Last Updated on July 15, 2023 by thecapetownblog
Table Mountain is an iconic symbol of not only Cape Town, but South Africa as a whole.
This flat-topped mountain is the city’s most famous tourist attraction, and the fact that you can see it almost everywhere you go means that it plays a prominent role in Capentonians’ consciousness.
Naturally, most visitors to Cape Town are dying to get up this famous mountain, whether it’s on foot or via the cable car. And if you don’t feel fussed about it right now, you definitely will once you arrive in Cape Town and see how this majestic mountain presides over the city. So without further ado, let’s dive into the specifics of getting up Table Mountain to make sure that you reach the top!
About Table Mountain
Table Mountain is thought to be one of the oldest mountains in the world, and it also hosts the Cape Floral Kingdom, which is so rich that there are actually more plant species on the mountain alone than the whole of the British Isles.
Yes, really. On behalf of all Brits, I’m embarrassed.
You probably don’t need me to explain that Table Mountain is so-named due to its flat top, but what you might not know is that it actually has a constellation named after it. In fact, it’s actually the only landform in the world to enjoy such an honour. The Mensa constellation was identified by a French astronomer in the 18th century, and was named after Table Mountain’s Latin name, Mons Mensae.
It’s hard to imagine what Cape Town would be like without Table Mountain. It really does add so much beauty and character to the city, and has become an integral part of Cape Town’s identity. It’s even featured on the city’s flag and coat of arms.
So yeah, this mountain is a pretty big deal! Going to the top is definitely one of the best things to do in Cape Town.
How to get to the top of Table Mountain
You’ve got two choices to get up Table Mountain: hike or take the cable car.
There are four main hiking routes that will take you to the top of Table Mountain, which I’ll get more into later on in this blog post. You can hike up both ways, or hike up and then take the cable car down.
Taking the cable car is also a lot of fun, and it’s certainly easier. Plus, if you’re keen for a shorter hike, you can still walk the trail to Maclear’s Beacon at the top.
How to get to the Cable Car
If you’re renting a car while you’re in Cape Town, then you can drive to the Cableway, as there’s free parking along the road outside. Alternatively, you can Uber there, as there’s a drop-off point right outside.
You can also take MyCiti bus route 106 or 107 to the Kloof Nek bus stop and then walk for 20 minutes to the cable car station. There used to be a free shuttle service to take people right to the cableway, but this stopped during covid and has yet to resume.
How long is the cable car ride?
The cable car is 765 metres long (2,510 ft) and the ride itself only takes about two minutes. Some online sources say five minutes, but as someone who has ridden the cableway multiple times, I can confirm that it’s actually WAY quicker.
What’s cool about the cable car is that it rotates on the way up, so you get a 360° view of the city below without having to move.
I’m not particularly afraid of heights but the cable car ride is fast and pretty steep, so I do always get a little bit nervous going up. It’s nothing terrifying, but it can make your tummy do little flips!
How much do cable car tickets cost?
Return Table Mountain cableway tickets are cheaper in the afternoon than they are in the morning. If you go up before 1 pm, it’s R395 for adults and R195 for kids.
From 1 pm until close, it’s R340 for adults and R170 for children.
If you want to hike up or down Table Mountain, you can buy a one-way ticket in the opposite direction. It costs R220 for adults or R120 for children, and the price stays the same throughout the day.
I’ve never had to wait to get on the Table Mountain cable car, but it can get really busy around Christmas time, which is peak tourist season in Cape Town. If you don’t want to wait to board, you can buy fast track tickets for R850… or you can save your money and just go at a quieter time of day. I’ve never had to queue to get on the cable car!
Where can I buy Table Mountain cable car tickets?
You can buy tickets at the lower cable car station on the day, or online. I’ve always rocked up and bought my tickets on the day, so I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to book them in advance. You might want to buy tickets online if you’re planning on hiking up Table Mountain and riding the cable car down, but you will be able to buy your ticket down from the upper cableway station.
At the lower cableway station, you can either buy tickets from the kiosk, but there are self-service machines that you can use if you’re paying with a credit or debit card. These are usually faster to use.
What time is the cable car open?
The cable car times change throughout the year, with longer hours in the summer and shorter hours in the winter. The schedule is as follows:
- 16 December – 15 January (peak season): 8 am – 8 pm, with the last car down at 9 pm
- 16 – 31 January: 8 am – 7:30 pm, with the last car down at 8:30 pm
- 1 February – 30 April: 8 am – 6:30 pm, with the last car down at 7:30 pm
- 1 May – 31 August: 8:30 am – 4 pm, with the last car down at 5 pm
- 1 September – 15 December: 8:30 am – 6 pm, with the last car down at 7 pm
During certain times of year, you can stay up at the top of Table Mountain for sunset, which is a pretty spectacular experience! The dates you can do this on are:
- 1 September – 10 October
- 15 December – 31 January
- 1 March – 30 April
How to hike up Table Mountain
There are four different official hiking trails that will take you to the top of Table Mountain, so I’ll break them all down for you here in order of difficulty, starting with the easiest.
Note: Not all of these hikes will take you to the upper cableway. Table Mountain’s flat top is vast, so in some cases you’ll have to add several kilometres onto your hike if you want to ride the cable car down.
One of the most popular ways to reach the top of Table Mountain is via Platteklip Gorge, a well-marked trail that starts close to the cable car station. The path ascends in a series of zigzags and stairs, making for a fairly intense but straightforward hike.
Due to its simplicity, and the close proximity of the trailhead to town, this is the most popular route to take up the mountain (although I don’t think the views on the way up are as good as the Kasteelspoort trail!)
If you want to hike one way and take the cable car down, this is probably the best route as the official trail ends at the top of the gorge, just 700 metres away from the upper cable car station, while other hikes end further away. It is pretty exposed to the sun, though, so make sure to wear sunscreen and bring plenty of water if you’re hiking during the summer.
Distance: 1.8 miles/2.9 kilometres to the upper cable car station OR 2.5 miles/4 kilometres to the top of the gorge and back
Elevation gain: 699 metres
Time needed: 1.5-2 hours to the cable car, 3 hours return
Starting point: Tafelberg Road, a 20-minute walk from the cable car station
Distance: 4 miles/6.5 kilometres return
Elevation gain: 611 metres
Time needed: 2.5-3 hours
Starting point: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
The Skeleton Gorge hike is incredibly picturesque right from the outset, since it begins in the renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. They’re about a 15-minute drive from the CBD, or 25 minutes from Camps Bay.
Taking this route up Table Mountain does mean you’ll need to pay entry to the gardens, which costs R210 for adults, or R90 for those who hail from SADC countries.
Since you’ve paid entry anyway, you may as well have a nose around the gardens before you head up the mountain. They’re very beautiful and have won a ton of awards!
Once you’ve had your fill of the botanical gardens, you follow the signage for the Skeleton Gorge trailhead and head into the forest. You won’t see much while you’re under the cover of the trees, but as you get higher up you’ll have gorgeous views over the city and False Bay.
The initial ascent is pretty steep, and then you’ll encounter some wooden ladders. Climbing up them can feel a little bit scary but it’s perfectly safe.
The route ends at the Hely Hutchinson Reservoir, where there’s even a small white sand beach you can relax on – yup, that’s right, a beach at the top of a mountain!
I will say that this isn’t the best hike if you want to take the cable car back down the mountain. You’ll need to walk another 4.7 kilometres to the station once you reach the end of the official Skeleton Gorge trail.
It’s fairly easy walking, but given how far it is, you may as well just head back down the way you came and go chill in the botanical gardens afterwards.
Distance: 3.9 miles/6.3 kilometres return
Elevation gain: 576 metres
Time needed: 2.5 hours
Starting point: Theresa Avenue, Camps Bay
The Kasteelspoort route is my personal favourite. I did this hike on a date with a guy and although I didn’t feel much of a spark with him, I really liked the route.
While it’s similar in difficulty to Platteklip Gorge, it’s much less crowded, making it a peaceful escape from the city, and in my opinion, the scenery is better. You can see Camps Bay, Clifton, and Lion’s Head as you climb up the mountain, so it really is a first-class view.
You can make this hike up to 5km longer by doing a section of the Pipe Track before you reach the official trailhead. To be honest, though, I have no idea why you’d want to do that.
Anyway, the ascent for this hike starts off gradually with wooden steps and rocky paths before becoming more challenging with steep inclines and a little bit of scrambling (but only a little bit, and probably only if you’re uncoordinated and unathletic like me).
When you get to the top, you can see remnants of the old cableway, which is pretty cool! This hike is also famed for the “diving board”, which is a granite rock that juts right out over Camps Bay below.
Admittedly, it looks VERY cool in photos but I was so hot and bothered by the time I got to the top that I didn’t care about photo opportunities anymore
(Just so you know: I’m not THAT unfit, it was just an insanely hot day).
When you get to the top, you can keep on going to the Cableway, but it’s a fairly long walk out in the open. According to the sign at the top, it takes about 2 hours to walk there. The guy I did the hike with tried to persuade me it wouldn’t actually take that long but since I was concerned about sunburn and perilously close to heat stroke, I opted to turn back and head down the way I came in search of a cold drink.
Needless to say, we never went on another date.
Distance: 2.6 miles/4.3 kilometres to the Upper Cableway (you’ll definitely want to take the cable car down after this one)
Elevation gain: 722 metres
Time needed: 3 hours
Starting point: Lower cable car station
India Venster is truly the bad boy of the Table Mountain hikes. Mercifully, the official trail ends just 700 metres from the Upper Cableway, so it’s suitable for a one-way hike (and I bet you’ll want to stop for a beer from the cafe at the top after this one).
Actually, now that I think about it, India Venster and Platteklip Gorge start and end in pretty much the same places, but India Venster is much more extreme.
Admittedly, the views from India Venster are amazing and there are some excellent viewpoints along the way, but it comes at a price – i.e., a steep ascent and sections where you have to jump over cracks.
Oh yeah, this route is dangerous.
I mean not like jumping a motorcycle over a row of seven cars kind of dangerous, but it’s definitely the riskiest route you can take up Table Mountain. If you’ve got any mobility issues, health conditions, or just relatively little hiking experience, then you’re probably better off choosing another route.
But if you’re one of those adventurers (or psychopaths, depending on your viewpoint) who likes to tackle the most difficult trails possible, then you’re going to love this one.
The India Venster hike starts out deceptively easy, but that doesn’t last for long. The footpath from the Lower Cable Car station to the Contour Path is just a warm-up, so don’t get too comfortable.
Once you see the sign for the India Venster trail and the first yellow footprints, get ready to start scrambling. Don’t get a manicure right before tackling this trail.
The last part of the trail is a relaxing footpath, but don’t get too excited. There’s still one last climb waiting for you. And once you finally reach the end, you’ve still got to walk another 700 metres to the upper cableway, although that will feel like a breeze compared to the adventure you’ve just had.
Best things to do at the top of Table Mountain
Grab a beer from the cafe
I’m starting with this one because even just writing about all of this hiking is making me thirsty. If you climb to the top, a cold one is probably going to be your top priority.
Fortunately, the cafe at the top has beers, wines, spirits, and food too, so you can reward yourself for all of your hard work. And if you ride the cable car up, you can reward yourself for being smart and not putting yourself through all of that effort when there’s an easier option available.
(I’m just kidding – hiking up the mountain is a lot of fun, but it’s not for everybody.)
Table Mountain has the best views of Cape Town. I mean, you can’t usually see Kalk Bay from town, no matter how high up you are, because there’s a whopping great mountain in the way. But when you’re actually on top of that mountain, you’ve got 360 degree views of the whole city, baby.
Definitely take the time to do a little loop around the top and admire the views from every angle. There are also lots of information boards around that tell you more about the mountain, its geology, and all of its flora and fauna.
Hike to Maclear’s Beacon
If you’ve already hiked up the mountain, then more hiking is probably the last thing on your mind. But if you took the cable car instead, then you might be keen to hike from the upper cableway to Maclear’s Beacon, which is the highest point on Table Mountain.
This is a really easy walk with an elevation gain of just 150 metres over 2.7 kilometres (or 1.7 miles). It’s 5.4 kilometres (3.4 miles) return along boardwalks and footpaths. There are a couple of boulders along the way, but nothing major, so this is a good one to do if you’re going up Table Mountain with your family.
A good way to explore the top of Table Mountain is to join the guided walks, which leave every hour, on the hour, from 9 am until 3 pm every day. The staff will show you around while teaching you more about the mountain landscape and the cableway itself. These walks are free, so why not join one?
How long do you need on top of Table Mountain?
I’d say an hour or two. If the weather is good, then you can spend longer walking around and exploring by yourself. The first time I went there was a thick blanket of clouds along the western side of the mountain, so we were limited in what we could see and it wasn’t safe to venture too far away from the cableway. We probably spent 20 minutes looking around and then headed to the cafe for a drink.
When I returned on a clearer day, we spent much longer looking around and were up there for well over 2 hours, so it really depends on the weather and how much walking you feel like doing. And if you’re going to hike to Maclear’s Beacon, then that will probably take around 90 minutes.
The best time to visit Table Mountain
I’d say visit outside of peak season (mid December to mid January) if you can because Cape Town is super busy during this time, and everyone and their mama wants to head up the mountain.
Other than that, I’d say try to visit on a weekday rather than a weekend, as it tends to be quieter. I went on a Thursday afternoon in February, which is still a pretty busy time in Cape Town, and I didn’t have to queue at all to get on.
And obviously, visit on a clear day because when clouds are covering the sides of the mountain, your views will be obstructed.
For more fun things to do in Cape Town, check out: