Compared to its neighbors and the rest of Africa, South Africa has always been unbelievably progressive in terms of LGBTQ rights. Not only is it one of the first countries in the world  to outlaw discrimination against LGBTQ individuals, but it is also the fifth to legalize same-sex marriage and adoption. These improvements earned Cape Town the title “The Gay Capital of Africa.” The city has lived up to this well-deserved title with a thriving gay scene, rich culture, and a breathtaking landscape. 

Major attractions

The main attractions in Cape Town are divided into two categories: the ones in the central area and the ones located in the countryside. The city center is packed with many interesting museums and galleries illustrating the art and the history of the country. One of most popular and significant ones is Zeitz Mocaa, which is the biggest contemporary art museum in Africa and boasts a fascinating design with both its interior and exterior. The District 6 Museum illustrates the Apartheid era and the evacuation of non-white people who used to live in the vicinity. Robben Island is home to the historic jail where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years.

Don’t forget to pay a visit to Bo-Kaap inhabited by the Muslim Cape Malay people living in colorful houses for centuries. It’s one of the most multicultural neighborhoods in the city and the center of Islamic life in South Africa. You’ll find plenty of architecture from the 1800s, which makes it the oldest surviving quarter in Cape Town. Best of all, it’s a great spot for Instagram photos.

south africa joshua earle
Photo by Joshua Earle.

Thanks to the iconic Table Mountain, the city is a heaven for outdoor lovers, offering dozens of scenic hiking routes that are five to ten minutes away from the city by car. Lion’s Head and Signal Hill are the closest to the center, offering a perfect opportunity for watching the sunrise or sunset, depending on when you like to hike. Table Mountain has hiking routes with a variety of difficulty levels, all ending up at the best lookout points over the city.

You can’t complete a Cape Town trip without a tour around the Cape Peninsula. You will get to see Chapman’s Peak, regarded as one of the most scenic drives in the world. You also won’t want to miss the famous Cape of Good Hope and Simon’s Town, where you will find the cutest creatures of Southern Africa: penguins.

cape town dan grinwis
Photo by Dan Grinwis.

The Atlantic Ocean near Cape Town can be painfully freezing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t visit the gorgeous beaches nearby. There are numerous options that can appeal to a variety of interests. Clifton and Camps Bay are the closest to the city, yet far away from the chaos. Clifton 3rd is especially popular among the LGBTQ community, while Sandy Bay, much farther in the south, is an isolated and pristine beach regarded as the nudist beach of Cape Town. You can get rid of your swimsuit without the weird looks, as most people around you will be in the same situation.

Restaurants and bars

The majority of restaurants and bars in Cape Town are gay-friendly and very accepting, but we want to give you a list of places that are particularly preferred by the LGTBQ community. The heart of the gay scene is located at the De Waterkant district between Bo-Kaap and Green Point. This bohemian neighborhood – while not exclusively gay – houses many gay bars and clubs that host lively events.

Opened to the public in 1994 just as Apartheid came to an end, Café Manhattan is the oldest LGBTQ-friendly venue in the district. It doesn’t function as a nightclub or drag show venue, and it offers a chill evening with plenty of tasty dishes s (their signature meals are burgers, steaks, and ostrich meat), cocktails, chit chat, and people-watching. They also have two happy hour intervals per day between four to six pm and nine to 11 pm, as well as occasional live performances and exhibitions.

For a more upbeat night out, you have many options. Crew Bar is renowned for the hottest bartenders in Cape Town and although the drinks are pricier than the other gay bars, the large dance floor compensates for it. Crew Bar is also the starting point of the parade during Cape Town Pride.

lgbtq guide to cape town tanushree rao
Photo by Tanushree Rao.

Pink Panther is another distinguished and reputable venue. Through the enormous efforts of the owners, it has become the most vibrant night club in Cape Town. From the half-naked DJs with pink speedos to its affordable drink menu and the friendly staff, Pink Panther will never disappoint.

Versatile Gay Bar is one of the venues on the rise among gay men for their kinky-themed parties. These events are guaranteed to unleash your inner persona’s wild fantasies. If you visit the place after 11 pm between Wednesday and Saturday, you might even see the majority of the patrons with only underwear on–or less.

cocktails olena sergienko
Photo by Olena Sergienko.

Beefcakes is the place to go if you want a drag dining experience right out of the 50s. It imitates the atmosphere of the venues of sock hop-era Miami with talented drag queens, waiters with well-defined eight-packs and hours of humorous performances. You can catch a glimpse of the famous South African drag queen Manila Von Teez, who won “SA’s Got Talent” in 2016. The place is also renowned for its delicious burgers.

The LGBTQ scene in Cape Town is not limited to the De Waterkant area. Zer021 in the Zonnebloem district is a popular night club, where a great selection of DJ performances and drag shows take place regularly. Stargayzers is farther away in Parow with a diverse playlist from the 80s to commercial pop–the karaoke bar is an added bonus. You will also get to see more of the local community in these areas and less of the tourists, so it will be a chance to get to know some cool new people.

Afrikaans tradition has also been fused into the gay culture. The Afrikaans ballroom dance called sokkie is a truly unique form of entertainment for people of all ages, and Dance Hall in Bellville hosts a weekly event called Gat Party specifically for LGBTQ guests.

Events

If you are arriving in Cape Town at specific times of the year, you can have the privilege to attend the magnificent pride events and get to show off your costume. The Cape Town Gay Pride is hosted during the first week of every March, which is often not as overwhelmingly hot as the summer months but still warm enough for pool parties, drag shows, concerts, and the magnificent parade. The main event also provides free HIV tests at tents followed by a consultancy for PreP.

The Mother City Queer Project is your biggest chance to shine like a star. It is an enormous runway show where the contestants are the participants–including you. This huge costume party has been taking place in December since 1994 and is one of the biggest symbols of the new, inclusive South Africa.

South African cinema is extremely sensitive about the issues faced by LGBTQ individuals in the country. The archive of the country’s film is full of inspiring and thought-provoking movies that depict discrimination from all eras. Out in Africa is your chance to get to know the LGBTQ community from different perspectives. The film festival takes place in October/November every year and shows various local and international movies.

lgbtq guide to cape town arno smit
Photo by Arno Smit.

Other attractions  

Did you think you could leave Cape Town without a steam bath? While you are in De Waterkant, you can visit Hot House – the only gay sauna in Cape Town. It has everything you’d expect from a sauna with spacious lounges, video lounges, steam rooms, massage rooms, mazes, a fireplace, private luxury cabins, and an adult store. 

Darling is a quaint town near Cape Town where the most famous cabaret show of the country takes place. Throughout the late 20th century, Pieter Dirk Uys – South Africa’s world-famous author, performer, and activist – has battled with the Apartheid regime through his art by creating the character Evita Bezuidenhout. Uys performed numerous satires as Evita in order to criticize the Apartheid government, receiving worldwide critical acclaim. The performance still takes place in the venue Evita Se Peron in Darling. We can guarantee you that it will be the experience of a lifetime to meet this truly unique personality. 

What other cities would you recommend for LGBTQ travelers?

Header photo by Dan Grinwis.

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Anxious Expat
In July 2017, I found myself on a plane to Cape Town with a one-way ticket to pursue my dream job in cancer research. I am currently doing my Ph.D. in Computational Systems Biology at the University of Cape Town. In my spare time (believe me, I still have some of that!), I am doing my best to explore every inch of amazing South Africa by going hiking, going on road trips, attending festivals and more. I plan to explore the rest of entire Southern Africa in the next three years.