I’m not going to sugarcoat it: planning a 3 days in Cape Town itinerary isn’t a simple feat.
Because in addition to having a seemingly endless list of amazing things to do (and eat–seriously, we are so in love with Cape Town’s food scene), Cape Town is a geographically spread out place without a dense network of public transportation.
In other words, for those of us coming from the USA, Cape Town is more like visiting Austin or Los Angeles than Boston or Manhattan.
Pair the spread-out nature of Cape Town with the fact that many of its highlights are big time commitments, and it quickly becomes obvious that a 3 day Cape Town itinerary isn’t going to be able to cover all the cool things to do in Cape Town, and whatever your priorities, you’ll likely have to make a hard choice or two along the way.
That being said… you can definitely make a solid dent in it!
We recently spent a month diving deep into Cape Town, and in that time it skyrocketed into our list of favorite cities in the world.
Seriously, this place has it all: stunning coastline, delicious food, a million and one ways to be active outside, great weather, friendly people, competitive prices, and–most importantly, let’s be real–penguins.
With 3 days in Cape Town booked, you have a lot to look forward to–here’s how we suggest structuring your Cape Town itinerary to make sure that you get the most out of your visit.
Before getting started, though, I do want to note that putting together this 3 day Cape Town itinerary did involve one rather large assumption: that the weather will be clear and sunny during your visit.
If that’s not the case, certain things–like heading to the top of Table Mountain, for example–may be impossible or at least far less fun than they could be. If you’re not lucky with the weather during your 3 days in Cape Town, check out the “more things to do in Cape Town” section below for some alternate ideas for your Cape Town itinerary!
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Day 1 in Cape Town: Get a taste of the city.
Start with a visit to Bo-Kaap.
Arguably Cape Town’s most photogenic (and certainly most Instagram-famous) neighborhood, a stroll through the Cape Malay neighborhood of Bo-Kaap is the perfect way to kick off your 3 days in Cape Town.
Cooking classes are popular here, but with only a few days in Cape Town to work with, we’d recommend settling for a quick look around before heading off to breakfast.
If you’re looking for a tried-and-true breakfast spot, we loved Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room, and it’s located a very short walk from Bo-Kaap–we lost track of how many times we ate there during our month in Cape Town, but it was a lot!
Head to the District 6 Museum.
Even with only 3 days in Cape Town, it’s important to make time for the city’s (often ugly) history.
The District 6 Museum tells the story of the once vibrant and multicultural community of District 6, and the subsequent destruction of the neighborhood through forced removals of citizens under apartheid.
This is not a fun thing to do in Cape Town, but it is an important one.
Keep in mind that the museum is closed on Sundays.
Taste the best coffee in the world at Truth Coffee.
Want to taste the best coffee in the world?
Then it’s a good thing you came to Cape Town!
Truth Coffee is known for having some of the best coffee in the world, sweeping awards across the globe for their brews.
We definitely agreed–the coffee we had at Truth Coffee was some of the best of our lives, and we still can’t stop talking about it weeks later!
Truth Coffee is also known for its decor: the entire (enormous) shop is steampunk themed, and everything from the waiters to the tables to the bar are decidedly on-theme, making the environment extra entertaining.
One of the most important reasons to stop by Truth Coffee at the beginning of your 3 days in Cape Town? To give yourself time to go back repeatedly if you fall in love with it.
Hike Lion’s Head OR ride the cable car up Table Mountain.
Unfortunately, this is one of those trade-offs that has to be made when putting together a 3 day Cape Town itinerary: you’ll likely have time for Lions’ Head or Table Mountain, but not both, unless you’re willing to cut something else out.
The hike up Lion’s Head is short–we did the whole thing, round-trip, in under 3 hours, even taking into account plenty of photo breaks–so if you’re a fan of the outdoors, we recommend taking the hike. Plus, unlike the cable car up Table Mountain, it’s free!
If you’re not athletically inclined or just don’t want to bother, consider heading up Table Mountain on the cable car instead. Just keep in mind–while the cable cars rarely have to shut down, they do warn that in the event of a weather issue, you must always be prepared to hike down the mountain if the cable cars stop running.
We visited both viewpoints during our time in Cape Town, and while they were both wonderful, we did slightly prefer the view from Lion’s Head–but perhaps that’s just because we worked for it!
If you’d like to watch the sunset from either viewpoint, Table Mountain is the easier choice for those not experienced with hiking in the dark or concerned about safety (there are some reports of muggings on Lion’s Head at night). If you’d like to hike Lion’s Head at sunset, bring a headlamp, a group, and consider joining a tour to help with both safety and logistics.
If you do decide to ride the cable car up Table Mountain, make sure to buy your tickets in advance! When you arrive, you’ll see two lines of people waiting to go up: a very long line of people without tickets, and a much shorter and faster-moving line of people who already have their tickets with them. It pays to plan ahead here!
Want to experience sunset on Lion’s Head? Consider booking a group tour to stay safe and make logistics easy!
If you’re headed up Table Mountain, book your Table Mountain cable car ticket as part of a combo package to save time and money!
Day 2 in Cape Town: Tour the Cape Peninsula.
Say hello to the penguins at Boulders Beach.
No trip to Cape Town could be complete without a visit to Boulders Beach!
South Africa may be better known for the Big 5, but the country is also home to one of the world’s most accessible wild penguin colonies–and heading less than an hour outside of Cape Town is a far easier way to see wild penguins than booking a cruise to Antarctica.
The African penguins who live in this colony are beyond easy to observe: they hang out right on the beach, and sometimes even come visit the designated swimming area.
As longtime penguin lovers, we consider this to be one of the highlights of spending 3 days in Cape Town, and people traveling to Cape Town with kids tend to also rank it among the best experiences near the city.
Head to Cape Point.
Boulders Beach is located on the Cape Peninsula, so once you’re there, just another half hour of driving will get you to Cape Point!
While this is not actually the southern tip of Africa as was once believed, it is still the southwestern tip of Africa, and while I suppose you could say that counts for something, it’s mostly popular today due to its rugged, gorgeous coastline.
Visiting Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope is an extremely popular day trip from Cape Town–if you can’t or would rather not rent a car, consider booking a tour to help you visit this stunning section of the Cape Peninsula.
If you would rather rent a car for this section of your Cape Town itinerary, we recommend checking out Discover Cars. They’ll search both local and international brands that have available cars, and allow you to compare prices, reviews, and inclusions side-by-side.
While Boulders Beach at least is technically accessible by public transportation, trains and buses are a much slower and more logistically challenging option in this case than simply hitting the road–a distinct difference from many popular touristic cities around the globe.
This affordable tour is a great way to easily visit Boulders Beach and Cape Point in one day!
Not a tour person?
Price out rental cars with Discover Cars!
Come back to Cape Town & set sail for a sunset cruise.
Cape Town’s coastline is a thing of beauty, so be sure to admire it from the water during your 3 days in Cape Town!
We recommend setting sail in the early evening, glass of wine in hand, to enjoy watching the sunset over Cape Town from one of the best viewpoints there is.
This popular catamaran cruise is a great way to enjoy the sunset in Cape Town!
Day 3 in Cape Town: See the coast & visit the Cape Winelands.
Start the day in Sea Point.
Sea Point is one our favorite neighborhoods in Cape Town: set right against the water, it has a very beachy feel that reminds us of what we’ve always imagined southern California to be like.
Start your morning by strolling through town (we can recommend Jarryd’s Espresso Bar for breakfast), and then head to the waterfront.
Rent bikes & ride to the V&A Waterfront.
The Sea Point Promenade runs right along the coast, complete with beautiful views of the ocean on one side and Cape Town/Table Mountain on the other.
Rent some bikes (we had a great experience with Upcycles) and hit the promenade–we recommend riding all the way to the V&A Waterfront, which should take about an hour depending on how many photos you decide to stop for!
Check out the V&A Waterfront.
The V&A Waterfront is one of the most popular spots in Cape Town, but to be honest, it isn’t our favorite: it’s essentially a sterile mall and shopping area. The views of the harbor and Table Mountain, though, make it worth just a quick glance since you’re already there!
Spend the afternoon in the Cape Winelands.
For the last afternoon of your 3 days in Cape Town, head out of town to experience some of Cape Town’s magical wineries!
The nearby Cape Winelands are absolutely beautiful, are home to some delicious wine, gorgeous vineyards, and make a great getaway from Cape Town.
With only 3 days in Cape Town, a full day spent in the winelands is a bit overkill (unless you want to make a day of it and enjoy a picnic on a wine estate), but a half-day trip to just a couple of wineries is well worth the time spent.
We used this wine tour to experience the winelands for half a day, and had an amazing time! It was fantastic to be able to kick back and relax without worrying about any of the logistics, and both wineries we visited had delicious wines that we would be happy to taste again (and don’t even get me started on how tasty the homemade cheese was).
We visited two wineries in an afternoon with this wine tour, and had a great time–we wouldn’t hesitate to book the same tour again!
Alternately, if you’re not a drinker or are planning on visiting the Cape Winelands for a day or two after your 3 days in Cape Town are over, consider using this afternoon to visit the top of Table Mountain or climb Lion’s Head–whichever activity you chose not to do on your first day.
You could also use this time to visit the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, or head out to Woodstock to check out some incredible street art!
What About Robben Island?
Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was held captive for 18 of his 27 years in prison, can be visited from Cape Town, including a tour of Mandela’s jail cell, the island’s graveyard, army and navy quarters, and more.
Visiting Robben Island is a popular thing to do in Cape Town, and definitely a meaningful one, but we didn’t include it on this 3 day Cape Town itinerary for a simple reason: you have to plan ahead quite a bit to visit.
Tickets are sold here, and are often sold out days or even weeks in advance–so unless you are planning your Cape Town itinerary well in advance, it will be difficult to arrange.
The tour itself gets mixed reviews, with some saying that it is very impactful and some saying that there’s not much depth to it and that there are better ways to learn about Mandela’s enduring legacy.
If you’d like to visit Robben Island during your 3 days in Cape Town, we’d recommend booking as soon as you’re able to commit to a date, though keep in mind that tours are very weather-dependent due to the ferry.
The tour, including the ferry to and from the V&A Waterfront, lasts about 3.5 hours.
Where to Eat in Cape Town
We’re far from experts on the Cape Town food scene, but after a month in town, we can definitely say this: we ate very, very well in Cape Town, and food in South Africa is delicious.
Here are a few recommendations based on what we enjoyed!
Jerry’s Burger Bar
How’s this for a sentence? We are American, hailing from the land of burgers… and the best burger we have ever eaten in our lives is in South Africa.
Jerry’s Burger Bar serves up absolutely delicious burgers (I’m still dreaming about the Back & Blue Burger) and jalapeno poppers. The fries are less memorable, but that’s okay–the burgers are what make the place.
Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room
Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room is cozy, comfortable, and home to delicious food.
We ate here more times than we can count (usually breakfast, but sometimes other meals as well), and everything from the sandwiches to the eggs to the toast is completely delicious.
If you’re looking for a great breakfast during your 3 days in Cape Town, definitely stop by Clarke’s.
If it wasn’t for Jerry’s, we would be raving about Royale Eatery right now–a popular burger joint in Cape Town, Royale Eatery tends to show up on all the “best burger in Cape Town” lists.
We can’t say it was quite as good as Jerry’s, but the burgers at Royale Eatery are delicious enough that we did eat there twice during our month in Cape Town.
I know we already talked about Truth Coffee above, but it deserves to have its praises sung again.
If you are a coffee lover, do not leave Cape Town without heading to Truth Coffee at least once!
Serving up delicious brunches and beyond right on Long Street, Lola’s is a great choice if you’re looking for a healthy option in Cape Town.
Jarryds Espresso Bar & Eatery
Located over in Sea Point, Jarryds serves up delicious brunches and excellent coffee–can you sense a theme?
Cape Town is all about their brunch and coffee scene–and you won’t walk away disappointed from Jarryds.
Where NOT to Eat in Cape Town
We had very few disappointing meals in Cape Town, and I hate ragging on restaurants that may have been experiencing an off day, but we definitely wouldn’t bother heading back to Lunchworks (mediocre food, unremarkable location/atmosphere), or Masala Dosa (the most bland, overpriced, and small-portioned Indian food we have ever tried).
Getting Around Cape Town
Though some attractions on this 3 day Cape Town itinerary are within walking distance of each other (for example, the route on the first morning), Cape Town, in general, is not a very walkable city.
Its highlights are spread out, and the city itself is more designed for cars than human traffic–to us, it feels much more like a typical American city (so think Austin, not Boston) than anything else.
Essentially, how you decide to get around Cape Town for 3 days will come down to one basic decision: to rent a car, or not to rent a car.
Rent a car.
If you’d like to rent a car in Cape Town, it’s definitely an option: be sure to check what your insurance will cover before renting, however, and purchase any extra coverage needed. You’ll also want to double-check that your hotel has parking before booking!
Keep in mind that when parking in public spaces in Cape Town, informal “car watchers” will approach you asking for a tip for “watching” the car and making sure no one breaks in. This is culturally accepted in Cape Town–it’s best to give them a small amount of money, say 5 rand, and get on with your day.
If you do decide to rent a car during your 3 days in Cape Town, you won’t necessarily need to use it to get everywhere–particularly when headed downtown to spots like Bo-Kaap and Truth Coffee, it will likely be more trouble than it is worth to drive and park. Consider taking an Uber that day.
Use Uber + tours.
If you’d rather not rent a car while in Cape Town, a combination of booking tours and using Uber (very common in the city) is sufficient to get you around during your 3 days in Cape Town, and if we were planning a 3 day Cape Town trip, this would almost certainly be the transporation option we chose.
We did not rent a car for most of our month in Cape Town, instead relying on Uber and, in the case of the Cape Winelands, a tour to get around. However, we did rent a car for our final week in South Africa, and we visited the Cape Peninsula, including Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope, during that time.
If everyone in your group is planning on drinking in the winelands, this option offers another benefit: a built-in designated driver, which was one of the reasons we chose to use a tour to visit the Cape Winelands while staying in Cape Town.
If you’re planning on seeing several Cape Town sights in one day, you may also want to consider the hop on/hop off bus–it goes all over the city, including to Table Mountain!
Alternately, use public transportation.
Cape Town does have a public transportation system, and if you’re traveling on a strict budget, it may be the transportation option for you.
However, expect delays (especially with the train), slow service, and difficulty navigating your way, especially with only 3 days in Cape Town to learn the ropes.
We aren’t personally experienced with Cape Town’s Metro Rail, Golden Arrow buses, or minibus taxis/chapas, but this article provides a solid overview if you’re interested in looking further into this option.
More Than 3 Days in Cape Town?
Sadly, 3 days in Cape Town is just enough to get a small taste–so if you happen to have more time in Cape Town or are planning another trip soon, you’ll have plenty to keep you busy–there are an endless number of adventures in Cape Town — not to mention the huge number of fabulous day trips from Cape Town!
Consider paying a visit to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, making arrangements to visit Robben Island, taking one of Cape Town’s famed helicopter tours, having a picnic on Signal Hill, checking out the stunning Chapman’s Peak drive, heading to Muizenberg Beach to try out some surfing (or just to admire one of the most Instagrammable spots in Cape Town), hunting down some epic street art in Woodstock, or heading over to Camps Bay for a day.
There’s also always more hiking to do around Cape Town: if you’re a hiker, consider ascending one of Table Mountain’s many trails.
Safety in Cape Town
Safety in Cape Town is an interesting thing.
In a nutshell: we never felt threatened, we would definitely visit again, and we have no qualms about recommending that other people visit Cape Town.
It’s true that Cape Town struggles with both violent crime and property crime. It’s also true, like in most cities around the world, that those problems are more prevalent in certain neighborhoods, and those neighborhoods do not tend to be the ones that tourists are visiting.
But all the same, the seriousness of security in Cape Town (bars on windows, electric fences surrounding houses, signs just about everywhere warning to leave nothing inside your car so as to deter smash-and-grab robberies) was a constant reminder of the struggles that Cape Town’s residents deal with, and also served to make us feel less secure in the city than we would have otherwise.
It was a bit of an odd feeling, honestly–in many ways, Cape Town looked and felt more like a city in the USA than anywhere else we have ever been, but the security situation gave the atmosphere a distinct feeling that we associate with Latin America: the feeling that yes we’re perfectly safe, no there’s no reason to leave, but also, let’s pay careful attention to our valuables, avoid attracting attention, and not wander the streets at night.
In other words, despite its trendy restaurants and boutiques, in many ways, traveling in Cape Town felt more like being in Colombia than Croatia.
From a practical perspective, here’s what we can recommend: be aware of your surroundings, don’t flash valuables on the street, don’t leave anything in your car, and consider not visiting Bo-Kaap late in the afternoon (muggings have been reported there during that time).
But also, don’t overthink it–millions of tourists descend on Cape Town each year, most of whom have amazing, unforgettable trips.
Cape Town is one coolest cities we have ever visited, and it would be a shame to miss out on it due to fear. Simply come prepared, be cautious, and take particular care with your car if you choose to rent one, and you should have a wonderful trip.
What to Pack for Cape Town
Pacsafe — We love our Pacsafe! This safe makes it incredibly easy to keep valuables safe abroad, and we highly recommend bringing one to Cape Town.
South Africa Travel Adapters — … Because there’s nothing more annoying than arriving in a destination and finding that you can’t charge any of your electronics!
Travel Journal — It’s amazing how fast the memories of an amazing trip can fade. Be sure to preserve your in-the-moment thoughts from your 3 days in Cape Town with a daily travel journal!
For people like me who can’t bear to commit to more than a couple sentences a night, I can’t recommend this One Line a Day Journal enough–it’s a great way to reflect on your day, keep an eye on the changes your life goes through over a five year period, and only requires a couple of minutes a day to fill out.
I’ve been using mine for about a year and a half now, and I wish I had started it earlier!
Safety Whistle — While it may be a bit cautious, we love having our safety whistles out with us when we go hiking–you never know when you might need one, and they are so inexpensive and light that it seems downright silly not to bring one along.
Nalgene — Cape Town’s water is safe to drink, and is actually some of the tastiest we have ever come across! Bring a reusable bottle with you to cut down on both plastic waste and expenses. Also, keep in mind that drought and severe water restrictions are still a major concern in Cape Town, and don’t waste a single drop!
Where to Stay in Cape Town
With only 3 days in Cape Town, a central location in downtown Cape Town will provide the best combination of access to restaurants and tourism services, accessibility to other areas like Sea Point, the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head.
Long Street, Kloof Street, and Bree Street are focused on tourism in this area, and you can’t go wrong as far as location when staying near these streets.
Urban Hive Backpackers — Featuring great reviews and a prime location right along Long Street, you’ll be in the center of the action staying at Urban Hive Backpackers! There are plenty of restaurants, bars, tour companies, and even a souvenir market within a short walk from the doorstep.
Number 5 Guesthouse — Located on a quiet road but just minutes away from the action on Kloof Street, Number 5 Guesthouse boasts excellent reviews, a delicious included breakfast, and an attentive staff at midrange prices.
Cloud 9 Boutique Hotel & Spa — If you want to be pampered during your 3 days in Cape Town, look no further than Cloud 9–here you’ll find an excellent location within short walking distance of plenty of restaurants and boutiques, on-site spa services, a rooftop pool, and an incredible view of Table Mountain!