The Mother City
With spotless beaches, mountains and vineyards, Cape Town is a serious contender for the world’s most beautiful city. In fact, Telegraph Travel readers recently voted it the best city in the world. Sir Francis Drake sung its praises, too, back in 1580. Since then, a bustling metropolis has emerged, but the cape’s natural beauty still shines through.
The city’s biggest landmark is a natural one. But tear your eyes away from Table Mountain for just a second and you’ll discover nature reserves and world-class beaches are in good supply, too. Make the trip down to Cape Point to witness the meeting of the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Head inland, meanwhile, and you’ll hit wine country. And further along, the Garden Route pulls out all the stops with whale-watching, shark-cage diving and safaris on tap.
For such a 21st-century city, Cape Town still gives plenty of nods to its heritage. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is one of the top attractions. Once a worn-down fishing harbour, it’s been restored and transformed into a hub of buzzing shops, restaurants and bars. It’s also the launching point for trips to Robben Island, where you can step inside Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell.
Get off-the-beaten track
Wildlife, wineries and winding mountain passes, South Africa was made for exploring. After ticking off historic sites in the capital, the Cape Town’s Architectural Gems tour will whisk you off for wine-tastings in Stellenbosch. Opt for the 10-night South Africa Like A Local tour, and you can watch whales from the shore, visit townships and spot the Big Five on a game drive.
Things to See and Do in Cape Town
Cape Town is flanked by two very different shorelines. One cuddles up to the bright-blue Atlantic Ocean with dramatic views, while the other is prime swimming territory, thanks to the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Whichever side you pick, you’re guaranteed a good-looking stretch – case in point, South Africa was the first country outside of Europe to be win Blue Flag status for its beaches.
Dubbed the St Tropez of South Africa, Clifton has four white-sand beaches to its name. The coves are all separated out by giant granite boulders, which also act as natural wind-breakers. And each one attracts a different crowd – take 4th Beach, for instance, it’s popular with teens, while dog walkers opt for 1st Beach. Behind the sands, you’ve got a clutch of drinking holes. Follow them south, and you’ll reach palm-lined Camps Bay Beach.
Smitswinkelbaai beach can only be reached by foot, which means it’s likely you’ll get the sands to yourself. It’s tricky to find, too – look out for a tiny gravelled area between Simon’s Town and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Then, it’s a 15-minute hike down to the sands, but it’s worth the walk for the first-class snorkelling and total seclusion.
You can shop in sight of Table Mountain and the ocean at the V&A Waterfront. It’s home to over 450 shops, as well as a couple of malls. You’ll find the usual big names, like Burberry, Hugo Boss and Calvin Klein. But the main draw here is jewellery – there are countless shops specialising in African gemstones and diamonds.
Trendy Long Street is awash with party-hard backpackers at night. By day, however, it’s a different story. Chic boutiques stock vintage designer clothes and handmade leather goods, while antique shops are full-to-the-brim with second-hand books and collectables.
Bartering is the name of the game at Greenmarket Square – one of Cape Town’s oldest flea markets. It’s a really colourful affair, with stallholders selling beaded jewellery, local art and clothes.
There’s no shortage of bars with a view in Cape Town. Camps Bay’s assortment can be found along Victoria Road – aka the Sunset Strip. Here, tables are laid out on the pavement to guarantee the best sunset shots. There’s also a good round-up of cosy jazz bars, with an intimate, take-it-easy vibe.
When it comes to all-night partying, Long Street is the word on everyone’s lips. It’s got a good collection of bustling bars and clubs – some with roof decks, where you can take a break from the packed dancefloors. A little further out, the V&A Waterfront is also home to a lively after-dark scene. Fridays are a particularly busy night, with live DJs keeping the after-work crowd dancing ‘til dawn.
Braai means ‘burn the meat’ in Zulu, and it’s the South African version of a barbecue. That said, it’s only ever cooked over wood or charcoal grills for extra flavour. And you can forget your burgers and hot dogs – here, the options are endless. Think racks of lamb spiced with cloves and coriander, seafood and steak.
This street food actually originated in Durban, but has spread across the whole country. Spicy curry is stuffed into hollowed-out loaves of bread. Chicken, pork and lentils and beans are all popular options.
Before fridges were invented, the indigenous South African tribes used the dry-curing method to preserve meat. These days, biltong is still a favourite local snack. It’s even been praised by health experts for its high protein and low fat content.
This sweet and sticky pudding was passed down from the city’s early Dutch settlers. The sponge is made with apricot jam and topped with a hot creamy sauce. You could compare it to British speciality, sticky toffee pudding.
The winemaking region outside of Cape Town is the biggest in the country. The industry dates back to the 1600s, so it’s well-versed in producing the stuff. There’s every type you can think of, from Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays to robust reds like Cabernets and Merlots.