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.