Day trips from Cape Town offer a taste of the Western Cape province’s sublime scenery.
Just a short drive from the city, hundreds of wineries lend a pretty finishing touch to an already exquisite landscape backed by jagged purple-grey mountains. Once you cross the eastern mountains, you’re met by undulating forest eventually giving way to a ruggedly handsome coastline. Alternatively, take the scenic route down the eastern shore of False Bay, or head north through the Swartland’s rolling fields to an accessible national park.
Here are the best day trips from Cape Town.
Spot whales from the car along Clarence Drive
Travel time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Clarence Drive, the section of Rte 44 that skirts the mountainous Kogelberg Nature Reserve, is a coastal route equal to anything you’ll find on the Amalfi Coast or in California. The winding road hugs the vertiginous shore and offers hazy views across False Bay to Cape Point. Meandering for 25 miles (40km) between Gordon’s Bay and Betty’s Bay, the road offers equally photogenic vistas of ocean and mountain. And from June to November, you stand a good chance of spotting whales in the bay.
Stop for lunch at PitStop Lodge or Pringle Bay en route to Betty’s Bay, home to the beautiful Harold Porter National Botanical Gardens and the Stony Point African penguin colony. We recommend the 3.75-mile (6km) Oudebosch hike up secluded Leopard’s Gorge from the biodiverse Kogelberg Nature Reserve to the botanical gardens.
How to get to Clarence Dr from Cape Town: This is a trip you need to do in your own car, stopping frequently to admire the views. Take the N2 east past the township of Khayelitsha and join Rte 44 at Somerset West.
Soar above the mountains on a zip-line tour
Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Outdoor adventures abound in Cape Town, though there’s nothing quite as exhilarating as the half-day canopy tour that swoops above the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. A series of zip-lines transports you across deep ravines, truly giving you the feeling of flying over the waterfalls and forests far below. Afterward, recharge at one or two of the apple-growing Elgin Valley’s cool-climate wineries, such as Paul Cluver Wines or Iona Wine Farm.
To round off the trip, stop at the Peregrine Farm Stall or Elgin Railway Market for tea and cake or a drop of local cider. While it’s only an hour back to Cape Town, you can still stock up on padkos – road trip snacks – such as biltong (dried, spiced meat), crunchies (oat-based biscuits) or a tasty meat pie.
How to get to Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve from Cape Town: The Cape Canopy Tour is a 53-mile (85km) drive from Cape Town via the N2, scenic Sir Lowry’s Pass and Rte 321.
Find heaven and earth in the Hermanus area
Travel time: 2 hours
Hermanus might be the world’s best land-based whale-watching destination, and even has a whale crier and a festival at the height of southern right-whale season in late September. The clifftop pathway affords awesome views of whales in winter and year-round vistas of the Overberg region’s mountainous coastline. Beyond relaxed Hermanus itself, seek out surrounding spots such as the Hemel-en-Aarde (“heaven and earth”) Valley, home to boutique pinot noir and chardonnay producers including Creation and Ataraxia. After sipping all those whites and reds, grab a late-afternoon craft beer at The Brewery or oceanfront Ficks Restaurant.
How to get to Hermanus from Cape Town: The fastest route takes you along the N2, up Sir Lowry’s Pass, and down to Walker Bay on Rte 43. It’s worth driving there (or back) on the more circuitous Clarence Dr (Rte 44) along the coast.
Feed your inner gastronome in Franschhoek
Travel time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Franschhoek is best known for its centuries-old grape-growing culture, with elegant wineries surrounding the town in every direction (many of them visited by the Franschhoek Wine Tram). If you prefer grain to grape, there are also some excellent microbreweries serving innovative ales, such as Hey Joe Brewing Co and Tuk Tuk Microbrewery.
Franschhoek is often referred to as South Africa’s culinary capital, its main road lined with high-end restaurants, chocolate-centric cafes, coffee roasteries and hotspots run by local celebrity chefs. For contemporary tapas in a wine farm setting, reserve a table at chef Liam Tomlin’s Chefs Warehouse at Maison. Boschendal estate’s deli offers picnic hampers for alfresco meals.
How to get to Franschhoek from Cape Town: Take the N1 east towards Paarl, then turn onto Rte 45 for a glorious drive between vineyard-clad mountains. Numerous tour operators offer wine-tasting day trips from Cape Town.
Visit feathered friends at West Coast National Park
Travel time: 1 hour
You might not see the Big Five (elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo and rhino) at West Coast National Park, but you will get quite a wildlife-watching experience. Bird life abounds here, particularly around Langebaan Lagoon, with more than 250 species sighted in the park. Summer (December to February) is the best season for both birding and taking a dip; the park is also renowned for its spring wildflowers – book ahead to access the flower-carpeted Postberg section in August and September. The cool, dry March-to-May period is great for hikes to spot zebra, ostrich and several types of antelope.
How to get to West Coast National Park from Cape Town: The park is a 56-mile (90km) drive north via Rte 27.
Experience the African bush on a day safari
Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes
While wildlife-rich Kruger National Park may be over 932 miles (1500km) away, there are safari options near Cape Town, too. We advise dedicating two nights to a spot like Sanbona Wildlife Reserve in the Little Karoo. If time is short, however, follow the N1 through the Du Toitskloof Mountains for a half- or full-day safari at Fairy Glen Nature Reserve or Aquila Private Game Reserve, the latter offering expeditions by both open-sided vehicle and horseback.
How to get to Fairy Glen and Aquila from Cape Town: The former is near the town of Worcester, about 72 miles (115km) northeast of Cape Town, and Aquila is 37 miles (60km) further along the N1.