City Center Cape Town | Attractions & Activities

Cape Town is a really sprawling city, with suburbs stretching across the mountains and hills of the country’s southernmost edge. And at the heart of it all is our city center, a business district with plenty of attractions and activities, restaurants, cafes and bars. And all with the monumental Table Mountain as backdrop.

I lived in the City Center of Cape Town for a few years, and did plenty of exploring! Since there’s so much happening in the center, I’ve split it up into activities – things to do – and attractions.

Depending on your time and preferences, I’d recommend spending at least a weekend in the heart of Cape Town before moving onto one of the adventure sports neighbourhoods for some more nature-based fun!

Safety – what to keep in mind

Because of its centrality, the city center can be a little less safe than other neighbourhoods. Pickpockets are relatively common in heavily-populated areas, and can even, on rare occasions, threaten you with a knife or gun. Because of this, it’s best not to carry your valuables with you, and to keep your bag zipped and at your front.

You may also see a lot of homeless individuals living in tents and sleeping bags on certain streets. This can come as a bit of a shock – but it’s important to know that most of these people are non-violent, and are struggling under governance that does not provide adequate support for impoverished and drug addicted citizens. If you behave calmly and respectfully, you’re very unlikely to be physically threatened by anyone.

Still, it’s important to note that the likelihood of threat increases when you’re on your own and exploring quiet streets. Women in particular should try to stick to well-populated, well-lit streets, or walk with a friend. You can find more safety tips and resources here.

Things to do in the City Center

The city center is the perfect place for tourists to start when exploring our beautiful city. It’s small enough to walk, and you can easily go from here to anywhere else in the city, using the MyCiti busses, trains, or uber.

So, let’s jump right into what to do in the city center!

Stroll through Company’s Gardens

Located right in the heart of Cape Town is Company’s Gardens. This beautiful green space is home to many indigenous plants and trees, along with lovely sprawling lawns shaded by trees, where people enjoy picnics or just laze about on a sunny day. You’ll see plenty of squirrels and birds (and rats if you visit in the evening – fair warning), and there are often buskers playing good music.

Watch a film at The Labia

One of our favourite thrifty activities in Cape Town is going to see a film at The Labia! This old-school independent theatre is one of the oldest in the country, and screens both arthouse films and bigger names.

The Labia Theatre is cheaper than other moviehouses, with weekly deals where you can get dinner and a movie for really good prices (R110 – R180 for two people). They also sell alcohol and coffee and tasty treats at good prices – and they don’t restrict you from bringing your own snacks!

This old theatre was a bit of a lifesaver when we were broke students, and we’d strongly recommend everyone pay it a visit. Maybe you can even see a South African film while you’re at it.

Visit Long Street

The iconic Long Street! Sometimes Long Street is overhyped, and then you feel disappointed when you actually walk down it and find that, whatever positives, it is just a street. But if you don’t go in expecting the world, this very long street can be great fun.

On weekend nights (or any night but Mondays and Tuesdays, those are our jol recovery days), Long Street lights up. Particularly on Cape Town’s summer nights! You’ll find live music at various bars, along with some very different kinds of clubs, bars and restaurants.

During the day, Long Street is a fun shopping center, with some high-end restaurants and cafes that are well worth a try.

Explore Bo Kaap

Perhaps the most famous neighbourhood in Cape Town is the bright and colourful Bo Kaap. It hugs a steep hill, with cobblestone streets and candy-coloured houses, overlooking the city center.

Bo Kaap is formerly known as the Malay Quarter, and remains the center of the city’s Cape Malay community. Because of its lovely location and uniquely bright buildings, the neighbourhood has become very sought-after and suffered from gentrification and rising prices. However, in 2019, various parts of Bo Kaap were declared National Heritage sites, and are thus protected for the residents!

In addition to respectfully exploring this beautiful and historic area, I’d highly recommend popping into Atlas Trading for some spices. And even joining a Cape Malay cooking class. You’ll be able to learn more about the culture and how to make some of their incredible traditional dishes – and then eat them. As locals who’ve always enjoyed Cape Malay cuisine, it was such a pleasure to do this class.

Have a meal on Kloof Street

In the last few years, Kloof Street has emerged as Cape Town’s favourite street for date nights, cocktails and decadent meals. The restaurants on this street are pricey, but offer some of the best food I’ve ever had. In particular – Black Sheep, Ricks Cafe Americain, and Saigon are three of our all-time favourites.

Also on this street is Van Hunks, a super popular bar and grill. So you can start your evening with a drink or two here, and then move on to one of the restaurants, or walk down to Long Street for some live music or dancing.

Go shopping

Filling up on peanut butter at Nudefoods, Zonnebloem

Many of Cape Town’s neighbourhoods are not really shopping districts, but this is not one of those! The city center is home to many local businesses and brands, and you can find treasures up most of the streets.

This area also has shopping centres and international brands, but I’d really recommend checking out the Capetonian creations, whether you’re on the lookout for souvenirs, clothing, ceramics – anything. Cape Town is a city of entrepreneurs!

Market-wise, this neighbourhood has Greenmarket Square, a flea market with various local arts and crafts. The Waterfront is also nearby, with multiple markets of its own.

Cocktails at the Pink Lady

The Pink Lady, also known as the Mount Nelson Hotel, is one of Cape Town’s oldest and most attractive hotels, with beautiful views of our Table Mountain. Of course, most of us can’t afford to actually stay here. But what you can do, is go for fancy cocktails at the in-house Planet Bar. Some of the best cocktails I’ve had were here – and they also hand over a lovely selection of salted nuts with your drinks!

The vibe is very classy and cool, making it a perfect spot for a fancy date. You can even follow up your cocktails with a film at The Labia since it’s a 2-minute walk away.

Head over to the Waterfront and join a sailing tour

The Waterfront isn’t technically within the city center, but it’s so close that I want to add it to the end of this list! Particularly because sailing out from the waterfront gives you the best view possible of Cape Town’s center, with Table Mountain rising up behind it.

There are various sailing options available, including short lunchtime trips, dinner cruises, and the sunset champagne sail that we did and loved. Whichever you choose, you’ll sail out from the strikingly pretty harbour, glide out on the water, and maybe even see some seals and whales on the way.

City Center attractions & museums

If you’re interested in Cape Town and SA’s complex and difficult history, the city center has a wealth of museums and attractions to explore this past. Along with wonderful galleries dedicated to contemporary and historic artists and changemakers!

South African National Gallery

Open hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 – 11:30 & 12:30 – 14:00

Cost: R30 | half-price for children, students & pensioners | free on fridays for students & pensioners

With an extensive collection of African and South African art, both historic and modern, the national gallery is a fantastic place to spend a few hours. It’s located right within Company’s Gardens, so you’ll reach it after a lovely stroll. Its exhibitions are moving and intense, with a few informative plaques to place the works in their historic time and place. And since there are both permanent and temporary exhibitions here, it’s worth visiting every year or so!

Castle of Good Hope

Open hours: Daily, 09:00 – 17:00

Cost: R50 | half-price for children and pensioners

Every Cape Town child knows the Castle of Good Hope from school tours! This 17th-century castle is the oldest existing colonial building in the country. It was constructed by the Dutch East India Company as a base for ships travelling between Europe and East Asia during the spice trade’s heyday.

Today, the castle serves as a museum and a monument to South Africa’s complex indigenous and colonial history. It’s definitely more interesting to South Africans, but tourists can also learn more about our country here!

Iziko South African Museum

Open hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 10:00 – 11:30 & 12:30 – 14:00

Cost: R30 | half-price for children, students & pensioners | free on fridays for students & pensioners

Also situated right in the Company’s Gardens, this is the natural and history museum of the city! Collections include ancient fossils and stone tools, and traditional clothing. And while its displays are amazing, the museum’s real work is in the studying of over a million artefacts in their care.

Because of this huge wealth of historic and scientific artefacts, the collections on display are regularly changed, and very interesting. It’s also packed with cool information, making it a great place to take the kids!

Iziko Slave Lodge

Open hours: Daily, 10:00 – 14:30

Cost: R30 | half-price for children, students & pensioners | free on fridays for students & pensioners

If you want to learn about our history of slavery and its harsh conditions, this museum packs a punch. It’s super informative, and presented in such a way that’s interesting and engaging. Of course, the subject is difficult, but it’s a very important part of human history, and one that’s well-explored here. You’ll learn a lot!

Exploring the city’s center

While you’ll want to explore far past the center of Cape Town, there’s a great deal to do here, and you can tackle it all on foot! From here I’d recommend you move onto the nearby coastal neighbourhood of Sea Point, or head further out to Hout Bay or Muizenberg.

Do you have any more central attractions or activities you think I should add to this list? I’d love to hear about them!

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