Cape Town is a fascinating mosaic of Asian, European and African traditions. These streams of history flow together in the city but, particularly because of the legacy of the apartheid system, visitors to Cape Town are often amazed by the dramatic contrasts that remain between different areas. Nature, too, creates very different sub-climates around the mountain so the vegetation varies a great deal, as of course do the vistas. The city, however, is connected by fast freeways. Thus, twenty minutes from the wine farms of the leafy Constantia valley you could be on a beach, in the bustling city center or in a shanty township. It is truly fascinating to discover the different areas and experience the diversity of culture in the city.
The Atlantic Seaboard
Camps Bay , Bantry Bay, Llandudno and Clifton are the suburbs of foreign house prices. The impressive apartment blocks built into the mountain sides and the old cottages above the fabulous Clifton Beaches have been snapped up by overseas buyers. Expect to see jet skis on the roof garages. Clifton is very sheltered and the perfect place for a picnic at sunset. Camps Bay is picturesque and there are some excellent restaurants and cafes. This is the place to hang out and be cool, but you will be very cool indeed if you try to swim in the sea; the arctic currents don't know they've reached Africa.
The old docks have been excellently converted into the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront , a very large complex of hotels, restaurants and bars, shops (galore), cinemas (including IMAX), two craft markets and a truly wonderful aquarium. Here you will also find numerous companies offering boat trips, including the Robben Island Ferry, and fun things such as jet skis and helicopter trips. The information desks are helpful and there is VAT refund too. It is a very easy and secure place with lots to do; but just a word on prices, you can find most things cheaper elsewhere, especially jewelery.
All the diversity of Cape Town is meshed into the city centre. It is a surprisingly small area and is best covered on foot - but be prepared to fend off hawkers and some street children. Keep your wits and your wallet about you and don't stay out after dark. St. George's Mall and Greenmarket Square are the undisputed heart of Cape Town; abuzz with vibes, sounds and crafts of Africa, all mixed up with European heritage. In contrast, The Company Gardens are beautifully peaceful and historically very interesting: Take a walk along Government Avenue, past Parliament, and spend some time in the South African Museum ; it is great fun. The Mount Nelson Hotel is at the top—the perfect place for high tea.
It is worth driving around the Grand Parade: The Castle of Good Hope and the City Hall are important buildings, and Adderley Street also has many of the grandest buildings in Cape Town. Just above the city center is the Bo-Kaap—see the brightly colored homes and notice the Malay influences.
At night, the center empties out of all but street people; it is best seen by day. The exception is the top of Long Street which is abuzz with nightlife, and check out the cafes and restaurants of upper Kloof Street nearby in Gardens.
The Southern Suburbs, Constantia & Hout Bay
If you love rugby or cricket head for Newlands and there is a large, up-market shopping centre nearby in Claremont, Cavendish Square . On the mountain slopes you will find the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden , a definite "must see." Around the corner is Constantia; here are some historic and wonderful wine farms (such as Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia ), a very impressive shopping mall and some of the best restaurants in the country. There is an extensive walking trail across the Constantia valley.
On the other side of the mountain explore Hout Bay, the land of very horsey, independent-minded people living in a fabulous valley. The fishermen in the harbor are a highly spirited bunch. You can take sea trips from here (see the seals on Duiker Island). If the Chapman's Peak drive is open, it is a must-do—magnificent.
The South Peninsula
The south peninsula is mountainous and largely a National Park plus some very charming seaside towns, notably the very British Simon's Town, the fishing village at Kalk Bay , gorgeous Noordhoek and Kommetijie and rustic Scarborough. The beaches are fabulous (and the penguins think so, too); check out the little guys at Boulders Beach near Simon's Town. The water is much warmer on the eastern side of the peninsula. Cape Point and its massive Nature Reserve are within easy reach and it is worth taking some time to explore the reserve. For a famous picture stop go to the colorful beach huts at St James and Muizenberg.
The winelands are an extensive area of wine and fruit farms in a mountain setting less than an hour from Cape Town. There is a certain charm and dignity to the area and some very pretty towns. There are many wine farms, in all styles and sizes, but the taste and price are bound to please. Check out a variety of big and small wine farms in different areas, but beware of weekend closing. Don't miss the restaurants of Franschhoek and spending time exploring the great beauty of Stellenbosch.
To get some valuable insight into South Africa's political history and cultural diversity take a township tour (specialist companies include African Dawn and Grassroutes). For many people this turns out to be the unexpected high point of their visit to Cape Town; the resilience, enterprise and hope of these poor communities is very inspiring and the stories of the past are a sobering insight into social planning gone mad. It is not recommended that you try to tour the townships on your own, take an organized tour with a specialist company.
The Northern Suburbs
Predominantly Afrikaans, modern and suburban, these areas lie along the N1 freeway. The classic view of Table Mountain is best viewed from Blouberg. Century City is set to rival the Waterfront as Cape Town's major leisure complex. The Durbanville Hills may of interest to wine enthusiasts and the Tygervalley Center for those born to shop.
Unbeknown by many visitors to Cape Town, there is a superb tradition of cuisine in the city. The Malay slaves transformed the traditional dishes of Europe and Britain into a unique "Cape Malay" style, using the spices from the passing boats. Such dishes include Bobotie and Breedies. However, most restaurants focus upon Mediterranean and Pacific Rim influences. Naturally, fish and other seafood is very important too, and there is a growing number of African restaurants.
Cape Town was always "the tavern of the seas", and is an important wine-growing area to boot, so some good drinking is in order. There is a genuine love of dining and drinking in Cape Town, and you will find local cuisine and various styles from around the world cooked and presented superbly. Many restaurants have beautiful settings and decor. Most visitors are also amazed at how inexpensive it is to eat out. Too good to be true? Just try.
The Atlantic Seaboard
In Camps Bay, Blues is a perennial favorite. Next door, and sharing the same magnificent view over the beach, is Villamoura, a top quality and very popular fish restaurant. On the main road there are also a number of less formal and trendy eateries. For general fare and family diners the Waterfront has numerous places to eat, such as Emily's , where you will find superb South African cuisine (and a good deal of eccentricity too). Some of the hotels have excellent restaurants, particularly the Cape Grace , the Radisson Waterfront Hotel , and the Mount Nelson in Gardens.
For bars try the Ambassador Hotel in Bantry Bay at sunset. In the Waterfront try the historic Ferrymans or the Quay Four .
Gardens & Woodstock
Aubergine is popular for continental cuisine. The top of Long Street is abuzz in the evenings with all manner of trendy places; for African food and vibes try Mama Africa at number 178. If nothing piques your interest here, try Kloof Street, a minute's drive up the hill, for more cafes and restaurants.
On Church Street in central Cape Town, near Greenmarket Square, Bukhara is an excellent Indian Restaurant.
Constantia lays claim to some of the finest dining in South Africa. The classy La Colombe provides excellent Provencal cuisine. A very enjoyable, well priced restaurant and excellent bar is at Peddlars, on the Bend.
Don't miss the restaurants of Franschhoek: Haute Cabriere and La Petite Ferme are all well regarded, and other restaurants in the area are excellent, too. In Paarl, Bosman's at the Grande Roche Hotel is a very formal and award-winning Haute Cuisine restaurant. The Jonkershuis on the Spier estate offers an excellent and fascinating traditional Cape Malay buffet. The Boschendal Estate offer a famous picnic during the summer months.
In terms of wine tasting it is very unfair to single some estates over others—try your luck! You are unlikely to be disappointed. But, to mention some good places to start: Fairview near Paarl; Delaire (mainly for the view); Warwick in the lovely Idas Valley and Cabriere in Franschhoek for excellent champagne-style wines.
At sunset, the Blue Peter Hotel has a popular bar and light food where diners can watch the sun set over Table Mountain . On the Rocks is a formal restaurant with exceptional views.