Visit Mandela’s former cell, swim with sharks, then down some Karate Water
1. Catch a cable car up Table Mountain…
…then abseil back down. If you fancy following a rope 112 metres down Table Mountain (and we’d recommend it as the world’s highest commercial abseil even if it wasn’t for the views), then Abseil Africa (297 Long Street, 021 424 4760, www.abseilafrica.co.za) is your best bet. The less adventurous can catch the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway up… and back down. The quick ride will give you a bird’s eye view of the City Bowl. The summit can also be reached on foot through a multitude of beautiful albeit exhausting, trails. If you want a longer experience – spending up to five nights in tented camps – take the long-distance Hoerikwaggo Trail (www.sanparks.org) up from the Cape of Good Hope.
2. Dive into shark-infested waters
Just when you thought it was safe to go into the water… South Africa has an incredibly diverse shark population. A quarter of the world’s shark species (98 to be precise) dwell in South African waters and around 40 of these call the waters around Cape Town home.
Adrenalin junkies will want to make the 175-kilometre (110-mile) journey to Gansbaii, the white shark capital of the world. Shark cage diving is big business here and the tourism bureau endorses a whopping eight companies. Most charge around R1,100 for a session, but offer different packages (refreshments, shuttle service to and from Cape Town and so on) so phone around to find one that suits your needs. Try Great White Shark Tours (028 384 1418/083 300 2138/www.sharkcagediving.net); Marine Dynamics (028 384 1005/082 380 3405/www.sharkwatchsouthafrica.com); Shark Diving Unlimited (028 384 2787/082 441 4555/www.sharkdivingunlimited.com); Shark Lady 028 312 3287/083 746 8985/www.sharklady.co.za; UnrealDive (021 553 0748/083 273 4920/www.unrealdive.com); White Shark Ecoventures 021 532 0470/083 412 3733/www.white-shark-diving.com); or White Shark Projects (028 384 1774/076 245 5880/www.whitesharkprojects.co.za).
Alternatively, take the safer option and visit the Two Oceans Aquarium. The I&J Predator Tank is the pièce de résistance, with its mob of ocean predators, including ragged tooth sharks, blue stingrays and black mussel crackers, all drifting together in seeming harmony – until feeding time, that is (3pm).
3. Get the gastronomy juices flowing
Cape Town’s best gastronomy is to be found dotted around the central city. Try Jardine for pared down, subtle flavours (dishes might include tender Chalmar beef fillet with oxtail, and tomatoey West Coast crayfish risotto), Bizerca Bistro for bistro classics with a fresh twist brought to you by award-winning chef Laurent Deslandes, or La Colombe, where chef Luke Dale-Roberts wows foodies from across the globe with the likes of springbok medallions with celeriac purée in a rich port and truffle sauce.
4. Take a lesson in South African history
Robben Island and the District Six Museum are must-visits for anyone interested in South Africa’s period of apartheid, which came to an end in 1990.
The fascinating and inspirational Robben Island is a symbol both of centuries of cruel oppression and the triumph of hope. It has become synonymous with the former leader of the free and democratic South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 years in its maximum security prison.
The award-winning community museum, District Six lays bare the time when the ruling government declared the area ‘whites only’ and over 60,000 of its residents were forcibly taken from their homes and shipped out to the Cape Flats, before their houses were reduced to rubble.
5. Explore the continent’s unique tastes and flavours
Cape Town offers adventurous eaters tastes from across the African continent, be it Xhosa fare like samp (crushed maize used in porridge) and marog (African spinach), spongy injeras (flatbreads) from Ethiopia, or Cape Malay cuisine.
For an authentic taste of Cape Malay food (samosas, lamb denningvleis, or mild chicken kalya) head to Biesmiellah’s. For dishes from across the local spectrum, try Nyoni’s Kraal, which serves braaivleis (barbecue), Malay curries, amangina (chicken feet) and smileys (sheep’s heads). For something more universally appealing, try the Africa Café, where you’ll have your pick of everything from Xhosa spinach patties and Mozambican peri-peri prawns to Ethiopian lamb. Mama Africa is another Pan-African treat, boasting a live (and loud) Congolese band and as much meat from feathered, scaled and furry beasts as you can eat, all served with a side of samp and pap (mealie meal porridge).
There’s more African food at Marco’s African Place. The menu includes specialities like Zwelethu’s Favourite Chicken (simmered with onions and peppers) and a platter of pan-fried springbok, ostrich and kudu fillets. End your meal with the tongue-in-cheek Group Areas dessert, comprised of white and dark chocolate mousses. You can taste the food of Ethiopia at the beautiful and authentically decorated Addis in Cape, where you are encouraged to eat with your hands, mopping up every drop sauce with pieces of injera (flatbread).
6. Walk a Museum Mile
Running straight as an arrow down the leafy haven of Company’s Gardens (a symbolic silent bell stands testimony to the slaves who once toiled in this former vegetable garden) is the oak-lined pedestrian strip of Government Avenue, providing access to Adderley Street, the National Gallery (with permanent and temporary exhibitions showcasing South African art spanning the centuries, as well as the occasional retrospectives of the likes of Picasso and Marelene Dumas), Houses of Parliament (buildings which have seen their fair share of action though the years), the Iziko Museum (home to the animal kingdom in taxidermy form), the Iziko Planetarium (which covers all things celestial), and the Iziko Slave Lodge (built by the Dutch East India Company to house up to 9,000 slaves, convicts and the mentally ill).
7. Drink in the Long Street vibe
Long Street is the place for partying: bars like Julep (one of Cape Town’s best-kept secrets, with bare brick walls, comfy couches and a spectacular selection of cocktails) and the Waiting Room (a cosy, unpretentious bar with retro chairs and lighting of the kind that your granny might have had. There’s also a stunning roof deck for hanging out on those hot summer nights), while Neighbourhood has a laid-back feel and a vast balcony from which to watch the goings-on on the street below.
8. Dip your toes into hidden waters
To avoid squealing kids, whirring jet-skis and wayward Frisbees, head to one of these secluded sandy shores for some undisturbed rest and relaxation.
Situated a convenient ten minutes’ drive from the city centre, this postage-stamp-sized beach is flanked by big boulders, which makes it great for swimming as well as uninterrupted sun-bathing.
Oudekraal Oudekraal lies right next door to Beta Beach. It offers a protected cove at the bottom of a steep set of stairs, which is surrounded by a thicket of milkwood trees. Since this area forms part of the Table Mountain National Park, there’s a R10 entrance fee, but it’s a negligible amount to pay for the splendour that waits inside.
Smitswinkelbaai Further out of town, and heading in the direction of Cape Point, keep a lookout for the tiny gravelled parking area by the side of the road between Simon’s Town and the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Once there, dash across the road and commence a 15-minute downward amble along the overgrown footpath until you reach the unspoilt, isolated Smitswinkelbaai. The view of the lush valley is well worth the extra effort involved in getting here and the calm water makes for great snorkelling.
Tietiesbaai Just under two hours’ drive from town, Tietiesbaai is situated in the Cape Columbine Reserve on the West Coast. It boasts carpets of colourful wild flowers in spring and a guaranteed soundtrack of silence thanks to the prohibition of anything that blares, barks, roars and whirrs.
9. Take home an African memento
Savvy visitors know to come with a half-empty suitcase ready to fill up with well-priced buys for themselves, friends and families, a portion of which is reserved for African mementos. Visit the Pan African Market (a gem for Victorian tiling, old fok art, and custom-tailored garments) and Greenmarket Square (offers a full range of African folk art plus well-priced CDs and souvenir clothing) for a real-deal bargaining experience.
For quality gifts and souvenirs head to Heartworks (abuzz with a broad range of local crafts hailing from locations as diverse as rural Africa and cutting-edge urban studios), Imagenius (a stylish horn of plenty, fusing neo-Rococo with modern third-world knick-knacks), and Baraka (something for all tastes, ranging from wire woven baskets, cacti and pop-art pics to authentic African masks and beautifully bound Indian leather notebooks). For homeware make tracks to Africa Nova (an encyclopedic treasure chest of Pan-Africa objets) or African Image, where Africana is juxtaposed with modern transitional pieces, and for antiques get along to Lütge Gallery.
10. Waddle down to a penguin colony
Enjoy some beach time with the endearing jackass penguins (so-called because of their unrefined singing voices that resemble those of braying jackasses) who call the African Penguin Colony at Boulder’s Beach home. For R5 extra, you can spy on slippery sea life or beach babes through the binoculars dotting the walkway.
11. Eat something fishy
Some of the world’s finest tuna can be found off South Africa’s shores and luckily Cape Town’s chefs snap some of it up before it’s shipped to Japan. Order fresh tuna just-seared – anything more and the flavour will be destroyed. The prawns you’ll find on local menus are generally well priced and portions plentiful – ask for yours peri-peri: the spice makes all the difference. Capetonians are big on line-caught fish and if yellowtail or cob is on offer, be sure to order it. But try to steer clear of kingklip, as it’s on the soon-to-be-threatened list. Restaurants are increasingly aware of eco-friendly seafood choices and if you’re not sure that the special of the day is above board, simply text the fish name to 079 499 8795 and you’ll get an SMS response giving the red (no), orange (maybe) or green (yes) status of the fish you’re thinking of ordering.
Not sure where to start? If you’re watching your wallet, the cheap and cheerful offerings of the Ocean Basket chain are ideal (www.oceanbasket.co.za; branches around the city). Nobu is on the opposite end of the price scale, but a culinary and seafood experience par excellence, as is Baia. Miller’s Thumb in the City Bowl is a family favourite, with the freshest fare treated with care. Willoughby & Co, at the V&A Waterfront, remains one of the city’s most popular sushi and seafood destinations, while you can’t go wrong with fish and chips from Texies on Grand Parade.
12. Relax and unwind in a palace of pampering
Cape Town has all the ingredients for an alluring city break: sun, sea, shopping and thankfully, if hedonism’s your bag, quality spas too. Here’s our round-up of the best rest and relaxation spots.
13. Toast the Cape Winelands
It’s only an hour’s drive from Cape Town – though it’s a very scenic hour – but the famous Cape Winelands feel like a different world. There are rolling vineyards, towering mountains, historic wine estates and more than enough wine to keep even the thirstiest old soak satisfied.
Cape wine enjoys an impressive reputation, and the Winelands are home to most of South Africa’s premier wine estates. The good news is that nearly every farm and estate in the area offers wine-tasting: you’ll need a designated driver, though.
Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are the largest, nearest and most famous towns in the region, but the further you go the more you’ll discover. The Winelands, and their rustic, rural gems such as Robertson and Montagu, offer more than just wine presses and vineyards.
Visit the Cape Town & Western Cape tourist board website (www.tourismcapetown.co.za) for general information about the Winelands, and the following regional tourist board websites for specifics: Paarl (www.paarlonline.com), Franschhoek (www.franschhoek.org.za) and Stellenbosch (www.tourismstellenbosch.co.za).
Fairview Wine Estate
The cheeky goats in front of the Goatshed Restaurant love kidding around for the cameras. They have completely stolen the limelight from all that this lovely wine estate has to offer: three wineries producing well-loved wines; a cheesery and a range of top-notch olive oils.
Suid-Agter-Paarl Road, Southern Paarl (021 863 2450/www.fairview.co.za).
Stellenbosch American Express Wine Route
At this dedicated Wine Route office, staff are on hand to help you tailor-make your own tour to suit your priorities: big, classic wines or new, unusual tastes; restaurants; or child-friendly activities.
Wine Route Office, 36 Market Street (021 886 4310/www.wineroute.co.za).
14. Swan about in the St-Tropez of Cape Town
Dubbed the St-Tropez of Cape Town, this classy cove offers an array of swish bars and restaurants, Riviera-style palm trees and yachts bobbing on the water. As you cruise down the Victoria Road stretch, the rows of ritzy drinking holes with their blinged-up, tanned-to-a-tee and beautiful patrons mean that you’re unlikely to be winning any best-dressed trophies should you turn up in flip-flops and a weather-beaten sarong. At the northern, and less busy, end of the beach surfers wait for a few killer waves; at the southern end, you can practise your bobbing skills in the tidal pool.
15. Go to the heart of the art scene
At the foot of Devil’s Peak, the tattered suburb of Woodstock is fast becoming Cape Town’s new art centre. Worn Victorian buildings are getting new licks of paint, while derelict warehouses are being transformed into swish art galleries. Not too long ago the area’s gang-ridden reputation branded it a no-go territory for the affluent. Today, the gallery names lining the streets read like a who’s-who of the local contemporary art scene.
Indie outfit What if the World (created as a community-conscious platform for emerging young artists to strut their stuff) was the first to take the plunge; other stalwarts soon followed, with the Goodman Gallery Cape (the creator of which made the careers of the biggest names in South African art today) pioneering the migration and Michael Stevenson (which showcases an international collection of contemporary art in a swish, industrial-looking space) and Bell-Roberts (where the focus is on prize-winning Cape-based art stars) following hot on its heels.
16. Sip the best afternoon tea in the world
Get ready to arch your pinky: the Mount Nelson Hotel, known by locals as the Pink Palace, boasts the best afternoon tea in the world – and a host of international foodies and travel writers agree.
17. Pick up some local bling
The African continent is rich in both precious gemstones and metals, as well as jewellery design talent.
If a visit to the V&A Waterfront is on the cards, there are plenty of slick jewellery spots to visit, while contemporary jewellery-lovers feel right at home at bastion of local design Tinsel (021 448 6183, www.tinsel.co.za) at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, featuring cutting-edge pieces by a mixed bag of designers. Olive Green Cat (79 Kloof Street, Gardens, 021 424 1101, www.olivegreencat.com) is the shared shop and studio of young guns Ida-Elsje and Philippa Green, and a must-stop for those who like to stay on the cutting edge of jewellery design.
And for an all-in-one experience, visit the newly opened Jewellery Avenue (021 446 4600) in the heart of the city (corner of Hout and Burg streets), with more than 20 stores carrying everything from Afro-chic crafty items to custom-made pieces and bargain diamond buys.
Visit Afrogem (64 New Church Street, Gardens, 021 424 0848) for a fascinating factory tour and insight into the jewels that come from the continent and the Gold of Africa Museum to see the largest assortment of African gold objects in the world.
18. Discover the Cape Jazz rhythm
Cape Town’s jazz scene is a crucial part of its heritage. The city’s rich jazz tradition stems from artists finding inspiration in their struggles during the apartheid years. Since then, the music has evolved into its own genre, Cape Jazz, a style with a distinct African spice. It’s a way of life in the Cape – and you’ll find it everywhere from the heart of the townships to the most lavish cigar lounge.
The number of jazz festivals and venues speaks for itself, and events like the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (021 422 5651/www.capetownjazzfest.com) and the Jazzathon (021 696 6961/082 450 0079/www.jazzathon.co.za) draw enthusiasts from all over the world.
19. Knock back a glass of Karate Water
Brandy and coke is a favourite local tipple, known colloquially as ‘Klippies and coke’, after popular local brandy Klipdrift. Another local name for it is Karate Water (because consumption is said to induce drunken bravado).
20. Pull on some skinny jeans
Indie rock in Cape Town has become a genre that is embraced by almost every subculture from emo girls with asymmetrical hair and impossibly tight jeans to jock types more typically taken with Jagerbombs and rugby.
From the guitar-heavy indie pop sounds of Eat This, Horse! – who can be heard at venues like Evol and Zula Sound Bar – to the grooving synthesizers of Unit R, Capetonian bands span the genre.
Look out for Capetonian bands Dirty Skirt (www.myspace.com/thedirtyskirts), Ashtray Electric (www.myspace.com/ashtrayelectric), The Beams (www.myspace.com/thebeamsband) and New Loud Rockets (www.myspace.com/newloudrockets1) frequenting the stage at venues including Obz Café and Klein Libertas Theatre.