You really can’t overstate the case for visiting Cape Town. First, there’s the in-your-face beauty of a craggy mountain range that drops precipitously into a glittering sea, its flanks carpeted in greens and delicate florals. Then there’s the pristine white beaches lapped by – it must be said – a chilly Atlantic, their curves defined by giant granite boulders to bake on. Yet, of course, Cape Town is not just about exploring nature because the city has a cool urban edge too. It has always been home to some of Africa's most innovative artists and designers and it is now home to the Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, too. Let Telegraph Travel expert Pippa de Bruyn help you discover the best things to do in Cape Town.
See the city dwarfed
You haven’t truly understood the soul of Cape Town until you’ve ascended the 500-million year old mountain at its core, and gazed into the blue expanse of ocean and heaven that surround it. Originally known as Hoerikwaggo, meaning 'Mountain of the Sea' because it seems to rise directly from the ocean, Table Mountain dominates the Lego-city at its feet.
Insider’s tip: It’s easiest to ascend by cable car from the City Bowl, but to appreciate the botany, walk up, then take the cable car down. Plattekloof Gorge, the least strenuous (1.5 to two hours) is also the busiest; Skeleton Gorge is by far the most scenic but you’ll need around five hours and be fairly fit.
Contact: 00 27 21 424 0015; tablemountain.net
Opening times: Weather permitting, cable cars depart every 15 minutes daily, 8am-7.30pm (May-Oct 8.30am-6pm). In peak season you can also purchase an early-access ticket online to ascend at 7.30am, which is worth doing
Discover the benefits of a sunset hike
Tackle the Lion’s Head hike just before sunset, and you will be rewarded by the most spectacular 360-degree views: the huge horizon deepening to pink, burnishing the ocean, while below the city lights start to twinkle. It’s a round loop that takes you up the tail, back and mane up to the head of the lion, and takes around one hour.
Insider’s tip: It's increasingly popular, so be prepared for a festive vibe rather than communing with nature. Pack a torch and an extra layer for the descent.
V&A Waterfront and Woodstock
Catch the ferry for art and a slice of history
While admittedly touristy, the pedestrianised Waterfront is lovely to stroll around. It’s also the departure point for the ferry to Robben Island, where Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years, and home to the brilliant new Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, where Nicholas Hlobo's dragon soars into the atrium cut into the original grain silo. It’s a wonderful collection that puts paid to old-fashioned ideas of African art being 'figurative' or craft. Hallelujah.
Insider's tip: On Wednesday mornings MOCAA is free for African passport holders – you may want to avoid it at this time because it’s much busier.
Contact: Zeitz MOCAA, 00 27 87 350 4777; zeitzmocaa.museum | Robben Island, 00 27 21 413 4200; robben-island.org.za
Opening times: Zeitz MOCAA, Wednesday to Monday, 10am-6pm (last entry 5.30 pm) but peak season sees opening hours extended | Robben Island tours last 3.5 hours and run daily, departing at 9am, 11am, 1pm and 3pm
Price: MOCAA £; Robben Island ££
Nibble yourself full in an artisanal food market
Rammed with the city’s hipsters nibbling free samples of homemade meats, breads, dips, olives, and cheeses, the weekly Neighbourgoods Market in the Old Biscuit Mill is as much fun for people watching as for the artisanal spreads. Oranjezicht City Farm Market in Granger Bay (close to the Waterfront) is the other must-see food market, here showcasing organic produce harvested that morning from the city and surrounding small-scale farms, alongside stalls selling mouthwatering prepared dishes.
Insider’s tip: It pays to get to either at 9am sharp. Both operate on Saturday mornings only. You could squeeze in a visit to both; allow 15 to 30 minutes travel time.
Contact: Neighbourgoods Market, neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za; Oranjezicht City Farm Market, 00 27 83 628 3426, ozcf.co.za
Opening times: Neighbourgoods Market, Saturday, 9am-3pm; Oranjezicht City Farm Market, Saturday, 8.30am-2pm
Southern Peninsula and Atlantic Seaboard
Experience two seasons in one day
The circular route to Cape Point loops around the mountainous spine that runs the length of the peninsula. Crossing from dawn-rising False Bay to sunset-blessed Atlantic Seaboard, the weather may change dramatically. Highlights include the cliff-hugging Chapman’s Peak Drive, wind-swept Cape Point; naval Simonstown (where most visit the penguin colony at Boulders, incidentally also a lovely swimming beach), Kalk Bay, Constantia and Kirstenbosch. An unmissable day trip.
Insider’s tip: Most rush straight to Cape Point; if you have time, visit one of the reserve’s typically deserted beaches.
Contact: 00 27 21 7809010; capepoint.co.za
Opening times: 6am-6pm or 7am-5pm, depending on season
Taste the city’s past and present
Cape Town took shape around the kitchen garden planted by the VOC (Dutch East India Company) to supply their ships. Join one of the Cape Food & Wine Tours to visit the newly replanted kitchen garden in the old Company’s Garden. You'll also learn about the samosas and koeksusters (a traditional sweet made of dough and infused in honey or syrup) prepared by Malay descendents in the Bo Kaap, all while sampling inner-city wineries, cheesemakers and hipster coffee shops along the way. It is a most enjoyable way to get to grips with the city's multi-cultural heritage.
Insider’s tip: If you want to a more DIY approach, browse Bree Street (a pavement table here is the best place to experience the carnival-like First Thursdays), then head up Wale street to Rose Café for the most authentic selection of Cape Malay treats.
Contact: 00 27 82 443 1354; capefoodwine.com
Opening times: Tours usually begin around 9am from your hotel (or agreed meeting point)
Dip into pretty tidal pools
Some of the best swimming experiences are in the tidal pools built by the city before WW1. Some have picnic sites, barbecue facilities and changing rooms; all offer safe swimming in a wonderful setting with gorgeous views. Pack goggles. Along the Atlantic seaboard it’s worth checking out the two tidal pools at secluded Maiden’s Cove, but the best tidal pools are on the False Bay coastline
Insider’s tip: Aside from the two marvellous tidal pools in Kommetjie, Dalebrook in Kalk Bay – commissioned in 1911 – is a local institution. After cooling off, browse Kalk Bay’s hippy-chic boutiques and galleries.
Watch the sinking sun with feet in the sand
Popular palm-lined Camps Bay beach has its bars and restaurants, but there is nothing more special than watching the sunset with your toes curled into the sand, back against a sun-warmed boulder. Clifton is accessed via steep staircases that wind between low-slung bungalows, and comprises four crescent-shaped strips, each attracting a slightly different sunworshipper. Families head for First, the buff strut their stuff on Third. Or head to Glen beach, the lesser-known, less-busy beach adjacent to Camps Bay, tucked beneath a few bungalows.
Insider's tip:Better still, take a cab (you will struggle to find a parking spot), and watch the sunset with the locals and their dogs on gorgeous Llundudno beach.
Picnic in the Floral Kingdom
Table Mountain is one great picnic table, its slopes offering shady nooks and dappled glens, but the best spots are found in Kirstenbosch, on shady groomed lawns,with burbling streams where toddlers frighten tadpoles, and lush borders in which guinea fowl forage. Seamlessly blending into the indigenous vegetation carpeting a protected flank of Table Mountain, the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden are beautiful whatever the season.
Insider’s tip: If you’re here in summer, join the locals streaming in to enjoy the Sunset Concerts held Sundays. Picnic ingredients are available from the on-site Kirstenbosch tea room, or hand-pick your selection from Woolworths, a grocer offering a combination of M&S and Waitrose-style produce.
Contact: 00 27 21 799 8783 or 00 27 21 799 8782; sanbi.org
Opening times: Sep-Mar Mon-Sun 8am-7pm. Apr-Aug Mon-Sun 8am-6pm.
Explore the New World’s oldest wine region
In 1685 Simon Van Der Stel planted 10,000 vines on the 763-ha farm located on the southern slopes of the Table Mountain range. It proved prescient. Constantia dessert wines became famous: on his deathbed Napoleon apparently refused everything but Constantia wine, and Jane Austen recommended it for “its healing powers on a disappointed heart” in Sense and Sensibility. Today the Constantia Wine Route, comprising only 10 farms and a mere 20 minutes from the city centre, makes a wonderful outing (check their website for tour companies, or Uber between them).
Insider's tip: If you only have time for a couple visit Groot Constantia, where Van Der Stel built his original 17th-century homestead, for the historic Cape Dutch architecture; Klein Constantia to purchase the dessert wine that made the terroir famous; Beau Constantia for its elevated views across the valley, and Steenberg and Eagles' Nest for their deliciously flinty sauvignons.
Contact: 00 27 83 679 4495; 00 27 72 626 0011; constantiawineroute.com
Roll through the winelands on a tailor-made trip
There’s a plethora of scheduled Winelands tours, and Franschhoek’s wine trams are an affordable and fun way to get about, but if you’re serious about your wine, or just want a private, more off-the-beaten-track experience, a specialist wine guide is worth the extra cost. Try Gourmet Wine Tours with Stephen Flesch, the former chairman of the Wine Tasters Guild. He willl tailor an itinerary that covers both the grand historical and the rustic.
Insider’s tip: South Africa provides such a wide range of terroirs that the range of flavours produced by any single varietal is quite extraordinary. Stellenbosch still produces the broadest selection of award-winning reds. If you love your Sauvignon, tool around the cooler Elgin region, or drop into the Hemel en Aarde valley for superb Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Contact: 00 27 21 705 4317; gourmetwinetours.co.za