Cape Town is captivating thanks to its cultural diversity, complex history, wildlife, and natural beauty. The country’s so-called rainbow cuisine blends African, Cape Malay, Indian, and Portuguese influences in dishes like curries and stews. Sausages, skewered meats, and fish are done braai (barbecue) style, while the lush Cape Winelands produce wonderful wines.
Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Ride and Hike
Named for its flat plateau, Table Mountain is South Africa's most notable geographic landmark. The cableway goes up and down every 15 minutes, and from the top, you can view Cape Town and its bays and peninsula. Ambitious walkers can follow well-marked trails to the summit, then take the cableway down. The plateau is also a sanctuary for birds, lizards, and "dassies," small, plump-bodied mammals that are sometimes likened in appearance to guinea pigs.
Classic food option: For lunch or dinner, The Roundhouse—a former 18th-century guardhouse—offers stunning views and cuisine to match. Dine indoors or out and enjoy Cape Malay–spiced chicken curry, mussels in a creamy wine sauce, or vegetable samosas. Reservations strongly suggested.
Trendy food option: Before or after spending time at Table Mountain, take a bus or taxi to the nearby Camps Bay area on the waterfront. Here, The Bungalow Restaurant offers breathtaking sea views complemented by delicious cuisine and cocktails or wine. Fresh oysters, mussels, prawns, and sushi are highlights.
Unexpected food option: The Table Mountain Café is unexpectedly both good and well priced. Sip coffee and choose from fresh salads, gourmet sandwiches, hot meat pies, ostrich sausage, and sweet treats at the self-service buffet. Absorb the breathtaking views from the floor-to-ceiling windows. At the lower station, an old cable car turned kiosk sells ice cream.
Robben Island and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
Robben Island is Cape Town's defunct version of Alcatraz and is best known as the site where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of the 27 years he spent incarcerated under apartheid. It's a pleasant 30-minute ferry ride across Table Bay from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, and visitors can also take in the Robben Island village and church, a lighthouse, a limestone quarry, and an African penguin colony. Return to the waterfront and stroll Alfred Mall's shops, cafés, and restaurants.
Classic food option: It doesn't get much better than enjoying fresh fish and chips or oysters at waterfront tables and benches while sipping excellent local beer and listening to live music. This makes Quay Four Tavern the ideal gastropub. The fancier, more expensive restaurant is upstairs.
Trendy food option: A great waterfront view and meal are guaranteed at Mondiall on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Lunch and dinner are particularly good, with innovative items such as smoked snoek pâté and ostrich parfait on the menu. Follow up the meal with a banana split.
Unexpected food option: Nearby yet off the waterfront, engage in a fun-filled African adventure at GOLD. An evening at the restaurant includes traditional drumming demos, folk storytelling, a multicourse Cape Malay–inspired dinner, and dancing entertainment. Reservations required.
Company's Garden and Museums and Green Market Square (The City Bowl)
This picturesque city garden began in 1652 as a source of fresh produce for ships coming in and out of Table Bay. Today, it houses Parliament and St. George's Cathedral, as well as important art venues. The Iziko South African Museum and Planetarium, the South African National Gallery, and the South African Jewish Museum are clustered around a rose garden that features a koi pond and the country's oldest cultivated pear tree. Nearby, cobblestoned Green Market Square has an open-air craft market that's open Monday to Saturday.
Classic food option: The Company's Garden Restaurant near the Houses of Parliament is a pretty, windowed restaurant serving delicious breakfast favorites such as banana bread French toast and eggs Benedict with salmon. Lunch highlights include salads, organic chicken or beef dishes, and a perfect ploughman's platter of cheeses, meats, and homemade preserves. Teatime treats change daily.
Trendy food options: Head to historic yet trendy Long Street to taste tapas at FORK, where Cape Malay spices add pizzazz to pancetta-wrapped prawns, ostrich-filled turnovers, beef carpaccio crostini, and smoked salmon rolls. They all pair perfectly with Pinotage or Chenin Blanc. Another option is to hit the other hip area of Klopf Street to grab breakfast, lunch, or dinner at the low-key Power and the Glory. Its hideaway Black Ram Bar opens its doors at 5 p.m.
Unexpected food option: Chef's Warehouse is a cornucopia of culinary delights. This cool, canteen-style venue serves lunch or late afternoon and early evening bites. Mouthwatering items include biltong sausage, pâté, potted crab, and fritters, all enjoyed with beer or wine. Salt, spices, and other food items are sold here too.
Woodstock Neighborhood: Old Biscuit Mill, Galleries, and Market
South Africa's version of Brooklyn, Woodstock is a hip, renovated neighborhood with plenty of options for activities and dining. The Old Biscuit Mill is a former cracker factory that now houses diverse restaurants, designer crafts, and gift shops. On Saturdays, the open courtyard becomes the Neighbourgoods Market, where food purveyors and artisans feature their wares. Stroll nearby Sir Lowry Road to wander in and out of the many galleries exhibiting the work of talented native artists.
Classic food option: At The Test Kitchen, award-winning chef Luke Dale Roberts uses local ingredients to prepare exquisite dishes with South African and Asian flair. This is why it's considered one of the city's best restaurants. The menu at Roberts's more casual Pot Luck Club, located in the same building, breaks dishes down by taste: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.
Trendy food options: Eating is a blast at Redemption Burgers, where colorful stools and chairs set the scene for an excellent breakfast, lunch, or early dinner. Here, it's as fun to read the menu as it is to dine. Have French Kiss French toast or the Farmer's Cigar, black sesame pancakes rolled and stuffed with scrambled eggs and bacon. Bursting burgers include the chicken and pesto Low Flyer, the veggie Home Grown, and the ostrich Flimsy Gypsy. For an afternoon or evening drink and bite close to the Old Biscuit Mill, try the Woodstock Lounge, which serves appealing casual fare such as salads, gourmet pizzas, pastas, and burgers, complemented by a fully stocked bar and a great wine list.
Unexpected food option: The Kitchen is a catering company as well as a small deli-like restaurant serving a fantastic breakfast and lunch. Cooking paraphernalia displayed alongside mismatched ceramics add to the ambience. A blackboard menu highlights selections ranging from egg dishes to salads and sandwiches. The Love Sandwich specialty is made with grilled chicken, ham, or mustard sausage topped with a creamy garlic "love potion" dressing.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (Rhodes Drive, Newlands)
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is arguably one of the best botanical gardens in the world. Stroll its various footpaths, linger in the sculpture garden, wander through the glass-roofed conservatory, and join a free guided walking tour. The garden's location in a residential area means there aren't many eating options in the vicinity. However, in the heart of Kirstenbosch is marvelous Moyo, a post-and-beam restaurant with a terrific terrace and amazing African specialties—ideal for lunch or dinner. Or plan a picnic at the garden. Call at least 72 hours in advance to order a prepared basket packed with biltong, peri-peri-spiced prawn skewers, and marinated ostrich kebabs to eat on the lawn.
Hungry for More?
Cape Town is the main attraction, but these two sights are great additions to the South African experience. Both are day trips that will leave a lasting impression.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Cape Point and Peninsula
This world-renowned panoramic point showcases the meeting point of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Superb coastline scenery blends beaches with mountain ranges and wildlife. The Flying Dutchman funicular rail provides easy access to Cape Point, where you can view the Cape of Good Hope from the apex where the old lighthouse stands. There's also an ostrich farm nearby.
Classic food option: On Cape Point, lunch at Two Oceans Restaurant to continue enjoying the view from the veranda or large windows. Fresh sushi, mussels, trout, and a daring charcuterie platter with ostrich skewers, biltong, and smoked warthog are intriguing offerings with pleasing results.
Trendy food option: A warm welcome sets the stage at Foodbarn in Noordhoek Farm Village. Enjoy a refined yet rustic lunch or dinner with a Mediterranean twist in the restored barn space. Or opt for the smaller Foodbarn Deli, serving tapas and small bites.
Unexpected food option: Watch penguins play while having breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Boulders Beach Lodge and Restaurant on beautiful Boulders Beach, located between the Cape of Good Hope and Simon's Town. A protected, land-based colony of African penguins lives within the windswept coves and tidal rocks here.
The Cape Winelands
A temperate maritime climate and cool breezes contribute to South Africa's critically hailed wines. In the Cape Winelands—an area of fertile valleys and lush vineyards—the historic town of Stellenbosch is the base for amazing wineries and tastings.
Classic food option: Guests will want a culinary encore for their lunch or dinner at the Overture at Hidden Valley. The breathtaking views from the contemporary restaurant setting blend beautifully with interesting dishes and wines that include Hidden Valley Secret Shiraz, Pinotage, and Sauvignon Blanc.
Trendy food option: Chocolate and wine pair well at Waterford Estate, where a series of dark and milk chocolates are matched with Waterford's Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and sweet dessert wines.
Unexpected food option: Jordan Wine Estate was a more than 300-year-old farm when the Jordan family acquired it in 1982. After renovating, they planted vines and began making award-winning vintages in 1993. Homemade breads, farm cheeses, charcuterie, and organic salads are now offered from their bakery, where wines are meticulously matched to sip and savor on their terrace overlooking the vineyards.