Table Mountain, Cape Town: The Complete Guide

Table Mountain Cableway, Cape Town

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With a summit of 1,085 meters/3,560 feet, Table Mountain may be way down the list of the world's tallest mountains but it is an icon in its own right. Visible from all over Cape Town, its flat-topped silhouette is instantly recognizable and contributes to the Mother City's reputation as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. It's a top attraction for visitors and locals and in 2011, it was announced as one of the New7Wonders of Nature after a four-year campaign that attracted 100 million votes from all over the world.

History & Biodiversity

Formed by volcanic and glacial action approximately 520 million years ago, Table Mountain is thought to be one of the oldest mountains in the world. It's at least six times older than the Himalayas and older still than the Alps. Its current name is derived from Taboa do Cabo, or Table of the Cape, a moniker given to it by Portuguese explorer Antonio de Saldanha in 1503. To the original Khoi-San people of the Cape, it was known as Hoerikwaggo, or the Mountain of the Sea. Table Mountain is part of Table Mountain National Park, established in 1998.

Together with the Cape Peninsula, it is also part of the UNESCO-recognized Cape Floral Kingdom - the smallest of six global plant kingdoms and the only one to be contained within a single country. Despite its small size, the Cape Floral Kingdom is home to around 9,000 distinct plant species, 69% of which are found nowhere else on Earth. Almost 1,500 of these can be seen on Table Mountain, including fragrant fynbos and beautiful proteas. This wealth of flora attracts an abundance of bird and small animal life.

Hiking to the Top

If you're feeling energetic, you can hike up and/or down Table Mountain. There are two main routes up the mountain's north face: Platteklip Gorge and India Venster. The former is by far the easiest, comprising a set of simple switchbacks and staircases. You'll need a fair level of fitness, but no specialist equipment. The route is well patrolled and maintained, and takes approximately 2.5 hours. It's also free if you decide to climb independently. The only drawback is that it can get crowded, especially in summer.

India Venster is a much more challenging route suitable for scramblers and climbers only. An experienced guide is essential, and you'll need a good head for heights as well as the ability to climb up and over boulders. The route takes 3.5 hours and although difficult, promises breathtaking views and the likelihood of having the mountain all to yourself. Both routes summit near the cableway and many people choose to hike up and then ride the cable car back down. For guided tours, visit recommended operator Hike Table Mountain.

Riding the Cable Car to the Top

The Table Mountain Cableway first opened in 1929 and is now by far the most popular way to reach the summit. Its sleek capsules can carry up to 65 people each and take five minutes to travel between the Lower Cable Station and the Upper Cable Station. On the way, you can enjoy dizzying panoramas of the city and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. The capsules rotate to ensure that all passengers are given a 360º view. You can buy tickets online or at the Lower Cable Station on Tafelberg Road. Be prepared for long queues in summer.

Things to Do

Go for a Hike

From the Upper Cable Station there are three signposted walks: the 15-minute Dassie Walk, the 30-minute Agama Walk and the 45-minute Klipspringer Walk. All of the routes are suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels and afford the opportunity to observe the mountain's flora and fauna at close quarters. They also incorporate some incredible viewpoints.

Look for Wildlife

Table Mountain provides a unique habitat for an array of small animals and birds. Keep an eye out for the charismatic rock hyrax, or dassie - a rodent-like creature whose closest relative is the elephant. Tortoises and blue-headed rock agama lizards inhabit the undergrowth and birders can tick of regional specials including the Cape sugarbird and the orange-breasted sunbird.

Join a Guided Tour

The cableway company runs free, 30-minute guided tours on the hour from 9:00am to 3:00pm every day. The tours depart from Twelve Apostle Terrace (just below the café) and tell the story of Table Mountain and the cableway. Alternatively, download the free VoiceMap app for a self-guided audio tour entitled the Upper Cableway Station Audio Guide: Tabletop Walking Tour.

Get Your Adrenalin Flowing

If walking around the mountain top sounds a little too sedate, there are plenty of ways to satisfy your inner adrenalin junkie. Downhill Adventures offers mountain bike descents along off-road trails and private roads, while Abseil Africa lets you step off the summit into space. Not for the faint of heart, the abseil takes place every day between 9:30am and 3:30pm.

Relax and Admire the View

However you spend your time on Table Mountain, make sure to take a moment to simply admire the view. From the top, you'll have a bird's-eye perspective of the Mother City, Table Bay and the surrounding peaks of Lion's Head, Devil's Peak and Signal Hill. Want to share your shots immediately? The mountain-top WiFi Lounge has free internet and charge points.

Facilities, Hours & Rates

Facilities on top of Table Mountain include self-service restaurant Table Mountain Café, food and drink kiosks and the WiFi Lounge. There's also the Shop at the Top for souvenirs. The cableway is wheelchair friendly and runs every day, except for in high winds. Be aware that the weather on Table Mountain can change suddenly, and the cableway may close while you're still at the top. Leave enough time to walk down if necessary. Operating hours change slightly throughout the year, but generally the first car up is at 8:00am and the last car down is at around 8:00pm.

Rates for the cableway are as follows:

Morning (8:00am - 1:00pm)

Adult: R330 (return), R190 (one way)

Child (4-17): R165 (return), R90 (one way)

Afternoon (1:00pm - close)

Adult: R290 (return), R190 (one way)

Child (4-17): R145 (return), R90 (one way)

Getting There

The Lower Cable Station and the trailheads for both hiking routes are located on Tafelberg Road near the Cape Town suburb of Camps Bay. If you don't have your own vehicle or rental car, the city's popular Hop On-Hop Off sightseeing bus stops at the cableway. Alternatively use the public buses, a metered taxi or Uber to get there.