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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 its biggest attractions are free – wander around the V&A Waterfront, check out Bo-Kaap’s colourful houses, spend the day on the beach at Camps Bay or hike in Table Mountain National Park. There’s a good selection of places to stay in Cape Town to suit all budgets too. But like most big cities, when you add in a few sights, meals out and travel costs, prices can start to add up. There’s a lot you can see and do in Cape Town without spending big though, so here are my top tips for making the most of Cape Town on a budget. (NB. 100 Rand = £5.50/€6/US$6.75).

Read more: What does it cost? 10 days in South Africa

The V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

The V&A Waterfront

Things to do in Cape Town on a budget

Walking tours are one of my favourite ways to get my bearings in a new city and find out about its history, and there are a couple of companies in Cape Town which run daily 90-minute free tours where you just tip your guide. Cape Town Free Walking Tours have a Historic City Tour at 11am and 4.20pm, a Bo-Kaap Walking Tour at 2pm and 4.20pm, and an Apartheid to Freedom tour at 11am and 2pm, all starting from Motherland Coffee in Mandela Rhodes Place.

City Sightseeing also run two free walking tours which depart from their Long Street ticket office – a Historic City Walk at 10.30am, 12pm, 1.30pm, 3pm and 4pm, and a Vibrant Bo-Kaap Walk at 10.30am, 1.30pm and 4pm for their. You can also 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.

Nobel Square at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town

Nobel Square

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 R70 entry fee (R20 for 6–17 year olds and free for under 6s) – and you can bring your own picnic to eat in the grounds. They run free guided garden tours at 10am, 11am and 2pm, Monday to Friday (10am only on Saturdays).

There’s also the free Green Point Urban Park, next to the Cape Town Stadium, has with an outdoor labyrinth, children’s play area and 300 plant species. Or 20 minutes outside the city, the Rondevlei Nature Reserve is home to 230 bird species as well as a family of hippos. Entry costs R12 or R6 for children. And during the summer 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 head to one of the public swimming pools. Sea Point Pavilion pool has a gorgeous setting by the water and costs R21 for adults (R10.50 for children). Or for something a bit more glam, the Pool Deck at the Cape Royale Hotel is open to non-residents if you buy food or drinks at their bar.

Sea Point sunset, Cape Town

Sunset at Sea Point

Money-saving museums and galleries

Iziko Museums – who run 11 museums including the South African Museum, National Gallery, Bo-Kaap Museum, Koopmans-De Wet House and Slave Lodge – give free entry on nine special commemorative days every year. There are also other museums which are always free to enter, or just ask for donations. These include the National Library’s Centre for the Book, Cape Town Holocaust Centre, 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 hourly from 9am–4pm on Monday to Friday and are free, but you need to book about a week in advance. And on the first Thursday of every month, there are late-night art gallery openings and free cultural events as part of the the First Thursdays event. Their website shows what’s on where and will help you make up your own walking route.

If you’re going to be visiting lots 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 and entry to the Aquarium, Castle of Good Hope and 70 other attractions, plus a boat tour, sightseeing bus ticket and a trip on the Cape Flyer wheel. They’re available for 2, 3 or 5 days and cost R1095 for 2 days, R1395 for 3 days or R1595 for 5 days, with a discount for children aged 4–17.

Colourful houses in the Bo Kaap neighbourhood of Cape Town

Colourful Bo-Kaap

Top Cape Town 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! Table Mountain Aerial Cableway tickets cost R290 return or R150 one-way, with half-price fares for children aged 4–17 discounts for students and seniors. From November to February (excluding over Christmas and New Year), you can get half-price return tickets after 6pm as part of the Sunset Special.

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 in Cape Town

On the beach at Clifton

Budget food and drink

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 (currently suspended for building work) and the Century City Natural Goods Market has local crafts and music as well as food and runs 9am–2pm on the last Sunday of the month in summer and 4pm–9pm on the last Friday of the month in winter.

In the V&A Waterfront there are food stalls at the Waterfront Food Market (open daily) and a weekend farmer’s market Oranjezicht City Farm (open 9am–2pm on Saturdays and 9am–3pm on Sundays). If you’re self-catering and want to stock up on supplies then there are supermarkets all around the city. Woolworths is the more high-end option (think Marks & Spencers in the UK) then cheaper options are Pick ‘n’ Pay, Spar, Shoprite and Checkers.

Market on the Wharf at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town

The Market on the Wharf

Cape Town is surrounded by famous wine regions like Stellenbosch and Paarl, but you don’t have to go that far for a tasting. 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. If you don’t want to drive, the Cape Town sightseeing bus makes three winery stops at Groot Constantia, Eagles’ Nest and Beau Constantia on its Constantia Wine Bus loop.

Or right in the city the Wine Concepts stores in Kloof and Newlands run free tastings from 4pm–7pm on weekdays and 12pm–3pm (11am–2pm in Newlands) on Saturdays. If you’re more a fan of beer then the Newlands Brewery runs several tours every day (apart from Sundays). Tours cost R80 per person and include a beer tasting and two drinks at the end.

South Africa’s Cape winelands

The Cape Winelands

Low-cost Cape Town transport

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. A single ticket costs R85 or you can buy a Myconnect card for R30 and load it up with credit if you’ll be using the buses a lot. Uber is also really popular in Cape Town and is good value, especially if a few of you are travelling together.

The city sprawls over a large area, so the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus is a good way to get around Cape Town on a budget. City Sightseeing bus tickets cost R200 for one day or R300 for two days (R100/R200 for children aged 5–17, and you save R20 on adult tickets if you book them online). Buses run up to every 10 minutes and cover several different routes – there’s a city tour covering the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain and Camps Bay, a mini peninsula tour via Kirstenbosch, Imizamo Yethu Township and the beaches, and a Constantia wine tour.

If you fancy a day out of the city, 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 for a hop-on, hop-off day ticket, valid from 10am–4pm.

Muizenberg beach, South Africa

Muizenberg beach huts

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 in the Mother City – the ultimate guide to visiting Cape Town on a budget. #SouthAfrica #CapeTown #budgettravelVisiting Cape Town on a budget – how to save money on sightseeing, museums, entertainment, food, city views and transport on a Cape Town city break. #SouthAfrica #CapeTown #budgettravel

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37 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.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 27, 2017 at 10:53 am

      Bo-Kaap’s so colourful, especially on a sunny day when those colours just pop!

  • Reply
    Suzanne Jones
    March 26, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Cape Town has been on my wish list for a while now. It’s good to know that a trip there doesn’t have to blow the budget. A great guide to print off and refer to if you’re visiting the city.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      March 27, 2017 at 10:55 am

      Thanks Suzanne, hope it comes in handy sometime!

  • Reply
    sianatully
    March 31, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Im a student who just started my own blog about travelling so reading about how to do it on a budget is so handy! thanks!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 3, 2017 at 9:54 am

      Thanks, great to hear you liked it – and good luck with your blog!

  • Reply
    Tania M
    April 3, 2017 at 2:16 pm

    Hi Lucy, some excellent tips and advice on Cape Town. A useful column which I will include in the info book for future guests. Thanks for sharing.
    Tania, Garfield Road, Cape Town

    • Reply
      Lucy
      April 4, 2017 at 10:31 am

      Thanks Tania! Really enjoyed exploring Cape Town and hope to be back someday.

  • Reply
    Agness of aTukTuk
    June 8, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    I am so happy to learn that I can visit Cape Town on a budget, Lucy! This was a very inspiring post!

    • Reply
      Lucy
      June 12, 2017 at 3:15 am

      Thanks Agness, hope it comes in useful!

  • Reply
    Matt Davison
    August 7, 2017 at 4:11 pm

    Hey Lucy,
    This is a great job on Cape Town, very detailed write. It’s not somewhere that I have been and it’s beyond a shadow of a doubt something I will have to check out, hope to make a trip sometime soon. This is now shot up in my list of things to do.

  • Reply
    Simon Dodsworth
    August 14, 2017 at 10:54 pm

    Thanks for the tips, Lucy – a very helpful post. Just back from a short visit (I think we got lucky with the winter weather, and the lack of jet-lag from the UK made it do-able for just a few days). Anyway, stunning views from Table Mountain that almost make teh trip worthwhile just by themselves, but lots still to do if we get the chance to go back again!

    I’d also echo what some others say – you have some great photos on the blog that really help sell the destinations 🙂

    • Reply
      Lucy
      August 14, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      Thanks Simon – there’s no shortage of photogenic spots in Cape Town! Very jealous that you made it up Table Mountain as although we had lots of sunshine it was too windy for the cable car – though it does give me a good reason to get back there again sometime soon!

  • Reply
    Greg
    November 8, 2018 at 12:48 am

    I fell in love with Cape Town from the first sight and would like to come back to it. It was there that I discovered the South African wines and I ate ostrich meat dishes. The first time I did not have time to climb the Lion Head or swim in a cage surrounded by sharks.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      November 28, 2018 at 8:19 pm

      So much to do! Hope you get back sometime to do the things you missed.

  • Reply
    Harvey Dhash
    December 10, 2018 at 4:02 pm

    Cape Town is one place to visit on my Bucket list. Thank you for sharing the tips it is really helpful. I can’t wait to try to visit the places you been.

    • Reply
      Lucy
      December 17, 2018 at 11:26 am

      Hope you get to make the trip sometime soon!

  • Reply
    papilontravels
    October 11, 2019 at 7:58 am

    Great reading and extremely comprehensive post – pretty much covers everything…

    • Reply
      Lucy
      October 13, 2019 at 5:10 pm

      Thanks, great to hear it was useful!

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