Cape Town is really one of those magical cities with a certain “je ne sais quoi”. Constantly voted by every other (mainly British) publication as top destination for a visit – probably due to it’s great weather, easy direct international flights & natural beauty. What they might not tell you is that is also has great food & wine and it’s cheap. A bottle of great wine in a restaurant will set you back the same as a glass of average wine in Copenhagen.
Cape Town airport is a pretty easy airport to clear navigate – mainly due to it’s small sized compared to international airports. When you arrive you will most likely be the only international flight arriving at that time. This is also the only place in the world that has priority access with a South African Passport so just breathe through the immigration line. Once you clear your luggage, be prepared to be stopped by customs as you pass through the green line – they don’t believe that you have nothing to declare. From here there’s several ways into the city – if you haven’t arranged a car rental or transfer prior to arrival. The budget option is the MyCiti rapid transfer bus, which only costs $4/$5 one way and runs a couple of times per hour. Alternatively the preferred way would be uber or using one of the accredited cab companies. A trip into the city centre should not set you back more than $15 – $20. When you leave the airport you will be greeted by one of the biggest informal settlements (shanty towns) in the area. Keep calm and carry on – no need to fear for your life just yet, the city is “As advertised”. Head to the mountains and in 20 minutes you should be in town.
The city is definitely a car city and it’s recommended to have a rental car available for trips out & about. For shorter trips in-and-around the city however the easiest is using Uber who has cars available in abundance and it’s cheap. This is also the case for heading out at night when you cannot drive if you’ll be having any alcohol as police hold roadblocks almost every evening and are super strict about the legal limits. Equally unsafe is taking a cab from the street. There are hundreds of unlicensed drivers (mainly north africans), many with unlicensed vehicles flocking to the streets at night to over-charge unsuspecting tourists with a ride in their death traps. If you have to take a cab from the street only pick one of the big companies – Sea Point Taxis, Marine Taxis or Excite Taxis. Slowly but surely more bike access is being implemented, however the city is still very hilly and drivers aren’t used to looking out for bikes. Therefore the preferred 2-wheel option would be a scooter – only if you’re comfortable with them as they also be dangerous and you do need a license. The mountain is great for orienting yourself, and you’ll probably opt to stay in one of the City Bowl (front of the mountain) or Atlantic Seaboard (ocean-side) suburbs.
The real secret to enjoying your stay here is to simply kick back into the Cape Town lifestyle and live like a local. Enjoy the mountain and beaches, browse the city streets, hang out in cafe’s, hit the winelands and most importantly – braai (barbecue).
Panama Jacks – Inside the actual working Cape Town harbour – go for lunch, it’s a fish shack, not great on very hot days as they only have inside seating, but it’s an institution. Clarke’s – The hipster diner on the oh-so-cool Breestreet. Their burgers made them famous, but they also do some great other dishes like a stuffed omelette than can cure the worst of hangovers (paired with one of their bloody mary’s of course). While you’re in Bree Street – The Chef’s Warehouse by chef Liam Tomlin serves one amazing Tapas-style lunch, and if you like it you can try the second Chef’s Warehouse on Beau Constantia Mano’s – Amazing everyday food with a Portuguese flavour. Perfect for everything from a casual lunch with the girls, a business lunch, a first date or even a big family dinner. Il Leone – Simply great Italian. Great for dinner before going out on town. Giovannis – Where you go get dinner if you can’t be bothered to cook – wether it’s for 1 or for a dinner party for 10. The Test Kitchen / Pot Luck Club (W) – Luke Dale Roberts’ restaurants are some of the best in the world – but you need to allow some time to get a reservation there. The Black Sheep (G) – A favourite for early weekday dinners or Saturday lunches watching the passing traffic in Kloofstreet. Cafe Paradiso – Kloof Street, Gardens. Hallelujah – Sublime asian food, bubbly & cocktails. Set in over-the-top California-minimalism Bungalow – Great for a burger over lunch on the water. Very Hamptons. Olympia Cafe – Kalk Bay, nice for a Saturday- or Sunday morning. The Power & The Glory – Neighbourhood cafe & bar for hipsters. Jason Bakery – 1 thing: BACON CROISSANT. Then you can have anything else. Like a “doughsant” (croissant donut cross) or a “cranberry danish”. El Burro – for mexican. Maria’s – Lunch or early evening on the square. On a wind-free day it’s sure to be booked out. Go for a shared mezze platter and a couple of bottles of wine.
Much of the drinking in Cape Town is paired with eating. Some venues exist purely for imbibing though. Outrage of Modesty – One of the best cocktail bars in the world. Book. The Black Ram – the late night section at the back of The Power & Glory Publik – Wine bar with the local gems TjingTjing – Cocktails in a rooftop bar with an infamously good playlist. The house of machines – custom-built bikes, biker culture and drinks.
Being more of a bar-city, you can easily stay at the above venues until late enough. If however the city lights call: Start at Arcade on Bree street, after you’ve had some drinks at one of the many cafe’s. ON nice evenings it’s all open and the eye candy spills out onto the sidewalk. Aces ‘n Spades – If you see yourself as one of the “Rocking kids” who would feel comfortable at Coachella – this one’s for you. Era – This is all about the serious nightclub vibe. Book a table, get bottle service, and dance the night away.
If you’re looking for some great local gifts that doesn’t fall into the craft category, look no further than Bree Street. Missibaba, the local luxury leather goods designers is always a good call, or swing by Frazer Parfum for some natural perfume. If you’re feeling adventurous, head out to the Woodstock Exchange, where many great young designers have set up shop.
Due to a combination of international pricing policies and tax-back options, certain international branded luxury goods might be cheaper here than back home, so pop into Charles Greig in the V&A Waterfront to scope out that Rolex you had your eye on.
Take a trail run around the contour path of Lion’s head, alternatively a morning climb up is also great. Up & down in 1:30. Spa at the Westin (CTICC) – the view from up there is beyond amazing. Babylonstoren – has the most fantastic gardens. try book a table for lunch at Manna or just go enjoy some fresh salads or sandwiches in the greenhouse. The Babylonstoren Spa is also amazing.
Iconvillas – A selection of the best private villas & apartments in town or further out. Their excellent team will also take care of any concierge requirements you might have. Cape Cadogan – A little boutique hotel just off the popular Kloof Street Belmond Mount Nelson – I you like to A-Listin’ this is the spot. Right out of colonial times, the iconic pink lady sits tight right in the middle of the city.