South Africa’s second-largest city and legislative capital, Cape Town, together with its surrounding area, make an ideal destination for family holidays – good value, with great weather, superb beaches, friendly people and the chance to get close to animals in the wild that you’ll only see in zoos over here. And though it’s up to 12 hours away by plane, the time difference is just 2 hours, meaning you can be a long way from home without suffering jet-lag.
Things to do with kids in Cape Town
Take the revolving cable-car up Table Mountain and have a walk around at the top (keep an eye on the kids – the cute-looking dassies or rock rabbits have been known to bite), enjoying the panoramic views and perhaps eating alfresco at the café. Then visit popular Camps Bay beach for a taste of the laid-back Cape Town lifestyle.
Take the ferry out to to Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela was held prisoner. Now a World Heritage Site, the island has awesome views across the bay, against the backdrop of Table Mountain. Daily visits (3.5hrs including the boat-trip out and back) include a tour of the island, a tour of the prison led by a former political prisoner and a look around the museum. You’ll also see African penguins – the island is home to the world’s largest colony (8,500 breeding pairs) of the endangered species.
Visit the Two Oceans Aquarium on the Victoria and Albert Waterfront, with lots of sealife from the two mighty oceans that meet at Africa’s southern tip, the Atlantic and the Indian. The Waterfront is great for eating and drinking (see below) as well as just a great place to hang out, watching the boats and ships glide in and out of the harbour, the buskers and entertainers perform, and the seals bob up and down in the water.
Explore the lovely Tokai Forest, a national park on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, popular for shaded walks, mountain-biking, horse-riding and braai (BBQs). Also on the eastern slopes are the gorgeous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, with amazing South African plant life, streams, paths and hiking trails up the mountain, picnic lawns, and cafés and restaurants. In summer it hosts sunset concerts.
Seek out Africa’s biggest bird sanctuary, World of Birds, home to 3,000 birds and small mammals in a natural setting, at Hout Bay just south-west of Table Mountain.
Meet the jackass penguins, all 3,000 of them, at Boulder Beach about 40 minutes from Cape Town, in Simon’s Town. Local residents complain about the noise and pungent smell of these black and white waddlers, but if you’re lying on the beach and one jiggles past, it’s a real treat (there are viewing platforms too) and the kind of experience that makes family holidays. You might even get to swim alongside them. The sheltered beach is a great spot for a picnic. Also in Simon’s Town is Scratch Patch and Mineral World, where kids enjoy ‘scratching’ for tumble-polished gemstones covering the floor, and beside it, the Makula Mine Experience, an ancient volcanic pipe where miners used to hunt for gold and gemstones (not for the claustrophobic or anyone afraid of the dark or of bats, spiders or snakes!)
Continue 25km south of Simon’s Town, to Cape Point within the quite wild Table Mountain National Park, where you can spot various unusual plants and animals, including ostriches and several types of bok.
Indulge in some of the world’s finest whale-watching just over an hour down the coast at Hermanus – just stand on the cliffs and see the mighty monsters for yourself. You can also fish for chokka (squid) off the harbour wall (buy a bait licence from the Post Office first). On the ‘Whale Route’ down to Hermanus, make a stop off at the Monkey Town Primate Centre, a conservation centre with more than 220 species from around the world, guided tours, a ‘touch farm’, a playground, a restaurant and even the Monkey Manor hotel.
Venture to Spier, a wine estate in the heart of the Cape Winelands, at Stellenbosch 56km east of Capetown. It has a lake to picnic beside (the on-site deli sells home-made bread and other treats, and there’s a wine shop), Cheetah Outreach, a conservation fund where you might get the chance to pet hand-raised cheetahs, the Eagle Encounters raptor rehabilitation centre with daily flying demonstrations, walks and trails, horse-riding and supervised pony-and-cart rides for kids. Kids under-12 stay free at the Spier Hotel.
View of the Atlantic
Cape Town’s extensive and lively Waterfront (see above) has restaurants and cafés galore. For information on the types of food available, including good fish and chips, see our destination guide to South Africa. Specifically in Cape Town, don’t miss afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson hotel (see Accommodation tab), described by many visitors as among the world’s best, with a buffet featuring goodies from savoury empanadas, smoked salmon-choux puffs and finger sandwiches to cakes of all kinds, éclairs, coconut ice and other tooth-jangling treats. You won’t need dinner afterwards.
When to go to Cape Town
For the best weather in Cape Town, come between November and March; for better-value family holidays, try to come just as the season turns – in April and May, you can still enjoy good weather at less cost.
If you come at New Year, you can enjoy the noise and colourful pageant of the groovy Kaapse Klopse minstrel dancers, who take over parts of the city streets in a tradition stretching back a few hundred years.
The rand has strengthened against the £, meaning that South Africa is not as good-value for family holidays as it was a few years ago, although it's still a relative bargain given how far you travel. Expect to pay about £80–220 per night for a suite with kitchenette at the Bantry Bay Luxury Suites (see Accommodation tab), depending on room grade, and a meal in a decent family-oriented restaurant to cost just £20 or so for 4.
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Flying time12hrs All flight times are based on flights from UK London airports, to the capital or nearest destination airport.
Carbon footprint11.24 CO2 Estimated tonnes of CO2 produced for return flights for a family of four.
CurrencySouth African Rand
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