Cultures, cuisines, and landscapes have coalesced over centuries to gift us this great South African city of Cape Town, also known by various nicknames, “The Mother City” being the most common among them.
Let’s not get into why it’s called that because there are quite a few stories and theories out there about the name’s origin, which is a subject in itself.
Other nicknames the city is associated with are, “Tavern of the Seas” and “Cape Grab,” to name a couple.
This colourful, multi-racial city is located on South Africa’s Cape Peninsula, where the waters of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet but don’t mingle; where spectacular mountains plummet into the sea; a point where European merchant ships once navigated the dangerous waters of the rocky headland – which came to be known as the Cape of Good Hope – en route to Asia’s riches.
Central Cape Town is situated along the curved edge of the Table Bay, stretching north to meet the iconic 2-mile-long Table Mountain plateau.
In the center of this city bowl, stands the Dutch East India fort, the Castle of Good Hope, from where the city blossomed into what it is today – the radial point of Cape Town, so to speak.
Visit Company’s Garden where, in times gone by, fresh produce was grown to supply those early European ships headed for Asian shores. Today, the garden encompasses some of Cape Town’s most iconic landmarks, including the Parliament Building and the National Library.
In the southern periphery of the park, the South African Museum boasts some of the most interesting wonders of African zoology, archaeology, and paleontology.
Wonder at the millions of years old fossils and skeletal remains of the giants of the sea; check out the Wonders of Nature exhibit and get awed by the skull of a mammal-like reptile – that roamed the earth 250 million years before us – and the fossilized remains of a freshwater fish from the Triassic period.
Go to the African Dinosaurs exhibit and marvel at the dioramas of pre-historic landscapes and replicas of South African dinosaurs, and don’t miss the captivating projections of the night sky at the planetarium.
The nearby Natural Gallery is home to centuries of creativity in the form of outstanding collections of African, British, French, Dutch and Flemish art and much more.
Also located in the Company’s Gardens is the South African Jewish Museum – a glowing tribute to the community whose contribution towards the country is undeniable.
A few blocks away, the poignant District Six Museum honors the 60,000-plus non-white residents who were driven out of the multi-ethnic District Six neighborhood before it was razed to the ground in 1966, during those dark apartheid days.
Emblazoned across one of the walls of the museum are these famous words from “Kafka’s Curse” – a prose written by the award-winning South African poet Achmat Dangor.
“It struck me that our history is constrained in the homes we live in, that we are shaped by the ability of these simple structures to resist being defied.”
Mercifully, the vibrant neighborhood of Bo-Kaap escaped the bulldozers of apartheid, allowing this hillside suburban district of colorful houses and cobbled streets to continue with its proud Cape Malay traditions and culture.
Cape Town’s downtown streets, with its businesses and magnificent buildings, reflect a true picture of post-apartheid South Africa. If you are a coffee junkie, start with an espresso fix, or two, at the famous coffee shop Truth.
Once you have charged yourself up with as much caffeine as you like, take a stroll along the loud, funky and bustling Long Street, admiring the elegant Victorian architecture lining the street.
Stop for a bite at one of the many restaurants and eateries the street boasts, or shop at one of the branded fashion outlets.
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is South Africa’s oldest operational harbor. The area is home to some fine attractions, such as the Two Oceans Aquarium housing marine life from both the Indian and the Atlantic Oceans, as the name suggests.
Board a ferry from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the waterfront for a ride across the waters of the Table Bay to one of South Africa’s most infamous prisons, Robben Island, the place of exile for three centuries.
It is the place where Nelson Mandela languished for 18 years during the apartheid era. It is from here that the great man rose to become not only the country’s first black president but the father of the nation – an inspiration to millions around the world – even today.
Four miles from Robben Island, across the waters of Table Bay, looms the awesome Table Mountain, visible from almost anywhere on the Cape. This natural landmark is a wonder of nature that defines the city of Cape Town.
The mountain owes its name to its flat top, which gives it the appearance of a table from afar, and when the south-easterly wind blows up the mountainsides and comes in contact with the colder air above, condensation takes place, resulting in the formation of the so-called “table-cloth” – a thick layer of orographic cloud, covering the table-top and spilling over its sides to dissipate again as it meets the warmer air below.
The Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, located at the foot of the eastern face of the mountain, abounds with the regions lush flora and varied fauna. Marvel at the garden’s offerings from the wooden Boomslang walkway, snaking through the gardens treetops.
Walking trails from the Kirstenbosch gardens take you up to the viewing areas atop the mountain, affording spectacular views of Devil’s Peak, Signal Hill, Lion’s Head and across-the- bay-views of Robben Island and beyond.
Another way of getting to the vantage points is by cable car, enjoying the breathtaking vistas as the car ascends to the top.
Numerous beaches, bays and waterfront communities make Cape Town one of the world’s top beach cities. Start your beach exploration from Green Point, the site of the city’s futuristic stadium, and move along the western coast of the Cape Peninsula, passing through some of the most amazing beaches along the way.
Visit the city’s Clifton area to see some of the most lavish homes, starting at the top of the peninsula all the way down to the edge of the four beaches below, each separated by giant granite boulders.
Not far from and similar to Clifton, the Camps Bay Beach also boasts its fair share of expensive homes along with a tidal pool, as tranquil as a lake on a windless day, and over twenty fine restaurants and cafés.
Llandudno Beach, some six miles down the coast, is an ideal location to surf the massive breakers. However, unlike the upscale Clifton and Camps Bay Beach, this modest place has no restaurants, or shops – not even street lights; just the pristine beach, the waves and the massive granite boulders. Life can’t get simpler than this.
Head over to the charming fishing village of Hout Bay to enjoy a cool glass of craft beer and the area’s culinary delights.
Now that we have explored the western coastline of the Cape Peninsula, let’s check out the eastern side, where False Bay awaits us with its warmer waters, endless beaches, and equally scenic seaports.
Travel down the “historic mile” of St. George’s Street at the naval port of Simon’s Town exploring the alleyways and beautiful Victorian buildings along the way.
The endangered African Penguin can be seen from up close at the Boulders Beach, nesting between the massive boulders and basking in the plentiful sunshine.
Take the coastal walk to Kalk Bay where writers, musicians, and artists have taken over from the whalers and limeburners of times gone by. It’s a great place to enjoy some of the freshest seafood at the local restaurants.
Located nearby is St. James with its impressive houses and colorful Victorian bathing boxes at the water’s edge.
Neighboring Muizenberg is more laid back. The warm shallow waters of the beach here make it one the safest and most ideal family beaches. The gentle waves provide the perfect setting for beginners to hone their surfing skills.
If the beach gets too crowded for your liking, head over to some of the coolest escapes along the streets of this charming village.
Round off your Cape Town visit with a trip to the picturesque vineyards in some of the region’s best wine-growing countryside.