Visiting Cape Town
Cape Town is South Africa’s most beautiful, most romantic and most visited city. Considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its scenic backdrop of Table Mountain, the Mother City is South Africas oldest settlement.
About Cape Town, South Africa
Considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world with its scenic backdrop of Table Mountain, the Mother City is South Africas oldest settlement.
Situated along the Cape Peninsula, its rich cultural mix of the European and African world is reflected in its people and diverse architecture. European Explorers had sailed around the Cape for many years but it wasnt until the mid-17th century that the Dutch landed and started a settlement. At this time the San Bushmen and the Hottentot tribes were still in sole occupation of the area. Their ancestors had lived in the Peninsula for thousands of years.
In 1652 the Dutch East India Company established a post at Table Bay, to grow crops, barter with the Hottentot and repair ships. Van Riebeeck the governor established the first vineyard in South Africa here in 1658. The region is now world famous for its wines.
The Dutch East India Company once the worlds greatest trade corporation, began to decline in the 18th century because of English and French competition. During the war between Britain and Holland (1780-1783) a British fleet sailed to invade the Cape, but was attacked and disabled by the French who assisted the Dutch to defend the colony. However in 1814 the Cape Colony was formally ceded to Britain after victory over the Dutch forces.
The British enacted the emancipation of the Capes slaves in 1834 and some 39,000 slaves, mostly in the western districts of the Colony, were granted their freedom. In 1872 the Cape Colony was granted complete self-government. With the building of railways and the opening of diamond mines, Cape Town grew in commercial importance and became one of the major ports of the continent.
The first half of the 20th century witnessed the growth of South Africa into a powerful industrial nation but Apartheid stunted the economic growth of the country. Today Cape Town is home to South Africas parliament and is a regional centre.
However apartheids legacy of segregation and social inequality continues. There is little evidence of black South Africa unless you stray to the black townships of the Cape Flats east of the city. The ghettos are your stark introduction to the city as you approach it from the airport.
While gang violence is generally restricted to the township areas, crime is still a problem in the central Cape Town. You should minimise the risk of crime by taking sensible precautions (e.g. dont get drawn into conversation at cash machines, be aware of your surroundings on the street).
Eating Out in Cape Town, South Africa
Prices in South Africa are not as cheap as many other African countries, but it is good value by European, US and Australian standards. Expect to pay under R25 for a main course at a cheap restaurant, and up to R40 at a medium one.
The greatest concentration of restaurants is in the central district around the City Bowl, Sea Point and the Waterfront. In Cape Town you can find the cuisine of most nationalities in its wide range of restaurants at reasonable prices. Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Indian dishes are all on offer. You can also sample local Cape cuisine in a few restaurants specialising in this style. The food tends to be spicy and dishes include cape bean curry, bredie (stew), bobotie, a spicy minced dish served under a savoury custard and sosaties, a local version of kebab using mincemeat.
The Atlantic and Indian Oceans provide Cape Towns harbours with a varied catch of fish and seafood. If youre a fish lover, you will enjoy the broad range of seafood available.
Scenic Hout Bay is a good bet with its harbour takeaways being a cheap option. Local specialities include snoek, a cold-water fish not found along the east coast. You will find smoorsnoek, a delicious spicy variation in Cape cuisine restaurants and snoek and chips is a favourite in takeaways.
Alcohol is forbidden in most restaurants serving Cape food because of its strong links with the local (teetotal) Muslim community. Of course, the famous local wines can be found everywhere else in Cape Town. Beer is also a favourite among locals with Castle and Lion Lager being the most popular brands. Beer is a favourite drink among the locals with Castle and Lion Lager brands.
The Great Gatsby
Ask a Capetonian what you can’t leave without trying and many will tell you a ‘gatsby’, a Cape Malay specialty which comprises chips, a spicey sauce and a choice of meat. They’re messy and sloppy as hell, but you have to try one.Open Mon-Sat 7.30am-11pm, closed Sun.
Restaurants in Cape Town
Seeff House, 42 Hans Stridom Ave, Cape Town, South Africa
Typical Price for Main Course: R19 – 49
If you’re missing your pizzas, then this place will certainly cheer you up. The best pizza place in town serving a wide variety of creative and tasty toppings. Those which come highly recommended are the Tre Colori which is a smoked salmon, sour cream and caviar pizza and the Prostituto – avocado, bacon, feta and spinach. The restaurant itself is large and airy and there is a nice friendly atmosphere. Of course, if you’re missing home delivered pizza, you could always avail of the added bonus of the delivery service on offer.
98 Shortmarket St., Heritage Sq., Cape Town, South Africa
Typical Price for Main Course: R35 – 85
This is a really quaint little place situated in a courtyard which houses the oldest living vine in Cape Town. Eating here is a real treat, not only because of the location, the food is also pretty good too. The green curries are a popular choice as is the roast duck with fig and brandy sauce. Its popularity does make it quite difficult to get a seat but it is well worth the wait.
2 Upper Wale St, Cape Town, South Africa
Typical Price for Main Course: R25 – 46
Bismiellah is where to go if you wish to sample traditional Cape cuisine. It’s situated in a historic part of town and run by two generations of a Muslim family who have been serving the local community for over twenty years. Of course, tourists are now among its most popular clients. Local dishes worth sampling are denningvleis and the pienang curry but you’ll have to try them for yourself to see exactly what they consist of. As it is a traditional Muslim venue, no alcohol is allowed in the restaurant but you won’t even notice, you’ll be having such a good time sampling the local delicacies.
The Harbour, Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa
Typical Price for Main Course: R29 – 160
The location is what makes this restaurant so appealing. It is situated above the Mariner’s Wharf and offers its diners beautiful views of the bay as well as seafood of the same standard. This is where you will get to try out snoek, the local fish and linefish which is the restaurant’s speciality. While there are some choices other than the fish dishes, if you are not a big fan of seafood, this place is probably not the best choice.
25 Napier St., Green Point, Cape Town, South Africa
Typical Price for Main Course: R31
This particular eatery was once a warehouse meaning that the shortage of space which is widespread in a lot of Cape Town restaurants is not really a problem here. Serving all the traditional Turkish cuisine you can think of, you are sure to find something to tempt your appetite. Apparently, the desert tray is very special so make sure that you leave a little room to sample some of its contents. The atmosphere is second to none, the food is cheap and the venue is cool. What more could a backpacker want?
Transport in Cape Town, South Africa
Transport from the Airport
Cape Town International Airport is located on the Cape Flats 25km east of the city centre. Its half an hours drive away from the city centre, longer during rush hour (7–9am & 4–5.30pm). The Intercape shuttle bus runs between the airport and Cape Town station, in the centre of town, costs around R30 each way and operates until the last flight in the evening. (Tel.3864414 at the airport or 4198888 in Cape Town) The Intercape desk is located in the domestic terminal. This is the cheapest option as there are no trains from the airport.
Theres also the more expensive airport express bus, which will take you, by prior arrangement, to any destination in the peninsula. Metered taxis cost about three times as much as the shuttle bus.
The city centre is compact enough for you to get around by foot. However for further afield you will need to use the public transport. Within the central area and the inner city suburbs as far as Sea Point, buses are the most convenient way of getting around. All the principal terminuses are around Adderley Street and the Golden Acre Shopping Centre. The driver sells tickets on buses. If youre using them frequently, a Ten-Ride Clip Card will save you money. For timetables, enquire at the Golden Arrow booth at the Grande Parade central bus terminal (tel.9340540) or at Captour in Adderley Street.
Its recommended to take a train to the suburbs. Cape Towns train service (info.4052991) is an efficient urban line, which runs through the southern suburbs from the city to Simons Town. The main railway station is Adderley Street. Trains run overground, and there are no signposts on the streets, so youll have to look at a map or ask around to find the stations. Tickets must be bought in advance at the station. The best option is a reasonably priced first-class ticket as no second class exists and third class is not recommended.
Trains leave every ten minutes at peak times for the southern suburbs as far as Retreat, and every twenty minutes as far as Fish Hoek. At other times there are one to two trains per hour, until the last one at 10.30pm. All the way to Simons Town there are one or two trains every hour, the last one leaving at 9.30pm. The other three lines run from Cape Town to Strand (through the Cape Flats) and to the outlying towns of Stellenbosch and Wellington. Because they run through the Flats, some sections of these are not as safe as the Simons Town train.
Trains tend to run closely to the published timetable, which can be bought from newsagents or stations.
If you are staying several days it may be worth buying a Cape Town Card, which entitles foreign visitors to unlimited travel on all Golden Arrow buses and Metro Rail trains in the Peninsula. The pass is available from the Cape Card Information Desk, top floor of the Tourism Gateway, 3 Adderley St, and costs R35 for a four-day card and R55 for a seven-day one.
Taking public transport after dark is not recommended. Instead you should use metered taxis at night. However, if you are forced to use public transport take sensible precautions, such as travelling in a group and avoiding third-class carriages on trains.
In Cape Town taxis range from metered, minibus or Rikkis (small, open-sided, three-wheel vehicles). You can not hail a metered taxi on the street. You can get one at the taxi ranks around town, or you can phone to be picked up. There are a number of reliable companies, including Unicab (448 1720), Marine Taxi Hire (4340434) and Sea Point Taxis (434 4444). Taxis must have the drivers name and identification clearly on display and the meter clearly visible. At around R5 a kilometre, taxis are expensive compared to other modes of transport but are the safest form at night. Minibus taxis are cheap (under R2), frequent and can be hailed from the street or boarded at a rank. However they can be dangerous due to faction fighting amongst companies. Rikkis are safer, more friendly versions of the minibus. They can be hailed or phoned (7am–6pm; 234888 or 234892). However they don’t go into the suburbs. Fares are low (R5-15) as passengers are picked up and dropped off along the way.
Things To See in Cape Town, South Africa
Few cities could match Cape Town’s stunning setting, so to make the most of your visit, spend some time outdoors! The most striking and famous of Cape Town’s sights is of course the domineering Table Mountain. You can use its summit as a superb viewing platform to gaze over its suburbs of Atlantic seaboard, Constantia, False Bay seaboard and to the north the city centre itself. The city centre is small, so you can explore it easily by foot or bike. The central area, the City Bowl, takes in many of Cape Town’s tourist attractions and there are various options to keep you amused. You can ramble the terraces of Bo-Kaap, visit one of the countless museums ranging from maritime to Jewish, stroll along the 150km of sandy beaches or take one of the many hiking trails along the mountainside.
If you need a break from the fast city pace, you can relax in the botanical gardens or Company’s garden, Upper Adderley St. in the city centre. Sightseeing neednt be expensive as you could climb the 1 kilometre high Table Mountain along one of the many pathways instead of using a cable car (if you have the energy!) and many of the museums have free admission on Wednesday. For some local flavour and people watching go to the popular outdoor market, M-Sat, in Greenmarket Square in the city centre off Shortmarket St.
Chilling, fascinating and moving
Attractions in Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa
Because Cape Town has access to two oceans, it’s the perfect destination for anyone who has a keen interest in snorkeling or scuba diving. There is a wide variety of diving on offer in both oceans, from shipwrecks to reef diving and seals to shark diving as well as shallow, deep or technical diving. There are numerous companies who operate all of the different types of dive trips and boats usually leave from the Waterfront are of the city. And, the bonus is that even if you don’t want to dive, the boat trips themselves are really good fun too and let you see some wonderful scenery around the South African coast.
Between New Basin and Dock Rd, Cape Town, South Africa
Situated at the Waterfront, this is its most exciting attraction. With over three thousand live specimens on display including great white sharks, you will find yourself getting worried that you are so close to them. As well as the Indian and Atlantic underwater tanks which house natives from both oceans you will also find a river ecosystem, tidal pools and another highlight – the Kelp Forest tank. And if you are a qualified diver, you can risk getting in a tank with the sharks and feeding the Kelp Forest fish by hand. No thank you!
V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa
Whether you are looking to buy gifts for yourself or someone else, or just looking for a fun way to pass a couple of hours, this is the place to come. Open seven days a week and with over one hundred original art and craft stalls, you are sure to find something to help you part with your cash. Products on offer include leather-work, jewelry, ceramics and clothing and anything you buy will be an excellent memento of you trip as everything for sale is one hundred per cent original. It is a lively and colourful place to shop and is an experience second to none in terms of shopping.
Entertainment in Cape Town, South Africa
There is little distinction between clubs and pubs in Cape Town, with drinking and dancing often take place at the same venue. City Bowl is the nightlife centre of Cape Town and the activity is centred around the lower end of Long and Loop streets. In these streets you can spend an entire evening strolling around and sampling the nightlife.
The Waterfront with a handful of pubs, clubs and coffee bars, has a more artificial, and safer, mall atmosphere. Clubbing and pubbing tends to cut sharply down ethnic lines with distinct white and coloured venues. For listings, check out the Review section in the inside back pages of the weekly Mail & Guardian, which comes out every Friday. Alternatively, look at the Cape Weekend supplement to the Weekend Argus, which hits the streets on Saturdays and offers similar coverage. If you’re looking for an indigenous flavour, Cape jazz is it. It can be found in the coloured clubs on the Cape Flats, where you can also catch jazzing, popular ballroom dancing to 1950s bossa nova and tango.
The best and safest way to get into the Cape Flats jazz scene is on a jazz tour. Many of the tour operators include visits at one or more township jazz venues. Outside the flats local jazz can be found in city centre haunts. Get a copy of the Jazz Route Guide from a tourist information kiosk to help you plan your musical journey through the many jazz clubs.
In January, The Coon Carnival is Cape Towns major New Year event. It has its origins in the late18th century, when the slaves were allowed their one day off a year on January 1. It consists of dancers, musicians, parades, marches, competitions and street festivals, for the whole month of January. Down at the Waterfront, in the Agfa Amphitheatre, you can often catch free rock or jazz performances and sometimes hear the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, which also plays at the Grand Hall on Thursdays and Sundays at 8pm.
Entertainments in Cape Town
Victoria & Alfred Arcade, Pierhead, Cape Town, South Africa
Although this place is principally recognised as restaurant, it also happens to be one of the top live jazz clubs in the city. Since it opened in 1990, there has been a live concert every night so you can rest assured that whatever night you go you will be treated to live jazz and a good time. Situated on the waterfront means that this is a relaxing and pleasant environment guaranteed to help you enjoy your night.
1st Floor, 169 Long Street, Cape Town, South Africa
This is one of the top discotheques in Cape Town and once you step past the velvet ropes at the entrance, you will quickly see why. The music ranges from jazz and soul to tribal and techno meaning that you have plenty of choice. It is a pretty classy hang out however, so you might want to dress in something other than jeans and tee-shirt. Remember to check out the patio where you can look out on to the street below. The only thing which may cause problems is the fact that you do have to be over twenty one to gain entry and this rule is strictly enforced.
2nd Floor, Dumbarton House, Cape Town, South Africa
Yet another venue offering live music nightly, Mannenbergs also treats its clientele to the top local and national jazz musicians who play in the city. It’s got a nice atmosphere, if you can ignore all the yuppie politicians who frequent the place – it’s beside the parliament – and is a good place to relax after a day jam packed with activities.
178 Long Street, Cape Town, South Africa
A restaurant downstairs and a bar upstairs, Mama Africa is a fascinating establishment. Full of African artifacts including a real snake (dead!) that winds down a wall across the bar and into the restaurant forming the longest bar counter in Africa, or so the owners claim. Small but unusual and with live African jazz and kwaito music almost every night, the bar is worth visiting, even if it is only to check out the décor and take some pictures. It is expensive but no more so than most places in the city.
6 Bree Street, Cape Town, South Africa
Saturday nights are the most important in this ultra trendy club and once again you do need to dress up a little – well a lot actually, we know what you backpackers are like. It is the longest running dance venue in Cape Town and Saturday features a highly varied mix of house. Yes, apparently there are quite a few different types. It has two dance floors, two ‘chill out’ rooms and a cinema lounge so if one hundred and one different types of the same music isn’t for you, check out the more relaxed areas of the venue. But, on Fridays Pure takes on a completely different façade and plays all the cheesy club classics for all you true fans of disco.
75 Kloof St, City Bowl, Cape Town, South Africa
Knoxville is the new kid on the block in terms of bars in Cape Town. It’s also the extremely cool kid, meaning everybody wants ot hang out with him. DJs spin everything from chart tunes mid-week to house at the weekend, and while barmen can get you chilled beers, they prefer cooking up cocktails.
Open 8pm-2am Wed-Sat, closed Sun-Tues.
General Info about Cape Town, South Africa
Citizens of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the European Union do not require a visa to stay in South Africa for visits of up to 90 days.
The currency used in Cape Town is the South African Rand (R). South Africa has introduced new coins and notes, but old coins are still common so your change can be confusing. Beware that the R200 note looks a lot like the R20 note.
The most popular languages are Afrikaan and English although you will find various other African languages.
Cape Town has a Mediterranean climate with an average temperature range of 7-27 degrees Celsius. Generally the winter months are between April and August with summer being from September to March. Summers are warm and dry and winters cool and wet.
Before travelling to South Africa it is advised that you get vaccinated against typhoid. You will find pharmacies in most city suburbs, while its premier hospital is the Groote Schur Hospital, where the world’s first heart transplant was performed.
Cape Town is two hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.
Most banks are open M-F 8.30am-3.30pm and on Saturdays 8am-11am. Main branches are easy to find in the shopping areas of the city centre, the middle-class suburbs and at the Waterfront.
The Cape Town Tourism office is located in the Pinnacle Building at the corner of Burg and Castle Streets. Opening hours are between 8.00am and 5.00pm from Monday to Friday, 8.30am and 2.00pm on Saturday and 9.00am and 1.00pm on Sundays.
The rate of value added tax in South Africa is 14%.
Most banks change travellers cheques in major currencies, usually at a commission of around 1%. Although the First National Bank has a higher minimum charge, it takes a lower commission so it can work out cheaper if you’re changing a few cheques. Keep a few exchange receipts as you’ll need them to reconvert your Rands when you leave. 24 hour ATM machines are found in most towns.
Credit cards and bank cards can be used at ATMs to withdraw cash, once they show the Cirrus symbol and credit card logos.
3-pronged plugs are used in South Africa and the voltage rate is 220-230V/50 Hz.
The code for South Africa is 00 27 and the area code for Cape Town is 21. Phone numbers in various areas of South Africa are being changed as the country progressively upgrades and expands its network. If you have a problem getting through, contact the free directory enquiry service on 1023. There are public phone booths all over Cape Town taking phone cards and coins. Phone cards are available at Telkom offices, post offices, and newsagents.
The main branch is on Parliament St. This office has an enquiry desk and you can make cash calls from the phones here. Open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday & Friday 8am–4.30pm, and Saturday 8am–noon.
Tipping is more or less mandatory because of the very low wages. The usual tip expected is 10 to 15%.
It is worth noting what the public holidays are before you travel to a country as the majority of businesses, banks and shops usually shut for the day. In South Africa they take place on January 1st, March 21st, Good Friday, April 16th and 27th, May 1st, June 16th, August 9th, September 24th, December 16th, 17th, 25th and 26th. It is a good idea to check the particular area too as certain towns and cities also shut down during special events.