South Africa’s Cape Town is one of the world’s most beautiful cities. It consistently makes its way onto many “best of” travel lists and I totally agree! Cape Town (and its environs) has so much to offer travelers. First, there’s the stunningly beautiful landscape – scenic bays and harbors, miles of white sand beaches, picturesque mountains, and the biodiverse flora & fauna.
Cape Town also has colorful neighborhoods, a variety of architectural styles, and trendy cafes and restaurants. Its fascinating (albeit tumultuous) history has led to a blend of African, European and Asian cultures. I have visited Cape Town twice and have always found the local Capetonians to be friendly and welcoming. Plus, I personally find their South African accent charming.
On this post (and continued on Part 2), I list some of my favorite things to do in Cape Town. These sights and activities – which I think you will also enjoy – should give you a really good taste of this captivating city.
V&A Waterfront: The Pride of Cape Town
The V&A Waterfront, with a wide array of attractions, is Cape Town’s proud “tourist central” – but locals love it too! Originally built in 1860, this is South Africa’s oldest working harbor, originally named for Queen Victoria and her son Alfred. After years of decay, the waterfront was fully redeveloped starting in 1992, adding the Victoria Wharf shopping mall, Two Oceans Aquarium, and many cafes, restaurants, and bars.
The Waterfront has a spectacular setting with great views of majestic Table Mountain. It’s still a working harbor, so you can see fishing boats bringing in fresh fish. The mustard yellow octagonal Clock Tower, which was originally the port captain’s office, is one of the Waterfront’s most beloved and photographed icons.
My friends and I enjoyed a nice meal at one of the Waterfront’s outdoor restaurants on the patio overlooking the harbor. We ate at Tasca, which bills itself as a blend of Portuguese and Turkish – interesting! I had a tasty seafood salad with calamari, shrimp and line fish. There, we were entertained by an all-male group (dressed in blue) singing in beautiful A-cappella along with some slick dance moves.
Earlier, we had fun listening to a marimba band that was selling CDs of their music for 70 ZAR (around $5 at the time). I bought a CD as I love to bring home typical local music from my travels. And what better way than buying direct from the source. So, as you wander the V&A Waterfront whether shopping or dining, make sure to enjoy the variety of music being played by talented local musicians – for tips, of course!
Table Mountain Hike & Cable Car Ride
Another Cape Town must-do is a visit to Table Mountain, which is South Africa’s most iconic landmark. Its flat-topped summit (at 1086 meters / 3565 feet) gives you amazing views of Cape Town and Table Bay far below. The easiest and most scenic way to reach the summit is by the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. However, at times, the top of the mountain is wrapped in clouds, affectionately known as the “tablecloth.”
Table Mountain is the centerpiece of Table Mountain National Park which stretches all the way down the Cape Peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope. This region is one of the world’s most bio-diverse with an abundance of indigenous plants. A great way to explore the Park (and get some exercise) is on a hike with an experienced local guide – and that is exactly what three friends and I did.
We hired the delightful Lauren Metcalf, founder of Mother City Hikers. Her original plan was to have us hike on top of Table Mountain. But that morning the plan was thwarted by high winds which closed the cableway. So it was on to Plan B which was still great – a three-hour hike on a lower trail (the “Pipe Track”) which ran below Table Mountain and the peaks of the Twelve Apostles. This relatively flat hike had beautiful mountain and coastline views with a variety of interesting foliage all along the way.
At the end of the hike, the winds had calmed down so we were thrilled to learn the cableway was back in service. Thus, we were able to take the 5-minute cable car ride up the steep face of Table Mountain, with the car revolving so everyone can get a good view! At the top, we took a quick walk around the summit to take photos and enjoy dramatic views from all the different directions.
Lauren, an American transplant (originally from Chicago and Colorado), came to Cape Town nine years ago with her husband and never left. She enjoys sharing her love of hiking, and deep knowledge and passion for the local flora with her guests. Plus, Lauren knows the many trails in the Park from easy (ours!) to extreme and is able to tailor hikes to each group. Two years ago, the price for our 5-hour total trip was $68/pp. You can check out Mother City Hikers website for the latest.
PJT Tip: No surprise that I highly recommend a cableway ride to the top of Table Mountain for the best views in Cape Town. However, due to the possibility of winds and/or the “tablecloth” covering the summit, you shouldn’t wait until your last day just in case the weather isn’t cooperative.
Post continued on Captivating Cape Town – Part 2
Comments: Have you visited Cape Town? What did you think? Did you go up the cableway to the top of Table Mountain? If not yet, is Cape Town and South Africa on your dream list?