What to Do in Cape Town: A love letter to the Mother City

January 7, 2023
A love letter to the Mother City

I write this from my home in Cape Town—a destination that will feel very far away to some and delightfully familiar to others. The Mother City is the home of most of our ROAR AFRICA team and is unlike anywhere else I know.

For us, this city is so much more than the sum of her parts. Cape Town’s energy is strong, positive and present… it engulfs you. There is something innately powerful about being hugged between the towering 3,000-foot sheath of rock that is Table Mountain and an ocean where two mighty currents meet. This melting pot of warmth, culture, buzz, diversity and wild beauty holds one tight in its grip.

Sharing one’s home is always completely different from selling a destination or compiling a list of must-do activities in Cape Town. At ROAR AFRICA, our real, homegrown knowledge—fostered over 11 generations—makes us unique. What is the authenticity we search for when we travel? For me, it’s the opposite of anything overly planned; it’s about accessing what is not for sale.

Moving forward, I want to focus on how to travel rather than where to travel. To travel slowly and thoughtfully. By doing less, you will see more. By being in the company of local residents, you will fully absorb your surroundings and move through them more meaningfully, rather than pursuing an exhaustive, tick-the-box list of “what to do in Cape Town” and “where to stay in South Africa.”

Below, I have highlighted a few of my favorite routines and beloved activities in Cape Town. These are the nostalgic comforts that I really love when I’m in the Mother City, my second home, and that we can’t wait to share with you.

Please join us as we share our capital with you—from its riveting culture and history to iconic peaks and hidden Cape Town beaches.

Discover captivating Cape Town

From the jagged peaks of Table Mountain to the vibrant neighborhoods, sandy shores and sapphire sea that lie below, the beauty of the Mother City is ever-present. Before venturing out, one needs to understand the unique journey that awaits.

Cape Town is one of a kind and astounds with its rich history, incredible dining experiences, and endless opportunities for adventure—wrapped up in a stunning natural setting that is healing, restorative and deeply moving. The oldest city in South Africa, Cape Town has enamored many over its 400-year history, evolving from a Dutch trading center to one of the world’s great cosmopolitan cities. It is a true melting pot, with indigenous South African, European and South Asian cultures leaving an enduring mark on the city.

Cape Town is a year-round destination, with a pleasant Mediterranean climate that feeds our constant yearning for the outdoors. It is always a good time to explore our city’s unparalleled beaches and national parks, thriving museum scene and fabulous food and drink—both in the city limits and the nearby Winelands. This city of contrasts, our home, is an endless playground for the curious adventurer.

A city rich in culture and curiosity

Though Cape Town is home to world-class accommodations and luxury African villas, the best of our city lies beyond the hotel. And our expert, on-the-ground ROAR AFRICA guides hold the keys that unlock many of Cape Town’s doors. From the archives in parliament revealed by an official to a visit to Robben Island led by Mandela’s prison guard, we believe our city’s long, complex history is best recounted by locals who lived it.

In the category of cultural museums, Robben Island is unrivaled. One of many South African World Heritage Sites, the island was host to political prisoners for 500 years, including freedom fighters during South Africa’s period of apartheid rule. Since the end of this brutal chapter in the 1990s, the Robben Island Museum has educated visitors about the universal significance of the island—as a symbol of the human spirit and our never-ending pursuit of freedom over oppression.

While Robben Island allows us to appreciate the lived experience of revered activists like Nelson Mandela, the District Six Museum sheds light on how apartheid affected Cape Town’s everyday residents. Once a diverse community of freed slaves, immigrants, and workers, District Six was destroyed when the government segregated the neighborhood and forcibly removed thousands of people from their homes. The museum tells their stories and is unmissable for those who wish to confront the city’s complex history. The Iziko South African Museum, meanwhile, is a feat of scientific preservation, with displayed objects ranging from ancient stone tools and 700 million-year-old fossils to traditional clothing from centuries past.

One can’t walk the streets of Cape Town, an UNESCO City of Design, without noticing an abundance of incredible architecture. From the grandeur of the Nelson Mandela Bridge and the V&A Waterfront to the breathtaking landscape-inspired qualities of Bosjes Chapel, Cape Town architecture is best appreciated in person and upon repeat visits.

A capital of art and cuisine

The pace of life in Cape Town is slow yet dynamic, with something to appreciate at every hour of the day. I like to spend the morning hiking or surfing, followed by an afternoon at our city’s great art museums and an evening wining and dining at countless wonderful restaurants, sipping craft cocktails amidst the buzz of Cape Town nightlife.

Our favorite Cape Town art museums

An afternoon immersed in contemporary art at the world-class Zeitz MOCAA, the first major institution dedicated exclusively to showing works by African artists, is a sensory feast. The architecture (the museum is set inside an imaginatively renovated grain silo), the light and sheer scale of the myriad galleries astonishes and inspires.

Also running in support of African talent are two of the city’s top art galleries, Smith Studio and Southern Guild. Both have ever-changing exhibitions featuring paintings, furniture and more by local and emerging artists, giving you a sense of the creativity that underscores life in Cape Town. A walking tour of street art and graffiti, meanwhile, sheds much light on South Africa’s past and future.

Of course, in a city like Cape Town, art and nature are in constant conversation. Get a dose of the outdoors while visiting the Norval Foundation—a modern and contemporary African art museum with a sculpture garden and views of Table Mountain National Park—and the Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden, a reservations-only experience situated between the pristine vineyards and rugged mountains of Stellenbosch.

The best restaurants and food and wine experiences in Cape Town

Cape Town cuisine is a confluence of food cultures—from Cape Malay to Cape Dutch—, and a flourishing community of young and established chefs ensures that you’ll always have something new to taste.

Come dinnertime, Cape Town is flush with good restaurants—such as newer favorites like Mano’s and The Nines or NV-80, a longtime go-to. Of course, knowing the owners and having them as friends since teenage years makes all the difference in getting a table. Further afield in picturesque Hout Bay, it’s as much a treat to introduce our guests to a “fish on the rocks” as it is to sit down for the fabulous tasting menu at Chefs Warehouse at Tintswalo Atlantic.

Breakfast often happens at Naked Coffee in Sea Point, but on the weekend, only the Oranjezicht City Farm Market will do. To wander between the food stalls and sit amongst the convivial local buzz of others doing the same in the sunshine, with the ocean as your backdrop, highlights the wonder of life in this playground.

Also, on the edge of this outdoor playground are Franschhoek and Stellenbosch in the Cape Winelands. There you’ll find a food lover’s paradise with endless options to experience some of the best wines in the world—wines that you have never heard of and can rarely buy—alongside fine dining or always-fabulous, plain old steak and chips (the only thing on the menu at Rust en Vrede). Our resident oenophiles at ROAR AFRICA are always happy to arrange a wine tour or tasting.

In search of something different? How about a lively Cape Malay cooking class in the colorful Bo-Kaap district, or perhaps a casual braai (traditional South African BBQ) at the family home of a ROAR AFRICA guide?

Wild beauty and adventure beyond belief

Profound natural beauty is forever at your fingertips in Cape Town. Through the simple act of engaging with the outdoors, we can reset our frazzled minds to the natural rhythm of nature. These are just a few perks of Cape Town’s abundant natural gifts.

Incredible wildlife encounters await

Cape Town is often the gateway to a broader South African safari, but unforgettable wildlife encounters can be had within the city. For starters, you’ll find Africa’s only colony of penguins amidst the turquoise coves of Boulders Beach, where they are a particular joy to observe during breeding season from March to May. Short excursions lead to other amazing marine life sightings: whales breaching in view of Walker Bay, bottlenose dolphins and great white sharks swimming in False Bay, and thousands of Cape fur seals lounging on Duiker Island.

On land—particularly at Table Mountain National Park—we’ve happily grown accustomed to seeing antelope, dassies, and Chacma baboons. A world-class birding destination, the park also presents prime viewing opportunities for hundreds of species.

Cape Town’s outdoor activities abound

For me, no morning is complete without a hike on Table Mountain. It is the framework of my day, a deep grounding where I look harder, see more and listen in silence as nature’s splendor consumes me. Hiking trails are plentiful in Cape Town’s best national park and suit every experience level.

Unsurprisingly, Cape Town is a watersports enthusiast’s wonderland. Surfing, snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding, diving, kayaking, and kite-surfing are part of everyday life off the coast of Cape Town. Of course, it would be impossible to forget swimming among seals in Hout Bay or octopi in the Great African Sea Forest, immortalized in the Oscar-winning film My Octopus Teacher. Day excursions present other opportunities for water activities—try river rafting in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve.

If scenic drives are more your speed, the drive through the protea-thick hills and storybook coastal curves on the way to the Cape of Good Hope feels like reaching the end of the world—in a good way. Empty, windswept beaches, wild ostriches, and endless expanses of blue sea open up the space to think and dream. And to return, one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful coastal drives on earth: Chapman’s Peak.

A wealth of beautiful beaches

In Cape Town, we are truly spoiled for choice when it comes to breathtaking beaches. Just a few of our favorites include Muizenberg Beach—where surfers test their skills and colorful huts line the sand—and Buffels Bay, a crescent-shaped stretch of sand with water that displays every shade of blue on the color spectrum. Sandwiched by granite boulders, Glen Beach is a local’s secret come sunset, while the unbelievably scenic Camps Bay is a Cape Town classic for a reason.

An unforgettable destination for the entire family

Travel has the potential to transform your family forever, and that holds especially true in a place as memorable and singular as Cape Town. With adventures for every age, the Mother City makes for the ultimate family vacation. We frequently send our clients to Two Oceans Aquarium, where little ones can see more than 10,000 sea animals while learning about marine life at the meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Aside from easy days spent at our city’s countless beaches, parks and gardens, kayaking in Sea Point, riding the cable cars on Table Mountain and ziplining in the forests of Hout Bay are a few of the family-friendly activities that make Cape Town so hospitable for every age group.

I hope this brief love letter to Cape Town gives you a taste of the spectacular diversity that pulses through this magical place we call home. As our guest, you have the opportunity to visit new and beloved places with a genuine, immersive approach that makes a concrete impact on local communities. Rather than longing for a reality unknown, real travel is about coming to terms with the world the way it is—and knowing that the wealth of any experience is, in fact, the freedom within it.

Learn more about what makes South Africa an incomparable African safari destination at ROAR AFRICA.


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