Cape Town, situated near the southern tip of South Africa, is famous for its striking beauty, world-renowned landmarks like Table Mountain and Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and its and hip art and food scene.
And following the recent death of Nelson Mandela, tourists are interested in digging deeper into the country’s history and its struggle against apartheid.
When planning your visit to the Mother City, break away from the tired suggestions you find in the guidebooks and get off the beaten path.
We’ve gathered some unique things to do will make you feel like a local.
1. Understand the struggle
A tour of Robben Island, the prison where Mandela served 27 years as political prisoner, can’t be missed. But to get a unique insight into Cape Town’s apartheid struggle, book the Revolution Route tour with local travel experiences company, Coffeebeans Routes. You’ll hear extraordinary and inspiring stories about the lesser-known characters in a much more dynamic context than any museum can provide.
2. Get in touch with Cape Town’s people
Many people who visit Cape Town want to visit the townships--living areas for non-whites created during apartheid and still home to the much of the city’s population. But many tours leave visitors feeling like they’re observing life as an outsider. Uthando South Africa, a non-profit accredited by the organization Fair Trade in Tourism that promotes responsible tourism, lets visitors meet residents and learn about ongoing community development projects. All tour fees go to benefit the communities and projects being visited.
3. Make traditional Cape Malay cuisine
The old Malay Quarter Bo-Kaap, with its cobble stoned streets and rainbow-colored buildings, is not to be missed. But go beyond the Bo-Kaap Museum and learn about the area’s Muslim culture through your taste buds.
Sign up for a cooking class with the charming Faldela Tolker who invites you into her home where she’ll teach you how to make traditional Cape Malay cuisine. When you’re finished, she’ll treat you to some of her favorite recipes and a special blend of her homemade tea--served up with a side of witty anecdotes. (Cooking with Love 072 483 4040 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
4. Shop till you drop
After you’ve bought some obligatory souvenirs at the popular Victoria & Albert Waterfront shopping district, hire a car or guide for some serious retail therapy.
Check out Merchants on Long for avant-garde fashions, Chandler House for whimsical housewares, and Olive Green Cat for unusual bling. (Long Street also has bustling nightlife: grab drinks at Neighbourhood, rock your dance moves at Waiting Room or take in live music at Zula Bar.) Woodstock Exchange also offers unique shopping, a fab brunch spot (Superette), and a bicycle-themed coffee shop (Starling & Hero Bicycle Café). Finally, stop by the Old Biscuit Mill, a vibrant market that is home to several designer stores, workshops and restaurants.
For food, the Neighbourgoods Market features everything from organic food purveyors to artisan craftsmen (every Saturday). Bree Street is also cool. Check out Missibaba for unusual leather goods and Kirsten Goss for unique jewelry.
And once you’ve shopped to your heart’s content, unwind at the posh One&Only spa, go for afternoon tea at the iconic Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, or enjoy a Whiskey Tasting at Bascule at the legendary Cape Grace.
5. Escape the bustle of city life
Enjoy a couple of nights outside the city center lounging by the beach. The laid-back seaside resort towns of Camp’s Bay and Hout Bay are full of breathtaking spots for soaking up the sun, strolling on the beach and indulging in sundowner drinks. Camp’s Bay features white sand beaches lined with palm trees, trendy bars, bistros and a vibrant nightlife. Sushi at Umi Restaurant and Paranga are absolute musts. Hout Bay features a picturesque harbor set between the scenic Chapman’s Peak and Mount Sentinel; this old fishing village is just a little further outside of Cape Town and thus, a little quieter. Also enjoy some of the city’s freshest seafood at Mariner’s Wharf.
6. Go on a wine tour
A visit to the Cape Winelands is also a must; however, instead of visiting the often-visited Stellenbosch region, head to the more laid-back Franschhoek region. Three adorable, family-owned vineyards worth checking out are La Petite Ferme, Môreson, and Haute Cabrière. Be sure to call ahead and do a cellar tour with quirky owner and local celebrity, Achim Von Arnim.
7. Eat and drink
Sample traditional Cape favorites like biltong and Malva pudding, and don’t forget that Cape Town is the culinary capital of South Africa. Check out some of the world-renowned fine dining options: The Test Kitchen, The Pot Luck Club and Bistro Bizerca rank among the best. Also stop by Charly’s Bakery for coffee and colorful sweets.
Book: Escape to the Cape offers professional, private tours in and around Cape Town.