Cape Town is a fascinating mosaic of Asian, European and African traditions. These streams of history flow together in the city but, particularly because of the legacy of the apartheid system, visitors to Cape Town are often amazed by the dramatic contrasts that remain between different areas. Nature, too, creates very different sub-climates around the mountain so the vegetation varies a great deal, as of course do the vistas. The city, however, is connected by fast freeways. Thus, twenty minutes from the wine farms of the leafy Constantia valley you could be on a beach, in the bustling city center or in a shanty township. It is truly fascinating to discover the different areas and experience the diversity of culture in the city.
The Atlantic Seaboard
The old docks have been excellently converted into the
All the diversity of Cape Town is meshed into the city centre. It is a surprisingly small area and is best covered on foot - but be prepared to fend off hawkers and some street children. Keep your wits and your wallet about you and don't stay out after dark. St. George's Mall and
It is worth driving around the Grand Parade: The
At night, the center empties out of all but street people; it is best seen by day. The exception is the top of Long Street which is abuzz with nightlife, and check out the cafés and restaurants of upper Kloof Street nearby in Gardens.
The Southern Suburbs, Constantia & Hout Bay
If you love rugby or cricket head for Newlands and there is a large, up-market shopping centre nearby in Claremont,
On the other side of the mountain explore Hout Bay, the land of very horsey, independent-minded people living in a fabulous valley. The fishermen in the harbor are a highly spirited bunch. You can take sea trips from here (see the seals on Duiker Island). If the Chapman's Peak drive is open, it is a must-do—magnificent.
The South Peninsula
The south peninsula is mountainous and largely a National Park plus some very charming seaside towns, notably the very British Simon's Town, the fishing village at
The winelands are an extensive area of wine and fruit farms in a mountain setting less than an hour from Cape Town. There is a certain charm and dignity to the area and some very pretty towns. There are many wine farms, in all styles and sizes, but the taste and price are bound to please. Check out a variety of big and small wine farms in different areas, but beware of weekend closing. Don't miss the restaurants of Franschhoek and spending time exploring the great beauty of Stellenbosch.
To get some valuable insight into South Africa's political history and cultural diversity take a township tour (specialist companies include African Dawn and Grassroutes). For many people this turns out to be the unexpected high point of their visit to Cape Town; the resilience, enterprise and hope of these poor communities is very inspiring and the stories of the past are a sobering insight into social planning gone mad. It is not recommended that you try to tour the townships on your own, take an organized tour with a specialist company.
The Northern Suburbs
Predominantly Afrikaans, modern and suburban, these areas lie along the N1 freeway. The classic view of
Unbeknown by many visitors to Cape Town, there is a superb tradition of cuisine in the city. The Malay slaves transformed the traditional dishes of Europe and Britain into a unique "Cape Malay" style, using the spices from the passing boats. Such dishes include Bobotie and Breedies. However, most restaurants focus upon Mediterranean and Pacific Rim influences. Naturally, fish and other seafood is very important too, and there is a growing number of African restaurants.
Cape Town was always "the tavern of the seas", and is an important wine-growing area to boot, so some good drinking is in order. There is a genuine love of dining and drinking in Cape Town, and you will find local cuisine and various styles from around the world cooked and presented superbly. Many restaurants have beautiful settings and decor. Most visitors are also amazed at how inexpensive it is to eat out. Too good to be true? Just try.
The Atlantic Seaboard
In Camps Bay, Blues is a perennial favorite. Next door, and sharing the same magnificent view over the beach, is Villamoura, a top quality and very popular fish restaurant. On the main road there are also a number of less formal and trendy eateries. For general fare and family diners the Waterfront has numerous places to eat, such as Emily's, where you will find superb South African cuisine (and a good deal of eccentricity too). Some of the hotels have excellent restaurants, particularly the Cape Grace, the Radisson Waterfront Hotel, and the Mount Nelson in Gardens.
For bars try the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay at sunset. In the Waterfront try the historic Ferrymans or the Quay Four.
Gardens & Woodstock
Aubergine is popular for continental cuisine. The top of Long Street is abuzz in the evenings with all manner of trendy places; for African food and vibes try Mama Africa at number 178. If nothing piques your interest here, try Kloof Street, a minute's drive up the hill, for more cafés and restaurants.
On Church Street in central Cape Town, near Greenmarket Square, Bukhara is an excellent Indian Restaurant.
Constantia lays claim to some of the finest dining in South Africa. The classy La Colombe provides excellent Provencal cuisine. A very enjoyable, well priced restaurant and excellent bar is at Peddlars, on the Bend.
Don't miss the restaurants of Franschhoek: Haute Cabriére and La Petite Ferme are all well regarded, and other restaurants in the area are excellent, too. In Paarl, Bosman's at the Grande Roche Hotel is a very formal and award-winning Haute Cuisine restaurant. The Jonkershuis on the Spier estate offers an excellent and fascinating traditional Cape Malay buffet. The Boschendal Estate offer a famous picnic during the summer months.
In terms of wine tasting it is very unfair to single some estates over others—try your luck! You are unlikely to be disappointed. But, to mention some good places to start: Fairview near Paarl; Delaire (mainly for the view); Warwick in the lovely Idas Valley and Cabriére in Franschhoek for excellent champagne-style wines.
At sunset, the Blue Peter Hotel has a popular bar and light food where diners can watch the sun set over Table Mountain. On the Rocks is a formal restaurant with exceptional views.
Cape Town is by its nature a playful city (materialists left for Johannesburg or London long ago). But the diversions of Cape Town tend to be the beaches, sports, mountain walks, day-trips, wine tasting and by evening, sunsets and fine dining. The arts are necessarily constrained by finances and there are few theaters and concert venues. Museums are, equally, strapped for cash, although a few are well worth a visit. However, the love of music (particularly jazz) is very strong and cinema, too, is popular. There are also some venues for nightlife and a theme park. Festivals and special events are frequent, so check when you're in town.
The SA Museum in the Company Gardens is excellent. The Whale Gallery steals the limelight but the Planetarium and the other exhibits are well done. The Aquarium (in the Waterfront) is superb and highly recommended. The Castle is the oldest building in South Africa and has the excellent William Fehr art collection. The impressive Groot Constantia estate has a grand Manor House that is well worth a visit. Robben Island is now a museum; it was formerly a prison for political activists including Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, the organization and quality of tours on Robben Island is sometimes poor.
The best place to see art and antiques is at commercial galleries. Try Church Street near Greenmarket Square in the city center. Small galleries are also found in most shopping malls. In-Fin-Art on Wolfe Street is a good place to start.
Cinemas are located in the shopping malls such as Cavendish Square in Claremont and the Waterfront. One exception is the Labia, an old cinema and landmark in Gardens. Cinéma Nouveau (in Cavendish Square and the Waterfront) feature more arty films. There is an IMAX cinema in the BMW Pavilion in the Waterfront. The standard of cinemas is usually very high.
Theater & Concerts
There are two main theater complexes: the Baxter in Rondebosch and the Artscape on the foreshore. They feature the full range of theater, dance and music. The standard and appeal are variable. During the summer there are excellent concerts at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden on Sundays (take a picnic) and the Spier Estate in the Winelands. The Theatre on the Bay in Camps Bay is home to light comedy and thrillers. For "fringe" theater try On Broadway in Greenpoint.
Cape Town has a strong passion for jazz, but there are remarkably few regular venues that are easy to get to. The Green Dolphin in the Waterfront is well known, and Café Camissa is in Gardens on Kloof Street.
To find hip night venues try Mercury on de Villiers Street, the clubs at the bottom of Long Street or La Med at Maiden's Cove near Clifton. The Drum Café is very trendy and cool (32 Glynn Street).
Ratanga Junction opened in 1999. It has various rides; one of which, "The Cobra," is one helluva ride! There are restaurants, a cinema and entertainment venues. This is a good place for families to have some fun.
Tours of Cape Town cannot be readily undertaken on foot or by public transport. However, there are many companies offering tours very similar to the ones below, using microbuses and qualified guides. These are excellent value for money. Otherwise follow the routes outlined below using a car.
Sir Francis Drake described the Cape Town peninsula as "the fairest Cape in the whole circumference of the globe." With fantastic vistas, lovely bays and coastline, penguins, and the most southwesterly tip of Africa, if you do only one thing in Cape Town, this is it! It is a full day visit—try to get an early start.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
From Cape Town, take the M3 (Blue Route) south. You pass the Groote Schuur Hospital (where the first heart transplant took place in 1967), Mostert's Mill (built in 1796 and still in working order), the grand buildings of the University of Cape Town and Newlands forest. At the traffic lights turn right onto Rhodes Avenue. You will come to the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden on the right. Stop here and take a walk in the gardens—they are spectacular.
Rejoin Rhodes Drive and continue south. At the junction turn right and proceed along Rhodes Drive surrounded by forest. Keep going along the windy road until the far end where you will find a traffic circle. Turn left down the Constantia Nek Road (M41). As the hill levels out you will see a sign pointing right for Groot Constantia. Turn right. You may wish to stop at the small parade of fine shops on your left and visit the Old Cape Farm Stall. Then carry on to the Groot Constantia Estate. Enjoy the old Manor House and some wine tasting near the exit.
Stay on Main Road all the way to the Cape Point Reserve. Once you pass Muizenberg you will see its magnificent beach. Very soon, on the right, you will see Rhodes Cottage. Here, Rhodes died in 1902, you may wish to stop and visit the small museum. Look out on the left for the colorful beach changing-rooms in St James. Along this road you will pass interesting antique and art shops. You may wish to stop at Kalk Bay harbor; when the boats arrive, it becomes a festive fish market.
The main road runs on through Simon's Town. Stop in Jubilee square. You may wish to have lunch here and spend time enjoying this old British naval base. You can find details about the town at the information office.
Cape Point Nature Reserve
Resume your journey south. You will pass the Black Marlin on the left; this is a popular lunch stop (book ahead if possible). Perfect stop before heading to the Cape Point Nature Reserve. Enter here. The Reserve is principally dedicated to fynbos, the indigenous flora. At the end of the reserve you will reach Cape Point. Spend time here walking down along the cliffs or up to the Lighthouse. A good lunch is available at the Two Oceans Restaurant.
As you drive away from the Point you will soon come to a left turn for the Cape of Good Hope. If time allows, take this, the Cape is the south-western tip of Africa and worth the extra 10 minutes' drive to it.
The Cape Winelands are world-renowned for superb wines and great beauty. The mountains enclose fine Dutch-style towns developed by the Dutch and Huguenot settlers in the late seventeenth century. They took on the wild landscape and left a fine wine industry, pretty towns and a great heritage.
Depart Cape Town and take the N2 highway, you will pass the airport but keep going until you see the turn off to Stellenbosch (R310). Take this turn off, turn left and after a few miles you will see the Spier Cellars on the right. Spier is a winelands entertainment complex. Wander among the old buildings and visit the Cheetah project. As you wish, have a wine tasting here and visit the extensive wine shop. Rejoin the R310 and continue toward Stellenbosch.
If you are interested in brandy, take the next right and make your way to the Van Ryn Brandy cellar for a fascinating tour of the Distillery. Resume your journey along the R310. When you reach the T junction turn right and follow the road into Stellenbosch.
As you approach Stellenbosch turn right into Dorp Street. The variety of architecture and the great oaks and canals of Dorp street are magnificent, but keep your eyes open for signs pointing left to the tourist information. Go there and ask for a walking tour of the town and for free maps of the winelands. The Village Museum is also worth a visit.
Resume the journey, turning right at the end of the road toward Franschhoek. Follow the R45 the length of the beautiful valley until you enter the town. There are many excellent places for lunch in the town and on the pass at its far end. You may wish to walk around the Huguenot Memorial at the end of the high street.
Driving from the Memorial, back down main road, take the first left and follow the signs to the Cabriére Estate (you will follow a farm track). Here, you can sample excellent champagne-style wines. Leave Franschhoek on the R45, retracing your steps, and stay on this road toward Paarl.
At the junction at the end of the R45 turn left and then right into the Agter Paarl road toward the Fairview Estate. The estate will soon be seen on the right. This award-winning estate produces fine wine and goat cheese. See the goat house in the parking area.
Continue along the Agter Paarl road—stop at any of the estates if you are still in the mood for tasting—and at the junction at the end of the road turn left onto the R44. You will come to turnings onto the N1 freeway; turn right toward Cape Town. The journey back to the city takes about 50 minutes.
The Castle of Good Hope
Find a map of the city center from any hotel or information booth. Then follow this route on a journey through the history of the city and some of its most beautiful sights and beaches.
Make your way along Strand Street to The Castle of Good Hope (the oldest building in South Africa). You may wish to park and take a guided tour of the castle and its art collection. Resume down Darling Street past the 1905 City Hall. At the end of the road turn left into Adderley Street. You will see the Great Church on your left (first built in 1700) and the old Slave Lodge on the corner. Pass the Cathedral of St.Mary and turn left into Queen Victoria Street and park. From here explore the Company Garden, walking up to the oldest museum in the country, the South African Museum. It showcases the natural history of South Africa, and early human communities of the sub-continent. It is noted particularly for its whale gallery and collection of Bushman rock art, including the important Linton Panel. This is the only museum in South Africa with an adjoining Planetarium.
St George's Cathedral
Stroll downhill along shady Government Avenue and view the Houses of Parliament. At the bottom you will find St George's Cathedral on the left. Cross the road and walk down St George's Mall, the city's main pedestrian thoroughfare. Turning to the left you will find Greenmarket Square where there is a lively market during the week. Visit the Old Town House on the left side of the square and exit via Burg street which adjoins it. The first right is Church Street where you will find art galleries and antique shops. If you turn left at the end of Burg Street you can soon turn right again into Queen Victoria Street to find your car.
This tour is especially recommended when Southern Right Whales calve off the Hermanus coast (July to December). It is best to get an early start to make the most of the day.
When you reach the beach front you may wish to stop and enjoy the magnificent beach. Continue along the coast into Gordon's Bay (you may wish to stop in the harbor). The road continues south along the coast on the Faure Marine (R44)/Clarence Drive. This is a truly marvelous road with views across False Bay to the Cape Peninsula.
Follow the coast around; take some time to explore the villages along the way (such as Pringle Bay), and visit the Harold Porter Botanic Garden in Betty's Bay (on the left of the road). Continue through Kleinmond. After a while, you will come to the junction with the R43; follow the signs to Hermanus. You will soon cross the Bot River. Follow the R43 on to Hermanus.
Once in Hermanus, follow the main road until you see the Marine Hotel on the right; turn right here and park. There are various places for lunch. After lunch wander along the cliff path, enjoying the tremendous views and, of course, spot whales playing off the coast. You will also find the popular Harbour Museum.
Cape Flats and Table Mountain
Climb the amazing Houhoek pass and soon you will be traveling through the famous Cape apple growing districts of Elgin and Grabouw. Stop at one of the farm stalls along the way. Stop in the car park at the head of Sir Lowrys Pass (it is on the bend) for a wonderful view of the Cape Flats and Table Mountain. Now continue down the pass and all the way back to Cape Town on the N2.
Guided Day Trips
Cape Discovery Tours (+27 02 1426 1641 / http://www.sa-venues.com/explore/capediscoverytours/)
Direct Action for Peace and Memory (+27 02 1448 5760 / http://www.sa-venues.com/explore/dacpm/)
Tigger 2 Charters (+27 02 1790 5256 / http://www.sa-venues.com/explore/tigger2charter/)