48 hours in Cape Town

Lying in the shadow of Table Mountain, this jewel of South Africa combines cosmopolitan sophistication with great natural beauty


WHY GO?

WHY GO?

The iconic Table Mountain looms over a city bordered by miles of white sandy beach and crashing surf. Elegant colonial architecture rubs shoulders with vibrant street markets and the Cape's Winelands and the Whale Coast are within easy reach. And because there is only a two-hour time difference between South Africa and Britain, any jetlag is minimal. It's the low season at the moment, so there are some good deals around; combined with a weak rand this means that Cape Town continues to be a reasonably priced destination. The South African Tourist Board (0870 155 0044, www.southafrica.net) has information on tourist events.

BEAM DOWN

British Airways (0870 850 9 850, www.ba.com), Virgin Atlantic (08705 747 747, www.virgin-atlantic.com) and South African Airways (0870 747 1111, www.flysaa.com) all offer non-stop flights from Heathrow to Cape Town. Through a discount agent such as Trailfinders (020 7938 3939), expect to pay around £500 at the moment, although this will rise to around £650 in high season. The airport is around 20km east of the city centre, about a 15-minute drive, in an area known as Cape Flats where the city's townships are located. There are a number of companies operating door-to-door shuttle services from kiosks in the international arrivals hall - Magic Shuttle (00 27 21 934 5455), for example, charges R100 per person (£8). A taxi will set you back around R160 (£13). If you want to hire a car, all the major car hire companies are represented in the arrivals hall.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

The heart of Cape Town is cradled by what is known as the City Bowl in the shadow of Table Mountain. Rolling down to Table Bay are the leafy residential areas of Oranjezicht and lively Gardens, and colourful Bo-Kaap, the old Islamic quarter. On the water's edge is the revamped Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Following the coast down the Cape Peninsula are the Atlantic seaboard suburbs of Green Point and Sea Point and the beachfront enclaves of Clifton and Camps Bay. On the southern slopes of Table Mountain are Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. There is a well-stocked Visitor Information Centre on the corner of Burg and Castle Street (00 27 21 426 4260, www.cape-town.org, open Monday-Friday 8am-5.30pm, Saturday 8.30am-1pm, Sunday 9am-1pm).

TAKE A VIEW

Board the revolving cable car (return ticket R80/£6.60, single ticket R44/£3.60, open 8am-9pm) which rotates up to the top of Table Mountain. The views are breathtaking. Hike along the rocky trails here, through the native fynbos vegetation, for a panoramic sweep down to the False Bay seaboard and all the way to Cape Point. However, note that the cable car is closed for maintenance from 26 July to 8 August.

TAKE A HIKE

The three-hour Footsteps to Freedom walking tour provides a good overview of the historically packed central district. It starts at the Visitor Information Centre; book on 00 27 21 426 4260. Tours leave daily at 10.30am and cost R100 (£8) for adults, children under 12 R50 (£4); alternatively, you can walk this route unguided. Start at St George's Mall and head to Greenmarket Square and the Old Town House which houses a collection of Dutch and Flemish art. Next stop is the Grand Parade, the city's oldest square, followed by the Castle of Good Hope, a military museum (open Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-4pm, admission free). Heading along Buitenkant Street you pass the Old Custom House before coming to the poignant District Six Museum (open Monday-Saturday 9am-4pm, donation requested). District Six, home to freed slaves, artisans and merchants was declared a White Group Area in 1966 and flattened by bulldozers. The walk continues past the Houses of Parliament and the museums quarter around the old Company's Gardens. Check out the South African National Gallery, on Government Avenue (open Tuesday-Sunday 10am-5pm, admission R5/40p) before heading down towards St George's Cathedral. Leaving the colonial centre behind head towards the Bo-Kaap Museum, at 71 Wale Street (open Monday-Saturday 9.30am-4.40pm, admission R5/40p). Bo-kaap was once home to residents brought over as slaves from Asia.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Long Street is a jumble of street cafes, backpacker lodges and second-hand shops; try the buzzing Long Street Café (00 27 21 424 2464) with its French bistro-style decor and toasties from R16 (£1.30). Or grab an outside table at Le Petit Paris on the picturesque Greenmarket Square (00 27 21 426 5520).

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Just 13km off Green Point, Robben Island became one of the most notorious prisons in the world thanks to the 18-year incarceration of Nelson Mandela. A tour includes the half-hour crossing from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and a guided trip around the island (00 27 21 413 4200, www.robben-island.org.za, adults R150/£13, children R75/£6.50).

AN APERITIF

One of the most popular places for a sundowner, tables spilling out onto the rocky water's edge, is La Med at Glen Country Club, Victoria Road, Clifton (00 27 21 438 5600, www.lamed.co.za).

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Check out Tank at 72 Waterkant Street (00 27 21 419 0007, www.the-tank.co.za). It is one of Cape Town's hottest new restaurants - fish and sushi are specialities. You can eat outside or inside while checking out the largest private fish tank in Africa. Dinner is around R220 (£19) a head.

SUNDAY MORNING, GO TO CHURCH

St George's Anglican Cathedral, on Wale Street, is also known as the People's Cathedral as its doors remained open to every race throughout the apartheid years. It was here that Desmond Tutu famously banged on the door, symbolically demanding to be installed as the first black archbishop of South Africa. It was also from here that he led 30,000 people to the Grand Parade in 1989, signalling the beginning of the end for apartheid. Sunday Mass takes place at 7.15am, 8am and 9.15am (sung). Evensong is at 7pm.

OUT TO BRUNCH

Kalk Bay on the False Bay seaboard is one of the most popular spots with Capetonians for brunch. There is a buzzing fish market on the harbour where you can watch the fishermen in traditional wooden boats bringing in their catch. Then wander over to the bustling Olympia Café and Deli, 134 Main Road (00 27 21 788 6396, daily 7am-9.30pm). To get to Kalk Bay, catch the Metrorail (R10/90p) from the concrete eyesore that is the bus and railway station.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Cecil Rhodes bought Kirstenbosch farm in 1895 so that it could be turned into a botanical garden for the South African people. Today Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens off Rhodes Avenue, (00 27 21 799 8899, open daily April-Aug 8am-6pm, Sept-March 8am-7pm, R20/£1.70) are spectacular.

TAKE A RIDE

...in a helicopter whirring over the city, out to the Winelands. Nac Makana Aviation at East Pier Road, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront ( www.nacmakana.com), offers trips from R534 (£45) per person.

WRITE A POSTCARD

...in the Company's Gardens, created by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 to grow vegetables for ships heading to the East. Sit on a bench and write your cards in view of the statue of Cecil Rhodes pointing north.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Think streets lined with picturesque Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture, historic wine estates in lush green valleys, and rolling slopes covered with vines. The Winelands, made up of the towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl are around an hour's drive from Cape Town. The valley of Franschhoek is the most compact and picturesque; highlights include the Cabriere Estate (00 27 21 876 2630).

CHECK IN

For grande-dame elegance, there is only one option, the Mount Nelson at 76 Orange Street (00 27 21 483 1000, www.mountnelsonhotel.orient-express.com). This is a soothing oasis in nine acres of lush gardens at the foot of Table Mountain. Doubles cost from R3,460 (£288) including breakfast although good deals are often available. Another luxury option is the Cape Grace at West Quay, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (00 27 21 410 7100, www.capegrace.co.za), which has doubles from R3220 (£266) including breakfast. A more contemporary alternative is the Bay Hotel at 69 Victoria Road (00 27 21 430 4444, www.thebay.co.za) on the beach in fashionable Camps Bay. Doubles cost from R1610 (£134) room only. A good guesthouse option is stylish Les Cascades de Bantry Bay at 48 De Wet Road, Bantry Bay (00 27 21 434 5209, www.lescascades.co.za) with six exquisite rooms with spectacular sea views from R625 (£52) including breakfast. Lezard Bleu at 30 Upper Orange Street (00 27 21 461 4601, www.lezardbleu.co.za) has double rooms from R780 (£65) including breakfast. There are numerous backpacker hostels around lively Long Street. Try the Long Street Backpackers, 209 Long Street (00 27 21 423 0615). A dorm bed costs R70 (£5.80).

WINDOW SHOPPING

The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront (00 27 21 408 7600, www.waterfront.co.za), Cape Town's original Victorian harbour, was revamped in the 1990s and is now the city's most popular attraction. However, it is very sanitised and bit cheesy.

For a more vibrant view of Cape Town, head to the area between Long Street and Strand where you'll find a mix of buskers, bustling markets and pavement cafés. Check out the Saturday market on the Grand Parade and the flea market in Greenmarket Square, a great place to wander and soak up the atmosphere. The pedestrianised St George's Mall is lined with jewellery shops, while on Long Street interspersed with the cafés and backpacker joints are bric-a-brac shops and the Pan African Market. This warren of passages is spread over three floors, with little shops selling a plethora of artefacts, from wooden masks to textiles. Note that shops in the city centre shut at about 1pm on Saturday and are closed Sundays.

TASTE OF THE CITY

South Africans are big meat eaters and exotic game such as kudu is often on the menu. African Café (00 27 21 422 0221) at 108 Shortmarket Street is a good place to sample traditional cuisine and offers an "eat as much as you can" deal for R125 (£11). Al fresco eating is understandably popular in a city with so many spectacular waterfront locations. Apart from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, one of the largest concentrations of waterside restaurants is in Camps Bay. Here Blues at 69 Victoria Road (00 27 21438 2040) is a popular if over-priced option overlooking the beach. Dinner costs around R470 (£40) a head.

There are numerous restaurants and bars along Kloof Street and around Long Street. Just round the corner you'll find Five Flies 14-16 Keerom Street (00 27 21 424 4442) a handful of little rooms around a central cobbled courtyard. You can choose between two courses R100/£8.50, three courses R135/£11.75, four R155/£13.50. Starters include fresh asparagus with orange-flavoured hollandaise sauce and red pepper coulis.

For a Cape Town institution, take tea at the Mount Nelson, served from 2.30pm-5pm every day in the orchid-and-hollyhock-strewn conservatory, on the terrace and down on the lawn. This is the perfect antidote to a day's sightseeing in the sun: inside, a piano tinkles beside a table spread with an array of smoked salmon and cucumber sandwiches, freshly baked scones piled high, whipped cream, jam and brownies. Tea costs R85 (£7.40) per person.

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