With its stunning seascapes and majestic mountain backdrop, bustling Cape Town should be on everyone's bucket list
From mountain trails, surfing and zebra-spotting to galleries and smart restaurants – we enjoy a magnificent South African adventure
Things to see and do
A free history walking tour of Cape Town
Settle in and get your bearings in the city and a feel for the country’s complex past on a free history walking tour. The tours last 90 minutes, are held three times a day, 365 days a year, and you don’t need to book – just turn up and meet your guide at Green Market Square in the city centre. The route includes the Company’s Gardens originally built by the Dutch East India Company; St George’s Cathedral around the corner built in 1898 and the seat of the Archbishop of Cape Town – also home to the quirky Crypt Jazz Restaurant; City Hall, the setting for Nelson Mandela’s first speech after leaving prison and the Castle of Good Hope, South Africa’s oldest building, once a fort but now a museum on the Cape’s early days – to name just a few.
If history’s not your thing, there are other tours from which to choose: try a tour of the colourful streets of Bo Kaap; street art in Woodstock; a promenade bicycle tour, or a taste of Cape Town.
No trip to Cape Town would be complete without a bird’s eye view of the city from the top of Table Mountain, part of Table Mountain National Park. Hiking is popular and there are several trails including Platteklip Gorge, an easily navigable 2.5-hour walk to the summit. There are plenty of other longer and shorter routes, too, but if you’re not a fan of hiking, buy a ticket for a ride in the Table Mountain Cableway to the top of the mountain for views overlooking Cape Town, Table Bay and Robben Island to the north.
Hit the beach
Cape Town and the Cape Peninsula boast impressive stretches of coastline, each different in personality, offering the chance to go surfing, kite-surfing, or swimming. The Cape Town stretch on the Atlantic offers wide sandy stretches, dramatic views and beautiful sunsets, which make up for the bracing sea temperatures that these beaches are known for, with Camps Bay and Clifton the most famous and popular. The Indian Ocean beaches of False Bay are a little warmer, with Muizenberg the best known for its rows of pretty multi-coloured Victorian-style beach houses.
When the winds are up in Cape Town, locals head to Boulders Beach on the way to the Cape of Good Hope, set in a secluded little bay and sheltered by large rocks making it great for swimming and sunbathing – and for an added bonus, it’s home to a colony of endangered African penguins.
Explore the V&A Waterfront and Robben Island
The city’s historical working harbour, the V&A Waterfront, is the setting for great shopping, dining and entertainment, but also the jumping off point for a trip to Robben Island, home to the prison in which Nelson Mandela was jailed for 27 years. The experience starts with a 45-minute bus tour of the island taking in other landmarks, before a guided tour with an ex-inmate of the maximum-security prison itself.
Beyond Cape Town
If you’ve extra time in South Africa, it's well worth visiting Mossel Bay, around 250 miles east of Cape Town at the start of an area known as the Garden Route, for a taste of South Africa’s wide open spaces and wildlife. Here you’ll find Botlierskop, a private game reserve offering game drives or horseback safaris for the chance to spot rhino, zebra, springbok, buffalo and elephants roaming around. Mossel Bay is also the place to experience a traditional South African ‘braai’ – meaning barbecue – at Kaai 4, a harbourside restaurant with tables facing the water’s edge. On the way back to Cape Town, stop for breakfast at the quirky Blue Shed Roasters, a coffee shop and garden filled with Americana bric-a-brac, before a visit to the small picturesque holiday town of Betty’s Bay, to see the massive colony of endangered African penguins at Stony Point – there are more penguins here than at Boulders Beach and fewer tourists. Pay the small entrance fee, then walk slowly along the boardwalk and watch the hundreds of penguins coming and going in and out the water.
Where to eat
If you’ve a hearty appetite for African food and culture, the family-run Africa Café in downtown Cape Town is a fun choice for dinner, offering a menu of traditional dishes from all around Africa. You’re served little dishes of everything on the menu, before choosing a few of your favourites.
Pot Luck Club
If you can’t get a table at the city’s best restaurant, the Test Kitchen, you stand a better chance at its sister restaurant, the Pot Luck Club situated in the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, a once seedy area currently on the cusp of gentrification. The creative menu is made up of tapas-sized plates divided into our five basic tastes: salty, sour, sweet, umami and bitter, and you’re encouraged to try one from each section for the full Pot Luck Club experience.
The heart of the country’s wine production is just 45-minutes away from Cape Town in the hubs of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl. The Table at De Meye winery just outside Stellenbosch is open for long lunches at the weekend, serving a set three-course menu inspired by what’s growing in its vegetable garden, in shared dishes and platters so you can serve yourself.
Where to stay
The elegant boutique Cape Heritage is a good city-centre option, located in Heritage Square and built in the late 1700s. Escape the hustle and bustle in the shady courtyard.
There are just six rooms at the Dutch Manor, an old historic house dating back to 1812 and filled with antiques, located in a similarly traditional area of Bo Kaap, an area famous for its famous colourful houses. It’s also not far from Table Mountain.
Camps Bay Retreat
The luxury four-star hotel Camps Bay Retreat is set within its own private nature reserve close to the city’s famous Camps Bay, offering a luxurious beach retreat and easy access to the Atlantic stretch of coast.