When thinking about things to do in Cape Town, South Africa, ask yourself whether you’re a casual tourist or an intrepid traveler. Cape Town certainly satisfies those who want to stick to the well-known sights, but it’s worth diving into the off-the-beaten-path sights and activities in this beautiful coastal region. Working with a Ciao Bambino Family Travel Advisor can help you build a custom journey for your family.
Often compared to San Francisco, Cape Town is a lively city with a European vibe. It features gorgeous beaches with the cutest African penguin sightings, outstanding hiking at Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, culinary delights that are often featured on “best of” lists, distinguished historical sites, 17th-century buildings from early settlers, world-famous art galleries and museums, one of the finest aquariums in the world, and so much more. A week in the Cape Town region is hardly enough to experience all its offerings, but these five immersive family experiences will help you discover the city’s soul.
There are many ways to see the distinctive Table Mountain, from a cable car to a guided run to the top, 3,500 feet above the city. One of the most immersive offerings pairs an experienced guide with a BRAVE Girl intern. BRAVE was founded by a group of 10-year-old girls who wanted to make their gang-ridden community safer — and who originally called themselves Rock Girls after the anti-apartheid slogan “When you strike a woman, you strike a rock.”
BRAVE uses the challenges of travel and adventure to empower girls from underserved communities to tell their own stories, acquire critical skills and build networks to assist with education, health care, economic stability and safety. Inviting a BRAVE Girl to join your family adventure adds an element of culture, diversity and familiarization as they share their unique stories. This experience also includes a donation to the nonprofit that creates more opportunities for young girls.
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South of Cape Town proper, on the west side of False Bay just outside Simon’s Town, is Boulders Beach (commonly known as Boulders Bay). This famous nesting area for the African penguin, now part of Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area, protects the penguins and their nesting areas thanks to new wheelchair- and stroller-friendly boardwalks that accommodate the many visitors each year.
Although a trip to the beach and short stroll on the boardwalk is lovely, another option is to stay at one of the family-friendly boutique hotels that offer access to a lesser-travelled beach nearby. The kids certainly won’t be disappointed with their custom penguin-themed bedrooms; the adults get a little privacy too. Besides visiting the penguins, you can also explore the rich marine life by snorkeling in a kelp forest amid fish and other creatures. Add a kayaking excursion to watch the penguins from a different perspective.
Once associated with defiance and vandalism, street art has existed since ancient times, with examples dating back to ancient Egypt, Greece and the Roman Empire. In recent years, it’s been celebrated and studied as a transformation of ordinary spaces into a canvas of expression for a political, social or cultural message. Similar to Wynwood Walls in Miami or Montmartre Urban Art in Paris, Cape Town has outstanding artist-guides who can offer a more kid-friendly and age-appropriate conversation about art than what a museum might provide. Imagine a legendary artist sharing insight on apartheid and the cultural changes since the ’90s.
For older kids, incorporating a visit to District Six Museum and sites like the Apartheid Benches can bring to life the history that shaped South Africa. This is more family-friendly than, say, a visit to Robben Island, home to the prison where Nelson Mandela lived for nearly two decades. Robben Island has great merit for older teens and adults, but is too intense for most young kids and tweens.
Instead of the usual walking tour, begin your exploration of Cape Town with a view from above. Take the cable car up Table Mountain to reveal the city’s incredible layout; after a short hike and guided overview, return to street level and the promenade for a bike ride. Stop at art installations to hear the story of Mandela and enjoy the beautiful coast.
When it is time for lunch, head for the Bo Kaap District in Cape Town, where the Cape Malays — former slaves from the East Indies — settled. The Cape Malays are the only cultural group of their kind in the world and offer a unique cuisine that blends traditional South African flavors with Malaysian and Eastern influences. Enjoy a family-friendly cooking lesson with a local in their home to learn more about the culture, and finish the lesson by savoring the meal at a shared table.
The areas on the outskirts of Cape Town, like the Cape Peninsula, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, offer great outdoor spaces for adults to relax with a glass of wine or picnic while youngsters run free safely nearby.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, spectacular in every season, is one of the world’s most famous and well-designed landscapes. Kids can run riot through the grassy fields and on the play equipment while parents enjoy a picnic on the knoll, then follow a treasure map through a treetop canopy walkway and visit prehistoric gardens. Walking trails meander through the plantings and sculpture garden. Check the events calendar for local live music and outdoor cinema showings after sunset. There are free guided tours on some days, or incorporate a visit as part of an all-day city tour.
Escape to the winelands of Stellenbosch to visit family-centric farms like Boschendal, with its acorn hideouts, slides, mushroom pods and pyramids for young guests. Or if you have a budding mathematician, head to Spier Wine Farm for an adult tasting while the kiddos visit the elemental play garden. The garden is divided into quadrants representing the elements of water, air, fire and earth, and intersecting all four is a spiraling waterway that symbolizes the Fibonacci Sequence.
If your family gravitates toward art and nature, consider visiting the Dylan Lewis Studio and Sculpture Garden. Dylan Lewis is widely recognized as one of the world’s foremost sculptors of the animal form. The extensive garden grounds feature Dylan’s famous sculptures with an opportunity to learn about the process from concept to the final art form. Dylan says, “It is a place that connects me to my authentic, untamed inner nature.”
Our expert Family Travel Advisors have helped hundreds of families make fabulous memories on their dream vacation. We have special relationships with family-friendly Cape Town guides and accommodations, so can access special perks and unique, custom experiences. Reach out to engage our expertise and make your trip a seamless, well-planned and unforgettable experience.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Anna Sizer except where noted.
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