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Cape Town Travel Guide
Cape Town in South Africa is one of the world's most beautiful cities. This guide to Cape Town will help you find accommodation, transportation and highlight the best things to see and do. Also check out our ideas for "Free Things to Do in Cape Town" if you'd like to explore the city without spending any money.
Each page will lead you to discover more about Cape Town. We start with:
When you visit Cape Town you'll see a huge slab of sandstone, 1086m high and 3km long, smack in the middle of town - that is Table Mountain. Table Mountain's top is often shrouded in clouds commonly known as the mountain's "tablecloth". The mountain is home to more than 1400 unique species of plants as well several mammals and over 100 invertebrates. The views of Cape Town and its coastline from the top are spectacular (if the mountain doesn't have it's tablecloth). You can even see Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years. There are cable cars to get you to the top but if you're fit it's worth attempting the 3 hour climb up one of the many trails. If you are interested in paragliding down you can do that too. There's a restaurant and a souvenir shop at the top of Table Mountain for your convenience.
Note: The cable cars do not operate when there are strong winds (which is fairly frequently). If the mist comes down while you're at the top of the mountain a horn will go off as a warning. If you hear the horn make your way to the cable cars to get down safely. To check if the cable car is operating call (021) 424 0015 or see the official website.Continue to 2 of 10 below.
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Cape Town's Beaches
There are many excellent beaches around the city of Cape Town to enjoy especially during the summer months from December to February. Which beach you choose in Cape Town really depends on what activity you're in the mood for. For a rundown of watersports, including surfing, diving, sailing, kayaking and kite-surfing in the Cape Town area, see our guide to - Watersports in Cape Town.
Continue to 3 of 10 below.
- The best beaches in Cape Town .....
- To see and be seen is Clifton Beach. Certainly the trendiest of all Cape Town's beaches, filled to the brim with gorgeous young people showing off their bodies. Not a great place for swimming since the the Atlantic is absolutely freezing here.
- For families are the beaches in Muizenburg and Fish Hoek along the False Bay coast. It's warmer than the Atlantic coast so the kids can actually swim and there's a lifeguard on duty as well as plenty of entertainment at the Pavilion.
- For nudists is at Sandy Bay, Cape Town's unofficial nudist beach. It's a bit windy and there are no amenities nearby but it's a beautiful quiet beach.
- To see penguins is Boulders Beach. It's a good spot for kids and while the main population of penguins are now separated from the swimming beach, there are still plenty of penguins who will swim alongside you. A small fee is charged to visit this beach.
- To Watch whales from are those at False Bay in October and November.
- To take long walks on is Noordhoek Beach for 8km's of fine sand with a shipwreck to explore midway.
- To surf at are Camps Bay Muizenberg and Noordhoek. But check our guide to - Watersports in the Cape Town Area and South Africa's Top 10 Surfing Spots, for more information.
- The best beaches in Cape Town .....
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Cape Town's Winelands
Whether you enjoy drinking wine or not, the Cape Winelands are a must for anyone traveling to Cape Town. The Winelandsare situated east of Cape Town among beautiful mountains creating some stunning vistas. The region is steeped in culture and history with some excellent examples of typical Dutch architecture dating back to the 17th century. The Winelands encompass several regions each with their own wine tasting tours. The most popular towns include Stellenbosch (which is closest to Cape Town), Franschhoek, Wellington, and Paarl.
If you're on a tour, you will likely visit the larger wineries like Spier near Stellenbosch and Groot Constantia, close to Cape Town. If you rent a car you can enjoy these gems; Fairview (also has excellent cheeses), Meerlust near Stellenbosch, and Seidelberg near Paarl. Stop for picnic lunch at Boschendal in Franschhoek and you have yourself a perfect day. You should also nip in at some of the organic markets that are cropping up in the area for some home-made jams, sandwiches, salads, chutneys, biltong and more.
For a true gourmet meal you can stop at any of the incredible restaurants that line the main street of Franschhoek. Closer to Cape Town try Jonkershuis in Groot Constantia. If you have children with you, the Spier Wine Estate near Stellenbosch will keep them happy while you do some tasting. If you really appreciate good wine, then visit the wineries that make the Cape's best wines.
More about the Cape Winelands and Cape Town's top 10 Restaurants...Continue to 4 of 10 below.
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Cape Town's Robben Island
Robben Island, just off the coast of Cape Town, has been a penal colony for most of its 400 year history. It's a barren little island surrounded by a rough shark-infested sea. Nelson Mandela spent 18 years on Robben Island most of them in the cell pictured above. Many of the leading members of South African political parties and ANC members were incarcerated alongside him. But in 1997 Robben Island was turned into a museum and also declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Robben Island has become an extremely important symbol in the new South Africa, reflecting the triumph of good over evil, of democracy over apartheid. The museum's guides are former prisoners themselves and listening to their stories makes a visit to Robben Island a humbling and emotional experience.
Tours to Robben Island should be booked in advance either through a travel agent or directly at the Nelson Mandela Gateway (near the clock tower) on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront where the ferries depart from. Tours last around 4 hours and include the ferry ride to Robben Island, a tour of the prison buildings, and a bus tour of the island itself. You will get to see the lime quarry that the prisoners spent years of their lives hacking away at. You also get a very interesting historical perspective of the island's history as a penal colony, leper colony and pantry for early settlers (penguins and their eggs are very nutritious).
See information about the Tour of Robben Island and more photos and information about Robben IslandContinue to 5 of 10 below.
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Cape Town's Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
Called the "waterfront" by locals, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a working harbour and entertainment hub rolled into one. You'll find some of Cape Town's best restaurants here along with a hopping nightlife, brew pubs and plenty of shops to spend your money in. While checking out malls may not be the main reason you're visiting South Africa - the waterfront is a nice area to stroll around in and feel safe, day or night. There are lots of places to sit and watch the seals frolic in the harbor and the fisherman bring in their daily catch. Other attractions include a Maritime museum, an Aquarium (with plenty of sharks) and the Robben Island Exhibition and Information Centre.
You can also take boat and helicopter rides from the Waterfront to get an even better view of Cape Town. If you're looking to visit Robben Island this is where you can purchase tickets for a tour and your boat ride out to the island. For more information check out the official Victoria and Alfred Waterfront web site. It includes the fascinating history of the harbor as well as details of tours offered and all the available attractions.
There's a huge Tourist Information Bureau near the Nelson Mandela Gateway where you can book any tour or safari you like the look of. You can also organize car rental, change your money, get on the internet and have a snack.Continue to 6 of 10 below.
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Cape Town: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Showcasing indigenous South African plants, Cape Town's Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are absolutely beautiful. Over 9000 plants are grown here and you can take several different walks through the 528 hectares that make up the gardens. There are some lovely picnic spots and during the summer (December - March) musical concerts are held on the lawns every Sunday at sunset (5.30pm).
There are several restaurants and cafe's as well as a Garden Center where you can purchase bulbs, shrubs, cut flowers, pots and even sculptures. The Gardens are open daily from 8am - 6pm (7pm in the summer). You can get to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens by taxi, they are situated on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain.
If you are interested in seeing more of South Africa's unique Western Cape botanicals, there are some wonderful flower tours you can take in this area.Continue to 7 of 10 below.
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Cape Town Township Tours
A Township Tour in Cape town is highly recommended. Townships were created as living areas for non-whites under the old political system of Apartheid. Townships are still home to a large percentage of Cape Town's population today. Most of Cape Town's townships are concentrated in the area known as the Cape Flats which lie to the East of Table Mountain. Siviwe Tours specializes in township tours to Langa, Cape Town's oldest black township. Some Township Tours also include Bo-Kaap (home to the Cape Malays) and a visit to the District 6 Museum.
Township tours can be walking tours, cycling tours or even cooking tours. They usually last half a day or so and include a visit to a shebeen (pub), school, orphanage, community center and a traditional healer. Having a bunch of wealthy tourists stare at orphans may seem a little odd but it may be the only opportunity you get to see how most of Cape Town's workers live. Spending the night in a Township will offer a little more depth to your visit.
Companies Offering Township Tours:
The best music in Cape town originates from its townships and a music tour is a great way to experience the creativity and vibrancy that exists in the townships despite the poverty. For a visual of what to expect when you visit check out Sue Johnson beautiful photos of Khayelitsha township in the Cape Flats.
Also See: Family-friendly Township ToursContinue to 8 of 10 below.
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Cape Town - Getting Around
Getting around Cape Town is easy. Public transport options around Cape Town include city buses, taxi's, Rikkis, commuter trains and minibuses. The way most South Africans get around is by minibus taxi. They are cheap, efficient and plentiful. You can hail them like you would a cab anywhere in the world. You'll also see Rikkis in the center of Cape Town, they are small brightly colored vans that operate like taxis. Metro Trains run to all the suburban areas and they go as far as Stellenbosch and Paarl in the Winelands. The commuter train out to Simons Town is actually worth taking just for the ride itself. It travels so close to the ocean, passengers sometimes get soaked by the spray.
A fun way to see Cape Town is aboard a "topless" bus (as seen in the photo above). The trip usually last two hours and stops at all the major sights in Cape Town. You can get on and off as you please throughout the day.
To really take advantage of Cape Town's environs, you should rent a car. Renting a car in Cape Town is cheap and the roads are generally in good condition. You can then tour the Winelands at your leisure and explore some of the more remote beaches and coastline.Continue to 9 of 10 below.
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Cape Town's Restaurants
Cape Town is famous for its wonderful choice of restaurants catering to all budgets and palates. Culinary tours to South Africa are becoming increasingly popular and many focus on restaurants in and around Cape Town. Check out my list of Top 10 Restaurants in Cape Town - you can't go wrong with any of the choices.
You can enjoy:
African Food: at The Africa Cafe and Mamma Africa. Both these restaurants offer a wide variety of authentic African food along with nightly entertainment.
Seafood: Given its location it's not surprising that Cape Town is home to some of the best seafood restaurants in the world. You can enjoy beautiful views of the ocean, Table Mountain and spectacular sunsets at the following restaurants; Wharfside Grill, Panama Jacks and The Codfather. A little out of town in Langebaan, you'll find an informal, local favorite called The Strandloper.
Asian Food: Cape Town is a very cosmopolitan city and its excellent Asian restaurants reflects this. The food is authentic and delicious. You can try Indian food at Bukhara, Thai food at Wangthai (3 locations) and Cape Malay at the Noon Gun Tea Room.
Wineries: Wineries very close to the city center in the Constantia area offer excellent dining opportunities. Check out Jonkershuis in Groot Constantia for simple, delicious fare. For more upmarket tastes, try La Colombe (French), Constantia Uitsig and Catharinas.
For a sundowner go to La Med one of Cape Town's most popular entertainment spots along the waterfront.
As with most cities, the best restaurants are usually where the locals eat.Continue to 10 of 10 below.
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Cape Town's Accommodations
There are plenty of places to stay in Cape Town, you should have no trouble finding a bed to suit your budget. There are of course excellent hotels to suit the business traveler, close to the city center and with all the conveniences of wifi, restaurants and bars (see our top 10 business hotels in Cape Town). If you are looking for a very unique place to stay, check out Grand Daddy's Air Stream Trailer Park.
The high season is December to February so hotels do tend to book up in advance at that time of year. You can choose to stay on the Waterfront, Green Point and Sea Point, in the City Bowl (center), in Camps Bay, Hout Bay or further afield in the Winelands. Each area has its fair share of budget to luxury accommodations. You can also rent apartments, luxury flats or stay at a youth hostel.
Our Cape Town Hotel Reviews:
- Winchester Mansions, Sea Point
- The Radisson Blu Waterfront, Granger Bay
- The Cape Grace Hotel, V&A Waterfront
- Grand Daddy's Air Stream Trailer Park, Long Street
A few good accommodation web sites include:
Cape Stay offers listings for Bed and Breakfasts, Luxury Villas, Backpackers, Cottages, Hotels, Holiday Homes and more. Each listing is accompanied by a photo and a handy pricing guide. Online bookings are available for most properties.
Cape Town Hotel Guide offers listings broken down by hotel, guest house and self-catering options.
Travellers Point offers a good selection of budget accommodation throughout Cape Town, a great resource for backpackers.