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Cape Town, South Africa, is sometimes called the Mother City of Africa and is the second-largest city in the country. Founded in 1652 by the Dutch, it was the first permanent European settlement in Africa. It began as a way station for ships sailing around the southern tip of Africa. Today, Cape Town is alive with style and has taken the best from both European and African cultures and incorporated them into a unique blend of heritage.
The outdoors welcome hiking, swimming, sailing and mountain biking. Cape Town's cultural highlights will convince you to step inside one of its numerous museums and galleries. This is the land of plenty and it wants you to enjoy all of its fruits.
Cape Town is accommodating to its guests because of its multitude of sights and activities. Some people like the mountains, while others prefer the sea, and Cape Town has both.
With the famed Table Mountain looming nearby, you can explore trails during the day and explore beaches when you arrive at their base. If you'd rather stay away from the hiking and the sand, then perhaps wine tasting would be enjoyable. If so, the best places to go are Constantia to the south and the Cape Winelands to the north. Feel the sophistication and witness the wealth of the surrounding estates while sipping on South African wines.
Wherever your interests lie, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is also a popular place to visit. Here, you will find a newly built treasure chock full of restaurants and retail stores ranging from department stores to artisan craft outlets.
The South African Museum, at 25 Queen Victoria St., is the premier spot for learning about Cape Town's past. The heritage of South Africa comes to life in this great location, packed with fascinating exhibits and authentic displays.
To truly become one with Cape Town, you have to visit the city's signature landmarks. A trip to Cape Town must include a visit to the top of Table Mountain. If you are the adventurous type, go by foot and take in all of its natural wonders. The Aerial Cableway is a faster way to reach the top. Whichever mode of transportation you use, you'll love the view from the top of this mountain, which hovers 3,500 feet above the city.
The Dutch had a significant influence on Cape Town. A good place to view a large collection of Dutch landscape paintings is at the Old Town House. The house itself was built to be a guardhouse in 1755. The urban Cape Dutch architecture shown here is exquisite and prepares you for the beauty that awaits you inside.
Another fascinating place to see art from the 18th century is the Gold of Africa Museum, at the Martin Melck House (96 Strand Street). This house, originally a Lutheran Church, is now surrounded by a picturesque courtyard, and the inside shows off the works of South African modern artists. If you're interested, it is possible to purchase these works, too.
Mountains that dip into their reflection, mirrored by the sparkling blue ocean, outline the rich sands of Cape Town's beaches. A beach that offers something for everyone is Blouberg (R27 to Milnerton and Bloubergstrand). Not only is there a phenomenal view of Cape Town, but it also contains two unique sections of beach. One section, Little Bay, is most suitable for families, picnics and those with sunbathing in mind. There is also Big Bay, which is the prime location for surfers. You may even be able to catch a surfing contest here. The spot for attention junkies is Clifton Beach. Here is where everyone comes to show off and to watch others doing the same. It's a fun and happening spot, but this also causes quite a parking problem, so it's best to take the Hout Bay Bus from OK Bazaars.
Canoeing and white water rafting are exhilarating here. Felix Unite River Adventures, known for its safety and reliability, is one of the best companies to use for these activities. If diving is more your thing, try it out in Cape Town. Explore the waters that the great white shark calls home by descending the depths in a protective cage and viewing them up close. A great opportunity to do this is with The White Shark Diving Company. If you are more of a land-lover, consider horseback riding at Sleepy Hollow Horse Riding (021/789-2341).
Cape Town has a multitude of stores overflowing with African arts and crafts. To make shopping more of an event, go to the Red Shed Craft Workshop (Victoria Wharf, Waterfront). Here you can witness the artists knitting sweaters and blowing glass right in front of you. Perhaps you want to make a fashion statement back in your hometown with authentic African clothing. A great variety of clothing for both adults and children can be found at Mnandi (90 Station Rd., Observatory; 021/447-6814). However, be sure to end your shopping excursions at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a multimillion-dollar shopping and entertainment complex that will keep you buys for hours.
Greenmarket Square (Shortmarket and Burg Streets) allows the present and the past to join hands. In 1834, the declaration abolishing slavery was announced here on the same cobblestone that covers the streets today. What you will see is a beautiful outdoor market that has the best prices on souvenirs, including African art, jewelry and clothes. Don't be afraid to negotiate prices with the locals on items you wish to buy.
Cape Town is known for its world-class dining. Planet Restaurant & Bar at the Mount Nelson Hotel boasts views from its bay windows in this historic colonial hotel, painted pink. For something a bit more traditional, the Gold Restaurant features South African cuisine mixed with live entertainment. Costumes, drums and dancing are all part of the fun.
There are plenty of bars and nightclubs all over Cape Town for the latter part of the night. Dockside Superclub (021/522-7303), located in Century City, is a one-of-a-kind entertainment complex, holding up to 5,000 people and offering a wide array of dancing and dining desires. Another top bar and club is Opium (021/425-4010), where you can enjoy the classy cigar lounge and whiskey bar while you experience the funky dance tunes of some of the best DJs in South Africa.
Cruise ships dock at the Portnet in Cape Town. Once you arrive at the port, there are several choices of transportation to take you around Cape Town.
The bus system is quite accessible and easy to figure out. The Waterfront Shuttle runs every 10 minutes and travels to many of the top tourist sights. It goes all the way from Waterfront to Adderley Street, with various stops in between. The Green Point is a shuttle that runs every 20 minutes from Beach Road to Sea Point. The Golden Arrow is another bus service that is quite extensive and runs practically everywhere.
Taxis probably offer the most convenient way of travel. However, not many run on the streets at all times, which makes hailing them quite an effort. A better way is to call ahead or go to a major taxi center, which can be found at the top of Adderley Street, at Greenmarket Square and at the Tourist Rendezvous Travel Centre. The best taxi company is Sea Point Taxis (021-434-4444).
Documents: U.S. and Canadian citizens need a valid passport.
Language: While the most commonly spoken language in Cape Town is Afrikaans, English is widely understood and spoken, as it is one of South Africa's 11 official languages.
Safety: The Central Business District has been cleaned up over the years, but some con men do still exist, although during daylight police make themselves known.
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“South Africa is a steal for American travelers: the rapidly depreciating currency is approaching 12 rands to the dollar (it was around 8 when I first visited in 2012). Fine dining, fancy hotels and those expensive places you usually scroll past [are] not necessarily out of your budget here.”
“Hike 1.4 miles between Lion's Head and Signal Hill for an incredible panorama of City Bowl and Table Bay at sunset.”
“High tea at the 19th-century Belmond Mount Nelson in Cape town is a must. It's a civilized oasis in the center of the city.”
“The eight-acre naturalist's garden at Babylonstoren, a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, is beautifully landscaped and has a walled meditation garden as well as a chamomile lawn, created for the exclusive purpose of walking at dawn or dusk across fresh chamomile flowers to unleash their fragrance — this is luxury at its purest.”