Sure, it costs a bit to fly to Cape Town, South Africa but once you get there? The exchange rate is ever in your favor. Today, South African Sarah tells us about boutique hostels for $15 a night, breakfast for $1.25 (!!!) and wine tasting for $2 per winery. I have never been so tempted!
Hi! I’m (another) Sarah, and a born and bred Capetonian. Although I spend a fair amount of time travelling to other places, Cape Town is still my favorite destination ever – and yes, I am completely and unashamedly biased!
I live online at Sarah Evelyn, where I build online courses for amazing brands (for free!) and provide an editing service for blogs and other digital publishers. I’d love to say hi to you on Instagram!
The weakness of the South African Rand (you’ll currently get over R15.00 for every US dollar you spend) is great for visitors. World-class dining, lovely accommodation and easy transport on the cheap really mean that the only significant cost you’re likely to pay is your flight.
Also, Cape Town is the perfect place to experience things you may have long dreamed about – lazy lunches in vineyards, winding coastal roads or white beaches and palm trees – all in one place and without breaking the piggy bank.
Cheap lodgings in Cape Town
Air Bnb – from $20
The way in which Air Bnb has disrupted the accommodation space has meant a wide range of well-appointed accommodation options for visitors to Cape Town – especially if you’re travelling in a group. This gorgeous apartment has sea views, and this one a view of Table Mountain and the Cape Town harbour.
P.S. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, use this link to get $40 off your first booking!
91 Loop – from $14
This recently-opened boutique hostel is one example in a movement of upscale hostels and backpackers that are changing the way we view budget accommodation. Bright and airy, serving great coffee and cheap breakfasts at its in-house restaurant, The Honey Badger, 91 Loop is spotlessly clean and very comfortable.
Once in Cape Town – from $15
Another funky hostel in Cape Town’s city centre, Once in Cape Town is right upstairs from one of the most on-trend places to hang out – Yours Truly – which serves craft beer, coffee and light meals on Kloof Street.
Cheap Things to Eat in Cape Town
Ristorante Posticino – large pizza from about $5
This family-owned Italian with two branches (one in Hout Bay, with fantastic views, the other on vibey Sea Point Main Road) serves some of Cape Town’s most authentic Italian food and delicious wine (at almost cost price) with warmth and humor. This is the restaurant my husband and I visit most often, and we haven’t been disappointed yet.
Arnold’s – breakfast from $1.25
Arnold’s – an owner-managed joint on Kloof Street – was a student favourite that managed to grow up us, and kept its low prices. If you’d like a (really) cheap, no-frills bacon and eggs with all the trimmings or a quick city lunch or dinner, then this is the place to go.
Naturalis – platters to share from about $12
Want to eat food made by South Africa’s most celebrated chef, Luke Dale Roberts, at a fraction of the price that it’s sold for at his famous Test Kitchen (one of the world’s best restaurants)?
Visit his experimental food lab, Naturalis. The menu changes daily and is offered on a range of wooden platters, paired with delicious South African wine.
Bay Harbour Market – free; food from 75c
For us, weekend mornings often start at the Bay Harbour Market, a community-centred market in the fishing village of Hout Bay that serves fantastic homemade food (as well as vintage jewelry, fresh flowers, crafts and clothing).
I’ve become adept at skimming around people to reach the panini’s at Taste of Tunisa, the dim sum opposite and poring over the astounding array baked goods (look for them behind the coffee stand). Live music, a central bar and a boggling variety of food choices make it the perfect place to meet friends and share a delicious brunch.
La Boheme – two courses for $5.70, three for $7
If you happen to be in search of a romantic bistro and wine bar with an upmarket feel, seasonal menu and delicious French food with a South African twist, La Boheme hits all the spots. The independent bistro is a local’s local and feels perennially happy.
Mzoli’s – from $2
Mzoli’s sells and serves a single ingredient in the heart of Cape Town’s historical township Gugulethu: meat. The butchery, meeting place and outdoor restaurant is always buzzing in the summer, with people from all over the city flocking to the communal braai (BBQ).
Bring your own drinks and paper napkins and be ready to meet new people, listen to the live djs playing South African house music, and feast on meat off the fire.
Fish on the Rocks – hake and chips for $3.50
Why pay a fortune for fresh fish when you can eat it (with delicious chips) outside and with a view of the ocean? Fish on the Rocks at the Hout Bay harbour (or alternatively, Kalky’s at Kalk Bay) serves fresh fish made a variety of ways – where you want to eat it is up to you.
Cheap Things to Do in Cape Town
Lie on the beach – free; about $4 for a day’s use of an umbrella
Cape Town’s beaches are one of its biggest draw cards, and, like most cities, they have a bit of a code. If you’re feeling like a family day out or a vintage-inspired day with friends, catch a train to Fish Hoek or Simon’s Town (where the sand isn’t white but the towns are pretty and the sea is warm).
To mingle with the beautiful, rich and famous, visit Clifton fourth beach, which is the city’s most sheltered, and if you’re beautiful, rich and famous but don’t care about your image, carry on past Camps Bay (lovely when it’s not windy, and close to bars and restaurants), to Llandudno.
To swim with penguins and walk amongst a colony, head to Boulder’s Beach (it’s protected, so you’ll need to pay about $4 entry to get in, but you can look over the fence for free).
Take a hike – free
Although the revolving cable car (about $8 for a one-way ticket) is a great way to reach the top of the city’s most iconic landmark – Table Mountain – hiking means you get an even better view (and it’s free!).
However, if you want a view of Table Mountain (and a 360’C view) hike up the local’s favourite, Lion’s Head.
Spend a day at the V&A Waterfront – free
The city’s Waterfront (named after Queen Victoria and Prince Alfred, her son) has had a long and vibrant history and remains a fascinating place today – in part because it is still very much a working harbour.
The waterfront not only serves as the city’s central meeting place for locals and tourists alike, but it also offers a food market, an upscale design market, a luxury mall and plenty of restaurants. The best thing you can pay for at the V&A Waterfront is a sunset cruise – preferably with sparkling wine included!
Go wine-tasting – free to $2 per wine farm
While many wine farms now charge a nominal fee for wine tasting if you don’t buy a bottle (especially in the older, more popular Paarl and Stellenbosch wine routes) there are plenty that are happy to fill your glasses for free. The Route 62 wine route is quieter, less touristy, and offers great wines at good prices.
Visit a museum – from free to $4
Especially good for wet days, or when you’ve had too much time on the beach, Cape Town’s museums are largely well taken care off, easy to move around and free (or very cheap) to enter.
My favourites are:
- South African National Gallery (found within the Company Gardens);
- The District Six Museum: A moving tribute to a community that was removed by force during apartheid;
- The South African Jewish Museum: An amazing testament of Jewish history and the Holocaust, and
- The Bo-Kaap Museum: An intimate look inside the colourful Bo-Kaap community that still exists today.
People watch on the promenade – free
Young, old, rich, poor, the city’s promenade walk is a great leveller. The beautiful stretch of coastline from the city, through Green Point and Sea Point, to Camps Bay, has been matched with wide paving, public pools, large stretches of grass, art installations and open-air gyms.
If you prefer to be on wheels, rent a bicycle from the concession stands outside the Sea Point pool (entry $1.30), or play a round of put-put next to the Green Point Lighthouse. Sotano makes for a post-walk tapas spot that stays lively late into the evening.
Chapman’s Peak Drive – free for runners or cyclists, $2.50 per car
Pretend that you’re Bond, James Bond, as you wind around the mountain on this cliff road that could be somewhere on the French Riviera. One of the most beautiful drives in the world, Chapman’s Peak takes you from Noordhoek to Hout Bay and is best done just before sunset. Drive slowly and stop at the designated viewpoints along the way for photos.
City Sightseeing Bus – one-day ticket from $10
Although this is more expensive than the usual budget activity, the bus not only provides you with a narrated tour around the city, but its hop-on, hop-off nature means that it includes all your transport cost for the day.
If you’re pressed for time and you’d like to visit Camps Bay Beach, the V&A Waterfront, Table Mountain, the Constantia Wine Route and several museums all in one day, these topless buses will take you there (with a view, and some history).
Enjoy your trip! To maximise your experience, download the free Cape Town Travel app before you arrive.
I’m sure we have a few other South African readers. What would you add?