If you’re ever in Cape Town, the first thing people will tell you to do is summit Table Mountain, the iconic flat-topped sandstone mountain that stands tall as a sentry on the perimeter of the city, casting a shadow over everything below it. A question I always get is: Is it worth it to go up Table Mountain? If I only have one day in Cape Town, should I make it a priority? And when is the best time of day to go up Table Mountain?
And after three visits to this miraculous site, I feel equipped to answers all of these questions and more.
Planning a visit to Table Mountain
If you’ve got just one day in Cape Town to see the highlights, you could take a guided tour to see the penguins, visit the city’s colorful Bo Kaap, take a cable car up Table Mountain and enjoy scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive; that’s all very doable in a day.
The cool thing about Table Mountain is that it is very close to downtown Cape Town. In fact, we were out exploring the highlights and took an Uber up to the departure point of Cape Town, and it only took us 15 minutes. You can also take the hop-on, hop-off bus and depart at Table Mountain, which is what my mom and I did on our very first visit to Cape Town a decade ago.
A lot has changed since my last trip up Table Mountain a decade ago. Sure, the view is still the same, but the experience at the top feels as if it’s been upgraded.
Table Mountain in 2013 vs. 2023
I don’t remember quite as much infrastructure the last two times I went up. Today, there’s a restaurant, a cafe and multiple paved trails.
The aerial tram up Table Mountain
Once you arrive at the tram stop, you’ll show your ticket—which starts around $18 for adults—and get in line for the aerial tram. There was no line when we arrived, so we were able to step right on.
The Table Mountain cableway has been in existence since 1929, but the current iteration of the aerial cars have been around for 25 years.
The trip up is super quick—less than 10 minutes—and smooth, and the inside of the car has revolving floors so you get to see the perspective from every angle.
What’s it like up on Table Mountain?
Once you’re up top, you can take the many trails to see the view over Cape Town from every different angle.
But what if you’re scared of heights? You should be fine. The peak is 3,563 feet—the highest point called Maclear’s Beacon—but there aren’t many steep drop-offs, and there are walls and barriers protecting you at every lookout point.
My mom hates heights, and she’s done this trip up Table Mountain twice and was totally fine on each outing.
Coming to Cape Town and not visiting Table Mountain is like going to San Francisco and not visiting Alcatraz or vacationing in Athens and failing to take a jaunt to the Parthenon; to not visit this famous site would be a travesty. And if that alone doesn’t entice you, maybe this view will.
If hiking is your thing, you can hike up Table Mountain (extremely challenging). Or, instead, you can take the cable car up and the Platteklip Hike back down (much easier). You’ll obviously want to give yourself plenty of daylight hours to do this if that’s your choice.
How cold is it on Table Mountain?
The thing about Table Mountain is that the weather can change on a dime. It may be cloudy down below, but clear up top. Or it could be perfectly clear in Cape Town and windy up on the mountain. You just never know what you’re going to get.
I would always recommend a jacket, though. Every time I’ve gone up Cape Town, it’s been a good 10 to 15 degrees chillier on the mountain than down at the cable car stop, and I’ve always, always needed an added layer.
So when is the best time to go up Table Mountain?
The best time to go up Table Mountain, in my opinion, is late afternoon when the sun is setting. Crowds seem to gather there first thing in the morning, so I prefer later afternoon.
Plus, you just don’t get this kind of golden hour glow first thing in the morning.
Pro tip: If you’re planning a trip to Table Mountain, avoiding peak times and taking one of the last cable cars of the day up is not only perfect for lack of crowds, but the lighting at sunset is truly stunning.
Hours vary based on the season with the last car up at 4pm in winter months (May through August) and 8pm at the peak of summer (September through December), so be sure and plan your trip accordingly and check the time for the last car down before you go.