Cape Town is the second largest city in South Africa, the capital of the Western Cape province. It is also one of the most attractive and photogenic cities in the world, thanks to its location on the Cape Peninsula, which is washed by two oceans and crowned by the majestic Table Mountain. Cape Town has a rich and varied history, culture and nature that offer countless opportunities for exploration and entertainment. In this article, we'll introduce you to some of them and give you tips on how to enjoy a holiday in this amazing place.
Cape Town is an ideal destination to visit for many reasons. Here are some of them:
Beautiful nature: Cape Town is surrounded by national parks, reserves and protected areas where you can admire a variety of flora and fauna. You can hike or take a cable car to the top of Table Mountain, which offers breathtaking views of the city and the ocean. You can also visit the Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, and observe penguins, sea lions and whales. Or take a ride along the Garden Route, which runs along the coastline and connects picturesque towns and beaches.
Rich in history: Cape Town was the first European settlement in what is now South Africa, founded in 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to Asia. Since then, it has become an important port and cultural centre where the influences of different nations and ethnicities have intermingled. In Cape Town, you can see historic sites such as the Castle of Good Hope Fortress, Groote Kerk Church and the Parliament Building. You can also visit Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela and other anti-apartheid fighters were imprisoned.
Varied culture: Cape Town is home to diverse communities that reflect its complex past and present. Here you'll find people of African, European, Asian and mixed descent, speaking eleven official languages and practising a variety of religions. Cape Town is also a city of art, music, fashion and gastronomy, where traditional and modern influences meet. You can explore museums, galleries and theatres, listen to jazz or reggae in bars and clubs, shop in markets or boutiques, and sample local specialities such as bobotie and Malaysian curry.
Favourable weather: Cape Town has a mild Mediterranean climate with warm, dry summers and mild, wet winters. The average temperature in summer (November to March) is around 23°C, and in winter (June to August) around 13°C. Rainfall is highest in winter, when skies can be overcast and winds can be strong. In summer, on the other hand, it is sunny and pleasant. The best time to visit Cape Town is spring (September to November) or autumn (March to May), when the weather is stable and there are fewer tourists.
Cape Town has a long and interesting history that dates back to prehistoric times. Here are some of its major landmarks:
The first people to inhabit the Cape Town area were the Khoisan people, who subsisted on hunting and gathering. Traces of them are preserved in the form of rock paintings and tools. In the 15th century, the Bantu people came from the interior of Africa and were involved in pastoralism and agriculture.
Cape Town was founded in 1652 by Jan van Riebeeck as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India and Asia. The location was ideal for establishing a harbour as it was situated in a bay protecting ships from rough seas. For protection from the native population, the Dutch built Fort de Goede Hoop – today's Castle of Good Hope – in 1679. It is the oldest colonial structure in South Africa. However, the population grew only slowly and with the increasing demand for labour, the Dutch East India Company began importing slaves from Madagascar, India, Malaysia and Indonesia. Few European women lived in the city at this time, hence the numerous mixed marriages between Europeans and native African or Asian women, their offspring now referred to as Cape Coloureds.
During the 18th century, Cape Town became an important port of call for sailors sailing further afield to Asia. In 1795, the colony was occupied by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, who returned it to the Dutch in 1803 but reoccupied it in 1806. During the 19th century, the British expanded the territory of the Cape considerably, and in 1853 the Cape adopted a constitution guaranteeing the colony a bicameral parliament and self-government. In 1910 the British then incorporated the Cape into the newly formed Union of South Africa as one of its four provinces.
In 1948, the National Party came to power and introduced a system of racial segregation and discrimination known as apartheid. Under this system, the population was divided into four racial groups (whites, blacks, coloureds and Asians) and assigned different rights and responsibilities. Whites had privileged status and control over politics and the economy, while others were restricted to certain areas, schools, employment and services. Apartheid provoked strong opposition and protests from both the domestic and international community. Cape Town was the scene of some of the most significant events in the struggle against apartheid, such as the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, when police shot dead 69 unarmed protesters, and District Six in 1966, when an entire neighbourhood of more than 60,000 residents was cleared and destroyed due to of racial planning. Among the most famous anti-apartheid activists was Nelson Mandela, who was imprisoned on Robben Island near Cape Town for 18 years.
After years of struggle and negotiation, apartheid was abolished in 1990 and political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, were released. In 1994, the first free elections were held and the African National Congress (ANC) led by Mandela won, becoming the first black president of South Africa. Since then, South Africa has been trying to overcome the legacy of apartheid and build a democratic and multicultural society. Cape Town is one of the centres of this transformation and has also hosted some international events including the 2010 World Cup and the funeral of Nelson Mandela in 2013. Today, Cape Town is one of South Africa's most important cultural, economic and political centres and is known for its multiculturalism, history, architecture and natural beauty.
Cape Town offers many tourist attractions and points of interest for every visitor.
This iconic flat-topped mountain is a symbol of Cape Town and the whole of South Africa. It is part of the Table Mountain National Park, which protects unique flora and fauna. You can reach the top of the mountain on foot along various trails or by cable car, which offers panoramic views of the city and the ocean. At the top, you can explore the viewing platform, refresh yourself at the café or visit the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden on the eastern slope of the mountain.
This cape is the southernmost point of the Cape Peninsula and one of the most famous places in South Africa. It was discovered by Portuguese sailors in the 15th century and was considered an important sea route between Europe and Asia. Today it is part of Table Mountain National Park and is a popular destination for tourists who want to enjoy the spectacular scenery, watch wildlife and birdlife or visit the historic Cape Point Lighthouse.
Simon's Town is a picturesque harbour town on the east coast of the Cape Peninsula that has a rich maritime history. It was founded in the 17th century as a supply station for Dutch ships and later became a major naval base for both the British Empire and South Africa. In Simon's Town you can explore the maritime museum, historic buildings and churches or shop on the main street. Nearby is Boulders Beach, home to a colony of African penguins, which you can see up close on wooden walkways or even swim with them in the sea.
One of the most visited villages around Cape Town, Fish Hook is definitely for everyone. Sunbathing fanatics, families with children and hardy swimmers who want to take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean will find refuge on the wide sandy beach in the centre of the town or in a quiet cove. In the village you can visit the fishing museum, the art gallery or have lunch in one of the many restaurants along the coast.
This reserve is part of the Table Mountain National Park and is located on its southern side. It is named after the former silver mines that operated here in the 17th and 18th centuries. Today, the reserve is a popular spot for tourists and locals who want to enjoy nature, hiking, biking or picnicking at Silvermine Reservoir.
This bay on the west coast of the Cape Peninsula is known as a fishing and recreational resort. Here you can explore the fish market where you can buy fresh seafood or have lunch in one of the many restaurants overlooking the sea. You can also take a boat trip to Duiker Island, home to a colony of seals, or visit the World of Birds Wildlife Sanctuary and Monkey Park, home to more than 3,000 birds and small animals.
This beach is one of the most popular and busiest beaches in Cape Town. It is lined with palm trees and offers spectacular views of Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles. On the beach you can swim, sunbathe, play beach volleyball or rent a sun lounger and umbrella. Along the coastal promenade there are many bars, cafes and restaurants where you can have a drink or meal.
These two peaks are part of Table Mountain National Park and offer breathtaking views of Cape Town and the surrounding area. Lion's Head is higher and steeper than Signal Hill and requires a bit of climbing on ladders and chains, but will reward you with 360 degree panoramic views. Signal Hill is more easily accessible by car or on foot and is a popular spot for watching the sunset or the firing of the Noon Gun every day at 12:00.
This stadium was built for the 2010 World Cup and has a capacity of 55,000 spectators. It is situated between Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean and has a unique architecture inspired by African ceramics. The stadium has hosted several World Cup matches, including the semi-final between the Netherlands and Uruguay. Today, the stadium hosts various sporting and cultural events such as football matches, rugby tournaments and concerts.
This island lies about 12 km off the coast of Cape Town and is known as the place where political prisoners were held during apartheid. The most famous of these was Nelson Mandela, who spent 18 of his 27 years in prison here. The island is now a museum and memorial to the struggle for human rights and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can reach the island by ferry from the Victoria & Albert Waterfront and see the former prison, Mandela's cell, the leprosaria cemetery and the penguin colony.
This fortress is the oldest surviving colonial structure in South Africa and was built between 1666 and 1679 as the residence of the Dutch governor and as a military base. The fort has a pentagonal plan and is surrounded by a moat. Inside the fort you can see the museum, art gallery, chapel, courtroom and the ceremonial firing of the Noon Gun every day at 12:00.
This neighbourhood is one of the most picturesque and colourful in Cape Town. It is home to the Cape Malay community, which consists of descendants of slaves imported from Asia and Indonesia in the 17th and 18th centuries. Bo-Kaap is known for its colourful houses, mosques, museum, markets and restaurants. The neighborhood is also the centre of Ramadan celebrations and Cape Carnival.
This waterfront is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Cape Town. It offers a wide range of shops, restaurants, bars, hotels, cinemas, theatres and museums in historic buildings and modern complexes. Here you can also take a boat cruise to Table Bay, visit the Two Oceans Aquarium or take a ferry to Robben Island.
This botanical garden is one of the most beautiful in the world and is part of Table Mountain National Park. Established in 1913, the garden covers 528 hectares along the eastern slope of Table Mountain. The garden specialises in the native plants of South Africa, especially fynbos, which are typical of the Western Cape region. In the garden you can explore the various themed sections, greenhouses, sculptures, memorials or take a walk along the wooden walkway of the Boomslang Bridge above the treetops.
If you've had enough of walking around the tourist attractions, head to the V&A Waterfront area near the centre of Cape Town. This waterfront district will delight shopaholics with its huge shopping mall, foodies with its array of restaurants of all kinds, and kids with Africa's largest aquarium. Here you can also take a boat cruise on Table Bay, visit the Two Oceans Aquarium or take the ferry to Robben Island.
Cape Town is not only a paradise for city and hiking tourists, but also for adrenaline junkies. In addition to several climbing routes up Table Mountain and the neighbouring peak "The Lions Head", there are perfect conditions for paragliding and especially surfing. Surfing is generally a very popular sport in South Africa, and although the best conditions tend to be in the north around Durban, Cape Town is not far behind. More experienced individuals head to the Hout Bay area, while beginners head to False Bay, especially the town of Muizenberg.
The Cape Peninsula in particular is the best place in the world for penguin watching. The famous Boulders Beach south of Simon's Town has a colony of more than 3,000 penguins. You'll see most of them here from February to August, but you can watch them all year round, and always see at least a dozen of them. Another abundantly represented and exotic species of wildlife here are baboons. These are again found mainly on the Cape Peninsula, most notably between Simon's Town and the Cape of Good Hope. However, heed the warning signs and stay away from the baboons.
Cape Town is unique in its architectural heritage, particularly its many Cape Dutch-style monuments – this style combines French, Dutch and German architectural elements. The most famous examples include the Parliament building, the Town Hall and the Groote Kerk church. Another typical style is Cape Malay, which reflects the influence of Malay and Indonesian slaves and their descendants on the city's culture. This style is evident in the colourful houses of the Bo-Kaap district and in the mosques and markets.
Cape Town is also home to the South African National Gallery. The permanent collections include collections of British, French, Dutch and Flemish art. Contemporary South African art that reflects the social and political realities of the country is also concentrated here. Other interesting museums include the District Six Museum, which documents the history and fate of the residents of this district who were forcibly evicted during apartheid, and the Robben Island Museum.
Cape Town is also known for its music and theatre scene. The city hosts various festivals and concerts, such as the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, the Cape Town Electronic Music Festival and the Cape Town Carnival. The V&A Waterfront area is home to the Artscape Theatre Centre, where musicals, operas, ballets and dramatic performances are staged. Other popular theatres include the Baxter Theatre Centre, the Fugard Theatre and the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre.
Cape Town is a culinary paradise for lovers of good food and drink. The city offers a wide range of restaurants that reflect its multicultural character and rich history. Here you can enjoy traditional South African cuisine such as bobotie (stew with egg and curry), biltong (dried meat), potjiekos (stew in a cast iron pot) or koeksisters (sweet pastries with honey and coconut). You can also sample influences from other parts of the world, such as Malay, Indian, French or Mediterranean cuisine.
Cape Town is also known for its wine-making tradition, which dates back to the 17th century when the Dutch and French started growing grapes here. There are several wine regions around the city, such as Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, where you can explore vineyards, visit wine cellars and taste local wines. If you like beer, you can also visit one of the many breweries or pubs in town and sample a variety of beers from traditional lager to local specials.
If you're looking for something quick and cheap to eat, you can choose from a variety of street food such as gatsby (a huge sandwich with meat, chips and gravy), bunny chow (bread hollowed out and filled with curry), samoosa (a triangular dumpling filled with meat or vegetables) or bokkoms (dried fish). For a sweet treat, you can have melktert (milk cake with cinnamon), malva pudding (mushroom cake with butter sauce) or hertzoggies (pastries filled with jam and coconut).
Cape Town is a place where you can have fun and enjoy a variety of activities. For example:
Surfing, kitesurfing, windsurfing or sailing on one of the many beaches around the city such as Muizenberg, Bloubergstrand or Camps Bay.
Cycling, hiking or rock climbing on the beautiful trails and paths in nature reserves such as Silvermine, Table Mountain National Park or Cape Point Nature Reserve.
Bungee jumping, paragliding, skydiving or helicopter flights for those looking for an adrenaline rush.
Wine, cheese or chocolate tasting at one of the wine estates in Constantia, Stellenbosch, Franschhoek or Paarl.
Whale, dolphin, shark or seal watching on a marine safari or cage diving.
Learning something new at one of the many museums, galleries or cultural centres in the city, such as the District Six Museum, Iziko South African Museum, Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa or Cape Town Science Centre.
Cape Town is also full of interesting facts and curiosities, we've picked out a few for you.
It is the only city in the world that lies on two oceans – the Atlantic and the Indian.
It is one of the most multicultural cities in the world, where 11 official languages are spoken and where people of different ethnic, religious and cultural groups live.
It is one of the oldest cities in South Africa and has a rich history of colonialism, slavery, apartheid and democracy.
It is one of the most popular tourist destinations, with millions of visitors from all over the world visiting each year.
It is one of the greenest cities in the world, home to more than 3000 species of plants, 70% of which are endemic to the Cape region.
So, is Cape Town beckoning to you?