In Cape Town: Climbing Table Mountain & Lion’s Head

If you have any plans to visit Cape Town, make sure you pack your workout gear.Climbing Table Mountain in Cape Town

Table Mountain is the icon of Cape Town. It looms above the South African city as if to protect it, and from everywhere in and around the city you’ll find it peeking out from behind a building here or majestically rising above the skyline there; ever present, ever spectacular. From the top of the mountain the views across the city and over the ocean to Robben Island and beyond are breathtaking. Hundreds of thousands of visitors take the cable car to the top each year, and although it’s definitely an experience to add to your bucket list, the most rewarding way to get to the top of Table Mountain is to climb.

When I was in Cape Town recently I finally mustered the courage, after taking the cable car on countless occasions, to embark on the daunting climb up Platteklip Gorge…and then went on to hike up neighbouring Lion’s Head a couple of days later. I filmed both climbs, which you can see here – and below I’ve written in more detail how you can climb Table Mountain and Lion’s Head on your visit to Cape Town.

Climbing Table Mountain:

Climbing Table Mountain in Cape Town

There are a number of routes to get to the top of Table Mountain. I chose Platteklip Gorge, which is the most direct and easily accessible route from the city. The below recommendations are for this trail:

How to get there: When you drive up to the cable car station, keep going for a couple of kilometres and try to find a parking space on the side of the road. The hike is well marked, so as long as you find the starting point the rest is (relatively) easy.
When to go: Climbing early is a good idea for a number of reasons. Firstly, if it’s a nice day you won’t be the only one to think of doing this hike, so arriving early means you’ll find parking more easily. If you’re climbing in the summer it can get very hot even in the morning, so beating the heat of the day is advisable!
What to take: There’s no water along the way so take some with you, and don’t forget some good sun protection. It can be quite a few degrees cooler at the top of the mountain, so pack a jumper for the top, and make sure you have money for refreshments and to take the cable car back down (the one-way journey is just over R100). Of course, you could climb down again but why would you, when you can get in a revolving cable car for a swift journey and 360 degree views of the mountain you just conquered and the city it towers over?!

Climbing Lion’s Head:

Climbing Lion's Head in Cape Town

Although I have climbed Lion’s Head before and always thought of Table Mountain as the huge challenge, after hiking up both in a matter of days, I discovered that not only did I prefer the Lion’s Head climb, but it was also way more challenging! The view from the top is better, the route is more interesting and it’s just a more memorable hike. If you have to choose just one, pick Lion’s Head – but if you do have time, do both and let me know what you think!

How to get there: When you drive towards the mountains, you’ll see signs for Lion’s Head and Signal Hill – follow these signs and park in the parking bays at the foot of the Lion’s Head hiking trail. Again, it’s well-signed so getting lost isn’t really an option.
When to go: Sunrise and sunset are the best times to climb Lion’s Head as you’ll get the most breathtaking views of the city. Or, for the more adventurous among us, follow the crowds at full moon for a night hike with a difference!
What to take: There’s no water along the way, or at the top, so don’t even think about climbing without some liquids on you. Sun protection is also a must, and if you’re hiking at sunset or full moon, bring a headlamp or torch with you to find your way back down safely.

Oh, and it should go without saying, but for both of these climbs, don’t forget your camera!

Climbing Lion's Head in Cape Town

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  • Marcell says:

    So any tourist on their own can just hike to the top of lions head at will ?

    • Elle Croft says:

      Hi Marcell, yes, Lion’s Head is open to anyone. There are some warning signs advising that a good level of fitness is recommended, but it’s free and available to anyone – as are most of the mountains around the city.

  • Shani says:

    How long was each hike? And is there a cable car to get back down from Lion’s Head? Thx!

    • Elle Croft says:

      Hi Shani,
      There is no cable car up or down Lion’s Head – its only accessible by hiking which makes it all the more challenging. The Table Mountain hike took around 1 hour 15 minutes and Lion’s Head was around an hour if I remember correctly, but these times will vary greatly depending on how busy the trail is, what the weather is like and the hiker’s level of fitness. I hope this helped! x

  • This looks so beautiful!! Cape Town has been on my list for a while now – I need to finally get round to going. Maybe next year…! x

  • Noeline says:

    One little opinion: Lion’s Head at sunset on or near full moon is fun, but tragically busy. It becomes pretty dangerous (because of the number of people trying to get up and down) and you generally end up queuing for far longer than seems acceptable. It’s beautiful once you’re at the top, but attempting to find serenity with that number of people is totally impossible.

    • Elle Croft says:

      Good point – thanks! I did it at sunset once and although the views were spectacular it was pretty busy (I think I’d blocked that bit from my memory!). I suppose sunrise, although painfully early, is the best time. Although I would still love to do the full moon hike just once :-)

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