The Best Time to Visit Cape Town

Lion's Head in Cape Town with Bo-Kaap in the foreground

Johannes Mann / Getty Images

With its mesmerizing landscape of mountains and beaches, Cape Town frequently appears on lists of the world’s most beautiful cities. It’s also considered South Africa’s cultural capital, with a wealth of arts venues, historic landmarks, and world-class restaurants. But when should you visit? If perfect weather and a festive vibe are your priorities, then the best time to visit Cape Town is undoubtedly in December or January—the peak of the South African summer. However, there’s plenty to be said for the spring and fall shoulder seasons, when the weather is still blissful but crowds are thinner and prices are lower. And winter, though sometimes cold and wet, is beautifully green and the best time to travel for off-season specials.

Weather in Cape Town

For some visitors, the weather will be the primary concern when deciding when to visit Cape Town. The city has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers and cooler, wetter winters. It’s important for visitors from the northern hemisphere to remember that South Africa’s seasons are reversed, so July is the middle of winter, and January is peak summer. Cape Town is also unique in that unlike the rest of the country, it sees the majority of its rainfall in the winter, from June to August. Dramatic winter storms are relatively common, however, these things are relative and people traveling to Cape Town from colder countries will be impressed with how common warm sunny days can be in winter. 

The coldest month in Cape Town is July, with daily mean temperatures of 53 degrees F (12 degrees C). The wettest is June, with 3.7 inches of precipitation. In contrast, January and February tie for the hottest months with daily mean temperatures of 69 degrees F (although record highs of almost 110 degrees F have been recorded in March). From November to February, Cape Town averages just 0.6 inches of rain per month—virtually guaranteeing perfect weather for those that want to take advantage of Cape Town’s many beautiful beaches. Sea temperatures vary dramatically depending on whether you are on the Atlantic or Indian Ocean coastline. The annual average on the Atlantic side is around 55 degrees F, while temperatures in False Bay can exceed 72 degrees F. 

Cape Town’s Peak Tourist Season

The busiest time to visit Cape Town is the festive period from mid-December to mid-January, which coincides not only with the long, hot summer, but also with South African schools’ longest vacation period. It’s also a popular time for visitors from the northern hemisphere to escape winter temperatures in their home countries. As a result, you can expect visitor attractions (including the beach) to be bustling, and flights, accommodation, and restaurants will need to be booked well in advance. Prices are also at a premium at this time of year, making it the least popular season for those on a budget. However, there are many pros, too, including idyllic weather and an infectious festive atmosphere. 

Spring in Cape Town

Spring in Cape Town lasts from September to November. While temperatures are slightly cooler than peak summer, infrequent rainfall and plenty of sunshine make it a great option weather-wise. Even better, there are far fewer crowds and prices are considerably lower than in summer, while the landscapes are beautifully green after the winter rains. Early to mid-September is also the best time of year to visit if you want to witness the Western Cape’s annual wildflower superbloom, which is especially spectacular in the nearby West Coast National Park. You’ll also catch the tail end of the humpback and southern right whale migration, with these awe-inspiring marine mammals often visible from shore. 

Events to Check Out

  • Franschhoek Uncorked: Held annually sometime between September and November, this festival sees participating vineyards in the Franschhoek region unveil the new season’s wines with a series of special pairings, gourmet dining events, and live concerts. 
  • Cape Town Fringe Festival: Discover up-and-coming theatrical talent at this multi-week event held in September and October, in various venues around the Cape Town Central Business District and its surrounding townships. 
  • Rocking the Daisies: South Africa’s biggest and best outdoor music festival sees more than 25,000 partygoers descend on Cloof Wine Estate for three days of world-class music covering a range of genres including rock, indie, folk, and hip-hop. 

Summer in Cape Town

Summer in Cape Town lasts from December to February. This is peak season in the Mother City, and a time when visitors arrive from all over to enjoy long, warm days filled with sunshine. Maximum daylight hours mean plenty of time for attending seasonal events that range from beach parties and music festivals to pop-up markets and foodie extravaganzas. Warm sea temperatures make this a good time for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving, too. Attractions tend to stay open longer but can get crowded. Plan to book accommodation and tours well in advance, and budget for inflated summer season prices. February sees South African schools go back and foreign visitors return home and is, therefore, the best time to travel for summer weather with fewer crowds. 

Events to Check Out

  • Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts: Throughout the summer season (from mid-December to early April), Cape Town’s magnificent botanical garden hosts open-air concerts every Sunday evening, with the slopes of Table Mountain serving as a magical backdrop. 
  • Cape Town Minstrel Carnival: Also known as Tweede Nuwe Jaar, or Second New Year, this colorful cultural tradition is held every year on Jan. 2 and sees troupes of costumed singers and dancers parade through the streets of District Six and Bo-Kaap. 
  • Cape Town Pride Festival: Cape Town has a reputation as one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly cities in Africa, and this history of tolerance is celebrated each year with a parade through the heart of the city center, typically in late February. 

Fall in Cape Town

Fall in Cape Town lasts from March to May. This shoulder season brings many of the same benefits as spring, with warm weather and little rain (especially in March and April; winter rains can come early in May and temperatures may drop significantly). There are far fewer tourists, with the exception of the Easter weekend, when accommodations fill up quickly. As the season progresses there will be fewer people at the city’s top attractions, and it’s perfectly possible to have long stretches of beach or mountain hiking trails all to yourself. In May, the deteriorating weather also brings with it the beginning of low season specials, making it a good time to visit if you’re on a budget. Several major sporting events take place during fall, including the Two Oceans Marathon and the Cape Town Cycle Tour. 

Events to Check Out

  • Cape Town International Jazz Festival: Typically held in March each year, this long-standing and well-respected jazz festival claims to be the largest music event in sub-Saharan Africa. Over the course of two days, it welcomes more than 40 superlative local and international performers.
  • Two Oceans Marathon: A Good Friday tradition and Africa’s biggest running event, this famous ultramarathon follows a challenging route over Chapman’s Peak and is known as the world’s most beautiful marathon. 
  • Cape Town Cycle Tour: A city of superlatives, Cape Town is also home to the world’s largest timed cycle race. It starts and finishes by Table Mountain, and takes riders on a stunning tour of the Cape Peninsula. 

Winter in Cape Town

Winter in Cape Town lasts from June to August. This is the coldest and wettest time of year although, in reality, those that travel at this time will also experience their fair share of good weather days. Nevertheless, the city is quiet at this time, meaning uncrowded attractions and rock bottom prices for restaurants, tours, and accommodation. Winter swells make it the best season for serious surfers, while nature lovers will be able to get front row seats to the annual humpback and southern right whale migration on any of the city’s beaches and headlands. Be careful on mountain hiking trails after heavy rains, however, and bear in mind that the Table Mountain cableway typically shuts for several weeks over this period for annual maintenance.

Events to Check Out

  • Gordon’s Bay Winter Wonderland Festival: For two weekends every winter (usually in June), the seaside village of Gordon’s Bay is transformed into a festive wonderland complete with light displays, food and craft stalls, live music, and a street parade. 
  • Robertson Slow Food and Wine Festival: Held over three days, usually in August, this epicurean festival takes visitors to 25 top wineries on Route 62 for a series of special events, from wine tastings and unusual pairings to splendid dining experiences.