By Jessica Russo
A trip to South Africa is a magical once-in-a-lifetime experience, but let's be honest - it sure isn't cheap. Luckily, a city as beautiful as Cape Town is a spectacle in itself. From sunset hikes to street art to wine tasting, here are some of our favorite free things to do in Cape Town.
Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, this former township nestled on the slopes of Signal Hill is now bursting with vibrant culture and bright colors. Wander through the colorful playground of eye-popping homes, and learn about the once difficult, but now celebratory, culture of the area. If you'd like to learn more while you're there, visit the Bo-Kaap Museum on Wale St!
Tip: this is definitely an Instagram-worthy spot, so bring your "good" camera and wear your favorite outfit.
2. Street art
Head to the Observatory neighborhood and the suburb of Woodstock for amazing street art that's packed with color, detail, and powerful meaning. Free tours are offered in Woodstock and can be found online or on the streets!
3. Greenmarket Square
Just a short walk from the V&A Waterfront, this bustling square is one of South Africa's oldest. Originally a slave market, this vibrant plaza is now home to local vendors selling all sorts of handmade trinkets. This is the perfect place to buy some unique souvenirs, but it's also a great spot to wander around and enjoy the culture of Cape Town! On top of taking in the colors and beauty of the crafts, street musicians and dancers always use Greenmarket as their stage, so you will always be entertained.
4. Go on a diamond tour
Okay, so obviously diamonds are not free. In fact, they are the opposite of free - they are very, very expensive. But, you know what is free? Looking at them! Have fun on a fascinating tour of the Shimansky Diamond factory, which is offered free of charge. You can find Shimansky at the Clock Tower at the V&A Waterfront.
5. Walk the Sea Point Promenade at sunset
Okay, if you do want to spend a little money, you should treat yourself to a nice sunset dinner at any of the oceanfront restaurants that run along the promenade. But, whether you sit down to eat or just go for a leisurely stroll, we promise it will be memorable. The Sea Point Promenade is more than just a "walking path" - it's lined with art installations, cute shops, a putt-putt course, and of course, jaw-dropping views.
6. V&A Waterfront
While the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is, indeed, a shopping and dining complex, it is also an amazing place to simply hang out. Listen to local street musicians play the drums, watch traditional dances, and gaze out at the mountains over the water. For less than $10, you can take a ride on the Cape Wheel, the giant Ferris wheel at the V&A Waterfront! Talk about views.
7. Taste local wine
The Cape Winelands have become a renowned mecca for wine connoisseurs and lovers, alike. Luckily, you don't need to spend money on a winery tour to enjoy a few tastes of the good grapey stuff. Several places in and around Cape Town now offer complimentary daily wine tastings, including Wine Concepts on Kloof Street.
8. Hike up Lion's Head
Even if you don't love hiking, you must check out Lion's Head. As a matter of fact, hiking up Lion's Head may wind up being your favorite memory of Cape Town! This hike starts out easy (a gradual dirt incline) and increases to a moderate level (climbing up stone steps and ladders). Even if you just make it through the "easy" part, you will still see views better than anywhere else in the city.
Now, if you're really daring, go on a Full Moon Hike! During the week of full moon, locals and tourists hike up Lion's Head with torches and flashlights. South African night skies are some of the most amazing in the world, so it is, without a doubt, a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle.
Tip: Our favorite time to go is a few hours before sunset, so you can hike up during daylight and hike down while the sun begins to set. Seeing the Twelve Apostles in different daylights is a truly unique experience.
9. Go to the Beach!
The Western Cape boasts some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world - hands down. With towering mountains behind you and sparkling bright blue water in front of you, your eyes won't know where to focus. Our favorite (and the most accessible) beaches are Camps Bay and Clifton 1st or 4th.
South Africa's southern location on the globe makes it a world-renowned stargazing hotspot. Escape the lights of Cape Town's center city and head to a beach, mountain, or wildlife park at night. Watch stars dance through the sky and see constellations like never before.
11. Wander through Cecilia Forest
On the lower eastern slopes of Table Mountain, just south of Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, you'll find this majestic forest in Constantia. Breathe in fresh smells of misty greenery and follow paths that will lead you through waterfalls and unique plantlife.
12. Signal Hill
Next to Lion's Head and Table Mountain, Signal Hill is the perfect place to enjoy a sunset picnic. While the views are not as great as Lion's Head, Signal Hill is one of the best places to capture a full photo of Table Mountain!
If you have a car
13. Cape Point
Yes, Cape Point is a bit of a drive (1 hour and 30 minutes) from central Cape Town, but it is beyond worth it. Not to mention, the entire drive is a scenic spectacle, dotted with great places to stop off. The Cape of Good Hope is incomprehensibly beautiful, as its rugged rocks and sheer cliffs tower over 650 feet above the cerulean sea. Cape Point is filled with biodiversity, and it's likely you'll see buck, baboons, mountain zebra, and wild birds roaming the land! For a small fee, hike along the Cape of Good Hope walking path and reach the most southwestern tip of Africa! There's even a cool sign you can photograph yourself in front of, so that you can prove it to your friends back home.
14. Boulders Beach in Simons Town
This is the perfect stop to make on your drive to Cape Point! Hang out with Cape Town's cutest residents... African Penguins! This penguin colony calls Boulders Beach in Simons Town home. Take tons of photos and watch them waddle around in their natural habitats.
When you're done taking way too many photos of our adorable tuxedoed friends, stroll around Simons Town, a quaint resort town between Cape Town and Cape Point, filled with cafes and shops.
Yes, this is that beach with all the little colored huts. About an hour-long drive from central Cape Town, Muizenberg is a surfer's paradise. With great waves, surf shops, and a laid-back vibe, Muizenberg boasts the relaxed atmosphere that local South Africans know and love.
Pro-tip: Although most museums in Cape Town are not completely free, their admission fees are usually quite inexpensive. For example, adult admission to the District Six Museum is about $3, and admission to the Iziko South African Museum is about $2. Check the calendar, because on certain days, they're free!
This does not apply exclusively for museums, either. South Africa's favorable exchange rate allows tourists to do a lot more, for a lot less. So, before you veto an activity or a special meal, check how much it would cost! Odds are, it'll be less than you think.