You Have To Do These 10 Things In Cape Town
1. Delve into the intriguing world of diamonds in Cape Town
The story of diamonds in South Africa starts with a young boy, who happened to pick up a shiny, transparent stone on his father’s farm in 1867. As it turned out, the stone was a 21.19ct diamond (coined ‘Eureka’), and the beautiful gem reshaped the family’s life, and the country, forever.
By 1871 dozens of more diamond-rich sites and been discovered. Scores of fortune seekers from around the world descended on the town of Kimberley in the Northern Cape in search of their own ‘eureka’ moments. Since then South African soils have birthed some of the world’s most celebrated diamonds, including the largest rough diamond ever found, the 3,106.75ct Cullinan diamond.
Renowned jewellery designer and CEO and Founder, Yair Shimansky chose to bring the story of South Africa’s diamonds to life when he created the Shimansky Diamond Experience, celebrating diamonds in Cape Town. Replicas of the world’s most famous diamonds are displayed alongside fascinating exhibits explaining the journey of the gems from mine to finger. Beautifully curated, and personally guided, it celebrates diamonds uniquely and engagingly.
2. Sample wines with a difference
South Africa is classified as a New World wine region like its southern cousins Australia and New Zealand. However, the first grapes were planted in the Western Cape region of South Africa in 1655 and winemakers have spent the last 364 years perfecting their art.
The wine regions around the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are wonderful to explore. Book yourself into one of the many lodges that represent the original Cape Dutch architecture of the early days in the region such as De Zalze lodge. For something a little different, try the region’s pinotage. Wine experts compare Western Cape pinotages to Southern French blends made from Carignan, Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvedre. South African Sauvignon Blanc is also a palate pleaser. They’re fresh, green and less intense than those produced in New Zealand, for example.
If you’d prefer a local experts to show you the ropes, book a curated wine experience and experience the Franschhoek region aboard a hop-on and hop-off vintage tram.
3. Watch whales up close
Locals of the Western Cape get pretty blasé about seeing whales cruise through their waters. These mighty beasts (humpback whales, southern right whales, and Bryde's whales) descend on the cold ocean waters of False Bay from Antarctica to calve their offspring every year.
The hamlet of Hermanus is rated one of the best 12 places to whale watch in the world. September sees the annual Hermanus Whale Festival swing into full gear and is the prime time to visit if you want to see all the action. The town hugs the coastline with dramatic cliffs making viewing of their breaching and blowing rewarding and easy even if you don’t leave the shore.
Southern Right Charters are your go-to crew for ‘boat safaris'. Their boat-based whale watching trips depart three times a day from the new harbour in Hermanus. The catamaran is kitted with refreshments, and a specialist guide will accompany you. They're experienced and trained to get close to these incredible beasts so you can view them up-close and personal.
4. Eat at the best restaurant in the world
We’re not exaggerating here, Wolfgat was awarded the status as the number one dining spot on the globe in 2019 by the World Restaurant Awards. Wolfgat can be found in a tiny fishing village called Paternoster, about two hour’s drive from Cape Town, South Africa.
The location is spectacular. The coastline and lime-washed homes have a feeling of Mykonos, only wilder. Winning chef Kobus van der Merwe is a trailblazer who serves up unique dishes inspired by the ingredients he ‘forages’ from the bush and ocean (seaweed is a regular on the menu), or sustainably and locally sourced. Both fresh and salted seafood abound on the menu, but carnivores won’t be able to resist the scrub-fed lamb.
You’re guaranteed to have your mind stretched and your taste buds awoken at this 20-seater spot.
5. Walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela
As South Africa's most beloved and celebrated icons, numerous sites pay homage to Mandela around the country. But none of them are as confronting and interesting as a visit to Robben Island. The island is close to the shore of Cape Town, and it’s where ‘Madiba’ spent more than two decades, with other political prisoners. Many of the tour guides are former prisoners.
A ferry trip takes you to the shore where you’ll be guided through the historical sights, ending with a viewing of Nelson Mandela’s cell. The 7-by-9-foot room was his home for 16 of the 27 years he was imprisoned. Mandela’s legacy will be evident throughout your trip to South Africa, but it was here that the spirit of reconciliation and harmony was born.
6. Sleep on Table Mountain
If you're looking for different things to do in Cape Town, look up! Table Mountain is aptly called because it literally looks like a tabletop, complete with clouds that spill over it like a tablecloth when the south-easter wind picks up. The rock dominates the city of Cape Town, and you’ll be itching to summit it from the moment you land. The cableway is the way to experience without breaking a sweat.
For the more adventurous, instead hike your way up (always with a trained guide, the mountain can be treacherous), and then huddle down for the night at the Overseers Cottage. The self-catering, renovated cottage can sleep up to 16, and guarantees to serve up incredible stargazing.
7. Check out the art scene
South African artists such as Marlene Dumas and Irma Stern fetch huge prices on the international art market. Cape Town is the cultural heart of South Africa, and the local galleries are filled with incredible local and pan-African artists’ work. The new Zeitz MOCAA - Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is the place to discover what African-born art is all about. The gallery is located in a renovated (and reimagined) produce silo. If you just visit to admire the work of architect Thomas Heatherwick, it’s a visit you won’t forget.
8. Picnic at Kirstenbosch
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens rest at the foot of Table Mountain, just outside the city. A highlight is the Tree Canopy Walkway, a curved steel and wood bridge that takes you through the treetops to experience the best views of the gardens. At 130m long and 12 metres high at its highest point, it’s tame enough for everyone to try.
Buy a picnic hamper at the Kirstenbosch Tea Room which is on-site, and then laze away the rest of the afternoon on the ample lawns.
9. Learn to cook a Malay curry
One of the best ways to learn about local life is through your stomach. The heritage area of the Bo-Kaap district overlooks the city. Lined with brightly coloured cottages originally build for Malay slaves, it has retained its cultural identity. You can’t miss tasting the local delicacies such as the samosas and traditional curries. Even better learn how to make them with the legendary Zainie in her home.
10. Visit Kalk Bay Harbour
The village of Kalk Bay is both quaint and fascinating. The tiny harbour still operates. Make sure you visit the fish market and meet the local seals hanging around for their treats. The high street is filled with antique shops, boutiques, and other intriguing stores. For the best views (and 5-star seafood dining) book a table at Harbour House. When the tide is high, the waves crash below the restaurant, and the air is filled with salt. When it's cold and windy, it offers a snug hideaway without having to remove yourself from the beauty outside.