Luke’s winter “half-term” week off always comes at the perfect time. After the excitement and thrill of the Christmas season, we slog through January in anticipation of a warm weather vacation in mid-February. Almost a year ago, we booked tickets to Cape Town hoping we could get there despite the roller coaster of travel restrictions. And we made it!
Mitch and I first visited Cape Town in early 2009, but a 22-hour trip from Atlanta is not one you look forward to repeating very often. So cutting the travel time in half from London was appealing, and since we had already enjoyed a few safaris in the past, we decided to focus our time on Cape Town and the areas nearby.
Things to Do
We are not daredevils, but our family does love a bit of healthy adventure. Cape Town delivers with lots of options (even really crazy stuff if your mother is willing to allow it: cage shark diving, bungee jumping, etc). We chose the “out of our comfort zone but not our life insurance policy” activities and loved each and every one!
Paragliding – An exhilarating way to see the city with an expert who does all the work for you, including getting great Go-Pro footage!
Surfing – Muizenberg is the spot for beginner surf lessons and has a miles-long beach for a family day out in the sun. (Don’t forget your sunscreen. Our pasty English skin got a bit burned!)
Diving with seals in the kelp forest – This one-of-a-kind experience is a must-do if you are scuba certified. We dove in the neighborhood of My Octopus Teacher and saw beautifully-bright coral and starfish, slithered through dramatic kelp forests (not claustrophobic at all like I imagined) and the highlight for me—swimming underwater with playful seals!
Hiking Table Mountain – This is not for the faint of heart. If you are fit enough to run a 10K, you could probably tackle this extremely steep and long hike. Otherwise, take the cable car! If you decide to hike, pack double the amount of water you think you’ll need and wear a hat. It’s very exposed. Taking the cable car is fun and quick, just be sure to arrive early as the line gets long quickly even if you bought your tickets online. After you enjoy a wander around at the top, join the free, 30-minute guided tour with a local expert who orients you geographically with many highlights around the city.
More hiking – With more time and a more-willing teenager, we would have hiked Lions Head for a sunrise or sunset. It’s only 45 minutes up and the views are stunning. The city has many more hikes and trails throughout its gorgeous mountains if that’s your thing.
Robben Island – Taking a half day to visit Robben Island is a must-do, in my opinion. Understanding the history and context of the Cape is really important, not just the Nelson Mandela years but all the way back to the colonizations by the Dutch and English. The tickets include a ferry ride, bus tour around the island and an impactful walk through the maximum security ward with an ex-political prisoner who takes you through the cells and tells his story of incarceration and freedom.
Sunsets and Views – When you are tired from all of your physical activities, plan to slow down in time for the sunset. Cape Town has many spots that are perfect to see the sun dip into the horizon, but our favorites were Signal Hill and Camps Bay. We also loved the Chapmans Peak Drive, which is between False Bay and central CT. It’s gorgeous any time of day.
Where to Eat
I had forgotten just how wonderful the food is in Cape Town—fresh seafood and sushi, grilled meats and farm fresh fruit and vegetables. They offer very continental cuisine and because of the exchange rate, it’s super reasonable compared to England and America. We made bookings in advance for dinner. Here are our favorites, by neighborhood:
Cape Town central:
Test Kitchen Fledglings – my favorite meal in CT, and we heard the sister restaurant The Potluck Club is also amazing (it was closed while we were there). Both are in a renovated, warehouse-y property called The Biscuit Mill. There is gated, secure parking and cool shops in there, too.
Kloof Street House – super cool house with wide variety of delicious food
Truth Coffee – great coffee, tea and breakfast spot (voted best coffee in the world)
Rock Pool – outdoor, super casual lunch with great food
Codfather – Luke’s favorite meal, awesome fresh fish and fun rotating sushi bar. Go for the Camps Bay sunset by the tide pool and walk to dinner here.
The Lawns at the Roundhouse – casual, outdoor and lively spot under big umbrellas with great food and drinks, overlooks Camps Bay
If you go down to False Bay to scuba dive or surf, Tiger’s Milk has great, casual food and views. Other Tiger’s Milk locations are in Cape Town, Camps Bay, etc.
We had dinner at Brass Bell in Kalk Bay and it was excellent seafood and sushi. Best fish and chips I’ve ever had! Request a table in the upper room overlooking the tide pool.
Don’t Forget the Wine
If you have any interest in wine tasting and gourmet food or just want to explore more of South Africa, spend a day or two in stunning Franschhoek, a gorgeous enclave in the mountains just an hour from Cape Town. It is picture perfect and has many more restaurants and wineries than you could tackle in 48 hours…we tried!
Boschendal – Large property with a winery, restaurant, farm store and a weekend food market where you could picnic under the trees. So beautiful!
La Motte – Another large property with a tasting room, restaurant and small museum of family history. We loved their charcuterie and cheese platters paired with wines for lunch on the glass porch.
Chamonix – Loved this winery with tastings and a one-hour game drive option that takes you up into the hills on their property to show off their zebras, ostrich and cape buffalo.
Haute Cabriere – Gorgeous views from this winery and restaurant. The three-course lunch was divine!
La Petite Ferme – Just up the road from Haute Cabriere, this restaurant also has incredible views and unbelievable food. Pretty sunsets over the mountains!
Boekenhoutskloof – We didn’t make it there this time, but their Chocolate Block wine is one of our favorites. I remember the tasting was really personal and memorable.
Eikehof – Small winery with great staff and tastings in their backyard under the trees overlooking the vines and mountains.
A Word about Safety
Many people asked if we would be safe in Cape Town, and just as I would recommend in any urban city—Atlanta, London or New York—I share these reminders. Cape Town is a vibrant, modern city but is also complicated and sadly, still has issues of poverty and inequality. Don’t let that deter you from visiting. It’s a gorgeous city with incredibly friendly people!
- Don’t ever leave anything visible in the car
- Don’t walk around in the central downtown after dark
- Keep some cash on hand (5 Rand notes) to pay the “parking attendants.” These are guys who wear hi-glo vests and watch your car when it’s parked in a lot or on the street. They are very nice and work for tips.
- Everyone takes credit cards, so we only got out a few hundred Rand for tipping.
- Uber is safe and very cheap! You could manage without a rental car in Cape Town. Even the drives to the wine country or False Bay would be very reasonable.