Cape Town is known to its locals as the mother city, and it’s frequently added to the list of must-visit places around the world. Top travel authorities like The Guardian, The New York Times and TripAdvidor have named Cape Town a top destination and we couldn’t agree more. Flanked by the impressive Table Mountain, which the city curves around while hugging the coast, it’s an incredibly diverse city in many ways and it’s an impressively gay friendly destination.
Unless you live in Southern Africa, Cape Town is not particularly close to anything. So a 10 to 12 hour flight or longer isn’t uncommon to arrive at this stunning destination. Cape Town does have a few walkable neighborhoods, but you’ll find yourself traveling all around the city to see the sites. While the city does have public transport (buses), they aren’t very user-friendly for tourists. During our visit we used Uber exclusively (use code S6UQQ for $20 off your first ride) to get around, and it was incredibly quick, cheap and safe. If you want to be connected to internet on your phone, you can pick up a local SIM card at the airport or head to a Vodacom store in town – just be sure to bring your passport. But even if you opt out of mobile data, Wi-Fi is pretty abundant and you can usually find a hotspot to connect and order an Uber for pick-up.
Practicalities aside, traveling to Cape Town is worth every bit of the effort. It’s a city that will blow you away with its beauty, the welcoming attitude of its residents and the range of sites and activities available. Without further ado, here are 15 activities in Cape Town that you simply can’t miss.
Open Top Bus
Sightseeing buses can sometimes be a bit touristy, but I would actually recommend taking one in Cape Town. The city and its surroundings are so beautiful that it’s really enjoyable to sit on the upper deck to enjoy the breeze and the views as you wind your way through the city. The city sightseeing bus has four different routes, and it’s a great way to see the city in a day and get dropped off at almost all the points of interest.
You absolutely can’t visit Cape Town without making the trip to the top of Table Mountain by cable car. The ride is under 5 minutes (2.5 hour hike) and you’ll arrive at what feels like the top of the world. The views of the mountains, ocean and city below are stunning and incredibly picturesque. Head up first thing for sunrise (arrive at 6am) or late in the day for sunset (arrive at 5pm) for the most impressive experience.
Shark Cage Diving
The thought of cage diving with great white sharks nearly made me shit my pants during the week leading up to the excursion. South Africa is considered the great white shark capital of the world, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see the magnificent creatures in person. I went with Shark Diving Unlimited, a journey two hours from Cape Town to “shark alley” located off the coast of a small town called Gaabsani. Like getting to Cape Town itself, going on the shark excursion takes a bit of time, but the effort is 100% worth it. After a nice warm breakfast we boarded the boat and 30 minutes later we were in the cage. Within minutes a great white roughly three meters long swam right up the edge, looked us in the eye and causally swam by. After seeing the shark for the first time, the fear went away and I couldn’t wait to see another. Needless to say, this is one of those excursions that is really life changing, and I would recommend it to anyone.
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Wine Tasting in Constantia Valley
South Africa has amazing wines and you can sample some of Cape Town’s best just 20 km from the city center. The Constantia Wine Valley is composed of four different vineyards, which produce excellent wines and each of them are open to the public for daily wine tastings. As if the wine itself isn’t enough, the beautiful and colorful views of the region are the icing on the cake. You can take the city hop-on, hop-off bus from Cape Town out to the vineyards and visit them all in half a day.
The views of Cape Town are stunning from the ground but even more amazing by air. Taking a helicopter ride over the city and across the coast is a great way to see the landscape from above. I didn’t have time for the tour myself but several friends took a tour with NAC Helicopters and loved the experience.
Body Shots and a Show at Beefcakes
Hot servers and colorful drag performers make this nighttime hotspot a must visit stop. Beefcakes is a dinner and show bar so you can go any night for a burger and colorful performance. Weekends are busiest but you’ll find locals and visitors here in abundance starting on Wednesday. Beefcakes’ claim to fame are the body shots where you can take (or rather lick) off a shot from the chiseled bodies of their sexy servers right on top of the bar as they lay out in front of you.
Dancing All Night at Crew
Like many gay-friendly cities around the world, the welcoming atmosphere of Cape Town has had a negative effect on the gay-only venues and bars. So while fairly small these days, the gayborhood in the area called De WaterKant has several venues that have managed to stay open. Crew is definitely the place to stay out late and go dancing with all the cute boys (and girls) in town. It has three levels with multiple bars and dance floors. If gay nightlife is what you’re looking for, then you’ll definitely find it at Crew Bar.
This colorful neighborhood is just next to Cape Town’s downtown area and it’s full of colorful houses that shine brightly against the backdrop of high-rise buildings and Table Mountain. No one knows for sure when and how the neighborhood became this way, but some suspect that local residents started painting their homes in bright colors after the Apartheid era ended in an indication of freedom and rebellion. Stop by the Bo-Kaap Museum to learn the history that is known about this area.
The Gay Beach
Clifton is a trendy and expensive suburb of Cape Town, and this is where you’ll find some of the best beaches. Ironically, the water is warmer in winter than summer, so it’s more of a hangout and sunbathing place than a beach where people swim. There are four beaches along the Clifton stretch and Third Beach is the designated gay beach.
Cape Point Tour
One of our favorite activities in Cape Town was the Cape Point Tour with Rhino Africa. This tour company operates throughout South Africa, but is based in Cape Town and offers a variety of guided city tours and even safaris in other parts of the country. It’s worth noting that Rhino Africa is gay-owned and operated so everything they do is done with LGBT people in mind. Cape Point is an hour’s drive from Cape Town with a road that hugs the rocky coast – easily one of the most stunning drives we’ve ever seen. You’ll find the Cape of Good Hope at the bottom tip, which is Africa’s most southwestern point. And of course, no visit to Cape Point is complete with a visit to Boulders Beach, which is home to one of Africa’s few penguin colonies – so cute!
This hotel is located right in the city center and is a brand new construction. Equipped with a rooftop restaurant, bar and pool, this property is the definition of young, chic and modern. From the concrete ceilings to the simply designed rooms and common areas, this is a great option to be centrally located in a new and modern property.
This hotel is a 7-acre riverside garden estate on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, just 15 minutes outside the city center. Since it’s a bit farther out, the rooms and grounds are spacious and beautiful. Like most places in town, it’s a gay friendly and welcoming hotel and many of its staff and management are LGBT themselves. The gardens, pool and other facilities here (they have a full-size gym!) are excellent and the views of Table Mountain in the backdrop will make you not even want to leave the property. The atmosphere is great for those who appreciate the elegant and classical style. They offer great dinners and fabulous wine parings – perfect for any foodie looking for a decadent meal on the property. If you’re looking for modern accommodations, then head closer to the city center.
Mount Nelson High Tea
The Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel is a classic in Cape Town. It’s one of those places that’s full of history and has been around since the early developmental days of the city. Even if you prefer modern accommodations, this elegant and classical hotel is at least worth a visit. If you choose to stay elsewhere, you should definitely find an afternoon to visit for high tea, served in the afternoons from 3:30 – 5:30. You get a wide selection of teas and a huge variety of cakes, cookies and snacks to accompany your afternoon tea break.
Long Street and the Grand Daddy Hotel
Long Street is a major street located in the center of Cape Town. You’ll find a variety of shops, bookstores, restaurants and bars in this hip and trendy area of town. One of our favorite places on the strip is The Grand Daddy Hotel. This boutique hotel has a great restaurant plus an awesome rooftop bar and even features a trailer park. You can stay in one of seven Airstream trailers that have been retrofitted – complete with a queen-size bed, wet room with a shower plus modern comforts like TV, air conditioning and a mini-fridge. We’ve never seen anything like it!
The waterfront is probably the most touristy area of Cape Town. For some it might be a bit overly commercial but it’s still worth a quick visit. Have a bite at the Waterfront Food Market or buy some local goods and handicrafts from the Watershed shopping area. This area was once deserted after Cape Town lost its importance as a harbor, but it’s been redeveloped over the past couple decades. This is also the starting point for the ferry to Robin Island where Nelson Mandela was held as a political prisoner for 18 of his 27 years imprisoned.
Cape Town Offers
If you’re looking to stay in a home or apartment, you can also check out AccommoDirect for accommodation in Cape Town. They’re a South African based rental service and offer plenty of options around the city.
If you haven’t yet considered a trip here we’re not quite sure why you wouldn’t. If you’re hesitant to travel to Africa or not sure where to start, we definitely recommend checking out a group tour with Detours Travel. Not only will they plan all the necessary details, but you’ll be joined by a group of friendly gays – including singles, couples and friends traveling together all in the company of knowledgeable, local guides. You can even save $100 on all tours with Detours Travel when booking online. Contact us here to get your special promo code for your discount.