Must-see attractions in Cape Town and the Western Cape
Dramatic mountains, stunning coastlines, and lush greenery as far as the eye can see. Blended with luxurious housing that grips off the side of Table Mountain, accessible only by chaotically narrow, winding roads; large security fences are ever prominent. Is this really a good place to take your kids? ABSOLUTELY!
I have to admit, Cape Town has won just a little part of my heart.
Mr Globetrotter and I first visited Cape Town sans-kids in 2008 and well, it rained. A lot. Table Mountain was constantly shrouded in clouds and we really didn’t get to explore much. After visiting the north-eastern coast of South Africa it felt cold and damp in comparison; it lacked the big wildlife reserves, was it possibly a bit boring? A bit unsafe? The glimpses we got were beautiful thought so we were determined to try again.
Wind the clock forward to 2015 and three kids later we have rediscovered Cape Town; whether its seeing things through the children’s eyes or seeing it without the rain – what we saw blew us away!!!
Here are 5 easy day trips and activities for young kids if you base yourself in Cape Town.
Taking the western coastal route to the Cape of Good Hope from Cape Town, you can drive through the incredibly picturesque Camps Bay area, around the coast to Hout Bay, then on to the dramatic Chapman’s Peak Drive through to Noordhoek. This drive is not for the faint-heated – it’s some what terrifying as you are literally driving through sheer cliff face and the road does get closed in bad weather, but this is one of the world’s most utterly spectacular coastal drives. There are several stopping points where you can pull over and do some seal spotting – with a reported 15,000 seals living off the Western Cape coastline you are sure to find some! There are some toilets en-route too if you don’t mind a long drop -BYO tissues.
The Cape of Good Hope itself is a large national park, full of activities from biking and hiking to diving and fishing. Most visitors though head straight to Cape Point and catch the Flying Dutchman Funicular ride up to the peak where there’s then another small hill to climb to the lighthouse and some truly spectacular views (baby sling recommended, not stroller friendly).
There’s a cafe, restaurant and gift shop at the car park level – my best advice if you have small kids to feed – get in early. We arrived bang on 12pm and got seated straight away, those arriving as we were leaving faced long queues. The Two Oceans Restaurant exceeded expectations; not as expensive as you’d think for a place with such a captivating view and a very captive audience – there are few other food options for miles. They offered a separate kids menu which came with huge serves as well as kids activity packs.
During our short lighthouse walk and drive down to the Cape of Good Hope itself, we spotted all sorts of wildlife including ostriches, baboons and lizards. I’m sure there’s plenty more to be seen if you take one of the longer treks or stay overnight camping. Oh, and if you’re looking for “that photo” – with the most south-westerly point in Africa – be prepared to queue behind the bus loads on a bright sunny day and snap fast!
2. World of Birds & Hout Bay
Now I’ll admit I hate birds, something to do with magpies swooping me as a child I’m sure. For our little globetrotters though – all 5 and under – this day trip was probably actually the highlight of their trip with many unique “first time” experiences for them. There are extensive walk-through aviaries, most ok to navigate with a stroller. You can walk up close and personal to many of the animals including penguins during feeding time.
The highlight for us though was entering the Monkey Jungle. Although slightly apprehensive at first about having squirrel monkeys crawl over their laps and heads, there were soon squeals of delights as the Globetrotters realized they actually had monkeys playing with them! You don’t get much closer to an animal encounter for young kids than this!
After you are finished at World of Birds (probably not a full day’s outing but allow several hours if walking a little people’s pace and you want to see everything), then Hout Bay makes a magnificent stop in itself for lunch. Immensely picturesque like all parts of the Western Cape you are surrounded by your mountain backdrop and stunning oceans.
How would you like to not just see penguins but swim with them? Kids (and grown-ups) obsessed with these lovable looking creatures will be captivated by a day trip down to Boulders Beach, near Simon’s Town on the east coast of Western Cape. The drive down to Simon’s Town is in itself breathtaking, an adorable seaside township full of bright vibrant colours (but alas had also fallen foul of dreaded roadworks which seem to currently dominate the road system).
The sheltered beach at Boulders is home to a colony of over 2000 endangered African Penguins (or some might know them as “Jackass” Penguins – you’ll see why if you hear them in full voice – had my Globetrotters giggling all the way home!) At Boulders itself you can set up on the beach and go swimming, slightly further north there is a raised wooden walkway on Foxy Beach which has been specifically built for penguin viewing and keeping them safe from human feet. There’s a small entry fee to pay for both beaches, though if you’re in a hurry and only stopping by – say on your way to/from the Cape of Good Hope – you can easily view penguins up close to the footpath that connects the two beaches.
This is a very popular first stop tourist destination when you get to Cape Town, and although you know its mostly all put on for the tourists, I like it! There’s an extensive range of restaurants to choose from at all different ends of the budget (did I mention food in Cape Town is AMAZING!), street performances, shops, a Ferris Wheel, museums, a giant aquarium, boat tours, a boat themed playground and clocktower… quite an extensive all in one destination.
You can also catch a ferry (weather permitting) to Robben Island in Table Bay, infamous as the place where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years. Although very informative to adults, I think it would be difficult to keep young children’s attention for long on the island tour that comes included with your ferry ticket. The boat ride alone may be enough to entertain young kids, but having done this particular excursion in our pre-kid days, we felt it was a no-go for the very little ones.
One thing our older two insisted that we do was riding the Cape Wheel. A little on the pricey side for 4 circuits, but our kids absolutely loved it and found it completely thrilling; there’s no accounting for taste in what the Globetrotters find exciting!! As always, this being Cape Town there were stunning views to be had at the top!
One popular attraction we ran out of time for on this occasion but came highly recommended is the Two Oceans Aquarium – if you have a rainy day this would be the perfect place for the junior set, including interactive sessions with penguins and a touching pool.
Nestled on the rear side of Table Mountain – the stunning centrepiece of Cape Town – is Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. If you’ve been busy driving around the Cape for a few days this makes for a perfect relaxation day – though I’ll admit we did need a fair bit of legwork pushing our stroller up the steep hills! Its worth the walk to the top of the gardens though to experience the fairly newly built Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway. Although not as long as we expected, the children enjoyed the thrill of walking among the treetops and taking in a different view of the gardens, although slightly disconcerted by the bridge’s natural sway!
Our little ones were most captivated by the special dinosaur display that was on when we visited (not a permanent feature – part of their Art in the Garden instalment series). For us just some very nice sculptures hidden in the hilltops, but again the Globetrotters were utterly captivated and so excited by this garden discovery, it certainly made their day!
People who live in Cape Town came far better prepared than us with picnic rugs and their full outdoor kit to make a days outing of it. Picnics can be hard to pack for and prepare when you’re only a tourist in town, but if you’re coming for a long trip it may well be worth thinking about packing some essential picnic supplies or purchasing a cheapy kit from Woolworths.
Picnics are an incredibly popular activity in South Africa; there are so many stunningly beautiful places with wide open space to do it. Food facilities in Kirstenbosch are otherwise limited to the entrance, where you can also find a small playground and extensive African gift shop (I could have seriously decked out my whole house with the beautiful handicrafts in there, but we were on a “no gift shop” rule with the kids that day, damn!)
Why No Safari’s?
We didn’t tackle any wildlife safari’s or up close “big cat” experiences on this particular trip.
Some of these activities do require a bit of driving from Cape Town so either very long day trips or overnight stays which we could not fit in with the single week we had. Our primary reason for avoiding them on this occasion though was our children’s ages; at 5, 3 and 1, we certainly could not trust the younger two to sit still and calm, follow instructions, not inappropriately shout, runoff, clamber, and well generally ruin the experience!!
It’s not to say we won’t take them on a safari or wildlife tour in the future – of course, we’d love them to have this kind of up-close wildlife experience. We are huge advocates of letting our kids explore, try new things and take part in “world-schooling” activities, but as parents, you also need to make a judgement call on what the right time and age to give your children these experiences.
We are estimating once our youngest is 4 we will return again, but each parent must decide on their own what ages are appropriate, particularly when it comes to things like wildlife encounters.
Top Tips for visiting Western Cape and Cape Town with Kids
- If this is your first time to South Africa, you might be surprised by some of the security measures; luxury houses and apartment buildings but surrounded by electric fences and fortress-like security walls. I think a lot has improved over the years, but nonetheless our hotel recommended we didn’t walk to the V&A waterfront at night time, even though it was only about 20 minutes away. Many hotels do offer free shuttle services but you might want to check before booking what hotels are currently recommending before deciding on your location – being walking distances to nearby restaurants and shops will be helpful with kids. We never personally encountered any issues walking around near our hotel in Green Bay.
- Although restaurants were very welcoming of our children, most did not have a high chair – or booster of any sort. This was one occasion we wish we had bought our own booster seat or some sort of travelling high chair solution with us.
- Driving distance can be misleading on a map! Although driving conditions are generally O.K. (left-hand side of the road FYI!) and we easily navigated around in a hire car, we found the traffic painstakingly slow at times – there are A LOT of roadworks at present. No matter what route you take you end up getting stuck with temporary traffic lights and road closures. When you have hungry little ones in the car who’ve finished napping and just want to move this can be utterly painful! Bring car activities (thanks again Kidgoz) and try to plan your route carefully but its really unavoidable at places. Now don’t ask me about the guy with the stick who you seem to have to pay to NOT steal your car….
- Check recommended age limits before arranging activities. We considered going to the Cheetah Outreach but friends explained how still and quiet you needed to be and with our juniors, we knew this activity wouldn’t be possible, along with quite a few other more adventurous activities and walks. We knew we couldn’t carry all three children long distances so we cut back a lot of activities that were originally on a long list of things we could do with a week in Cape Town.
- If wine tasting is your thing – you’re in for a real treat! We spent the first few days of our adventure based in Stellenbosch and we were blown away! Coming up next will be our review of kid-friendly Wine Farms around Stellenbosch – and there were plenty to choose from!!
Where to Stay in Cape Town with Kids
We stayed at Versailles Luxury Apartments in Green Point, Cape Town. We got a 2 bedroom serviced apartment for the equivalent of $135USD a night – for the size and quality of the accommodation we got (absolutely brand new, great location, secure, clean, free shuttle) we were very impressed and would thoroughly recommend as suitable for families with a touch of style.
Edited: Since we first wrote this post it looks like they unfortunately no longer take short-term guests, check out some other great options here though:
We brought our own travel cot and were able to sleep 5 of us without question, although advertised for max. 4 occupancy (always check and search using this option if you have 5+).
Cape Town has much cheaper options available too and you can get good value for money in family sized accommodation, just be careful on location and safety issues mentioned above if you plan on walking from your hotel.
How to get from UAE to Cape Town
We flew from Abu Dhabi to Cape Town via Doha with Qatar Airways, simply because it was the cheapest option with shortest layovers. From the UAE there are direct flights to Cape Town with Emirates, or connecting flights with Etihad via Johannesburg. South African Airlines is the country’s national flag carrier, part of the Star Alliance network they have extensive world-wide coverage – do be aware of code-share bookings though! Family-friendly airline review of SAA coming soon!
When to visit Cape Town
Remember you’re in the southern hemisphere so it can be quite cool over May to September with the best time to visit over the warm summer months December to February where rainfall is low and sunshine is (almost) guaranteed. We visited in October 2015, the days were warm but evenings cool, there’s still high chances of rain and inclement weather this time of year.
Have you been to Cape Town with kids? Are there any other mustn’t miss attractions you would recommend?
Don’t forget to check out the Travel Diary for more world-wide adventures with the Globetrotters, sussing out where in the world are the best places to take your kids!
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