The fourth in our new City Guide series, this travel guide to Cape Town features the most pertinent information about the area. Use the menu below to jump among sections for suggestions on where to stay, insider tips, restaurant recommendations and more.
Cape Town boasts a setting of astonishing drama and beauty. The massive slab of Table Mountain rears up like a gigantic fortress; in winter, huge Atlantic breakers smash into the boulders that protect the city’s famous harbor, while in summer, a placid expanse of turquoise edges the glistening white sands of Camps Bay. A major port with an intriguing history, an ethnically diverse population and a thriving cultural scene, Cape Town also possesses a downtown that is a delightful hodgepodge of Cape Dutch, Georgian, Victorian, art deco and contemporary architecture. It has become one of the world’s great food cities, with a superb selection of distinctive restaurants, and has an exquisite and easily accessible hinterland with some of the world’s finest and most attractive vineyards.
When to visit, tastemaker tips and what to do in Cape Town
Owing to the South Atlantic, Cape Town’s weather is changeable and hard to predict. Winter can be wet, windy and miserable. Cold-water currents flow up from Antarctica, so the sea is always chilly. The best weather extends from November (late spring) to April (fall). High summer, January, can be idyllic, as there is invariably a breeze off the ocean and it seldom becomes excessively hot.
"On a summer day, there are few places in the world I would rather be than Cape Town. The ocean breeze, the clarity of the light and the splendor of Table Mountain are a combination of which I never tire."
– Editor-in-Chief Andrew Harper
Want to experience Cape Town like an insider? Follow these tips from notable individuals in the travel, design, food, fashion and hospitality industries.
Andrew Harper, Editor-in-Chief of The Hideaway Report, Andrew Harper Travel
South African wine is synonymous with the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions east of Cape Town. But wine production began in Constantia, now one of the city’s southern suburbs. There, Groot Constantia still makes superb wines. In a handsome facility that would put many Napa wineries to shame, we enjoyed notable bottlings such as the 2012 Blanc de Noir and the 2010 Gouverneurs Reserve Red, a fine blend. Ask to taste the coveted Grand Constance, a sweet wine of great distinction.
Simone Garner, Marketing Executive, One&Only Cape Town
The Cape Town Jazz Festival takes places every year at the Cape Town International Convention Centre over two days, normally in April. Local jazz musicians as well as top international jazz artists take the stage. For large, outdoor concerts, Cape Town Stadium is popular. Smaller bars and restaurants have musicians regularly playing where you can enjoy the local flavor and talent of the city.
South Africa has hit its culinary stride with chefs who have fully embraced the country’s fine produce and excellent wine, which are rightfully taking their places on the world stage. Cape Town boasts the finest range of South Africa’s gastronomic talent.
Many restaurants are closed on Sunday, but this seaside establishment in the lively V&A Waterfront is open. The atmosphere is relaxed and informal, and the service is attentive. The specialty is fish, and while the offerings may not reach the pinnacle of culinary innovation, the raw materials are ocean-fresh and beautifully prepared. Try the superb oysters, then look for the linefish en papillote with tomatoes, zucchini, fennel, thyme and extra virgin olive oil.
Come to this very popular restaurant downtown for outstanding Indian food, excellent service and an appealing contemporary setting. The tandoori starters are particularly good, as are the seafood main courses such as the prawn curry.
One of the finest restaurants in South Africa, La Colombe has left its home at the Constantia Uitsig winery and moved to the Silvermist organic wine estate. The chef remains Scot Kirton, and his cooking is as inventive as ever. His menus follow the seasons, but run to dishes such as poached hen’s egg with Norwegian salmon, truffled asparagus velouté, asparagus, peas, lemon and Black Forest ham; scallops and pork belly in Black Forest ham velouté; and pan-fried springbok with braised red cabbage, butternut squash, asparagus, purée of smoked garlic and sweet potato, lavender and rhubarb jus. Note: No children under age 12 for dinner.
With a charming setting in a 19th-century house near Company’s Garden (founded by the Dutch East India Company to supply its passing ships with produce), this is one of the most reliable restaurants in Cape Town. Try dishes such as cured and seared Chalmar beef fillet with “Mai Tai” mushrooms, red cabbage emulsion, parsnips and purple potatoes. Note: Closed alternate Mondays.
Luke Dale-Roberts served as the much-heralded executive chef of La Colombe (see above) and now has a 65-seat restaurant in The Old Biscuit Mill, home to an eclectic range of markets, designer stores, studios and galleries. Representative dishes might include a starter of foie gras prepared with bourbon, molasses and smoked duck, while a main course could be lamb loin and rib chop with butter bean and lamb-flank casserole and raisin purée. Reservations are essential. Note: Closed Sunday and Monday.
This renovated restaurant in the staid Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel is now fresh and exciting. Chef Rudi Liebenberg’s imaginative food is locally sourced, so the menu changes regularly. Look for dishes such as smoked Franschhoek trout with fromage blanc, homemade pickles and rye Melba; and lamb fillet and shank with lemon and tomato, garlic confit and green bean salad. Note: Closed Sunday.
Things to do while in Cape Town, including the favorite shops and museums of Editor-in-Chief Andrew Harper.
A longtime must on my Cape Town itinerary has been a trip to Vaughan Johnson’s Wine Shop in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The affable Mr. Johnson knows the South African wine scene in detail. On my most recent visit, however, I found that he is concentrating on wines of special value — what he calls the “100 Best” — and these are well worth exploring with him.
For a much bigger selection, head to Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar. Started by Caroline Rillema in 1997, this is where you will find big-name wines such as Rust en Vrede, Warwick, Delaire Graff, Hamilton Russell and Boekenhoutskloof, among others.
Be sure to visit Africa Nova and browse the walls and shelves of this attractive store for contemporary paintings, jewelry, ceramics and textiles.
Most foreign visitors head to the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, which offers an international selection of stores, but little in the way of local products. You will find a much better array of African art and crafts at Greenmarket Square, which was laid out in 1696.
Want to learn more about travel to Cape Town? Read our in-depth articles from The Harper Way, The Hideaway Report and Traveler Magazine on topics such as shopping, food, wine, art, culture and more.
Stay tuned for more from our City Guide series, detailing what to do, eat and see, and where to stay in Andrew Harper's favorite cities around the world.
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