3 days in Cape Town, itinerary for first timers

Covering the Mother City in only three days is not an easy challenge to master. Whether a city slicker or adventure seeker, this itinerary manages to strike a balance between both extremes. Cape Town is an upbeat and quirky city surrounded by two oceans. The food scene does not disappoint and every corner has its unique hole-in-the-wall known by few. This itinerary combines the best of the city which is to be experienced in three days. Starting with cobalt blue oceans and ending with a relaxing discovery route around the bustling city center, there is no shortage of things to do.

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How to spend 3 days in Cape Town, a great itinerary

3 days in Cape Town: Day One

Robben Island Half-Day Trip

Robben Island -places to visit in South Africa

Get to grips with South African history by making the 45-minute ferry crossing to Robben Island, the Alcatraz of South Africa, the prison on this island is the place where Nelson Mandela was jailed for 18 years of his 27-year sentence.

Upon arrival at Robben Island waterfront, you will take a guided bus tour around the island where you can admire the view back across to Cape Town whilst learning the history of the island from your guide. Afterward, you will be taken on a guided tour around the prison where Nelson Mandela was held, learning about Apartheid, a system of institutionalized racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 until the 1990s and what life was like at the prison.

Price: £29.93

Duration: 4 hours

Opening Times: Tours start at 9 am, 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm

Click here for more information and to book this tour.

Explore the V&A Promenade

V & A Promenade Cape Town itinerary

The Victoria and Alfred Promenade in Table Bay Harbour is a beautiful place for a stroll with all the ocean views and mountain views. Known more simply as ‘the prom’ by locals, the promenade starts at Mouille Point and continues through the beachfront area known as Sea Point to Bantry Bay. The lively and picturesque waterfront is where you can get the best views of the lighthouse as well as the best sunset views.

The promenade is also lined with more casual eateries and boutique-style shops. Fun for the whole family, the Cape Wheel can easily be spotted, perfectly located to offer a 360-degree panoramic view of the city. The Wheel is lined with air-conditioned cabins where you will be hoisted 40 meters above the ground. Rides are approximately 15 minutes in duration and are a four-revolution ride ensuring you get the ideal photographic edge.

V & A promenade - 3 days in Cape Town

The Victoria & Alfred Precinct is one of the landmarks that can be observed from the air, and the next item on the itinerary. Spend the rest of your afternoon at the V&A Waterfront and indulge in retail therapy. The mall brags in excess of 450 retail outlets catering to all needs. The V&A Food Market is run just ahead of the mall in Dock Road. The market boasts a wide array of street food and gifts. Open seven days a week, any time is the best time to indulge in artisanal delight. 

The Cape Wheel:

Price: R155

Opening Times: Daily 10am-10.30pm

Click here for more information and to book your tickets.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa - Cape Town itinerary

Located on the V&A promenade, Zeitz MOCAA is the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world. Only open since 2017, it has been proclaimed as ‘Africa’s Tate Modern’, containing 100 art galleries that display 21st-century artwork including paintings and sculptures, photography, costumes, and visual media across 9 floors from all 54 African States. An audio tour is available which tells visitors unique stories about the museum’s collection.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa - 3 days in Cape Town

Price: R200

Opening Times: Daily 10 am-5.30 pm

Tip – To save money, plan a visit on the evening of the first Friday of the month when the entrance is half price (R100) between 4 pm-9 pm.

Click here for more information and to book your tickets.

Sunset Cruise

End your day with a 1.5-hour sunset cruise (complete with champagne) as you sail out of the harbor onto the Atlantic Ocean to admire the unique views of Cape Town and the coastline from the water as the sun sinks spectacularly into the ocean at sunset and the harbor lights turn on. Your sailboat will follow the wind so you won’t know your exact destination until your captain tells you but the options are usually sailing across Table Bay towards Milnerton lighthouse, sailing towards the Clifton coastline, sailing towards the Robben Island coastline, or on bad weather days, staying within Cape Town Harbor.

Click here for more details and to book your cruise.

3 days in Cape Town: Day Two

Bo Kaap 

Bo Kaap - 3 day Cape Town itinerary

Continue your travel northwards into the heart of the Mother City and catch the best time to enjoy the bustling CBD. Immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of the Cape with a visit to the Bo-Kaap, meaning ‘Upper Cape’, home to descendants of former Malay slaves. The Bo-Kaap Museum is located in Wale Street and is the oldest building in the vicinity. The city is best explored on foot where even the surrounding areas are a short walk away. An Audio Tour is available from the Museum, with a personal historical account of the area.

Cook your own lunch while learning about the Malay culture with Cape Fusion Tours which offers an array of packages. Cooking is done at a local Cape Malay home and you are certain to leave with a full tummy and culinary skills worth bragging about.

Castle of Good Hope

Castle of Good Hope - 3 day Cape Town itinerary

Visit the Castle of Good Hope just up the road where a tour guide will provide a detailed run-down of the history behind this Castle. Well-preserved and credited as the country’s oldest building, this landmark is worthy of attention. Three shots are fired from the original cannon on a daily basis, with the last being fired at 12 pm.

District 6 Museum

Just across the road, you will find yourself in the center of the street shopping district where Long, Bree and Market Streets intersect. The District 6 Museum is a short walk up the road and offers a continuation of the history showcased at the Bo-Kaap Museum. Museums typically operate from 9 a.m. until the close of business and charge a small entrance fee put towards community development.

Boasting the best artisanal coffees in the country and award-winning blends, Truth Coffee is across the road from the District 6 Museum. This rustic coffee shop is an experience of its own. Just behind the Museum, you will find Charlie’s Bakery, the go-to bakery for Capetonians which was once so popular it aired its own television show showing off its aesthetically pleasing bakes. In sum, confectionary gems and artisanal delights are scattered throughout Cape Town and there is no shortage of snacks to fuel a day of travel.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain Cape Town

End the day off with a tour up Table Mountain, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It is generally recommended to visit in the afternoon on a good day so that the mist has cleared and the mountain is perfectly visible from all vantage points. Reach the peak via the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway or summit the mountain via one of several hiking trails through the national park.

The routes range in duration from 1.5 to 3 hours, with the shortest summit gaining 700 meters over a 3-kilometer ascent. The cableway operates from 08h00 in the warmer months (16 September to 30 April) and 08h30 in the cooler half of the year, with cable cars departing every 15 minutes until 21h00 during peak season.

Snap a keepsake at the picturesque Lion’s Head and take in the beauty of Cape Town with a bird’s eye view of the surrounds whilst sipping cocktails at the Cableway Cocktail Bar. Alternatively, Table Mountain Restaurant is a family-friendly option that serves meals throughout the day and a good place to have the last meal of the day.

Situated in the buzzing city center, a suggested stay for the evening is the iconic pink building of the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel. This is convenient after spending the day exploring the city center, and a point of departure for the next.

You might be interested in this Table Mountain Cable Car Ticket & Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Combo that includes a return Cable Car ticket to the Table Mountain, unlimited access to all 4 hop-on-hop-off bus routes and a free walking tour of the city. 

3 days in Cape Town: Day Three

Full-Day Trip to Cape Point, Cape of Good Hope and Boulders Beach for the Penguins

This scenic and nature packed 8-hour day trip allow you to take in the stunning views of the Cape Peninsula via air-conditioned coach with a local tour guide. From Cape Town, you’ll drive for 1 hour through the stunning scenery of Muizenberg and Fish Hoek en route to Boulders Beach where you’ll stop to see the 3,000-strong African penguin colony.

After an hour watching and walking amongst the penguins, the bus tour will continue to the Cape Point UNESCO World Heritage Site and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, one of South Africa’s most scenic spots where you’ll be able to see antelope, ostriches, and other game animals and perhaps even whales, if you’re visiting the Cape during whale season which runs July-November.

Cape of Good Hope - 3 days in Cape Town

After some free time to enjoy lunch and take in the scenery with sea cliffs, bays, beaches, and valleys, you can join a guided hike that goes from Cape Point to the Cape of Good Hope headland taking in the stunning views as you walk. Alternatively, jump back on the coach to meet the hikers at the photo viewpoint before driving back to Cape Town through the Ou Kaapse Weg mountain pass.

Click here for more information and to book this full-day tour. 

How To Get To and From The Airport

Cape Town International Airport (CPT) is located 20km (12miles) outside of the city center and is the 2nd busiest airport in South Africa with local and international flights served from 2 terminals. An express bus service links the airport to the city center with cabs and pre-paid airport transfers also available, journey times taking 20-30minutes depending on the mode of transport and traffic conditions.

MyCiti Rapid Bus

An express bus service (A01) runs every 20 minutes from arrivals and departures to the Civic Centre Bus Station with a journey time of 30minutes. There are two pricing tiers depending on when you travel; peak or off-peak. Buses run from the airport to the city between 5.24 am-9.30 pm and from the city to the airport between 5.27 am-9.30 pm.

Time: 30minutes

Cost: R87.80-R96.50

Taxi

The taxi rank with licensed metered taxi’s (Touch Down Taxi’s company) is located in front of the arrivals hall, on the ground floor of the Central Terminal.

Time: 20 minutes

Cost: R250-R400

Welcome Pick Ups

Make your way to your destination with personalized service from a friendly English-speaking driver who will be waiting to meet you outside arrivals and able to offer you tips to get the most from Cape Town whilst also letting you know which sights you’re passing on the journey.

Time: 20 minutes

Click here for more information and to book your transfer.  

Once in the city, City Sightseeing tours are available in the form of the red, blue and yellow buses which offer four routes throughout the city. This is a hop-on, hop-off service and the most convenient way to get around Cape Town that includes a tour.

Cape Town

Safety in Cape Town

Cape Town is a popular travel destination that may attract opportunistic crime, as in any popular travel destination. As such, tourists are warned to take precautions over their belongings. Drivers are warned of a zero-tolerance policy towards drinking and driving and to mind the jay-walkers. Within the city center, itself roads are extremely narrow, a distant reminder of European intervention. Tourists are advised to keep all essential items on their person at all times and women, especially, are warned to keep handbags in plain sight to heed off potential pick-pockets. Solo travelers are becoming increasingly popular; however, it is encouraged to travel in groups especially after dark. Refrain from walking at night unless it is for purposes of a guided tour.

Cape Town South Africa

Where to Eat in Cape Town

Cape Town is jam-packed with gastronomical delight. In the Peninsula, be sure to stop past Knead in Muizenberg. Originally an artisanal bakery, Knead doubles as a chain restaurant specific to Cape Town. The restaurant caters to all foodie needs and is popular for its modern style interior and aesthetically prepared meals. Satisfy your sweet tooth with freshly baked pastries daily.

A Waterfront favorite is Den Anker situated right along the V&A Waterfront. Despite the Belgian name and origin, the restaurant is unique to Cape Town and serves the international palate. Perfectly located, you can sit back and enjoy your favorite meal while watching as the yachts pass by the deck. With so much ocean surrounding the city, it is recommended to taste South African-prepared calamari at least once in your stay. A tailored menu can be pre-booked on www.denanker.co.za

Besides the already-mentioned V&A Waterfront Market, another market along the Waterfront section is the Oranjezicht City Farm Market. Now open four days a week on a Wednesday and Friday to Sunday, the Market seeks to bring the farm to the people. Locals treat it as a supermarket and purchase from a selection of farm-fresh produce, eggs, meats, and artisanal products. This is the best way to conveniently get ingredients from crop to plate and is a significant reminder of the historical Dutch influence in the city. Visit www.ozcf.co.za for updates. 

While you may find yourself in the city center, Smak on Bree Street is the perfect little restaurant cum patisserie cum coffee bar in the City Bowl. The founder is passionate about what she does, and the staff is commended on their food knowledge and helpfulness as can be observed across reviews. Smak has a variety of vegan and vegetarian options on their menu, and cakes can be baked to order. You are encouraged to play with your food so as to design your own sandwich and the restaurant is also dog-friendly with free Wi-Fi available to guests. What more can you ask for?  To browse their selection of confectionaries or for more information visit www.smak.co.za.

Meals at the aforementioned Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel are also a great hit among visitors. High tea is also available in the afternoon as an alternative to the morning high tea as per Day 2 of this itinerary. I also common to spot socialites and politicians at The Nellie, as it is affectionately known among the locals.

Cape Town itinerary

Where to stay in Cape Town

Staying in Cape Town CBD is the best choice for travelers who plan on sightseeing with hotels around the pedestrianized V&A Promenade providing exceptional waterfront views along with a sense of safety for travelers who are on their first visit to Cape Town and plan on seeing as many of the tourist attractions as possible.

The beauty of this itinerary is its flexibility. The Capetonian community caters largely to the interests of tourists which means that business operating hours are generally longer and service is always available in English as well as local South African languages (including Afrikaans, a dialect of Dutch). Activities can easily be substituted for one another and cancellation policies usually extend to 24 hours in advance.  Cape Town attracts hordes of tourists each year, especially in summer (December to January), attesting to its sought-after atmospheric bliss. This is the best way to appreciate Cape Town in only three days.

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