There are no other cities that set the stage for adventure quite like Cape Town does. With dramatic mountains serving up epic viewpoints and a sparkling ocean teeming with unique marine life, adventure lovers are spoilt for choice with the Mother City as their playground. The atmosphere caresses the landscape to create low-lying clouds or the iconic “tablecloth” that pours over Table Mountain, and the seas clear up after strong winds to create a vivid underwater paradise.
From hiking to surfing to kayaking to cycling, South Africa’s vibrant metropolis fosters a thrilling and active lifestyle that just can’t be matched. If you’re bored here, no offence, but that’s your problem!
So buckle up because here is your ultimate adventure guide to Cape Town.
Hike Lion’s Head for sunrise
If you didn’t hike Lion’s Head at sunrise, did you even go to Cape Town? Okay, any time of day will do, but if you really want to experience the magic of Cape Town, it’s got to be from the top of a mountain while the city twinkles from dark into light. Pack a headlamp, plenty of water, sunscreen, and hand sanitizer and a mask for COVID-19 times. Uber or drive to the trailhead, arriving at about an hour before the sun is set to rise. Begin the 45-ish minute hike up the mountain, which will take you up a few ladders, staples, and chains, and over the boulders to the summit. Prepare for 360-degree views of pure magic.
Take a helicopter ride around the peninsula
The topography of Cape Town is unmatched by any other city. The flat Table Mountain is bookended by the jagged Devil’s Beach on one side and the proud Lion’s Head on the other, and rounded out by Signal Hill. The white sands and azure waters of Clifton and Camps Bay fringe the coastline, and the region transforms into untouched nature as the peninsula stretches out into Cape Point. Hard to imagine? Then get your bucket list out and add a helicopter ride around the Cape Peninsula on it to take in these views from the sky. Spoiler alert: it does not get any more realistic once you see it with your own eyes. But it’s absolutely worth witnessing for yourself.
Cape Town is surrounded by consistent swells that cater to every skill level. Set against epic mountainous backdrops and white-sand beaches, and frequented by incredible marine life, the Mother City is a surfer’s paradise no matter the time of year. Beginners can head over to Surfer’s Corner in Muizenberg, where they can book a lesson to cruise in on the waves. More skilled surfers love the waves at Long Beach in Kommetjie, Scarborough Beach, or Big Bay. There are many options in and around the city, so grab your wetsuit and board and get out there!
You’re in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, so what better way to see it than from a bird’s-eye-view? Take to the skies on a paragliding adventure off Signal Hill with one of the local operators such as Skywings Paragliding and soar over spectacular views of the mountains, Sea Point neighbourhood, and even go for a whirl over the azure ocean — keep your eyes out for whales or dolphins! Make sure to book your paragliding adventure early in your visit to allow room for rescheduling, as the activity is highly dependent on the weather and if there’s one thing to know about Cape Town, it is that its wind has a mind of its own.
Run along the Promenade
One of the best incentives to go for a run is a good view, and Cape Town has this in spades. Pop your earphones in and go for a jog around the Sea Point Promenade, where you will round the curve of Signal Hill to reveal the beautiful Lion’s Head Mountain, with views of Table Mountain peeking in between. Keep an eye out for dolphins in the water and crashing waves giving a refreshing mid-workout shower!
Hike one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature
Cape Town’s dramatic backdrop has earned its title as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature; Table Mountain is truly striking. While anyone can take the cable car to the top to experience its flat, moon-like summit, true adventurers will hike up the monster mountain, and there are a number of trails to take to the top. Platteklip Trail is the most accessible, India Venster is for the more adventurous hiker (picture steep cliffsides and rock scrambling), and Skeleton Gorge is a beautiful scenic hike starting in the botanical gardens. Water and sunscreen cannot be understated for this adventure.
Practice outdoor yoga
Cape Town’s mesmerizing views make for an ideal setting to get your zen on. The OM Revolution offers outdoor classes in beautiful spots like Clifton Beach, Company’s Gardens, and Green Point Park, where you can move through your sun salutations with that South African sun shining overhead. Cape Town fosters a healthy lifestyle unlike any other city, and outdoor yoga with surroundings like those provides a welcome dose of serenity.
Experience the underwater antics of Cape Fur Seals
Humans aren’t the only ones who love soaking up Cape Town’s nature; the waters around the Mother City are home to Cape Fur Seals, which are found exclusively in southern Africa. Snorkelling or diving with these animals will get the adrenaline pumping, as they are extremely curious and friendly and love to zoom, play, and prod — earning them their nickname of “dogs of the ocean”. Join a snorkel tour with Animal Ocean or try your hand at free diving with Cape Town Freediving or a trusted local expert. GoPros are encouraged, but wetsuits are mandatory — that water is freezing!
Explore the Cape of Good Hope
At the tip of the Cape Peninsula, the Cape of Good Hope is home to a ruggedly beautiful landscape with unique flora and fauna, incredible vistas, and pristine beaches. There are trails ranging from scenic strolls to overnight hikes, along with offerings for dining, shopping, and accommodation, and interesting shipwrecks telling a historical tale. Wildlife viewing is also fascinating here, from the whales moving on their annual migration, to 250 bird species, a Cape mountain zebra and the world’s largest antelope, the eland… oh, watch out for the baboons, they are not shy and it is advised to keep your belongings close to your body!
Cycle the Cape
Take on Cape Town’s iconic road trips by bike, as you cycle the city’s dramatic coastline. Chapman’s Peak Drive has been named one of the most scenic roads in the world, and will definitely get your heart rate going with plenty of ups and downs. Cyclists will find a rush by taking on Suikerboissie heading into Hout May, with a downhill momentum that will carry you onto the next hill. Other enjoyable routes are around the city centre, Bree Street, Company’s Garden, or up Signal Hill. Feel the breeze against your skin as you take in the panoramic sights.
Go cold-water swimming
If cold-water swimming isn’t an adventure sport, we don’t know what is — Cape Town’s waters can dip to 10 degrees Celsius, which is enough to get your heart pumping, if it doesn’t stop in shock first! They say (okay maybe I am making this up) Mother Nature made Cape Town so perfect that it wasn’t fair to other cities, so she compensated by making the ocean an ice bath. Head over for a cold water plunge in the waters of Bakoven, Clifton, or Camps Bay, and don’t forget to breathe! It’s an epic source of reinvigoration.
Kayak with dolphins
Pods of dolphins frequent the waters of Cape Town, and there is no better view for appreciating these majestic creatures than to get right out on the water with them. Book a tour through Cape Kayak or Atlantic Outlook Adventures and head out by Granger Bay or Mouille Point. The dolphins are especially active, and the views especially magical, for sunrise.
Hike up Chapman’s Peak
In case you haven’t noticed, Cape Town’s mountains are ripe for hiking, and Chapman’s hike is an accessible and rewarding trek. Head out of the hustle-and-bustle of the city to take on this 2-3 hour hike journey as you head up the mountain, across the saddle amidst proteas, ericas, and indigenous trees, and up the final grind to find 360-degree views of the famous Chapman’s Peak Drive, Hout Bay, Noordhoek Valley, and a big blue ocean view that stretches for infinity.
Skip town for a multi-day adventure
Cape Town is a fantastic launchpad for some getaways that are sure to recharge the soul. Rent a car and road trip the iconic coastline of the Garden Route to discover the pristine nature of Wilderness, the striking topography of Tsitsikamma National Park, and adrenaline-rushing activities such as jumping off the world’s highest bungee bridge at Bloukrans. Head into the serene semi-desert of the Great Karoo, or go off the grid in the mountains of McGregor and do the Boesmanskloof trail. Cape Town’s surrounding nature provides a beautiful respite from city life.
Visit the African penguins
Wildlife is always an adventure, and Cape Town’s black-and-white waddlers are not to be missed. Boulders Beach, located in Simon’s Town about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town’s city centre, hosts one of the only few concentrations of African penguins in the world — and you can get up close to see them! Watch the dapper little birds as they nest, rest, and waddle along the boardwalk and on the sandy beach that is adorned with large round beautiful boulders. As with all wildlife, you must not touch the penguins, but they do occasionally pose for a fantastic selfie.
There are so many incredible activities by which to experience the beautiful city that is Cape Town. If this list doesn’t make you shut down Netflix or TikTok, then we need to have a word with your thirst for adventure. Cape Town’s playground is waiting, so please be safe and enjoy!
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Planning a trip to South Africa? Check out our article on Traveling Across Africa by Smart Car!