An urban Eden at the end of the world, Cape Town is the big-city destination that got away. Mountain shadowed and flower draped: South Africa’s surfing capital sprawls like a garden by the sea.Cape Town is one of those beautiful, relaxed cities that seem to propagate on antipodean beaches. The slap of the waves keeps rhythm here, encouraging a feeling of seaside languor. Table Mountain rises behind Cape Town like a breaker, and this white city pools at its base like foam.
Charles Darwin called the city “a great inn on the great highway to the east,” which sums up much of the city’s history. The town was established as a fortified way station in the great age of European exploration, guarding trade routes to India and the Orient.
It has remained an in-between place since then, the hub of complex relationships between Africa and Europe, East and West, land and the sea. It witnessed the beginnings of apartheid in South Africa, and served as the birthplace for a newly unified nation. South Africa’s recent success at with the FIFA World Cup was a major boon, bringing the world’s eyes to this beautiful town.
Through it all, every day for 200 years, cannons have fired to mark midday in Cape Town. Signal Hill, site of the ritual, overlooks the historic centre of the city. The view is white walls, palm trees and ocean on three sides. Look down on the star-shaped Castle of Good Hope and explore the city from above.
You’ll be able to see the V&A Waterfront immediately in front of you. This is the place to go for big-A Attractions, offering a bevy of activities to help pass the time, or get the adrenalin pumping. Variously chintzy and cool, the working harbour has been overtaken by dining and entertainment options galore.
Depending on your temperament, you could take in a show, chill in a cafe or get up close and personal with the fearsome Great White sharks that populate the area. Whether that is behind glass in the aquarium or on a shark dive in the open ocean is entirely up to you.
Just, maybe do it before hitting the beach. There’s nothing quite like the memory of a feeding frenzy to ruin a day in the water. Which, you should know, would be a tragedy: Cape Town’s beaches are some of the best in the world. Walled in by the precipitous mountains, dense with white sand and washed by surf; wading into the water in Cape Town feels like walking off the edge of the world.
This is not to say the city wants for amenities, mind you. This is a major metropolis and all the fun that comes with that can be found here. Camps Bay is where hipsters meet the Sea, combining internationally acclaimed restaurants with a cool village atmosphere.
The student district of Rondebosch is energetic and fun, as well as being home to a range of historic monuments. Celebrate the progress of human rights with a pilgrimage to the Presidential home where Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk signed away apartheid.
The natural setting is the real star of a visit to Cape Town however, and it would be a mistake not to take advantage of it. The southern cape hosts spectacular blooms of wildflowers in the spring and the botanical gardens here are world famous. A skycar ride over the valley is a wonderful way to view the area and an expedition into the Table Mountain nature reserve is not to be missed. Take a day trip, or take advantage campsites that line the many hiking trails to the peak.