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Cape Town's allure lies in its spectacular setting, the beauty of its natural environment, and the rich cultural diversity of its people. The city has had a long and turbulent history, and the effects of colonisation and Apartheid still linger in the minds and hearts of many. Transformation, however, has led to a feeling of hope, which can be experienced in the cosmopolitan city centre of Cape Town.
Flower sellers, business executives, parking attendants, office workers, and shoppers all rub shoulders in a setting of both historical and modern buildings, backed by the city's most famous landmark, Table Mountain. The colourful Malay Quarter, the remains of District Six, St George's Cathedral, Government Avenue, and the old Castle are historically interesting, while world-class African and international restaurants tempt travellers with their culinary delights. Although an African city, Cape Town has a marked European influence and visitors can experience the excitement of Africa from the comforts of upmarket surroundings.
Cape Town's unique setting means that views of the city can be enjoyed from various spectacular vantage points. Table Mountain, Lion's Head, and Signal Hill provide breathtaking vistas over the city bowl and the Cape peninsula, with its beautiful beaches. Trips to Robben Island offer a dramatic sweep of scenery across to Table Bay, while harbour tours and old buildings await exploration at the cosmopolitan Waterfront. Many scenic routes meander along magnificent stretches of coastline leading to special places like Cape Point and Chapman's Peak, which boasts one of the most picturesque stretches of road in the world.
For fun encounters with one of South Africa's oddest and most unique animals, the Cape Town Ostrich Ranch is a great bet. The ranch is a good family attraction, but having kids along is not necessary to enjoy the experience. Although it is possible to explore the ranch independently, most people choose to join one of the organised tours, which are conducted in English, Afrikaans, German, and French. Tours in other languages may be possible if organised in advance. Tours take about 40 minutes and include the museum, the leather factory, and encounters with the various ostriches and other animals on the farm.
Cape Town's most popular tourist attraction is also its most famous physical feature. The flat-topped mountain stands as a sentinel over the city, and has been proclaimed a nature reserve, thereby protecting its diverse floral species. Some are unique to its slopes. The views of the city and coastline from the top of the mountain are quite spectacular in all directions. A Swiss-built rotating cable car carries visitors smoothly up the mountain and back, and the mountaintop is equipped with a restaurant and small gift shop, as well as many pathways and vantage points. It is possible to climb the mountain via different routes but inexperienced hikers should take care because Cape Town is prone to sudden weather changes.
South Africa's oldest surviving colonial building, the Castle of Good Hope was completed in 1679. It replaced an earlier mud and timber fort built by the first Dutch Governor, Jan van Riebeeck. Situated adjacent to a parking lot and bus station in Buitenkant Street, its walls mark the original boundary of the seashore where the waves washed up against the fortifications. Its outside aspect is somewhat foreboding, but inside are some interesting features and collections that have been restored, offering a good insight into the early days of the Cape, when the castle was the centre of social and economic life. The complex is a pentagonal fortification with a moat and five bastions, each named for one of the titles of the Prince of Orange.
The imposing South African Museum is dedicated to natural history and the human sciences, and contains a huge variety of fascinating exhibits. Among other things, visitors will encounter entire chunks of caves bearing rock art, and traditional arts and crafts from several African tribes. Astoundingly, the museum houses more than one and a half million specimens of scientific importance, including fossils that are almost 700 million years old. The vastness of the collection means that for every object on display, thousands more are kept in storage. Alongside the museum is the Planetarium, which has a changing programme of thematic shows involving the southern constellations. These two attractions are based in the lovely Company Gardens of Cape Town, which are also worth exploring.
Situated near the main train station in the Central Business District, Greenmarket Square is the perfect spot to observe South Africa's diverse population in all its hues and voices. Once the scene of slave markets, it now accommodates one of the city's most vibrant flea markets, where clothing, jewellery, trinkets, and souvenirs are on sale most days. Tourists and business people rub shoulders in the many sidewalk cafes that surround the busy cobbled square. Visitors should be prepared to haggle for the best prices at the market, and should be aware that touts are prevalent. Rain doesn't generally deter vendors, with most covering their stalls with tarpaulins in bad weather. Stalls generally start clearing up for the day in the late afternoon, though seldom before 3pm.
Founded in 1901 and situated on Wale Street, Cape Town's Victorian Gothic style Anglican Cathedral is historically significant for hosting the enthronement of South Africa's first black archbishop, Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu. The Cathedral is unique in that it became a political powerhouse in the struggle against Apartheid. Known as 'the people's cathedral', it began openly welcoming people of all races in the 1950s. This was a brave stand in the racially segregated society of the time. In subsequent years, the cathedral became the venue for many protest gatherings and vigils, and victims of forced removals were even accommodated here at times. As for architectural merit, the cathedral features some fine Gabriel Loire windows, including a magnificent Rose Window above the south transept.
The magnificent Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens lie just south of the city centre and cover a huge expanse of the rugged southwestern slopes of the Table Mountain Range. Kirstenbosch was bequeathed to the nation by mining magnate Cecil Rhodes in 1895, and today contains a nursery, a research unit, a botanical library and more than 22,000 plants. Numerous paths meander through the gardens, including a Braille route for the blind. Nature lovers should note that the walks are full of lush shrubs and fynbos, the Cape's indigenous floral heritage. The gardens are indeed a natural wonderland, where visitors will find lots of space for picnics. In summertime, the delightful setting becomes the venue for Sunday evening open-air concerts.
Cape Town has some truly gorgeous beaches, but the most glamorous are on the Atlantic Ocean, where the water is unbelievably cold. Camps Bay Beach is among the most popular choices, and locals and tourists pack its long, wide stretch of silver sand and enjoy the trendy bars and restaurants nearby. Another favourite is Clifton, where four beaches are situated beneath the exclusive houses and apartments set into the cliff. False Bay is also blessed with lovely beaches, though these tend to be more family-friendly and less trendy. The most popular beach for beginner surfers in Cape Town is Muizenberg, which has plenty of surf schools. For long walks and horse riding, the lovely Noordhoek beach is ideal.
Robben Island is seven miles (11km) from Cape Town, and is easily seen from the shore. For nearly 400 years, this tiny rocky island was utilised as a place of banishment, exile, isolation, and imprisonment for numerous categories of people ostracised by society, ranging from political protesters to lepers. During the years of Apartheid, Robben Island became synonymous with institutional brutality, as many freedom fighters, including the island's most famous resident, Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned here for more than a quarter of a century. Robben Island is now a museum symbolising the liberation and triumph of the human spirit. Regular island tours are conducted and last for around three and a half hours.
Until the 1960s, District Six was a vibrant district of Cape Town located close to the city centre and the harbour. The community was originally established as a mix of freed slaves, merchants, artisans and immigrants, and developed a unique multiracial character. In 1966, the government declared District Six a 'whites only' area under the Group Areas Act and over 60,000 residents were forcibly moved to the outlying Cape Flats, a barren area several kilometres away, while most of their homes were flattened by bulldozers. Communities and families were uprooted and torn apart, and this moving museum serves to safeguard the memories and the spirit that was District Six.
Chapman's Peak Drive is one of the most spectacular coastal roads in South Africa and the world. It links the seaside community of Hout Bay to the Noordhoek Valley along the Atlantic Coast, and offers breath-taking views from along the narrow, winding road blasted into the cliffs. Started in 1915, the six-mile (9km) route took about seven years to complete and was built as a shorter, alternative route between Cape Town central and the South Peninsula. Many visitors use this scenic route to reach Cape Point Nature Reserve, situated at the tip of the Peninsula. But for many Capetonians, it simply comprises a breathtakingly beautiful commute to work.
This working harbour, historical site, and shopping development has become one of Cape Town's most visited tourist attractions. The Waterfront offers everything from shopping malls and crafts markets to live music and a variety of festivals throughout the year. It's also home to more than 70 eateries, ranging from pubs and fast-food outlets to five star restaurants. Those who fall in love with the Waterfront will be glad to know that there are several luxury hotels in the area. What's more, travellers can stroll down to the harbour to gaze upon the many boats and ships upon the waves.
Simonstown is South Africa's principal naval base and lies about 25 miles (40km) from the city centre. The quaint suburb was built around a naval dockyard, and visitors will enjoy its well-preserved Victorian buildings, museums, sidewalk cafes, and local heroes. One such hero was a dog called, 'Just Nuisance', who joined the British navy and become their mascot when Simonstown was a British base. A statue of the beloved Great Dane can still be seen on the beachfront. A short distance from the town is Boulders Beach, famous for its protected colony of African Penguins. People watch the animals while on the beach as well as from viewing platforms.
The Bo-Kaap (old Malay Quarter) was declared an exclusive residential area for the Muslim Cape Malays under the apartheid era's Group Areas Act of 1950, forcing people of other religions and ethnicity to leave. The term 'Cape Malay' was originally used to describe the slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia, and various African countries who were imported to the Cape of Good Hope by the Dutch during the 16th and 17th centuries (rather than just to describe Malaysian slaves). Today, the area is still closely associated with the Muslim community and has a distinct and vibrant character. The colourfully painted houses, steep cobbled streets, mosques, minarets, and blend of Cape Dutch and Edwardian architecture also help make it culturally and historically interesting.
The N2 highway that connects Cape Town International Airport to the city is lined with townships, which consist of a mixture of shacks and solid buildings. During the days of apartheid, people of colour were not allowed to live in the white suburbs and were relocated to areas away from the city. These tours allow visitors to experience how the majority of Capetonians still live. Guides, often residents, take visitors around to meet the people, see community projects, have a drink in a shebeen (township pub) and shop for local crafts. Each township has its own colourful character, and despite their difficult living conditions, residents are generally friendly and hospitable. Townships were once no-go areas for many people but, today, visits are becoming popular among tourists to Cape Town.
The Cape sits at the meeting place of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and over 3,000 sea animals from both oceans are showcased in the aquarium. They highlight the diversity of marine life found in the waters around Cape Town. The Two Oceans Aquarium is one of the city's top attractions and visitors of all ages will be interested in the variety of exhibits. They include the Predator Exhibit, which features large sharks and rays, and the mesmerising Kelp Forest Exhibit. Animals such as seals, penguins and turtles, and thousands of different fish are on display too. It is also possible embark on dives in specific tanks. The aquarium is involved in a number of research and conservation programmes.
A historical beachside suburb on the False Bay coast, Muizenberg is popular with families for its long beach, warm water (by Cape Town standards), beautiful views, and activities such as mini-golf and waterslides. The beach is famous for its row of colourful changing houses and is a photo favourite from the mountain road far above. Muizenberg beach has also long been the best place in Cape Town for beginner surfers to learn and enjoy the waves. Its break is far less daunting and competitive than Cape Town's other surf spots. Several popular surf schools have been established at Surfers Corner in Muizenberg, accompanied by a few fun cafes and restaurants.
With a population of more than 3,000 birds and over 400 different species, the World of Birds is the largest bird park in Africa. Its one-hundred-plus walk-through aviaries allow visitors to encounter the birds in their natural environment. The park has other animals as well. Its mammals include foxes, monkeys, meerkats, racoons, guinea pigs, marmosets, mongooses and porcupines. Monkeys are one of the highlights. Visitors will find more than 30 of them in a large walk-through enclosure, where they can interact with the animals at certain times of day. There are also some reptiles such skinks, iguanas, terrapins and tortoises. The park also serves as a conservation site.
With dramatic mountains, Blue Flag beaches, and the great outdoors on its doorstep, there is no shortage of things for children to see and do in Cape Town.
Active families will enjoy the numerous hikes on Table Mountain, as well as riding the cable car. The surrounding areas, such as Tokai, False Bay, and Silvermine and Cape Point provide some excellent walking paths too. Cape Town strives to be a bicycle-friendly city, meaning there are plenty of bike trails both on and off the mountains.
Visitors can also head to one of Cape Town's picture-perfect beaches to enjoy a spot of sunshine, or picnic under the shade of a tree in the world-renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, where there is plenty of space for kids to run around. Kids will enjoy Cape Town's open-top sightseeing buses too, as they're a great way to see the city's top attractions.
On days when outdoor activities are not an option, travellers can head to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, where craft markets, boat rides, and restaurants will keep the little ones entertained. The Two Oceans Aquarium is also located there and provides a fascinating and educational experience for children of all ages. World of Birds is worth visiting too.
When the sun sets on the Mother City, there are plenty of great restaurants where kids are welcome, such as the family-friendly Spur, which offers indoor playgrounds, colouring books and balloons.
Located on the Cape Peninsula, Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate with warm, dry, sunny summers and cold, wet winters. Winters occur between June and August and are influenced by a series of cold fronts that cross the peninsula from the Atlantic Ocean. They are characterised by heavy rain, particularly on the mountain slopes, strong northwesterly winds, and low temperatures. Some snow does fall on the mountain ranges during the winter.
In summer, the weather in Cape Town is warm and dry, but the idyllic sunny weather is often punctuated with strong southeasterly winds. The average summer temperatures in Cape Town range between 61F (16C) and 79F (26C) and in winter average between 47F (8.5C) and 64F (18C). Summer temperatures can reach well above 86F (30C) and night-time temperatures in winter occasionally drop below freezing, but this is rare.
It is a city with four distinct seasons, each working its particular magic on Cape Town and bringing with it a flood of associations: summer and white sandy beaches; autumn's crisp colours; the ferocity of stormy seas in winter; and spring's show of Cape fynbos flowers. The most popular time to visit is summer and early autumn (December to March).
Foodies will appreciate the quality and variety of restaurants in Cape Town. Regarding menus, they will find a wide variety of international fare, along with many restaurants that offer local Cape Malay dishes and traditional African cuisine. Seafood is extremely popular too. Fine diners and families with young children will find they are equally well-catered for, and vegetarians and vegans will also feel at home.
Camps Bay and the Waterfront have a wide variety of restaurants, but many of the better ones are outside these tourist hotspots. The town of Franschhoek is just 40 minutes outside Cape Town and is considered the gourmet capital of South Africa. Many of the wine farms in Constantia and around Stellenbosch have fantastic establishments for long lunching over a bottle of the superb local wine.
Visitors to Cape Town during the winter months should take advantage of 'winter menus' offered by most restaurants. These are astoundingly good value deals, often packaged as a tasting menu of five courses or more. Restaurants in Cape Town usually add a 10 to 15 percent service charge to tables of six or more. Otherwise, waiters expect a tip of 10 to 15 percent for good service.
Located in wine country and against the backdrop of the Constantiaberg Mountain, Constantia Uitsig has been a huge success story since day one. The menu is Italian-French, though Chef Clayton Bell continues to create food with broader influences than his original Provencale-Tuscan mix. Bookings are essential.
Miller's Thumb is Jane and Solly Solomon's refreshingly casual seafood establishment. Set in uptown Cape Town, it's ever-changing chalkboard menu offers customers a good chance of discovering something new, though it tends to include familiar options as well. Cajun and Creole dishes are the order of the day, as is Yaki Soba, an award-winning Japanese dish with cashes, chickens and prawns. Thankfully, it's a staple. There's generally a pasta dish or two, complemented by an array of interesting sauces and a selection of good wines.
Situated just behind Camps Bay's main strip, the Codfather offers a unique presentation of fine fish. There is no menu at this low-key restaurant. Patrons make their choice after a personal discourse with their waiter on the daily specials. It is then weighed, prepared to the highest standard, and served to their table. Staff are all first class and provide a service of the highest order. There is also a sushi bar. The restaurant is open daily for lunch and dinner.
Beluga is a stylish and sophisticated eatery located in the Foundry, a 100-year-old redbrick building that once housed one of the city's oldest metal works. It now has a modern interior design as well as an office centre, integrating into what has become Cape Town's film and modelling district. The restaurant offers the best of a wide range of cuisines. However, there are plenty of robust flavours, interesting ingredients, and generous portions. The cocktail bar serves great drinks, perfectly complemented by its famous sushi menu. Tables spill out onto an enclosed courtyard, serving light meals and coffees from early until late.
Royale is the gourmet burger joint of choice in Cape Town. It's not uncommon to see scruffy-jeaned skaters at one table and trendy executives at another. Patrons can choose beef, chicken, ostrich or veggie patties, and can chop and change toppings. Regarding sides, they can go for regular fries, sweet potato fries, potato wedges or delicious salads.
Aside from offerings like 'The Miss Piggy' and 'The Fat Bastard' (double everything), the restaurant serves a variety of pizzas and milkshakes. Royale also boasts an upstairs bar and live-music lounge known as the Waiting Room, and a third floor reserved for private functions and sundowners.
Regarded as one of Cape Town's most stylish dinner-dance venues, Pigalle is a vast, split-level restaurant divided into intimate dining areas, each boasting a view of the dance floor and band. The lavish furnishings, elegant tables, and background music create the perfect atmosphere in which to enjoy sumptuous offerings from the set menus, or from the a la carte menu. Black mussels provide a delicious start to the dining experience. From there, patrons could move on to the ostrich fillet with mushroom and peppercorn sauce, the fillet medallions, or the Pigalle Platter (prawns and langoustines in lemon butter). Couples could round off their meals by sharing the creme brulee or baked cheesecake. The restaurant is open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.
Something of a Cape Town institution, Cafe Mozart has been attracting locals and foreigners for over thirty years. Serving some of the best coffee in town, Cafe Mozart is a great breakfast stop, with tables spilling out onto a shaded pedestrianised walkway, where buskers amuse passers-by with some lively tunes. With superb fruit juices, a mouth-watering selection of sandwiches made on freshly baked bread, and an attractive daily menu created at the whim of chef and proprietor Tom Kelley, there is something for everyone. Tea lovers should sample the restaurant's variety of loose-leaf teas, all of which are served in elegant silver teapots and quirky crockery. Cafe Mozart is open Monday to Saturday for breakfast and lunch.
With its prime location near the Cape Town Stadium, Tobago's restaurant in the Radisson Blu Hotel is a celebrated venue for visitors to enjoy a long luxurious lunch or dinner. Diners are offered a wonderful selection of meals from the restaurant's world-class menu, made from locally sourced, fresh ingredients. They can also choose from a buffet, which is best enjoyed in the stylish dining area or outside on the beautiful waterfront terrace. Tobago's is a good option for those seeking fine dining before or after a sport event or concert at the Cape Town Stadium.
Formerly known as the J&B Met, the Sun Met is the premier horseracing event in South Africa, with over ZAR 1.5-million in prize money on the table. It's also one of the most prestigious and anticipated events on Cape Town's social calendar, where entertainment, sophistication and glamorous fashion come together.
The Official After Party is a highly rated post-race event that continues the festivities well into the early hours. The Met attracts many of South Africa's biggest celebrities and socialites, who compete in the fashion stakes. Like many horse racing events, creative couture and glamorous hats are the order of the day.
Attendees usually get drawn into the excitement of the races, even if they're neophytes. A staggering average of 50,000 people attend the event annually, interpreting the year's fashion theme however they like.
Placing bets is very simple and easy and attendees can bet as little or as much as they want. There are numerous fancy pavilions on the grounds for VIP guests.
The Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts are idyllic experiences set beneath the gorgeous expanse of the mountains. With a picnic and a glass of wine, audiences can listen to a mixed selection of classical and contemporary music.
The gardens themselves provide one of the most spectacular concert venues in South Africa, with the stage framed by the backdrop of Table Mountain and sprawling flowers of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
In fact, National Geographic voted this exquisite floral wonderland as one of the greatest places in the world for a picnic. One can only imagine the atmosphere generated when international artists like Michael Buble, The Lumineers, and Paolo Nutini take to the stage.
For a full programme of who is performing, music fans should check out the official website. Ticket prices range depending on the artist. As there are no assigned seats, it is a good idea to arrive early to set up a good spot near the stage and enjoy a stroll around the beautiful gardens before the show begins.
The annual Hermanus Whale Festival is an enviro-arts festival, celebrating local arts and crafts, the southern right whale, and the environment in equal measure. The event is immensely popular, now attracting about 100,000 visitors.
The festival offers arts and crafts, theatre, live music, a half marathon, and surf festival in addition to some of the best shore-based whale-watching opportunities in the world. Hermanus boasts the world's only traditional Whale Crier, who alerts visitors to whale sightings with a kelp horn every day during whale season.
Every year between July and September, the Southern Right Whales travel thousands of miles to the southern coast of South Africa to mate and calve in the bays. Hermanus is frequented by these majestic animals and the steep cliffs and numerous vantage points looking out over the bay make it the ideal spot to go whale watching in the Cape.
In fact, it is often lauded as the best land-based whale watching destination in the world. Hermanus is a charming coastal town even without this wonderful natural spectacle, with plenty of little cafés and restaurants, quaint shops, a very picturesque setting, and a friendly and artistic atmosphere.
Inspired by the annual productions in London's Regent Park, Shakespeare is performed every summer at the open-air theatre in Wynberg. It is generally performed with a local, contemporary twist to add to the entertainment.
Some very talented South African actors and directors have been showcased at Maynardville and the plays are extremely varied despite the fact that they are all Shakespearean. Recently, ballet has been added to the Maynardville itinerary, with world-class ballet companies performing.
Every season there are at least two or three productions so there is some choice, and they often try to ensure that there is something more traditional and something contemporary from which to choose. On warm summer evenings, many theatre-goers begin the evening by picnicking in the park before the show begins.
There is also often a small funfair and a food market with numerous stalls selling different culinary treats, just a little way away from the actual theatre area. Theatre lovers should check the official website for details on what is showing.
The Absa Cape Epic has established itself as a prestigious international sporting event, attracting a competitive field of riders eager to compete against the best or simply to finish the gruelling eight-day off-road race. The event has become the largest full service mountain bike race in the world, and is the most televised mountain bike race ever.
The route is changed every year, but always winds through gruelling, but spectacular surroundings. The race covers 559 miles (900km) of unspoilt nature, with about 52,493 feet (16,000m) of climbing over some of the most magnificent passes in South Africa.
Participants and spectators can enjoy wine tasting, fine dining and live entertainment in the afternoon. Special activities such as magicians, balloon artists and jumping castles are laid on for the children.
The Argus is the largest timed sporting event on earth, attracting more than 35,000 cyclists from around the world. The spectacle is watched by thousands who line the 67-mile (108km) route, which follows some of the Cape's most spectacular coastal scenery. The race is enjoyed by serious cyclists and social riders alike and is almost a rite of passage for young, athletic Capetonians.
Established in 1978 to raise awareness about the lack of bike trails in South Africa, the event has grown in popularity ever since. The route takes riders along the False Bay Coast, including the famously scenic Chapman's Peak pass, past the entrance to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, along the Atlantic coast, over Suikerbossie Hill, and on to the Cape Town Stadium in Green Point near the city centre, in what must be the most staggeringly beautiful cycling race in the world. There are numerous refreshment stations and on the day a very festive atmosphere pervades the route, especially as many of the coastal suburbs are somewhat cut off by the race due to all the road closures.
Boasting some of the most spectacular scenery of any road running event on earth, the Two Oceans Marathon has become the second most famous ultra-marathon (34.8 miles/56km) in South Africa, after the Comrades Marathon. Runners race over and around the mountains of Cape Town every Easter Saturday in a race that is as internationally renowned for its scenic beauty, as the gruelling nature of the route.
The race starts in Newlands and follows a vaguely circular route through False Bay (Muizenberg, Fish Hoek, Chapman's Peak) and Constantia Nek, and eventually finishes on the rugby fields at the lovely University of Cape Town campus.
Apart from the ultra-marathon, there is a half marathon (13 miles/21km), a trail run through the forests above the University of Cape Town, several fun runs ideal for families, and an International Friendship Run designed to showcase Cape Town's famous landmarks for international entrants. The fun runs include a Nappy Dash, for children under three, a Toddler's Trot, for kids between four and six, and several other short races for people of any age.
Ranked as one of the best jazz festivals in the world, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival (CTIJF) is a must for jazz fanatics visiting the Mother City. Hosting about 40 African and international artists, the CTIJF is an awe inspiring musical jam of jazz and its popular music relatives such as soul, funk, kwaito, blues, and more. The dynamic music event should not be missed as it's hosted the likes of Cesaria Evora, Herbie Hancock, Youssou N'dour, India Arie, Randy Crawford, George Duke, Al Di Meola, Archie Shepp, Erykah Badu, Andreas Vollenweider, and Angie Stone.
Even those who don't consider themselves jazz lovers will find the big live performances accessible and exciting. There are also workshops and classes to attend during the festival, revolving naturally around jazz music but also a number of interesting artistic subjects, such as photography and music journalism.
Cape Town is by far South Africa's most cosmopolitan city. A multicultural treat with something for everyone, it offers fashionable bars, small watering holes, classy dance clubs, and hotel bars.
Visitors can sip cocktails and watch the sunset at one of Camps Bay's trendy sidewalk cafes in the summer. Somerset Road in Green Point is where the main gay and lesbian clubs and bars are situated, although Cape Town in general is very tolerant of same-sex relationships.
Observatory offers a more bohemian experience, where everything happens at a slightly slower pace. Pool halls, reggae bars, avant-garde eateries, and live music are the order of the day. For a younger and more mainstream clubbing experience, Visitors should try th road in Claremont, where young adults prefer to have a drink and dance at clubs like Tiger Tiger.
Long Street is the heart of Cape Town's nightlife. Located in the centre of town, it has just about every kind of bar or club on offer, from live music and DJs to pubs, dance clubs, and the more trendy and laid-back lounge variety. Travellers should be wary of the numerous pickpockets in the crowd, and keep a close watch on mobiles and wallets.
Cape Town also has plenty of quieter and less crowded venues hidden away off the side streets. Kloof Street and Bree Street are within easy walking distance of Long Street, and are known for their fashionable bars and restaurants.
For culture vultures, there are great local and often international shows to be seen at one of the many theatres in Cape Town, such as the Theatre on the Bay, the Baxter Theatre, or the Artscape. On Broadway hosts a wonderful mix of comedies and farces. The Cape Town City Ballet, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Cape Town Opera are all world-class performing groups. Maynardville Open-Air Theatre hosts Shakespeare in the Park performances in Wynberg every summer.
Unfortunately, there is little to no public transport after 7pm besides private taxis. These often need to be booked in advance and can be very expensive, so it is best to rent a car. The legal drinking age in South Africa is 18. Bars and clubs stop serving alcohol at 2am.
Shopping in Cape Town is largely centralised within a few good shopping malls, the most popular with travellers being the V&A Waterfront, Cavendish Square, and Canal Walk. Though many international brands are present, shopping in Cape Town is not quite in the same league as international cities such as London, New York, or Singapore. Having said that, shopping is comparably cheap for most international visitors because of the exchange rate and the potential to find some designer bargains,
Supermarkets are of a high standard, with Pick n Pay good for bulk shopping. Woolworths is probably the best for fresh produce and luxury goods. For food lovers, the Saturday morning market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock is excellent for organic foods and unique, locally-made products. The Sunday craft market in Hout Bay is one of the best places for handmade local arts and crafts, and for South African art it is worth taking a drive down to Kalk Bay and Simonstown where there are lots of small galleries.
The flea market at Greenmarket Square, off Longmarket Street, is worth a visit for African curios and gifts, and bargaining is often possible, particularly if buying a few items. Nearby Long Street also has a number of curio shops, mixed with local boutiques, bookshops, and music stores. Popular Cape Town souvenirs include African masks, colourfully-printed fabric and clothing, and carvings made of wood and soapstone.
Most shops are open between 9am and 5pm, some with reduced hours on the weekends. Stores in shopping malls may be open later, until 8pm or 9pm. Overseas travellers can claim back VAT at the refund kiosk in Cape Town International Airport on presentation of all receipts.
The ocean and the dramatic landmarks of Table Mountain and Lions Head make Cape Town fairly easy to navigate. Most of the hotels are situated along the Atlantic Seaboard.
Private taxi companies such as Uber have a large presence in the city and are known to do trips as far as the Cape Winelands. Public transport, however, is poor and often unsafe, so most visitors hire a car, particularly if planning excursions from the city.
To rent a car, drivers need to be over 18 years old and have a credit card and a full driving license. A young driver surcharge is levied on drivers under the age of 23. The license must have a photo and be in English, otherwise an International Driving Permit is required.
Driving can be a harrowing experience in Cape Town. Lane changes can be confusing, signage is often easy to miss, and the same road can change names several times. It is a beautiful city to drive in, however, and experienced drivers should cope if they have a GPS.
For trips within the city, minibus taxis are cheap and convenient and can be hailed by adventurous travellers anywhere along their route. But the vehicles are often in very bad condition and the driving can be appalling. Passengers should expect to pay around R5 for most journeys within the city, but are cautioned against getting into an empty minibus.
Golden Arrow buses leave from the main bus terminal to destinations around the city. Although timings can be erratic they can be a good option for those on a budget. The MyCiti buses in the city frequent well-marked routes and are a reliable and safe option.
Tourists are advised to avoid the trains, with the exception of the Simon's Town line, which runs through the residential Southern Suburbs, past Muizenberg and along the False Bay coast. Pick pocketing is rife, however, and there have been several attacks on passengers.
Rikkis, or small, open rickshaw type vehicles, are a novel way to explore the city centre and Simon's Town and are usually safe and reliable. Taxis are expensive but are a good option at night for those without a car.
Public transport should not be taken after dark.
From museums and historic sites to scenic drives and beaches, Cape Town has plenty to offer visitors in the way of attractions and excursions. The open-top, hop-on hop-off sightseeing buses operate two routes, visiting sights in and around the central city. The routes also go further afield in the suburbs, providing an easy way to see many of the city's top attractions in one day.
The city centre is easy to navigate on foot, with Table Mountain and the city's gentle slope towards the sea providing points of reference and making it difficult to get lost. At the very least, visitors usually include a trip up Table Mountain in the cable car and many make time for an outing to Robben Island, Cape Point, the Winelands, and, of course, any one of the city's many magnificent beaches.
Summertime visitors rarely come to Cape Town without at least one day spent enjoying its Blue Flag-rated beaches, whether lounging with bronze gods in Camps Bay and Clifton, or snorkelling with penguins in Simonstown. There are many active pursuits available in Cape Town as well, including kayaking with whales in the Atlantic Ocean, hiking up Table Mountain or in the Tokai Forest, and paragliding from Signal Hill to Camp's Bay.
For those with a bit more time, there are many interesting museums that offer a glimpse into the apartheid era, such as the District Six Museum. An increasingly popular excursion is to one of the predominantly black townships which usually includes a look at community projects, a visit to a craft market and a drink at a local shebeen (township pub).
Most Cape Town visitors are keen to make the short, 40 mile (65km) daytrip from the city centre to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. The land at first appears bleak, but visitors will soon discover a region rich in floral diversity. They will also stand atop the towering promontory at the most southerly point of the Cape Peninsula. Those who wish to venture to the most southerly point of Africa will have to journey further to Cape Agulhas. Visitors can reach the viewpoint and lighthouse via a funicular, and watch thundering waves crash at the base of the cliffs below. Bird lovers and botany enthusiasts will enjoy exploring the reserve itself.
Seal Island visitors can glimpse of these wonderful animals at play and at rest. Although several tiny islands off the coast are unofficially part of Seal Island, the most well-known is Duiker Island. Located a small distance out from Hout Bay, boats regularly leave the docks and take passengers outside the harbour and into the ocean. From here, they can enjoy sweeping views of Hout Bay, Noordhoek, Kommetjie, and the famous Chapman's Peak. The boat stops just below the Hout Bay Sentinal, where hundreds of Cape fur seals bask on the small island in the sun. The sight is magical, if a bit pungent. Many of the boat tours use glass-bottomed vessels that allow sightings of the seals zipping about beneath the water.
Locals and international tourists alike travel south of Cape Town to Hermanus. The charming seaside town is about a two-hour drive outside the Mother City, and is known for its whale watching, as Southern Right Whales migrate through the area to nearby Walker Bay. Visitors are almost guaranteed a sighting of these gentle giants from the steep cliffs of Hermanus between September and October, and the Two Oceans Whale Festival draws big crowds over this period. There are also opportunities to view other wildlife, including dolphins, seals, penguins, and Great White Sharks. The town itself offers many other activities, including browsing shops and restaurants in the quaint downtown area to venturing further afield to wine farms and beaches and neighbouring towns like Stanford, Gansbaai, and Caledon.
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