The most amazing things to do in and around Cape Town
You really can’t overstate the case for visiting Cape Town. First, there’s the in-your-face beauty of a craggy mountain range that drops precipitously into a glittering sea, its flanks carpeted in greens and delicate florals. Then there’s the pristine white beaches lapped by – it must be said – a chilly Atlantic, their curves defined by giant granite boulders to bake on. Yet, of course, Cape Town is not just about exploring nature because the city has a cool urban edge too. It has always been home to some of Africa’s most innovative artists and designers and it is now home to the Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, too. Let Telegraph Travel expert Pippa de Bruyn help you discover the best things to do in Cape Town.
See the city dwarfed
You haven’t truly understood the soul of Cape Town until you’ve ascended the 500-million year old mountain at its core, and gazed into the blue expanse of ocean and heaven that surround it. Originally known as Hoerikwaggo, meaning ‘Mountain of the Sea’ because it seems to rise directly from the ocean, Table Mountain dominates the Lego-city at its feet.
Insider’s tip: It’s easiest to ascend by cable car from the City Bowl, but to appreciate the botany, walk up, then take the cable car down. Plattekloof Gorge, the least strenuous (1.5 to two hours) is also the busiest; Skeleton Gorge is by far the most scenic but you’ll need around five hours and be fairly fit.
Discover the benefits of a sunset hike
Tackle the Lion’s Head hike just before sunset, and you will be rewarded by the most spectacular 360-degree views: the huge horizon deepening to pink, burnishing the ocean, while below the city lights start to twinkle. It’s a round loop that takes you up the tail, back and mane up to the head of the lion, and takes around one hour.
Insider’s tip: It’s increasingly popular, so be prepared for a festive vibe rather than communing with nature. Pack a torch and an extra layer for the descent.
V&A Waterfront and Woodstock
Catch the ferry for art and a slice of history
While admittedly touristy, the pedestrianised Waterfront is lovely to stroll around. It’s also the departure point for the ferry to Robben Island, where Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years, and home to the brilliant new Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, where Nicholas Hlobo’s dragon soars into the atrium cut into the original grain silo. It’s a wonderful collection that puts paid to old-fashioned ideas of African art being ‘figurative’ or craft. Hallelujah.
Insider’s tip: On Wednesday mornings MOCAA is free for African passport holders – you may want to avoid it at this time because it’s much busier..
Nibble yourself full in an artisanal food market
Rammed with the city’s hipsters nibbling free samples of homemade meats, breads, dips, olives, and cheeses, the weekly Neighbourgoods Market in the Old Biscuit Mill is as much fun for people watching as for the artisanal spreads. Oranjezicht City Farm Market in Granger Bay (close to the Waterfront) is the other must-see food market, here showcasing organic produce harvested that morning from the city and surrounding small-scale farms, alongside stalls selling mouthwatering prepared dishes.
Insider’s tip: It pays to get to either at 9am sharp. Both operate on Saturday mornings only. You could squeeze in a visit to both; allow 15 to 30 minutes travel time.
Southern Peninsula and Atlantic Seaboard
Experience two seasons in one day
The circular route to Cape Point loops around the mountainous spine that runs the length of the peninsula. Crossing from dawn-rising False Bay to sunset-blessed Atlantic Seaboard, the weather may change dramatically. Highlights include the cliff-hugging Chapman’s Peak Drive, wind-swept Cape Point; naval Simonstown (where most visit the penguin colony at Boulders, incidentally also a lovely swimming beach), Kalk Bay, Constantia and Kirstenbosch. An unmissable day trip.
Insider’s tip: Most rush straight to Cape Point; if you have time, visit one of the reserve’s typically deserted beaches.
Taste the city’s past and present
Cape Town took shape around the kitchen garden planted by the VOC (Dutch East India Company) to supply their ships. Join one of the Cape Food & Wine Tours to visit the newly replanted kitchen garden in the old Company’s Garden. You’ll also learn about the samosas and koeksusters (a traditional sweet made of dough and infused in honey or syrup) prepared by Malay descendents in the Bo Kaap, all while sampling inner-city wineries, cheesemakers and hipster coffee shops along the way. It is a most enjoyable way to get to grips with the city’s multi-cultural heritage.
Insider’s tip: If you want to a more DIY approach, browse Bree Street (a pavement table here is the best place to experience the carnival-like First Thursdays), then head up Wale street to Rose Café for the most authentic selection of Cape Malay treats.