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Cape Town, South Africa

From the top of Table Mountain to the lush Cape Winelands, your comprehensive guide to seeing this picturesque city.
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Cape Town, South Africa

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When I Went: The end of June through the beginning of July.

Was That the Best Time of Year to Go?  Summer is better weather-wise and allows for a better view from Table Mountain. Winter is the best time for a safari, however, so you may be forced to visit Cape Town pre-safari in the winter. The weather is mild, but bring some layers.

Why I Went There: I’ve always wanted to visit Africa and was intrigued by safaris. South Africa gave us the chance to experience a new culture with stunning scenery while enjoying the cosmopolitan city of Cape Town. We also took a wild safari through Kruger National Park.

Who Went With Me? My husband and I travelled alone.

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We Stayed Here: We stayed at Liberty Lodge, a guest house in the Gardens district, and it was a perfectly central location that was safe and allowed us to walk to most city center sites. Only a block away, shops and restaurants line Kloof Nek Road, which turns into the famous Long Street as you head north to downtown. Stop in the vintage shops of Long Street, and especially at Clarke’s Bookshop, which specializes in Cape Town and South African literature.

You Won’t Want to Miss: The city is breathtaking. Table Mountain surrounds the city center and provides stunning views in sunny weather (though beware: Table Mountain is often shrouded in clouds, making breathtaking views impossible for days at a time). Cosmopolitan beach towns dot the Atlantic with posh restaurants and cafes. South of the city, the Cape Peninsula is a day’s drive and provides views only paralleled by Big Sur in Central California (minus the thousands of tourists). If that’s not enough, the Cape Winelands, to the east of the city, are unbelievably picturesque vineyards famous for cultivating excellent pinotage amid Cape Dutch architecture.

If you have only have one day to visit Cape Town, go on Saturday. Start by taking a cab to the Old Biscuit Mill in the eastern, industrial part of town. Gradually developing from a warehouse district into a creative hub, the former biscuit mill houses the Neighbourgoods Market each Saturday. Hundreds of vendors converge with clothes, jewelry, and food. Stalls of African comfort food, sushi, paella, Mediterranean salads, ostrich burgers, brai (African BBQ), and more surround rows of communal tables set with fresh flowers and burning candles. The new face of Cape Town is young, diverse, and people are creating things that are reminiscent of Brooklyn.

I’d also recommend the red route of the double-decker tourist hop-on-hop-off buses. Head to the top of the bus and listen to the guide as you speed through Downtown, Long Street, and District 6 (the District 6 Museum is worth a stop). If you’re in need of a pick-me-up, stop at the Mount Nelson Hotel (nicknamed Uncle Nellie) for high tea (make reservations in advance). Otherwise, continue on to Table Mountain.

At the base, head to the cable car lines (Tip: buy your tickets in advance to bypass the 45-minute wait), and zoom to the top of the mountain, which takes hikers approximately four hours to ascend. The views are unbelievable and the photos do not do it justice. Back on the bus, head to swanky Camps Bay, a beach town known for its cosmopolitan vibe, and get out for a glass of champagne or espresso from a sidewalk cafe while watching the waves. Return to the bus for drives northward along the coast past more beaches, the World Cup soccer stadium, and finally to the V&A Waterfront. It’s very touristy, but worth a stop to see locals catching a televised rugby or soccer game at the large amphitheater.

If you have a second day, hire a guide (I’d strongly recommend Graham at Wilderness Touring) and head south to explore the cape point peninsula. Bring a camera to capture the winding roads hugging sharp cliffs that descend to crashing waves from the Atlantic Ocean. Pass quaint towns with Cape Dutch architecture, and head to Table Mountain National Park for glimpses of ostriches and baboons near the Cape of Good Hope. Eat lunch at two oceans restaurant, but don’t sit outside unless you’re willing to risk losing your dinner roll to a hungry baboon (seriously). Continue north along the eastern side of the peninsula, stopping at Simon’s Town to see penguins as they frolic along the sand. End the day with a stroll through Kirstenbosch Gardens, the ethereal botanical gardens of Cape Town, and a true gem of the city.

If you have a third day, bring back your guide for a day trip to the Winelands. Explore Stellenbosch, a charming town in the middle of the Winelands with a pristine downtown (think: Santa Barbara). Choose a few wineries to visit. I would recommend Vrede en Lust for the wine enthusiasts, Meerlust for creatives (find Charmaine Gola and have her tell you everything you ever wanted to know about wine in South Africa), Webersburg for a traditional winery in Cape Dutch architecture, and Delaire Graff for a completely ridiculous display of wealth that will leave you awestruck. People may suggest you stop in the French town of Franschhoek: skip it, it’s too touristy.

On the fourth day, continue to explore Cape Town. Spend some time strolling the city at leisure. Walk through Bo-kaap, the colorful Muslim neighborhood with brightly painted houses set against the backdrop of table mountain; visit the Bo-kaap Museum to speak with residents and understand the history. If you have the time, visit Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned (you must reserve in advance).

Eat Here: Enjoy lunch or tea at any of the hipster-esque cafes along Bree Street (I recommend Dear Me Brasserie for excellent salads). The restaurants in the Gardens district are fantastic for dinner, with Manna Epicure being my favorite. Great flavor, large portions, and gracious waitstaff. A trip to Camps Bay for dinner or dessert cannot be missed.

If I Went Again: Many restaurants and museums require advance reservations, so do your homework in advance to reserve your spot. Specifically, high tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel and visits to Robben Island are tourist favorites, so definitely book in advance.

How Did You Get There From Dallas? Since we were flying on miles, we took a somewhat convoluted air route: Dallas to London, and after a full-day layover in London, we then flew to Cape Town. On the way home, we flew out of Johannesburg. I believe there are non-stop flights between Atlanta and Johannesburg if you fly Delta.

Other Tips For Fellow Travelers: Make sure to read Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela and You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town by Zoe Wicomb and watch Searching for Sugar Man.