Cape Town Travel Guide

Cape Town Travel Guide

Cape Town is—in one word—ravishing. For starters, the city is flanked in natural wonders, from the crown-jewel that is Table Mountain National Park to the arresting coastline and its powdery white sand beaches. Then there's the noteworthy art and design scene, a testament to the innovative spirit of Capetonians—and a reflection of the melting pot of cultures coexisting within the city. Cape Town's culinary scene follows suit, with top-rated restaurants fusing global influences with home-grown South African flavours. That's not to say Cape Town isn’t without problems. Yes, the crime rate is high, and the economic disparity noticeable. But as this pulsating city continues to reinvent itself, discerning gay travellers can expect an urban getaway that brilliantly blends design-savvy businesses with stunning panoramas. Gay marriage is legal in South Africa, and gay travellers are unlikely to experience discrimination while travelling throughout the Mother City. De Waterkant is Cape Town's buzzing gay neighbourhood, an oasis of sleek gay bars and clubs—of which we've highlighted the best below. Now, let’s dive into your ultimate gay Cape Town travel guide.

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The best hotels in Cape Town

Located inside the reimagined grain elevator of a historic silo complex, everything about The Silo Hotel exudes personality and style. Renowned design firm Heatherwick Studio remodelled the facade of the building, which included the creation of the ingenious multi-faceted geometric glass windows (especially extraordinary when seen piercing the night sky with their warm glow.) Inside, owner and art enthusiast Liz Biden personally curated the decor and artwork to showcase some of Africa’s most exciting contemporary artists—all while respecting the time-honoured past of the historic building. The result is a brilliant blend of old and new, evident in details like the bright, whimsical paintings that lie alongside original grain hoppers and lavish bespoke furniture that juxtaposes the more rigid industrialist architecture. Another locale playing a starring role in Cape Town’s contemporary design hotel scene is Compass House. The style is decidedly refined with minimalist decor inspired by a melange of Mediterranean, African, and Asian influences. The colour palette skews towards neutrals, a smart move that allows the scintillating blue of Bantry Bay to take centre stage. From its prized cliffside vantage point, enjoy uninterrupted sea views from the refreshing infinity pool as well as many of the spacious suites. The shared balcony is an added bonus and makes for an ideal spot to end the day with a sundowner.

The Silo Hotel | Photo: Mark Williams

The Silo Hotel | Photo: Mark Williams

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The colour palette at The Compass House skews towards neutrals, a smart move that allows the scintillating blue of Bantry Bay to take centre stage

The Compass House

The Compass House

With its unique location on the slopes of Table Mountain, Four Rosmead delivers an intimate boutique hotel experience in a renovated 1903 historic house. There are only ten rooms here, each well-appointed with contemporary amenities and local South African artwork. A heated swimming pool, well-manicured garden, and generous continental breakfast round out the home-away-from-home stay. Another luxurious hotel nestled on the slopes of Table Mountain is Cape Cadogan—arguably one of the chicest hotels in Cape Town. This Georgian-Victorian 19th-century farmhouse combines art-deco furnishings with moody details like a grand fireplace and glittering chandelier to create an ambience that emanates laid-back splendour. Its central location means many of the best things to do in Cape Town are right at your fingertips, while an on-site private travel concierge makes it easy to organize your Cape Town sightseeing. Over in the hip and happening Woodstock neighbourhood, The Stock Exchange is an eclectic apartment hotel squirrelled away on the fourth floor of the mixed-use building WEX1. The trendy hotel features bold, playful designs split into three clever themes: Urban Art, Urban Jungle, and Urban Pattern. Floor to ceiling glass windows bathe the rooms in light, while decor celebrates and promotes local talent. Don’t miss the Woodstock “design map,” which pinpoints where you can find and purchase similar furniture and artwork on display throughout the hotel. Table Mountain and Dockyard views feature in many of the rooms.

Cape Cadogan

Cape Cadogan

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Recommended hotels in Cape Town
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Things to do in Cape Town

On the first nine floors of the old grain silo (where you’ll also find the aforementioned The Silo Hotel) lies the remarkable Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. The largest museum of contemporary African art in the world, the museum is dedicated to the continent’s art and its diaspora. An impressive collection fills the 100 gallery spaces across 6,000 square meters. The stunning interior of the Zeitz is well worth the visit alone; inspired by a cob of corn, dramatic grain-shaped openings cut through the cement to shine light into the atrium. Afford an entire day to fully appreciate the inimitable museum and her exhibitions. A more sobering yet equally important Cape Town attraction is the District Six Museum. Located in a former inner-city church, this small but important museum tells the story of a lively multiracial neighbourhood—and its 60,000 members forcibly relocated during Apartheid. Explore photographs, testimonials, and recreated home interiors, all of which tell the heart-wrenching stories of forced removals and their lasting impact on the community. From here, take your study in the arts outdoors at the six-acre Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden—an impressive collection of some 60 pieces crafted by famed South African sculptor Dylan Lewis. The majestic Stellenbosch mountains serve as the backdrop, making the already magical setting feel even more ethereal.

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa | Photo: Grant Durr

Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa | Photo: Grant Durr

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No gay Cape Town guide is complete without mentioning Robben Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and important symbol of “the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering, and injustice.” A visit to Robben Island is akin to a deep dive into South Africa’s turbulent history; the island has served as a remote prison since the 17th and 18th centuries when the Dutch would exile political prisoners here. In the all too recent past, this is where enemies of Apartheid were sent from 1961 – 1991. Of all Robben Island’s inmates, Nelson Mandela is likely the most renowned—he spent 18 years at the maximum-security prison, and most Robben Island tours culminate with a visit to his 7-by-9-foot cell. The Cape Floral Region is another South African UNESCO site, and one of the best ways to experience it is via exploring the Cape Point Peninsula. Start at Hout Bay, a lovely seaside neighbourhood with golden sand beaches and delicious local eateries. Then set out for the scenic Chapmans Peak Drive, touted as one of the most gorgeous drives in the world. Finally, Boulders Beach Reserve is famed for its adorable African penguins—one of the only spots in the world where you are guaranteed an up-close encounter with these curious creatures. This tour includes all these Cape Point Peninsula highlights and more.

Table Mountain is an iconic attraction, and we would be remiss not to include it on any gay Cape Town scene guide. The best way to experience it is by riding to the top via the state-of-the-art cable car. Choose a sun-dappled day (it’s not worth the queues on a cloudy one) and head to the flat-topped mountain for staggering views of the Mother City from 3500 feet. Make a day of exploring the national park and its diverse wildlife with a picnic or guided tour. The cable car runs seven days a week; while it’s possible to hike to the top, an increase in crime means it’s not advisable to do so solo.

Boulders Beach | Photo: Austin Distel

Boulders Beach | Photo: Austin Distel

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Things to see in Cape Town

Colourful Bo-Kaap is one of Cape Town’s most photographed locales, but a visit to this historic neighbourhood promises more than Instagram fodder alone. Dating back to the 1760s, Bo-Kaap is one of the city’s oldest residential areas; previously dubbed the Malay Quarter for the people known there as Cape Malays (slaves brought from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other parts of Africa), the area is home to the fascinating Bo-Kaap Museum and the first established South African Muslim mosque (the Auwai Mosque.) Arrive ready to chow down—mouthwatering Cape Malay cooking remains a cherished mainstay in the neighbourhood.

Bo-Kaap Museum | Photo: Claudio Fonte

Bo-Kaap Museum | Photo: Claudio Fonte

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Aspiring wine aficionados won’t want to miss the Stellenbosch Wine Trail, where some 200 wine producers serve world-class vinos alongside a backdrop of dramatic, mist-laden mountains

Waterford Estate Stellenbosch | Photo: Kerry Murray

Waterford Estate Stellenbosch | Photo: Kerry Murray

It’s no secret that Cape Town boasts a wealth of powdery beaches, all ideal for whiling away an afternoon characterized by sun, sand, and sea. Start your sun tanning at Clifton 3, Cape Town’s unofficial gay beach. Lined with multi-million dollar mansions and punctuated by craggy boulders, the only thing more gorgeous than this sugar-fine beach is the handsome men who flock here. Then there’s Sandy Bay, a gay-popular nude beach that doubles as one of Cape Town’s most sought-after sandy spots. Arrive early, so you’re not vying for a parking spot. Prefer adrenaline-pumping activities to laid-back leisure? Hop over to Muizenberg, one of Cape Town’s top surfing beaches and a prime spot for photographing the famed rainbow of houses that line the shore. In the beating heart of Cape Town lies The Company’s Garden, a leafy haven and important heritage site. Do as the locals and head for a leisurely amble down shaded paths, stopping along the way to tip the buskers or recharge on a sunny bench. A treasure trove of historical wonders, The Company’s Garden is also where you’ll find the South African Museum, the Cape Town Holocaust Center, and the Rutherfort Fountain. Along with Table Mountain, making your way to the top of Lion’s Head is a perennial Cape Town thing to do. A well-marked moderately difficult trail takes you to the peak, where panoramic views of the city—including Table Mountain and the Atlantic Ocean—await.

Aspiring wine aficionados won’t want to miss the Stellenbosch Wine Trail, where some 200 wine producers serve world-class vinos alongside a backdrop of dramatic, mist-laden mountains. Most wine tours include food pairings and an opportunity to meet with the winemakers, allowing guests to experience the tantalizing flavours of South Africa while also exploring South African winemaking culture over the centuries. Keep an eye out for the Pinotage grape, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault that hails from Stellenbosch.

Photo: Austin Distel

Photo: Austin Distel

Where to eat in Cape Town

Once a hodgepodge of crumbling Victorian houses and abandoned industrial buildings, the neighbourhood of Woodstock has experienced a rebirth in recent years—catapulting it into the hip, creative district it is today. The Test Kitchen was the first fine dining restaurant to open in Woodstock and has since earned its rank among the world’s top 50 restaurants. Chow down on Nouvelle Latin American cuisine with notable South African flair. You’ll need to make a reservation far in advance—seating is limited to 40 guests per evening to promote an intimate dining atmosphere. The experience begins in the moody “dark” room with cocktails and tapas then continues into the airy “light” room for the gobsmacking main affair. Another restaurant to make the list of Top 100 Restaurants in the World, Aubergine is a venerable Cape Town icon. Come here for elevated takes on timeless dishes by star chef Harald Bresselschmidt. Eastern flavours feature predominantly, as do seasonal, organic produce and local, free-range meat. The atmosphere is laid-back but sophisticated with bold paintings that belie Bresselschmidt’s passion for collecting contemporary artwork.

The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen

The Test Kitchen

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The neighbourhood of Woodstock has experienced a rebirth in recent years, catapulting it into the hip, creative district it is today

It’s a bit of a trek to arrive at La Colombe, but don’t let the steep, winding drive put you off. From its ideal perch above the Constantia Valley, La Colombe features exquisite French-Asian cuisine in a quaint vineyard setting. Each dish is a veritable work of art. The seven-course lunch menu is an excellent way to appreciate the sweeping mountain views, though the mouthwatering cuisine stands strong with or without the natural backdrop. Feel transported to an era of bygone glitz and glamour when you dine at The Shortmarket Club, a fine-dining restaurant dripping in vintage pieces, local artwork, and custom-made leather banquettes—all of which seamlessly work together to create a decadent old-world vibe. The open kitchen reveals a glimpse at the magic happening behind-the-scenes. There’s a next-level commitment to seasonal and sustainable ingredients here, along with a playful yet refined tasting menu; the roasted quail is delightful.

The Raptor Room is wonderfully quirky, serving interesting takes on comfort food from brunch until late. Fresh and local ingredients shine on the menu, from the “Ain’t no thang” chicken wings to the “I want my baby back” pork ribs. The ambience is as fun-loving as the menu with neon green and pink amazon-inspired wallpaper and miniature dinosaurs adorning each table. One of Cape Town’s coolest lunch spots is The Kitchen, a cosy but bustling bistro full of vintage teapots and antique ceramics. Some 20 colourful salads and inventive “love sandwiches” draw both tourists and locals alike; expect a wait, but know that the line is well worth the reward. The best bakery in Cape Town might very well be Jason Bakery, a brother-and-sister owned cafe that has quickly garnished a reputation for its flaky pastries and themed doughnuts (doughsants.) It’s an ideal spot to grab a coffee and relax over a leisurely breakfast, all the while knowing the croissant you’re nibbling on took three days to create. When breakfast cravings strike post-noon, hop over to Hemelhuijs for its all-day breakfast menu and feel-good soul food. Chef Jacques Erasmus’ Afrikaner heritage influences the dishes, whether in the vibrant garden salads or the homemade potato rosti. The exquisitely curated space feels more like an artist’s gallery than a restaurant, an ideal spot to ignite your creativity while enjoying the art-drenched room.

The Test Kitchen | Photo: Luke Dale Roberts

The Test Kitchen

Shopping in Cape Town

Start your Cape Town shopping spree at The Old Biscuit Mill, a buzzing Saturday market in the heart of artsy Woodstock. Once a red-brick biscuit factory, today the building is a plethora of artisan shops, design studios, restaurants, and speciality purveyors. Browse for the perfect locally-crafted souvenir or stock up on organic goods at the beloved Neighbourgoods Market. Right next to the Old Biscuit Mall is Quirky.Me, a unique gift shop full of off-beat decor items thoughtfully selected to bring whimsy and joy to your home. From tea trays to upscale vinyl stickers, it’s an imaginative melange of crafts that are just as delightful as they sound. The Watershed Market is another dynamic market-style shopping space that boasts over 150 shops, all of which promote locally-made goods like ceramics, textiles, crafts, and clothing. Come to discover up-and-coming South African talent alongside well-established design boutiques.

Don’t be fooled by the store Merchants on Long’s historic art nouveau facade—inside this Long St. heritage building you’ll find an ultra-chic curation of clothing and accessories by some of Africa’s most renowned luxury designers. Expect contemporary pieces that make use of exotic materials and creative textiles, such as in owner Hanneli Rupert’s own bag line: Okapi. For casual but trendy streetwear, Bastille is a French menswear concept store inspired by the famous Parisian neighbourhood of the same name (from where co-owner Sylvain Pierre hails.) French brands like Maison Kitsune and Bleu de Paname stand out, as does South African label Sol-Sol.

The Old Biscuit Mill

The Old Biscuit Mill

Cape Quarter | Photo: Kerry Murray

Cape Quarter | Photo: Kerry Murray

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Part design studio, part antique shop and gallery, The Chandler House showcases beautiful local artwork and eclectic gems unearthed from around the globe

The Chandler House is the brainchild of Michael Chandler, a Cape Town artist with a passion for Cape Dutch design. Part design studio, part antique shop and gallery, The Chandler House showcases beautiful local artwork (much of it by Michael) and eclectic gems unearthed from around the globe. Finally, ROWDY Bags is your Cape Town go-to for gorgeous, high-quality leather products. From their iconic backpacks to durable duffels and totes, ROWDY creates bags and accessories that not only look great but also stand the test of time. And with 17 trained leather artisans lifted out of poverty-stricken backgrounds, you can feel good about your ROWDY product from start to finish.

ROWDY Bags

ROWDY Bags

Photo: Joshua Earle

Photo: Joshua Earle

Cape Town Nightlife

One of Cape Town’s oldest gay bars, Cafe Manhattan remains a time-honoured gay meeting point—and a fitting place to begin any Cape Town gay nightlife guide. More than a gay bar alone, Cafe Manhattan also offers a shady cafe terrace and spacious restaurant serving up all the pub classics. It’s a fun spot for burgers over a relaxed lunch or sipping craft cocktails before a night out on the town. Alexander Bar, Cafe & Theater is a gay-popular venue for mingling over drinks and jazz or taking in a live performance at the intimate upstairs theatre. The stylish bar exudes major old-world vibes. We love the functioning antique rotary dial telephone that can be used to chat with people across the bar—including the bartender. Then there’s Zer021 Social Club, a funky LGBTIQ club that promotes sexual and personality equality while also featuring live performances and fierce drag shows. It’s a space where the entire rainbow community and its friends can feel safe all while having one epic night out on the town.

Photo: Fabio Alves

Photo: Fabio Alves

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One of Cape Town’s oldest gay bars, Cafe Manhattan remains a time-honoured gay meeting point

It takes a bit of effort to uncover The Gin Bar. This unmarked G&T heaven is hidden away behind an unmarked back door inside the ever-popular Honest Chocolate Cafe. But once you arrive, you’re in for a boozy treat. Cosy up at the tiny Victorian-style bar or relax in the sunny courtyard with one of five sumptuous gin libations: Hope, Head, Heart, Ambition or Soul. The concise menu prioritizes quality over quantity; you can’t go wrong with any choice. For one of Cape Town’s sexiest rooftop bars, climb the stairs to Tjing Tjing, a Japanese bar located in the old attic of a 200-year-old house. The scarlet red bar opens to a breezy al-fresco terrace, where indie and electronic music reverberate into the evening. A creative house cocktail list complements the extensive otsumami menu. When you prefer an intimate evening over a bottle of wine and quiet conversation, hop over to neighbourhood wine bar Publik for sustainably farmed wines and unusual, lesser-known varieties. The friendly and knowledgeable staff are eager to help visitors pick out a great bottle for any occasion.

Photo: Lily Banse

Photo: Lily Banse

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