Travel Guide to Cape Town

Best things to do and see in Cape Town

Cape Town: Why Go

A firm favourite amongst the i-escape team, Cape Town really does have it all. A wealth of beautiful beaches, world-class restaurants, gorgeous boutique hotels and almost constant sunshine. As for the setting... the city is cradled in a bowl with Table Mountain, Lion's Head and Devil's Peak on one side, and the gloriously blue Atlantic Ocean on the other.

It has culture in spades - Robben Island (the World Heritage Site where former president Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for nearly 20 years), township tours, a distinct Dutch heritage in its architecture, and a thriving contemporary art and design scene. Better still, it has some lovely places to relax: picnic at Kirstenbosch Gardens, people watch in Camps Bay, and soak up the sun on the glamorous Clifton beaches. And with no time difference between here and the UK, you won't even have to worry about jet lag.

Take day trips to see the penguins at Boulders Beach, marvel at the scenery at the Cape of Good Hope or Chapman's Peak, and spend at least a day in the Cape Winelands (ideally a night too, so you can take advantage of the many wineries!). Trust us, you'll come to Cape Town once and start planning a return trip before you've even left.

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Our top tips


Best beaches

The Atlantic may be too chilly for swimming, but stunning white-sand beaches and azure seascapes backed by magnificent mountains are plentiful. Our favourites are:

1. Glen Beach - a secluded and pristine beach set in a tiny enclave between the famous beaches of Camps Bay and Clifton. Stay at this beach bungalow for direct access to the sand.

2. Llandudno Beach - one of Cape Town's most picturesque beaches, with massive granite boulders, crashing aquamarine waves and dreamy sunsets. You can rent a sunbed and umbrella but take your own food and drinks (there are no shops or eateries in this upmarket residential enclave).

3. Noordhoek's Long Beach - beyond Hout Bay, this spectacular beach is vast and wild; perfect for an invigorating stroll or horse-ride. Kommetjie, at the far end, is a surfers' paradise, though Muizenberg is better for beginners.

4. Smitswinkelbaai Beach (pictured) - a hidden gem, 20 minutes' drive south of Simon’s Town on the False Bay side, next to Cape Point Nature Reserve. It's a quiet spot overlooked by a handful of wooden houses and reached by a short hike. Good for snorkelling and fishing.


A foodie delight City Bowl

Chefs Warehouse and Canteen is a low-key, cosy affair on Bree Street, which serves incredible food at incredible prices. It has long shared tables, plus simple ingredients and sensational flavours that scale new culinary heights. Amazing chef Liam Tomlin delivers a different selection of global tapas each day. No reservations are possible and the last orders are at 8pm, so just turn up early, hope to get a seat and, if you're lucky, savour something remarkable! The passion fruit creme brûlée with passion fruit ice cream blew our minds, and the bill for our 'best meal of the year' came to a mere £40 for two.


Best dining in Cape Town Woodstock

British-born Luke Dale-Roberts is Cape Town's most celebrated chef. His flagship restaurant, The Test Kitchen, is considered South Africa's No 1 dining experience and consistently features in the World's Best 50, so you'll need to book months in advance. Or take the glass lift up to the Pot Luck Club, his edgier rooftop restaurant, for Asian-inspired sharing plates and cocktails, and great views of Table Mountain. Both are located in Woodstock’s trendy Old Biscuit Mill complex.


Go to market

Farmers' markets are all the rage in Cape Town. On Saturday mornings local hipsters gather on hay bales to graze on artisan foods, smoothies, local coffee, craft beers and chilled wine. The hugely popular Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock pioneered the movement, but for something more wholesome and less crowded we love the Oranjezicht City Farm Market overlooking the sea at Granger Bay (between the V&A Waterfront and Green Point Stadium). For spectacular sundowners, head to the Cape Point Vineyards Market (Noordhoek, Thursdays, 4.30-8.30pm). If you have kids in tow, the scenic Kirstenbosch Craft and Food Market (last Sunday of the month) has the most adorable petting zoo.


The art of cocktails City Bowl

Vibrant Bree Street has become the city's hippest strip, with cool openings seemingly every week. It's conveniently located in the heart of Cape Town, and creative types make a beeline for the crafty cocktail bars and exciting eateries; Friday evenings buzz. Our favourite pit stops include:

1. Outrage of Modesty - a tiny bar hidden just off Bree Street, whose cutting-edge cocktail alchemy uses fantastical flavour combinations such as fennel pollen and Mzansi ingredients, all in the name of mixology. Don't miss the 'Icy Hot' (pictured) - green apple, honey vinegar, tequila, coconut and lavender. Booking is advisable.

2. The Orphanage - a speakeasy-style cocktail emporium serving sophisticated concoctions with a dash of wit.

3. Mother's Ruin Gin Bar - a drinking den which makes the most of the gin revival (think extraordinary Fynbos infusions).

4. Arcade's - a resto-bar and go-to hangout for young Capetonians, serving classic cocktails and cafe-style food late into the night.


Creative revival Woodstock

Woodstock is Cape's Town's creative heart. A short cab drive from the city centre, this once-gritty industrial suburb with its old Victorian buildings has fast become a hub for the city's happening art and design scene. Its derelict warehouses are now cool, contemporary galleries such as the pioneering Goodman Gallery, which showcases some of the biggest names in South African Art. At the far end of Albert Road towards Salt River, you'll find Salt Circle Arcade and the Old Biscuit Mill, both clusters of local designer and boutique shops selling anything from books to crafts to fashionable furnishings. Also on Albert Road, the Woodstock Foundry and Woodstock Exchange house a mix of artist studios, interiors shops, cafes and collectives. Don't miss the beautifully wrapped organic chocolate bars at Honest Chocolate and the gorgeous homewares and natural beauty brands at sister stores Indigenous and Kingdom (pictured).


The drive of a lifetime Hout Bay

The coastal road from Hout Bay to Noordhoek will take your breath away. It's a 9km stretch cutting into the side of Chapman's Peak, with panoramic views and ocean vistas that you'll never forget. Check the road's open before you go; there's a small toll fee. This is one of the world's most staggeringly beautiful drives and you'll need to go slowly to appreciate it, but there are good vantage points to stop at along the way.


Kalk Bay boho

For a chilled day out, we love going to Kalk Bay for a lazy lunch and a mooch around its vintage shops and quirky boutiques. Book a table overlooking the ocean at Live Bait or its smarter sister restaurant upstairs, The Harbour House (pictured). It's hard to imagine fresher seafood: waves crash against the windows and the fish comes straight from the colourful boats moored just metres away. Afterwards, don't miss the contemporary jewellery at Anpa, the one-off homewares at Cape to Cuba, and Quagga Rare Books and Art. It's a 30 minute drive from the city centre, or about an hour if you take the scenic route via Chapman's Peak.


Fun family outings

Head to Boulders Beach, just south of Simon’s Town, where you can see Africa’s only colony of penguins. Walkways allow you to get up close, and our kids were in hysterics watching them waddle and whizz around in the sea. There's a second, more secluded beach beyond the walkways where you can swim with the little devils. Afterwards, stop off at the Scratch Patch (north of Simon’s Town), a small gemstone factory where you can walk through an array of polished semi-precious stones - rose quartz, amethyst and more - and put them in little bags to take home. Great for all ages and a massive hit with our family.

For indoor fun at the V&A Waterfront, the Two Oceans Aquarium (named after the warm Indian and cooler Atlantic oceans) is world-class. Kids can get up close at the touch pool and see stunning displays of every marine creature imaginable. Best to plan your trip around feeding time (once a day).


Kirstenbosch summer concerts

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain is one of the great gardens of the world, with 8,000 species of plant particular to the Cape Floral Region. Take a wander along the Boomslang Tree Canopy Walkway, which winds its way through the forests. Better still, book tickets for one of the open-air concerts. Every Sunday in summer (late November to early April), the magnificent garden provides the backdrop to a varied line-up of top musicians, from classical to jazz to rock. Grab a picnic basket, slap on the sunscreen and kick back - it's the perfect place to spend a lazy afternoon.


Table Mountain please

You cannot miss a ride up Table Mountain, one of the world's 7 wonders of nature - but pick a clear, calm day as cloud (known as the 'tablecloth') covers the plateau regularly. If you go for the strenuous 2-hour hike to the top, you can avoid the crowds and queues; the revolving cable car can always take you down again. Once at the top, over 3500ft above the city, you'll find a network of well-marked paths to explore, as well as different viewing points. Aim to get there early morning when it's quieter, or go late afternoon when a sundowner completes the moment. Even with so many tourists, the phenomenal views from this iconic landmark always amaze us.

Tip: operation of the cableway is weather-dependent and can be suspended if there are strong winds and poor visibility on top of the mountain, so call the Weatherline before you go.