Top 10 Things to Do in Cape Town, the Rainbow City

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Cape Town is the “Rainbow City” with a colorful blend of cultures, history, and peoples.  Located on the southern tip of the African continent, this cosmopolitan city welcomes visitors to enjoy a hike on Table Mountain, a walk through a township, a bike ride along the coast, and a glass of wine in some of the most spectacular settings.

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Just ranked as the top holiday destination for 2014 by the New York Times, Cape Town is proud to host tourists to explore their city, region, and country.  After years of struggling with apartheid, it’s evident that the South African people are working together to build a democracy where freedom is highly valued.

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Our list of favourite things to do in Cape Town and the surrounding areas are listed below.

What to Do?

1.      Table Mountain:  A hiker’s paradise!  Table Mountain overlooks Cape Town and offers several hiking trails that provide break taking views of the Cape.  We hiked Table Mountain following in the steps of Margaret Curran, a registered Table Mountain guide with the South African Department of Enviromental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT).  Margaret has been a keen walker for many years and has hiked mountains and trails all over the world.  She has been walking the mountains in and around Cape Town for over 20 years and has a comprehensive and intimate knowledge of all her walks.  Email: margie@tablemountainwalks.co.za

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2.      Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront:  Visit the heart of Cape Town’s working harbour, where you can enjoy the shops, outdoor cafes, and incredible views of the oceanfront with a backdrop of iconic Table Mountain.  Here you can also visit Nobel Square where there are four sculptures of South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates – Nkosi Albert Luthuli , Archbishop Desmond Tutu, FW de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela.

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3.      Bo Kaap Neighborhood:  Known as the Malay Quarter, this is one of the most colorful multicultural neighborhoods in the world, located in the heart of Cape Town on Signal Hill.

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4.      Robben Island:  Take a ferry to Robben Island, just a few miles out in Table Bay, to see where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.  For the past 300 years, this island has been a place where many have been imprisoned, including Nelson Mandela.    Visit the Robben Island Museum and learn about the history of Apartheid and the price paid for freedom.  Today Robben Island is a World Heritage Site.

5.      AWOL Tours:  Be sure to cycle through Cape Town with AWOL Tours.  You meet at 10 am and cycle from the V&A Waterfront Information Center, then ride through the inner city.  You’ll see this city and its locals up close as you cycle through old and new Cape Town – Adderley Street, Bo-Kaap neighborhood, Company Gardens, St. George’s Mall, District Six, and learn about this city’s history from an experienced guide.  Our local guide was very friendly, knowledgeable and provided a fantastic bike tour!  AWOL Tours provides other tours throughout Cape Town, so you’ll want to visit their site to see more.

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6.      The Cape of Good Hope:  About a 1-2 hour drive south from Cape Town, you can visit the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve.  The Cape is the most southern western point of the African continent, where there are several views of the Atlantic Ocean to the west, and the Indian Ocean to the east.  Ideally, plan a day trip to enjoy the trails and views around the Cape.

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7.      Masi Township Tour:  We joined Mandy & Ali on a tour of the Masi Township. While walking through the township, Mandy will share the history of Masi, tell her story and introduce you to interesting people.  You might even get to meet her adorable children, Lilita and Lithemba.  Mandy and Ali will show you the different township centers – local library, clinic, children’s home, recycling area, etc.  The Masiphumelele library has grown into the key resource for its community; providing both standard library services and valuable outreach and educational programs.  To read more about our township tour, click here.

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8.      The Cape Winelands:  There are several wine routes and wineries to visit – we recommend visiting these two wineries.  Be sure to make an appointment before you arrive!

  • Vergelegen – One of South Africa’s most beautiful settings for a winery!  Beautiful gardens that surround a historic house and library.  Great spot for a picnic and wine tasting.  There’s enough to do here all day with walking trails, wine tasting, picnics, and a visit through the gardens.

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  • Meerlust - The Meerlust estate is a 17th century national monument run by Jannes Myburg. He’s the eighth generation of Myburgs to live in the estate.  It’s spectacular!  He’s a very cool guy, and the wine is elegant and smooth.

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9.      Whale Watching in HermanusRecognized by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) as one of the 12 best whale watching destinations in the world. The best time to enjoy whale watching is between July – November from the beach, the famous cliff path, by boat or from the air via a scenic flight.

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10.  White Shark Cage Diving:   Shark Diving Unlimited Owner Michael Rutzen is a well-known documenter and conservation advocate for sharks, also known as the “Shark Man” for his amazing skill of swimming with these animals.  Shark Diving Unlimited is a fully licensed shark cage diving operator.

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Their permits are from the South African Department of Environmental Affairs Branch of Oceans and Coasts. They are situated in the Great White Shark capital of Gansbaai, just 2 hours from Cape Town.

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Other areas to explore in South Africa:  South Africa meets oceans and has a variety of interior habitats, from lush tropical forests to arid deserts, mountains to open bushveld savannah.  If you have time, add these locations and activities to your itinerary:

  • Kapama Private Game Reserveclick here to read more about our experience at Kapama Private Game Reserve.
  • Kruger National Park:  Kruger National Park is famous as a premier wildlife and bird viewing destination, while the coastline offers superb vistas, sandy beaches and sheer, forest covered cliffs.  Pafuri camp is game-rich and one of the most biodiverse private reserves.
  • Maputaland – Rocktail Beach Camp:  where you can see subtropical turtles nesting on beaches, or dive the coral reefs.  Amazing marine encounters from whales to pristine coral reefs, along the coastline of the Rocktail Bay region.
  • Atlantic Beaches – Clifton and Camps Bay
  • West Coast Spring flowers ….
  • The Garden Route – heard this is spectacular and worth adding a few extra days to the itinerary.

Where to Dine?

Cape Town has an abundance of fabulous restaurants with culinary delights.  We dined at a couple restaurants just outside of Cape Town in the Constancia area.

Buitenverwachting Winery:  Located on a historic Cape Dutch homestead right outside Cape Town, near the east-facing slopes and vineyards of the magnificent Constantiaberg.  This winery is in a superb setting with beautiful gardens.  The restaurant is divine, and has amazing views of the vineyard and mountains.  The cuisine evaporates in your mouth and the food-wine pairings were perfect.  Chef Edgar creates magical menus for palates ready to be pampered.

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Each dining delight is presented with a sense of artistry.  The most sophisticated taste buds will be awakened!   Considered one of Cape Town’s Top 10 Restaurants, our favorite dish was the grilled loin of springbok glazed in hanepoot chutney with juniper berry sauce, crème fraiche-almond potato, red cabbage, crocante red wine pear, roots & tubers, paired with Christine (the estate’s flagship wine).

La Columbe :  One of Cape Town’s most well-loved and awarded restaurants, and is known as one of the 50 Best Restaurants in the World!  Executive Chef Scot Kirton creates contemporary French-meets-Asian cuisine.  Scot’s philosophy and approach to food lies in the pursuit of excellence and perfection he says, “The freshest seasonal produce, uncomplicated clean flavours and classical elegance are the essence of my inspiration and passion for food.” With impeccable service and an award-winning wine list, La Colombe is a truly unforgettable experience!

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Where to Stay?

Liberty Lodge in Cape Town:  Over the years, this classic Cape Town bed & breakfast has earned an enviable reputation for relaxed and genuine hospitality.  Originally a Victorian gentleman’s house, Liberty Lodge became a fabric emporium and even a bordello in the 1940′s!  Today, this B&B has Victorian, Art Deco and contemporary décor.

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Situated in Tamboerskloof, a safe, up-market residential area within the Cape Town.  There are four luxury bedrooms decorated with great style and comfort in mind. All rooms have air-conditioning, satellite TV and free wi-fi.  Each room is named after an important figure from South African history and has its own distinctive character.

How to Get Around?

Europcar:  There’s a lot to explore in South Africa and renting a car is a great way to get around.  We recommend Europcar.  The car rental office at South Africa’s Cape Town International Airport is easy to find, and we received excellent service.

A2B Charters:  A2B Charters chauffeured us from Cape Town to Stellenbosch, and provided transportation throughout the Stellenbosch region.  They provide luxury transport for individuals, families, friends, or tour groups.  Our driver was friendly and a well trained professional drivers.  A2B maintains high safety standards and a happy customer base.  Ask for William – he was a fantastic driver!

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How to Get Here?

South African Airways – find flights to South Africa and other destinations including Namibia, Mauritius and Harare, Zimbabwe.

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By:  Patricia Stone, travel writer & consultant

Acknowledgments:  we would like to thank Europcar, South African Airways, Shark Diving Unlimited, Buitenverwachting Winery, The Township Sisters, AWOL Tours, A2B Charters, ATI Holidays for hosting and helping us plan our trip.

Photo Credits:  shark and whale photos by Mark Turner; some photos also shared from sites mentioned above.

One Comment

  • Marianne Burtnett says:

    Fantastic article that captures why Cape Town is ranked as the #1 place to go in 2014 by the New York Times.

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