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Cape Town City Culture

Historic Architecture
Cape Town City Culture
Cape Town’s vibrant cultural scene draws visitors from around South Africa and the world. The cool cafés and buzzing nightlife encourage most travelers to stay downtown, but you’ll be rewarded if you venture off the beaten path. 
By Marie Frei, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by age fotostock
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    Historic Architecture
    Historic Architecture
    Cape Town's architecture is the perfect example of the city’s ability to preserve and blend new and old in a functional, creative way. While walking through the city center, you’ll spot modern hotels alongside restaurants housed in Victorian-era buildings with balconies and latticework reminiscent of New Orleans. St. George’s Cathedral, the center of anti-apartheid protests in the 1980s, has a crypt-turned-jazz-club. Roxy's, a historic home converted into a dark and eclectic bar in Dunkley Square, is another example of old made new again. Take a train south to Muizenberg's Edwardian-era train station and visit the colorful Victorian-era colorful bathing houses on the beach once dubbed the “Brighton of South Africa.”
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Cape Malay Culture
    Cape Malay Culture
    The Cape Malay ethnic group was formed by the original Muslim slaves brought from Indonesia by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), who established Cape Town as a refueling station for their ships rounding the tip of the continent. Over time, the Malay label has expanded to include other nationalities and religions, but the original influences of Southeast Asia remain. One way to experience a glimpse of this culture's history and everyday life is by walking through the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood. Go deeper into Malay culture with a local cooking class that teaches you to make traditional foods such as bobotie (a mincemeat dish), samosas, and roti.
    Photo by Juergen Ritterbach/age fotostock
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    Stone Age Relics
    Stone Age Relics
    Around 185 miles north of Cape Town, you’ll find one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. Drive out to the Cederbergs to hike craggy rocks leading to caves decorated with preserved San people art. Closer to Cape Town, the sleepy village of Fish Hoek on the False Bay side of the Cape Peninsula is home to the remnants of early modern man. In 1927, hikers and amateur archaeologists discovered and excavated 12,000-year-old Paleolithic skeletons, rock art, and stone tools nestled within what is now known as Peers’ Cave. Today, a hike through Fish Hoek rewards visitors with a sweeping view of the valley, and intact rock art on the cave walls. Back in the city, the Iziko South African Museum also houses a nice collection of artifacts from the region’s early inhabitants.
    Photo by Juan Carlos Muñoz/age fotostock
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    Cape Town's Café Scene
    Cape Town's Café Scene
    Cape Town has no shortage of options for securing your next caffeine fix. The last five years have seen an influx of modern, sleek cafés—as well as others that favor a more homey, vintage look—across the city. One of the best places to order an Americano is at the Haas Collective, located in a former slaves’ quarters in the Bo Kaap neighborhood. Tribe Coffee is a popular stop for a cold brew in hip Woodstock, while the baristas look like they are straight out of Brooklyn at Deluxe Coffeeworks’ various locations (four in Cape Town and two in Stellenbosch). In the foothills of Table Mountain, the historic Mount Nelson Hotel serves a proper English-style afternoon tea. The combination of savory and sweet treats, served alongside flavorful Nigiro teas blended in South Africa, will have your pinkies raised in no time.
    Photo by Charlie Grosso
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    Cape Town After Sunset
    Cape Town After Sunset
    After sunset, the streets of Cape Town come to life. Specifically, the restaurants and bars around Bree Street, nearby Long Street, and Camps Bay are the places to see and be seen. Rooftop bars are extremely popular in summertime, with the trendy Waiting Room, Tjing Tjing, and the Sky Bar at Grand Daddy Hotel some local favorites. One of the best views of Table Mountain can be observed from the back terrace at Rick’s Café Américain. Wherever you end up, order a Springbok Shooter (or “Springbokkie”), named after the national animal and the nation’s rugby team. Consider this smooth shot of green crème de menthe and Amarula cream liqueur your Mother City initiation.
    Photo by Claire Gunn
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    South African Style
    South African Style
    Cape Town’s strong entrepreneurial energy translates into lively crafts and design scenes waiting to be explored at the city’s boutiques and markets. Woodstock was long a working-class neighborhood but it’s now home to artists’ studios, galleries, and boutiques—as well as a number of new restaurants and cafés. On Hout Street, Mungo Textiles is a good place to shop for throws, blankets, and towels made with cotton, mohair, and wool from South Africa. In recent years, thanks in large part to immigration to Cape Town from other parts of the country, there’s been an explosion of crafts shops. Among the best of them is Africa Nova, with impeccably curated ceramics, textiles, and jewelry. At the Pan African Market on Long Street, you can find a wide selection, but be prepared to haggle over prices.
    Photo by Marie Frei
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    Artisanal Markets
    Artisanal Markets
    The Cape Town market scene is booming, with something nearly every day of the week. As well as local vendors offering fresh produce and baked goods, the markets host talented local designers who exhibit their clothing, jewelry, and other gifts. Whether it’s the Oranjezicht City Farm Market, which takes place on Saturdays on the V&A Waterfront, the Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock, or the Bay Harbour Market at Hout Bay, the experience is never a rushed or hurried affair. Plan to spend some time sipping, snacking, and bumping elbows with locals as you select the perfect handcrafted souvenir to take home.
    Photo by Kristin Rust
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    Live Music in Cape Town
    Live Music in Cape Town
    Cape Town’s live music scene ranges from big-name international performers at Green Point Stadium to the small and gritty clubs that make the scene so memorable. In the summer, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens hosts an outdoor concert series; the lawn facing the amphitheater quickly fills with picnic blankets and families. At dinner at the Gold Restaurant, the staff interweave several courses of Cape Malay and other African food with stories, song, and dance. Just down the road is Mama Africa, where diners pay a small cover fee to eat while the band plays. The Snake Bar is also a popular spot to grab a drink and dance under a Coca Cola–bottle chandelier.
    Photo by Eric Nathan/age fotostock