Cape Town, fondly known as The Mother City, is one of the most picturesque cities in the world. Nestled against the iconic Table Mountain, the city is bordered by spectacular beaches and famed winelands, has a glittering city bowl at night and features spectacular views from places like Chapman’s Peak Drive, Signal Hill and Lion’s Head. It is not hard to see why Cape Town is the most popular tourist destination in Africa. The city has it all – unsurpassable natural beauty, rich cultural heritage, diverse architecture, top restaurants and hip, urban nightlife.
Visitors to Cape Town shouldn’t miss out on the Big Five – Table Mountain, Robben Island, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Point and the V&A Waterfront. Beach favourites Llandudno, Clifton, Camps Bay and Boulders also feature on the tourist itinerary, as do the Constantia Valley wine estates and the bustling harbours of Kalk Bay and Simons Town. The historic Bo-Kaap area and the District Six Museum are cultural gems. Top class restaurants are scattered across the city, while nightlife hotspots include Long Street in the city and Victoria Street in Camps Bay.
While Cape Town has an abundance of attractions it is also a great place from which to explore the many and varied sights of the Western Cape, such as the winelands of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, the dramatic beauty of Cape Point, the whale watching town of Hermanus and the barren beaches and seaside towns of the West Coast.
For more inside information, check out secret Cape Town where our writers share some of the special spots close to their hearts.
Cape Town was the site of the first European colony in South Africa, when the Dutch East India Company established an outpost in Table Bay in 1652. The settlement grew with Dutch colonists, German and French refugees and slaves imported from East Asia. In the 18th century Britain took hold of the Cape and abolished slavery.
The 20th century has seen the tragic uprooting of the community of District Six and Nelson Mandela’s incarceration on Robben Island. Cape Town has also been the backdrop of the beginning of South Africa’s democratic era, when in 1990 Nelson Mandela made his first public speech from the balcony of Cape Town City Hall hours after being released from prison.
Culture and heritage
Robben Island Prison Museum is usually a first stop for visitors interested in South African history. Take a boat to the island and tour the infamous prison guided by a former inmate.
Explore the history of the vibrant District Six community at the District Six Museum, and learn about forced removals during the apartheid era.
The South African National Gallery houses a selection of South African, African, British, French, Dutch and Flemish art and is noted for its collection of sculpture and beadwork.
The Bo-Kaap Museum reveals the history of the Bo-Kaap area, which became home to freed slaves and Muslims after slavery was abolished.
Parks and Gardens
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, sloping down from Table Mountain, is one of the most beautiful gardens in the country. The gardens have South African indigenous plants only and support diverse fynbos flora and a natural forest. The Kirstenbosch summer sunset concerts, where people picnic on the lawns and listen to live music on Sunday evenings, are a Cape Town institution.
The Company’s Garden is a green space in the heart of the city. The historic garden, planted in the 1650s, borders several landmarks, including the Houses of Parliament, St George’s Cathedral and the South African National Gallery.
Long Street has long been a centre of Cape Town’s nightlife scene. Its many cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs attract a varied crowd, from backpackers and students to trendy urbanites.
Trendy De Waterkant and the Cape Quarter buzzes with activity at its the wine bars, restaurants and drinking spots.
Cape Town is South Africa’s gay capital, and as such offers many gay-friendly bars, which are concentrated on Somerset Road in Green Point, the area dubbed “the Soho of Cape Town”.
Camps Bay has numerous up-market cocktail bars and restaurants on Victoria Road overlooking the spectacular sunsets on the beach.
Hiring a car is the best way to get around the city if you are going to do a lot of exploring.
Europcar has several branches in Cape Town, including two at the airport. Tel +27-21-935-8700.
Tempest Car Hire has five branches. Tel +27-21-935-8650.
Sixt has two branches at the airport and one in the CBD. Tel +27-21-422-1480.
Avis has several branches throughout the city and suburbs. Tel +27-21-934- 0330.
Call to hire metered taxis
Rikkis taxis are Cape Town’s most popular taxi service, offering private and shared rides. Rikkis phone boxes are located at various points throughout the city, where you can order a taxi for free, or you can call on tel +27-861-745-547.
Cabs on Call tel +27-21-797-7142.
Excite Taxis tel +27-21-448-4444.
Minibus taxis can be found throughout Cape Town, especially on main roads.
A railway line runs from the city central station through the southern suburbs to Simon’s Town. Tickets can be bought at the stations along the route. Visit www.capemetrorail.co.za for route maps and timetables.
Shuttle buses will operate between Cape Town International Airport and the inner-city, and from there to the stadium during the World Cup period.