Things to do in Cape Town
It´s 6 am and you are not only awake but on the side of a mountain, lycra-clad and a bottle of water in your hand as you begin your ascent to Lions Head. The sun is already well above the horizon; the temperature is rising and as you slowly overtake family groups and dog walkers, you are simultaneously passed by red-faced trail runners who have already reached the summit and are on their way back down again. You vaguely think to yourself that it´s quite surreal seeing this many people on the side of a mountain so early in the morning but then again, this is Cape Town and Capetonians really love their mountain. Welcome to the Mother City. There aren´t many cities in the world where you will encounter a human traffic jam on a hiking trail at dawn, but this is one of them. Wondering what to do in Cape Town? Mr Hudson has got you covered.
The great outdoors
Outdoor activities are hugely popular here and it´s obvious as to why. The city centre is surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the fourth. The rest of the town spreads out across the peninsula with the freezing Atlantic Ocean on her western shores and the balmier False Bay coastline on the east. You don´t have to drive far in any direction to lose sight of the city and there are amazing beaches, hiking trails, surf spots and nature reserves all within half an hour (or less) of the urban area. Of course, you don´t need to be a fitness fanatic to enjoy the city´s natural beauty and if mountain climbing seems a bit too much, you can (and should) catch the cable car to the top of Table Mountain to enjoy the view without the exertion. Another popular activity is surfing and there are waves for every level of experience. Beginners should try Muizenberg beach where you can hire a board and take surfing lessons while the more experienced head for the wilder beaches on the western seaboard. Scarborough, Llandudno and Big Bay are all popular spots and even if you aren´t feeling too inclined to don a wetsuit, these beaches are gorgeous and worth the visit anyway, even if only for the surfer eye-candy.
Founded by Dutch settlers in the mid-1600s, Cape Town served as a stopover point on the Spice Route between Europe and Asia and the influence of all these cultures can still be seen today. Long Street in the city centre is the perfect example of this melting pot of cultures and is an unlikely mix of Dutch and Victorian architecture, mosques and churches side-by-side and colourful pops of African influence. During the day the street bustles with activity: restaurants, coffee shops, vintage stores and fashion boutiques make this one of the most vibrant districts in town, and there is something for everyone, from second-hand to haute couture. For decadent breakfasts or coffee and people watching, head to Lola´s and grab a table outside. Or if you prefer your espresso with a side of leather and motorcycles, find The House Of Machines on Shortmarket Street (off Long) for a hipster-biker coffee experience. For the best burgers in town, make your way to Royale Eatery but get there early as they are popular for both lunch and dinner and fill up fast.
The city centre is surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the fourth
Night out on the town
As the sun sets, Long Street shops close and the bars and clubs open their doors for the night, music pumps and revellers spill out onto the street and balconies above. On weekends, the street is packed, and a sort-of organised chaos reigns as the parties continue well into the early hours. De Waterkant, also called the Cape Quarter, is another spot with happening nightlife and it´s here that you´ll find the majority of the gay bars and clubs. The neighbourhood is perched on the slopes of Signal Hill with stunning harbour and mountain views, colourful townhouses and cosy restaurants. A popular corner for people watching is Café Manhattan near the top end of the district, a bar and restaurant with live music on weekends. Alternatively, head to Camps Bay, one of the most exclusive and upmarket neighbourhoods on the peninsula, and visit the palm tree-lined strip that boasts a sophisticated selection of restaurants, bars and clubs by the sea.
Accommodation is plentiful in the city centre, but for a unique hotel experience right at the centre of the action, try the Grand Daddy Hotel, where you can stay in a refurbished airstream trailer on the roof of the hotel, mountain views included. If you´re seeking something a little bit more zen, then head to the Glen Boutique Hotel in Seapoint, right next to De Waterkant. Their Rain Forest Spa is legendary and the hotel is perfectly situated between the upmarket beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay, and the city centre.
To the east of the city centre is the up-and-coming neighbourhood of Woodstock. Historically a working class warehouse district, Woodstock is having a bit of a fashion moment and there are new restaurants, boutiques, art galleries and markets popping up almost on a weekly basis, with old warehouses being converted and new apartment complexes springing up. The Old Biscuit Mill is one such conversion and as the name suggests, it was a cookie factory that is now the location of an eclectic collection of homeware stores, clothing boutiques, gourmet food and wine shops. The highly recommended restaurant Test Kitchen is also found here, the experimental fine dining brainchild of award-winning chef Luke Dale-Roberts. On Saturday mornings the Biscuit Mill is also the location of the Neighbourgoods Market, a weekly food and farmers market that showcases organic and artisanal produce from a wide variety of local suppliers. The food is excellent but be sure to get there early as the venue is small and gets crowded very quickly. The Woodstock Exchange is similar in concept, industrially refurbished workspaces with coffee shops, restaurants and stores on the ground floor and studio spaces on the upper levels.
No stay in Cape Town would be complete without a drive around the peninsula
A coastal drive
No stay in Cape Town would be complete without a drive around the peninsula and the best place to start your day trip is breakfast and a stroll through the fishing village of Kalk Bay. The croissants at the Olympia Café are freshly baked every day and reputed to be the best in town and there are plenty of cute little shops and boutiques to explore, or you could simply walk around the harbour to admire the pretty fishing boats and inspect the catch of the day. Back on the road, continue your drive south, winding along the coast past Simonstown until you reach the Cape Point Nature Reserve, which is the southernmost point on the peninsula and worth the visit for the spectacular views from the lighthouse on the point. From here, keep winding north along the coast, via Scarborough and Noordhoek, and head in the direction of Chapmans Peak drive. This route has long been considered one of the most impressive marine drives in the world and the views are at their best towards the end of the day, with the sun sinking into the ocean and the twinkling lights of Hout Bay across the water. There are several viewing points along the route to fully absorb the beauty of the coastline.
Wine is always a good idea
On the “must-do” list of every self-respecting Cape Town visitor are, of course, the wine estates. Or at least, they should be because as far as new world wines go, the Cape Peninsula producers rank very highly in the global market. Founded in 1679, Groot Constantia is the oldest estate in the country and their wines have received more awards than anyone can count so based on that alone, it´s worth a visit to the tasting cellar. But beyond the wine, the estate has a fascinating history and the old manor house and various historical buildings are perfect for exploring, as are the vineyards that extend up the mountain slopes.
40 minutes drive north of the city is the Stellenbosch region and this is where the majority of Cape Town wines are produced. There is so much to see here that you should consider spending a few days in the area and instead of travelling back to the city stay at Babylonstoren, a historic fruit and wine farm near Franschoek. Founded in 1692 and recently renovated with the addition of the hotel and restaurant, the estate is a perfect blend of old traditions and contemporary design. Just outside the town of Stellenbosch, Waterford Estate hosts a wonderful wine and chocolate tasting. Three of their flagship wines are each paired with a chocolate created specifically to compliment the flavours of the wine and this unique approach certainly stands out from your average wine tasting. And next door, at Dornier wine estate, the Bodega restaurant serves beautifully presented dishes that combine modern culinary technique with traditional flavours; all paired with locally produced wines.
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Groot Constantia Wine Estate | Photo: Kerry Murray
Lion's Head Hike | Photo: Kerry Murray
Chapman's Peak Drive | Photo: Kerry Murray
Neighbourgoods Market | Photo: Kerry Murray
Waterford Estate Stellenbosch | Photo: Kerry Murray
Kalk Bay Harbour | Photo: Kerry Murray
Royale Eatery | Photo: Kerry Murray
Old Biscuit Mill | Photo: Kerry Murray
Neighbourgoods Market | Photo: Kerry Murray
Long Street | Photo: Kerry Murray