Cape Town hotels
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Even if the entire mixed-blood population of Cape Town suddenly decided to vacate its beaches, towns and mountains for a day, you’d still have no doubt that you’re in one of the most multicultural cities in the world.
Located right on the ironically named Cape of Good Hope, where many a European ship came to grief, Cape Town’s architecture is evidence enough of that diversity. The Cape Dutch homesteads of the Cape Winelands, neo-Gothic churches of the City Bowl, Muslim minarets of Malay and the many English-inspired Georgian and Victorian buildings are all testament to that.
Not that it would be much fun visiting South Africa’s oldest city if you were the only one around. Sure its mountain vistas are breathtakingly beautiful (how cool does Cape Town look from Table Mountain, and vice-versa), but who would provide Cape Flats’ gritty jazz or Stellenbosch’s top-notch booze? Or who would you watch play rugby (pretty much Cape Town’s religion) at the city’s famed Newlands Stadium?
The elephant in the room (not literally, although Cape Town is a useful starting point for some of South Africa’s famous safaris) is the poverty and urban decay. The result is that Cape Town is the most violent of South Africa’s cities (security guards watch you cross the roads). But even the most gangster-ridden towns have their charm – three million people don’t visit each year just to sample a springbok fillet.
Cape Town’s Top 10
10. Green Market Square Excellent markets are rarely located in the heart of a city’s central business district. Greenmarket Square is the exception.
5. Clifton Beach The four coves are unimaginatively named (1, 2, 3 and 4) but the azure waters are truly brilliant. Great White Sharks also like them.
9. South African National Gallery One of the country’s most stunning museums is also one of the smallest (Go on, breathe a sigh of relief.)
4. Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens The most beautiful garden in Africa is overshadowed by Table-Mountain only in a very literal sense.
8. Cape Point Nature Reserve Most people simply pass through on their way to Cape Point, but they miss out on one of the most beautiful parts of the African continent – which is saying something.
3. Boulders Beach There are penguins here. Very cute penguins.
7. Castle of Good Hope The oldest surviving building in South Africa. Against all odds (and laws of physics) the bell still hangs from its original wooden beams.
2. Robben Island ‘South Africa’s Alcatraz’ is known for housing Nelson Mandela’s cell and the turbulent ferry trip necessary to see it.
6. Stellenbosch Tranquil wine tasting tours are only a 30-minute drive from the city centre – just don’t volunteer to be the designated driver.
1. Table Mountain Ariel Cableway Not many things could possibly provide more scenic vistas than Cape Town’s Table Mountain – unless you count the cableway leading to its peak.
Cape Town History
- Robben Island – Off the coast of Cape Town and used for nearly 400 years to banish and imprison outcasts.
- Castle of Good Hope – The oldest building in the country, this castle from the 17th century is now home to military personnel, works of art and historical pieces.
- Historical Mile – Located between Muizenburg and Kalk Bay, this strip features sights and architecture from the past.
- Bo-Kaap – With a rich history and colourful design, this area is home to the oldest living community in South Africa.
- Malay Quarter – The area of town that housed countless slaves brought into the country, primarily from Java in the 1600-1700s.
Cape Town Art & Culture
- Bo-Kaap Museum – Features a detailed history of the area.
- Artscape – A place to enjoy ballet, classical concerts, theatre and opera is a lso home to the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra.
- National Art Gallery – Houses a large, brilliant collection.
- Cape Town Minstrel Carnival – The main event in town celebrating New Year for a full month dates back to the 1700s and includes music, costumed dancers, marches, parades and festivals.
- South African National Gallery – Features local and international sculptures and paintings.
Cape Town Shopping
- Victoria and Alfred Waterfront – Lovely historical area with two large malls and surrounding shops, restaurants, and theatres.
- Cape Quarter – A wonderful atmosphere where many of the elite go to shop.
- Canal Walk – For a great mixed shopping experience this has much to offer in the way of specialty shops, a variety of eateries, cinemas, and an interactive science centre.
- Willowbridge Shopping Centre - The place to find fashion and great household items and designs.
- Long Beach Mall – Set in a picturesque part of Cape Town, this is a wonderful shopping area.
Cape Town Gay & Lesbian
- Mother City Queer Project – Known as the biggest bash on the continent, each December it attracts thousands of participants.
- Blouberg Strand – Not far from the beach, you’ll find this great place that includes multiple dance floors, bars and lounge areas.
- Amsterdam Action Bar – A successful, one-of-a-kind place close to the centre of Cape Town.
- Bronx Action Bar – The best-known bar around is open seven days a week with standing-room only.
- Bubbles Bar – A drag cabaret spot with the atmosphere of a Berlin bar, London pub and Parisian lounge all rolled into one.
Cape Town Outdoor
- Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve – With close to 20,000 acres of high cliffs and hiking paths, this is a great place to enjoy nature and wildlife.
- Table Mountain Aerial Cableway – A way to take in breathtaking panoramic views.
- Groot Constantia – One of the many wineries in the area, located on the southern edge of Cape Town with magnificent architectural samples the Cape Dutch style.
- Company Gardens – Originally made to supply fresh produce to the passing ships, today it is a wonderful place to relax among the beautiful gardens.
- Waterfront Complex – The place to find deep-sea fishing charters.
Cape Town Sport
- Table Mountain – An amazing place to go with many hiking routes and beautiful sights.
- Newlands Stadium – The Cape Town stadium features local cricket games.
- Argus Cycle Tour – The yearly race each March brings more than 38,000 participants and is well worth watching.
- Newlands Rugby Stadium – Catch a local game of rugby at the Newlands Rugby Stadium.
- Kenilworth – For those who enjoy horse racing, the main event known as the “Met” is held in January.
Cape Town Local
Hold on to your handbags – Cape Town is a wild ride of culture, charm and, unfortunately, crime. Most neighbourhoods have undergone rapid (and exceedingly trendy) gentrification, while those that haven’t provide great perspective into local history.
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is one of Cape Town’s most popular tourist destinations. Luckily, most visitors haven’t done their research and tend to stick to the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre. But once you’ve checked out the Maritime Museum and the 400-odd stores along this strip (yeah, right), head from Quay 5 to Pierhead Jetty. If it’s between May and December, you can book a Waterfront Boat Company whale-watching tour at the former. If it’s not, a Mitchell’s Brewery beer tour at the latter is equally satisfying. Both may have you wanting to wet yourself.
Sounds like a foreign term for The Waterfront, but that’s about all the two neighbourhoods have in common. De Waterkant is a cobbled street enclave reminiscent of New York’s Greenwich Village or London’s Soho. Charming and full of character, the village contains the Cape Quarter Shopping Centre alongside a plethora of trendy bars and restaurants. Lunch in the village centre is best followed by a walk along Wale Street towards the Bo-Kapp, which holds the highest number of buildings dating beyond 1840. From De Waterkant you can walk to the city centre, but why head back when the village is home to some of Cape Town’s most vibrant (read: flamboyant) nightlife?
Although relatively small, central Cape Town is home to more architectural influences than you can poke an African fighting stick at, including Cape Dutch, Georgian, Victorian and 20th Century. The major axis is Adderly Street and lying to the east you will find notable landmarks Castle of Good Hope, Grand Parade and City Hall. Do these quickly, then head west of Adderly for some shopping at vibrant Greenmarket Square and the open-air St George’s mall, finishing up on quirky Long Street.
The proximity of Observatory to the University of Cape Town accounts for its particularly eclectic mix of people – as does its proximity to the Groote Schuur Hospital. But Observatory has more to offer than just people-watching, with its quaint Victorian buildings and bohemian vibe making it increasingly popular as a tourist destination. Lower Main Road is where the bohemian night action of ‘Obs’ is centred, or if you’d rather marvel at celestial bodies rather than human ones, the South African Astronomical Observatory that gives the district its name is a better bet.
Many visitors choose to pass by Cape Town’s most indigenous neighbourhood, but as long as you keep a close rein on your senses (and wallet) it provides a real insight into South Africa’s history. Don’t hold on to your money too tightly though – the Khayelitsha Craft Market supports the local community by selling unique artworks, and Mzoli’s Place does the best hot-slab-of-meet-and-BYO-beer combo in Cape Town. For a more personal experience, Coffeebeans Routes run a jazz tour taking you right into the homes of talented local performers.
Cape Town Eat & Drink
Cape Town is fast gaining a reputation for fine dining. Luckily, prices haven’t escalated as quickly, so open your mind (to ostrich and springbok) and fill up your stomach.
221 Waterfront Sushi may not be for everyone, but with the amount of pastry and cheese these guys use, it’s likely even raw fish will be a crowd-pleaser.
Aubergine This unpretentious fine dining establishment is the perfect excuse to add ‘try springbok fillet’ to your Cape Town to-do list.
Den Anker The Belgians do beer and raw ground beef (served on toast) like the South Africans do ostrich fillet.
Maze The name of Gordon Ramsay’s Cape Town location could be a gaudy abbreviation of ‘amazing’ and it would still be worthy of forgiveness.
Planet Restaurant For an out-of-this-world dining experience, head to the Mount Nelson Hotel. The entrance is studded with crystals, and it only gets better.
The Five Flies Five stars for Five Flies. Well, zero flies actually – you’d be hard pressed to glimpse one in here amongst all the suits.
Savoy Cabbage The name sounds out of place in any fine dining scene, but Savoy Cabbage wouldn’t be out of place in New York or London.
Belthazar Voted best steak house in South Africa. The most extensive wine by the glass selection just sweetens the deal.
Baia It’s usually not a good idea to pay a premium for sweeping outdoor terraces overlooking the harbour – but it’s a fun one.
The Roundhouse It’s probably best to eat here on your last day in Cape Town, because it’s likely nothing you eat afterwards will ever taste as good.
Cape Town Events
Still have energy after New Years? Burn it off at The Cape Minstrels Carnival on 2 January.
Visit the Design Indaba Expo in February for cutting-edge reasons to buy a far bigger suitcase.
Too much jazz in Cape Town? Impossible. The Cape Town International Jazz Festival proves this each March.
The Cape Argus Pick ’n’ Pay Cycle Tour in March is one of the biggest sporting events on the calendar. Seriously, over 38,000 people take part.
The Dunhill Symphony of Fire in April has nothing to do with cigarettes and everything to do with fireworks displays (cunning advertising, though – wonder how much longer they’ll be able to do that!).
In case you hadn’t noticed, Cape Town is a foodie’s joy. The Cape Gourmet Food Festival in May is a foodie’s heaven.
Fed up with the pretension of wine events? The Wacky Wine Weekend in June is the answer to both your problems – and your sobriety.
Local contestants stand up to US heavyweights in September’s Cape Town International Comedy Festival.
October’s International Kite Festival really makes you question why every city doesn’t hold one of these events.
Rocking the Daisies makes up for its ridiculous name with good music and environmentally friendly sensibilities each October.
Mother City Queer Project kicks off in December with a big gay party in South Africa’s big gay capital.
When To Go
Cape Town enjoys a Mediterranean climate, with warm summers and cool winters.
Winter temperatures rarely drop below 10°C (50°F), while summer temps rarely top 32°C (90°F).
Winter brings heavy rainfall, but is also when the Waterfront is less crowded.
What To Miss
Cape Town can be a very dangerous city. Stay in brightly lit streets after dark.
Casinos are for Las Vegas – don’t bother with the Grand West.
The Waterfront is full of tourist traps, but rather than avoid it entirely just save any stall-shopping for Greenmarket Square.
For getting to more secluded areas, minibus taxis are commonly used and relatively economical.
Standard taxi cabs are not economical, but are highly recommended at night.
The city centre is small and walking is often the simplest option.
Cape Town Information
As the Republic of South Africa counts down to the 2010 FIFA World Cup with acute anticipation, the eyes of the globe will focus on the nation. If you want to be close to the action be sure to check out one of these great hotels near Green Point Stadium.
One of the beneficial outcomes of the 2010 World Cup no doubt, will be the preponderance of attention paid to attractive Cape Town. The legislative capital city of South Africa and popular tourism hub is as complete a vacation destination as one can conjure.
With enviable beachfront and a vivid milieu in Table Mountain, Cape Town's geography is both idyllic and practical. The Atlantic Ocean provides beautiful coastal scenery and recreation, while a lush, hilly interior endows the area with world class vineyards.
Cape Town is flush with tourist attractions to suit just about every taste. Robben Island may be the most popular and notorious landmark within the city limits. The former penitentiary and foremost symbol of apartheid was where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life.
With a history of formal European settlement that dates back to 1652, when Cape Town was a way station for the powerful Dutch East India Company, the city has a rich architectural heritage. Multicultural Cape Malay Bo-Kaap on the slopes of Signal Hill and peaceful Constantia are the best areas to view the smart Cape Dutch design aesthetic.
Long Street is a funky bohemian lair in the cool City Bowl sector of town. With great bookstores, shops, restaurants and bars, the area is a wonderful reflection of Cape Town's ethnic diversity.
For superior beach time, Cape Town is a paradise. With sandy coastline on the Atlantic Seaboard, False Bay and West Coast, choice is never a problem for those who want to tan in the buff, surf, swim, sail or photograph exotic wildlife. The most popular are Clifton Beach, Camps Bay, St. James and Bloubergstrand.
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is the principal tourist site in South Africa, with more than 20 million visitors a year. With Table Mountain as a backdrop, the harbour area is replete with restaurants, shops, hotels and some of the most expensive real estate on the continent.
No visit to Cape Town, or South Africa for that matter, is complete without a tour of nearby wine country. Purveyor of some of the best New World wines, the areas around Franschhoek Valley, Stellenbosch and Paarl offer superlative vineyard tours.
Other than the obvious 2010 FIFA World Cup, Cape Town has many regular events on tap for tourism enjoyment.
The Standard Bank Jazzathon and Cape Town Jazz Festival, held in January and March respectively, feature a slew of local and international acts.
Pristine Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens offers free concerts every Sunday at sunset, from November through April.
One of several excellent museums in Cape Town, the South African National Gallery hosts regular special collections, as well as a superb permanent collection of native art.
Held every December, the Mother City Queer Project is the most popular and progressive gay and lesbian festival in Africa.
For food and wine fanciers, the City Harvest Festival in April is a wonderful showcase of all that Cape Town has to offer. A celebration of the area's rich culinary bounty, the festival line-up includes live entertainment, workshops and plenty of occasions to imbibe and gorge.
Cape Town has a beautiful Mediterranean climate with cool temperatures and heavy rainfall in the winter months, courtesy of close proximity with the Atlantic Ocean.
- Winter (May to July) 8-18°C
- Spring (August to October) 9-21°C
- Summer (November to February) 13-27°C
- Fall (March to April) 9-23°C
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