South Africa’s second largest city – after Johannesburg of course – is also one of its safest. This delightful city has much to entertain and impress the visitors who come in their millions every year. If you’re still undecided about whether you want to join them, read my ten reasons to visit Cape Town and let me try to convince you.
To admire the view from the top of Table Mountain
Flat-topped and frequently covered in cloud, Table Mountain towers over Cape Town offering visitors the chance of incredible views both over the city and along the nearby coastline. It’s a strenuous hike to the summit, so many tourists hop on the revolving gondola instead. Cute furry creatures called dassies live among the rocks; despite their diminutive size, their closest relation is, surprisingly, the elephant. Even if you don’t catch a glimpse of them the vegetation is stunning in itself, from the Cape Fynbos shrub to the eye catching flowers of the protea. It’s worth the drive to the attractive sand dunes found in the nearby beach resort of Bloubergstrand to see the mountain and the city beneath it from the bay.
To take a walking tour of Bo Kaap
This is certainly one of the city’s most colourful and historic neighbourhoods. Once the Malay Quarter, these days you’ll find plenty of clues to the area’s past, including the 18th century Auwal Islam mosque. Stroll through the area enclosed by Dorp Street, Rose Street and Chiappini Street to find stores selling exotic spices such as charoli, rasgulla and amchur powder. Learn a little about the varied and fascinating history of Bo Kaap in the museum on Wale Street.
To have brunch at Camps Bay
Chic and sophisticated, the beach suburb of Camps Bay is the perfect place to savour a leisurely weekend brunch. Take a seat in one of the seafront cafés and soak up the beautiful surroundings. One end of the beach is marked by the iconic Lions Head mountain, while the unmistakable formation of the Twelve Apostles lines the bay. On the beach you’ll be able to watch people surf, jog and walk the dog as you tuck in to your delicious plate of food. Walk off those calories picking up the trail from Kloof Nek, which leads walkers across the top of Camps Bay.
To ponder historic events at Robben Island
Reserve well ahead for the boat trip to Robben Island, the prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 long years. It was a notoriously harsh place, with a regime intended to break the spirits of those who were held in its cells. Brutal and cruel punishments were meted out, interspersed with backbreaking spells labouring in the island’s quarry. In Mandela’s autobiography, he wrote that he was greeted with the words “This is the Island! Here you will die!” Such troubled times are a distant memory now, but it remains an essential part of all visitor itineraries.
To learn about District Six
It might sound like something out of the Hunger Games but in fact District Six was an inner city neighbourhood that was largely populated by Cape Malays working in the nearby docks. In 1966, the rundown area was designated as “whites only” and the bulldozers moved in to flatten all but a few mosques and churches ready for redevelopment. Something like 60000 residents were forcibly relocated to the Cape Flats. Today, some of that area remains derelict, a poignant memorial to a broken community. The District Six Museum tells some of the stories that underpin this shameful episode of the city’s history and they’re a riveting read.
To shop on Long Street
Long Street is aptly named. Countless independent boutiques are housed in the Victorian buildings which extend the length of this busy thoroughfare, many of which feature elaborate wrought iron balconies. Don’t miss the Pan-African Market which is home to traders from across Africa, who bring with them piles of curios each with their own story. Stop off too at the Palm Tree Mosque, constructed in 1780, and the fascinating Slave Church Museum. Long Street comes into its own after dusk, when the shops close to allow the many bars and restaurants to take centre stage.
To stroll through the Company Garden
Originally laid out by the Dutch East India Company in 1652, the Company Garden is still one of the most attractive green spaces anywhere in the city. Initially, it was a vegetable garden, but these days the more varied planting indicates a different purpose. As you walk through the Garden, keep your eyes peeled for the statue of Cecil Rhodes, intended for the Adderley Street entrance but moved to a less prominent position. The statue’s plinth bears the inscription “Your hinterland is there” referring to Rhodes’ ambition to extend the colony all the way from the Cape to Cairo. Another must see is the Slave Bell. The bell is not in fact any kind of slave bell; instead it was the bell from the fire station in nearby Greenmarket Square.
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To hang out at the V&A Waterfront
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (it’s named after the British monarch and her son, not her husband) was originally a 19th century harbour. Today, alongside the boats, the dock basins are also the focus for leisure with plenty of shops, cafés and restaurants as well as a liberal scattering of craft shops and the city’s aquarium. Grab a selfie beneath the easily identifiable clock tower, an eight sided construction dating from 1882 when it was built as the Port Captain’s office.
To visit the penguins
A short drive out of town takes you to Boulders Beach. There, you’ll find a colony of African penguins that make their home by the shore. Park up and wander down to Foxy Beach, a protected breeding ground for these comic little birds. You’ll need to stay on the wooden boardwalks, but the curious creatures will come up and say hello for sure. They pose, waddle and pose some more, making a funny braying noise which once gave them the name Jackass penguins. Take care as you drive away as they’re fond of sheltering under people’s cars.
To test your mettle on Chapman’s Peak Drive
One of the most spectacular drives in South Africa begins not far from the city: Chapman’s Peak Drive. Past Llandudno Beach and Hout Bay, you reach the start of Chapman’s Peak Drive which weaves its way around the headlands that jut out alongside the ocean to create a thrilling road trip. This scarily narrow road hugs the cliff so tightly that in places it extends over the roof of your car. In bad weather, the road’s closed but on a fine day, you’ll be grateful to be the passenger so you can take in the breathtaking views without the need to concentrate on the road ahead. Drive on to Cape Point, the most south-westerly point in Africa, for incredible views over False Bay and down to Diaz and Cape Maclear’s beaches.
About the Author: Julia Hammond
Enthusiastic advocate for independent travel and passionate geographer, travel writer Julia considers herself privileged to earn a living doing something she loves. When not roaming the globe, you’ll find her windswept but smiling, chatting away to her two dogs as they wander the Essex marshes.