It is no exaggeration to say that, when it comes to first impressions and visual wow-factor, Cape Town can compete with any city on the planet. Rio de Janeiro? Absolutely. San Francisco? Indeed. Sydney? That too. With the Atlantic sparkling on two sides, and Table Mountain performing a grand rearguard action on a third, here is a metropolis which catches the eye as soon as you arrive.
Cape Town may not be South Africa’s administrative capital (that’s Pretoria), or its biggest urban area (Johannesburg, by quite a way), but it makes an impact on visitors that lingers long after the flight home has landed.
The city will stage one of the three Tests on the 2021 British & Irish Lions Tour (plus a warm-up fixture against local side the DHL Stormers) – it will also be the corner of South Africa that travelling supporters are most intent on seeing. And they will certainly see a lot of it if they clamber up its most obvious landmark. At 1,084m (3,461ft) high, Table Mountain is hardly a small hill. But its flat summit is easier to reach than it appears – either via the various trails which wind up through what is a national park (the hike takes about two hours at a reasonable pace), or, simpler still, on the cable car that conveys tourists to the top in five minutes – without any expense in sweat or shoe leather.
Apart from on days when the clouds have rolled in low, the view from the summit takes in Robben Island, which lies seven miles north of the city in Table Bay. This wild outcrop was, of course, Nelson Mandela’s prison for 18 of the 27 years he was incarcerated by South Africa’s former Apartheid regime. Its eerie jail is now preserved as a UNESCO-listed historic site – and can be glimpsed via half-day trips which include two half-hour boat rides. Ferries cast off from the city’s main harbour area, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
If Robben Island is eternally tied to a darker time in Cape Town’s past, the V&A is part of a rather brighter present. Heavily redeveloped in the last 20 years, it is now one of the liveliest areas of the city – a complex of over 450 shops, cafes and restaurants, awash with locals and visitors alike. Happily, it is also still a function-ing harbour. Fishing boats and container ships still moor up on its dockside as Capetonians go about their weekends.
But then, Cape Town is a city where you can fall into step with local life with ease – whether amid the many paintings of the South African National Gallery on Government Street, or in the cool bars lined up along Longmarket and Shortmarket Streets. And if any of this sounds too busy, you can always escape to the beach – the soft sands of Camps Bay, on the west flank of the conurbation, are a mere 20-minute, five-mile taxi ride away.
A very popular activity that visitors have undertaken before, is the Lion’s Head Full Moon Hike. The 2,200ft hike can take from 45 minutes to an hour, but you’ll want extra time to marvel at Cape Town below you in the moonlight.
If you fancy a bite to eat, you will be spoilt for choice with restaurants in the Winelands. Whether you prefer a fine-dining experience, or authentic, local home cooked dishes which have evolved in home kitchens over generations, you will be spoilt for choice.
The green, lush regions encompassing Stellenbosch, Wellington and Franschhoek offer some of the country’s most majestic scenery. Make sure you don’t miss the beautiful Dutch architecture of the gabled farmhouses.