Itinerary for a first time visitor to South Africa
See how to make the most of your first visit to South Africa. Our choice from the huge variety this country has to offer, requires a minimum of 10 days and includes Cape Town, the Garden Route and Wildlife Safaris.
Cape Town (3 days minimum)
Cape Town is a must for anyone visiting South Africa for the first time. This beautiful city offers pristine beaches, stunning mountain scenery, picture perfect wine estates, cultural insights, entertainment, shopping, top restaurants …. the list goes on.
The difficulty here is to which of the amazing attractions to experience in your available time. You could just lie on the beach and chill, then hit the nightlife, or you could visit the attractions for which Cape Town is famous. To visit Cape Town for less than 3 days is a real pity.
Choose from our comprehensive list for up to 4 jam packed days. We have grouped activities based on their location.
See what Cape Town is about by taking the Hop on, Hop off bus. There are two routes, the Red City Tour via Table Mountain and scenic Blue Mini Peninsula Tour via Kirstenbosch and Camps Bay. Tickets can be bought for either one or both. The great thing about the bus is that you do not have to find parking. Depending on your preferences you can decide where to hop on and off. You are provided with headphones that explain the different attractions.
Red and Blue Hop on, Hop Off Bus FAQ’s
When does it run? Daily: The ticket is valid for 24 hours after first use. (Your ticket will be valid for 3 months from the chosen date.)
Where can I purchase tickets for the Sightseeing Bus Tour? There are three ways to buy your tickets:on the bus, at any one of our scheduled stops along the way, from the Tour Office, situated at Stop 1 at the V&A Waterfront or online.
Start time: The Red Route: 09h15; Frequency: Sep – Apr: every 20 minutes, May – Aug: every 40 minutes. The Blue Route: 09h15; Frequency: Sep – Apr: every 45 minutes, May – Aug: every 60 minutes.
The route has plenty of options, and a full day is not long enough to do them all. We have selected some must-see’s for you.
Red Route Bus Itinerary:
Stop 1: Two Oceans Aquarium - 2 hours
The journey begins in front of the famous Two Oceans Aquarium where the bus ticket office is located. With shark cage diving and a myriad of animals from the two oceans that surround the Southern African coast, it’s no wonder this is one of Cape Town’s main attractions! The I&J Predator Tank is the pièce de résistance, with its mob of ocean predators, including ragged tooth sharks, blue stingrays and black mussel crackers, all drifting together in seeming harmony – until feeding time at 15h00. (more information)
Stop 2: The Clock Tower
Situated near the site of the original Bertie’s Landing Restaurant, the Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower has always been an icon of the old docks.
Stop 3: Cape Town Convention Centre – 30 minutes
The convention centre is not only the largest in Africa, but also a very interesting building.
Jump off here and walk up Adderley Street past the flower sellers, who have been selling their colourful blooms – with an added dash of spicy humour – for over a century. They are located in Adderley Street between Strand Street and Darling Street, and within easy walking distance of Greenmarket Square.
Stop 4: Cape Town Tourism
This cobbled square was originally a slave market, then a fruit and vegetable market. Today, it’s the place to browse for glassware, hand-painted fabrics, music, footwear, and curios from across Africa. The square is fringed by coffee shops and restaurants, where you can sit and watch the world go by. More information.
Walk up and down steep Wale Street just north of Greenmarket Sq., and visit the Bo-Kaap’s famous spice shop, Atlas Trading, pop in at installation and sculpture gallery Commune.1, and indulge in raw chocolate at Honest Chocolate next door and get your caffeine fix at Bean There, Cape Town’s first Fair Trade coffee shop.
The Company’s Garden, established in 1652 by Dutch settlers as a food garden, is the oldest public garden in South Africa, with more than 8 000 species of plants as well as birds and squirrels. The Gardens are in the middle of a culture cluster including the Iziko South African Museum, Iziko National Gallery and Slave Lodge, as well as the Houses of Parliament in Parliament Street, St George’s Cathedral, the National Library and the Old Synagogue. Should you wish to visit any of these museums and galleries, add 1-2 hours each.
Iziko Slave Lodge
This museum, one of the oldest buildings in South Africa, dating back to 1660 is mainly devoted to the history and experience of slaves and their descendants in the Cape. One of the oldest buildings in South Africa, dating back to 1660, the Slave Lodge has a fascinating history in itself. 49 Adderley St.
Iziko Michaelis Collection
On the south side of Greenmarket Sq, the city’s second-oldest public space after the Grand Parade is the beautifully restored Old Townhouse, completed in 1761, is one of the city’s first double-storey buildings, and an outstanding example of the ‘rococo’ style. It now houses the impressive art collection of Sir Max Michaelis, donated to the city in 1914.
Iziko SA National Gallery
The impressive permanent collection of South Africa’s premier art space harks back to Dutch times and includes some extraordinary pieces. But it’s often contemporary works, such as the Butcher Boys sculpture by Jane Alexander, looking like a trio of Lord of the Rings orcs who have stumbled into the gallery, that stand out the most. Closed Mondays.
Situated at 76 Long Street, (off Wale Street on the northern edge of the Gardens) in the heart of central Cape Town’s art-and-antiques precinct, the Pan African Market is uniquely attractive for a number of reasons. The lobby is a gem of Victorian tiling, while the first and second floors are a beehive of traders with representatives from most locales in West, sub-Saharan and southern Africa. Bargaining is welcomed.
From here you can wander down Long Street, where quaint Victorian verandas alongside Muslim mosques is the setting for cafes, coffee shops, sandwich spots, antique and vintage clothes, books, art and African curios.
At the top end of Long Street are the century-old Long Street Baths with a heated swimming pool. Open daily, 07h00-19h00.
Stop 6: South African Museum – 2 hours
Immerse yourself in local culture, art and history. Little wonder this museum has grown into a touchstone for South African creativity and the preservation of our heritage.
Stop 7 Mount Nelson Hotel – 40 minutes
Stop 8 The SA Jewish Museum – 1 hour
South African Jewish Museum offers visitors a truly unique experience with its bold architectural design, interactive multi-media displays and engaging accounts of South African Jewish history.
The tale of District 6 is one of cultural struggle, of kinship and ultimately of redemption – the museum is the perfect place in which to learn more about this area and its role in local history. A specialist bookshop offers publications and posters on District Six and apartheid. If you visit only one museum in Cape Town make it this one. Reconstructions of home interiors, photographs, recordings and testimonials build up an evocative picture of a shattered but not entirely broken community.
Stop 10: The Castle of Good Hope - 2 hours
The Castle of Good Hope is South Africa’s oldest surviving building. A unique blend of history, fine wines, traditional food, military ceremonies and craftsmanship awaits you.
Stop 11: Gold Museum – 1 hour
This unique museum entices visitors to experience the ancient, sometimes mystical relationship that exists between gold and the African continent through state-of-the-art visuals and artistic displays. This museum is home to a collection of 350 West African gold artefacts as well as objects from the ancient gold civilisations of southern Africa.
Stop 12: Bo-Kaap – Jewel Africa - 1 hour
It’s no secret that South Africa is famous for its precious jewels. If bling is your thing, Jewel Africa is sure to have an impeccably crafted local creation just for you. Situated at the foot of Lions Head in the historic Bo-Kaap, this is an amazing jewellery store.
The Bo-Kaap with its colourful houses, steep cobbled streets, the muezzin’s calls to prayer, and children traditionally dressed for Madrassa, is a unique Cape Malay experience and well worth a visit. The Bo-Kaap is the best place to have a traditional, headily spiced Cape Malay meal.
And if it is the purest spices you are looking for, go no further than 94 Wale Street, home to the incredible Atlas Trading Company.
Learn about the history of the area at the quaint Bo-Kaap Museum, whose building dates back to the 1760s.
The highpoint (literally) of the Red City Tour is the awe-inspiring, bird’s eye view of Table Mountain and Cape Town thanks to state-of-the-art cable cars that revolve 360 degrees. Have a cup of tea with a vista of the entire city bowl. Descend with the cable car or you can abseil down 112 metres (Abseil Africa, 021 424 4760). The cableway is accessible to people with disabilities, and operates only when weather permits. Book your ticket on-line.
Stops: 14-18 - 30 minutes and longer depending on stops
PLEASE NOTE: IF YOU ARE DOING THE SELF DRIVE TRIP ON DAY 2, YOU WILL ALSO DRIVE ALONG THE ATLANTIC SEABOARD, SO SPEND MORE TIME ON THE OTHER STOPS.
19: Back at the start – V&A Waterfront
The perfect place to enjoy sundowners or a meal at the end of the tour. Expect talented jewellers African curios and designer labels galore, as well as a grand shopping centre, craft markets, a Nu Metro cinema, restaurants, an aquarium and great views of the harbour as well as Table Mountain at Cape Town’s popular Waterfront. Various boat cruises are also on offer. The Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A is the place to catch a ferry to Robben Island – see Day 4.
If you do not have transport, then do the Blue Route. On this route you will visit Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, explore the Constantia Wine Valley and visit Hout Bay. Also, you will not have to devote a day to the Winelands if you are short of time.
Alternatively, if you have transport then follow our Day Trip to Cape Point and go to the Winelands on Day 3.
Day 2 Blue Route Bus Itinerary
Stop 1-4: Same as Red Route
Next is Stop 7: Mount Nelson Hotel
This is one of the country’s most popular visitor attractions. Neatly tended lawns tumble down the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, punctuated by flowering gardens, ponds and indigenous trees all knitted together by paved pathways.
The grounds have a tangle of walking trails leading visitors to spots like the Bath in the Dell, a wild almond hedge planted by Jan van Riebeeck back in the 1600s, and a lane of gigantic yellowwoods housing a few shy owls.
Heading towards the fynbos-covered foot of Table Mountain, you’ll find the beginnings of the Skeleton Gorge and Nursery Ravine hiking trails.The weekly Sunday summer sundowner concerts have become a tradition and feature bands like Fokofpolisiekar, Goldfish and Freshly Ground.
Rhodes Drive, Newlands Telephone 21 799 8783. Open Summer 8h00 – 19h00 daily. Winter 8h00 – 18h00 daily.
To see what’s on, visit Kirstenbosch website.
Branch off for Wine Tour of Constantia Valley – 1.5 hours
The Wine Tour Bus is a FREE extension on the Blue Mini Peninsula Tour. The bus takes you right into the heart of the Constantia Wine Route, with commentary guided tours and unparalleled views of the valley and vineyards.The tour trip takes you to three wine stops: Beau Constantia Wine Estate, Groot Constantia Wine Estate and Eagles’ Nest Wine Farm.
The oldest wine farm in the area is Groot Constantia (1685) which produces many award-winning wines. The orientation centre, imposing old manor house and the Cloete Cellar wine museum cover the history of wine-making and the estate. Or head straight for the cellar for a guided tour and a chance to taste what all the fuss is about, before heading off to one of the two restaurants to enjoy the vista with a few glasses of vino. Groot Constantia Road, Constantia Telephone 21 794 5128
Stop 21: World of Birds in Hout Bay – 1-2 hours
The World of Birds is the largest bird park in Africa and one of the few large bird parks in the World. View Cape Town wildlife with over 3 000 birds and small animals of 400 different species uniquely presented in more than 100 spacious landscaped walk-through aviaries. Join the 100 000 visitors who annually enjoy the outing to the World of Birds.
Stop 22: Imizamo Yethu Township – 30 minutes
Hear how Imizamo Yethu came into existence – and today a Cape Town attraction. Learn how a place of unhappiness became a township of prosperity
Stop 23: Mariner’s Wharf in Hout Bay – 1 hour
Mariner’s Wharf in Hout Bay, a charismatic fishing village with its harbour sprawling with small authentic working fishing vessels that supply Cape Town with the fresh catch of the day no matter what the Cape Town weather is like.
Enjoy a delicious seafood meal overlooking the harbour or have a swim on the pretty beach. You can also buy fish that have just been caught.
Stops 14-18 are the same as the Red Route, along the Atlantic Seaboard, returning to the start at the V&A Waterfront.
Atlantic Seaboard, Cape Point, Simonstown, Boulders Penguin Colony, Kalk Bay, Muizenberg and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens (take your costume)
Take the Kloofnek Road (M6) scenic drive to Clifton. Stroll along one of these famous beaches. Giant granite boulders split the four linked beaches at Clifton, accessible by steps from Victoria Rd.
Turn left towards Camps Bay and stay on the M6. A good place to stop for breakfast is The Roundhouse (tel 021-438-4347), above Camps Bay which has a great view of the Twelve Apostles and Camps Bay. Further south is Llandudno Beach, which is more secluded. Be warned, this is the cold side of ocean!
As you come into Hout Bay, you can go to the harbour if you would like to see Mariner’s Wharf, a charismatic fishing village with its harbour sprawling with small authentic working fishing vessels that supply Cape Town with the fresh catch of the day no matter what the Cape Town weather is like. You can also book a trip to Duiker Island, home to over 20 000 fur seals with either of these operators. Drumbeat Charters or Circe Launches. The World of Birds is also in Hout Bay. See Blue Route Stop 21 for details.
Chapman’s Peak Drive
The 9km route, with its 114 curves, skirts the rocky coastline of Chapman’s Peak with spectacular views of sea, cliff and mountains at every turn. This road is a photographer’s dream and there are plenty of stopping points where you can just soak it all in – take some tea or coffee with you! Look out for dolphins, and southern right whales (June to December). This road is closed periodically for maintenance, so please check on the website before leaving - this is a toll road, so check for costs at the same time.
Noordhoek Beach gets our vote for the best walking beach in Cape Town. You will see the beach stretching out for 8km as you come out of Chapman’s Peak Drive.
Take a turn-off to the right to Noordhoek if you would like to visit the beach.
Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve
At the tip of the Southern Peninsula lies verdant Cape Point. The vast, beautiful Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve was declared part of the Cape World Heritage Site in 2004. View the legendary meeting points of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Trails within the park lead to shipwrecks, tidal pools, lighthouses and Antonie’s Gat, the hiding place of a slave turned Muslim saint, and you’ll be hiking in the company of wildlife including curvy-beaked sugarbirds, Cape mountain zebra and maybe baboons.
If you don’t feel like walking, climb aboard the Flying Dutchman funicular that will take you all the way from Cape Point to the upper lighthouse, with its vantage point said to resemble the end of the world. And when you are done, you can have lunch in the Two Oceans Restaurant (+27 (0) 21 780 9200). Open Oct – Mar 6h00 – 18h00 daily. Apr – Sept 7h00 – 17h00 daily.
Return to the entrance of the reserve, and turn right onto the M4 to Simonstown. You will see the sign to the Boulders penguin colony.
Boulders African Penguin Colony
Don’t miss a visit to Boulders Beach, where you can swim with some of the 3 000 African penguins that breed there, or view the colony from the wheelchair-friendly boardwalk. Meander through the African penguin colony’s breeding ground and watch as they waddle about, wade in the choppy water and play peekaboo from their twiggy burrows. For a mere R5 extra, you can spy on slippery sea life or beach babes through the binoculars dotting the walkway. Kleintuin Road, Simon’s Town, parking area in Seaforth Road. Open Oct, Nov 8h00 – 18h30 daily. Dec, Jan 7h00 – 17h30 daily. Feb, Mar 8h00 – 17h30 daily. Apr – Sept 8h00 – 17h00 daily.
Kalk Bay is a treasure trove of antique stores, coffee shops, galleries, second-hand book stores, and restaurants, and a lively working harbour that offers fresh fish straight off the boat. Chat to the local fishermen on a walk around the harbour or eat fresh seafood at one of Kalk Bay’s many restaurants, such as the Brass Bell, Polana, Harbour House, Olympia Café or Kalky’s Fish & Chips (the latter is the best spot for classic, greasy fish ‘n chips).
As you come into Kalk Bay, you will see the turn-off to the left for Boyes Drive. Park your car in one of the lay-bys to enjoy the fantastic views over Kalk Bay harbour and False Bay.
During Whale season, this drive allows you the perfect opportunity to spot these magnificent mammals of the deep.
Follow this road until you see the signs to the M3 back to Cape Town.
This is an alternative route to Boyes Drive back to Cape Town. Keep on the M4.
Muizenberg was once the holiday playground of the wealthy and some of the huge houses are still to be seen along this road. At the beach,the colourful changing rooms and long stretch of sands are still the subject of many photos. Muizenberg is also a popular surfing spot.
Follow the M4 and then the M3 back to Cape Town.
Rhode’s Memorial, Kirstenbosch, Cape Winelands
Kirstenbosch and the Constantia Valley Winelands are on the Hop on, Hop off Bus Blue Route, and if you are without transport or short of time, then we suggest you take this option or self-drive as below. Leave as early as you can, as there is so much to enjoy.
Rhodes Memorial (1 hour including breakfast)
Breakfast at Rhode’s Memorial Restaurant where you can enjoy a priceless view. This grandiose shrine, dedicated to imperialist Cecil John Rhodes, was built on his favourite lookout point in 1912. The monument features a steep set of stairs flanked by eight bronze lions leading up to a pillared faux-Greek chamber housing a bronze bust in his image, featuring an inscription by his friend Rudyard Kipling.
The Restaurant & Tea Garden (021 689 9151 is open from 9h00 to 17h00 daily for full breakfasts, fresh pasta dishes, baguettes, cake and refreshments.
Nearby is the University of Cape Town, South Africa’s oldest university, founded in 1829.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (2 hours)
Kirstenbosch is home to more than 22 000 indigenous plants, in the heart of the unique Cape Floral Kingdom. This World Heritage Site has a spectacular mountain setting, manicured lawns, flowers and birds that makes it a haven for tourists and locals alike. Many mountain hikes start from the gardens, and there is a pleasant restaurant where one can enjoy tea or lunch. Should you prefer to be driven around, there are golf cart tours available.
In summer, Kirstenbosch is renowned for its open-air concerts. To see what’s on, visit Kirstenbosch website. Rhodes Drive, Newlands Telephone 21 799 8783. Open Summer 8h00 – 19h00 daily. Winter 8h00 – 18h00 daily.
Cape Winelands via a scenic route (rest of the day)
Take the rest of the day (or the whole day if you did not go to Kirstenbosch and Rhodes Memorial) for a 200 km road trip offering stunning scenery and sightseeing, to explore the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek Winelands.
From Kirstenbosch, take the N2 towards the airport and continue to Somerset West; continue on the N2 over the magnificent Sir Lowry’s Pass. Continue for about 12km to the Oudebrug Road (R321) and follow this scenic road for about 28km to the R45 (you will have crossed the huge Theewater Dam). Turn left onto the R45 and continue until you reach Franschhoek.
Franschhoek Wine Route
The Franschhoek Valley is one of the most beautiful areas in South Africa and must not be missed by visitors to the Western Cape. Take in the scenic splendour and the charm of this historic town while touring some the best wine estates in the country.
Franschhoek is worth a visit in its own right. Home to many of South Africa’s top rated restaurants, the town boasts many artisan food outlets of the highest order. Franschhoek is one of the oldest towns in SA, and there are many interesting buildings reflecting our history. Read this article on the Franschhoek food and wine route. We have selected estates that offer more than just wine tasting. Read up about these estates. See all the attractions in Franschhoek.
After the Boschendal Estate on the R310, continue on this scenic road to Stellenbosch.
Stellenbosch Wine Route
As the second oldest town in South Africa, Stellenbosch is steeped in history. The wine estates surrounding the town were all established many hundreds of years ago and the wine making tradition runs deep.
Some of the most acclaimed wines in the world have been produced on these estates – combine this heritage with the beautiful surroundings and the typical Cape Dutch architecture and you have a recipe for a most enjoyable tour.
Stellenbosch is also a university town, and as such has a wide variety of pubs and a buzzing nightlife.
Take either the R44 or the R310 back to the N2 and Cape Town.
If you have more than 3 days to spend in Cape Town, here are some interesting options.
Once you have enjoyed your allocated time in Cape Town, you can do the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. You need 3 days minimum to make this trip worthwhile. There is a lot to see and do in one of the most popular tourist areas of South Africa. See our suggestions.
From Port Elizabeth, you can visit the Eastern Cape Game Reserves in a malaria free environment and see the big 5 (3 days minimum), or you can fly to Johannesburg en route to the Kruger National Park for your wildlife experience (4 days minimum including the flight). See our suggestions for your wildlife itinerary.