Incredible hikes, dining in the dark, ghetto music sessions, outdoor cinema and more – all the epic yet unusual things to do in Cape Town.
As a digital nomad, I’m always faced with a conundrum. I can either be close to nature or live in a hip, urban city with incredible food and diverse cultures. I can either have easy access to hiking trails or to music and film festivals. I can either detach myself from everything in the mountains or be plugged into the digital world with fast wifi.
As a digital nomad, I often feel like I can’t have it all.
But my recent digital nomad stint in Cape Town changed that. On my whirlwind first trip to South Africa 5 years ago, I knew it was a beautiful city. But I had no idea just how much it would indulge and inspire me.
In late 2019, I ended up spending 2.5 months in the city with my partner. Living in the shadow of Table Mountain (and later Devil’s Peak), and discovering all the unusual things to do in Cape Town, we just couldn’t get ourselves to leave.
My ultimate guide to all the unusual things to do in Cape Town:
- HIKING AND OUTDOORS: ADVENTUROUS THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
- 1. Hike up Table Mountain on the India Venster Trail
- 2. Cycle up Chapman’s Peak (one of the best things to do in Cape Town)
- 3. If you dare, hike up Lion’s Head on a route with sheer drops (but not without a guide!)
- 4. Kayak along the Atlantic Coast at sunset
- 5. Discover the unique fynbos in the Silver Mine Reservoir
- 6. Paraglide off Lion’s Head
- 7. Hike up Skeleton Gorge to discover a “beach” in the mountains
- 8. Do an overnight hike in the Cape of Good Hope (one of the most epic things to do in Cape Town)
- 9. Walk the Boomslang at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (among the most amazing things to see in Cape Town)
- CULTURE, FOOD AND MUSIC: FUN THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
- 10. Explore social enterprises in Khayelitsha – a Cape Town township – with Uthando (one of the top 10 things to do in Cape Town)
- 11. Learn to cook traditional Cape Malay food
- 12. Learn about the history of Apartheid from someone who lived through it
- 13. Try Senegalese food and a traditional coffee ceremony at Khadim’s
- 14. Attend “Ghetto Sessions” – a monthly Khayelitsha musical extravaganza (among the top things to do in Cape Town)
- 15. Savor food from Zimbabwe at Pahari in Salt River
- 16. Catch “Jazz in the Native Yards”
- 17. Indulge in “Ubuntu” and traditional Xhosa food at 4Roomed
- 18. Experience a slice of Morocco in Woodstock
- 19. Catch local Indie musicians at So Far Sounds
- 20. Try Tanzanian food at the Neighbour Goods Market
- MARKETS, SUNSETS AND FREE THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
- 21. Catch an iconic Table Mountain sunset at Lagoon Beach, Milnerton (one of the most romantic things to do in Cape Town)
- 22. Walk around Bo Kaap
- 23. Eat your way through Mojo Market
- 24. Indulge in street art in Woodstock
- 25. Walk the Sea Point Promenade at sunset
- 26. Watch African indie performers at the V&A Waterfront
- 27. Browse the Saturday market at the Old Biscuit Mill
- 28. Read at Chimurenga independent book store
- 29. Attend a concert at Silo District
- 30. Browse the Oranjezicht City Farm Market
- 31. Hike up Kloof Nek for a magical African sunset (top 10 things to do in Cape Town)
- 32. Attend a public talk at Cape Town University
- 33. Discover Cape Town’s art scene on “First Thursdays” (things to do in Cape Town at night)
- QUIRKY AND ECO-FRIENDLY: COOLEST THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
- 34. Catch a film at Labia Theatre, an independent cinema
- 35. Shop at a zero waste store
- 36. Join a vegan popup dinner with locals
- 37. Taste the world’s best gin in Woodstock
- 38. Catch a movie at the outdoor cinema at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (one of the most special things to do in Cape Town)
- 39. Have a unique dinner with singing and theatrics
- 40. Rejuvenate at the Fragrance Garden at Kirstenbosch
- 41. Dine in the dark at Test Kitchen
- DAY TRIPS AND WEEKEND GETAWAYS: SECRET THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
- 42. Join a 3-day walking safari at Gondwana Game Reserve (easily among the most unique things to do in Cape Town)
- 43. Hike up Devil’s Peak on the little known Mowbray Ridge
- 44. Catch a performance at the Kasi RC Shack Theatre in Khayelitsha
- 45. Eat your way through the Vegan Goods Market in Constantia / Woodstock
- 46. Hang out with wild African penguins at Stony Point Nature Reserve
- 47. Indulge in all things fynbos at Grootbos Nature Reserve
- 48. Hike up Table Mountain on the rarely traversed Kasteelspoot trail
- 49. Spend a Friday evening at the vibrant Hout Bay Market (if you like markets, count this among the best things to do in Cape Town)
- 50. Take the train to Simonstown
- Is Cape Town on your bucket list? What would you add to my unusual things to do in Cape Town list?
HIKING AND OUTDOORS: ADVENTUROUS THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
Cape Town is a mecca for outdoor activities, and that’s perhaps what I love most about this city. You could be doing city stuff one moment – catching a film festival, chilling in a hipster cafe, tasting handcrafted gin. And the next, you could be scrambling up a mountain, hiking a wild trail home to the elusive caracal (!) or catching a red African sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.
Hiking, sunsets and other top things to do in Cape Town:
1. Hike up Table Mountain on the India Venster Trail
You haven’t really visited Cape Town unless you’ve experienced the iconic Table Mountain. If you’re moderately fit, skip the cable car and hike up instead – but not on the popular Platekip Gorge trail. Granted that’s the quickest route up the mountain, but also the most unexciting. Think steps with no spectacular views, no fynbos experience, no scrambling up loose rocks and no chances to spot wildlife.
We hiked up Table Mountain four times during our stay (it’s addictive!), and one of my favorite trails was the India Venster. It involves a fair bit of exposed hiking, followed by some rock scrambling, with stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, the City Bowl and Lion’s Head all along the way!
We hiked up Table Mountain on the India Venster trail with Miles, a local certified guide we found on Airbnb Experiences – and highly recommend him. The trail isn’t well-marked, plus the mountain can throw up plenty of surprises and there is some reported crime in the area, so a guide is essential.
2. Cycle up Chapman’s Peak (one of the best things to do in Cape Town)
You’ve probably heard of Chapman’s Peak Drive, but if you want to turn this stunning section of the road into a real adventure, peddle up instead! The road is steep and winding, the mountains beyond often enveloped in mist and the Atlantic Ocean roaring below. I’ll never forget the exhilarating feeling of riding up and whizzing down the road, with the mighty wind and breathtaking views all around. A must do in Cape Town.
Depending on your fitness level, you can use the motor assist feature of the e-bike to make your ride faster and easier. We booked this e-bike experience with Mhinti who works in the Imizamo Yethu Township near Hout Bay .
3. If you dare, hike up Lion’s Head on a route with sheer drops (but not without a guide!)
We found ourselves at one of the starting points of the Lion’s Head trail on our second day in Cape Town. Blissfully unaware that our guide wasn’t leading us up the regular chains and ladder hike – but up a C-grade trail with rock scrambling, exposures and SHEER DROPS! Halfway through, my adrenaline was pumping so hard that I forgot I was just a misstep away from ending my trip (and life) right there. A mind-blowing and nerve-wracking experience – and in retrospect, the most insane hike we attempted in/around Cape Town. Definitely not for anyone with a fear of heights.
I’ll refrain from revealing much about the route because this really isn’t a hike you should be attempting on your own + there are no trail markers. Book this one with Marius / Irmina, and message them in advance that you have the heart for some adventure!
4. Kayak along the Atlantic Coast at sunset
Hugged by the Atlantic Coast, Cape Town’s magic is as much inland as in the water. The ocean is usually too cold to swim, but on a sunny day, head out to Sea Point or Hout Bay to kayak on the waves, in the backdrop of dramatic mountains, as the sun dips below the horizon and paints the sky in tones of pink and orange. Now can you see why it’s so hard to leave Cape Town?
Check out The Inside Guide’s recommended kayaking experiences in Cape Town.
5. Discover the unique fynbos in the Silver Mine Reservoir
The bush-like scratchy local vegetation of the Western Cape region (called fynbos aka fine bush) is no ordinary vegetation. It is among one of the world’s smallest yet most diverse floral kingdoms – and a protected UNESCO site! Our first real introduction to the fynbos was in the Silver Mine Reservoir, a protected area not far from Kalk Bay – while hiking with Justin who calls the area home. Even though we found ourselves surrounded by clouds (and without a view) , learning about the plant kingdom we had seen so many times in Cape Town but never really observed was eye-opening!
Silver Mine offers one of the easier, gentler hikes in Cape Town, ideal for pretty much every level of fitness. I highly recommend choosing Justin as your first “fynbos” guide – no one we met since matched his wealth of knowledge and passion for the fynbos.
6. Paraglide off Lion’s Head
If you’ve seen the city from the mountains and the ocean, how about exploring it from the skies? On warm, windy hiking days, I often looked towards the Atlantic Ocean to see paragliders riding the wind. We never made it to the skies of Cape Town, but having paraglided in the Indian Himalayas, I can only imagine the thrill. I’m saving this as one among many reasons to go back.
Browse through the best paragliding in Cape Town.
7. Hike up Skeleton Gorge to discover a “beach” in the mountains
The Skeleton Gorge hike up Table Mountain, which begins in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, is one of the most unique things to do in Cape Town. First, this takes you up a virgin section of the Newlands Forest – a rarity among the Cape’s shrubs. Second, when you slog and scramble a fair way up and take a detour towards the reservoir, you land up at a BEACH! In the middle of the mountains. White sand on the shores of a water body. Absolutely bizarre and amazing.
We hiked up Skeleton Gorge on our own, since the trail is well-defined and there’s no reported crime on this part of the mountain. You need to pay the entry fee at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and follow the signs towards Skeleton Gorge. After the detour towards the reservoir, follow the signs towards the cable car to take it down (and spare your knees). The hike takes 5-6 hours and needs a moderate fitness level.
8. Do an overnight hike in the Cape of Good Hope (one of the most epic things to do in Cape Town)
Plenty of visitors drive in the Cape of Good Hope National Park, but its real wonders can only be discovered on foot – on the Cape of Good Hope overnight hike! On the first day, we hiked 20 km along pristine beaches and mountain slopes covered in blooming snowbush. Met groups of ostriches on foot and spotted endangered tortoises and blue-faced rock gamas. Saw a stunning sunset, sunrise and night sky from the park hut. The second day had us hike 13.5 km along dramatic cliffs and breathtaking views over the Atlantic Coast. An incredibly special experience (that I’ll write about in more detail soon).
Bookings for the overnight Cape of Good Hope trail need to be made directly with San Parks.
9. Walk the Boomslang at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (among the most amazing things to see in Cape Town)
I’m usually not a fan of manmade gardens, but the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is one of a kind. At the foothills of the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, it features several walking trails, a deep insight into the fynbos, a Fragrance Garden and an Extinction Garden with surreal plant and animal species that have been wiped off the planet mostly due to human intervention. If you do only one thing in the gardens, follow the trail to the Boomslang – a suspended canopy walkway with stellar views on Devil’s Peak and McLear’s Beacon. Worth a visit even if it’s among the more popular things to do in Cape Town.
An Uber from the city to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens costs R110-130 (8-9$). I recommend arriving early and slowly making your way through multiple trails, suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Maybe even carrying a picnic for the gardens!
Also read: An Experiential Guide to New York City
CULTURE, FOOD AND MUSIC: FUN THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
Outdoor activities in Cape Town aside, the city has an enviable culinary and music scene. Over the 2.5 months we spent in Cape Town, we were lucky enough to hear some exceptionally talented musicians and poets. And indulge our taste buds in unfamiliar (vegan) flavours from across the African continent.
The best things to do in Cape Town for culture-seekers, foodies and music aficionados:
10. Explore social enterprises in Khayelitsha – a Cape Town township – with Uthando (one of the top 10 things to do in Cape Town)
I must confess I was skeptical to go on a “township tour” in Cape Town. There is nothing romantic about poverty or going into someone’s house to see their living conditions – I know that as an Indian. But Uthando is a local social enterprise that operates differently. Instead of people’s homes, they give travellers an insight into community projects in Khayelitsha township. And a substantial chunk of the tourism money is used to support 50+ such small-scale projects!
On our trip with Uthando, we watched short theatrical and musical performances by budding artists at a shack theatre. Visited a community-run organic garden and heard poetry on climate change! And were left mesmerised by the uplifting music of a Xhosa gospel choir.
If you’re curious to learn about South Africa’s apartheid history, meaningfully experience life in a township and give back to community projects, Uthando is your best bet. I can’t recommend them enough.
11. Learn to cook traditional Cape Malay food
Much of South African food revolves around braai (barbecue) and meat. But its Cape Malay cuisine is unique, flavourful and vegan-friendly. Learn to cook rootis (flat bread), dhal, chickpea curry, samoosas and other dishes in the colourful area of Bo Kaap with a local resident. A treat for the taste buds!
Although we indulged in Cape Malay food multiple times, this cooking lesson remained on our wish list. Another reason to go back!
12. Learn about the history of Apartheid from someone who lived through it
It’s one thing to read about Apartheid, quite another to walk around Cape Town with someone who spent his early adulthood through it. We spent a morning with Richard on his apartheid tour, learning about the history of District Six and how, even after 25 years, the horrors of Apartheid continue to impact life in the city. Towards the end of the walk, we wounded up at Company’s Gardens, where even benches were once segregated by color. It was here that Richard let us into his personal journey through Apartheid – moving and heartbreaking.
Richard works with homeless people on Cape Town’s streets through various initiatives. Joining his Apartheid tour is a way of indirectly extending your support to them.
13. Try Senegalese food and a traditional coffee ceremony at Khadim’s
It was pure serenditpity that a board on the street led us to Khadim’s Cafe on a tin roofed balcony above Greenmarket Square! This was our first introduction to Senegalese cuisine, and I was delighted to discover that dark couscous and sugar beans are accidentally vegan staples in Senegal. Gently spiced with Senegalese herbs and spices, I was so wowed by the flavours that I almost decided to go to Senegal next 😉
Khadim also offers a traditional Senegalese coffee ceremony, if you happen to be into coffee.
14. Attend “Ghetto Sessions” – a monthly Khayelitsha musical extravaganza (among the top things to do in Cape Town)
Every month, Khayelitsha township holds its signature music event – Ghetto Sessions. A street is blocked out, vendors come from all over the township to sell their wares (from customisable beads to Khayelitsha wines) and the venue transforms into a music lover’s paradise.
We were super lucky to attend the last Ghetto Sessions of 2019, where, among others, we heard South African legend Sibahle Sky Dladla perform with her self-made bow and marimba instruments. The stage then opened up to the audience, and the rap, poetry and Rastafarian music that followed was absolutely mind blowing! Set aside all your inhibitions about visiting Khayelitsha and attend Ghetto Sessions (maybe even time your trip to Cape Town to coincide with it). Easily among the best things to do in Cape Town!
Many Uber drivers are reluctant to go to Khayelitsha due to its reputation of drugs and violence. We booked a private taxi with Garth, who is an excellent driver and guide. You can reach him at Tilling Tours.
15. Savor food from Zimbabwe at Pahari in Salt River
Far from the tourist stretch and a rare chance to sample Zimbabwe food, Pahari quickly became one of my favourite places to eat in Cape Town. Think sugar beans, veggies in peanut butter sauce, chakalaka and pumpkin leaves served with a generous portion of pap (made of corn, millet or sorghum) and homemade chilli paste; YUM! The friendly Zim owner and the local feel of the restaurant makes it a must-do for foodies.
Pahari African Restaurant is located in the Salt River neighborhood of Cape Town, and an easy Uber ride away from anywhere in the city.
16. Catch “Jazz in the Native Yards”
Cape Town townships are a hotbed of talent, and “Jazz in the Native Yards” is an attempt to shine the spotlight on their finest Jazz musicians. These Jazz nights typically happen in people’s backyards or in community centers, in the little-visited townships of Langa and Gugulethu, and are a great opportunity to discover under-the-radar indie musicians and experience a rarely seen side of the city.
Connect with Jazz in the native yards to keep track of their upcoming events. Get in touch with Garth of Tilling Tours if you need a safe taxi to get you there.
17. Indulge in “Ubuntu” and traditional Xhosa food at 4Roomed
Ubuntu, rooted in the Nguni language of South Africa, signifies the essence of being human – drawing on values like compassion and unity. It harkens back to the times of Apartheid, when many communities in the region were displaced and multiple families ended up sharing small 4-roomed houses on the outskirts of Cape Town.
The rare traditional Xhosa food experience at 4Roomed Ekasi Culture in Khayelitsha has been ranked among the 30 best restaurants in the world – and part of their traditional feasting menu is vegan-friendly (the rest can be made so on request). Prep your tastebuds for local delights like pap (corn meal), baked butternut, umngqusho (samp) with tarragon, delicately spiced curry and steamed bread.
The restaurant is only open for dinner on Friday and lunch on Saturday / Sunday. Reservations are recommended and can be made on 4Roomed Ekasi Culture’s website.
18. Experience a slice of Morocco in Woodstock
Walking through the open doors of Andalousse made me feel like I had indeed entered a Moroccan tea house. Run by a friendly Moroccan guy, this became our go-to spot for real Moroccan mint tea and generous helpings of Khodar (couscous topped with chickpea stew) and flavourful Moroccan tagine.
The owner is well-versed with vegan food and goes out of his way to customise dishes.
19. Catch local Indie musicians at So Far Sounds
Ever since my first So Far Sounds in Goa, I’m a fan of their secret (and free) music pop-up events. If you plan to spend a while in Cape Town, sign up for the Cape Town edition of So Far Sounds. We attended one in an art museum on a wine estate in the suburbs of Cape Town – and loved the performances by a range of independent local singers, songwriters and musicians.
So Far Sounds is now a global movement and a great way to support local musicians.
20. Try Tanzanian food at the Neighbour Goods Market
As a vegan traveller, I was quite sceptical of finding anything to eat among African cuisines. But exposure to some of them in Cape Town sure bust some myths. Tanzanian food, for instance, might largely be meat-oriented but it also offers staples like coconut rice, mung beans and chutney – a delightful combo at the Tanzanian stall at the weekly Neighbour Goods Market at Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock.
The Neighbour Goods Market happens every Saturday at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock. Go early to beat the crowds, or atleast before 1 pm (many stalls start running out of food after that).
MARKETS, SUNSETS AND FREE THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
On my first trip to South Africa in 2015, I remember thinking Cape Town is such an affordable city. But things sure seem to have changed over the years. Though still not as expensive as Western Europe or the US, travelling around Cape Town and the rest of South Africa can be a drain on the wallet. But fret not, there is plenty to experience and explore in Cape Town without spending a penny.
Awesome free / cheap things to do in Cape Town:
21. Catch an iconic Table Mountain sunset at Lagoon Beach, Milnerton (one of the most romantic things to do in Cape Town)
The windy and spectacular Lagoon Beach – a short Uber ride from the city – is the perfect spot to see the sun set behind the iconic panorama of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and Devil’s Peak. I jumped for joy as the sun scattered its golden hues on the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. Truly breathtaking.
22. Walk around Bo Kaap
The colourful neighbourhood of Bo Kaap, largely home to the city’s Cape Malay residents, is one of the few remaining traditional neighborhood in Cape Town. There’s tremendous pressure on residents to sell out to builders, for it’s prime real estate. But they hold on, protecting their heritage and way of life. Go for a leisurely stroll, or walk up all the way to Signal Hill.
23. Eat your way through Mojo Market
Mojo Market in Sea Point is easily one of the best food markets in Cape Town – and open everyday, though Fridays are live music days. The quality and diversity of food here is incomparable. It’s tough to choose from Tao’s pot stickers, Earth Fire’s thin crust cashew cheese pizza and a range of vegan burgers, poke bowls and gelato. Go with an appetite!
24. Indulge in street art in Woodstock
We called the trendy neighbourhood of Woodstock home for nearly 2 months! The vibrant streets, friendly locals, corner shops, hidden cafes and bars, gin distilleries, zero waste shopping and above all – the street art – give it a character so different from the rest of Cape Town. If you have time at hand, stroll along the by-lanes to discover the rebellious and incredible street art by yourself. Alternatively, the Woodstock street art tour by Juma comes highly recommended!
Spend your time in Woodstock on foot during the day. It gets a little shady by night, so opt for an Uber.
25. Walk the Sea Point Promenade at sunset
We made it a point to make it down to the Sea Point Promenade for a sunset walk atleast once a week. And I always pinched myself as the sun sank into the Atlantic Ocean and the sky burst into colours. What a stunning city!
The Sea Point Promenade connects to the Green Point Promenade and further to V&A Waterfront. A beautiful long walk if you’re so inclined.
26. Watch African indie performers at the V&A Waterfront
I know I promised not to send you to the super touristy V&A Waterfront in this list of offbeat things to do in Cape Town, but excuse me for this one exclusion. Independent buskers travel all the way from Khayelitsha and other townships to perform at various spots along the V&A Waterfront. We even spotted the Xhosa gospel choir from our tour with Uthando once! These indie artists are a treasure trove of talent. Support their mesmerizing music with a tip or better still, buy their CDs – among quintessential things to do buy in Cape Town.
27. Browse the Saturday market at the Old Biscuit Mill
The neighbourhood of Woodstock is for all things hipster, and the Neighbour Goods Market in the Old Biscuit Mill every Saturday slips right into that category. Think indulgent vegan desserts at Cravings Bakery and kimchi bao at the all-vegetarian Korean stall. Essential oils of hemp and baobab. Fresh produce from local farmers, fresh coconut water, clothes and accessories designed by local designers, and live music. So much to love.
The Neighbour Goods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill is open every Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm. Get there early to beat the crowds!
28. Read at Chimurenga independent book store
There are plenty of bookstores across Cape Town, but a hidden bookstore is Chimurenga – obscurely tucked away on the second floor of a gated entrance in Woodstock. Upstairs though, it feels like a different world with a small collection of independent zines and books by local authors. Comfy up on a couch and read through this eclectic collection, or attend one of their book events.
See what’s on at Chimurenga on their Facebook page.
29. Attend a concert at Silo District
We had no idea who Amanda Black was until we randomly landed up at her free concert at Silo District. Turns out, she is South Africa’s hottest music sensation and her music is addictive! People came from the furthest reaches of Cape Town with such enthusiasm to watch her that the atmosphere was electric. Undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Cape Town for free!
Check out the Silo District Concert Calendar to see what’s happening when you’re around.
30. Browse the Oranjezicht City Farm Market
The Oranjezicht City Farm Market is just that – a gathering of city farmers selling seasonal produce (think juicy mangoes and organic avocados). But also much more than that. Almost a mini carnival with all kinds of foods, smoothies, upcycled wares, desserts, microgreens and popsicles, with plenty of vegan options to choose from! Some of my favourite eats at Oranjezicht City Farm Market include the three beans bowl at Gut Health, protein flap jacks (and doughnuts!) at Scheckters Raw and the indulgences at the vegan-friendly dessert stall.
The Oranjezicht City Farm Market happens every Saturday and Sunday from 9 am – 2 pm. The Night Market happens only in the summer months from 4-8pm.
31. Hike up Kloof Nek for a magical African sunset (top 10 things to do in Cape Town)
Chances are, you already know about Lion’s Head at sunset. But for something different, away from the crowds, and equally if not more spectacular, hike up Kloof Nek on Table Mountain instead. In 45 minutes or so, you’ll find yourself at a spectacular viewpoint, with sweeping views over the Atlantic Ocean and hardly a handful of hikers for company.
Crime has been reported in this area, so make sure you descend before it gets dark, preferably in sight of other hikers.
32. Attend a public talk at Cape Town University
During our first week in Cape Town, we stumbled upon a public lecture in Cape Town University to discuss the findings of a new study on climate action in South Africa. It was a great introduction to Cape Town’s environmentalists and thinkers, and put into perspective our own consumption as individuals living off the city’s coal-powered grid.
Public lectures cover a range of topics from literature to the environment. See the schedule of upcoming talks and events at Cape Town University here.
33. Discover Cape Town’s art scene on “First Thursdays” (things to do in Cape Town at night)
People rarely walk after dark in Cape Town, given the city’s notorious reputation with respect to crime. On the first Thursday night of every month however, the city bowl area of the city comes alive, with many art galleries remaining open until 9 pm and offering free entry to the public. If you’re looking for things to do in Cape Town at night, this is a rare evening of seeing people on the streets, discovering local artists and supporting independent art galleries.
If you happen to be in Cape Town on the first Thursday of any month, check out First Thursdays for on-going exhibitions and other happenings in the city.
QUIRKY AND ECO-FRIENDLY: COOLEST THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
34. Catch a film at Labia Theatre, an independent cinema
We spent our first couple of weeks in Cape Town living in the Orangejischt neighborhood, and besides its proximity to Table Mountain, the best part was the neighborhood Labia Theatre. In this small independent cinema (part of the Euro Cinemas network), we caught the African short film festival (with some absolutely brilliant movies) and the European film festival. On a regular basis, Labia plays a set of curated films, ranging from latest releases to classics – among the most enjoyable things to do on a Sunday in Cape Town!
See the ongoing schedule of films at Labia Theatre and book online.
35. Shop at a zero waste store
While in Cape Town, I decided to seriously experiment with zero waste living – and was delighted to discover two amazing zero waste stores in the city. Nude Foods near District Six offers a wide range of no-packaging delights, from raw cacao and dried mangos to making your own nut butters. Shop Zero in Woodstock has a slightly smaller range, but I love their Cape Cola (with no nasties unlike Coke) and Orbs (roasted chickpeas coated with dark chocolate).
It’s best to carry your own bottles, jars and bags to buy stuff. Paper bags are available at both shops, but they are also resource intensive to produce.
36. Join a vegan popup dinner with locals
Every fortnight, Cape Town vegans Karen and Patrick open up their homes for a vegan dinner. Our five course meal featured nicoise salad with vegan “tuna” and tofu stuffed courgette, and rounded off with an indulgent cheese platter and homemade desserts. I was expecting to get clued into the vegan scene in Cape Town at this dinner, but surprisingly, most people who showed up were vegan curious, not yet vegan. Which is great 😉
Check out Green and Vegan’s upcoming vegan popup dinners and book it on Airbnb Experiences or local ticketing site Quicket.
37. Taste the world’s best gin in Woodstock
I know, I know. I’m nowhere close to tasting all the great gins in the world, but I’m making this statement using Bombay Saphire as the average benchmark! South Africans wines often take away the focus from gin, but there are some incredible gin distilleries in Woodstock if you’re up to experiment. Hope Gin (especially the fynbos flavour) is my absolute favourite.
38. Catch a movie at the outdoor cinema at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens (one of the most special things to do in Cape Town)
One of my highlights in Cape Town was (re)watching Avatar and Into the Wild at the open-air cinema in Kirstenbosch! Just after dark, you can lay back on reclining chairs, cosy up with a blanket and a box of vegan nachos and beer, to watch a classic under the stars. An unmissable experience!
Book your tickets on Galileo Open Air Cinema and show up 30 minutes – 1 hour early to get a good spot on the lawn, buy food / drinks from the vendors and settle in. You can also carry your own picnic!
39. Have a unique dinner with singing and theatrics
Every weekend, Stardust Theatrical Dining hosts diners not just for a hearty meal but also for an evening of dramatized musical performances. But this is no live music venue. The staff and servers are performers themselves! Expect an indulgent meal (even as a vegan; indicate your dietary preferences in advance), a lot of alcohol (if you so choose) and some mindblowing performances.
Stardust Theatrical Dining gets booked out months in advance. Book early!
40. Rejuvenate at the Fragrance Garden at Kirstenbosch
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden has much to offer nature lovers, but people often miss out the Fragrance Garden towards the end of the yellow trail. This is a unique selection of fynbos plants with rejuvenating fragrances, complete with an explanation of the reasons behind the fragrances. It’s sure to make you appreciate the genius of nature.
41. Dine in the dark at Test Kitchen
An extravagant dine in the dark experience in Woodstock, that gets booked out months in advance! It’s on our things to do in Cape Town – upon our return – list.
DAY TRIPS AND WEEKEND GETAWAYS: SECRET THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN
Cape Town is one of those rare cities that suck you in and don’t let you leave! Luckily, there are plenty of easy day trips and overnight getaways within the Western Cape, perfect if you’re staying for a while and want to keep it as a base. Alternatively, these relatively lesser-known but incredibly unique experiences can be savored as part of a Garden Route road trip from Cape Town to Durban.
Things to do near Cape Town:
42. Join a 3-day walking safari at Gondwana Game Reserve (easily among the most unique things to do in Cape Town)
You heard that right. Just a 4.5 hour drive from Cape Town lays the incredible Gondwana Game Reserve. Depleted farm land transformed into 11,000+ hectares of bush, home to the big 5! This private, free roaming, ethical, conservation-focused Big 5 reserve offers something truly unique – a 3 day Pioneer Trail through the length and breath of the reserve. Think glamping, lions, giraffes, zebras and all the wonders of the fynbos on foot. A most memorable experience.
The incredible Pioneer Trail was recommended to us by Destinate, which collects and curates truly unique travel experiences in the Western Cape. This one qualifies for quintessential couple activities in Cape Town!
PS: If you’re vegan, make sure you carry some spare snacks for the walking trail!
43. Hike up Devil’s Peak on the little known Mowbray Ridge
Our Airbnb in Woodstock overlooked Devil’s Peak, so obviously it called out to us. We did this hike with Miles too (see 1 above), who took us on the rarely traversed Mowbray Ridge and Knife’s Edge. The first part is pretty uphill, after which the fun scrambling begins with some sheer drops right into the Newlands Forest! Absolutely exhilarating – and one of the most unique things to do in Cape Town.
Moderate fitness and an appetite for heights is a requisite. A guide is mandatory as the trail is barely marked.
44. Catch a performance at the Kasi RC Shack Theatre in Khayelitsha
Kasi RC shack art school and theatre is the brainchild of award winning actor Mandisi Sindo, who said he dreamt of becoming a Hollywood star but decided to dedicate his creativity to neighborhood shack theatres instead. These after-school creative safe spaces are open to the youth of Khayelitsha to grow and heal by nurturing their immense talent – and they hold theatrical performances every Friday, open to the public. A great way to better understand life in the townships and support local talent.
Get in touch with Kasi RC on Instagram to find out what’s on. Garth of Tilling Tours will probably be the best person to drive you there and back. Definitely among things to do in Cape Town winter.
45. Eat your way through the Vegan Goods Market in Constantia / Woodstock
An all-vegan market, anyone? This one usually has vegan street food (including croissants with vegan cheese), delightful activated charcoal burgers packed with micro greens, selections of vegan cheeses and kebabs, and a range of cosmetics, clothes and accessories. I only got a chance to go for the smaller one in Woodstock but I’ve heard the weekly market in Constantia is way more happening!
Connect with Vegan Goods Market to keep track of their upcoming events. I wouldn’t look for any other things to do on Sunday in Cape Town!
46. Hang out with wild African penguins at Stony Point Nature Reserve
You’ve probably heard of Boulder’s Beach and got it on your things to do in Cape Town list already. But if time permits, rent a car and drive further into the Western Cape to Betty’s Bay (Stoney Point Nature Reserve) to beat the crowds and have some quality time with these little wild things.
Entry to the Stony Point Nature Reserve costs R25 – and a trip here is best clubbed with a stay at Grootbos Nature Reserve.
47. Indulge in all things fynbos at Grootbos Nature Reserve
Named among National Geographic’s most unique lodges of the world, the privately owned Grootbos Nature Reserve is unique indeed. This land, once 7 agricultural farms and livestock pastures, was returned to nature in the 90s and is now home to 2500 hectares of fynbos, with some plant species only found here, including the world’s oldest Milkwood Forest. We spent our time here on blissful long walks, doing a day trip to the coast to look for whales, visiting caves once inhabited by the San people and soaking up the wonders of the Fynbos. Highly recommended!
Take the coastal scenic route from Cape Town to get to Grootbos Nature Reserve, and stop off at Stony Point Nature Reserve to see wild African penguins along the way. We landed up at Grootbos thanks to Destinate and their curated collection of experiences in the Western Cape!
48. Hike up Table Mountain on the rarely traversed Kasteelspoot trail
There are many ways to hike up Table Mountain. Perhaps the least taxing trail with the greatest rewards is the Kasteelspoort Trail (graded A with minimal scrambling), where you walk over some of the 12 Apostles to get to Table Mountain. The views are breathtaking, contact crime on this part of the mountain is low and the trail is well-marked.
We did the Kasteelspoort hike with a guide the first time, and on our own the second time. If you’re not familiar with the mountain, it’s best to go with a guide.
49. Spend a Friday evening at the vibrant Hout Bay Market (if you like markets, count this among the best things to do in Cape Town)
Away from the city bowl, the weekly Bay Harbor Market at Hout Bay is probably the most vibrant night market in Cape Town. Live music, craft beers, vegan street food and a charming indoor vibe. Worth the long trip from town – and one of the few family things to do in Cape Town at night.
The Hout Bay Market features live music every Friday. Best clubbed with a bicycle ride up Chapman’s Peak.
50. Take the train to Simonstown
What a strange thing to recommend, right? Well, there were so many people who’d never taken the train who suggested that we never take the train. But guess what, other than the privileged rich, most of Cape Town’s population relies on the train! We took it a bunch of times – and despite the torn seats, thoroughly enjoyed the ride and met some friendly souls along the way. The train winds along the coast, crossing Kalk Bay, Muizenberg and other coastal towns to finally end at Simonstown. An experience in itself.
Check the train schedule here. Buy the first class ticket at the station counter, and look for “metro rail plus” signs on the bogies when the train rolls in. It’s less crowded and worth paying a bit extra for. From Simonstown, you can take a minibus or Uber to Boulder’s Beach.
Is Cape Town on your bucket list? What would you add to my unusual things to do in Cape Town list?
Order a copy of my bestselling book, The Shooting Star.