Local folklore has it that Cape Town is known as the "Mother City" because it takes nine months to get anything done. While this is a monumental exaggeration, it is true that Capetonians are generally a laidback bunch. However, the reason is obvious. The city features beaches to enjoy, waves to surf, mountains to climb, and trails to hike. The stereotypical Capetonian—barefoot and in board shorts—is more fact than fiction. Weave in abundant bars, superb food, and incredible nightlife, and it’s easy to see why Cape Town attracts a young, vibrant, and buzzing crowd, year round.
Factor in world-class shopping, stunning landscapes, and easy access to the scenic Cape Winelands and Garden Route, and it’s no wonder that in 2011 TripAdvisor ranked Cape Town—deservedly—as the world’s number one tourist destination.
Cape Town is synonymous with Table Mountain, a kilometer-high mountain that dominates the skyline. Look out for it as you fly in to Cape Town; if you’re lucky, you might see the clouds, or "Table Cloth," that drape over its 3 kilometer-long "table top." The summit can be reached via an enjoyable hike, but for a speedier experience, the ten-minute cable car journey departs every 15 minutes.
From the top, pick out your later Table Bay destinations: Signal Hill, home to the brightly colored houses of the Malay Quarter; District Six and its fascinating apartheid museum; or the harbor, shopping, and entertainment district of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Seven kilometers offshore lies Robben Island, the notorious ex-prison island that held jailed political figures including Nelson Mandela. A day trip to the island is a sobering yet enlightening experience.
Look west and you’ll see Camps Bay, one of Cape Town’s best beaches and a great day-through-night entertainment area. A scenic drive along the coast road is highly recommended. Pass the delightful cove of Llandudno before reaching Hout Bay. Wander the quayside craft market before taking a boat trip to the Cape Fur seal colonies at Seal Island.
Continue your scenic drive along Chapman’s Peak Drive; be sure to check in advance whether the temperamental mountain pass is open. Proceed through the fishing villages of Kommetjie and Scarborough before arriving at Table Mountain National Park, the photo-opportunistic Cape of Good Hope, and finally Cape Point, one of the southernmost points of Africa.
Nowhere is South Africa’s "Rainbow Nation" more evident than in Cape Town’s many different cuisines. The country blends its African, European, Indian, and Malay influences into a variety of colorful, spicy, and flavorful dishes.
For an introduction to South African food, visit the restaurants in the Malay Quarter or "Bo-Kaap." Overlooking the city bowl on the slopes of Signal Hill, the area is the spiritual anchor of the Cape’s Muslim community. Allow time for a pre-dinner walk and enjoy the brightly-colored houses that cling to steep cobblestone roads and a classic Table Mountain backdrop.
Dine al fresco at any of the harbor-view restaurants in the V&A Waterfront, or along the False Bay coast in places such as Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town. Kalk Bay is a False Bay fishing village that lies in a particularly beautiful setting, wedged between the ocean and craggy gray mountains. The stiff sea breeze here—known as the Cape Doctor—is refreshing in summer, bracing in winter.
Capetonians love to party and Cape Town’s nightlife is accordingly excellent. Consult locals and up-to-date listings magazines for the current top spots, most of which will be centered around the city center, Green Point, and the very upmarket Camps Bay.
Just 55 kilometers east of Cape Town, in the heart of the Cape Winelands, is the university town of Stellenbosch. Here you’ll find distinctive Cape Dutch architecture surrounded by verdant vines and spectacular mountain backdrops. Add the Cape’s incredible light, raved about by photographers worldwide, and endless skies, and you’ve got one of the world’s most magnificent panoramas. The area has something for all, wine lover or not. Learn about viniculture, sample delicious farm cheeses and olives, buy roadside arts and crafts, or even pet a hand-reared cheetah—the choice is yours.