You could stay in the Constantia region and enjoy dinner at Simon’s Restaurant in Groot Constantia, which has a delicious menu and offers panoramic views of the vineyards.
If you’re heading back towards the city centre, however, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Bree Street has become the city’s culinary hotspot, with literally countless restaurants offering food from all over the world. If you’re not a foodie, try Long Street for something a bit more relaxed and laid back. The burgers at Royale Eatery are famous for a reason.
Alternatives for Day 2:
In order to truly get the most out of your short trip to the Mother City, I would recommend dedicating one day to taking a specific tour of the city. A tour is a great way to see the things you don’t want to miss and to learn something new along the way.
Tour the Peninsula
The “Best Views of the Cape” tour takes you to 2 of the best experiences that Cape Town has to offer. The tour embarks on an incredible journey of the Cape Peninsula, where you’ll be met with one breathtaking view after the other. The scenic drive over Chapman’s Peak before heading to Cape Point, whose spectacular stone cliffs and ocean views, will leave you gob smacked. Enjoy lunch at the Two Oceans Restaurant, whose deck overlooks the sparkling ocean, and maybe you’ll even catch sight of the mischievous local baboons before you leave.
After enjoying the most south-western tip of Africa you’ll head to Boulder’s Beach, another hugely popular attraction. The Beach is home to a colony of African penguins, who will quite literally sit right beside you on the strip of beach that is surrounded by large granite boulders. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you can’t get anywhere else in the world! You can end the day with a cone of delicious local ice-cream while strolling along the beaches of the coastal town of Kalk Bay. The tour is a long, full day, but well worth the commitment!
Tour the Winelands
If you’re less interested in penguins and selfie-worthy views, and consider yourself something of a wine connoisseur, you could opt for a Franschhoek wine tour to one of the wine regions close to the city. A half-day tour will visit 3 premium wine estates for a day of delicious wine tasting surrounded by rolling green hills. South Africa has a long and rich history of excellence in wine making, and the estate’s have a long history that you’ll get a chance to learn about. You can take the tour in the morning or after lunch, leaving you with a half a day to full with another activity of your choice (you could even head to the ocean after sipping on the region’s wine and enjoy a tipsy dip in the ocean!).
So as you can tell, 2 days in Cape Town, while not long enough to satisfy your every desire, is enough to see some of the best spots the city can offer visitors. The richly varied nature of the city’s attractions means that there’s something for everyone. Nobody can resist Cape Town’s magical allure.
Author: Brittany’s passion for food and wine began in her hometown, Napa Valley, California, where she grew up immersed in the wine industry. After receiving a degree from DePauw University, she began her career in Silicon Valley in the advertising and marketing industries. Brittany moved to Cape Town 3 years ago where she launched Explore Sideways and has since been able to marry her interests in food, wine, travel and tech to create transformative experiences around the world.