When to visit Cape Town

When you think of Cape Town, images of pristine sunny beaches overlooked by Table Mountain may pop to your mind; and this is exactly what you will get in Summer. I think this is why a lot of people tend to visit Cape Town in the Summer.

It is the hottest time of year and days are the longest with the sun only setting at around 9pm. This gives visitors plenty of time to spend on the beaches, in the sun, or in the malls hiding from the midday sun (till they can get back on the beaches again). I know I tend to do this when I’m in the vacation mood.

If you have no issue braving the cold then Cape Town can be a year round destination for you. But if you have certain activities in mind then you might want to consider which season you visit Cape Town. Picking an off peak season means you will save money and still get to do everything you want to do.

Visiting Cape Town in Summer makes sense for locals too. South Africans tend to get leave from work in December and school holidays tend to be the longest in December too. So everyone gets to enjoy Cape Town for as long as they can. The thing is, Cape Town is actually a year round destination. I’m not sure many people actually know this.

When I first moved to Cape Town I didn’t, and I tended to look forward to Spring and Summer when I could start ‘enjoying’ Cape Town again. But the more I explored Cape Town during the rest of the year, the more I realised that Cape Town really is a year-round destination.

Cape Townians like to enjoy the City as much as the tourists do, but it’s difficult to do that during the peak tourist season when all the restaurants are packed and you have to stand in queues for hours for practically everything. This is why locals have learned how to enjoy Cape Town all the time. There are events and markets and all sorts of fun things scheduled every month of the year.

I think this is great news for anyone living in Cape Town as well as tourists who want to visit Cape Town during off peak season when things might be cheaper. You can literally visit at anytime of the year and you’ll find so many things to fill your holiday with that you’ll want to book another trip to get a chance to see and do it all. That’s how I feel every year. There’s always something that I didn’t get time to see and do and see, and because there are also seasonal-specific activities,if you miss it you miss out.

In spring every tree and shrub in the Western Cape is in bloom and the whole of Cape Town, and the surrounding areas, become this amazing tapestry of colour. It feels like you’re living in a painting. Everywhere you look there are splashes of colour. It’s completely mind blowing.

Every spring my mom and I take a road trip to Langebaan to admire the flowers along the way. There are some years that we get really busy and leave it for very late in the season, but as we see some of the flowers beginning to die down we feel too guilty and take the trip. You snooze you loose.

I would say that in order to get the most out of your trip to Cape Town consider what activities you enjoy the most and what you would like to see and do when you’re here. Then take a look at an events calendar to see what’s happening when, and book your trip accordingly.

If you like hiking then Spring and Autumn are the best seasons for you. The temperatures are perfect for outdoors exploring. If you want lie in the sun and enjoy the heat, then Summer is your thing. And if you want to explore the malls and markets, then winter is the right season for you. It really all depends on what you are into.

Here’s also a rundown of what to expect from each season.

Summer

Cape Town summer beaches

Summer in Cape Town lasts from December to February and is the sunniest and hottest time of year. It can easily get up to 40C  and the heat is very intense and drying since we don’t get much rain in the Summer.

The Summers offer visitors plenty of sunny days to enjoy the beaches and parks. The days are longer with the sun setting at around 9pm. This gives you plenty time to explore and a lot of people use this time to visit the beaches, restaurants, the top of Table Mountain, the malls and a few markets.

The downside of visiting Cape Town in summer has to be the heat. It is ridiculously easy to get severe sunburn or heat stroke if you’re not careful and that can really ruin a holiday. This is why most locals prefer to be out and about only in the mornings or the afternoons, avoiding the midday heat during 10 am and 3pm.

The influx of tons of tourists during Summer also means that popular spots like Table Mountain and any beach will be packed with people and you will have to wait in queues for most of your trip.

More tourists also means that prices go up as businesses try to make more money during this season. A lot of these businesses depend on this tourist season to keep afloat. This means you’ll pay more for accommodation, boat rides and tours.

Winter

bright cold day winter in cape town

Winter in Cape Town spans from June to August and the weather is usually cold and rainy. Lately though Cape Town has been in a drought which means we are not getting as much rainfall as usual. The odd thing is winter last year was also colder than normal and there was even snow on Table Mountain. This really is awful for the city and the ecology and it’s terrible to see the plant life suffering.

From a touring point of view though it can have its perks. Having more sunny days in winter means that you will be able to enjoy more outdoor activities without worrying about the rain, though it will be cold.  Hopefully 2018 brings more rain.

In 2017 Jake and I were able to explore more and make more of the winter months than usual. And when it did rain, we were still able to carry on exploring since we always had our winter essentials on hand.

The nice part about touring Cape Town in winter in that you get to be out and about all day. Yes, Summer has longer days, but so often it’s way too hot to stay out all day, and we end up hiding from the midday sun, or choosing an indoor activity to avoid heatstroke. In Winter this isn’t a problem at all.

Most people visit Cape Town in the Summer and avoid it in the winter at all costs because of the rain and cold. But there are a ton of perks to visiting Cape Town in winter that they will miss out on, and there are so many things you can do in Cape Town when it rains.

Fewer toursis mean that there will be fewer queues if any (we never have to wait in a queue for a restaurant in Winter). A lot of places and tour companies offer seasonal rates so you can pay less for tours in winter. You could also get cheaper rates on accommodation. If you are an outdoors type of person you can still go hiking up Table Mountain even if it is cold.

(If it’s raining I wouldn’t advise doing a hike up Table Mountain or Lions head though. You will need to do a few rock scrambles that are scary enough when they are not wet. Also rock falls do occur and there is a real chance of falling down the side of the mountain or Lion’s head. There are always rescues happening around these areas so please be careful on your hikes. )

As with everything there are downsides. The main downside of visiting Cape Town in winter are the shorter days, with the sun setting around 6pm. While that may restrict you from doing outdoor activities malls, theatres and restaurants stay open till late no matter the time of year so you can get some indoor activities done in that time too.

Being winter the days are obviously colder and wetter, so that  means you will have to pack warm clothes and some activities like sunbathing on the beach are out of the questions. That doesn’t mean you can’t play in the waves though. The ocean is very cold all year round so anyone who wants to play in the waves or do a bit of surfing has to wear a wetsuit no matter what season it is. Since they are in a wetsuit anyway, a little rain or cold weather doesn’t stop the surfers from having fun. And if you want to learn to surf at Muizenberg, you can still do it no matter the weather (provided the waves play along though).

Spring and Autumn

Spring lasts from September to November and Autumn is from March to May, and

These seasons really do have their own personality. It kind of feels like the weather can’t quite make up its mind and doesn’t know what it wants to do. You will often get a day that gets as hot at 30oC followed directly by one as cold at 18oC. It feels kind of mental sometimes, but when it comes to touring it can actually be a dream.

The great part of visiting Cape Town during these seasons is that you can still get off peak prices and no queues, but you also get to enjoy some warm weather and beach days. You get to do some winter things like exploring indoor markets or go wine tasting when it’s cold and rainy and chill on the beach when it’s sunny and warm. In a way you can get a whole years’ worth of highlights in in one trip.

The downside though, is that you will have to put up with erratic weather that even locals can’t predict. If you come prepared for any weather and keep your plans a little flexible, with a backup plan if the weather doesn’t play along, then you will have a great trip.

In general though, if you are visiting Cape Town it’s always good practice to have a backup plan anyway. You never know when the wind will be too strong for the cable car to make the trip up to Table Mountain, or if a rainy day makes a boat ride around Cape Town miserable.

The real trick to having a successful holiday in Cape Town is to come prepared for any weather and to come with an open mind. Don’t get too stuck on a rigid plan.

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