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. 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 = £4.50/€5/US$5.75).
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 a free 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, both of which depart from their Long Street ticket office. There’s also a V&A Waterfront tour at 10.30am and 3pm departing outside the aquarium or you can pick up a self-guided tour map from the waterfront info centre.
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, making it the city’s oldest garden. Entry’s free (as is the wifi) and there’s a rose garden, sculptures, an aviary and lots of very friendly squirrels.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is one of the world’s most beautiful botanic gardens, and well worth the R75 entry fee (R20 for 6–17 year olds and free for under 6s) It has over 7000 indigenous plants from around South Africa, with a walkway through the tree canopy and sunset concerts in summer. There are free guided garden tours at 10am, 11am and 2pm, Monday to Friday (10am only on Saturdays) – and you can bring your own picnic to eat in the grounds.
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.
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 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.
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 and a trip on the Cape Flyer wheel. They’re available for 2, 3 or 5 days and cost R1295 for 2 days, R1495 for 3 days or R1695 for 5 days, with discounts for children aged 4–17.
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! Tickets for the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway are slightly cheaper in the afternoon, costing R300 return or R150 one-way, with half-price fares for children aged 4–17 and discounts for students and seniors.
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.
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 8.15am–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 & Spencer in the UK) then cheaper options 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. 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 (except Sundays). Tours cost R100 per person (R60 seniors/R80 students) and include a beer tasting and two free drinks.
Low-cost Cape Town transport
Cape Town’s international airport is 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. Cash isn’t accepted on board so you need to buy a Myconnect card. You can get a single use card for R85, or buy a reusable card for R35 which you can top up or buy a travel pass (R75 for 1 day, R170 for 3 days of R250 for a week).
Uber is really popular in Cape Town and is good value, especially with a few of you travelling together. You just download the app and input your credit card details so you don’t need to carry cash. There are also Rikkis – budget shared taxis to various Cape Town locations.
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 R235 for one day or R300 for two days (R130/R220 for children aged 5–17, and you can save on adult tickets by booking 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.
And if you fancy a day out of the city, you can take a scenic coastal train. 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 10am–4pm.
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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