We’ve resisted sightseeing and ticking off attractions in most of the destinations we’ve visited on our grand tour so far this year, preferring to explore neighbourhoods and hang out with the locals, do classes and learn things, and get beneath the skin of the places we’re in on walks and tours with local experts.
So why did we opt to being tourists for a day in Cape Town? Well, nearly every person we met here told us that we simply had to take the cable car up to Table Mountain and almost as many said a visit to the V&A Waterfront was a must. The attractions are two of the most popular things to see in Cape Town, so we decided we couldn’t not test them out.
The owners of our Cape Town holiday rental highly recommended the red hop-on hop-off bus and in Barcelona we found it was a handy way for visitors with a lot of patience (if you stay on for the whole route it seems to take all day) to orientate themselves with a city. The V&A and Table Mountain are both stops on the hop-on hop-off bus, so we decided to give it a shot. Here’s our verdict on…
Three Ways of Seeing Cape Town
CAPE TOWN HOP-ON HOP-OFF BUS
We jumped on the open-top double-decker hop-on hop-off bus at a stop by the beach just a few minutes from our holiday rental at Camps Bay and took the Red Line along the coast. We were lucky to snag seats on the ocean side so we enjoyed spectacular views of the beaches, bays, pools, and parks as we drove through Clifton, Bantry Bay, Sea Point, Three Anchor Bay, Mouille Point, and Green Point.
At that point the bus leaves the beachside road, passing the stunning new stadium built for the World Cup, before stopping at the V&A Waterfront (see below). From here it heads into the city centre, and does a loop around the downtown, passing key sights and museums, and driving through District Six, before leaving the city centre to head up the hill to Table Mountain (below). From there, it zigzags down the hill to Camps Bay.
Verdict: Recommended. But only if you make it the first thing you do. We’d already been in Cape Town for a bit when we rode the bus and had already been along much of the route. Be warned though: this is the most touristy of the three ways of seeing Cape Town that we tested out. That means there is an audio commentary. While it’s a tad dull, it’s peppered with some interesting trivia.
Tip: Sit up top. The ocean views from the top of the bus alone are worth the ride!
THE V&A WATERFRONT
Modelled partly on Sydney’s Darling Harbour, the V&A Waterfront consists of a smattering of remodelled historic buildings and new 1980s-style developments around Cape Town’s attractive old working harbour, including a few family-friendly attractions such as the Maritime Museum, Two Oceans Aquarium, and crafts market, swanky shopping malls, souvenir shops, restaurants, fish and chips places, cafés, bars, and pubs.
We found ourselves here a few times during our stay, mainly because it was the nearest and best place to shop, and even (unexpectedly) ate dinner here once. While the V&A seems to attract as many locals as tourists, it felt super-touristy to us and didn’t win us over.
Verdict: Only recommended if you’re in the neighbourhood. This was my least favourite of the three ways of seeing Cape Town that we tested out. Don’t put the V&A Waterfront at the top of your to-do list and don’t make a special trip here. Instead, check it out if you have some shopping to do. There’s an excellent supermarket at Woolworths and a good adventure store if you need to pick up some gear before going on safari.
Tip: Time your visit for sunset. The V&A Waterfront is a lovely spot for a drink as you watch the sun go down and locals pack the bars on Friday after work.
We could see Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain and its cableway from our bedroom balcony at our holiday rental at Camps Bay, where we enjoyed watching the effect of the clouds rolling over the mountain that the locals refer to as ‘the table cloth’ (see our video here). How could we not go up to the top to take a closer look?
We decided to leave the best for last and thought we’d time our trip up for sunset. Unfortunately, we arrived just as the ticket office was closing and the doors were about to shut on the last cable car going up for the day. Cape Town Tourism had kindly given us complimentary tickets, which I accidentally left at home, so I found myself begging the staff to sell me two tickets and, um, er, bribing the cable car attendant to let us on board.
Once up top we had about 20 minutes before the last car for the day went down – just enough time to plead with the café staff who were closing up to sell me a small bottle of sparkling South African wine, and enjoy it as we took in the spectacular views. And discover what a dassie is!
Verdict: Highly recommended. This was our favourite of the three ways of seeing Cape Town. The sweeping views of the city are absolutely stunning. The Cableway’s rotating cable cars make for a weird ride up, but it’s worth it.
Tip: Double-check the times before heading up as they change throughout the year. Go for sunset and allow enough time for a glass of bubbly before it’s time to go down.