Whether its vineyards, or the mountains or the mighty ocean – the mother city, as Cape Town is fondly called, has something to offer to everyone. Flanked by the mountain on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other, the city’s natural beauty is hard to surpass. Despite the fact that I have been there three times in the last one year, I still don’t seem to have had enough of this city and am sure to go back soon again! Until then, here is my top list of TOP things to do for first timers in Cape Town (CT):
The locals proudly call the Table Mountain ‘their’ mountain. So on a bright, clear day, head up to the top. A little weather check is required before your trip because strong winds lead to the closure of the cable car and I am not sure you would like to hike up in winds blowing at 180km/hr! Also, its best to go on a clear day as you can then see all of CT and beyond. However, personally I prefer it to be a little cold and a little foggy! Kinda adds more charm to the entire thing. There is a small cafe atop the mountain. Its a little expensive so if you want, you could carry your own snacks and have a little picnic overlooking the rest of the cape.
Its good to go here for sundowners and watch the sun setting over the pier. In holiday season it’s pretty busy but rest of the time its nice to just hang around and have a coffee or drinks in one of the numerous restaurants along the bay. They have also created a copy of the London eye so if you fancy it! you could take a ride and see the city in the evening. Tours to Robben Island leave from the V& and there is also a large and fancy mall for the shopaholics.
3) Red Bus Tour (I highly recommend this)
I always feel that the best way to explore a new icy is to take a bus tours available. CT has a wonderful one with 2 main routes, one of which also covers the vineyards in Constantia. So if you do not want to rent a car and drive (its a good option of you are travelling in a group of 3 or more), just hop onto the red bus. It starts at the V&A, right outside the aquarium but you could buy tickets on the bus and hop on from anywhere on the route. It also goes to the Table mountain cable car.
A day trip around the peninsula is a must-do covering the Simon’s Town, the penguin colony at Boulders, Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point, the scenic drive through Chapman’s Peak and back to CT via Camps Bay. You could drive the other way round too, depending upon your preference. i like to watch the sunset at Chapman’s Peak or Camps bay. It’s breathtaking.
Simon’s Town is a small and pretty town on the east coast. Its also an important naval base. Along the pier, there are some lively restaurants which serve some of the best fish and seafood. The penguins colony at Boulders is a major tourist attraction and is only minutes away from Simon’s Town. It’s a protected area and the home of endangered land-based African penguins. The colony was set up in 1983 to protect and breed the then vulnerable species of these penguins. However, since then, their numbers have steadily declined worldwide, changing the status of these penguins to endangered.
The Cape of Good Hope is the southern most point of the peninsula (and not the African continent as most believe). Its a beautiful drive through the National Reserve and one can spot boks, ostrich or tortoise on a good day. Cape Point is also located within the same reserve. Its a bit of a hike up to the top but not a difficult one. However, they do have a cable car if don’t want to walk up. But the views are amazing with several photo-ops on the way.
On the way back, drive though the Chapman’s Peak. Its a toll road but the drive is very scenic and completely worth the money. You could stop along the way and take pictures at designated places and can also watch the sunsetting over the ocean. This is the first time I stopped for it and was completely bowled over. Camps Bay, just outside CT, is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods and you will know why when you see it. Dozens of cafés line the boulevard and its nice to just sit around and soak in the atmosphere.
Th best way to enjoy this scenic drive is by renting a car. A number of tour companies also operate. However, I find that self drive is the best.
Time permitting, anyone visiting CT must definitely drive around the beautiful villages of franshoek and stellenbosch. Situated just 40 minutes out of the city, these two places are not only known for their vineyards but also for their serenity and natural beauty. Surrounded by lush green hills and sprawling wine estates, the area makes for a great day out. In the busy season, reservations at popular restaurants is recommended. Wine tasting at atleast 2 or 3 vineyards is a must! Its easy to just self drive otherwise several tour companies offer day trips including a pick up and drop off in CT.
6) African crafts and curio shopping
The Green Market square is a Mecca for African crafts. One can purchase beautiful souvenirs at great prices from here. Even if you don’t really want to buy something, its worth a stroll and look-see.
7) Pub hopping on Long Street
Long street is the party street of CT and is very popular among the younger travellers and backpackers! Pubs, bars and restaurants line both sides of this street and as the sun starts setting, you can see the street coming alive. For someone looking to have a good night out, this place offers everything from Irish beer at The Dubliners, to some sheesha at the Baghdad cafe or local music at the Zula bar.
I will have to return to CT for the fourth time in order to visit Robben Island. The first two times i didnt have enough time and this time, the ferries were fully booked! So important lesson learnt – plan and book in advance as it’s very popular. Robben Island houses the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 out of the 27 years of his imprisonment during the Apartheid era.
9) Visit the Bo-Kaap, the Cape-Malay Quarter
The Bo-Kaap is a multicultural area, well known for its colorful houses and cobbled streets. This is the area where the early Muslim settlers lived, most of who had been brought as slaves from Asia. The oldest house in Bo-Kaap, dating back to the 1760’s still stands and has now been converted into a museum. Located just below the Signal Hill, one can easily walk upto to this area from Long Street. Try some traditional, spicy Cape Malay food at Bo-Kaap Kombuis.
10) Enjoy the gastronomical delights of Cape Town
CT is a foodie’s delights. Some of the best food in South Africa can be found here so make sure you eat your heart out! From fresh seafood to artisanal pizzas, Michelin start restaurants to swanky bars – CT will woo you with its finger-licking food.
NB: Please click below to see the slideshow.