An Ultratravel guide to Cape Town, South Africa

One of Africa’s cultural hubs, the South African city is also blessed with a striking natural setting, while visitors can currently enjoy its fabulous restaurants using a favourable exchange rate

Lions head clouds from Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa. Craig Howes / Cape Town Tourism
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Why Cape Town?

Arguably Africa's most beautiful city, there isn't much that beats a trip to the continent's southern tip and its combination of nature, culture, adventure and fine dining. At the moment, too, it is good value, thanks to the weakness of the rand. You shouldn't leave without sampling sunrise from the vantage point of Table Mountain, sunset on the beaches of Camps Bay or the exhilarating ocean drive to Cape Point and beyond, with wildlife from baboons to penguins and dolphins and whales in season.
As one of the continent's major cultural hubs, Cape Town has world-class museums, designer boutiques, thoughtful tours where you an meet the locals and gourmet restaurants to feast on fine food.

Find your feet

Hire a car from Avis (805 rand [Dh206] per day with limited insurance) or any reputable dealer and drive from the historic Cape Malay neighbourhood, Bo-Kaap, down to the Atlantic seaboard from Sea Point to Hout Bay and up the winding mountain path of Chapman's Peak, on to Cape Point. The route provides plenty of photo opportunities and a few picnic spots along the way. Better yet, ease into holiday mode and take a hassle-free guided bus tour with City Sightseeing (180 rand [Dh46]), which runs several bus routes. At Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, the Indian and Atlantic oceans join in dramatic splendour.

Take time to visit the newly opened Zeitz Mocaa, the Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, a 500 million rand (Dh127.8m) project with grand ambitions, and the gourmet hub Woodstock. The former grain silo has been converted into a repository for modern art from across the continent. The structure boasts a cavernous cathedral with dramatic "flies' eyes", as you stare upward to the hotel perched at the top.

Atrium of Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town, South Africa. Photo by Iwan Baan
The new Zeitz Mocaa museum. Photo by Iwan Baan

From new to old, the Slave Lodge Museum, housed in one of Cape Town's oldest buildings and close to the historic and tranquil Company's Garden, the original victualling station developed by the Dutch in the 1650s, gives visitors valuable insight into the conditions of the slaves who built the Cape.

From the V&A Waterfront, a harbour complex that includes an upmarket mall and restaurants, you can book a chopper ride for an eagle- eye view over the city – Robben Island, the former prison island that held Nelson Mandela; Lion's Head; Camp's Bay – with Cape Town Helicopters (from 1,800 rand [Dh460] for 20 minutes).

For a calmer option, board a chartered boat from the harbour for a leisurely 30-minute cruise (50 rand [Dh13]) or try a sunset catamaran ride on the Sea Princess (360 rand [Dh92]).

Cape Town Waterfront harbor and Table Bay South Africa. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images)
Cape Town’s harbour. Getty Images

Since you are bound to climb or drive up one of the mountain ranges, why not make it Instagram-worthy by paragliding down Lion's Head with the experts? Fly Cape Town Paragliding (1,300 rand [Dh332]) will have you soaring over the city joyously.

Meet the locals

Greenmarket Square hosts a flea market stocked with curios from across Africa and is the perfect place to chat to vendors and people-watch at one of the cafes nearby. Try Bellini on Shortmarket Street.

It is a Capetonian right of passage to take a newly relocated foreigner up Lion's Head. Be sure to wear sturdy trainers, pack enough water and be prepared to sweat. You will be rewarded with an unbeatable view from the top.

It is always a mostly local crowd at the Artscape, Baxter and Fugard theatres dotted around town. They run local and international performances – ballet, plays, recitals, musicals and occasionally comedy shows.

Immerse yourself in a township tour that gives back to the communities who host you, by engaging in a range of cultural activities with Uthando (prices on request). Or get active and join a fun bicycle tour (1,850 rand [Dh472] for a half-day, including lunch) led by a local at one of three townships.

CTT Palms Market in Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa. Lisa Burnell / Cape Town Tourism
Cape Town’s markets are a great place to mingle with the locals. Lisa Burnell / Cape Town Tourism

Cape Town's trendy types storm the large, covered Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock on Saturdays for a brilliant range of artisanal produce, freshly prepared food including curries, paella, Dutch poffertjes (little pancakes), steak sandwiches and vegan fare. Try to arrive by 10am.

A comfortable bed

The candy-pink Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, also known as The Nellie, is an iconic 1918 hotel in Table Mountain's foothills. Ensconced in greenery and grandeur, this is the place for a proper afternoon high tea (300 rand [Dh76]) with gracious service, a private garden spa and the familiarity of a bygone era. The main restaurant is one of the city's swankiest. Double rooms cost from 5,995 rand (Dh1,527).

Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. Courtesy Belmond
The Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, which is nicknamed the Nellie. Courtesy Belmond

With its quilted, pillowy, blue-pane windows tilting outward and thrilling views from the top of Zeitz Mocaa, the Silo Hotel is the place to be seen. Rooms contain a mix of classic wood and brightly coloured modern furnishings, and decadent soaking tubs that gaze down on the city. You can easily spend a weekend between your room and the two bars (the rooftop one is top notch), restaurant and spa, all boasting killer views. Expect to pay about 13,500 rand (Dh3,431) per night.

Members-only club Ellerman House is one of the most enviable, exclusive addresses in Cape Town. Decked in soothing aquatic blues and greens and with a thoughtful art collection, its sprawling terraces almost spill into the sparkling Atlantic. Details that make it popular with celebrating couples include a decadent spa, full gym with sauna, a fine-dining restaurant and a 24-hour pantry filed with freshly baked treats and candies. Doubles cost about 9,000 rand (Dh2,287) per night.

Book a table

Year after year, the Test Kitchen in Woodstock's Old Biscuit Mill is voted the top restaurant in Africa for its fine dining in a relaxed atmosphere. The light-and-dark experiences whisk you between two differently lit and decorated rooms. While the ingredients are South African (think springbok, ostrich, west coast crayfish and coastal herbs), the flavours speak of chef Luke Dale-Roberts' seasoned career in Asia and Europe. Tasting menus cost about 1,600 rand (Dh416).

At Silvermist Estate, with its blue gums and pine trees, La Colombe presents a gorgeous tasting menu by chef Scot Kirton, climbing up the World's 50 Best Restaurants Top 100 list each year. A dazzling display of theatre with the requisite control awaits – a faux bird's nest houses a perfectly seared scallop with a quail's leg lollipop and teriyaki sauce in a quail's egg shell; Wagyu beef is seared on a single hot coal at the table; soft puffs of steam float from a tart apple ice-lolly palate cleanser. Tasting menus cost about 990 rand (Dh252).

With its 360-degree wraparound views of Cape Town from the sixth floor, The Pot Luck Club remains the city's original "haute" sharing-plate restaurant and is notoriously tough to book. It is under the Luke Dale-Roberts umbrella, and the frequently changing dishes are quirky and bold. Mark your choices with a pencil – say crispy calamari with yuzu-compressed watermelon or white fish crudo with passion fruit tiger's milk – and they arrive in a flurry. Service is casual but professional, and dinners are conducted in two seatings, with a fun chef's choice brunch on Sundays. Expect to pay about 350 rand (Dh89).

Mulberry & Princescreams "on-trend" with its exposed bricks, muted pastel interior, large globular light bulbs and art by Kurt Pio. The food, by the New York-trained Cynthia Rivera, is too. A small space, it books out rapidly, and the idea is to share plates that are seasonal. Oysters, for example, come with a yuzu mignonette; lamb ribs are coated in Moroccan spices and honey; and the popular creamy Stracciatella is served with lovage and charred bread. You will pay about 250 rand (Dh64).

Where to shop

If you are after a statement skirt, coat or leather bag, crafted with ostrich, python or crocodile skin perhaps, Kat van Duinen does just that. She is a master at clean lines, classic, feminine shapes and outrageously bold colours. Clutches cost from 21,500 rand (Dh5,468)

A collection of womenswear, candles, books and shoes, mainly from Paris, can be found at the elegant, modern Maison Mara, a concept store by Kelly Withey. The likes of Kenzo, Acne and Proenza Schouler will have you in well-known stylish company, with a selection of ready-to-wear items hand-picked for the local market.

Have your dreams of a couture gown or chic office wear realised at Kluk CGDT, familiar faces at the world's top fashion shows. Local stalwarts Malcolm Kluk and Christiaan Gabriel Du Toit remain approachable, though you will need to book a consultation in advance. Dresses cost from 10,000 rand (Dh2,542).

What to avoid

Long Street is entertaining, but gets crowded and rowdy. Exercise a streetwise sensibility, especially at night, and leave large cameras, wallets and fancy handbags at home.

Don’t miss

You can't miss the views from the top of Table Mountain. Take the Table Mountain Cableway (290 rand [Dh74] return) and drink in the impressive vistas.

Getting there

Emirates flies direct from Dubai to Cape Town from Dh3,095 return, including taxes. The flight time is 10 hours. Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi, via Johannesburg, from Dh3,185 return, including taxes. The flight time is 14 hours. South African Airways also flies direct from Dubai to Cape Town from Dh4,345 return, including taxes.


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