Traveling to Cape Town: Popular Attractions, Visa and Safety Information

what to do in cape town

Also known as the Mother City, Cape Town is a unique place that attracts as many as 5 million international travelers who each year decide to apply for a South African visa and fly to Cape Town International Airport.

It’s not the political capital of South Africa, but it’s indeed the country’s most well-known city for culture, history, and tourist attractions. A holiday in Cape Town is likely to leave memories that last a lifetime.

From museums to shopping, from going out at night to hiking and even surfing, there’s almost nothing you can’t do in Cape Town. This short guide will help foreigners discover the most famous attractions in Cape Town as well as useful information regarding safety in the city and getting the right Cape Town visa.

Do I Need a Visa to Go to Cape Town?

At the moment, there are only 52 nationalities that don’t need a South African visa in order to visit Cape Town. If you’re from a non-exempt country, you’ll most likely need to obtain a tourist visa in order to enter South Africa for tourism purposes and explore Cape Town.

In order to obtain a visa for Cape Town, you’ll first need to check the visa requirements specific to your circumstances (your nationality, the intended length of your stay in South Africa, the purpose of your trip, etc.). This will allow you to figure out the right type of South African visa for you and the application steps you’ll need to follow.

Currently, most foreigners will need to visit a South African embassy and submit copies of the relevant documentation in person in order to obtain a visa for Cape Town. However, the South African government has recently announced that a new electronic visa system will be available soon. This will allow travelers to apply for a visa online in minutes from anywhere in the world, eliminating the need to go to an embassy or travel agency entirely.

What Is Cape Town Best Known for?

If you’re wondering “What can I do in Cape Town?” you’ll be surprised by how long the answer can be. Depending on what you enjoy doing on a holiday (relaxing on the beach, exploring a new city, spending time in nature) there are almost infinite options in this multicultural and sunny city.

Is Robben Island Worth Visiting?

Robben Island is a place of great historical importance, so much so that it has been declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the apartheid area, Robben Island served as a brutal prison where prisoners were forced to go carry out back-breaking work.

Famously, Nelson Mandela was detained here for over 18 years. Today, visitors can take a guided tour that can easily become an emotional experience as life in Robben Island is described in detail by former prisoners.

Robben Island is indeed a piece of South African history and the great conditions in which the prison is kept and the well-organized tours make it definitely worth a visit.

How Long Does It Take to Walk Up the Table Mountain?

Rising south of the city, this flat-topped mountain is the most photographed landmark in South Africa. It’s a truly breath-taking place that allows for some of the best views over Cape Town.

There is a cableway that will take you up the 1,224 meters in only 7 minutes. However, many visitors decide to enjoy a walk up to the top. There are more than 350 paths and routes of different difficulty. Depending on the path you choose and your starting point, it may take between 2 to 4 hours to get to the top.

Opened in 1913 to protect the South African indigenous flora, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens were one of the first botanical gardens to be established in the world.

The 528 hectares that make up the Gardens on the Eastern slopes of Table Mountain are home to more than 20,000 species. The landscapers arranged the plants so that visitors can enjoy a show of colorful blossoms all year round. During the summer, make sure to check the schedule of the many outdoor concerts hosted at the Gardens.

Can You Swim in Cape Town?

Part of Cape Town’s charm is that it was built between the mountains and the ocean. Surfers flock here to catch some of the world’s most famous waves.

Just 6 km from the city center, the beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton provide the perfect spot for beach lovers who want to go for a swim or a tan after work. In this area, you’ll find decent surf, volleyball fields, and award-winning clear and safe waters.

Is Cape Town Safe for Tourists?

Statistics show that the crime rates in Cape Town are higher than in the countryside — as it’s the case for most big urban centers. However, foreign visitors should not be misled by numbers: 95% of crimes are committed in specific areas. Usually, these are underdeveloped and degraded locations (like the Cape Flat communities and slums) far away from the places where tourists hang out.

Of course, thefts and robberies can be common in crowded areas. Here, visitors should have no issues as long as they follow the general safety advice for South Africa. For example, avoid flashing valuables like jewelry and expensive cameras and be alert.

What Is the Best Time to Visit Cape Town?

Cape Town has something to offer all year round, whether you like the heat and beach parties or love the idea of seeing the snow at the most Southern spot in Africa.

If you decide to travel during the winter, remember to pack warm clothes because the weather can become pretty cold and windy. Don’t forget your wetsuit because this is when you can catch the biggest waves.

During the dry season (November to February) the temperature goes up and the city is buzzing with outdoor activities and festivals. However, this is also the busiest season, with the highest accommodation prices.