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One Week in Cape Town: Itinerary & Essentials

Cape Town Itinerary: What to see and do during one week in Cape Town. All you need to plan your independent, low cost visit!

Are you thinking about a trip to Cape Town, South Africa? If you love to travel near and far, there’s no doubt that this amazing city should be on your bucket list. Here, you’ll find everything you need to plan your Cape Town itinerary for one week. You may even find that one week in Cape Town isn’t nearly enough. But it’s a pretty good start!

I’ve done this specific trip twice now over the span of a decade. My first visit to Cape Town was a standalone trip for one week while living in neighboring Mozambique.

My second week-long visit marked the beginning of a 30-day road trip throughout South Africa with Lori, my wife, folded into four amazing months backpacking up through East Africa to Kampala, Uganda.

I picked up a number of great tips and advice over both visits and want to share them with you, which is the motivation behind putting together this Cape Town itinerary.

So let’s get started!

one week in cape town itinerary
Cape Town Central Business District (CBD) by night.

Why Visit Cape Town?

Few cities on the planet rival Cape Town’s cultural, historical, and geographic significance while at the same time offering superb cuisine, jaw-dropping natural beauty, and endless options for things to see and do.

Dive headfirst into the rich cultural heritage of the region, sample the eclectic flavors of the Western Cape, learn about the challenges and achievements of modern-day South Africa, and lose yourself in the numerous outdoor adventures awaiting you on the city’s doorstep.

While Cape Town’s prices might not compare with Southeast Asia or Central America, once you’ve covered your transport here, you’ll find that Cape Town is surprisingly affordable, particularly when compared to other top Africa destinations.

Table Mountain Atlantic Ocean Camp's Bay
Camp’s Bay and Atlantic Ocean viewed from the top of Table Mountain.

Who Is This Itinerary For?

If you are planning on spending around one week in Cape Town, traveling on a practical budget, and prefer working with a loosely-structured itinerary with plenty of room for flexibility, you’re in the right place!

We’ve put together this Cape Town itinerary with the independent traveler in mind. After all, if you are visiting on a package tour, you’ve already got your own itinerary.

What Lori and I love about independent travel is the flexibility to do and see whatever we want, for however long we want, on whichever day we want (budget providing, of course).

That flexibility allows us to take advantage of happy surprises, cut our losses with dud sights, and linger a bit longer with locals or other travelers. And this Cape Town itinerary allows you to do just that, totally on your own for a reasonable cost.

Camp's Bay Cape Town
Sunset at Camp’s Bay (Cape Town, South Africa).

Is Cape Town Safe?

Cape Town (and the rest of South Africa) have gotten a bad rap over the past several decades in terms of crime and safety. While the realities of living in many communities throughout the region can’t be overstated, the threat to leisure travelers frequently is.

In addition to Lori and me, I’ve personally known dozens of people who have visited Cape Town and every one of them walked away with a very positive experience.

Like anywhere, stick to the well-trodden areas, avoid finding yourself out alone late at night, keep your whits about you, and you’ll very likely have a great experience as well.

With that said, do be mindful of the extreme social inequities that exist here and be modest and respectful with regards to your personal belongings.

And perhaps, most importantly, don’t be afraid to talk to locals!

As with the rest of our travels, many of our best memories from visiting South Africa stem from conversations with South Africans of every ilk. While we found most folks to be lovely people, a healthy dose of skepticism goes a long way with the few peddling visits to cousins’ shops or intolerant ideologies.

One Week in Cape Town: Itinerary & Essentials

Robben Island Atlantic Ocean
Cape Town mainland, viewed from Robben Island.

Day 1 in Cape Town

Robben Island

After a delicious breakfast and strong coffee to get you going, we start things off with a trip to quite possibly the most significant and well known of all of Cape Town’s landmarks — infamous Robben Island.

Located 7 km off the coast of Cape Town, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Robben Island houses the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years behind bars before the fall of Apartheid.

Robben Island Nelson Mandela's cell
Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island.

Why start with Robben Island? Taking a tour of the island provides vital background for approaching modern day Cape Town (and South Africa). The ferry ride out to the island is also a great opportunity orienting yourself, geographically.

Additionally, tour slots fill up fast, so getting to the ticket office at the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront early in your visit is a must. You can also book in advance online if you have a particular day in mind. During the winter months (June-August), however, it’s a good idea to wait and see how the weather pans out.

one week in cape town itinerary
V&A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa.

Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront

When your ferry from Robben Island returns to the mainland terminal, take this opportunity to explore V&A Waterfront. V&A offers a wealth of fun things to see and do, excellent shops, and some of the best restaurants in town.

Highlights include taking a walking tour of the historic district, shopping for local handicrafts at the Watershed, riding the giant Cape Wheel, getting acquainted with the area’s marine life at the Two Oceans Aquarium, visiting any one of several excellent museums, and striking a pose in front of V&A’s historic and brightly painted clock tower.

You’ll definitely want to plan to stay at V&A Waterfront into the evening, as there might be no better time to enjoy the sights and sounds, and sample the local cuisine, of this vibrant area of the city.

Hiker sitting on Table Mountain summit False Bay
Sitting on the summit of Table Mountain.

Day 2 in Cape Town

Climb Table Mountain

Ready for a little adventure? Great! After a hearty breakfast, beeline it to Table Mountain. The tippy-top of Table Mountain, that is! This is sure to be one of the highlights of your one week Cape Town itinerary.

Platteklip Gorge Table Mountain Cape Town
Hikers ascend Table Mountain via Platteklip Gorge trail.

There are a number of ways to reach the summit of Cape Town’s iconic plateau, but we recommend hiring a taxi to the Platteklip Gorge trailhead and hoofing it to the top, then riding the cable car on the return trip.

Of course, you can do the hike or cable car both ways, but we definitely encourage mixing it up for those who are in good physical condition.

one week in cape town itinerary table mountain
View of City Bowl from the top of Table Mountain.

If you want even more adventure in your life, you can walk from town to the Platteklip Gorge trailhead (adding 5 km to your hike) and take the Skeleton Gorge trail down the south side of the mountain to Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden. I’ve done both of these and can safely say they make for one hell of hike if you’re up for it!

Table Mountain cable car
Table Mountain’s Cable Car.

Make sure you factor in plenty of time on the top to explore the summit trails to the Aerial Cableway Cafe and Maclear’s Beacon and take in the incredible views of Cape Town, the Cape of Good Hope, False Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean.

Check out this excellent guide for climbing Table Mountain for more details on doing it yourself.

one week in cape town itinerary Camp's Bay
Camp’s Bay Beach at sunset.

Camp’s Bay

After a long and satisfying day on the mountain, take a taxi (or walk the 4 km) to stunning Camps Bay Beach for sunset, a sundowner, and dinner along Victoria Road.

one week in cape town itinerary Castle of Good Hope
Table Mountain looming over the Castle of Good Hope.

Day 3 in Cape Town

Central Business District (CBD)

It’s time to explore the CBD! Chances are, you’re probably staying close by. If not, pack a day pack, grab some breakfast, and walk or take a taxi to the Castle of Good Hope.

If you want a bit more structure in your life, you can also book one of our recommended walking tours which comes with the advantage of a knowledgable guide.

If doing it on your own, read on!

Castle of Good Hope

Our independent walking tour of the CBD begins at Cape Town’s iconic pentagonal bastion fort built by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century. It offers guided tours through most of the structure which has served as a fortress, prison, and now, museum.

District Six Museum

A short walk southwest of the Castle of Good Hope is the award-winning District Six Museum, which is a worthwhile companion to a visit to Robben Island.

On one level, the museum is a memorial to a once vibrant and multi-ethnic Cape Town neighborhood of 60,000 residents that was leveled in the 1970s.

On a deeper level, it offers one of the best ways to get a sense of the everyday struggles of non-white South Africans living under Apartheid.

South African National Gallery

Heading farther west, it’s high time for a dose of South African art! The Iziko South African National Gallery is the country’s national art gallery housing both contemporary South African works and Dutch, French, and English works from the 17th to 19th century.

The Company’s Garden

Take a few steps north or west of the National Gallery and you’ll run into this sprawling park, perfect for a relaxing stroll or a break from walking.

While you’re here, you can check out the various heritage memorials or take a load off in the shade of a tree and rest up for the next leg of our walking tour. From this point, it’s two short blocks over to Long Street, which offers numerous good eateries where you can grab lunch.

Green Market Square

From the Company’s Garden or Long Street, head northeast 3-6 blocks to Green Market Square. This is the place to peruse artwork and handicrafts from local artists and stock up on gifts and souvenirs.

Green Market Square is also the heart of the city’s financial center. While there aren’t a ton of landmarks here, it pays to take a stroll around to get a sense of today’s City Center.

one week in cape town itinerary Bo Kaap
Brightly-colored houses characterize the Bo-Kaap neighborhood.

Bo-Kaap Neighborhood

A ten minute walk west of Green Market Square gets us to Cape Town’s most brightly colored (and most photographed) neighborhood.

Once home to the city’s highest concentration of Malay-Muslim residents, gentrification has significantly altered the fabric of this vibrant area of town.

The Bo-Kaap Museum on Wale Street offers good insight into the neighborhood’s past, present, and future.

Still, we found that exploring the neighborhood on foot and interacting with residents was equally if not more insightful.

one week in cape town itinerary Long Street
Historic hotels and shops line Cape Town’s Long Street.

Long Street Pub Street

After a long day of sightseeing across the CBD and beyond, it’s time let our hair down. And there may be no better place in Cape Town than Long Street. Long Street may be best known as Cape Town’s backpacker and pub street.

If that’s not your scene (it’s not really ours these days), Long Street is still the best place in town for happy hour drink deals, people watching, and grabbing a sidewalk table at any number of excellent eateries.

Simon's Town Cape of Good Hope
Historic Simon’s Town on False Bay.

Day 4 in Cape Town

Day Trip by Train to Simon’s Town

And now for something completely different. It’s Day Four of our one week Cape Town itinerary and we’re getting out of town!

Located 30 km south of central Cape Town on False Bay, Simon’s Town is a supremely picturesque seaside community established in 1680, boasting superb sea views and early 1900s Dutch architecture. Come to explore Simon’s Town, and stay for…penguins!

one week in cape town itinerary
Navigating our way by public transport and rail to Simon’s Town.

Starting in Cape Town, grab some breakfast, then get yourself to Cape Town Station on the northeast edge of the Central Business District (CBD).

Get a return rail ticket for “Simonstown,” which is the last stop on the Southern Line. Trains leave about every 40 minutes or so (view timetables for your exact travel date at the Cape Town Trains official website).

In addition to exploring the historic waterfront district of Simon’s Town, you may also want to consider a walk up the ridge behind town to pay your respects at the Grave of Able Seaman Just Nuisance. Visiting the grave of a dog might not justify climbing the 300+ steps to get here, but the breathtaking view at the top most certainly will!

Boulders Beach penguin colony South Africa
Boulders Beach penguin colony in Simon’s Town.

Boulders Beach Penguin Colony

After retracing your steps back down to the water, grab a bite to eat and make your way to Boulders Beach at the southeast edge of town to see some penguins!

Boulders Beach is home to around 3,000 African penguins, which first setup shop on these shores in 1985. Though the colony is very close to the residential and commercial center of Simon’s Town, the penguins are both wild and endangered. So enjoy the view, but definitely keep your distance.

Penguin viewing platforms can be accessed on the northern side at Foxy Beach and Strandbad on the southern end.

Woodstock Neighbourgoods Market Cape Town
Woodstock’s Neighbourgoods Market is open every Saturday.

Day 5 in Cape Town

Woodstock & Neighbourgoods Market

On our fifth and final full day in Cape Town we’re going local, with a short trip out to the Woodstock neighborhood for a little taste of the hipster side of the city.

If time in Cape Town includes a Saturday, then you should check out Neighbourgoods Market, open Saturdays from 9am to 3pm, rain or shine. Housed in the Old Biscuit Mill warehouse, Neighbourgoods features fresh specialty foods by local vendors and growers.

While in Woodstock, peruse the funky and eclectic mix of shops while strolling along Albert Road. If you’re hankering for craft beer and spirits, or specialty coffee and teas, then this is the place!

one week in cape town itinerary waterfront
Dinner with a view at V&A Waterfront.

TBD Afternoon

We always like to build in a To-Be-Determined afternoon on our last full day when visiting just about anywhere. This gives us the opportunity to visit anything we feel like we missed, revisit favorite attractions, make last-minute gift and souvenir stops, or finalize arrangements for onward travel.

And That’s Our One Week Cape Town Itinerary!

30 Aug 2019

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Shirley Northcraft
Shirley Northcraft

I would be fascinated to watch the penguins and take a long, challenging hike!

Gramps
Gramps

Bo-Kaap photos have given me some ideas for upcoming exterior house painting project! Great photography and narrative.