What's it all about?
This cultural melting pot at the bottom of Africa simmers under the watchful eye of Table Mountain, a monolith of nature that makes Cape Town one of the most beautiful cities on earth. While the gap between rich and poor is laid bare, sightseeing in this city is fun as well as rewarding.
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a working harbour-turned-bustling hub with reams of shops, pubs and restaurants as well as an aquarium, a big wheel and museums dedicated to rugby, diamonds and maritime history. The striking Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is housed in 116 concrete tubes in an old grain silo and topped with the five-star glass and steel Silo Hotel which has a rooftop bar offering great views.
Long Street in City Bowl buzzes day and night. Its Victorian buildings with wrought iron balconies are home to eateries, bars and shops selling African arts and crafts like wood-carved animals and drums.
Bo Kaap is loved for its distinctive brightly-coloured houses and cobblestone streets backed by Signal Hill and looking over the city. It was known as the Malay Quarter but is now a centre for Malaysian, African, Indian and Sri Lankan culture, and a great place to eat!
Hipster Woodstock is a creative suburb full of street art, galleries, cool restaurants and breweries. On Saturdays, the Old Biscuit Mill holds the Neighbourhoods Market, full of artisanal foods, craft beer and local art.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is a tribute to fynbos, the unique heathland habitat around Cape Town, admired for its biodiversity and resilience. You can see colourful heathers, irises, daisies, orchids and the spiky national flower, protea – which has a garden dedicated to it. There’s also a fragrance garden, medicinal garden and glass houses of desert plants. The Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, named the boomslang (tree snake) for the way it winds through the Arboretum, gives panoramic views of the trees and Table Mountain.
Top of the world
Table Mountain can be reached by Cable Car but walking up gives you the chance to soak in the views, smell the fynbos and spot birds of pray soaring in the thermals and maybe dassies (small, furry mammals) hopping the rocks. There are many routes up with varying degrees of difficulty, but all end with stunning views of the city, coast and natural landmarks like Devil’s Peak and Lion’s head – both of which can also be hiked.
Wining and dining
South Africa’s oldest producing wine farm is the other side of Table Mountain. Groot Constantia dates back to 1685 and is a peaceful, leafy estate of pretty white houses with curved Dutch-style gables and green shutters. Explore the manor house with its historically-preserved rooms, take a cellar tour to learn about wine making, enjoy a tasting, wander among the vines and finish with a meal in Jonkerhuis, which serves Cape Malay-inspired dishes as well as classic bistro fare.
A dark history
Pre-book to get onto Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his
27-year prison sentence during apartheid. The bleak island is described as a symbol of ‘the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice’ and tours cover a leper’s graveyard, the quarry where prisoners laboured and the prison, where an ex inmate shares their experience and reveals Mandela’s cramped cell.
Camps Bay is an affluent suburb and possibly the world’s most spectacular city beach. It’s backed by jagged mountain peaks, melting into greenery and then a swathe of prime real estate – white mansions and luxury resorts – all sloping down to a palm tree-lined white-sand beach. The suburb has an array of cocktail bars, restaurants serving every kind of cuisine and a theatre.
North of here are other pretty beach suburbs like Clifton and Sea Point. Further afield is the surf beach of Muizenberg, famous for its gaudy beach huts.
In the east, Boulder’s Beach is home to hundreds of tiny African penguins, snuggling together in the rocks or arriving from the sea like ungainly commuters. Pretty fishing port Hout Bay is the launch point for boat trips to an island and its colony of lolling, whiskered seals – and maybe breaching great white sharks.
Chapman’s Peak Drive is a nine-mile route of twists and turns wedged between bronze cliffs and blue ocean from Hout Bay to Noordhoek and the windswept Long Beach. The Cape of Good Hope is the most south-western point of Africa, where waves pound the beach. and the New Cape Point Lighthouse is a historic spot with sweeping views of the dramatic rocky coast.
This is a feature from Issue 3 of Charitable Traveller. Click to read more from this issue.