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Visiting Cape Town on a budget

Visiting Cape Town on a budget

Wedged between the sea and the mountains, Cape Town’s stunning scenery means a lot of the city’s biggest attractions are free – you can wander around the V&A Waterfront, check out the colourful houses in Bo-Kaap, spend the day on the beach at Camps Bay or hike around Table Mountain National Park. Though like most large cities, when you add in a few sights, dinners out and travel costs, the prices can start to add up. But there’s a lot you can see and do in Cape Town without spending too much, so here are my top tips for making the most of the Mother City on a budget. (NB. 100 Rand = approx £6/€7/US$8).

More budget city guides: London, Edinburgh, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, Madrid, New York, Las Vegas
The V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

The V&A Waterfront

Things to see and do

Walking tours are one of my favourite ways to get to know a new city, and Cape Town Free Walking Tours do a few different routes where you just tip your guide. Tours run every day and last around 90 minutes. There’s a Historic City Tour at 11am and 4.20pm, a Bo-Kaap Walking Tour at 2pm and 4.20pm, and a District Six tour at 11am and 2pm, all starting from Green Market Square. There’s also a V&A Waterfront tour at 11am, 2pm and 4.15pm from the City Sightseeing office by the Aquarium. Or you can pick up a map from the info centre at the V&A Waterfront for a self-guided walk that takes you to 22 different landmarks.

Cape Town is full of parks and gardens. In the heart of the city is the Company’s Garden, planted by the Dutch East India Company in the 1650s. Entry’s free (as is the wifi) and there’s a rose garden, aviary and lots of very friendly squirrels. Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens is one of the world’s most beautiful botanic gardens, and well worth the R60 (£4) entry fee (R15 for under 17s) – and you can bring your own picnic. They run free guided tours at 10am, 11am and 2pm, Monday to Friday (10am only on Saturdays). There’s also the free Green Point Urban Park with an outdoor labyrinth, children’s play area and 300 plant species. Twenty minutes outside the city, the Rondevlei Nature Reserve is home to 230 bird species and a family of hippos. Entry costs R12 (£1) or R6 for children. And during the summer months there’s a series of free Concerts in the Park in De Waal Park and Wynberg Park on Sunday afternoons from November to March.

The sea around Cape Town is pretty chilly, even in the summer, so if you fancy a dip on a sunny day head to one of the public swimming pools. The Sea Point Pavilion pool has a gorgeous setting by the water and costs R21 (£1.50) for adults and R10.50 for children. Or for something a bit more glam, the Zenith Pool Deck & Sky Bar at the Cape Royale Hotel is open to non-residents if you buy food or drinks at the bar.

Sea Point sunset, Cape Town

Sunset at Sea Point

Museums and galleries

Iziko Museums – who run 11 museums including the South African Museum, South African National Gallery, Bo-Kaap Museum, Koopmans-De Wet House, Groot Constantia Manor House and Slave Lodge – give free entry on eight special ‘commemorative days’ each year. There are also other museums which are always free to enter, or just ask for donations. They include the Centre for the Book at the National Library, the Cape Town Holocaust Centre, the Cape Medical Museum and Rhodes Cottage in Muizenberg. You can also take a free tour around Parliament and learn about South Africa’s political system. Tours run every hour from 9am–4pm from Monday to Friday and are free, but you need to book about a week in advance.

On the first Thursday of every month, there are late-night art gallery openings and free cultural events for the First Thursdays event. Their website shows what’s on and will help you make up your own walking route. You can also explore the arty side of the recently revamped suburb of Woodstock on a walking tour. There’s a street art and graffiti tour which starts at 9am and lasts two hours, and an art and design tour which starts at 12.30pm and lasts four hours. Both leave from the Woodstock Exchange Center.

If you’re going to be visiting a lot of paid attractions, it might be worth investing in a city pass. The Cape Town City Pass includes skip-the-line tickets for the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway as well as entry to the Aquarium, Castle of Good Hope and various other attractions, plus a boat tour, a ticket for the sightseeing bus and a trip on the Cape Flyer wheel. They’re available for 1, 2, 3 or 7 days and cost €49.90 (£44) for 1 day up to €99.90 (£88) for 7 days, with children aged 4–12 years around half the adult price.

Bo Kaap, Cape Town

Colourful Bo-Kaap

Top city views

Table Mountain is the best view in town, but the cable car to the top doesn’t run if there are high winds or clouds – so if it’s a clear day get up there quick! Tickets for the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway cost R255 (£16) return or R135 (£9) one-way, with half-price fares for children aged 4–17 and for students on Fridays. From November to mid-December and January until the end of February, you can get half-price return tickets after 6pm as part of the Sunset Special. And during Kidz Season from May to September, two children under 18 can ride free with every adult return ticket at weekends and in school holidays.

If you really want to save money, you can hike to the top of Table Mountain for free. There are several different routes but the most direct is the Plattekip Gorge route which runs from the lower cableway station. It takes around three hours but does get pretty steep. A bit gentler is the Smuts Track which starts at the Kirstenbosch Gardens and takes around four hours to reach the upper cableway station. There are also spectacular views from the top of Lions Head (especially at Full Moon) and from Chapman’s Peak. Or if that sounds too energetic you can also drive up to the top of Signal Hill for a great sunset view.

Clifton beach, Cape Town

On the beach at Clifton

Eating and drinking

Cape Town has some great neighbourhood markets where you can buy food from local producers. The Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock features 100 traders each Saturday from 9am–3pm, with vegan, gluten-free and organic options. The nearby Palms Market runs from 9am–2pm and there’s also the Century City Natural Goods Market from 9am–2pm on the last Sunday of the month, with local crafts and music as well as food. Or in the V&A Waterfront there are food stalls at the Waterfront Food Market (open daily) and a Saturday farmer’s market from 9am–2pm at the Oranjezicht City Farm.

If you’re self-catering there are supermarkets all around the city. Woolworths is the more high-end option (think Marks & Spencers in the UK) then cheaper are Pick ‘n’ Pay, Spar, Shoprite and Checkers.

Cape Town is surrounded by famous wine regions like Stellenbosch and Paarl, but you don’t have to go that far for a tasting session. The Constantia wine route is just 15 minutes outside the city and is home to a mix of historic and new boutique wineries. Most are open for tastings costing R50–75 (£3–5). Or right in the city the Wine Concepts stores in Kloof and Newlands run free tastings from 4pm–7pm on weekdays and 12pm–3pm on Saturdays. If you’re more a beer fan the Newlands Brewery runs several tours every day (apart from Sundays). Tours cost R80 (£5) per person and include a beer tasting and two drinks.

Market on the Wharf, V&A Waterfront

The Market on the Wharf

Travelling around

Cape Town’s international airport is about 12 miles outside of the city, and the cheapest way to travel between them is on the MyCiTi buses. The A01 airport service runs every 30 minutes to and from the Civic Centre on the hour and half hour, and a single fare ticket costs R90 (£6). You can also buy a Myconnect card for R30 and load it up with credit if you’re planning on using the buses a lot. Uber taxis are also really popular in Cape Town and are good value, especially if a few of you are travelling together.

Cape Town sprawls over a large area, so the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus is a good option. City Sightseeing tickets cost R170 (£11) for one day or R270 (£17) for two days (R90/R190 for children aged 5–17, and you save R20 on adult tickets if you book online). Buses run up to every 10 minutes and there are several different routes – a city tour to the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain and Camps Bay, a mini peninsula tour via Kirstenbosch, Imizamo Yethu Township and the beaches, and a wine tour to Constantia.

If you fancy a day out of the city, you can take a scenic coastal train ride. The Southern Line Rail Route runs from Cape Town through the seaside villages of Observatory, Newlands, Muizenberg, Kalk Bay and Simon’s Town. It costs R35 (£2) for a hop-on, hop-off day ticket, valid from 10am–4pm.

Nobel Square at the V&A Waterfront

Nobel Square at the V&A Waterfront

So those are my tips for seeing Cape Town on a budget – do you know of any more Cape Town bargains or have any money-saving tips?

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How to save money on sightseeing, museums and galleries, food and drink, city views and transport – showing you can see Cape Town on a budget.

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19 Comments

  • Reply
    Carrie
    March 16, 2017 at 11:08 pm

    Looks amazing! I’m headed to Cape Town for the first time in November 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 17, 2017 at 10:20 am

      It’s a great place – have an amazing time!

  • Reply
    Bama
    March 18, 2017 at 12:32 am

    Lucy, I commend your consistency in capturing such high-quality photos. I’ve said this before, but you do seem to know the best time to go when the skies are nice and the weather is perfect. Thanks for this guide on Cape Town. I’m sure this will come handy for anyone visiting the city.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 24, 2017 at 10:35 am

      Thanks so much, I do have some pretty good weather luck (though when it goes wrong I have had the odd trip when its done nothing but rain!).

  • Reply
    MummyTravels
    March 19, 2017 at 9:36 am

    I do love Cape Town especially the colours of Bo Kaap and the waterfront. I hadn’t realised there were so many free walking tours too, what a great choice. You’ve made me want to go back.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 24, 2017 at 10:35 am

      I really want to go back too – not least to get up to the top of Table Mountain, despite five days there it was too windy for the cable car to ever run!

  • Reply
    Shankar Banjara
    March 19, 2017 at 10:34 am

    Wow! This is pretty awesome! Cape Town looks great an amazing tourist destination.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 24, 2017 at 10:34 am

      It’s a really fascinating and beautiful city – well worth a visit!

  • Reply
    beingbuttons
    March 21, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    Ah this guide has just made me want to go back! I loved Cape Town but as I was a child at the time I wasn’t really paying much attention to the prices. The Two Oceans Aquarium was a favourite, and I remember the South African Museum being pretty good – especially the planetarium. We went to eat at the waterfront quite a bit as there are stunning views over Table Bay and Mountain.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 24, 2017 at 10:30 am

      Those views are just stunning, it has to be one of the most beautiful cities I’ve visited!

  • Reply
    Caitlin
    March 22, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    This a great post and you have some really great photos. The way you capture the colors and the light of your surroundings conveys the mood of the environment and your travels. Really cool stuff!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 24, 2017 at 10:30 am

      Thanks so much, so glad you liked it!

  • Reply
    Anna Parker
    March 23, 2017 at 5:16 pm

    The free wine tastings are a great source of fluids, I was amazed the first time we went that so few vineyards charged anything for the tasting. But the exchange rate to sterling is still excellent for good value yet incredibly quality food and drink

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 24, 2017 at 10:31 am

      The wine tastings are a real bargain, we spent a great day around Stellenbosch and Franschhoek (post coming soon!).

  • Reply
    Ellenor Davis
    March 23, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    Lucy, you have made such high-quality amazing photos there. the weather is amazing there the skies are nice and beautiful. Thanks for this article for Cape Town.This will come handy for me and the others who plan visiting the city.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 24, 2017 at 10:32 am

      Thanks so much, we did get some beautiful days while we were there – making it even more photogenic than usual!

  • Reply
    Sara Dobak
    March 23, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    I really appreciate how you put these guides together, Lucy. You manage to include a lot of useful detail and still make it read beautifully. I feel I could study just this one article and put together an ideal Cape Town itinerary and I’m also pleasantly surprised about the existence of those free walking tours.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 24, 2017 at 10:33 am

      Thanks Sara! Free walking tours seem to have really taken off recently and are such a good idea to get an overview of the city. We’ve got some great tips on places to go back to and good bars and restaurants from the guides too.

  • Reply
    Kathryn Burrington
    March 24, 2017 at 10:46 am

    Such a useful guide, Lucy. I had no idea Cape Town had so much to offer, especially when you are on a budget. Top of my list would be a visit to Bo Kaap.

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