Start Your Cape Town Trip Right
Our 5-Part Cape Town Upside Down Series continues with these 25 Cape Town Travel Tips to Know Before You Go.
To plan the perfect Cape Town trip, you’ve got to think like an architect and start from the foundation. Pick a sketchy base, and it will collapse. Pick the right base, as this guide to where to stay in Cape Town will help you do, and you’ll have an amazing time.
And since everyone has different tastes and budgets, we won’t just tell you our favorite place to stay in Cape Town. We rate the best Cape Town neighborhoods across different criteria so you can decide for yourself.
Where to Stay in Cape Town Outline
The Need-to-Know Basics
For first-time visitors, this introductory info about Cape Town’s layout and how to get around town will help you pick your base.
Also don’t miss our Idiot’s Guide to Cape Town for more basic info, mythbusting, and fun facts.
Cape Town Is Compact
Even if you were to pick the perfectly worst place to stay in Cape Town, it wouldn’t be too big of a deal because the city’s so compact.
Outside of rush hour (coming into downtown from 7 to 9 a.m. and leaving downtown from 4 to 7 p.m.), no ride within the parts of the city you’ll want to spend most of your time will take more than 15 minutes or cost more than R90 (6.50USD) in an Uber.
Cape Town’s Walkable (Sometimes)
Uber’s cheap and everyone who lives here owns a car, so most people drive everywhere in Cape Town, but that doesn’t mean you have to too.
We walk just about everywhere during the day. Kim walks alone, too. It’s safe, compact enough (from the one end of Kloof to far end of downtown is roughly 3 Km and takes about 40 minutes), the weather’s great, and walking’s good for you and better for getting to know a city.
Just don’t walk anywhere at night unless it’s a street, like Kloof, with lots of other pedestrians.
Public Transit’s Pretty Useless
Cape Town’s only semi-reliable public transit is the MyCiti bus that runs from downtown along the Atlantic Seaboard past Green Point, Sea Point, Clifton, Camps Bay, and on to Hout Bay.
We use it from time to time, but it’s a bit of a hassle to sign up to and slow to use so we recommend sticking to Uber unless you’re staying in Cape Town for an extended period of time.
You’re Going to Want to Rent a Car, But…
Without your own car, you’ll have a hard time getting to a lot of our favorite things to do in Cape Town like the scenic drives, the wine lands, the townships, and some hikes.
But you might be better off without a car for the first couple of days in Cape Town, especially if your accommodation doesn’t have private, secure parking. Parking can be a pain here and there’s a significant risk of someone breaking into your car, so a combo of walking and Uber is a better bet for the city.
As for who to rent from, based on our handful of experiences here and extensive research for good deals, we recommend Around About Cars for rentals of a week or more and Avis (booked through a third-party like Expedia or Priceline for cheaper rates) for shorter-term rentals.
Cape Town Neighborhood Map
We’ve colored our picks for best Cape Town neighborhood and put the others we don’t recommend as much in grey.
Save this map to your phone’s Google Maps in just two clicks by following the steps in our guide to Our Favorite Google Maps Tips and Tricks.
The Best Cape Town Neighborhood for You
We rated each of our picks for the best neighborhoods in Cape Town in seven different categories: Dining, Cheap Eats, Safety, Nightlife, Cafes, Cost, and Neighborhood Feel.
Pick the categories you care about and this tool will pick the best Cape Town neighborhood for you.
Note on the Ratings:
Ratings account for adjacent neighborhoods so, for example, even though Green Point has few dining options of its own, it gets a solid score for being a short walk or Uber ride of the V&A Waterfront, De Waterkant, and the CBD.
The Best Neighborhoods
In alphabetical order, here are our top-recommended Cape Town neighborhoods with ratings, pros and cons, highlights, and accommodation picks for each.
The Luxurious Getaway:
Camps Bay reminds us of Hawaii with its soft white sand beach, dramatic mountain scenery, crystal blue waters… and built-up tourism architecture with prices to match.
- The beach is at your doorstep and there is no more scenic place to stay in Cape Town.
- A getaway. It doesn’t feel at all like you’re in a big city.
- Isolation. You’ll need to take Uber or drive to get pretty much anywhere other than the beach.
- Over-tourism and roaming street vendors hawking mostly junky souvenirs detract from the luxury experience.
- Codfather Seafood Restaurant. Our favorite spot for choose-yourself-from-the-fresh-fridge fresh seafood.
- Caprice. It doesn’t live up to its hype except maybe on Sunday, when it’s the place to be for “model parties.”
- 12 Apostles Hotel, 5km down the road for luxurious high tea and sundowners (sunset cocktails).
Where to Stay
- High-End: POD Camps Bay
- Mid-Range: No single standout. Check Booking.com for specials, but don’t go too far up the hill from the beach or you defeat the purpose of staying at Camps Bay.
- Hostel: Not in Camps Bay, my friends.
The Practical Pick:
Central Business District (CBD)
From a purely practical standpoint, the CBD is the best neighborhood to stay in Cape Town.
It’s at the center of everything and affordable, so you’ll be able to see more in less time and for less money by staying there.
But you might not feel Cape Town the same way as if you stay in other neighborhoods.
- Location. Most of Cape Town’s nightlife and museums and many of the top restaurants are in the CBD itself and it’s the hub for everywhere else—Gardens and Camps Bay to the South, the Waterfront to the North, Woodstock and Observatory to the East, and the Atlantic Seaboard neighborhoods to the West.
- Less safe. Even though everything’s close, you probably shouldn’t walk to most places at night because it’s sketchy, especially along Long Street
- It doesn’t “feel like Cape Town.” You can’t feel the crisp ocean air nor the cosmopolitan vibe like you can in the other Cape Town neighborhoods.
- The Company’s Garden, where the Dutch VOC once grew all the produce to supply ships traveling between Europe and Asia. Now it’s a peaceful green area.
- Long Street, which is a hotspot for nightlife and budget accommodation, but also a hotspot for petty crime.
- Bree Street is the “new Long Street” with higher-end bars and restaurants, but it’s still not that nice to walk along.
- The Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) is in the Foreshore part of downtown towards the bay.
Where to Stay
The Overlooked Oasis:
De Waterkant is an upmarket bubble of quiet right next to the busy city center. It doesn’t get the same publicity in travel blogs and guides as other Cape Town neighborhoods, but we consider it to be perhaps the best place to stay in the city.
- The location is pretty much as convenient as the CBD minus the traffic and safety concerns.
- Security is extra high in De Waterkant, with a private security force keeping out the riff-raff.
- Funky, trendy feel of the narrow streets and Bo-Kaap-esque colorful houses.
- It can feel a bit artificial and be a bit pricy because the majority of the houses here have been converted to short-term rentals.
- Mostly street parking, which can be difficult to find and slightly risky.
- Distance from the sea is the only real downside of De Waterkant’s location.
- Cape Quarter Mall has a pleasant indoor courtyard for coffee and eats and a convenient Spar grocery store and Tops liquor store.
- Sidewalk Cafes like Café Charles and Ground Art Caffe.
Where to Stay
Where to Cool Kids Go:
Gardens is a trendy, upper-middle-class Cape Town residential neighborhood that’s up the hill from downtown in the direction of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head.
All the action in Gardens revolves around Kloof Street, so in the Map above we’ve set its borders as being unofficially anywhere that’s within easy walking distance of it.
- Kloof is always busy so it’s one of the few Cape Town streets that’s safe to walk at night.
- Plenty of parks and green space, including De Waal Park, the Company’s Gardens, and Lion’s Head and Table Mountain just up the hill.
- There are more beggars who will pester you and cause light unease along Kloof Street than in other neighborhoods along the Atlantic Seaboard.
- The setting, while still blessed with views of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, is not as scenic as the other side of Signal Hill because it’s farther from the water and has a less dramatic angle on the mountains.
- Kloof Street. Even though it’s not as nice or interesting as we expected based on what we’d heard and read before coming to Cape Town, it still is the hippest strip in town.
- Mount Nelson Hotel. Famous for its high tea and pink paint, even if you can’t afford to stay there it’s worth wandering through to appreciate the calm oasis in the heart of Cape Town.
- The Labia Theatre. It’s more than just a cheap, small movie theatre. You have to go there to understand its magic.
- Lion’s Head. Gardens is near the base of this 669m peak, which has got to be the best, most scenic urban hike in the entire world (better than Table Mountain).
Where to Stay
The Pleasant Compromise:
If you can’t decide whether to stay right by the water or close to the city center, Green Point is the perfect compromise.
We made the same decision.
We’ve been living in Green Point for five months (after an arduous apartment search) and find the location to be perfect for our needs: quiet, close enough to the city center’s restaurants, bars, and cafes, and also close enough to the Atlantic Seaboard’s beaches and waterfront promenade.
- Relaxed residential feel while just around the corner from central Cape Town
- Easy MyCiti bus access south to Clifton and Camps Bay beaches or north to CBD. (But, as we said earlier, MyCiti’s not worth it if you’re only in town for a few days.)
- Less happening. Green Point’s commercial strip, Main Road, is smaller and sleepier than other Cape Town neighborhoods’.
- Secluded. Even though we advise against it, we still walked up between Main Road and our apartment on High Level at night, but we moved fast.
- The Cape Town Stadium hosts major music concerts and sporting events like the Rugby Sevens.
- Green Point Park has sports fields, children’s playgrounds, a little botanical garden, streams, and a quiet teahouse, Tea in the Park.
- The small commercial area on Main Road has a Woolworth’s supermarket, Ultra liquor store, great happy hour at Cabrito, and a few decent restaurants.
- Giovanni’s Deli is the most popular place in town to meet for a midday coffee or lunch. (And to get a picnic for Kirstenbosch concerts, which is one of our top Cape Town dining recommendations.)
- Signal Hill’s sunset viewpoint backs Green Point. We regularly hiked the lesser-known trails that lead straight up to it.
Where to Stay
The Low-Key Coastal Zone:
Sea Point should be called Sea Pencil because it’s not a point but a long, narrow neighborhood that runs between the western side of Signal Hill and the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s densely-populated (by Cape Town standards), middle-class, and busy, but it’s not as trendy and touristy as Gardens so you can easily blend in with the locals.
- Ideal for fitness-focused visitors due to its proximity to the Sea Point Promenade and the outdoor calisthenics park at Three Anchor Bay.
- Easy MyCiti bus access south to Clifton and Camps Bay beaches or north to CBD.
- More affordable accommodation and food than other neighborhoods closer to the city center.
- Generally safer-feeling, less-touristy, and with fewer aggressive beggars than the City Bowl (Gardens, CBD, District 6)
- Not very happening, which may be a euphemism for “kinda boring.”
- The farthest from the City Bowl’s action and attractions compared to the rest of our picks for Cape Town’s best neighborhoods.
- There are beaches, but they’re not swimming-friendly.
- The Sea Point Promenade. Cape Town’s roughly 3-kilometer seaside path is the go-to for cyclists, joggers, and calisthenics enthusiasts like us (at the workout area by Three Anchor Bay).
- Main / Regent Road, which runs parallel to the promenade and has a variety of shops, restaurants, and cafes.
Where to Stay
The Tourist Town:
The V&A Waterfront wasn’t even a possible place to stay in Cape Town until the 1990s, when some ambitious (and now richer than ever) businessmen converted what was once a port into a tourism destination.
Now, it’s a mostly-pedestrian wharf-like area full of super-expensive hotels and boats, a couple of museums, a giant mall, a Ferris wheel, some mostly un-exceptional restaurants, and lots and lots of people—people from all over Cape Town, South Africa, and the world. It’s actually probably the most diverse of Cape Town’s neighborhoods in that regard.
- Walkable. The Waterfront is mostly pedestrian-only, busy, and safe to walk at all hours.
- Plenty of shopping and people-watching.
- Free WiFi everywhere.
- Touristy and overpriced.
- Few of the city’s best restaurants or attractions are located there.
- No beaches. Maybe you can befriend a rich yacht-owner who’ll bring you to one, though.
- Cape Town Comedy Club. A fantastic and hilarious way to get some insight into South Africa’s racial and political issues. Just don’t expect to understand all of the strong accents and local references.
- Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island. We aren’t the biggest proponents of this “must-do,” but there’s no debating it’s a hot spot.
- The Watershed. A wide selection of high-quality artisanal goods downstairs and an open co-working space and cafe upstairs.
- Zeitz MOCAA. South Africa’s snazzy new (opened late 2017) modern art museum.
Where to Stay
- Super High-End: The Silo Hotel and One&Only
- Mid-Range: Radisson Red
- Budget: Not a possibility in the V&A
Not So Recommended Neighborhoods
These Cape Town neighborhoods, which are shaded grey in the Map above, aren’t terrible but here’s why we recommend looking to stay elsewhere.
Strip away the colorful paint from Bo-Kaap’s over-Instagrammed houses and you’re left with a regular working-class neighborhood inhabited by locals who understandably resent that tourism and development are eating away at their cultural enclave.
Visit it—we recommend the free walking tour or the audio tour—but don’t stay there.
Mouille Point (pronounced moo-LEE) seems like it would be a great place to stay in Cape Town because of its seafront location, but it’s not because it’s on a point and isolated from the rest of the city.
Green Point, Sea Point, De Waterkant, and the V&A Waterfront are all better alternatives.
Woodstock and Observatory
With its street art, vintage shops, and gritty feel, Woodstock and Observatory have that edgy pre-hipster Brooklyn vibe.
But it’s too edgy.
It’s inconveniently located on the outer edge of most of Cape Town’s attractions, and you’ll feel on edge wherever you walk there, even during the day.
Take an Uber to these neighborhoods (definitely don’t walk to them) for the Neighbourgoods Saturday market, the breweries, vintage shopping, and pizza, then take an Uber back to wherever you’re staying.
Clifton (and Fresnaye and Bantry Bay)
In these exclusive Cape Town neighborhoods you’ll feel excluded from the action of the rest of the city.
Outer Gardens Suburbs
These hillside residential areas with beautiful houses protected by ugly walls and electric fences are a slog to walk or drive to.
Basically the CBD, but farther from other neighborhoods, with fewer attractions, and with less of a CCID security presence.
(The CCID are uniformed officers who stand on street corners in the CBD to warn tourists when they’re being stupid and ward off petty criminals.)
The Wild Cards
Khayelitsha is South Africa’s second largest township, after Johannesburg’s Soweto, with is very-roughly estimated at 2 million residents.
But the quality of life isn’t quite as rough as those estimates, at least in some sections. So even though most white and coloured Capetonians will advise you against visiting at all—and even we’d advise against making it the base for your whole Cape Town trip—we certainly recommend you consider spending a night.
Despite the dire appearances of the corrugated shacks on sand dunes that circle Khayelitsha, the more middle-class center is a neighborhood full of optimism and entrepreneurship.
Do a township tour with the guys from 18 Gangster Museum, spend an evening making new friends at Rands, another evening of gourmet township dining at 4roomed eKasi Culture, and enjoy the hospitality of a neighborhood that’s eager to show the outside world it’s more polished than it’s perceived to be.
In South Africa, “suburb” doesn’t mean the same as it does in other English-speaking countries. Here, a “suburb” is just the smallest geographical subdivision of a city.
Cape Town has plenty other “suburbs” to stay in that we haven’t mentioned yet. These include Hout Bay, Somerset West, Gordon’s Bay, Kalk Bay, Bloubergstrand, Durbanville, Simon’s Town, Muizenberg, Claremont, Newlands, and Constantia.
Depending on your situation—for example, if you’re visiting family, are here for work, or want to surf or kitesurf—one of these suburbs may be the best place to stay in Cape Town for you.
Or maybe you just want to take the “unconventional route” and try something different.
Please do. They may be further from the main attractions, but they all have plenty enough to keep you entertained. That’s what makes Cape Town such an incredible city to visit.
Our Top Recommendation
If you don’t want to read through everything we’ve written or decide for yourself where to stay in Cape Town, here’s our final recommendation:
With its central but secure location, convenient shops and cafes, and low-key atmosphere, you’re unlikely to regret making your base there.
De Waterkant is where we told Kim’s parents to stay when they came to visit, where we’d look to stay if we leave Cape Town and return for a few days.
- Wikipedia list of Cape Town suburbs
- Top-Ranked hotels in Cape Town according to TripAdvisor, Google, and Booking.com reviews.
- Top-rated hostels in Cape Town according to Hostelworld, TripAdvisor, Google, and Booking.com.
- Airbnb’s City Guide to Cape Town consolidates hosts’ top-rated attractions in the city.
- How to find a furnished apartment in Cape Town
- Free money—up to $47 USD—to use on Airbnb if you’ve never used it before.
Squeeze Every Last Drop Out of Cape Town and South Africa
“Squeeze every last drop” might not be the most politically correct thing to say about oft-drought-afflicted Cape Town, but still…
Complete Our 5-Part Cape Town Upside Down Series:
- Idiot’s Guide to Cape Town
- Cape Town Must-Dos, Maybe-Dos, and Maybe-Don’t-Dos
- Travel Tips About Cape Town to Know Before You Go
- Best Cape Town Restaurants for 25 Unique Occasions