Cape Town is the best city in the world. There, I said it. We have it all! Amazing generous people, mountains, beaches, gardens, wildlife, fabulous food.
Cape Town is a multicultural melting pot where the old Cape Malay homes and way of life of Bo Kaap stands side by side with shiny new developments. It is also a place where marginalized communities thrived on the wastelands of the Cape Flats despite their isolation and dispossession. As a lifelong resident of Cape Town I take great pride in my home town, and after having traveled to other cities abroad, I know that Cape Town should be on every serious traveler’s bucket list because it ticks all the boxes.
South Africa is often referred to as The Rainbow Nation, a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu after the first fully democratic elections in 1994. This metaphor for the people being united as one, after being divided for decades along racial lines, encapsulates the diversity of our citizens. South Africa as a whole has gained much respect and prosperity due to the vibrant albeit often traumatic history and exceptional natural beauty, amongst other things.
Cape Town has in recent years been recognised as an international tourism success and much of it is due to the natural beauty of the coastal location as well as well as the unique cultural landscape and the availability of world class hotels and tourism activities. It is one of the few westernised non-muslim cities that can boast a wide array of halaal food and travel options.
Ever since I was a child, my family and I have enjoyed many holidays and festivities in the city and the surrounding towns and villages of the Cape Winelands, Cape West Coast and Cape Whale Coast. Being such a diverse people from different backgrounds and cultures we can begin to establish why the city is such a pleasurable place to visit and live in.
Top 5 reasons why Cape Town should be your next city break
- Majestic Natural Beauty
- Bio-diversity in Nature and Wildlife
- Road Trips
- Art and Culture
- Multi-Cultural Melting pot
If you are planning your first visit to Cape Town then the First Timer’s Ultimate Travel Guide to South Africa and Top Travel Tips for any traveller will be useful resources.
Majestic Natural Beauty
Table Mountain National Park
One of Cape Town’s treasured jewels is the famous Table Mountain which is included in the new 7 wonders of Nature. Table Mountain forms part of the Table Mountain National Park and is merely one of Cape Town’s many natural wonders.
Table Mountain and the rest of the national park is covered in huge variety of unique fynbos and conserved areas are part of the Cape Floral Kingdom that are protected World Heritage areas.
Beaches and Bays
There are so many wonderful destinations for those that have a love for nature and the outdoors. The Cape Peninsula tour is one of the most popular tourism activities in the city and is a good way to experience the best of Cape Town in a day. You may read more here about the Cape Peninsula Tour from Cape Town that we recommend.
A Cape Peninsula tour often includes Hout Bay, Chapman’s Peak, Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve and Cape Point, Boulders Beach, Fish Hoek, Noordhoek and Constantia.
Cape Point is the perfect place for taking hikes or even for a day out to picnic while getting a taste of the city’s history and culture.
All of these places run along the beautiful coast of Cape Town which include some of the best award winning beaches in the world and we take great pride in maintaining this status.
Nature and Wildlife
The Cape Floral region is the smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms but is also the most bio-diverse, and it’s protected areas include nature reserves, national parks, wilderness and mountain catchment areas.
South Africa is famous for the Big Five, a term coined by hunters to indicate the most difficult wildlife to track and hunt on foot. The Big Five includes lions, rhinoceros, elephants, leopards and buffalo.
It is a bucket list item for most tourists to see the Big Five when visiting South Africa and the best places to view them in their natural environment are the Kruger National Park and the various private game reserves and national parks on the Garden Route.
The Company’s Garden
This green oasis is a park and heritage site located in the city center. It was originally where the garden to resupply the Dutch refreshment station established in the 1650’s. It is also the location of the Iziko South African Museum, Gallery and the Planetarium.
The park features a rose garden, an aviary, a restaurant, a fish pond, a herb and succulent garden as well as buskers and local arts and crafts sellers.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is located on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. It is a Conservation Garden that includes both landscaped and natural areas and is world renowned for it’s biodiversity.
Visitors are allowed to picnic in the gardens and during summer there are scheduled summer concerts.
Fairy Glen Game Reserve
Fairy Glen Game Reserve is the closest to Cape Town offering a Big Five safari experience, being less than an hour drive away.
Fairly Glen offers various other activities such as horseback safaris, hiking trails and nature walks as well.
Aquila Safari Private Game Reserve
The Aquila Safari Private Game Reserve is located less than 2 hour drive from Central Cape Town. Here, the Big 5 can be viewed and accommodation and safari facilities are excellent as well.
There are many other activities that can be done such as quad bike driving and much more.
With this said, we can establish why Cape Town has been voted the best city in the world because absolutely everything is in close range and we have what many destinations desire and this is nature at its best and aesthetic beauty.
There are also towns further afield that are great for the best road trips from Cape Town with family or friends.
The Cape West Coast
The Cape West Coast stretches from Darling, about 75km outside of Cape Town all the way to Namqualand and includes the Swartland, Peninsula, Bergrivier, Cedarberg and Namaqua West coast regions. It includes the coastal towns of Yzerfontein, Langebaan, Saldanha Bay and Paternoster and Lambert’s Bay.
The West Coast Biodiversity corridor is rich in wildlife, marine life and lowland fynbos.
The West Coast Fossil Park is a nature reserve and National Heritage site where visitors can indulge in birdwatching, whale watching and game sighting amongst others.
!Khwa ttu San Cultural and Educational Centre offers guided tours to give visitors an insight into the way of life, culture and heritage of the original inhabitants of the West Coast.
Although tourism has replaced subsistence fishing as the main source of income in the fishing villages, they have retained their charm and become sought after holiday destinations.
The Cape Whale Coast
The Cape Whale Coast is located south east of Cape Town and stretches from Rooi Els to Quoin Point and includes the towns of Hanglip-Kleinmond, Hermanus, Stanford and Gansbaai.
This stretch of breathtakingly beautiful wild coast is also known as the ‘Hemel en Aarde vallei’ or the Heaven and Earth valley because it boasts abundant marine life, hiking trails, wine farms, mountain biking and is a favorite for fishing.
Hermanus is home to the Whale Museum and the only Whale Crier in the world. It is no longer a sleepy fishing village dependant on whaling industry income and has become one of the foremost sites for whale watching.
Gansbaai is popular with adventure seekers and is also considered to the Great White Shark capital of the world. Visitors seeking an adrenalin boost may consider taking one of the shark cage diving excursions.
The Cape Winelands
The Cape Winelands is one of our favorite destinations for short breaks and day trips from Cape Town. It is located 45 minutes from Cape Town and includes the towns of Stellenbosch, Franschoek and Paarl. You can read our Non-drinkers guide to Franschoek for more inspiration.
The available activities include visits to vineyards for a cheese or wine tasting, olive farms, berry orchards, a lion sanctuary and fabulous restaurants.
The Garden Route
The Garden Route is also a very popular tourism route on the south-eastern coast of the Western Cape Province and includes the coastal towns of Mossel Bay, George, Sedgefield, Knysna, Wilderness and Plettenberg Bay.
Taking a trip down the Garden Route will give you much more value for your money as there is more to see and appreciate. The Garden Route is very diverse in what they have to offer and there are multiple places where wildlife can be observed in their natural habitat.
The Garden Route National Park includes Tsitsikama, Knysna and Wilderness and includes unique fauna and flora and indigenous fynbos and forest areas. The National Park area has numerous accommodation options as well as activities like mountain biking, hiking and nature walks, forest excursions and the Otter trail.
The Bloukrans Bridge is world renowned as a commercial bungy jumping destination and the Addo Elephant National Park also offers a breath taking experience.
The Outeniqua pass links the Garden Route with the Klein Karoo town of Oudtshoorn where the Cango Caves are located. Oudsthoorn is also renowned as the ostrich capital of the world.
If you are seeking adventure then the Garden Route is your destination. There are of course alternatives to the Garden Route for those who do not wish to drive such great distances.
De Hoop Nature Reserve
The De Hoop Nature reserve is a closer alternative to the Garden Route and is only a 3 hour drive from Cape Town.
There are hiking trails where one can view wildlife freely and it includes a marine reserve that is the breeding ground of Southern Right Whales.
Kruger National Park
The Kruger National Park is the furthest away and receives thousands of tourists each year who mainly travel to view the Big Five. There are excellent guided tours by professional and very experienced guides who also give a very informative experience.
The best safari experiences are offered by the many private reserves within the Kruger National Park that offer luxury stays. Many visitors opt to stay in lodges and guesthouses outside of the park and take guided safaris.
Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the entire world and with good reason. The best kind of adventure is found in and around the city as the city has a diversity of terrains available for different types of adventures.
Locals do a huge amount of domestic travel which is bound within the geographical borders of South Africa which already displays the potential of the country. Adventure tourism is quite popular among tourists and residents and includes:
- Guided hikes along the Table Mountain range
- Abseiling from Table Mountain
- Shark cage diving day trips
- Posing for Instagram photos from cliffs on Lion’s Head, Kloof Corner or Kasteelpoort (also known as surfboard rock).
Art and Culture
South Africa is world renowned for its rich, vibrant and often traumatic painful history that gained major acknowledgement and respect for the country after many years of struggle and isolation. The City of Cape Town played a huge role in the history of South Africa since it’s very inception.
Castle of Good Hope
Cape Town is home to the Castle of Good Hope, the oldest remaining building in Cape Town, commissioned by the second colonial administrator, Zacharias Wagenaer.
The castle was originally built as a five pointed fortification and protection against a possible attack by the British who were the sworn enemies of the Netherlands.
When the British ruled over the Cape Colony they used the Castle of Good Hope as the official residence of the Governor.
Everything was built in a specific manner and it is so surreal to see how it has changed from the time it was built, to what it is now. Each day, at a specific time there is a march done at the castle to demonstrate the practices which were done hundreds of years ago and honestly, it is quite a sight to behold. The soldiers who participate in the march are dressed in their armour to make it as raw as possible.
The Iziko Slave Lodge
The Slave Lodge is a museum located in the Cape Town central business district and is one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town, having been completed in 1679.
South Africa, like many other colonial outposts of the past, was built on the backbreaking blood, sweat and tears of slaves from other conquered lands. Visitors frequently ask questions about our slave history and will benefit from a visit to the Slave Lodge.
The old Slave Lodge was built to provide housing to the slaves owned by the Dutch East India Company. Since then it was used for amongst others, a brothel and the Cape Supreme Court.
It now serves as a South African Cultural History museum where visitors can learn how slavery was implemented in Cape Town, as every destination is different in their practices, laws and rules.
The Slave Lodge cultural museum has a seating area where videos are played to depict what took place hundreds of years ago and the experiences of the slaves and their descendants. This gives a better understanding than merely hearing different versions of the same story.
The Bo-Kaap Museum
Bo-Kaap was home to a huge community of the freed slaves during colonial times and is another reason for the strong Cape Malay influence in the city. The community persevered through the struggles and hardships of apartheid and forced removals and were able to retain their homes and remain in Bo-Kaap. Unlike in District Six the homes were privately owned by the Cape Malay families who lived in them and were passed down from generation to generation.
Today, Bo-Kaap is one of the most iconic and easily recognized tourist attractions in Cape Town, and with good reason. Bo-Kaap can be easily spotted when entering Wale Street in the city’s historic center, due to the colourful houses that have a major Dutch and Georgian influence. The steep roads mean that many homes have terraces from where the residents enjoy a full view of the city from their homes.
The Bo-Kaap Museum is a small, almost inconspicuous building found in Wale Street. The museum displays the significant cultural history of the area and also Cape Town. Here, one can see how the people, more specifically a typical prosperous Cape Malay family lived in the 19th century, and also how different the lifestyles and practices were to what we are accustomed today.
Although Bo-Kaap remains dominated by the Cape Malay community, there has been significant gentrification over the past decade and we hope that we will continue to appreciate and preserve the significance of the area.
District Six Museum
For more than forty years District Six was the most visible blight of the racially motivated social engineering on the people of Cape Town, with its churches and mosques standing like sentinels in the undeveloped wastelands of the inner city.
More than 60,000 of the city’s working class citizens resided in District Six but starting in the late 1960’s they were forcibly removed and relocated due to the apartheid era laws, specifically the Group Areas Act.
The community was made up of mostly coloured Muslims known as Cape Malays, coloured Christians, as well as a small percentage whites and Indians. Despite being from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds the working class community thrived and lived together in harmony.
Whites owned more than half the property in the suburb as landlords and the government declared District Six a whites-only area and a slum area rife with crime. They ordered that the non-white residents be moved to suburbs of the Cape Flats and all the buildings bulldozed.
While much of District Six has been developed into the Cape Peninsula University of Technology and associated buildings and a few housing projects for land restitution claims, much of the land is still undeveloped.
The area was declared a national heritage site and the District Six Museum has preserved many items that were used during apartheid. Visitors can clearly see the significance of this time in our country’s history and receive the necessary information about what truly took place and what events has led to the democracy that we as South Africans can enjoy today.
Robben Island is another popular historical destination found in Cape Town and is located in Table Bay.
Over the centuries the island has served as the location of incarceration for colonial era political opponents exiled from their home countries, a leper colony, an animal quarantine station, a whaling station, a prison for apartheid era freedom fighters and most recently a museum and tourist attraction.
It is extremely important to the country as the iconic freedom fighter and our first democratic president, Nelson Mandela, along with many others was held captive here for part of his 27 years of incarceration. The 27 years which led to South Africa’s eventual freedom from oppression and minority rule.
At Robben Island Prison, Madiba’s prison cell can still be viewed to this day, and everything has been very well-preserved and maintained.
Because this is such a heart wrenching story especially what Madiba himself endured for the freedom of our people, many visitors experience a very emotional response when visiting the island. However, it is hands down completely worth the visit.
Multi-Cultural Melting pot
As travellers, we are aware of the many different cultures and traditions that we come across when we explore and experience various places. Each destination has unique qualities and practices and this is often what makes a destination authentic and interesting.
Cape Town can be described as a thriving assembly of different ethnicities, cultures, religions and traditions which come together to make an exceptional city. Here we find descendants of people from all races, religions and nationalities including European, African, Asian, Muslims, Christians, Hindus and many more who all unite to create the Rainbow Nation.
The people of Cape Town, regardless of their ethnicity or background are friendly and welcoming to all. Since the early days of its establishment as a refuelling station in 1652, the people learned to respect and embrace different cultures and religions and the residents welcome and embrace tourists from all over the world.
Residents around the city are very helpful to tourists and eager to assist where they can. This counts as a bonus for delivering an excellent tourism experience as this is exactly what tourists appreciate most when visiting any destination. For Capetonians, hospitality and generosity are a natural response to travellers and guests from abroad.
The Cape Malays
The history of Cape Town’s unique Cape Malay population are intertwined with the early settlement of the Cape Colony as a layover and re-supply port for the ships en-route to the Dutch East Indies. Many of their forebears arrived at the Cape in shackles as slaves or religious political exiles from the colonies of the Dutch East India Company, the very first global multinational company in existence at the time.
The earliest slaves were brought directly or via other trading posts and colonies at Batavia, Java (modern day Indonesia), Dutch Malacca, the Malabar Coast and Coromandel Coasts of India as well as Bengal and Madagascar. This varied ancestry is visible in the features of the Cape Muslims. The religious leaders who were exiled to the Cape Colony continued to teach and propagate the teachings of Islam and to this day there is a large population of Muslims in and around Cape Town.
Subsequent waves of immigrants and refugees further enhanced the multi-cultural flavour of the city and you can find everyone from Indian, Portuguese, Greek, Chinese, Pakistani, Zimbabwean, Mozambican and Somali residents.
Cape Malay Cuisine
The diverse cuisine is probably one of the most exciting aspects of visiting the city of Cape Town and the surrounding areas. As mentioned above, the many different cultures has had a major influence on the traditional cuisine of the people of Cape Town.
One of the major influences on cuisine is through the Cape Malay people. Many dishes that were created by the Cape Malay community have become part of the South African cuisine. The best dishes created by them include sweet, sour and spicy flavours. The city has a bit of everything when it comes to food.
When travelling to Cape Town, tourists will not have an issue finding something that suits their taste buds and they will have an even better time trying the traditional dishes. There is a variety of traditional treats, however, I will only mention the most popular treats.
- Boerewors roll
- Bunny chow
- Cape style braai
- Bredies (Cape meat and vegetable stews)
- Crayfish curry
- Milk tart
These treats are the most famous foods found all around the city. Each suburb has it’s own specialities and their own unique way of preparing food. Earlier it was fairly difficult for tourists and even locals to find these treats ready and prepared in restaurants. However, in recent years locals have put huge emphasis on offering these dishes in cafes and high end restaurants and there are quite a few places where these treats are easily accessible in the city center.
The Cape Malay community enjoy preparing these dishes especially on religious occasions such as Eid, and the Christian community as well. Cape style trifle is the one mandatory dessert that must be prepared on a Christmas and Eid day. The best way to ensure that you receive a bit of everything if you wish to do so, is to go on a Cape Town Food tour which will be an excellent way to get a taste of Cape Town culinary delights at its best.
I grew up in a home where most of these meals were a staple and to this day my aunt still hasn’t lost her touch and each meal is still absolutely delicious. You have not lived until you have tried Cape Town’s street foods which include boerewors rolls with chips and tomato smoortjie.
French refugees fleeing religious persecution found refuge in the Dutch Cape Colony. The French immigrants were granted land for farming in the Franschoek area and were encouraged to assimilate with the Dutch farming communities in the surrounding areas.
More than 150,000 Indian indentured labourers arrived in South Africa to work on the sugar plantations in the coastal province of Natal between 1860 and 1911.
After the completion of their labour contracts many of those who chose to stay moved to Cape Town where they lived amongst the other ethnic groups until the implementation of the Group Areas Act.
Another wave of Indian immigrants came to Cape Town in the 1940’s and 1950’s as traders and business owners looking for new opportunities. It is the descendants of this group who have had the biggest impact on the business landscape in city, going on to build successful chains in the jewelry, clothing, shoes, textile, wholesale and retail butcheries.
During World War 2 more than 90,000 Italian prisoners of war from the campaigns in North Africa were sent to POW camps in South Africa from 1942.
A few thousand were sent to the Klein Drakenstein area near Cape Town to help build the Du Toit’s Kloof mountain pass. Many remained after the war ended to work on farms as builders, labourers, mechanics, chefs and gardeners.
Greeks came to South Africa in the late 19th century to work on the diamond mines and railways.
A large influx of Greek immigrants to South Africa took place when Egypt expelled all non-Arab ethnicities in the mid 1950’s.
The architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd, encouraged disenchanted citizens of Southern Europe to immigrate to South Africa for better economic and political prospects. The first wave of immigrants in the late 1950’s arrived from Portugal and the autonomous islands of Madeira.
After independence of Angola and Mozambique, a second wave of immigrants ethnic Portuguese, fled to South Africa.
Many of the Portuguese who settled in Cape Town became small business owners who went on to build successful fast food, retail chains and sports franchises.
After the first democratic elections in South Africa, the country became a beacon of hope to all those suffering on the African continent.
Waves of refugees arrived from Somalia, Angola, Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe. There was also an influx of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent, mostly from Pakistan and India.
Large numbers of mainland Chinese have immigrated over the same period, taking advantage of relaxed import restrictions and the demand for cheap Chinese consumer goods.
If these 5 reasons why Cape Town is the best city in the world have whet your appetite, then you should get cracking and make your plans to visit soon. Our diverse and multicultural city is waiting to show you her treasures, where old meets new and there is always something for an adventurous spirit to do.
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