It might be an 11 hour flight from the UK to South Africa but with a time difference of just two hours means it doesn’t feel quite as daunting as many other long-haul journeys that leave you jet-lagged for days.
Cape Town, ranked as one of the best cities in the world to visit by the Condé Nast Travel Awards is a port city on the southwest coast of South Africa famous for its location in the shadows of Table Mountain.
Packed with history, culture, food, wine, beaches and of course that stunning landscape, there is so much to do here you’ll struggle to fit it all in. For those planning a trip we’ve rounded up 10 things that should top your schedule.
1. Take A Cable Car Up Table Mountain.
No image of Cape Town is complete without the backdrop of Table Mountain – a flat-topped mountain that towers 1,085 metres above the city. Flanked by Devil’s Peak to the east and Lion’s Head to the west, on sunny days you can see the top but it is often shrouded in cloud, known as the ‘table cloth’.
The first recorded ascent to the top of the mountain was in 1503 when visitors would have climbed to the top by foot. Today you can still choose to hike on the sign-posted routes (although just because there are directions doesn’t mean it’s easy) or instead you can take a cable car to the top. But due to the landmark’s world-wide fame, be prepared to queue.
2. Go Wine Tasting At Groot Constantia Vineyard.
You’ve come all the way to South Africa so you really need to try some of the delicious local wines – it’s well worth taking the half-day journey out of the city to visit to local vineyards. And you don’t have to go far to find some.
Founded in 1685, the Groot Constantia wine estate is Cape Town’s oldest and most beloved location, and helpfully the first stop on the city’s open-top bus route (the purple line). So you don’t need to worry about drinking and driving. Get one of its tasting packages, which also come with chocolate pairings.
3. Explore The Bo-Kaap Neighbourhood.
Head to the Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, former Malay Quarter, with its vibrantly painted homes to get a flavour of old Cape Town. The cobbled streets of the Bo-Kaap (meaning ‘above the cape’) are easily walkable for tourists from the centre of the city, although as the name suggests it is a little bit uphill.
While you’re here, the Bo-Kaap museum is a must-visit to learn about the real history of the area and Cape Malay culture, including the first established Muslim mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque. Take a look around the local food shops to sample some delicious sweet Islamic delicacies. And of course, there’s the colourful “huurhuisjes”, which ask to be photographed.
4. Shop At The V&A Waterfront’s Watershed.
Save yourself from having to buy souvenirs in duty free at the airport because you forgot to do it earlier, and spend some time mooching around the Watershed at the V&A waterfront.
While a lot of the modern waterfront development can feel a bit soulless (just like any shopping centre in the world) the Watershed is full of independent brands and South African creatives who produce gifts and clothes, some of which give their profits to female artisans in local townships.
5. Drink Coffee At Truth Coffee Roasting.
Named best coffee shop in the world by The Telegraph, Truth Coffee Roasting lives up to its reputation by serving up the best drinks, brunch and customer service in the city. Staff dress in keeping with the steampunk-themed coffee house, and seating is centred around its giant grinding and roasting machinery.
The shop also offers barista courses should you fancy turning your hand to something new on holiday. And make sure you take one of its paper menus home – there’s too much to read in just one sitting.
6. Book For Dinner At Clarke’s Bar And Dining Room.
Clarke’s bar and dining room is a culinary gem – you’ll have to push through the crowds at breakfast, lunch and dinnertime. Founded in 2011, it serves all day breakfast, oysters, and sandwiches – including the hugely popular brisket sandwich. It also have a mean line in cocktails.
Located on the city’s gastronomical mile – Bree Street – it is designed so guests can either sit around the bar that looks on to the open kitchen, or at a bigger table. A hidden courtyard at the back also leads to a separate restaurant, Hail Pizza.
7. Drink Cocktails At The Hidden Gin Bar.
Continuing the theme of concealed locations – the city’s Hidden Gin Bar makes you feel like you’re in on a secret that no one else knows about (and a good one at that). The door to the gin bar is at the back of a chocolate shop – Honest Chocolate’at 64a Wale Street – and although you don’t need a password, it does all feel very James Bond.
If the weather is good, there’s a great outside space with tiled flooring and fairy lights, tucked away from the noisy streets. If you fancy something a little more cosy then head upstairs to the huge upstairs room with sofas and tables.
8. Visit Robben Island.
Robben Island is the former holding place of Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid campaigner and South Africa’s first democratically elected president, who spent 18 of his 27 years incarcerated on the island in Table Bay, 6.9 kilometres off the coast of Cape Town.
Today it is a World Heritage Site, complete with museum and daily tours. Most of the guides are former political prisoners from the island who will share their stories with guests. Tours from the mainland (boats leave from the V&A Waterfront ) take roughly three hours for a round trip. Boats do not operate in bad weather.
9. See Penguins On Boulders Beach.
Boulders Beach offers up something that you won’t see in many other places: a colony of African penguins. African Penguins used to be known as jackass penguins because of their distinctive braying, and they’re the only penguin species to be found on the continent. There are colonies from southern Namibia to Port Elizabeth, but few places offer such a good viewing point!
Although Boulders Beach is on the Cape Peninsula, it is located in Simon’s Town, more than 40km from Cape Town itself. So a trip to see the penguins is a proper day out, which many people combine with a day at the Cape Point lighthouse (see below).
10. Take A Selfie At The Bottom Of The World.
For your final stop in Cape Town, visit the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point lighthouse – the very tip of the rocky cape peninsula. Although the cape isn’t the southern most point in Africa (the actual point is 150km east at Cape Agulhas) the next land mass you hit if you head south would be the Antarctic. So it feels pretty special.
Keep your eyes peeled from the lighthouse because the waters round the cape are filled with bottlenose dolphins and southern right whales, which use this area as a breeding ground.