6 Fantastic Adventures in Cape Town, South Africa with Kids
My family recently enjoyed an amazing trip to South Africa, and we were fortunate to spend several weeks in and around Cape Town, which is the southernmost city in South Africa. I won’t lie, it’s quite the haul to get there from the U.S. and especially Montana, but airfare has been amazingly lower than the past so we jumped at the chance to visit.
In 2014, Cape Town was named the best place in the world to visit by both The New York Times and The Telegraph and is one of the most multicultural cities in the world. In fact, there are 11 official languages in South Africa! While the most commonly spoken language in Cape Town is Afrikaans (which is a West Germanic language that evolved from the Dutch vernacular of South Holland), English is most commonly understood. Another fascinating language we frequently heard was Xhosa (sounds like koh-saw), and try as we did, it was very difficult to replicate the clicking sounds peppered throughout dialogue.
Before visiting South Africa, I knew of a country that struggled with Apartheid and envisioned a country teeming with wild animals to be viewed while on Safari. While both are true, Cape Town has evolved into a vibrant cosmopolitan city bustling with people and filled with a magnitude of warmth and hospitality. There is so much to see and explore, I recommend you set aside at least three days to scratch the surface of this city! After taking a family poll, I was able to narrow down our 6 favorite things to do in and around Cape Town!
Tip: I would recommend staying at Hilton Cape Town City Centre as it provides a wonderful base in which to explore the city. You can read my review about why my family loved this hotel here: 5 Reasons to Stay at Hilton Cape Town City Centre.
Favorite Things to do in Cape Town with Kids
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Who doesn’t enjoy visiting a vibrant waterfront packed with restaurants, shops, and local music? The V&A Waterfront in Cape Town is just all of those things and more! Make sure you leave a full day to explore this bustling area. The V&A Waterfront is really the heart of Cape Town, and it is here you will find sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain, waterfront playgrounds for the kids to run off energy, seal spotting, museums, and hundreds of shops filled with local arts & crafts.
The V&A Waterfront is also the launching point for tours to Robben Island, Harbor Cruises, Little Tug, Cape Town City Hop-On, Hop-Off bus, and Two Oceans Aquarium. You can even rent bicycles and there is a 2 1/2 and 5 km well-marked running path that begins at the Information Booth.
With so much to do and see you might be wondering what my family’s favorite activity was, and hands down it was a ride on the Cape Wheel. This giant observation wheel gave us a spectacular 360° view of Cape Town in a comfortable, enclosed and air conditioned cabin.
Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an island in Table Bay that was used for over 400 years as the isolation and banishment of mostly political prisoners. Most notably, former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela spent 18 years imprisoned on the island. Two other South African Presidents have also been inmates: Kgalema Motlanthe and current President Jacob Zuma.
Today the story of how the spirit of resistance eventually overcame injustice and oppression is told through former inmates who often conduct tours of the now defunct prison. Of course, the greatest emotional impact of the tour is a visit to Nelson Mandela’s former cell. You will be forever changed after your visit. The tour departs daily from the V&A Waterfront. More information and tickets can be found on the Robben Island Museum website.
Tip: I recommend you purchase tickets WAY ahead of time online with a credit card as tours fill up months in advance, especially in the peak tourist season. Use a credit card to purchase your tickets so it is much easier to get a refund should you have the unfortunate experience of a cancellation due to inclement weather.
Table Mountain is the most majestic and prominent landmark in Cape Town. Throughout the city, you can view its distinctive flat-top which gives it the appearance of a table and serves as the backdrop of many of our travel photos! It has become one of the Seven Wonders of Nature and shouldn’t be missed.
For the adventurous, you can hike one of the several routes to the summit but plan on spending 2 to 3 hours as there is so much flora and fauna to stop and enjoy. If you are short on time or forgot your hiking shoes, the aerial cable car will take you to the top where you will arrive in about five minutes and much more refreshed! Once you finish oogling over the commanding views of Cape Town, you can grab a bite at the café before heading back down.
When conditions are just right, an interesting phenomenon occurs where an orographic cloud that resembles a waterfall covers the mountain and this has become known as the “table cloth.”
Tip: Before heading up the mountain, check on the weather conditions. It can get pretty windy in Cape Town and the cable car can close due to inclement weather. You can find more information about Table Mountain on their website.
Visit a Township
These are often underdeveloped living areas that form a large part of the tapestry of South Africa, and when you drive away from the airport in Cape Town, you will no doubt pass numerous townships. From the late 19th century until the end of Apartheid, townships were reserved for non-whites, and today they are still occupied mainly by black Africans and Indians all within distinct neighborhoods.
It seems odd perhaps to want to take a tour of these areas, where the homes are often just scraps of metal and wood with no running water. Many homes are perilously perched along a river, and many neighborhoods border busy roads or highways. You may see young children playing a game of kickball in the grass as your car whizzes by.
Without wanting to be intrusive or appear voyeuristic, I felt a visit to a township could be a an unforgettable experience for my family, especially for my young children who were beginning to understand the harsh realities that many South Africans face. I inquired about a private tour through the concierge at Hilton Cape Town City Centre, and they were extremely helpful arranging a tour to a nearby township named Langa.
Our private tour began with a visit to the District Six Museum where we learned about the harsh realities of Apartheid before setting off to Langa. This was helpful to set the stage for us as to why townships were formed in the first place. We then spent several hours touring Langa with a local resident, visiting homes and meeting the people that lived there. The local children were so happy to meet our children and were eager to hold their hands as we walked along. In the end, we felt so welcomed and everyone’s hearts were opened. Admittedly my children were a bit overwhelmed by the experience and definitely had some processing to do afterwards, but the overall experience was so enlightening for all of us.
Tip: Take cash as the local guide in the township is only paid by gratuity. These local guides are often learning about tourism and this is their jump into the industry. Also, you can buy some candy at one of the local markets to bring to the children.
Boulders Penguin Colony
Did the movie Happy Feet warm your heart? Without going to Antarctica, where else can you find colonies of adorable penguins waddling around freely and going about their daily business? In Cape Town, of course! Boulders Beach and nearby Foxy Beach are the home to a colony of thousands of endangered African penguins.
This is definitely a fun place to visit with your little ones, and my family was no exception as we spent a good part of an afternoon marveling at these local residents. Just like the Arctic penguins in the movie, they guard their nests, preen and sun themselves, and dive into the clear water for a refreshing dip. Although tourists can’t go in the water with the penguins, there are other nearby areas for swimming, tide pool wading and boulder hopping!
Boulder Beach is located on the Indian Ocean side of the peninsula where the water is a bit warmer than the cool Atlantic side so it makes for the perfect environment that they clearly enjoy! Boulder Beach is part of Table Mountain National Park and there is a small entrance fee to enter. More information can be found on the Table Mountain National Park Website.
Word of caution: The penguins can get grouchy if you get too close, so no touching!
No trip to Cape Town can be complete without visiting some of the local world-renowned wineries. Stellenbosch is just a short drive outside of the city, and many companies offer day tours from Cape Town. If you have kids in tow, don’t fret! Many of the wineries cater to families and have play equipment and food that appeals to young palates. It really is a win-win situation!
Stellenbosch is a quaint old town influenced by Dutch colonial architecture and is dotted with lively coffee shops and restaurants. All of the wineries we visited were simply gorgeous with stunning gardens, child-friendly amenities and amazing views. I can’t say we ever had a bad glass of wine either.
Tip: The City Hop-On, Hop-Off bus can take you to several family friendly wineries in the Stellenbosch area and leaves from the V&A Waterfront.
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