One of Africa’s most famous and beautiful cities, Cape Town is jam-packed with stunning sights and experiences, making it one of Southern Africa’s premier holiday destinations. Aside from the favourable exchange rate, world-class luxury hotels and top-class tourist facilities, here are 10 great reasons to take a holiday to South Africa’s “Mother City”.
South Africa’s famous and most photographed landmark stands proudly above the city bowl and waterfront. In 2011 Table Mountain was named one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Rising about 1km above the city of Cape Town, the flat-topped mountain is spectacular to look at both on clear days or when topped by a blanket of clouds. The steep face of the mountain, flanked by Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head, reflects the changing light of the day from sunrise to sunset for incredible photos, especially when taken from a vantage point at the V&A Waterfront.
The true attraction of Table Mountain is found at the summit, where you can experience the most breathtaking views of Cape Town, her beaches, Table Bay and out to Robben Island. If you’re extremely fit and have the time, you can hike up to the top – but I’d recommend that you rather take the easy way- on the Table Mountain Cableway. It’s safe, quick and a lot of fun. You’ll enjoy a 360° view as the large cable car slowly rotates, a unique feature that gives you a chance to see the view in all directions.
Once at the summit you’ll find great facilities and a network of well-laid out paths and viewing areas. Table Mountain forms part of the Cape Floral Region, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is one of the richest areas for plants in the world. Table Mountain National Park has more plant species within it’s 25,000 hectares than the whole of New Zealand. You might spot a rock hyrax, or “Dassie” as they’re known locally, a small and cute rodent-like animal, surprisingly they are an African Elephant’s closest living relative.
24 million visitors a year can’t be wrong! Cape Town’s VA Waterfront is the place to head for stunning harbour and Table Mountain views. Here you’ll find a historic working harbour that has been thoughtfully redeveloped into the hub of food, culture, shopping and fun. You’ll find the place teeming with locals and tourists alike soaking up the vibrant atmosphere. With over 80 restaurants, 7 museums, over 500 retail outlets, resident seals and live entertainment every day of the year, it’s a destination with something for everyone.
Make sure you stop to listen to the street performers to hear local music in a range of styles, and head to one of my favourite spots – the Watershed (it’s a big bright yellow warehouse) where you can browse exquisite locally produced goods and art. There’s also crafts in the blue and red sheds, and plenty of other interesting shops tucked all around the area. Quay Four Restaurant and Ferryman’s are both casual institutions to grab a drink and pub fare, or if you want something a bit more upmarket, the choices are endless. If all that is not enough, the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre has a wide range of stores from premium international brands to local brands.
I’m such a fan of the waterfront precinct that I normally base myself here at The Portswood Hotel when I visit Cape Town. I love the being so close to restaurants, shops and entertainment plus it’s easy to catch the hop-on-hop-off busses from here or take the ferry to Robben Island.
This stark little island off the coast of Cape Town, literally translated as “Seal Island”, is best known as the place where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned during apartheid. The island is a word heritage site, has a long and fascinating history that reaches back over 500 years. A tour here takes about 3.5 hours, starting at the V&A Waterfront where you’ll board a ferry out to the island. You’ll enjoy fascinating historical insights, stunning views back at Cape Town, and spotting the local wildlife.
The tour will give you a foundation understanding of the recent political history of South Africa, and what people like Nelson Mandela and his comrades went through to bring about change and the end of apartheid, and how his vision compares to the South Africa of today.
Established 110 years ago, Kirstenbosch was the first botanic garden in the world to be devoted to a country’s indigenous flora. Here everything you find is endemic to South Africa, and features plants from five of south Africa’s six biomes. Covering 1,305 acres, it’s one of the world’s largest and is situated on the Eastern slopes of Table Mountain.
Although the park would be at the top of the list for someone keen on gardening, it’s a stunning spot for anyone to enjoy, featuring many rare and impressive plants in a very scenic setting. My favourite part of the garden is the Camphor Avenue, a wide path underneath a canopy of Camphor trees. The gardens are a great spot to spend a couple of hours wondering around, and it’s often a bit cooler here than in the heart of the city, so a nice respite on a hot day. Check the internet before you go – in summertime, Kirstenbosch often holds Summer Sunset Concerts on Sunday evenings (The sun sets late in Cape Town in summer). Ask your hotel to pack you a picnic basket and head out for some local entertainment.
If the wind here doesn’t take your breath away- then the view definitely will! Cape Point is the most South-Western point of the African continent, and it’s a long finger-like ridge of land that just out into the ocean with stunning vistas on all side. The whole area is a nature reserve, so be on the lookout for baboons, zebra, bontebok, eland, ostriches, a myriad of bird species.
If you’re very lucky, you might be there on a day where you can see the warm and cold currents of Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet. The meeting moves between here and Africa’s Southernmost tip at Cape Agulhas, a fair way away.
The Cape Point Nature Reserve is also famed for the more than 1,000 species of fynbos, the indigenous plant species, so take some time to get a close look – you might see that the plants here look similar to those found in some coastal areas of Western Australia. Most fynbos species are characterised by tiny flowers, so it’s a great spot to go if you enjoy a bit of macro photography.
I love this little spot and it is a true gem that is easily accessible to visit when you’re in Cape Town. Boulders Beach is a stunning little beach cove sheltered on either side by large granite boulders. It’s in this little scenic spot that a colony of African penguins have made their home. Colony probably doesn’t describe it well – there are a literal crowd of penguins here, totally unperturbed by the humans gawking at them from the raised walkways.
Through all the cycles of the year, there’s something new to see here – parents nesting, chicks emerging as grey fluffy balls, and growing up to step into their sleek tuxedo livery. You can spend hours watching their antics as they strut around, shuffle off for a swim, or interact with each other on the beach and in their nearby burrows. With houses all around, it’s an unlikely spot to find such a thriving concentration of wildlife, but it seems here that penguins and people are happy to co-exist.
From Cape Point, to Chapman’s Peak Drive, to Clifton and Camps Bay and the wide sweep of Blouberg with views of Table Mountain, you’re going to be spoiled for stunning coastal vistas in Cape Town. Pure white sand that squeaks under your feet, crystal blue water, green hills and purple peaks make it impossible not to get your perfect photo anywhere in Cape Town. What makes it special is how many different gorgeous scenic areas you’ll find within just the greater Cape Town area.
Aside from the coastal scenery you’ll enjoy from Cape Point, Robben Island and Table Mountain that I’ve already mentioned, here are some of my favourites to make sure you include in your Cape Town holiday.
Chapman’s Peak Drive is practically a TV personality in South Africa- having been featured on so many car and tourism adverts over the year. It’s a stunning winding two-lane road that clings to the side of the cliff between Hout Bay and Noordhoek. Built over a hundred years ago, this impressive stretch of road was massively rebuilt around 20 years ago to improve the stability of the cliff face and implement safety measures to stop boulders falling onto the road. Considered one of the world’s most scenic drives, it’s 114 curves also make it a lot of fun for those energetic people who want to do it by bicycle (e-bike tours also available).
Close to the city centre, you’ll find Clifton Beach (well actually there are 4, inspiringly named Clifton Fist, Second etc) and then further along Camps Bay. While Clifton is the hangout of the rich and famous (and anyone else who likes climbing lots and lots of stairs), Camps Bay is the beach for the trendy set. It’s an awesome place to go relax for a late afternoon cocktail. While the white sand and clear water look enticing, only the bravest can manage the icy waters of the Atlantic.
For warmer waters, the locals will tell you to head to Muizemberg’s beach, although it’s still to chilly for me. Muizemberg is famous though for the colourful beach shacks that line the foreshore. For a beach with the best view though, you can’t beat heading over to Blouberg. This beach is well-known for kite surfing, but if you’ve ever seen a stunning photo of Table Mountains taken from a beach – it was probably taken from around Blouberg.
You’ll return home from Cape Town with photos worthy of a magazine!
You would have heard South Africa referred to as the “Rainbow Nation”, but you really need to visit to truly understand the diversity of race, language, art, cuisine and culture that makes Cape Town such a vibrant and exciting destination. Although there are 11 official languages in South Africa, everyone is able to speak English (although the accents might take a bit of getting used to).
In Cape Town, you’ll find a city alive with blended histories, originating from all corners of the globe – from the strong influence of early Dutch settlers visible in the architecture around the historic Gardens district, to African Xhosa art and music, European-style vineyards and food, just to name a few. You’ll stroll through a city of blended architecture from a 17th Century pentagonal Castle of Good Hope, to Graceful Cape Dutch buildings, Imposing Edwardian municipal buildings and historic stone buildings and even old warehouses near the waterfront.
Only a few minutes from the city centre and about 20 minutes’ walk from the waterfront is the colourful historic neighbourhood of Bo-Kaap. Once known as the Malay Quarter, it was established years ago by freed slaves, many who came from Southeast Asia and was once a racially segregated area during apartheid. The Cape Malay people, as they became known formed a bright and vibrant culture that is reflected in the colourful multi-coloured houses that line the street.
The 2nd of January every year sees the Cape town Minstrel Carnival Parade (Kaapse Klopse) march through town and end in Bo-Kaap. It’s a fantastic experience to witness the bright costumes and hear the foot-tapping and lively ghoema music. The carnival is loud, fun and steeped in tradition.
Amidst the myriad of cultures that make Cape Town and South Africa such a fascinating place, you’ll also discover the most important thing about the city – people are friendly. The locals love their city, they’re proud to share it with the world, and they’re appreciative of tourists who travel a long way to visit. If you smile at a stranger, you’ll get a smile in return and feel free to start a conversation with someone or ask a question and receive a friendly and helpful response.
South Africa has 30 different wine-growing regions, and those found around Cape Town – The Coastal Region and Constantia – are the oldest and most established in the country. Even if you aren’t a wine connoisseur, the wine regions are worth visiting just for the sheer beauty of the area. Nestled in verdant valleys and on the slopes of the mountains surrounding Cape Town, you’ll find vineyards growing different varieties of grapes, and producing some of the finest wines in the world. (And if you prefer Gin – this region has a thriving craft gin industry).
Groot Constantia is the oldest vineyard, at 332 years old this year. Visit to get a feel for the history of winemaking in this country, as well as stroll through the oak trees and across the rolling lawns towards the homestead- now a museum and a perfect example of Cape Dutch architecture.
The most well-known wine region is probably Stellenbosch. Home to one of South Africa’s top universities and surrounded by many of the top vineyards in the country, it’s a great place to base yourself if you want a lively stay in a picture-postcard town.
My favourite area by far though, it Franschhoek (translates as French corner). This stunning wine region can’t be beaten for views, and character. It was first known as the Valley of the Huguenots, where a community of French Huguenots were granted land by the Dutch Government of the Cape back in 1685. These settlers established some of the first wine farms in the Cape, and today many still bear their original French names. The town has always been famous for food and wine and is home to 8 of the top 100 restaurants in the country. The village itself is small, compact and full of galleries, coffee shops, confectioneries and a chocolaterie. For wine lovers, there’s the Franschhoek Wine Tram – a hop-on-hop-off wine tram (and bus) service that offers different routes visiting all of the vineyards in the valley. It’s an inexpensive way to have a great day out, without worrying about driving. Best of all – wine tasting in South Africa is often free- or if not free, then at a very nominal charge.
South Africa as mentioned is home to a diverse number of cultures, which means that we have a huge variety of cuisine styles for you to try – from Hearty Dutch-influenced cooking, to African flavours, Indian curries, Malay-influenced food, Portuguese (Nando’s originated in South Africa), as well as contemporary dishes similar to what you’d find over here. From Italian to Chinese, French to American-style diners (Wimpy breakfasts are great value), steakhouses to seafood restaurants, Cape Town has it all.
A big concern when you travel internationally is food safety and standards, and in South Africa, in any restaurant you can be assured that they follow strict health protocols, and food is always produced to the highest standards. If you take a visit to a township or informal market, your tour guide will show you the best and safest spots to eat.
Throughout South Africa you’ll find restaurants serving great quality meat, fresh seafood and fresh vegetables and salads. Cape Town is well known for seafood like beautiful pieces of fresh fish and crayfish, but fresh seafood is also flown in from other parts of Southern Africa- so you’ll find beautiful oysters, large prawns, calamari, mussels and everything in between. You’ll also find great steaks, and if you want to try it- many restaurants will serve game meat.
Aside from being fresh, South African food is very affordable. You’ll be paying pub prices for upmarket restaurant food, and your wine and beer won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Expect great service in restaurants, because wait staff rely on tips (10-15%) and while we aren’t used to tipping here in Australia, the cost of the meals reflect that fact that a service charge isn’t included.
My favourite bargain feed with a view in Cape Town? Head to Quay Four at the V&A waterfront and start off with 6 fresh oysters with a glass of sparking wine for around $11 and finish with a “Breakwater” seafood platter- it’ll cost around AUD $17! Yep – a seafood feast with a glass of sparkling for under $30.
Of course, you could always just chat to someone who has been to Cape Town- no doubt anyone who has spent a few days in this incredible city will have their own reasons why you “just have to go!”.