Cape Town

Cape Town

Things to do - general

Perched between the ocean and the mountain, with a national park as its heart, there is nowhere like Cape Town. Cape Town, the “Mother City”, is the oldest city in South Africa and has a cultural heritage spanning more than 300 years. The unique topography of the region makes it easy to orientate oneself as long as you remember that with Table Mountain behind you and Robben Island before you, you are facing north, looking across Table Bay and up the west coast of Africa.

It is in Cape Town that the Rainbow Nation really covers the spectrum. Between beautiful Cape Dutch homesteads, traditional dancers with painted faces performing in the streets, the smell of spicy Malay cooking and the taste of a well-made wine, this city will fill your senses. The bells of St George’s Cathedral alternate with the plaintive tones of the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer. Visitors give a startled jump, and Capetonians calmly glance at their watches, when the noon gun booms above the city – a relic from the days of sail when sea captains had to check their chronometers.

It has the top five national attractions in South Africa, all of which should appear on every visitor’s itinerary all year round. These include a visit up Table Mountain, either by cable car or manually climbing up routes of varying degrees of difficulty; and the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, internationally acclaimed as one of the great botanical gardens of the world. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, one of the city’s main tourist attractions, offers the visitor a unique shopping and holiday experience on a scenic working harbor. Currently undergoing expansion, the complex features shops, restaurants, launch areas for short cruises and a variety of entertainment for those who flock through it by day and night.

Looking further offshore, visitors can take a boat ride to Robben Island, the former home of Nelson Mandela and several other political prisoners who fought against the apartheid government. Visitors to the island are taken on a tour of the old prison complex, as well as to a museum on the island.

You will never be bored in Cape Town. Table Mountain offers some of the best climbing in the world, and it’s right here in the city. The surfing is fantastic; the diving is cold but good. You could go mountain biking, or go sea kayaking – you may see whales or penguins. A great thing to do on a full moon summer’s night is to walk up Lion’s Head before dark, watch the sun set on one hand and the full moon rise on the other and then walk down in the silvery light. If the wind is right, you could fly off Lion’s Head with a qualified tandem paraglider pilot, and land on the beach in time for sun downers. You’ll never be bored.

If all this sounds too gung ho for you, don’t worry. You can shop till you drop at Cavendish, Canal Walk or the Waterfront. There is lots of live music, art exhibitions, museums, plays and even opera, ballet or symphony concerts on all year round. The city has also recently developed tourism routes such as the Cape care route, which showcases sustainable development by taking tourists to destinations including a community-based bicycle workshop and a community weaving center, and the Southern Line tourist train route between Cape Town and Simon’s Town. Cape Town is also probably the most popular backpackers destination anywhere, with more hostels than any other city worldwide. It’s also the home of the backpackers special, the Baz Bus.

Country South Africa
Languages spokenXosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, English
Currency usedSouth African Rand (ZAR)
Area (km2)2,455 km²

Sports & nature

The city of Cape Town has to be one of the most astounding places one can ever visit. No amount of photos, you tubing or research can quite prepare you for the sheer beauty of this place or the diversity of things to do here. Table Mountain majestically looms over the city. This provides a dramatic backdrop almost everywhere you go. But between the golden beaches, vineyards and mountains there is so much more to discover in Cape Town. So for anyone looking for some tried and tested recommendations, find Top 10 Things to do in Cape Town.

Reach the top of Table Mountain
Visiting Cape Town without going to the top of Table Mountain would be like going to Paris without going up the Eiffel Tower. Visitors have the option to either catch the cable-car up or hike up (two very different experiences I can assure you!). If you want more of a leisurely experience or will be tight for time like I was, the cable car is a charming experience. There are about 5 different table mountain hiking trails which range from 45 minutes to 4 hours depending on route and fitness level (click the link for some really handy info on the trails). Once at the top, paved walkways lead the way to breathtaking 360 degree views of Cape Town. Allow about an hour or so to get stroll the whole way around and find a sunny spot to stop, sit, and take it all in. Table Mountain is firmly fixed on the tourist trail of Cape Town. If that bothers you then swallow your alternative-traveler pride because missing out on this would be a tragedy.

Robben Island
Best known for being home to the Prison where Nelson Mandela spent 19 years of his imprisonment, Robben Island is now a museum that brings the struggles of the apartheid’s political prisoners to life. Guided prison tours are conducted by ex inmates, which is included in the ticket price.

The Penguins at Boulders Bay
A visit to Boulders Bay is an utterly charming experience whether you’re 7 or 70. Home to Cape Town’s largest penguin colony, Boulders Bay is scattered with hundreds of Penguins that supposedly stemmed from two penguins ‘left behind’ during migration season. The natural boulders that surround the beach and the jade green waters further add to the beauty of this special little spot. A raised boardwalk stretches down to the bay, but to protect the penguins you can’t actually walk along the beach itself. Fear not though, many penguins come up close to the boardwalk so you can still get up close and personal with these enigmatic creatures!

Wine Tasting at Steenberg Estate, Constantia
What could be more glorious than to spend an afternoon of your trip doing some wine tasting on a working Capetonian vineyard? Between Stellenbosch and Constantia there are so many vineyards to choose from. You will go through a tasting of 4 of Steenberg’s top wines along with a pairing of tasty canapés.

Lunch and Shopping on The Waterfront
With chic al-fresco cafes, live music and lively street entertainers, The Waterfront is a one of Cape Town’s most most busy areas. Boutique shops sell local African art and souvenirs and the Victoria Wharf shopping center has lots of the big brands. Umbrella stalls line the marina where you can book your fishing tours, whale watching and for those who dare, shark diving excursions.

Camps Bay & Clifton Beaches
Camps Bay and Clifton sit right next to each other and are two of the most affluent areas to live in Cape Town. With new-build dream beach houses making up prime real estate, the area even has its very own Millionaire’s Row. Camps Bay Beach is one of Cape Town’s most famous beaches and has been a Blue Flag Beach since 2008. Clifton has 4 separate beaches known, quite simply, as Clifton 1, 2, 3 and 4. All 4 of the beaches are incredibly scenic and a perfect place to relax for the day, but if you’re not into nudist beaches give Clifton 4 a miss. Spend the day hopping from beach to beach and watching surfers take on the waves but beware; the sea is freezing as it’s on the Atlantic side of Cape Town so you may need a wetsuit if you want to join them!

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Another must-see is Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I visit to Kirstenbosch is the perfect way to unwind. Pick up a map and follow the winding paths or just get lost on the trails. With a little café and gift shop, you could definitely spend a relaxed morning or afternoon here.

The Test Kitchen
A booking at The Test Kitchen is the hottest ticket in town right now in Cape Town, and it’s no wonder. The restaurant was voted ‘Best Restaurant in Africa’ and took 48th place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in 2014. On average it takes 6 months to get a table at this foodie hot spot, which offers incredibly creative fine dining in a relaxed and informal setting.

Shopping in Kalk Bay
For some relaxed beachfront retail therapy, Kalk Bay is a must. This quaint little coastal town has a waterfront road lined with independent shops selling art, jewellery, clothing, art and design pieces. It’s the perfect place to pick up something authentic from Cape Town without the rip off tourist prices.It’s completely hassle free and shop vendors are happy for you to roam in and out of the shops without giving you the hard sell. The Kalk Bay Co-op is a fantastic collection of shops selling products and clothing made by local designers.

Muizenberg Beach
Muizenberg Beach is one of Cape Town’s longest beaches stretching a staggering 20 km along the coastline. With a strong Atlantic wind, Muizenberg is a mecca for Cape Town’s surfing community and the waves further add to the bracing beach experience here. Primary colored beach huts line the sands which can be hired for the day. In the summer months Muizenberg is a hive of activity and is lined with ice cream trucks, sun-worshipers and surfers. The area is also kid-friendly with some lovely beach-front play areas.

Nightlife info

This is a list of our ten favorite Bars and Nightclubs in Cape Town for your enjoyment. These we recommend to travelers visiting Cape Town. Some are here in Camps Bay, while others are a short drive away. They are not in order of preference, but rather in order of the establishment's distance from Camps Bay.

St Yves
St Yves is one of the hottest night clubs in Cape Town. With its breathtaking views of the Camps Bay beach and its exquisitely designed interior, St Yves is also an ideal setting for enjoying a quiet cocktail while the sun sets.

Café Caprice
Caprice is a stylish pavement café with a relaxed, yet trendy, atmosphere. Open for breakfast, lunch, sun-downers and dinner, with a simple range of dishes and drinks. An ideal location with wonderful views of the beach.

La Med
With its relaxed atmosphere and exceptional ocean and mountain views, La Med is very popular with tourists and locals alike for sun-downers, dinners (gourmet pizzas and seafood) and dancing after dark.

Bascule Whiskey Bar and Wine Cellar
Situated on the water's edge of the international yacht marina on Cape Town's Waterfront. By day Bascule is a lively coffee destination, and by night it is the perfect place to ease into the evening, whisky in hand.

Opium
Opium is a stylish cigar lounge, whiskey bar and night club situated in trendy De Waterkant, which is a firm favorite with locals. Open till late, it boasts an impressive interior and some of the finest DJs.

Hemisphere
Hemisphere is a sophisticated and stylish Cape Town club, bar and cocktail lounge. It is smart but relaxed, the décor is stylish but comfortable, and the the 180 degree city views offered from its 31st floor vantage point are unrivaled.

Planet Champagne & Cocktail Bar
Planet Bar is a hot spot where fashionable Capetonians and international visitors gather to sip champagne and exotic cocktails. A full-service bar and cocktail menu is offered as well as an assortment of decadent light meals.

Oblivion Wine Bar
A funky, European style Wine Bar for over 23s, which has become an institution in the Southern Suburbs. With an extensive wine list and the best pizza in Cape Town. Dance the night away on Fridays and Saturdays.

Tiger Tiger
Tiger Tiger is one of Cape Town's favorite gathering spots for party enthusiasts. It is open on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights and comprises of 6 luxurious bars and one spacious dance floor. Music generated by a state of the art sound system.

Polana
This cocktail lounge is built literally on the rocks at Kalk Bay Harbor, only meters away from the crashing waves. Relax on leather sofas and sip a pre-dinner cocktail while soaking up the sea views.

Culture and history info

The first Europeans known to have climbed Table Mountain were Portuguese seamen under Antonio de Saldanha, whose ships were part of a fleet on its way to India in 1503. They had a fracas with the local people, the Khoi, nomadic cattle herders known to Europeans for centuries as ‘Hottentots’. There was a more serious skirmish in 1510, when many Portuguese were killed. Even so, European ships began putting in to Table Bay for fresh water and meat until in 1647 a Dutch ship, the Haarlem, was wrecked in the bay. The survivors returned to Holland to report that the place was fertile and suitable for growing vegetables and fruit, against scurvy, while the natives were not cannibals as reported, but friendly and, if kindly treated, could be converted to Christianity and used as servants. In 1651 accordingly, the directors of the Dutch East India Company, the Seventeen, decided to establish an outpost at the Cape, where their ships could put in for water and supplies and the sick could be treated. Jan van Riebeek reached Table Bay on April 6th, the following year with an expedition some ninety-strong in three ships and went ashore the next day to select a place for a fort. Today’s Grand Parade in the center of Cape Town is on the site.

Van Riebeck, who had been in serious trouble with the Company four years before engaging in private trading, threw himself into this opportunity and reported that he himself worked as engineer, mason, smith, carpenter and farmer. What turned the original outpost into the first European colony in South Africa was the Company’s decision to let sailors and soldiers in its service settle at the Cape and start their own farms. In 1658 the first slaves were imported, from the East Indies and Central Africa, and when van Riebeek left for India in 1662 the little settlement had a fort, a hospital, a jetty, workshops and a granary, as well as houses.

The early settlers interbred with the Khoi and the colony's population was swelled by European immigrants who included girls from Dutch orphanages and Huguenot exiles from France, shipped out by the Company. By the 1690s the settlement of De Kaapsche Vlek (the Cape hamlet) had a couple of hundred houses and a European population of about 1,000, of whom two-thirds were Dutch and one-sixth French, with smaller numbers of Germans, Swedes, Danes and Belgians. There were also a hundred or so Africans and Asians, and almost 400 slaves.

Care was taken to integrate newcomers from other European countries with the Dutch, speaking the Dutch language and conforming to the Reformed Church, and the eighteenth century saw the gradual evolution of the Afrikaner people as the little settlement grew into a town, now called Kaapstad (Cape Town). When the British seized it in 1795, the town had about 1,000 houses and a population of some 14,000.

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