Free things to do in Cape Town

Isolated at the southern end of the vast African continent, Cape Town bustles with activity at the foot of Table Mountain. With a sunny Mediterranean climate and striking scenery, Cape Town offers outdoor adventures, history, some marvellous wines and even penguins! Cape Town has a lot to keep cost-savvy travellers busy. Here are some ideas of free (and very inexpensive) things to do in Cape Town.

Drive the Cape of Good Hope

If you have access to a car, a drive around the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve is a must. Marvel at how brave early seamen must have been to negotiate the waters of the southern Atlantic as you look out over Cape Point. Follow Chapman’s Peak Drive, which has been made famous by international car advertising shoots, and admire the cliffs plunging dramatically down to ocean. The road is a toll road, but it is inexpensive at around R30. The incredible scenery continues until Hout Bay and Camps Bay.

Hike Table Mountain

Many travellers choose to take the cable car up Table Mountain but with a bit of time and stamina it is also possible to hike up. The trails through the Table Mountain National Park offer many adventures, and the view from the top of Table Mountain over the city and Table Bay, and even as far as Robben Island, are definitely worth it.

History buffs can also admire the Rhodes memorial at the base of Devil’s Peak in the national park, which recognises the contribution made by Cecil John Rhodes, the Prime Minister of the then Cape Colony.

If you’re more interested in bringing history to life, make sure you visit Signal Hill at noon, when the Signal Hill canon is fired each day each day. It used to signal that a ship was in trouble, but has now become a tradition.

Visitors admire the view from Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

Learn about the Cape’s history

We’ve all heard about Robben Island, but there are so many more museums in Cape Town, many of which are free to visit including the Cape Town Holocaust Centre which draws parallels between the Holocaust and Apartheid, Cape Town’s first public building the Old Town House, and Rust en Vreug, which is a preserved 18th century Cape Dutch mansion.

Certain Cape Town museums are free on public holidays. These include the South African National Gallery showing British artwork, the South African Museum, which is full of Natural and Human Science artefacts, restored heritage house Koopmans De Wet House, the Malaysian heritage Bo Kaap Museum, Groot Constantia an elegant wine estate manor house, and the Slave Lodge which pays homage to African and Asian slaves brought to South Africa between the 17th and 19th centuries.

Taste Africa

Explore the continent’s unique tastes and flavours inexpensively by making the most of special offers and visiting the city’s many markets. Lots of bars and cafes offer drink-freebies and discounts, especially in winter when there are fewer visitors. They also have frequent specials. Local food producers often attend markets, some offering samples.

Explore the Cape Winelands

Again, access to a vehicle makes this easier, but a self-drive tour is easy to do, so there is no need to pay for a tour. The rolling hills, mountains and neat rows of vines feel miles away from the city. Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch are the most famous towns, but there are plenty of others to explore if you feel like it. Most wine farms and estates even free tastings, so you will need a designated driver!

People watch at open-air markets

Cape Town is a people-watching paradise, and markets attract all sorts. Some of the best city markets include Greenmarket Square, Greenpoint Market, the handicrafts market near and the Table Bay Hotel. Less frequent markets include the Century City Natural Goods Market held on the last Sunday of each month during summer, and offering free entertainment, music, open space and artisan stalls. The Waterfront sidewalks also come alive with street performers at weekends, making it a lively place to enjoy the action.

A Cape Winelands wine estate, Cape Town, South Africa

See politicians in action

Visitors can experience a day in South Africa’s legislative parliament in Cape Town. Guides explain the parliamentary system and highlight historic events. Tours can be arranged for free if arranged a week or more in advance.

Enjoy the written word

The Centre for the Book showcases reading and writing in local languages and frequently holds free events such as poetry readings, writing groups and workshops.

Stop and smell the roses

While many visitors head to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, Greenpoint Park offers a free alternative. The biodiversity park features over 300 local Cape plant species. It’s not quite the 1,300 acres of the botanical gardens, but it might be all you need! Other pleasant urban gardens in the city include Company Gardens and De Waal Park.

Meet the penguins

Boulders Beach in Simonstown is home to a colony of penguins, and they are very cute. The rocky shoreline makes it great fun to explore and seek them out.

The best beach view in Cape Town

Bloubergstrand, 10 miles east of Cape Town offers wide sand beaches and a fantastic view of Cape Town and Table Mountain. It provides a beach walk with a great view if you head east, or there are several beachfront benches to enjoy the view from.

Are you aware of a free, or inexpensive, Cape Town activity that you think should be included on this list? Please share it in the comments below.

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