Cape Town Waterfront
View of Table Mountain (Photo credit: Heinrich Botha)

Cape Town Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • Legislative capital of South Africa (there are three capitals), with a population of 827,000.
  • A very multicultural city, it is one of Africa’s most popular tourist and expat destinations.
  • Founded in 1652, Cape Town was originally a resupply point for Dutch merchants sailing onwards to Eastern Africa, India, and the Far East.
  • Known for its beautiful vineyards, cultural diversity, and the iconic Table Mountain.
  • The city’s motto is spes bona (Latin for “good hope”).
  • Nicknames: The Mother City, The Tavern of the Seas

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Rand (ZAR). 
  • Spoken languages: English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu. English is widely spoken in South Africa.
  • Best time to visit: from December to February (warmest time of the year, with low rainfall).
  • Arriving via airport: taxis from the airport are about 300 rand. Many hotels will arrange pickup for you if you ask in advance.

WHERE TO STAY

As a major tourist destination, Cape Town has plenty of accommodation options. Waterfront, Clifton, and Camps Bay are for the decidedly upmarket travellers. Meanwhile, Long Street and Observatory are for the backpacking crowd. Cape Town itself is not that large, so getting anywhere you want to go is fairly easy from any location.

GETTING AROUND

  • Cape Town’s minibuses can be a once in a lifetime experience – how often do you get the chance to sit with 15 others in a minivan? With that said, you need to be very clear about where you want to go as they run on set (unpublished) routes. These trips can run as low as 5 rand, and are the cheapest ways to get around Cape Town. You’ll see a wide range of people in minibuses, from commuting professionals to locals doing their grocery shopping.
  • Taxis in central Cape Town are fairly easy to come by and are typically 8-10 rand per kilometer, although you can negotiate with many drivers for a fixed rate. Keep the numbers of a few taxi companies on hand, as finding a taxi at night if you’re outside the main tourist areas can be hard. Intercab: +27 21 44 777 99, Excite Taxis: +27 21 448 4444.
  • Car rentals in Cape Town are fairly inexpensive – with a large highway network surrounding the city, this can be the easiest way to make day trips to different sites.
  • The bus network in Cape Town is fairly limited as the minibuses tend to dominate the local transportation market. There are set routes going out from the city centre, but make sure you ask the driver where you’re going.

CAPE TOWN NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 18.
  • Main nightlife scene: Long Street (in central Cape Town) is the nightlife hub, with numerous bars and nightclubs spanning almost the entire length of this extensive street.
  • Gay scene: bars in Green Point. 
  • College crowd: bars and clubs on Main Road through Observatory and Rondebosch.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Table Mountain is the most popular tourist destination in Cape Town, and is accessible by various hiking routes and a gondola. Dont miss the views of the city from the summit.
  • No trip to Cape Town would be complete without a visit to Cape Point to see the old lighthouse at the southernmost point of the Cape peninsula. The drive down on either side of the peninsula is beautiful – don’t forget to stop and snap some epic pictures. Note: beware of the baboons, as they like anything shiny and will not hesitate to steal food or cameras.
  • Robben Island. Once a prison dedicated to holding political prisoners (including Nelson Mandeal) during the Apartheid era, this is a landmark of historical significance.
  • Visit one of the many beautiful vineyards surrounding the city. Trips can easily be organised through tour companies, or through the vineyards’ websites. Treat yourself to an afternoon of wine tasting and a fine meal.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Located between Robben Island and Table Mountain, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront makes for a great walk. A dense shopping area, the Waterfront contains many great seafood restaurants and good views of the Cape Town harbour.
  • Bo-Kaap is a colourful city neighbourhood southwest of downtown, with plenty of shopping and local culinary delights on offer. Take the time to explore this historical area, once occupied by the Muslim community in Cape Town.
  • The University of Cape Town is a great place to explore, with its grand architecture and vantage point (the views of the city are second only to those from the top of Table Mountain). Check out the Rhodes Memorial and Jamieson Hall.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Cape Town is truly a cultural melting pot – take advantage of the extensive variety of foods on offer, from peri peri prawns to the countless amazing seafood restaurants.
  • Stock up on souvenirs. The Green Point market is a great location to get custom woodwork done or pick up African artwork for you to display in your home. Note: be prepared to bargain!
  • Don’t be shy when it comes to meeting people. Capetonians pride themselves on being a friendly and open group, and while this may run counter to the safety advice (below), many will welcome you into their home for a meal just to show that South Africa isn’t as bad and dangerous as some people think.
  • Dangerous areas: safety is definitely something to keep in mind while visiting Cape Town (or just about anywhere in South Africa). Avoid straying from the mainstream areas at night, as a walk down an alley or side street could easily find you short a wallet and a cell phone. Keep to the well occupied areas at night, and arrange cabs to take you from the door of your hotel to the door of your destination (and back).

RECOMMENDED CAPE TOWN GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 3-4 days


SEE ALSO:
Cape Town Travel Guide was last modified: September 20th, 2016 by Nick
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