Cape Town: city guide. From beautiful beaches and top dining to the vineyards and Table Mountain

Why go

With a minimal time zone difference between the UK and South Africa, Cape Town is the perfect city to head to for some winter sun during the cold months. The Mother City, as South Africans call it, offers golden beaches, fine dining and fantastic outdoor activities.

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What to do

Cape Town. Clifton. Beach. Cape Town. V&A Waterfront and Table Mountain 620 Photo courtesy of Cape Town Tourism
One of the beaches in Clifton, an affluent Cape Town suburb

Beaches! Sun! Sand! Cocktails! Cape Town’s coastline is dramatic and beautiful and you will not run out of beaches to explore. From the Atlantic side’s Clifton and Camps Bay beaches (where the beautiful people congregate) to Bloubergstrand’s postcard-perfect vista of Table Mountain to False Bay’s warmer ocean, visitors are spoilt for choice.

When you want to spend a few hours away from the suntan lotion, there is a wealth of experiences to choose from. Vineyards, that mountain, museums, art galleries, shops, bars, spas and forests are all on your doorstep to visit.

Where to stay

Cape Town. Mount Nelson Hotel,
The Mount Nelson Hotel, for understated luxury

The Mount Nelson is the grande dame of Cape Town hotels. It opened in 1899 and, now a Belmond hotel, remains the last word in understated luxury in the country. It draws repeat visitors and offers a high tea that is world renowned.

Table Bay hotel, located on the V&A waterfront and with Table Mountain as a backdrop, has one of the most desirable locations in the world. It is not far from the airport and some of the city’s top attractions, making it an ideal base.

Cape Town. Vineyard Hotel. Newlands. Pool. The Vineyard Hotel, in Newlands
The five-star Vineyard Hotel in Newlands

The Vineyard Hotel, in Newlands, is close to the botanical gardens in Kirstenbosch. This luxury, five-star establishment is known for its restaurant’s food and wine pairing evenings and boasts an Angsana spa.

The Bay in Camps Bay is across the road from the popular beach and has a large pool. Guests can live it up by booking a room with a jacuzzi on the balcony.

Where to eat

Vibrant Long Street
Vibrant Long Street

Kalk Bay, a small village on the False Bay coastline, has a number of restaurants run by passionate foodies. Of these, Olympia Café is the most well known, with rustic and mouthwatering food.

Clos Malverne, one of the Cape’s vineyards, offers fine dining at its restaurant. The menu is inventive and showcases the very best of South African produce and all the dishes are accompanied by Clos wines. It’s a special way to experience one of the country’s top exports.

Cape Town Fish Market has a few branches across the country, but the one at the V&A Waterfront is a real destination restaurant. Located in the Clock Tower, visitors can enjoy the best seafood and sushi in the world.

Cape Town Fish Market
Cape Town Fish Market, a destination seafood restaurant on the V&A Waterfront

In the centre of Cape Town, on Church Street, visitors will find Bukhara. It opened in 1995 and has set the bar for Indian cuisine in South Africa, and it still attracts celebrity diners 20 years later.

Getting around

Depending on where you are staying in Cape Town, you may be able to walk to some attractions. However, the city is large and it is advised that visitors hire a car. Uber operates in most parts of Cape Town. Public transport is not reliable.

When to go

South Africa enjoys a long summer and Cape Town is blessed with long sunny days. Officially, summer is from November to February, but in reality Cape Town experiences sunny weather from September to May.

Don’t miss

Cape Town. Table Mountain 620 Photo courtesy of Cape Town Tourism
Table Mountain: there’s dramatic scenery almost everywhere you look around Cape Town

Boulders Beach near Simonstown is a treat: blue water, large rocks (as the name suggests) and thousands of penguins! Wooden boardwalks allow you to take a leisurely walk through this nature reserve and the photo opportunities are incredible.

The Castle of Good Hope, the oldest building in South Africa, is right in the centre of the city and was built in the 17th century as a military fort. Visitors can tour its old halls and grounds.

Cape Town. Bo Kaap. 620 Photo courtesy of Cape Town Tourism
The colourful Bo Kaap area, formerly known as the Malay Quarter

Three things we like

  1. Alfresco dining. Sitting on the pavement enjoying a meal as you soak up the sun is par for the course in Cape Town. One of the loveliest places to do this is at Satori in Kalk Bay. This small pizzeria is right over the road from the sea.
  2. The scenery. Cape Town just about assaults the senses with dramatic scenery wherever you look. The views are always changing and always spellbinding.
  3. The flower market on Adderley Street is a place to find the most beautiful blooms as well as enjoy the wit of the flower sellers. Flowers have been sold on this site for more than 100 years.

Cape Town. Street art Mandela. 620 Photo courtesy of Cape Town Tourism

Something we don’t like

The cable car for Table Mountain closes if the wind is blowing too strongly. Don’t get caught out by this, as the Cape Doctor (as the wind is known) can spring up unexpectedly.

High50 insider tips

  • Although the vibe in Cape Town is very laidback, a big bang happens every day at 12:00. This is the cannon firing from Signal Hill, so don’t be alarmed. Enjoy the ritual that dates back to 1902.
  • While the old world may not approve, it is common form in South Africa for ice to be requested at a meal and added to glasses of white or rosé wine. Many visitors quickly adopt the same habit after a few hours in Cape Town’s temperatures.

Cape Town. Viewing platform. 620 Photo courtesy of Cape Town Tourism

Need to know

  • The South African currency is Rand and is much weaker than sterling. The exchange rate will definitely be in your favour.
  • Tipping is widely expected but not obligatory. Ten per cent is the usual amount to tip for good service.
  • Cape Town is LGBT friendly and is known as the Pink City.
  • Cape Town has a strong police presence but opportunistic crime can happen.