In 1652 Jan van Riebeeck sailed into Table Bay and laid the foundations of South Africa’s oldest city. His first undertaking was to establish a vegetable garden for the purpose of providing passing merchant ships with fresh food. Before long, weary sailors from around the world dropped anchor in the bay to replenish supplies.
The settlement soon earned the titled: ‘Tavern of the Seas’, and to this day, Cape Town has maintained a reputation for friendly hospitality. With its impressive Table Mountain backdrop, Cape Town has been voted as one of the top tourism destinations and the most beautiful cities in the world.
The city’s Edwardian and Victorian buildings have been thoughtfully retained, and many outstanding examples of Cape Dutch architecture are found in the city and its environs. Cobble-stoned streets, mosque’s and the flat-roofed pastel homes of the Malay Quarter entrance a cosmopolitan ambiance, and in a recent development, the restoration of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront evokes images of the seafaring activities of the 19th century.
For a closer look at life at the Cape in earlier times, interesting historical collections are on display in several museums. Cape Town’s shopping options invite you to endlessly browse – and buy. Elegant shopping malls, department stores, antique shops and at galleries abounds. Specialist boutiques in Long Street and the narrow little alleys intersecting it offer an enticing array of unusual articles not readily obtainable elsewhere.
At the end of the day, gourmets and lovers of sophisticated entertainment have a treat in store.
South Africa’s legislative capital is situated at the foot of Table Mountain, the famous flat-topped mountain with views out across the peninsula to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It is possible to walk up, but for the less intrepid, there is an excellent cable car.
The main hub of the city center is the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the beautifully restored old Victorian Harbor which offers free entertainment, a wide variety of shops, museums, including the excellent Aquarium, taverns, and restaurants.
Boat trips leave from here for harbor tours or the notorious Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and many other nationalist leaders were imprisoned. The relics of early colonial government are centered on Government Avenue, with many fine old buildings and museums, including the Parliament Buildings; Groote Kerk (mother church of the Dutch Reformed faith); the Cultural History Museum; National Museum; National Gallery; Bertram House and Company’s Garden, planted in 1652 to provide food for passing sailors.
Nearby sights of interest include Bo-Kaap (the home of the Islamic Cape Malay people, confusingly of mainly Indonesian origin); the Castle of Good Hope in Darling Street, built in 1666; the Old Townhouse on Greenmarket Square, housing a permanent collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings; and the early 18th-century Koopmans de Wet House.
Those interested in learning more about black and ‘Cape coloured’ culture should visit the District Six Museum, Buitenkant Street, and take one of the many excellent guided tours of the outlying townships of Crossroads, Langa, and Khayelitsha.
It is probably not safe for tourists to venture into these areas on their own. Cape Town also has excellent sporting and shopping facilities.
The Baxter Theatre and Artscape Theatre Complex offer a mix of local and international fare. Nightlife is concentrated in the V&A Waterfront, Sea Point, and parts of the central business district, notably around Long Street. Further out, the Cape-Dutch homestead of Spier and Ratanga Junction theme park both offer a variety of entertainment from classical to jazz concerts.
Cape Town Excursions:
South of Cape Town along the peninsula stretches south, lined by fishing villages and holiday resorts, including Llandudno, Hout Bay, Kommetjie, Fish Hoek, Muizenberg and Simonstown, a delightful Victorian town with a couple of interesting museums and the only colony of penguins to live on the African mainland.
Inland, the magnificent Cape-Dutch farm, Groot Constantia, was one of the first wine farms in the Cape, while the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, created by Cecil Rhodes in 1895 on the lower slopes of Table Mountain, is one of the finest botanical gardens in the world.
In the summer there are open-air concerts. Nearby Chapman’s Peak has spectacular views, but the scenic drive from Hout Bay is currently closed due to landfalls, and you need to walk the last section to the summit. About an hour’s drive (click here for the cheapest car rental in Cape Town) from Cape Town, the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve covers the southern tip of the Cape Peninsula, with a profusion of flowers, birds, and animals, culminating in Cape Point.
- Going by cable-car up Table Mountain.
- Robben Island.
- Sundowners on the Atlantic seaboard.
- Seafood at the three harbors and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.
- Standing on the end of the peninsula at Cape Point.
- The photogenic historic Malay Quarter of the Bo-Kaap.