Cape Town is a contender for my favorite place on Earth. Situated on the southwestern-most point of Africa, it is the second-largest city in South Africa. I became immediately smitten by the beautiful sunshine, walkable city streets, captivating views, and approachable wine farms and cuisine. Also, it's affordable - like, incredibly affordable. You're going to love it.
Check out my recommendations below to make the most of your time in Cape Town:
- Woolworth's Grocery - Stock up on flavored sparkling waters, trail mix and dried fruits and fresh juices. Come back later to pick up a selection of cheeses and breads to pair with all the wine you picked up. Bring home spice blends - pick up the affordable "braai" seasoning. Also a solid wine selection here (if you can't get enough!). Marvel at the incredibly affordable prices!
- Maggie's Cafe - After a 15-hour-flight from the east coast of the US, I arrived in Cape Town ravenous for lunch. Luckily, I stumbled into Maggie's Cafe along the busy Main Road, and found an extensive menu of sandwiches, sides and take-away beverages. My humble turkey sandwich was bursting with flavor and spices, and I couldn't stop saying, "I can't believe how good this is...". I came back the next morning to sit on the cafe and drink fresh juice. Can't ask for much more. Only open for breakfast/lunch.
- DeGrendel Restaurant - It's quite possible I've never had a better meal in my life than the lazy afternoon lunch I had at the DeGrendel wine farm. The late afternoon Cape Town sun set on us in the quaint family-style dining room, and I was blown away by every course that followed. (Pro-tip: be sure to order the accompaniment wine suggested with each course - they seriously know what they're doing with wine pairings.) Afterward, because you won't be ready to leave yet, head upstairs to the wine tasting area to continue the decadence.
- Mano's - This understated cafe and bar sucks you in with its boisterous and cozy atmosphere, and then capitalizes on its appeal with fresh seafood offerings (the king crab!) and a healthy wine list. Equally appropriate for a fun outing with friends/colleagues or romantic date. An incredible value for the experience (what isn't in Cape Town?).
- Shift Espresso Bar - "Death before decaf" is a jetlagged traveler's mantra. As soon as I saw this bold statement on the wall of Shift, I knew we were going to be friends. Around the corner from my hotel, I hit up Shift for breakfast pastries and light bites every morning, followed with one of the most delicious lattes I've ever had. A solid choice in the Green Point area.
- Two Oceans Restaurant at Cape of Good Hope - After a hike up to the top of the lighthouse, you'll be hungry for a snack, or maybe like me, you just hadn't gotten enough of that view yet. Fill your stomach with solid seafood and sushi choices at cliff-side Two Oceans restaurant, and let your eyes feast on that incredible ocean view.
- V&A Waterfront - At some point, someone will tell you have to go to the V&A Waterfront - it's a marina-like area with restaurants and attached mall. (Frankly, I found it to be the only overly touristy place in Cape Town, and semi-off-putting because of it.) You'll go and pick up a few souvenirs (there are some cute shops in the area), and you'll need to eat. I had positive experiences at MAReSOL and Belthazar Grill & Seafood.
SEE & DO
- Table Mountain - Widely known as the most iconic destination in South Africa, Table Mountain is the first stunning visual you will see after arriving in Cape Town. As we only had a quick afternoon to spare, we chose to take the cable car up the mountain for easy access to these incredible views. If you have more time, considering hiking, rock climbing or caving, if you dare. (Pro-tip: bring a jacket. It's freezing at that altitude!)
- Visit the Penguins at Boulders Beach & nearby Simon's Town - the touristy nature of Boulders Beach (and entry fee) will be unappealing, but you'll forget all about it when you round the corner to turquoise waters and hundreds of little penguins running around. A unique site as one of the only remaining Penguin land-based colonies in the world.
- Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope - Cape Point is a nature preserve within Table Mountain National Park and filled with outdoor activities. Keep your belongings away from the baboons. Seriously. Enjoy some of the most stunning mountain and ocean views in the world, but just don't tell people that you went to the "most southern point of Africa" - you didn't!
- Chapman's Peak Drive - On your way back from Cape of Good Hope, take the long way and drive Chapman's Peak. The incredible views will make the hour-long trek back to Cape town fly by. Some of the most beautiful views I've seen and great look-out points for photos. (Pro-tip: bring cash for tolls.)
- Wine Farms - if you're a wine drinker, you'll be in paradise. Don't skip out on tasting South African specialties Pinotage and Chardonnay/Pinot Noirs. Here are my favorite wine farms to add to your tour - (don't try to hit all these in one day!):
- Vergelen - 200 year old trees and carriage house are fascinating. Their farm was almost destroyed by fire in 2016, but was saved by the quick thinking of the staff.
- Durbanville Hills - A neighborhood wine farm with great views and innovative wine selections. Don't forget to try the sparkling sauvignon blanc!
- DeGrendel Wine Estate & Restaurant - One of Cape Town's oldest farms. Stay for a meal here!
TIPS & TRICKS
- Safety - there are still areas of Cape Town where violence is common. Be vigilent about your surroundings and don't walk around alone at night unless you're in a group.
- Risk it - rent a car. Although Americans will battle the 'opposite side of the road' thing, a car will enable you to see some of my favorite parts of Cape Town - Chapman's Peak, Cape of Good Hope, etc.
- Bring wine home - its too affordable and delicious not to! Ask the wine farm to pack it securely for you, and go ahead and check that suitcase.
- Take Uber - its readily available, incredibly cheap and the drivers have to undergo a comprehensive background check that made me feel slightly safer using it at night.
- Acknowledge the reality - it has to be said, Cape Town is still very much a city of haves and have-nots. On your way to the coast from the airport, you won't be able to miss the thousands living in makeshift cramped and unsanitary conditions in the miles of ground that make up the Khayelitsha township. Ask questions of the locals and learn about the history while you're there. It's a sobering reality, but will enrich your understanding of South Africa.