A guide to uncovering the best of Cape Town

Lauren Hill

Senior Contributor

Breathtaking landscape and a multi-layered culture distinguish this scenic port city within the rugged cliffs and mountains of South Africa's southwest coast. Uncover the contemporary culture through arts, dining and retail, delve into the history of this city at world-class museums and taste the local wines within vineyards and wineries of its southern suburbs. Take it all in from natural landmarks like Table Mountain and Chapman's Peak.

Natural landmarks

Before even visiting Cape Town, most travellers can easily picture the dramatic scenery that first sets this city apart. Verdant mountainside surrounds the cityscape, which runs from the foot of Table Mountain National Park and its neighbouring mountains down to the harbours, cliffs and sandy shores making up the city’s idyllic coastline. Vines run across the slopes of its southern Constantia suburb and a panoramic coastal road leads you between quiet bays and natural landmarks like Cape Point.

A first visit to the city could include a ride to the top of Table Mountain on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway, time spent navigating the scenic Chapman’s Peak drive and a visit to the rugged Cape Point Nature Reserve on the southern point of Cape Peninsula. By driving further along the coast from this point, recognised as the southwestern tip of Africa, you’ll also reach Boulders Beach where the sheltered shores are inhabited by African penguins.

Back in the city, areas of natural beauty include the serene Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which is located at the eastern foot of Table Mountain and considered one of the great botanical gardens of the world, along with picturesque expanses of beach. For white sand shores, water sports and people watching pay a visit to the four Clifton Beaches, the nearby curved sandy shoreline of Camps Bay and colourful-beach-hut-lined Muizenberg.

Cultural highlights

For insight into this city’s history and culture, pay a visit to some of its best-known cultural and heritage sites. Visit sites of historic importance such as District Six Museum, sharing information on the apartheid, and Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated during that period. A visit to the Cape Malay area of Bo-Kaap is great for culture immersion being immediately recognised for its colourful townhouses and also home to the Bo-Kaap Museum.

This city’s rich culture also shines through its thriving contemporary art scene. Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa occupies a former grain silo at the city’s vibrant V&A Waterfront. In an architecturally impressive space designed by Heatherwick Studio, nine floors, surrounding a dramatic atrium, house numerous exhibition spaces which are joined by a rooftop garden also used for displaying artworks.

Other standout galleries across Cape Town include Iziko South African National Gallery, displaying historic and modern artworks, and Norval Foundation, which combines art and nature in Constantia. Pick up local artisan and designer made products at The Watershed retail space, which is found at V&A Waterfront.

Eating and Drinking

Cape Town has earned worldwide recognition for its food scene, which is defined by diversity, fresh local ingredients and the innovation of passionate chefs. Several dining spots stand out for inventive culinary concepts that have captured the attention of gastronomes in and out of the city. The Pot Luck Club and its sister restaurants, which are led by chef Luke Dale-Roberts and found within the Old Biscuit Mill, have won widespread acclaim, as have the restaurants of Peter Tempelhoff, which include the Japanese meets South Africa restaurant FYN.

A new dining venue that’s attracting particular attention is The Bailey on Bree Street, which takes over a historic building with three distinct spaces for dining and imbibing: Liam Tomlin’s Chefs Warehouse is found on the ground-floor, the Parisian-influenced Bailey Brasserie spans the first floor and The Old Bailey Lounge Bar evokes the feeling of a London or New York members’ club on the third floor. Also new to the city’s food scene is Tempelhoff’s Beyond Restaurant at the historic Buitenverwachting wine estate in the wine-producing suburb of Constantia.

Outside of the city’s best-known dining spots, exceptional places to eat and drink are found throughout neighbourhoods of the city, like Bo-Kaap, which is known for its Cape Malay culture and food, as well as within the idyllic wine estates of Constantia and at laidback harbours along the dramatic coastline. Dine on internationally-inspired small plates at Chefs Warehouse Beau Constantia and tuck into the local seafood at a coastal spot like Codfather in Camps Bay.

Where to Stay

Along this city’s coastline and further inland by the slopes of Table Mountain lie some of Cape Town’s most covetable places to stay. The 1899-opened pink-hued grande dame, Mount Nelson, A Belmond Hotel, Cape Town, has long welcomed prominent figures, from Winston Churchill to Nelson Mandela and John Lennon, to its garden-enshrouded sanctuary that’s backed by mountainous landscape. Highlights here include the hotel’s pools and spa, along with dining destinations including The Red Room for Pan-Asian cuisine.

The ocean-front Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa then provides an exceptionally scenic stay with views over the Atlantic Ocean, and of this coastline’s dramatic Twelve Apostles mountain range, from its position on the coastal road between Camps Bay and Llandudno Beach. The five-star hotel is home to the fine dining seafood-focused Azure Restaurant, the glamorous Leopard Bar with ocean-view terrace, and the relaxed Café Grill overlooking Table Mountain National Park.

Placing you at the heart of the vibrant V&A Waterfront, One&Only Cape Town is an ideal base for exploration of the city. With views over the marina on one side and Table Mountain on the other, this urban oasis combines contemporary accommodation featuring African design influence with enticing shared spaces including a spa, infinity-edge pool and social drinking and dining venues.