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Cape Town Travel Guide

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  • Photo: Dietmar Temps / Shutterstock

Plan Your Cape Town Vacation

If you visit only one place in South Africa, make it Cape Town. Whether you're partaking of the Capetonian inclination for alfresco fine dining (the so-called "Mother City" is home to many of the country's best restaurants) or sipping wine atop Table Mountain, you sense—correctly—that this is South Africa's most urbane, civilized city.

Here elegant Cape Dutch buildings abut ornate

Victorian architecture and imposing British monuments. In the Bo-Kaap neighborhood, the call to prayer echoes through cobbled streets lined with houses painted in bright pastels, while the sweet tang of Malay curry wafts through the air. Flower sellers, newspapers hawkers, and numerous markets keep street life pulsing, and every lamppost advertises another festival, concert, or cultural happening.

But as impressive as Cape Town's urban offerings are, what you'll ultimately recall about this city is the sheer grandeur of its setting—the mesmerizing beauty of Table Mountain rising above the city, the stunning drama of the mountains cascading into the sea, and the gorgeous hues of the two oceans. Francis Drake wasn't exaggerating when he said this was "the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth," and he would have little cause to change his opinion today.

A visit to Cape Town is often synonymous with a visit to the peninsula beneath the city, and for good reason. With pristine white-sand beaches, hundreds of mountain trails, and numerous activities from surfing to paragliding to mountain biking, the accessibility, variety, and pure beauty of the great outdoors will keep nature lovers and outdoor adventurers occupied for hours, if not days. You could spend a week exploring just the city and peninsula.

Often likened to San Francisco, Cape Town has two things that the City by the Bay doesn't—Table Mountain and Africa. The mountain, or tabletop, is vital to Cape Town's identity. It dominates the city in a way that's difficult to comprehend until you visit. In the afternoon, when creeping fingers of clouds spill over Table Mountain and reach toward the city, the whole town seems to shiver and hold its breath. Meanwhile, for all of its bon-vivant European vibe, Cape Town also reflects the diversity, vitality, and spirit of the many African peoples who call this city home.

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. City Sophistication Cape Town is a cosmopolitan city with a rich heritage that's proudly on display. It might be more laid-back than Johannesburg, but it has shaken off its sleepy, parochial air and now bristles with world-class shops and restaurants and cutting-edge art and design.
  2. Lofty Aspirations Fantastic Table Mountain towers over Cape Town and dominates the whole peninsula. Exploring the mountain is a must; you can either take the cable car to the top or hike up various routes.
  3. Nature's Playground Capetonians are proud of their city's stylish good looks and make the most of the mountain and beaches. In summer you'll find professionals shrugging off their suits as they head for the beach after work, surfboards, picnics, and sundowners in tow. In winter they bundle up against the cold and go walking, mountain biking, or running in the city's countless green spaces.
  4. To Market, to Market Cape Town's markets are the best in the country—informal, creative, funky, and with a good selection of both tacky and splendid African curios.
  5. Historical Heritage Cape Town is saturated with an extremely rich and fascinating history. At Robben Island you can stand in Mandela's old cell and learn about political and social banishment during apartheid, while the District Six Museum tells the poignant tale of the destruction of one of the country's most vibrant inner-city neighborhoods.

When To Go

When to Go

Whatever activities you hope to accomplish in Cape Town, head up Table Mountain as soon as the wind isn't blowing. Cape Town wind is notorious...

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Check historic weather for your trip dates:

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