From mountain-top picnics to haggling in local market squares, Kenny Coyle enjoys the chilled ambience of South Africa’s most colourful city.
1. Table Mountain
Table Mountain dominates the scenery of Cape Town, and despite its imposing size is quite accessible on foot. However, a quicker and less strenuous mode of transport is the rotating cable car, which takes you from the foot of the mountain to the top, 1,085 metres above sea level. Don’t be put off by mist or fog at lower levels, as the moment the cable car breaks cloud cover, a breathtaking view of the city below opens up. Once at the summit, you can enjoy a picnic, provided you follow the understandably strict rules on littering. The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway operates throughout the year, but timings vary by season and are dependent on wind and weather conditions. For more information visit tablemountain.net.
2. Greenmarket Square
This cobblestoned, open-air market is a Cape Town institution and a bargain-hunters’ Mecca. African arts and crafts, fabrics and souvenirs abound in this historic location, which was originally known as Burgher Watch Square, after the guardhouses which were first erected here in 1696. South Africa is generally good value for visitors in any case, but in Greenmarket Square, a sharp eye and a persuasive smile might get you even better deals.
Sitting on the slopes of Signal Hill, lies Bo-Kaap or the Cape Malay Quarter. The Bo-Kaap Museum (71 Wale Street) explores this local community’s origins and life in depth. Historically, the area’s links are with the hundreds of thousands of slaves and prisoners brought to Cape Town by the Dutch colonialists. The Cape Malays, shipped from far-flung places such as Sri Lanka, India and Indonesia, brought with them their own religion, music and cuisine, adding an unexpected South-east Asian flavour to the great South African melting pot. Open Mon-Sat 10am-5pm. Entry is R10 (60p). For more information visit iziko.org.za/bokaap.
4. Table Bay Hotel
A taste of old-style luxury in the heart of the Victorian and Alfred Waterfront, which is still a working harbour, the Table Bay Hotel is one of the city’s finest properties, offering 329 rooms and suites with stunning views. It is located just a few minutes’ walk away from one of Cape Town’s largest retail shopping centres and a range of elegant restaurants and bars. But if you are feeling parched, then pop into the plush hotel and sample its signature afternoon tea, served in the maritime-themed lounge looking out onto the city, the marina and Table Mountain. Tel +27 21 406 5752, or visit suninternational.com.
5. Robben Island
Having reached the 90-year milestone this year, it is safe to say Nelson Mandela is one of those rare political leaders who commands universal respect and admiration. But this status didn’t come easily or early in life for him. Along with thousands of others, Mandela spent decades in jail for his role in the African National Congress’s armed struggle against apartheid. Much of his time was spent on the maximum-security penal colony of Robben Island, just 12 kilometres from the Cape Town shore. Robben island is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and houses a museum detailing its history – a testament to man’s inhumanity as well as to people’s capacity for both resistance and reconciliation. Tours of the island cost R150 (£9.50) and include the return ferry-trip across Table Bay, the chance to talk to a former political prisoner and a 45-minute guided bus tour. In summer, demand can be high, so book in advance at robben-island.org.za.
If you are not monitoring the pollen count, you’ll find Cape Town a paradise. The Western Cape region is one of the world’s most diverse flora ecosystems, and Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is renowned not only for its displays, but also for its beautiful setting on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. The 528-hectare Kirstenbosch estate was founded in 1913 and only grows indigenous South African plants. If you fancy a snack, then the excellent tearoom (open from around 9am to 5pm) serves breakfast, home-baked bread and cake, as well as hot food such as bangers and mash. There is also the option of eating at the Silvertree Restaurant and Fynbos Deli or Caffé Botanica. The gardens are open Sept-Mar 8am-7pm, and Apr-Aug 8am-6pm. Entry is R30 (£2). Tel +27 21 799 8783, or visit sanbi.org.