04/08/2014 12:37 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Cape Town City Guide

If you had to design the perfect city, it would probably end up looking something like Cape Town. With a string of beaches and stunning Table mountain, as well as innumerable vineyards around the South African city, there's also centuries of history to explore as well as its own unique cuisine and fantastic music.

If that's not enough, there's great shopping, stylish bars and fashion, jazz and wine festivals every year, plus plenty of sun. Best of all, as there's hardly any time difference, you could even make it for a long weekend... just don't forget to sleep on the plane.

Cape Town's different districts all have their own personality, but whether you want style, something quirky or simply to be in the heart of the city, there's plenty to choose from.

For a spot of glamour, you can't beat Camps Bay – slightly out of the city, there's more than a hint of Miami, with bars, restaurants and beautiful people lining the beach. Although most places have prices to match, Villa Surprise has just six bedrooms, a small pool, incredible views and rates start from around £110 per night. Book with i-escape

Or head to The Grand Daddy, famous for its rooftop Airstream trailers, and some seriously chic suites, all in the heart of buzzing Long Street. Rooms start from around £100.

But if you really want to splash out, the Victoria & Alfred hotel on the city's Waterfront, has been home to more than a few celebs who love the monochrome styling and views up to Table Mountain. Prices start at around £185.

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The waters of the Atlantic ocean might be a bit refreshing if you're looking to swim, but there's plenty of golden sand to warm up on afterwards on the coves along Table Bay. From chic Camps Bay to Clifton, on 'millionaire's row', you needn't drive for miles to get to the coast.

But if you fancy something more active, head over to Hout Bay. One of the favourites for windsurfing, paddleskiing and surfing, there's also a string of shops and restaurants along the harbour if you don't want hours in the sun.

Or if you'd rather share with a different kind of local, you can't beat Boulders Beach. Part of a conservation area, it's home to a colony of African penguins, and you can explore on the walkways or grab a spot on the beach if you get there early. There's an entrance fee.

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With its unusual flattened top dominating the city, locals even give directions using Table Mountain, so no trip is complete without heading up to the top for a view back over the city. You can hike up, with the shortest route taking around two hours, but don't be fooled by the fact that it's so close to civilisation, and do take the usual mountain-climbing precautions for changeable weather and sun.

Luckily there's also a cable car which will whisk you up the side, rotating the whole way so you get a view down to the sea and of the cliff face. From the top you'll be able to spot some of the city's bays, see out to neighbouring Devil's Peak, and if you're lucky, spot a dassie – the furry rock hyrax looks like an overgrown guinea pig but is most closely related to the elephant... Buy your tickets in advance at tablemountain.netto skip the queues, priced around £18.50.

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It's easy to see just Cape Town's glossy side but one thing you really shouldn't miss is taking a tour of one of the townships created under apartheid. Most start at the moving District Six museum, based in one of the multicultural communities destroyed when the government segregated the different races, to give you some background. Then you explore one of the nearby townships – usually Langa, the oldest, along with neighbouring former coloured township, Bonteheuwel, or Khayelitsha, the biggest.

Pick the right tour and you'll get to meet the welcoming locals, who genuinely appreciate people learning more about their lives and living conditions, while some of the cost goes to help train the people you meet as well. Yes, there's shacks and whole families crammed into tiny spaces, but they're also home to professionals who own larger detached houses and plenty of entrepreneurial spirit.

Try Grassroute tours which does a half day tour for around £35 while Coffee Beans Routes costs around £55 for its more unusual itinerary. It's not recommended to visit the townships on your own.

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Hit the streets in Cape Town and there's some unexpected treasures to stumble across – start under the shady trees of Company's Gardens, first established by the Dutch in the 17th century, and overlooked by the country's Parliament building as well as several museums. Then wander down Adderley Street towards Castle Street, keeping an eye open for some of the city's art deco buildings, before heading into the Castle of Good Hope

The oldest building in the country, and one of the few places where it's legal to fly the former apartheid South African flag, it still has furniture and art from the former Dutch governors, including a table seating 100, as well as a temporary exhibition on Cape Town's carnival. Entry costs around £2.50.

And don't miss a wander around the Bo Kaap district, the Cape Malay quarter where freed slaves made their home. All the buildings are painted in bright candy shades, so each street is a blaze of colour – it's also a great spot to buy spices and try the local curries and bobotie.

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Whether you're looking for crayfish, kudu or curry with a twist, there's some fantastic restaurants in Cape Town. Hit the Waterfront for fresh fish, from upmarket Sevruga to Fisherman's choice, where you can get calamari and local fish snoek for around a fiver.

Or head to Marco's African Place, to try anything from crocodile carpaccio to springbok, impala and kudu on the menu for around £9, along with live African music in the background courtesy of the multitalented percussionists and singers.

But for something a bit different, one company, Homes of Africa can arrange for you to have a meal with a local Cape Town family – you'll be matched by interest, and get to chat about life in the city over an authentic meal, from bobotie to squash and guavas with custard.

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Why bother with a bar, when you've got vineyards on your doorstep? Without even leaving Cape Town, you can head to the wineries at Constantia or Buitenverwachting – or make a day of it and head out to the winelands. Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschoek are all within around an hour's drive and many offer tastings, as well as lunch. Check out Fairview for some great cheese and wine, or try lunch under the trees at the Boschendal vineyard or looking out to one of the area's most fabulous views at Haute Cabriere.

Not that Cape Town is short of bars, of course. Long Street is packed with places to drink, and stays buzzing into the night.

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As well as a few bottles of wine, there's plenty to pack into your suitcase from souvenirs and jewellery to funky homewares. Start at the Waterfront Craft Market, in the blue shed, which has a whole section for local art, including some made from used tea bags, as well as African patterned dresses, jewellery and carvings galore. Nearby Indaba also has a good range, while the Alfred Mall is a good place to browse the boutiques.

For something more stylish, Avoova specialises in eco-friendly ostrich shell products from bowls to bracelets, or Imagenius on Long Street is set over three floors for everything from shoes to sofas made from suitcases. You'll also find stylish homewards at Still Life, as well as African music, funky clothes and more beaded jewellery than you can carry at a whole string of shops along the same street.

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Only 30 minutes from Cape Town's waterfront, Robben Island was used to incarcerate and exile political prisoners for centuries, before famously imprisoning Nelson Mandela for 18 years. While the prison itself is no longer in use, you can have guided tours from former inmates as well as a guided bus ride on the island. Hearing firsthand about the harsh conditions makes for an emotional experience, although there are more upbeat moments when you hear about the professionals – former doctors, teachers and lawyers – who helped educate their fellow prisoners.

Tickets cost around £18.50 for a three and a half hour visit, including return boat trip, and do need to be booked in advance during high season and weekends, in particular. Some companies also offer tours of the island, and may have availability once the tickets on the website have sold out.

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British nationals do not need a visa to visit South Africa, for holidays of less than 90 days. It's recommended that you have two blank pages in your passport on arrival.

South Africa is two hours ahead of GMT, but only one hour ahead of British Summer Time.

There are direct flights from London Heathrow to Cape Town with South African Airways, British Airways, BMI and Virgin Atlantic from around £750.

Visit for more information.

Starter for 10: Cape Town