Cape Town ranks (on my list) as one of the world’s most spectacularly situated cities, alongside Rio de Janeiro, Vancouver, San Francisco and Sydney. Its location, fronting an impressive bay and backed by the magnificent Table Mountain, is simply stunning. I’ve listed below ten things you shouldn’t miss if it’s your first visit to this awesome city.
1. Take the cable-car up the Table Mountain. As the car glides up, the platform rotates 360 degrees, offering every visitor astounding views of the mountains, the city and the ocean. The lines at the cableway can sometimes be incredibly long but the views along the way and from the top are definitely worth the wait! If you’re adventurous, try hiking up the mountain. The most straightforward hike to the top of the mountain is via the huge Platteklip Gorge that runs through the centre of the mountain. The trail zig-zags in a gradual ascent and takes an average of two hours to climb. Along the way, stop to appreciate the indigenous fynbos vegetation. A trek up the mountain in spring when the fynbos is in full bloom is especially rewarding.
2. Visit the V&A Waterfront. It’s a great spot to spend the day. The harbour-side setting is stunning while there are many shops, cafés and restaurants to keep visitors busy. Stop by one of my favourite shops: Nwengya Glass and get a truly authentic glass souvenir. Sit at a terrace and watch various artistic groups perform throughout the day, or visit the impressive Two Oceans aquarium.
3. Take the boat from the V&A Waterfront to Robben Island. The island was for many years a prison camp. It was here that many political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned during South Africa’s apartheid regime. The Robben Island museum is absolutely worth a visit while the boat ride is a great way to see the city from the water.
4. Stroll through the colourful Malay neighbourhood of Bo Kaap. This historic neighbourhood is still home to many Malays and has been lovingly restored. The vivid colours are unforgettable.
5. Get down to the beach at Camps Bay. Camps Bay is a trendy neighbourhood with many cafés and restaurants fronting the beach. It’s a fantastic place to people-watch. When you’re there facing the ocean, look behind you. The views from here of the Twelve Apostles (massive rock humps that form the lofty peaks of the Cape mountains) are awesome!
6. Visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The gardens are nestled at the foot of the Table Mountain and are an absolute must. The collection of indigenous flora is unrivalled – fynbos is amply represented whilst the proteas are magnificent.
7. Visit stunning Hout Bay. Hout Bay is one of my favourite bays in the world. It’s beauty is absolutely jaw-dropping. This large bay, with its deep blue water, is surrounded by imposing mountains, while its entrance is guarded by the magnificent Sentinel mountain. Drop by the Mariner’s Wharf for some great seafood and amazing views of the bay. You’ll most probably see some seals frolicking in the water too.
8. Drive the Chapman’s Peak Drive. This spectacular road winds itself along one end of Hout Bay and is arguably one of the most beautiful drives in the world. Drive slowly and make regular stops to enjoy the grand views. During the spring/early-summer months, grab your binoculars – you might spot some whales in the bay.
9. Head out to Cape Point. This is not the southernmost point of the African continent (it’s close) but it certainly is one of the most famous spots in the Western Cape. The views from the lighthouse over False Bay and the two oceans are stupendous. Along the way, you may be greeted by baboons on the roadside. Slow down, don’t wind down your windows and don’t get out of the car. They can be quite vicious! Heading back to Cape Town, follow the road via Scarborough. The scenery is stunning! Along the way, stop at the open-air stone sculpture park – you can’t miss it. Make a quick stop along the Scarborough beach and grab your binoculars. If you’re lucky, you may spot some sharks lurking off the coast as the waves roll in.
10. A visit to the Western Cape wouldn’t be complete without a wine experience. If you’re only staying in Cape Town and have no time to explore the winelands around Stellenbosch/Franschhoek or further inland, I recommend touring the Cape’s oldest winelands in the Constantia Valley, just minutes away from Cape Town. There are a variety of wineries that are certainly worth a visit. One of them is Groot Constantia. Housed in lovely Cape Dutch buildings and surrounded by beautiful gardens, this historic estate is simply gorgeous.
Tip: You can combine points 5-10 as part of a 1-2-day drive from Cape Town along the Cape Peninsula loop.
One more tip: for that terrific panorama shot of Table Bay, the city and the Table Mountain in the background, head for Bloubergstrand, a gorgeous white, sandy beach just north of the city.
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Read other Velvet Escape posts on South Africa:
- The marine life of the Western Cape
- Driving the Klein Karoo loop
- Cederberg: mountain passes, safaris & San rock art
- A kaleidoscope of colour
Read other articles in the Velvet Escape “Ten” series: