The city of Cape Town has to be one of the most astounding places I have ever visited in my life. No amount of photos, you tubing or research can quite prepare you for the sheer beauty of this place or the diversity of things to do here. Table Mountain majestically looms over the city, providing a dramatic backdrop almost everywhere you go. But between the golden beaches, vineyards and mountains there is so much more to discover in Cape Town. If you can’t already tell, I am now rather enamored with Cape Town having spent 4 whirlwind days seeking out and experiencing the highlights of this extraordinary city. So for anyone looking for some tried and tested recommendations, I’ve put together my Top 10 Things to do in Cape Town.
Reach the top of Table Mountain
Visiting Cape Town without going to the top of Table Mountain would be like going to Paris without going up the Eiffel Tower. Visitors have the option to either catch the cable-car up or hike up (two very different experiences I can assure you!). If you want more of a leisurely experience or will be tight for time like I was, the cable car is a charming experience. There are about 5 different table mountain hiking trails which range from 45 minutes to 4 hours depending on route and fitness level (click the link for some really handy info on the trails).
Once at the top, paved walkways lead the way to breathtaking 360 degree views of Cape Town. I’d recommend allowing about an hour or so to get stroll the whole way around and find a sunny spot to stop, sit, and take it all in. Table Mountain is firmly fixed on the tourist trail of Cape Town, but if that bothers you then swallow your alternative-traveller pride because missing out on this would be a tragedy.
Travelista Tip: If you’re going up by cable car be sure to nab a spot right by the window. The floor of the cable car rotates so you can see Cape Town from all angles as you make your ascent / descent.
Uncover the History of Robben Island
Best known for being home to the Prison where Nelson Mandela spent 19 years of his imprisonment, Robben Island is now a museum that brings the struggles of the apartheid’s political prisoners to life. Guided prison tours are conducted by ex inmates, which is included in the ticket price. Our guide was taken by ex inmate Ntando, who told us about his harrowing experience of 7 years in prison on Robben Island during the same time as Nelson Mandela. The tour was fascinating and we even got to see the cell that Nelson Mandela spent 11 years of his sentence. Mind bending stuff.
Travelista Tip: Arrive early for your designated ferry time to snap up a seat on the top deck of the ferry. The views of Table Mountain are spectacular! Tickets to Robben Island include a return ferry crossing from Cape Town’s Waterfront, a bus tour of the island and a tour of the maximum security prison for 280 Rand.
Visit The Penguins at Boulders Bay
A visit to Boulders Bay is an utterly charming experience whether you’re 7 or 70. Home to Cape Town’s largest penguin colony, Boulders Bay is scattered with hundreds of Penguins that supposedly stemmed from two penguins ‘left behind’ during migration season. The natural boulders that surround the beach and the jade green waters further add to the beauty of this special little spot. A raised boardwalk stretches down to the bay, but to protect the penguins you can’t actually walk along the beach itself. Fear not though, many penguins come up close to the boardwalk so you can still get up close and personal with these enigmatic creatures!
Wine Tasting at Steenberg Estate, Constantia
What could be more glorious than to spend an afternoon of your trip doing some wine tasting on a working Capetonian vineyard? Between Stellenbosch and Constantia there are so many vineyards to choose from, so let me make it easy for you, go to Steenberg! We enjoyed a pre-lunch wine tasting with Director of Steenberg Estates John Loubser, who took us through a tasting of 4 of Steenberg’s top wines along with a pairing of tasty canapés. John explained all about the wine-making process and the region of Constantia. I was hungry to learn more about the wines and furiously scribbled down notes about the wines I was tasting.
Tried and Tested Recommendation Combine your wine tasting with a delicious lunch in the sun at Steenberg’s Bistro 1682. The food is superb and it’s a great excuse to sample more of Steenberg’s wines over a long and lazy lunch. The specials are always top notch.
Lunch and Shopping on The Waterfront
With chic al-fresco cafes, live music and lively street entertainers, The Waterfront is a one of Cape Town’s most buzziest areas. Boutique shops sell local African art and souvenirs and the Victoria Wharf shopping centre has lots of the big brands. Umbrella stalls line the marina where you can book your fishing tours, whale watching and for those who dare, shark diving excursions.
Tried and Tested Recommendation: For a trendy lunch spot serving delicious seafood in chic surroundings, head to Mondiall. For a casual picnic bench lunch directly on the waterfront, Quay Four Restaurant is great value and an excellent choice.
Camps Bay & Clifton Beaches
Camps Bay and Clifton sit right next to each other and are two of the most affluent areas to live in Cape Town. With new-build dream beach houses making up prime real estate, the area even has it’s very own Millionaire’s Row. Camps Bay Beach is one of Cape Town’s most famous beaches and has been a Blue Flag Beach since 2008.
Clifton has 4 separate beaches known, quite simply, as Clifton 1, 2, 3 and 4. All 4 of the beaches are incredibly scenic and a perfect place to relax for the day, but if you’re not into nudist beaches I would give Clifton 4 a miss (depends what you’re in to!) Spend the day hopping from beach to beach and watching surfers take on the waves but beware, the sea is freezing as it’s on the Atlantic side of Cape Town so you may need a wetsuit if you want to join them!
Tried and Tested Recommendation: The street adjacent to Camps Bay beach is lined with al fresco restaurants and bars but for some amazing cocktails walk a little further to The Bungalow for a chic bar and restaurant right in-between Camps Bay and Clifton.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Another must-see is Cape Town’s Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I visited Kirstenbosch on my last day of the trip after a full on few days and wandering around the tranquil gardens was the perfect way to unwind. Pick up a map and follow the winding paths or just get lost on the trails. With a little café and gift shop, you could definitely spend a relaxed morning or afternoon here.
The Test Kitchen
A booking at The Test Kitchen is the hottest ticket in town right now in Cape Town, and it’s no wonder. The restaurant was voted ‘Best Restaurant in Africa’ and took 48th place in the World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards in 2014. On average it takes 6 months to get a table at this foodie hot spot, which offers incredibly creative fine dining in a relaxed and informal setting.
At first I was surprised at the casual fine dining concept, but it was really refreshing to enjoy intricate dishes without the white tablecloths and silver spoon service. The staff were casual and friendly but extremely knowledgeable about the menu. We opted to go for the Discovery Menu which was a 5 course tasting menu with wine pairing.
Each course had a choice of 2 dishes. My favourite dish was the “Kingklip” fish which is local to South Africa. The taste was sublime and the dish was beautifully presented. We were lucky enough to be greeted by owner of The Test Kitchen and Celebrity Chef, Luke Dale-Roberts, who has become South Africa’s most celebrated chef.
Shopping in Kalk Bay
For some relaxed beachfront retail therapy, Kalk Bay is a must. This quaint little coastal town has a waterfront road lined with independent shops selling art, jewellery, clothing, art and design pieces. It’s the perfect place to pick up something authentic from Cape Town without the rip off tourist prices.
It’s completely hassle free and shop vendors are happy for you to roam in and out of the shops without giving you the hard sell. The Kalk Bay Co-op is a fantastic collection of shops selling products and clothing made by local designers. I picked up a really cool skirt and pair of shorts there. It’s well worth a visit.
Tried and Tested Recommendation: Combine your shopping trip with lunch at Harbour House Restaurant, located in Kalk Bay through the fishing port. With white washed interiors and a spectacular waterfront setting, you can watch the waves crash in whilst enjoying the freshest seafood.
Muizenberg Beach is one of Cape Town’s longest beaches stretching a staggering 20 km along the coastline. With a strong Atlantic wind, Muizenberg is a mecca for Cape Town’s surfing community and the waves further add to the bracing beach experience here.
Primary coloured beach huts line the sands which can be hired for the day. In the summer months Muizenberg is a hive of activity and is lined with ice cream trucks, sun-worshipers and surfers. The area is also kid-friendly with some lovely beach-front play areas.
Where to Stay
At The Beach: Cape View Clifton To experience what it’s like to stay in a luxury beachfront beach house, stay at Cape View Clifton, where rooms start from ZAR2700 (approx £152) per room per night including breakfast. More details via www.capeviewclifton.co.za
On a Vineyard: Steenberg Far, Constantia For rural and relaxing luxury accomodation on a working Vineyard, stay at Steenberg Farm in Constantia where rooms start from ZAR2650 (approx £150) per room per night on a bed and breakfast basis. More details via www.steenbergfarm.com
How to Get There
I flew with Qatar Airways, which flies daily from London Heathrow to Cape Town via Doha. Roundtrip prices start from £747 economy and £3122 Business Class. Book via 0333 320 2454 or visit www.qatarairways.com.
Are you thinking of visiting Cape Town or recently travelled there yourself? If you enjoyed this post or were inspired by my travels, please leave a comment in the box and let me know! I’d be happy to answer any more questions about the trip and send some more recommendations your way. Thanks x Disclaimer: Some activities, restaurants and attractions mentioned in this post were provided complimentary as part of a press trip but all views are my own.