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Cape Town travel guide
Cape Town rocks the lists of alluring world destinations. Partly this is thanks to a spectacular corner location between a levelled-off mountain and not one, but two oceans. It’s also because of natural drawcards like penguins in Simonstown, fynbos at Cape Point, or the chic beach playgrounds of Clifton and Camps Bay. And it’s due to the World Heritage Site of Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was jailed. Add to this a culinary explosion, creating restaurants that rival the best abroad. Not forgetting a blooming coffee culture, with artisan roasters and one-of-a-kind coffee shops studded on every trendy street.
Choose from a fortune of outdoor activities such as paragliding, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, swimming and sailing. Shop leading brands at the Waterfront mall, the hipster boutiques on Bree and Loop Streets or find something that speaks to you at a character-filled market. Uncover one of the many secret corners the city still guards. Absorb the city’s intriguing mix of Xhosa, Dutch-Afrikaans, English, Malaysian, Indian and Portuguese cultures. Discover their descendants in the Cape Malay people, whose roots in slavery developed a rich culture and cuisine found nowhere else in the world.
The city’s true charm lies in its options. Be active, or relax; party with fashionable crowds during summer or enjoy small town peace during winter. Drink in some history or walk along the ocean or in a forest. You could do it all and still feel rejuvenated – Cape Town is that kind of place.
If you only have two or three days:
- Table Mountain – Its unusual flat top and wide angle views are immense rewards for a climb or revolving cable car ride. Kudos if you spot the elusive dassie (rock rabbit). If you decide to walk up, do some research on mountain safety and never climb alone. If you can’t make it to this venerable landmark, don’t panic, you can see it from anywhere in the city.
- Atlantic Seaboard – ‘Designer’ coastline with white velvet beaches, aquamarine waters and dozens of delis, cafes and wine bars. Live the life in Sea Point, or sunbathe with the cool kids in jewel-encrusted Clifton and Camps Bay. Follow the beach lifestyle all the way to wave-crested Llandudno and hippie Hout Bay.
- V&A Waterfront – This is an upmarket harbourside shopping and entertainment complex. You’re likely to come here time and again to shop, eat, gaze at the boats, watch an open air show or take a round trip on the Eye. Children and adults alike could spend hours at the aquarium or the gemstone Scratch Patch. The Waterfront has brilliant food and craft markets and is also your start-off point for boat and helicopter tours.
- Robben Island – Robben Island once held a prison where anti-apartheid activists were sent to live and work in a quarry. Take a boat trip to this World Heritage Site for a tour of a fascinating yet dark period of South Africa’s history.
- Cape Point & the Southern Peninsula - Drive via bucolic Noordhoek, through the fishing village of Kommetjie and the eco-village of Scarborough, to Cape Point Nature Reserve. Head back via Simonstown (with its African Penguin colony at Boulders and Seaforth beaches), arty Kalk Bay, picturesque St James and the surfer’s paradise of Muizenberg for a full tour of the Peninsula.
- City Centre – Come here for cutting-edge restaurants and coffee shops. Bree Street is king of the trendsetters but Loop and Shortmarket are hot on its heels. Long Street is a rusty bohemian legend, crammed with backpackers lodges, bookstores, cafés and bars. Tour the historical Castle and Company Gardens. Find your way to the Bo-Kaap, traditional quarter of the unique Cape Malay people. Explore the hilly streets with their mosques and spice shops, and taste a divine samosa, bobotie or koeksuster.
If you have more time:
- City Bowl suburbs – At the foot of the mountain, a walk in the suburbs of Oranjezicht, Tamboerskloof and Gardens reveals Victorian Cape Dutch architecture and leafy cul-de-sacs. Head for the main arteries of Kloof Road and Buitenkant Street, to get a full blast of antiques, boutiques and hipster cafes.
- De Waterkant – pastel cottages with wrought iron gates redolent of the South of France border the Cape Quarter, a shopping district known for design. Here you’ll find everything from clothing to furniture, bedlinen and gifts. Styles may be classic, retro chic, beach house or Bauhaus. You’ll also have your pick of alfresco cafés and bistros in one of the mall’s cobblestoned piazzas.
- Green Point – Along with neighbouring de Waterkant, this is the centre of the city’s gay nightlife. Home of the world-class Cape Town Stadium, Green Point is the location of the large green Urban Park and playground, ideal for family picnics.
- Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – famed around the globe for its one of a kind plant species, and spring flower displays to spin you right round. Cycads, waterfalls, gigantic old trees and summer evening concerts give Kirstenbosch the family thumbs up.
- Constantia – one of the first inhabited areas outside of the city centre, Constantia’s mountain slopes are green with vineyards. Choose to visit the historical wine farm of Groot Constantia or a newer winemaker. Or simply hike one of the beautiful trails.
- Canal Walk – the largest shopping and entertainment centre in the southern hemisphere, Canal Walk has been carefully planned to provide visitors with a few surprises. When you’re tired of being a mall rat, take a break along the canal to experience Intaka Island, a wetland conservation centre with a variety of bird species and an unexpectedly lovely nature walk.
- Blouberg - Blouberg’s beaches are famous for kite surfing and paragliding. After you have captured your panoramic shot of Table Mountain, relax at one of the local eateries.