Cape Town, South Africa’s Mother City, has the distinct advantage of a superb natural setting. Not only is it surrounded by imposing mountains -- some even in the city itself -- but it also has a coastal location. Indeed, not that far from the city, the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean meet. Add to that not only one of the southernmost points of Africa, but also some great architecture from which to enjoy the surroundings, and you've got viewpoints galore.
But what makes a worthwhile view? Some viewpoints are designated by little signs on the main road, and others make themselves known, such as mountains or rooftop bars. Yet others, lower down, are more attractive for those who prefer beaches or other sights.
I found it quite difficult to narrow down my favorite views in Cape Town, but below you’ll find those that at the very least extracted a heavy sigh, a big smile, and an impressed “Oh, wow!” from me as I looked around. I hope you’ll agree.
Let’s start with the most obvious. When in Cape Town -- at least when in Cape Town for the first time -- you can’t resist taking the cable car up to the top of Table Mountain. The cable car itself turns 360 degrees during the ride, so unlike in other gondolas where there are a few great seats, here everybody gets to appreciate the amazing views.
Once you’re on the mountain, you can see Cape Town sprawling below you as well as the surrounding mountains and the ocean. It’s a great way of getting your bearings; Cape Town can sometimes feel a little disconnected because of the mountains and bays. From Table Mountain, you can see nearly everything.
Pro Tip: Book your cable car ticket online beforehand to skip the queue.
Second to the view from Table Mountain is the perfect view of Table Mountain.
I kid you not -- I spent 3 hours sitting on the terrace of Den Anker, a Belgian cafe in the V&A Waterfront development, watching the clouds fall down the side of Table Mountain. It’s a magical phenomenon called orographic lift, with clouds being pushed over one side and seemingly falling down the other side of the mountain but never reaching past a certain level.
This terrace is the perfect spot to linger over a glass of chilled rose and try your hand at time-lapse photography.
Pro Tip: Look out for the seals frolicking in the harbor basin right in front of you. They often form clumps, all holding one fin out of the water.
The Silo Rooftop
The Silo, a super-chic hotel in a reimagined old concrete grain silo, boasts a rooftop bar that -- quite literally -- tops all others. The views of the harbor, Cape Town, and the V&A Waterfront all the way to Robben Island are unbeatable.
While most of the hotel is off-limits to those who aren’t guests, you are allowed to enjoy the view over a drink and snacks here as long as you book ahead. Or you could really treat yourself and stay a night or two. The rooms and suites are exceptionally gorgeous, and each one is unique. Maybe a special treat for a special occasion?
Pro Tip: The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is in the same building.
While the sunset views from the Silo Rooftop are amazing, for an even better sunset spot, head to Camps Bay. This suburb of Cape Town lies at the bottom of the Twelve Apostles, a mountain range headed by the impressive Lion’s Head mountain. Nestled alongside the sandy beach are plenty of restaurants and bars from which to enjoy a sunset dinner. With the mountains behind you and the sun sinking into the sea in front of you, you’re sure to get that utterly relaxing vacation feeling.
Pro Tip: Take an Uber for cheap and reliable transportation. You could also take Bus 107 from the city center, but be patient -- it stops a lot along the way.
Cape Point, the tip of the Cape Peninsula, is really something special. You can reach it by hiking, or -- rather easier on the knees -- by funicular. You’ll need to climb additional steps to get to the lighthouse, from which the best views are to be had. The lighthouse was built too high to be of much use; it was frequently covered in clouds, so another one was built lower down.
From Cape Point, you can walk all the way to the Cape of Good Hope. Be sure to stop to snap a picture in front of the latitude marker.
Pro Tip: Ignore the baboons; they are cheeky and quite vicious. Instead, look out at the small rocky island off the coast -- you’ll see seals bathing in the sunshine.
Chapman’s Peak Drive
A superb little road trip between Cape Town and False Bay is Chapman’s Peak Drive. Wedged between the ocean and the sheer mountain face, the road clings to the cliffs, and the views -- for the passengers, not the driver -- are simply spectacular. The ocean and the various bays open in front of you, and the thrill of the narrow road just adds to it. On a clear day, in season, you can even spot the odd whale, I have been told. It’s well worth hiring a car for a day.
Pro Tip: If you are only hiring a car for a day, then use this drive to get from Cape Town across the Cape Peninsula to Fish Hoek, Boulders Beach, and Cape Point.
Sir Lowry’s Pass
I saw the sign for Sir Lowry’s Pass from the main road between Cape Town and Hermanus, and I am so glad I stopped. You get plenty of great views across False Bay from the popular western side, where all the main attractions such as Simon’s Town, Boulders Beach, and Cape Point are located, but fewer from the quieter eastern side.
This mountain crossing on the eastern side lies several hundred meters above sea level, and the views across the bay and the land are breathtaking. When I visited, there was nobody else there (except the ubiquitous baboons), but it can get busy during peak season.
Pro Tip: Stop in Gordon’s Bay, a beautiful seaside town full of nice restaurants, for lunch.
Signal Hill And Lion’s Head
This spread-out mountain, with its two ends forming a reclining lion, is a popular viewpoint, but it involves a bit of a trek. You can walk up Signal Hill or Lion’s Head. Both treks take roughly 90 minutes and involve a moderately strenuous incline, but the views across Cape Town and the bays are worth the effort.
If you take your time, the hike is perfectly achievable, even if you are not particularly fit. There are no facilities along the way, however, so you’ll need to remember to bring water and sun protection.
On Signal Hill, the Noon Gun goes off every day at 12 p.m. and can be heard across Cape Town.
Pro Tip: I have been warned by locals that, while Signal Hill is beautiful at sunset, it is not safe for tourists to be up there at night, so stick to a daytime visit.
For more on Cape Town, see this page.