CAPE TOWN is a port city on South Africa’s southwest coast, on a peninsula beneath the imposing Table Mountain. Slowly rotating cable cars climb to the mountain’s flat top, from which there are sweeping views of the city, the busy harbor and boats heading for Robben Island, the notorious prison that once held Nelson Mandela, which is now a living museum.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Location and unique flora combine to make these 52,800-sq-km botanical gardens among the most beautiful in the world. Gate 1, the main entrance at the Newlands end of the gardens, is where you’ll find the information centre, an excellent souvenir shop and the conservatory.
Added for the garden's centenary in 2013, the popular Tree Canopy Walkway (informally known as the 'Boomslang', meaning tree snake) is a curvaceous steel and timber bridge that rises through the trees and provides amazing views.
Cape of Good Hope
This 77.5-sq-km section of Table Mountain National Park includes awesome scenery, fantastic walks, great birdwatching and often-deserted beaches. The reserve is commonly referred to as Cape Point, after it's most dramatic (but less famous) promontory. Bookings are required for the two-day Cape of Good Hope Trail, a spectacular 33.8km circular route with one night spent in a basic hut. Contact the Buffelsfontein Visitor Centre for further details.
Around 600 million years old, and a canvas painted with the rich diversity of the Cape floral kingdom, Table Mountain is truly iconic. You can admire the showstopper of Table Mountain National Park and one of the 'New 7 Wonders of Nature' (https://nature.new7wonders.com) from multiple angles, but you really can’t say you’ve visited Cape Town until you’ve stood on top of it.
Used as a prison from the early days of the VOC (Dutch East India Company) right up until 1996, this Unesco World Heritage Site is preserved as a memorial to those (such as Nelson Mandela) who spent many years incarcerated here. You can only go here on a tour, which lasts around four hours including ferry rides, departing from the Nelson Mandela Gateway beside the Clock Tower at the Waterfront. Booking online well in advance is highly recommended as tours can sell out.
Boulders Penguin Colony
This picturesque area, with enormous boulders dividing small, sandy coves, is home to a colony of some 3000 delightful African penguins. A boardwalk runs from the Boulders Visitor Centre at the Foxy Beach end of the protected area (part of Table Mountain National Park) to Boulders Beach, where you can get down on the sand and mingle with the waddling penguins. Don’t, however, be tempted to pet them: they have sharp beaks that can cause serious injuries.
Zeitz MOCAA Museum
The Waterfront's old grain silo has been transformed into this state-of-the-art museum for the contemporary Southern African art collection of entrepreneur Jochen Zeitz, as well the museum's own collection and loaned works. Opened in September 2017 MOCAA is still finding its feet as an exhibition space, but already provides a dazzling survey of art from across the continent and beyond.
Silvermine Nature Reserve
The Silvermine Reservoir, a beautiful spot for a picnic or a leisurely walk on the wheelchair-accessible boardwalk, is the focal point of this section of Table Mountain National Park. The placid reservoir waters are tannin-stained and, despite the signs forbidding swimming, you’ll often find locals taking a dip here. Some excellent half-day hiking trails lead into the mountains from this area, named after the fruitless attempts by the Dutch to prospect for silver here in the late 17th century.
Meaning ‘Upper Cape’, the Bo-Kaap, with its vividly painted low-roofed houses, many of them historic monuments, strung along narrow cobbled streets, is one of the most photographed sections of the city. Initially a garrison for soldiers in the mid-18th century, this area of town was where freed slaves started to settle after emancipation in the 1830s. The most picturesque streets are Chiappini, Rose and Wale.
Table Mountain National Park
Stretching from Signal Hill to Cape Point, this 220-sq-km park is a natural wonder, its range of environments including granite and sandstone mountains, giant-boulder-strewn beaches and shady forests. For the vast majority of visitors, the main attraction is the 1086m-high mountain itself, the top of which can easily be accessed by the cableway, which runs every 10 to 20 minutes.