Why go now?
Economic turmoil in South Africa has made something of a basket case of the rand – you currently get twice the ZAR for your pound than you did 10 years ago. In addition, new air connections spell lower fares.
Autumn is on the way, so the occasionally punishing temperatures of the Western Cape are on the wane. It's still, however, beach weather, even if the sea is perennially freezing and far friendlier to seals and surfers than swimmers.
British Airways (0344 493 0787; ba.com) flies non-stop from Heathrow twice a day. A new Ethiopian Airlines connection via Addis Ababa is barely half the fare; seats next month areavailable at around £500 return (0800 635 0644; flyethiopian.com). From other UK airports, good connections are available with Air France (0871 663 3777; airfrance.co.uk) and its partner KLM, Etihad (020 3450 7300; etihadairways.com), Qatar Airways (0844 846 8380; qatarairways.com) and Turkish (0844 800 6666; turkishairlines.com),
Cape Town airport (acsa.co.za) sits 12 miles east of the centre in Matroosfontein. The MyCiTi (myciti.org.za) bus departs from the airport for the city centre every 20 minutes (R81.20/£4), taking around an hour to reach the pleasant megamall of the V&A Waterfront (1). Far more convenient is a metered taxi (R200-R300/£9.30-£14).
Get your bearings
Cape Town sprawls – largely because of the immense Table Mountain that sits at its centre. The Atlantic coastal resort spots of Camps Bay et al on the west side of Lion's Head feel like they belong to a different town – but are just minutes away from Green Point and the V&A Waterfront (1). The latter is where you'll find the main Cape Town Tourist Office (00 27 21 408 7600; capetown.travel; daily 9am to 6pm, to 5pm May to September).
The shopping, museum and hotel areas of Long Street and the centre are east of Signal Hill, south of the Waterfront. Further east, you'll find bohemian Woodstock. Be cautious when walking around areas away from the Waterfront after dark – Cape Town is much safer than it used to be, but common sense should prevail.
Taxis are convenient for getting around. A 20-minute ride will cost you under R100 (£4.50), and you can get to the cellar doors of wine country, in Stellenbosch, for less than R400 (£18).
You'd pay at least twice the rate (from R6,441/£290, with breakfast) for the same level of luxury offered by Cape Grace (2), W Quay Road, V&A Waterfront (00 27 21 410 7100; capegrace.com) if it was located in Paris or London. The furnishings are nautical-themed and occasionally eccentric.
The Belmond Mount Nelson (3), 76 Orange Street (00 27 21 483 1000; belmond.com) is the most famous hotel in town. The gardens and outdoor pool are grand, and afternoon tea is an institution. It's also one of the few five-star hotels within walking distance of the main shopping and dining areas. Doubles from R4,985 (£224), including breakfast.
The view, as you'd expect, is the thing at Cape View Clifton (4), 232 Kloof Road (00 27 21 438 8748; capeviewclifton.co.za). Everything in this tiered, cliff-side, glass box of a beach house is white-on-white. Doubles from R3,780 (£168), B&B.
The Daddy Long Legs Art Hotel (5), 134 Long Street (00 27 21 422 3074; daddylonglegs.co.za) has budget, themed rooms from R925 (£42), room only.
Skip the hotel breakfast buffet. Instead, go for the perfect latte at a branch of Cape Town's finest caffeine vendor, Deluxe Coffeeworks (6) at 25 Church Street (00 27 79 416 1109; deluxecoffeeworks.co.za), followed by an omelette on the terrace of The Company's Garden Restaurant (7), 19 Queen Victoria Street (00 27 21 423 2919; thecompanysgarden.com).
Leave the garden and check out the dinosaurs at the neighbouring Iziko South African Museum (8) and attached Planet- arium (00 27 21 481 3800; iziko.org.za; 10am to 5pm daily; R30/£1.40). On the other side of the gardens you'll see two benches outside the High Court (9) on Keerom Street – historic objects that serve as an arresting snapshot of South Africa's uncomfortable past. One is marked “Whites Only”, the other “Non-Whites Only”.
Nearby, the South African National Gallery (10) at Government Avenue (00 27 21 481 3970; iziko.org.za; 10am to 5pm daily; R30/£1.40) is an Art Deco landmark that houses a definitive retrospective of African art.
Seek out local designers in the Centre – the intricate leather bags at Missibaba (11) at 229 Bree Street (00 27 21 424 8127; missibaba.com) are unique, while Merchants on Long (12) at 34 Long Street (00 27 21 422 2828; merchantsonlong.com) is the city's top concept store.
The Old Biscuit Mill (13) at 373-375 Albert Road in Woodstock, which is full of indie designers and interesting interiors and wine stores, could easily be a whole day out in itself (00 27 21 447 8194; theoldbiscuitmill.co.za), although stalls and stores close relatively early in the afternoon, around 2pm. Most shops close on Sundays.
Lunch on the run
Get to the tiny restaurant and deli Chef's Warehouse (14) at 92 Bree Street (00 27 21 422 0128; chefswarehouse.co.za) early – it takes no reservations, and fills up shortly after midday with locals who love the set menu of tapas. Order the Oysters Vietnamese, loaded with garnish and full of zest.
Take a view
The furry dassies (which look like bunnies but are actually related to elephants) are as good a reason for heading to the top of Table Mountain (00 27 21 424 8181; tablemountain.net) as the view. But the view is amazing. Catch the cableway (R240/£11) from the lower station (15) on Tafelberg Road. In March the first car of the day ascends at 8am, the last car is 6.30pm.
Opt for one of two very different styles – sink a bottle of sparkling Methode Cap at sundown on the terrace at the Mount Nelson (3), or book a bar stool at Outrage of Modesty (16) hidden away at 88 Market Street (00 27 21 422 2902; anoutrage.com) – an edgy new cocktail bar. Order a Rock & Rye with stone fruit, or the Snow – milk-based amasi (fermented milk), white chocolate and toasted rice. Cocktails from R70 (£3).
Dine with the locals
Arrive at The Roundhouse (17) on Round House Road, Camps Bay (00 27 21 438 4347; theroundhouserestaurant.com) an hour before sunset to enjoy the views from the foot of Table Mountain. The recently launched Bistronomy menu (R665/£32 for five courses) is a marvel – kicking off with a delicious dish of watermelon that has been wrangled into the texture of tartare.
Book far, far ahead for a table at The Test Kitchen in The Old Biscuit Mill (13) (00 27 21 447 2337; thetestkitchen.co.za). Luke Dale-Roberts is the most celebrated chef on the continent, and has futuristic technique to burn. The spectacular degustation (R1,200/£58) is never anything less than outstanding.
Sunday morning: take a ride
Every visitor to Cape Town should feel duty-bound to sail to Robben Island (18) to see where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for nearly two decades. Tours leave three times a day, at 9am, 11am and 1pm from the Nelson Mandela Gateway (19) at the V&A Waterfront (00 27 21 413 4200; robben-island.org.za; R300/£14) and return around four hours later.
Out to brunch
The Pot Luck Club (00 27 21 447 0804; thepotluckclub.za), set inside a spacious loft at the Old Biscuit Mill (13), still represents the ultimate Cape Town brunch scene. The look is industrial, with great views across the city, while the huge open kitchen (an offshoot of Test Kitchen) is full of techno know-how and wizardry. Small (and not so small) bites arrive on platters covering salt, sweet and umami – the set menu is R400/£19. For an extra R150/£7 on Sundays you get “bottomless bubbles”.
A walk in the park
Kirstenbosch (20) on Rhodes Drive (00 27 21 799 8763; sanbi.org; 8am to 6pm winter, 8am to 7pm summer; R50/£2.50) is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. The Tree Canopy Walkway, high above the ground, flanked by the silhouette of Table Mountain with the sun behind, is a camera-ready highlight. Check out the concert schedules, or come for a picnic.
Icing on the cake
Going for a Turkish bath at the Long Street Baths (21) on Long Street is a unique timewarp experience (00 27 21 422 0100; from R48-R101/£2.20-£4.60).
The building dates back to 1908. Don't expect a five-star spa; instead come for the crumbling visual history as much as the experience. The lettering on the façade is an elegant bit of Art Nouveau, and local artist Gregg Smith added murals inside in the late 1990s. Get steamed, pummelled and plunge yourself into icy water in the buff. Or just come for a swim and soak up the retro ambience.