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To Hop On or to Not Hop On
The City Sightseeing Cape Town hop-on hop-off buses are as impossible to miss here as Table Mountain itself.
Actually, they’re harder to miss because even when the mountain’s
blanketed table-clothed by clouds you’ll see the buses everywhere.
But just because they’re ubiquitous doesn’t mean they’re a must-do. For example, Starbucks cafes are everywhere in our hometown of Vancouver and we wouldn’t recommend them to visitors.
So the question is, if you’re visiting the Mother City, is the Cape Town hop-on hop-off bus worth your money? More importantly, is it worth your time?
Surprisingly, for us… it was!
You might think differently, though. Here’s all the information you need to decide for yourself.
- What: Unmistakable red double-decker open-top buses that are everywhere in the city.
- How Much: 220 rands per adult (about $15 US), 110 rands for 5 to 17 year-olds, and free for under 5 year-olds
- What’s Included: One day of unlimited hops onto and off of the buses on any of the four routes
- When: All year except Jan 2 and Mar 10. The first buses leave the V&A waterfront at 8:00 and the last ones return there at 19:30 (Apr to Oct) and 19:50 (Nov to Mar).
- Red Route: 11 stops, 1h35min, 24 km. Goes through the V&A waterfront, downtown, past Table Mountain, over Kloof Nek and back up the Atlantic Seaboard past Camps Bay, the Clifton Beaches, Sea Point and Mouille Point.
- Yellow Route: 7 stops, 33min, 7 km. Circles downtown past the Company’s Gardens, into District Six, and back along the Castle of Good Hope.
- Blue Route: 14 stops, 2h15min, 54 km. Takes you past Kirstenbosch Gardens, over Constantia Nek, into Hout Bay, and back along the Atlantic Coast, following the same route as the Red Route from Camps Bay to the V&A waterfront.
- Purple Route: 3 stops, 30min, 7 km. Goes out to Groot Constantia winery and back past Eagle’s Nest, with the option of walking to Beau Constantia from the Constantia Nek stop.
City Sightseeing will provide you with a free map, but it’s not to scale and difficult to see exactly where the hop-on hop-off bus goes. The above map gives you a better idea of where exactly all the stops are.
You can this route map to your phone for offline use by following our quick and easy Google Maps tips here.
Pros of the Cape Town Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
✓ Fun for Everyone
Old people, kids, and lazy folk who don’t want to walk much can relax while active travelers like us can cover tons of ground.
There are a lot of buses and they run like clockwork every 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the route.
✓ Good Value
For the sake of comparison, a one-way Uber from the V&A Waterfront to Hout Bay costs roughly the same as a day ticket on the hop-on, hop-off sightseeing bus (220 rands).
Because I’m a nerd, I did a quick calculation to see how much our whole day would’ve cost us with Uber. It added up to 850 rands.
And, honestly, we probably waited less for the hop-on hop-off buses to arrive than we would’ve had to wait for Ubers.
✓ Plenty of Space
We did our tour on a weekend in early December and we could always find a whole row to ourselves on the upper deck. It’ll get busier during the hectic Christmas and New Years period, but there’s still plenty of space.
The seats are open and elevated so other vehicles don’t block your view and the bus routes follow all the roads that make Cape Town world-famous (and rightfully so) for its natural beauty.
Quite frankly, it would make for a nice early evening date to simply bring a bottle of wine (perhaps one purchased on the Purple Route) and sit on the back of the bus soaking in the sights!
From the safe confines of the hop-on hop-off bus’ upper deck, you’re well out of the reach of petty thieves.
The four routes do a good job of covering the areas most visitors to Cape Town will want to see. So much so that, if you’re moving to town, we’d recommend doing the tour simply to get your bearings.
✓ Good Commentary
The quality of the commentary you have the option of plugging into (which comes in something like 16 languages) pleasantly surprised us.
Instead of some boring teacher reading off facts from a Wikipedia page, a variety of voices color their commentary with the odd joke and local tip. Even though the information has to be rushed and limited to keep up with the bus’ quick moves from one attraction to the next, it’s refreshingly entertaining.
And when traffic slows down, they play music from a custom album of local songs. We’re not sure if the music is a pro or a con—some is so cheesy it’s funny—but it’s entertaining at least. Here’s the video for our favorite song, which has the incredible lyrics of, “Mr. Mandela, You’re One hell of a fella. I want to be like you!”
(Then again, we’re not exactly lyrical geniuses ourselves…)
Cons of the Cape Town Hop-On Hop-Off Bus
✗ Less Intimate
Sitting on the bus is like being on an urban safari where you observe “the wildlife” from the distant safety of your vehicle. Unless you get off and walk around, you won’t get a true feel for or appreciation of the neighborhoods and the people you speed by.
The travel experiences you’ll tell your grandchildren about one day won’t happen sitting on a big red bus with a bunch of other tourists.
Between Camps Bay and the V&A Waterfront, the Red Route and the Blue Route are the same. You’re going to want to ride both buses, which means you’ll going to have to repeat this section.
At least it’s scenic and, as we were happy to discover, the commentary is slightly different between the two buses.
✗ Overpriced Side Attractions
Businesses fortunate enough to be near a hop-on hop-off stop charge higher-than-average rates, taking advantage of the extra traffic the buses bring them.
Unlike on a guided tour, there’s nobody on the bus you can ask questions to and, unlike renting your own car, you can’t go wherever you want.
The routes go in only one direction, so if you miss your stop or want to backtrack for whatever reason, you’re out of luck.
Because of this, you’re best off planning your day in advance (see Itinerary below).
One Day Hop-On, Hop-Off Itinerary
Here’s what we suggest you do to get as much bang for your buck as possible with a day on the Cape Town hop-on hop-off bus.
8:25 to 8:58: The Yellow Loop
Kick off your day with the Yellow Loop’s half-hour downtown tour. Passing by the Company’s Garden, a few of the museums, District Six, and the Castle of Good Hope, this will give you a decent understanding of what’s where in the City Bowl, the central part of Cape Town that’s encompassed by Signal Hill, Table Mountain, and Devil’s Peak.
Take note of anything that interests you to return to another day by foot or by Uber. As you’ll realize on your tour, everything’s close, so there’s no need to burn your precious hop-on hop-off bus time visiting these attractions.
9:05 to 9:58: The Red Loop to the President Hotel Stop
While the majority of it overlaps with the Blue Loop, you shouldn’t skip the Red Loop because it’s the only one that takes you to the base of the Table Mountain cableway, which gives you a fantastic view of downtown Cape Town and the bay behind it. Along the way, you’ll also get a glimpse of the Gardens area up Kloof Street, where you may want to go for dinner and drinks in the evening or on another day.
Continuing along, the beautiful views of the Twelve Apostles and Camps Bay from Camps Bay Drive will make you want to get off the bus to take photos and check out the beach. Stay on the bus and save it for later.
9:58 to 10:40: See Sea Point by Foot
Getting off at the President Hotel stop and walk along bustling Regent Street towards the St. John’s Road hop-on hop-off stop to get a taste of the Sea Point neighborhood. Maybe also get a taste of a bagel from Kleinsky’s or a snack from any other cafes or restaurants you pass along the way. If you walk fast, you can even continue walking along the Sea Point Promenade to the Winchester Mansions hop-on hop-off stop.
11:05 to 12:10: Blue Loop to Constantia Nek
The Blue Bus will pass through the touristy V&A Waterfront and back downtown before looping around Devil’s Peak to drive along Cape Town University, into the leafy Newlands suburb, past Kirstenbosch Gardens and up to Constantia Nek.
12:15 to 14:30: The Purple Route to Groot Constantia
All of a sudden you’re in wine country!
Do a tasting at Groot Constantia, South Africa’s oldest wine farm, and explore it or do a tour. If you have the Entertainer app (see Tips below), you can get a 2-for-1 deal on both the wine tasting and a main dish at the Jonkerhuis restaurant, one of our picks for the best restaurants in Cape Town for various unique occasions.
15:00 to 15:30: Constantia Nek to Hout Bay
Let some of the alcohol burn off as you ride back down the hill down to Hout Bay.
15:30 to 16:30: Hout Bay
Take some photos of the bay and Chapman’s Peak, sample some fish and ships fresh from Hout Bay’s working harbor and maybe even do the boat to seal island (85 rands for adults, 50 for kids) as long as you make it in time for the final departure of the day at 15:30.
16:30 to 16:50: Hout Bay to Camps Bay
Another scenic coastal ride will take you past Llandudno and Table Mountain’s Twelve Apostles en route to Camps Bay.
16:50 to 18:30 Camps Bay
Dip your toes in the soft sand, and if you’re up for the challenge and brought your swimsuit, dip your body in the freezing ocean at Camps Bay, then head to one of the many bars along Victoria Road for a drink or ice cream.
Keep in mind that the last bus from Camps Bay back to the city is at 19:00 between April and October and at 19:20 between November and March.
18:30 Camps Bay to Cape Town
You may want to stay in Camps Bay longer, in which case we highly recommend going for a seafood dinner at Codfather, one of our favorite restaurants in Cape Town.
Otherwise, to head back to the city center, jump onto either the red or blue bus and ride to the nearest stop to where you’re staying or to where you want to head next to finish off your Cape Town hop-on hop-off day tour.
Tips for the Hop On Hop Off Bus
- Buy online. It’s R20 cheaper, R200 instead of R220.
- Bring your own headphones. They give you a pair, but if you have your own bring them to save the waste.
- Just buy one day. If you don’t manage to get through everything in one day, you can extend another day for 100 rands, which is the same you would have paid had you bought the two-day package in the first place.
- Save with the Entertainer App. It gets you buy-one-get-one-free discounts on Groot Constantia’s wine tasting (saving R95 rands), their Jonkerhuis restaurant (saving around R110 to R200+), and at over 2,500 other spots around Cape Town. Since it only costs max 395 rands it doesn’t take long to start saving big time. Get The Entertainer app here and use coupon code UNCONVENTIONAL2019 to get 10% off.
- Bring sunscreen. On the upper deck of the bus, you’ll be exposed to the sun all day and hats won’t do because they get blown off by the wind.
- Sit on the left side of the bus for the best views. Since the buses loop in a clockwise direction, the left side is always closest to the water.
- Hold onto your ticket! If you lose it they will not have mercy on you, nor will they take photo evidence that you had previously paid. Kim learned this the hard way.
- Do your hop-on, hop-off tour on Sunday if you can because the traffic will be the lightest.
Do the Hop On Hop Off Tour if…
You’re either an infrequent traveler who prefers security and simplicity or if you’re an experienced traveler who’s going to be in Cape Town for more than 5 days.
Honestly, we should have done this tour as soon as we arrived in Cape Town. It’s a great way to get your bearings and pick out places to explore on future days.
Don’t Do the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour if…
You’re an adventurous traveler and only have four or fewer days in Cape Town.
Get a rental car instead because your time’s too precious. A one-day car rental may be more expensive, about 500 rands plus gas, but it’s worth it to escape the ordinary and have a truly unforgettable day.
For more tips and info that’ll help you get the most out of your trip, don’t miss our Cape Town page, where we’ll be sharing all the best adventures we discover during our six months in town.
And, if you’re planning on renting a car to do a road trip, we highly recommend you consider the Hectic Route.