The Perfect Day in Cape Town

Fitting the best of the city’s cosmopolitan shopping and dining, natural landmarks, creative vibes, and historical heritage into one day is ambitious but not impossible. The day should include a way to experience South Africa’s unique beauty with trip to Table Mountain and to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, a chance to taste its multicultural cuisine (along with a glass of Cape wine, of course), a scenic drive to a sunny beach, a stop by some shops and galleries in Woodstock, Bo Kaap, or on Bree Street, and a chance to honor the city’s history and culture.

Tafelberg Rd, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa
Cape Town’s Table Mountain National Park, which hugs the perimeter of the city, is so popular that the line for the cable car to the top can be longer than a queue for a Disneyland ride. But why stand in line when you can put your feet to use? There are several routes that lead to the top of the 3,562-foot, flat-topped mountain, including the two-mile Platteklip Gorge trail. Yes, it’s steep, but startling views of the city and the Atlantic await. Trek, get hungry, then picnic on local provisions—crackers, Dutch-style Gouda, and biltong, the thick-sliced South African jerky—before riding the cable car back down.

13D Kloof Nek Rd, Gardens, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
The Power and the Glory is a cool bistro in the center of Cape Town that has attracted a cult following among locals. The relaxed style, the bearded staff, the folding chairs, and the sidewalk stools may remind you of a Brooklyn cafe. If you can snag a chair, it makes for a great place to work or to have a meeting over a light breakfast. In the evening, the place is usually packed with revelers. Try the quiche in the morning, the pretzel bun hot dog in the evening, and the Nutella cheesecake for dessert.
71 Wale St, Schotsche Kloof, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
The Bo-Kaap was one of the few Cape Town neighborhoods to escape apartheid’s bulldozers—the cluster of bright buildings, once known as the Malay Quarter, housed many of the slaves who worked for the 17th-century Dutch colonialists. In this colorful area, you can also see some of the oldest, most beautiful mosques in the country, including the Auwal Mosque on Dorp Street. Upscale shops have been moving in lately, but don’t miss one of the originals, the spice merchant Atlas Trading Company. To go back in time, explore the Bo-Kaap Museum, furnished like the house of a typical 19th-century Muslim family.
Woodstock, Cape Town, South Africa
A colorful working-class neighborhood near downtown that had fallen on hard times, Woodstock has been revitalized with a mix of galleries, artists’ studios, boutiques, and restaurants. Much of the area’s original vibe remains, however, thanks to the long rows of colonnaded shops that edge Albert and Victoria roads. Among the nearby storefronts that are open throughout the week are Espresso Lab Microroasters and Luke Dale-Roberts’s award-winning restaurant, the Test Kitchen. Continuing down Albert Road, you’ll find spots like the Woodstock Co-op and the very trendy Woodstock Exchange, with a great array of places to eat and stores selling local goods. At the end of Albert Road, there’s a concentration of galleries, including the Stevenson, Goodman, and SMAC. On Saturdays, Woodstock draws crowds to the Neighbourgoods Market, a prepared foods extravaganza in the Old Biscuit Mill.
373 Albert Rd, Woodstock, Cape Town, 7925, South Africa
A compelling reason to be in Cape Town on a weekend morning (especially Sunday, if you want to eat your way through the food-focused Oranjezicht City Farm Market, too) is the dynamic Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill in up-and-coming Woodstock. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., hip locals and tourists alike weave their way through what can only be described as an abundance of all things artisanal—edible, wearable, and otherwise. The most jam-packed part of the market is usually the massive tent lined with vendors specializing in mushrooms, bread, paella, pizza, honey, cakes, cheeses, and craft brews. It’s a veritable smorgasbord, so wear your stretchy pants, and work it off afterward by strolling the other section devoted to micro-merchants selling baby moccasins, brightly colored swimwear, offbeat home accessories, recycled brass jewelry, and more.
76 Long Street
On a street that looks a lot like one in the French Quarter of New Orleans sits one of the best markets on the planet. The Pan African Market is three stories of small shops filled with collectibles from all over Africa. My favorite section was on the second floor, full of masks and unique items I hadn’t seen anywhere else. I walked off with a weathered pink leather jewelry box from Nigeria. And while you decide if you really should buy the gigantic ceremonial headpiece made of purple feathers, take a rest at the cozy cafe on the second floor, decorated with African statues and random American paperbacks. Plop down on a comfy couch, order a tea, and watch the world walk by below.
71 Waterkant St, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
Hemelhuijs is a stylish and intimate oasis in downtown Cape Town, perfect for a leisurely breakfast or lunch. The menus here are seasonal, featuring modern South African dishes made with fresh ingredients. Diners can look forward to everything from ricotta-and-Swiss-chard ravioli to vanilla baked guava with double-cream yogurt. Friendly and efficient service, good house wine, and excellent coffee make Hemelhuijs a real find. Seek it out and join discerning Capetonians at this relaxed venue, tucked behind the historic Lutheran Church.
76 Orange St, Gardens, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa
Cape Town’s Mount Nelson Hotel is a city icon. And who better to preside over the entrance than another icon? Mahatma Gandhi, who had a strong connection to South Africa (he worked in the country as a young man, and developed his political views and thoughts on social injustice and civil rights here), is immortalized in a statue at the hotel. Say hello as you visit the Mount Nelson — affectionately known as the Pink Lady, for its rosy hue — for its celebrated high tea.
Hout Bay is basically Eden. This ecological utopia has everything a nature lover could want, from imposing mountains and miraculous views (check out the Twelve Apostles range) to World of Birds, the largest bird park in Africa, home to 3,000 birds and over 100 walk-through aviaries. On weekends, you can shop for food and crafts at the lively market at the end of the harbor road. Besides Chapman’s Peak Drive, there are two other roads into Hout Bay, one from Constantia and another that passes the gorgeous surfer beach of Llandudno—also the exit for Sandy Bay, a nudist beach.
25A Buitenkant St, Zonnebloem, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa
District Six was originally a mixed community of freed slaves, merchants, artisans, laborers, and immigrants. Marginalization and forced removal of the residents began early in the last century and, in 1966, the neighborhood was declared a white area. By 1982, more than 60,000 people had been relocated to a barren spot aptly known as the Cape Flats, and their houses in District Six were flattened by bulldozers. An agreement about what to do with the land that was District Six has yet to be reached, and those who were forcibly evicted are still awaiting a fair settlement.

Established in 1994, the District Six Museum preserves memories of the area through photographs, traffic signs, and videos, and also focuses on forced removals in general. A large map of the district covers the floor of the museum and includes former residents’ handwritten notes about where they once lived.
Rhodes Dr, Newlands, Cape Town, 7735, South Africa
Founded in 1913, this famous botanical garden was the first in the world dedicated to its country’s own flora. The spectacular, 90-acre plant haven forms part of a nature reserve that borders Table Mountain National Park. Besides numerous gardens and forests—some of which you can traverse on high via the futuristic Boomslang (Tree Snake) walkway—Kirstenbosch has a greenhouse, a restaurant run by the popular Moyo group, and a nursery for green thumbs who want to take a piece of the garden home with them. Spend five minutes here and you’ll realize why Kirstenbosch’s displays at the Chelsea Flower Show in London often win gold.
Robben Island, Cape Town, 7400, South Africa
One of South Africa’s most famous sights, Robben Island is located four miles to the west of Cape Town. Its history as a prison is almost as old as the first Dutch settlement on the cape, dating all the way back to the 17th century. Today, the island is a UNESCO World Heritage site and museum, offering guided tours by former prisoners. After visiting the graveyard and maximum-security facility, guests can finish with a stop at the cell of the island’s most famous prisoner, Nelson Mandela. The half-hour ferry ride to Robben Island includes breathtaking views of Cape Town and Table Mountain. Just note that the ferry only runs three times a day in the low season; in the spring and summer, there’s an additional departure in the late afternoon. Book your tickets far in advance.

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