Best road trips within a 3-hour drive of Cape Town

It’s often said that some of Cape Town’s most unique attributes are within a 2-3 hours drive. You literally have everything your travelling heart could desire. Mountains, desert, ocean, vineyards, open roads and small country towns that burst with character and charm.

Our six recommendations, all conveniently found within a short drive of Cape Town, take you beyond the obvious, to these lesser-known spots. Here they are in no particular order…

Matjiesfontein, N1 Highway

1. Matjiesfontein, N1 Highway

Driving time from Cape Town about 2,5 hours

Set north of Cape Town on the N1 highway that joins the Cape to Johannesburg, Matjiesfontein is a hamlet rather than a town. It consists of a hotel, railway station, collection of museums and more than a touch of magic.

Its history takes us to a time when railway lines were reaching inland and pioneers held the vision of a road from Cape to Cairo. They were chasing a dream. As was the young Scottish immigrant James Logan, who in 1884 bought a piece of land referred to as ‘Matjiesfontein’. Over the years Matjies catapulted from its rural serenity to a top tourist resort of the time. Today fondly referred to as the The Grand Duchess of the Karoo, the Lord Milner Hotel still receives visitors in style, standing testament to a by-gone era.

Things to do include a visit to the Transport Museum with its private collection of vintage cars. Tour the town in the comfort of a double decker London style bus which takes no more than ten minutes. Spend some time in the Mary Rawdon Museum and take some walks in the surrounding veldt, where some 10,000 troops were camped during the Anglo-Boer war.

Where to stay
The Lord Milner Hotel.

Where to eat
In the stately hotel dining room of the Lord Milner Hotel, or by day, at the Coffee House.

Paternoster, West Coast

2. Paternoster, West Coast

Driving time from Cape Town, about 1,5 hours.

Among the oldest fishing villages in the country and situated about 150 km north of Cape Town, Paternoster is a true example of West Coast living. An authentic fishing village, the origin of the name, which means our Father in Latin, is said to refer to prayers by the Catholic Portuguese seamen who became shipwrecked here. Others believe it may be from the beads that the Khoi tribe wore, which were called Paternosters. Either works, today Paternoster is a popular tourist destination best known for its white-washed fishermen’s cottages and freshly caught crayfish sold straight off the beach.

Things to do include long walks on the pristine white beach, browsing for treasures at Die Winkel op Paternoster and a visit to the Cape Columbine lighthouse, which was built in 1936 and is still manned to this day. Also, explore the West Coast National Park and visit the West Coast Fossil Park.

Where to stay
The Strandloper Ocean Boutique Hotel which offers splendid ocean views. Alternatively, the very stylish Abalone House.

Where to eat
The Noisy Oyster has an excellent and exciting menu (booking is essential) or Gaatjie for the quality seafood the village is renowned for.

Swellendam, off the N2

3. Swellendam, off the N2

Driving time from Cape Town about 2,5 hours

The third oldest town in South Africa, Swellendam was declared a district and appointed a Magistrate in 1743. From here a village grew where artisans and traders settled. Today it offers travellers a welcome break to their journey, with a variety of accommodation options to choose from, as well as an assortment of restaurants, activities and attractions.

Things to do include a visit to the Drostdy Museum, Bontebok National Park, take a stroll along Swellengrebel Street to the art galleries and coffee shops and for the children, spend time at the Sulina Faerie Sanctuary. Definitely book a massage at the Rain Africa Spa.

Where to stay
Schoone Oordt Country House in town or Jan Harmsgat Country House.

Where to eat
At at the award winning La Sosta Italian restaurant. Making a reservation in advance is essential.

McGregor, off Route 62

4. McGregor, off Route 62

Driving time from Cape Town about 1,5 hours

A picturesque country village accessed just off Robertson and surrounded by the Langeberg Mountains with Robertson, Ashton and Montagu as its near neighbouring towns. McGregor is said to be the best-preserved 19th century South African village with its white washed reed roof cottages, Victorian and Georgian homes.

Every Saturday there’s a morning market in the square next to the church, which is a good place to mingle with the local community. The roads are mostly used for walking and the pace of life is idyllically slow. The Temenos Gardens have been drawing people to McGregor since they opened their doors to the public. With their soul nurturing gardens and spiritual meditation spaces, it’s a great place to unwind.

Things to do include the Art Route, which includes visits to no less than 10 galleries. Get to the Old Post Office turned pub for a whisky tasting session, book a visit to the Tanagra Distillery and for some Method Cap Classique visit the Lord’s Winery.

A main attraction in McGregor is the Eseljiesrus Donkey Sanctuary, which provides permanent homes and loving care to destitute, retired and rescued donkeys.

Where to stay
A variety of accommodation options are offered by McGregor Country Getaways.

Where to eat
Tebaldi’s set in the tranquil gardens at Temenos and the Karoux Restaurant, a rising star on the Western Cape culinary scene.

Greyton, Overberg

5. Greyton, Overberg

Driving time from Cape Town about 1,5 hours

Greyton’s leafy lanes, historic cottages and natural surrounds attract visitors from near and far. The town has managed to preserve its authenticity while still offering facilities and attractions you’d expect of a popular holiday destination.

Things to do include a Saturday morning market, where you’ll find a wide selection of farm-fresh produce. The funds raised at the market go towards environmental conservation efforts, such as the upkeep of the Greyton Nature Reserve. There’s great hiking to be enjoyed in the area, some good shopping, three wine farms, the Von Geusau chocolates, which are a must for tasting and the historic village walk.

Where to stay
The Post House which was originally constructed in 1860 and is one of the oldest buildings in Greyton.

Where to eat
The restaurant at the Post House is another great foodie option. A family-run Abbey Rose is worth checking out too.

The Elgin Valley, off the N2

6. The Elgin Valley, off the N2

Driving time from Cape Town about 1 hour

Here is a lesser-known place for nature lovers to escape. An hour’s drive from the city, is the Elgin Valley offering a myriad of attractions, cool climate wines, the country’s only MCC Estate and endless views across apple orchards and vineyard covered hills.

Things to do include a visit and tasting at Everson Cider and a tour at the Charles Fox MCC. This is a mountain bikers’ dream with some of the most demanding and spectacular single tracks offered. Other outdoor activities in the valley include quad biking, kayaking, hiking and nature walks. Also consider zip-lining with Cape Canopy Tours in the Hottentots Holland Nature reserve.

Where to stay
At the Old Mac Daddy which also offers accommodation in a collection of antique Airstream trailers that lux-up the hillside.

Where to eat
The Gallery, which exhibits wonderful South African art on the walls and the more casual Brinny Breeze Restaurant at Old Mac Daddy.
If this has inspired you to book your own road trip, you can search for the best flight ticket fares as well as hotel and car hire deals in one place.