From the moment you arrive in Cape Town, expect to feel right at home. Amid a stunning landscape, great food, gorgeous weather and fascinating culture, the thing that stands out most is the people. Big bright smiles, booming voices, beautiful clothes and genuinely kind and caring natures make you feel totally at ease. It’s rare to visit a place that allows you to truly feel part of it and Cape Town is one of them. Vibrant, colourful, exciting and bursting with energy, it’s a destination unlike any other and one we were fortunate to visit for the first time recently. To help you have the same incredible experience we did, here are 17 things you need to know before you visit Cape Town.
But first, watch this…
1. If you think it’s dangerous, think again
Before we visited, I was nervous about visiting Cape Town. You hear stories from people, see things on the news and begin to form a perception that South Africa and places like Cape Town are unsafe. Let me say this – there was never a single moment I felt remotely unsafe in Cape Town or South Africa. If fear is holding you back from visiting, banish it because you’re missing out on seeing a very special place. Of course, as with anywhere, you travel in the world, it’s important to observe a common sense approach to safety. Always beware of pickpockets, don’t get wasted and walk around the streets alone late at night or have expensive stuff hanging off you and your wallet precariously balancing in your back pocket.
2. You can drink the tap water
The tap water in Cape Town is most definitely drinkable and, in fact, it’s some of the best in the world! So, cut down on single-use plastics by bringing a refillable water bottle with you and filling it up as you go. You’ll save money and the environment while staying hydrated.
3. But you’ll most likely be drinking a fair amount of booze
If you plan on going toe-to-toe with the locals you better know what you’re doing because they did not come to play! Beer and wine culture in Cape Town is huge so expect to come across some great varieties of both and keep your wits about you when squaring off against any locals.
4. Be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes
There’s a lot to see and do in Cape Town so be sure to wear very comfortable footwear when getting ready for a day out. Pop on a pair of comfortable sneakers, walking shoes or speciality sandals if you prefer. Just make sure you’ll be able to spend a whole day in them.
5. LGBTQ+ travellers will feel welcome
One of the things I love most about South Africa is the locals treat people how they want to be treated. This means they are incredibly loving, kind, respectful, welcoming and inclusive. I asked our local guide what the view was toward members of the LGBTQ+ community and he didn’t even hesitate to tell me they are loved, valued and welcome members of society. In South Africa, everyone’s welcome!
6. You can hire a car and do a DIY road trip
We did a guided tour but our lovely local guide explained it would be easy and safe for travellers to do their own self-guided driving tour of Cape Town and surrounds. So, if you’re thinking of hiring a car and doing it DIY style, rest assured it is possible.
7. But I’d recommend going with a tour guide instead
That said, I’d personally recommend going with a guided tour for your first visit to Cape Town. It was our first time in South Africa and we were totally unsure what to expect and felt a little overwhelmed at first because everything was new to us. Our guide helped us settle into it seamlessly, took us to great spots to eat and, most importantly, shared his incredible wealth of knowledge about Cape Town and South Africa’s history. There is so much we learned and if you do a DIY trip, I just don’t think you’d have that same level of experience. So, if you can, get a guide to show you around at least for one or two days so you get the full experience and find your feet.
8. The food is incredible
I really wasn’t sure what to expect when it came to Cape Town’s food scene but it turns out – it’s epic! Every single meal we ate was delicious, from the hotel breakfasts to the restaurants and even the coffee. There was a great range of cuisines to choose from and we found the ingredients to be fresh and full of flavour. Of course, it’s always going to come down to the places you choose but we didn’t have a single bad meal in Cape Town.
9. They’ll laugh at you for being vegetarian or vegan
Let me be clear – the locals won’t shame you for being vegetarian or vegan, they’ll just giggle a little when you tell them. Personally, I think they find it quite funny! No doubt, you’ll be treated to a story about a vegetarian who tried to show up to a braai (pronounced bry a.k.a BBQ) with a chickpea patty and got kicked out. I also love that many South Africans, light-heartedly, consider chicken to be a vegetable. They LOVE their meat but, don’t worry, there are still lots of great food options for vegetarians and vegans just be prepared to be met with a concerned look when you order a salad for lunch – the lovely server doesn’t care that you’re vegan, they just don’t want you to leave the restaurant hungry!
10. People speak very loudly
You may notice the people in South Africa and Cape Town speak very loudly. As our Safari guide explained, this is because speaking quietly can be seen as gossiping and that’s a big no-no in the local culture. To avoid being seen as a busy-body or gossip, people speak loudly so their conversations can be heard and it’s clear there’s nothing to hide. It’s actually pretty cool, right?!
11. The locals don’t mind posing for photos and videos
We found the locals absolutely LOVED posing for photos and videos for us. In most cases, we didn’t even get a chance to ask if we could photograph them, they’d start posing and yell out to us to take their photo – it was so much fun and the locals are absolutely beautiful! Of course, if someone isn’t yelling out at you to take their photo, just be sure to ask before you start snapping.
12. The locals are incredibly welcoming and friendly
We didn’t meet a single unhappy person in Cape Town. Each and every person we came across was happy, smiling, bubbly and so incredibly friendly and welcoming. We felt totally at ease and welcome in Cape Town, as though the locals were really happy for us to be there experiencing the culture, learning about the history and trying the food. Everyone was so kind to us, they’d say hello, joke and laugh with us or just strike up a conversation. It’s one of the friendliest places I have ever travelled to and the people are a big part of what makes Cape Town so special.
13. Don’t get in a local township taxi
As I understand it, the local township taxis have their busiest period of the day during peak times. Of course, the more passengers they move from place to place, the more money they earn so there’s an incentive there for them to move quickly. As our local guide explained, they can be unsafe drivers and there are many accidents involving them so, steer clear!
14. Uber is a great way to get around
Instead, go with Uber! Matt and I use Uber a lot when we’re travelling because it’s reliable, safe and you don’t have to worry about cash/card payment – it’s all done through the app.
15. Water conservation is a serious matter
When we visited, there was a big focus on water conservation in Cape Town. You may see signs around referencing, ‘Day Zero,’ which is the day Cape Town residents may find their taps run dry as a result of the worst drought in a century. It’s serious and you should see water conservation efforts as you move around Cape Town. For example, our hotel placed buckets in the showers and we put them under the shower head to catch cold water as we waited for it to get hot. This water is then used to water plants, mop floors etc. At a shopping complex, all but one basin in the men’s toilet had the water disconnected. So, be sure to pitch in and do your part to help Cape Town avoid Day Zero and if it happens to rain while you’re in Cape Town like it did for us, see it as a very good thing!
16. It’s okay to say black, coloured and white
I try my very best not to be an insensitive jerk so I was hesitant to refer to people as black, coloured or white, even though the locals did. But, our local guide explained that in Cape Town and South Africa, these terms are not offensive and it’s okay to use them because it’s how people identify. If, like me, you’re unsure what the difference is, it all comes down to skin colour. Someone with dark skin would most likely identify as black, someone with brown skin would most likely identify as coloured and someone with white skin would most likely identify as white. It’s interesting to note, as our guide explained, where you’re from doesn’t necessarily factor in. You can be Indian, for example, and referred to as coloured. There are, of course, certain words which are extremely offensive so to avoid being a jerk and getting yourself into a lot of trouble, only use the terms black, coloured and white.
17. Understanding a few local phrases will help a lot
I love words, languages and travel so visiting a new destination and learning unique local phrases, colloquialisms and sayings is a dream for me! I wanted to share with you a few you may hear in Cape Town and South Africa. Hopefully, understanding them will help you with a better idea of what the person is really saying.
“Just now” – It isn’t an actual measure of time and doesn’t really refer to right now, this minute. More accurately, it refers to an undetermined amount of time and if someone says they’re going to come and pick you up ‘just now’ you needn’t rush to get ready.
“Now-now” – Where, ‘just now,’ is a vague indication of time, ‘now-now’ is an urgent one and means something like, ‘right now!’ So if someone tells you they’re coming to pick you up ‘now-now’ you really do need to rush.
“Robot” – No, you won’t see any actual robots rolling around the streets of Cape Town. Robot refers to a traffic light or stoplight. Awesome, right?!
“Shame!” – This is one of my favourites! It doesn’t mean ‘shame on you,’ it’s more of an expression of empathy, kind of like, ‘oh no,’ or, ‘what a shame.’
“Is it?” – I love this one too! It’s not a real question, more of a rhetorical, exclamatory phrase like, ‘really?’
“Lekker” – Another fantastic word when you hear it said in an Afrikaans accent. Lekker is an expression of positive sentiment like, ‘awesome.’
How to get there
We flew to Cape Town with Singapore Airlines as part of our #SquadSQ trip and absolutely loved it! If you’re planning a trip and need an airline recommendation, Singapore Airlines is the way to go. To break up the trip we flew from Australia to Singapore, where we spent two days exploring, then onward to Cape Town. Our experience was fantastic thanks to Singapore Airlines exceptional service, comfortable seats, delicious food and great entertainment. With a big flight like this one, it was important for us to feel comfortable and be as rested as possible so we could make the most of the time we had when we arrived and going with a full-service airline made all the difference.
Useful travel resources for your trip to South Africa
As always, our guides and content are completely free. If you found this post (or anything we do) useful, we’d be grateful if you considered using the affiliate links below. We’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you. Rest assured, these are the services we love and use ourselves. Thank you in advance for your support! Phoebe and Matt.
Agoda – one of our go-to sites for booking hotels
Skyscanner – our go-to for booking flights
RentalCars.com – a great search engine for renting a car
Booking.com – another of our go-to sites for booking hotels
TourRadar – a great search engine for booking tours
Uber – our go-to ground transport option