Cape Town On A Budget (Local Advice)

cape town on a budget

So you’ve heard that Cape Town is one of the most expensive cities in South Africa? Me too and that’s why I decided to do the research and find some of the cheapest, or even free things to do in and around this city to show you that you can still do Cape Town on a budget. Why trust me? As a local I’ve lived here for 5+ years and know the ins and outs of Cape Town + where the best, cheaper, local spots are. In this article, I’ll share some free activities and low-cost activities from nightlife to hiking to history & more.

Quick interactive map for those who don’t want to read:

Free Activities in Cape Town

Here are free activities to do on a budget in Cape Town:

  1. Hiking Lions Head: A physically demanding 4.3 km hike starting at Signal Hill Drive, offering 360-degree views of the city and a spectacular view from the summit.
  2. Table Mountain: Suggests hiking up Table Mountain using trails like Platteklip, Pipe Track, Smuts Track, Skeleton Gorge, or Orange Kloof to save on cable car costs.
  3. Trail Running: Recommends trails like Devil’s Peak, Constantia Green Belt, The Pipe Track, and Jonkershoek in Stellenbosch for running enthusiasts.
  4. Marine Wildlife Walk: At the V&A Waterfront, features lookout points to observe marine wildlife, including seals, otters, and penguins.
  5. City Walking Tours: Offers free walking tours like Apartheid to Freedom, a historic city tour, and a Bo-Kaap tour, starting at Motherland Coffee in St Georges Mall.
  6. Green Point Park: A family-friendly park with a Biodiversity Showcase Garden, maze, labyrinth, and outdoor gym, open daily with no entry fee.
  7. A Day at the Beach: Highlights popular beaches like Camps Bay, Clifton’s 2nd and 4th beaches, Blouberg beach, and others for various activities including volleyball, kite surfing, and relaxing.
  8. Picnic Spots: Mentions Silvermine Nature Reserve and Newlands Forest as ideal picnic spots, each with unique attractions and activities.
  9. Strawberry Picking: Recommends Polkadraai farm in Stellenbosch for strawberry picking and other family-oriented activities.
  10. Visit Boulders Beach: Suggests visiting Boulders Beach in Simonstown to see penguins and enjoy the beach.
  11. Attend a Music Show: Recommends Guga S’thebe Arts and Culture Center in Langa and other venues in the city for live jazz and cultural experiences.
  12. Hout Bay Market and Mojo Market: Describes Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay and Mojo Market in Seapoint, known for their food, crafts, live music, and other entertainment options.

Hiking Lions Head

This is one of the first things I ever did when I moved to Cape Town. Physically challenging, the trail starts at the bottom of Signal Hill Drive and is definitely one of the best things you can do for yourself. The route is a spiraling 4.3 km long hike and though there are some very tricky parts with ladders and steeples, you can bypass those and keep following the path. Apart from the fact that it’s something to brag about to your unfit friends, this hike gives you 360-degree spectacular views of the city and when you get to the summit the view is even more spectacular!

Here are some tips – Get up extremely early, especially in summer to start climbing before the sun becomes unbearable. Be there at the latest 6am. Pack water (or energy drinks, if you like them) and a snack. Energy bars or fruit, bananas are best actually. You will need the energy boost!

Table Mountain

Wanna experience Table Mountain for free? Why not take one of the hiking trails to the top and save your money? A one-way adult ticket starts at 240 ZAR ($13) and return tickets vary depending on the time of day, so one way to save would be to hike up and get on the cable car on your way back. Platteklip to Upper Cableway Station is one of the most popular trails and though it’s the fastest route (2.9 km / 1.8 mi) it can be quite steep so you have to be physically fit to do it.

Other trails include the Pipe Track which is 6 km long (3.7 mi) and this one is best done in winter or early morning since it’s very exposed to the afternoon sun. The Smuts Track and Skeleton Gorge are both approximately 4 km long (2.5 mi) but Skeleton Gorge has some slippery parts that you need to watch out for. One of the longest trails is Orange Kloof at 8 km (5 mi).

Trail Running

While we are still on the physically demanding activities, Cape Town has a lot to offer when it comes to trail running for fitness and outdoor enthusiasts. One of the popular trails is the Devil’s Peak which is 5,3 km long (3.3 mi) and starts at the top of the Devil’s Peak Estate and goes to Rhodes Memorial. Other options include Constantia Green Belt which is 9 km (5.6 mi) long, The Pipe Track which is 6 km (3.7 mi) long, and Jonkershoek in Stellenbosch.

If you don’t mind going further out of the city and exploring Stellenbosch, Jonkershoek will be a great choice as it offers a number of trails within the 9,800-hectare reserve. The shortest one is 5km (3 mi) long and the longest is 18km (11 mi) long.

Marine Wildlife Walk

Do you love the marine wildlife? If yes then you’re in for a treat. The V&A Waterfront is home to eight lookout points for you to walk around and engage with the marine life. On this walk, you should be able to spot seals, otters, sunfish, birds, jellyfish, and even penguins! Download the guide map for your walk here and have fun watching these creatures playing, breeding, and doing all sorts of activities.

City Walking Tours

If you want to learn more about this city, its history, and other interesting cultural facts consider joining a free walking tour. Not only will you learn about the city but you will also get to enjoy the beautiful scenery, for free, though tips are greatly appreciated. Currently, you can choose from these options: an Apartheid to Freedom tour, a historic city tour, or a Bo-Kaap tour. 

What’s even cooler is the fact that there is no booking required, you just show up and join unless you are a group of 10 or more people. Even better to know that the walks take place every day, all year thorough. Just show up at Motherland Coffee which is inside St Georges Mall and join a group. There are three tours a day, starting at 11am, 2pm, and 4:20pm.

Green Point Park

Green Point Park is one of my favorites because there is so much to see and do there. You can literally spend the whole day there. It’s a beautiful family park where you can have a picnic, walk around, enjoy the Biodiversity Showcase Garden, explore the maze or the labyrinth, or just use the outdoor gym facilities.

You can also go for a run or walk in the park. The park has an amphitheater and an open field and it’s also ideal for hosting birthday parties and other intimate gatherings. There is an optional paid tour to learn about the flora and fauna that is conducted by the city of Cape Town should you want to explore that. The park is open Mondays to Sundays from 7am – 7pm and there is no entry fee.

A Day at the Beach

For those who’d rather spend the day lazing in the sun, Cape Town’s got you. There are so many safe beaches all around this city but Camps Bay is more popular with both tourists and locals alike, especially if you’d like to take part in a volleyball game or touch rugby. There are always groups playing on the sand all throughout the summer. Then there is Clifton’s 2nd Beach if you want to hang out with the cool and younger crowd.

The two are 2 km (1.2 mi) from each other. However, if you’d rather hang out with the ‘in-crowd’, the toned, model-types then head over to Clifton 4th. All three are in the same neighborhood, so maybe check out the crowd first before you settle down.

A little out of town is Blouberg beach with beautiful views of the city and this one is very popular with kite surfers because of the wind. Actually, all three west coast beaches, Milnerton, Bloubergstrand, and Melkbosstrand, are great for kite surfing. I have a friend who comes here every year from Germany to kite surf on Blouberg beach because it’s one of the best in the world for this type of activity.

A little further away from the city is Muizenberg which is also popular with surfers, Hout Bay and Noordhoek beaches are both family-friendly, and Boulders’ Beach if you want to see the penguins. There are way too many beaches in and around this city and I haven’t mentioned all of them here.

Picnic Spots

One can pretty much have a picnic at any of the spots that I have mentioned above but here are a couple more that deserve a mention:

Silvermine Nature Reserve offers visitors and locals one of the best picnic spots outside the city, on top of Ou Kaapse Weg. It’s 27 km (17 mi) away from the city center to be exact, but well worth the drive. Why drive all the way there?

It’s a beautiful reservoir that is surrounded by picnic spots, and trees, where you get to see some Egyptian geese, schools of fish, and people who just want to enjoy nature. Some of the activities you can do here are walking, swimming, hiking and biking trails, birdwatching, and exploring the amazing fynbos. You also get panoramic views of this city from a totally different angle.

For those who want to stay overnight, Silvermine has a campsite that can be booked by visiting the SanParks website but that’s obviously an additional cost. I should also mention that there is an entry fee to the nature reserve which is 128 ZAR ($7) for adult international visitors and 64 ZAR ($4) per child. Locals pay a discounted fee.

For those who don’t want to venture that far out Newlands Forest is just 8 km (5 mi) from the city center. Newlands Forest offers secluded braai areas for when you want to have a barbecue with friends, various hiking trails, and beautiful, rare fynbos (a famous South African Biome).

There are four greenhouses on site that form part of Newlands Nursery. Here you can also access some of the hiking trails to Table Mountain including Skeleton Gorge which I mentioned above, but others are just shorter trails around the forest. There is an entry fee of 144 ZAR ($8) for international visitors and 72 ZAR ($4) per child. Car parking costs 25 ZAR ($1.30). Please note that the park is closed from June 1st -Sep 30th every year. Also, note alcohol is not permitted on the grounds.

Two other places I want to mention but won’t go into detail about what each offers are Oudekraal and Maiden’s Cove, both within the Camps Bay vicinity so they’re closer to the city.

Strawberry Picking

If you love strawberries and are looking for a fun yet different type of activity, but one that’s also rewarding, you should head out to Polkadraai farm, a distance of about 40 km (25 mi) from the city center. Polkadraai is a strawberry farm that’s in Stellenbosch that offers many fun activities such as pony rides, mini-golf, bike park, hosts birthday parties, and you get to pick your own strawberries! Oh, they also have a food and wine shop on-site.

Sure, most of the activities are geared towards young families but the strawberry picking is great for adults too. For strawberry picking, you have to choose the size of your bowl first and this depends on how much you want, you head over to the strawberry fields to pick your share. You only pay for the bowl and there’s no further charge or weighing involved afterward. Bowls start at 50 ZAR ($3) for a small one and they go up to 220 ZAR ($12) for the largest.

Please note that strawberry picking is only available from September to January, and there is no booking required unless you are in a group of more than 20 people. All the other activities are open all year except on Christmas Day, the only day that the farm closes. Here is a tip: The sun is a scorcher – wear a hat and lots of sunscreen!

Visit Boulders Beach to See the Penguins

Visiting Boulders Beach to see the penguins should be on your list of some of the 10 top things you want to do during your time in Cape Town. Boulders Beach is in Simonstown, about 42 km (26 mi) south of the city on your way to Cape Point. This means you can combine it with your visit to Cape Point should you also want to do that.

But whether or not you do combine the two, there is still a lot to do and see at Boulders and you can spend the better part of the day there, not just watching the penguins but swimming on the pristine beach, picnicking and doing a bit of bird spotting. The best time to see the penguins is during the summer months and, though they are there all year, some months they are more at sea than on the beach. The entry fee is 176 ZAR ($10) per adult and 88 ZAR ($5) per child for foreign visitors.

While you’re in Simonstown why not visit the Just Nuisance Grave, where a Great Dane who was enlisted into the Royal Navy in the 1940’s is buried, and learn about his very interesting and amusing life story?

Attend a music show

For an authentic cultural experience visit the Guga S’thebe Arts and Culture Center out in Langa township which is about 12 km (7 mi) out of the city towards the airport. This is a community space that is dedicated to arts and culture where they often host live jazz shows and workshops at very reasonable rates.

Otherwise, entry to the center itself is free to explore the craft shops and other on-site facilities. Similar jazz shows are also held in Nyanga township. At the Nyanga jazz shows you can also experience cheap wine tasting and wine sales at more affordable prices than in the city, and I’ve really enjoyed that. These are not the safest neighborhoods so ask to go with a friend, preferably someone local, or join a group.

If you do love music but would rather stay in a safer area then I recommend attending one of the live shows at Openwine or Select Live in the City Bowl. I’ve been to both and enjoyed them equally.

Openwine is a small wine bar/tasting room that often holds live performances where the audience is also invited to perform if they want to. The space is tiny but there’s sitting both indoor and outdoor on the sidewalk.

Watching the performances is free but you will need money to buy the wine and have something to eat. Their pizzas are great for sharing, and so is the choice of wine that’s available. Here is a tip: Get there early to get the best seats in the house, especially if you want to sit outside, which is more popular during the summer months. Sitting inside is okay but it’s not as fun, at least not for me.

Select Live offers a similar vibe but sans the wine sales, in other words, it’s not a wine bar. You can still buy food and drinks inside and you have to buy a ticket to watch the shows so it’s not free. The shows are usually less than $20 a ticket per adult. Highly recommended by moi.

Hout Bay Market and Mojo Market

Bay Harbour Market (BHM), situated in Hout Bay, 26 km (16 mi) outside the city center, opens on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. When I first moved to Cape Town I lived in Hout Bay and I used to go to the market all the time! The food was really that good. Even when I had international visitors I couldn’t wait to take them to the BHM and they loved it. You can visit HBM from 5pm – 9pm on Fridays and from 9:30am – 4pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

If BHM is too far out for you the other great option is Mojo Market which is open all week, 365 days a year. Mojo is in Seapoint in the city. Both these markets host live music shows all year that you can attend for free. Mojo also hosts free salsa beginners’ classes on Sundays at 8pm. You will find a variety of food stalls, arts and crafts, and bars inside both markets and Mojo even has a hotel upstairs, the Mojo Hotel.

Guide To Cheap Food & Dining

Dining Options in Cape Town on a budget:

  • Fish and Chips: Widely available, especially recommended at Snoekies franchises, including Hout Bay, with prices under 100 ZAR ($5.50).
  • Local Specialties: Try Gatsbys and Bunny Chows in the city center fisheries and small cafes.
  • Maker’s Landing at V&A Waterfront: Diverse food market open Friday-Sunday, 10am-9pm. Highlights include Kapoochka for Indian street food, with meals starting from 75 ZAR ($4).
  • Mesopotamia: great Kurdish food and good for budget travelers with breakfast meals starting at $4
  • Eastern Food Bazaar: fantastic Indian, Chinese, and Kurdish street food. Chicken Shwarma with chips will set you back $3-4
  • Wembley Roadhouse: Ideal for late-night eating; offers a variety of street food including burgers and wraps, with prices starting from 39.90 ZAR ($2).
  • Fast Food Chains: Common options like McDonald’s, Burger King, and KFC are readily available.

Maker’s Landing at the V&A Waterfront, is an especially fantastic food market and shared kitchen space that has various vendors to sample from. Kapoochka, one of their vendors is an Indian street food vendor, who we are told moved to SA to teach Capetonians what a Pani Puri is. Their meals are extremely budget-friendly.

You also have Wembley Roadhouse is a great option for night crawlers looking for cheap street food. Their menu includes burgers, wraps, pasta, grills, and even desserts and the meals start from as little as 39.90 ZAR ($2) for a single hot dog and 49.90 ZAR ($2.70) for a double.

Eastern Food Bazaar is also fantastic. You’ll find Indian, Chinese, and Kurdish food here and it’s great for budget travelers as the meals are cheap and the portions are huge. You can easily get yourself a bunny chow for 50 ZAR ($2.70) or a lamb or chicken shawarma with chips and salad for 60 ZAR ($3.30) .

You can also find the usual food chains like McDonalds, Steers, Burger King, Nandos, and KFC pretty much at every street corner. You may think why would I want to eat what I can eat back home, but speaking from personal experience, I’ve been to countries where I wasn’t sure about the street food and since I’m not that adventurous, I stuck to McD and KFC. And, let’s be honest, sometimes that’s the cheapest meal you can get when you’re on a budget.

Cheap & Cheerful Nightlife

For cheaper nightlife I recommend 2 options in Cape Town:

  • Mojo Market – great market for food and drink in Seapoint City, hosts free music shows all year, and salsa classes! I go there frequently and every time is a different experience for me.
  • First Thursdays – every first Thursday night of the month as Cape Town hosts a monthly event called “First Thursdays”. Here you can experience great food, drinks, and entertainment, and visit participating galleries to see what’s on show, most of which will be at discounted prices.

To know who’s participating or what the program looks like visit the website where you can download the list of participating venues and events. This will help you plan your night out. Definitely one of the best ways to experience Cape Town nightlife on a budget!

Parking is always a challenge so take an Uber or walk, if you are staying in the city (but more on parking later)!

Note: If you’re not bothered about price and want to experience a better night out, check our guide to Long Street, Cape Town where we cover not only nightlife but everything else!

Shopping

Grocery Shopping in Cape Town for Budget Vacationers

  • Self-Catering Savings: Rent a self-catering accommodation and prepare your own meals, shopping for groceries at local markets, family-run shops, or supermarkets.
  • Supermarket Options: Major chains include Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Spar, Checkers, and Shoprite (listed from most expensive to least).
    • Woolworths – Recommended for desserts and prepared salads.
    • Advantage: Wide variety of food and essentials (like sunscreen, barbecue coal) available.
    • Spar: Small convenience shops that sells snacks etc.
    • Checkers
    • Shoprite
      • All these supermarkets offer ready-to-eat meals.
  • Food Lovers Market: Located on Roeland Street and in suburbs, ideal for fresh produce and meats, albeit not the cheapest.
  • Local Shops on Long Street: Smaller, family-owned stores with limited selection but potentially lower prices for basic items like bread, milk, and eggs. Quality may vary.

In this country, the big brands are Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Spar, Checkers and Shoprite. I’ve listed them in the order of most expensive to lowest prices.

I highly recommend shopping at Woolworths for convenience, they do fantastic desserts and already-prepared salads. However most shops sell prepared foods, so you can go to any, Woolworths is just my favourite.

The advantage of shopping from these big brands is the large variety of food and other things (sunscreen lotion, coal for a barbeque, etc) that you’ll be able to find under one roof.

Food Lovers Market is another great option especially for fresh produce, and they also have pretty much anything you’d need. I don’t personally find them to be a cheaper option for groceries but they’re the best for veggies and meat. They too have a prepared food section for when you don’t feel like cooking. The store is on Roeland Street in the city and other branches are in the suburbs.

The smaller, locally or family-owned shops are scattered across the city and there is a fair number of them on Long Street. Because they are smaller they have a fewer selection of items, and they are a bit cheaper in terms of food prices, due to lower overheads. They’re good for your daily supplies like bread, milk, and eggs as well as snacks.

Accommodation

Accommodation Options in Cape Town for Budget Travelers:

  • Self-Catering Rentals: Affordable, with kitchen facilities for home cooking. Off-season rates start at about 800 ZAR ($45) per night in Seapoint/Greenpoint or City Bowl areas, close to popular city spots.
  • Backpackers’ Lodges: Shared dorm accommodations throughout the city. Safe areas recommended include Gardens, Oranjezicht, City Bowl, Vredehoek, Greenpoint, Seapoint, Tamboerskloof, and Woodstock. Prices from 250 ZAR ($13) off-season. Shared kitchens and bathrooms.
  • Apart-Hotels: Example: The Mojo Hotel offers varied options from shared dorms to private rooms, some with kitchenettes. The Mojo Market is conveniently located on the ground floor for dining options.
  • AirBnBs and Guest Houses: Abundant choices in the city and suburbs, often at reasonable rates. Consider suburban options for potentially better deals.

When it comes to accommodation there are a number of options to help you save money. One of those is renting a self-catering place so you can have the facilities to cook your own meals. Off-season you can get a place with a kitchen from around 800 ZAR ($45) a night in the Seapoint/Greenpoint area or in the City Bowl, which is pretty cool because this is close to all the cool hang-out spots in the city.

The other option is to stay in a backpackers’ lodge if you don’t mind sharing a dorm with strangers, and these hostels are spread all around the city. For your safety choose one in the areas that we mentioned in the Cape Town safety guide post. In summary, those areas are Gardens, Oranjezicht, the City Bowl, Vredehoek, Greenpoint, Seapoint, Tamboerskloof, and Woodstock but please feel free to read that guide for more information.

A night in a backpackers’ hostel can cost from as little as 250 ZAR ($13) for a 4 bed shared room, off-season, but remember you will have to share the kitchen and bathrooms with others. I can’t speak from experience because I’ve never spent a night in a backpackers’ hostel in Cape Town, but from what I’ve seen the standards are quite good.

Apart-hotel: A place like The Mojo Hotel for instance has a variety of sleeping options that range from a shared dorm that can sleep up to eight people to a private single or double room that you would expect from any 3-star hotel. You also have the option of choosing a private room with its own kitchenette or one without, but the Mojo Market is right on the ground floor of the hotel and so you may not need to cook. This all depends on the length of your stay obviously. The wide variety of options is great though. I will not mention other hotel names but this was just to give an example of a place that has a wide range of options to choose from, in a safe neighborhood.

AirBnBs and guest houses – The city has tons of options when it comes to AirBnBs and guest houses but also check out places in the suburbs that are out of the city as they have great options at very reasonable rates.

Transport & Parking

Using public transport to get around Cape Town is easy. You can use the MyCiti bus or the Golden Arrow bus. MyCiti is better but a little more expensive. You can get a day pass for $5 which will take you around the entire City Bowl.

Finding parking on the streets of Cape Town is not the easiest thing to do and I personally get stressed every time I drive to the city. However, having said that, the city does have many paid parking garages where you can safely park your car as you do your shopping, meet friends for lunch during the day, or for overnight parking if you are staying in the city.

Here are the parking spots you can find in Cape Town with their pricing:

  • Mandela Rhodes Building
  • 181 Longmarket Street
  • PepperClub Hotel
  • Riebeeck Square
  • Buitengracht
  • Adderley Park
  • All malls and shopping centres

Most of them start from around 20 ZAR ($1.20) per hour. There are also streets that have metered parking bays that are usually patrolled by marshals, both in the CBD and some suburbs around the city. This type of parking normally costs around 4.80 ZAR per 15 minutes. ($0.20).

Finding cheaper parking in Cape Town:

Find a vacant spot on the streets that don’t have parking meters. These will usually also have “self-appointed” parking attendants whom you will spot easily because they wear bright orange vests. They will usually wave like crazy to indicate a vacant spot in return for some payment. Paying them is not mandatory as they are not official, but they greatly appreciate your tips, and locals usually tip anything from 5 ZAR ($0.20) at the least, depending on the length of your stay in that location and how helpful you found them to be.

In the suburbs, there are free parking lots for MyCiti Bus commuters, but they’re usually shared with a church parking lot for instance, so commuters use it during the week, and on weekends it’s full. Not all communities have this, but if you’re commuting from outside, look for churches!

At the end of the day, using Uber and other forms of public transport, such as the MyCiti bus, frees you from the headache of finding parking and I highly recommend it.

Local Tips For Saving Money

Cost-Saving Travel Tips for Cape Town:

  • Accommodation
    • Book your accommodation way in advance, at least six months before your trip and you will be surprised to see how much you save by doing this. I have proven this myself a few times here in Cape Town and surrounding towns.
    • Visit off-season if you don’t care too much about a Cape Town summer. Visiting this city in February instead of December will make a huge difference in your pocket and the weather is still beautiful in February. Plus, you won’t have to deal with the crowds and the traffic that comes with it.
  • Experiences
    • Take a free walking tour of the city. It’s the best way to see this city and you get your workout on, all in one! But seriously, you will get to see all the cool spots and learn about the history of the city for free.
    • Go to the free entry museums, and hike up Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. Hiring a car is not cheap and you have to worry about possible damage and/or theft, and the nightmare of finding parking, which is stressful and expensive.
    • Use Uber and public transport and hire a bicycle to see other parts of the city that aren’t within walking distance. If you want to have a car check out the smaller rental places that have offices in the city instead of the big brands that are at the airport.
  • Food
    • Cook your own where feasible to do so, pack a sandwich for the day, and take your own water from the hotel if you’re going out for the day.
    • Don’t buy prepared salads from the supermarkets when you can make your own at your lodgings. These are usually over-priced, I guess you are paying for the convenience.
    • Prioritize street food over restaurant dining. The places that we mentioned here like the food markets and the Eastern Food Bazaar will give you more bang for your buck plus you get to experience local food.
    • UberEats is available throughout the Cape Town metro, but if you can walk to pick up your order why not do that and save some money on delivery fees. Check the app to see how far the store is to see if it’s a distance you can walk comfortably.
    • Consider taking the Uber pass, a one-time delivery fee pass that’s valid for 30 days (about 30 ZAR ($2) but please don’t forget to cancel it when you leave South Africa, otherwise they’ll keep deducting money from your card every month!

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