Summer in Cape Town may mean beach weather and festival season, but winter — spanning the end of May through August — is when you’ll find the city at its greenest. While this means prime weather for adventuring through the Cape’s natural wonders, travelers can also indulge in the city’s thriving food and wine scene or soak up some of the cultural hotspots. To jumpstart your research, here are just four ways to take on cosmopolitan Cape Town on your next South Africa trip.
Culture: Cape Town continues to thrive as it hits 20 years of a growing democracy, but evidence of its history are still strong reminders of how far the city has come. Just a 30-minute ferry ride away is Robben Island, where former president Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his imprisonment. Former political prisoners take guests on a guided visit of the prison and Mandela’s cell. The Bo-Kaap quarter, meanwhile, shows off a different side of the city’s history. The colorful buildings in this Malay quarter are home to the Muslim community — and still the spot where many of the descendants of Malaysian, Indonesian, and African slaves now live. The oldest house in the area, dating back to the 1760s, shows off Bo-Kaap’s history in museum form.
Food & Wine: Thanks to Cape Town’s multicultural background, the city has developed a unique melting pot of cuisines that mixes Moroccan, French, Malay-Thai, Korean, Portuguese, Indian, Chinese, and other flavors into its dishes. Of course, seafood is spectacular here given the seaside location. But we highly recommend letting some of South Africa’s specialties other specialties — like bunny chow from Durban, a curry-stuffed breadbowl sandwich, or the Cape Malay sosaties — take you through different parts of town. Just outside the city, as many know, wine country also awaits. Take a Napa Valley-style drive through the vines of one of the nearby regions, like Stellenbosch. It’s a 40-minute drive from the city and home to 200 producers, including the stunning Delaire Graff Estate that overlooks Winelands from its hillside perch.
Nature & Adventure: Weather in Cape Town can change in an instant, and locals look at one of the New Seven Wonders of the World — Table Mountain — to predict the forecast. Unfortunately it’s hard to predict whether Table Mountain itself will be clear or blanketed in clouds, but if it’s a nice day, the top will be open and you can take a cable car ride up. The park also has over 350 trails if you’d rather hike your way to the top. For something more adventurous, travelers can paraglide off Table Mountain or nearby Lions Head or Signal Hill. Of course, there are plenty of other more laid-back ways to bask in the nature, like on one of Cape Town’s beaches. (Camps Bay is one of our favorites.)
Shopping: Whether you’re looking for more traditional African artwork or funky modern jewelry, Cape Town’s markets and boutiques have something for every type of shopper — and make for good browsing even if you aren’t much of a shopper at all. Start at V&A Waterfront, home to 450 shops. Here, the more traditional chain stores are located on the wharf; tucked further back, the Watershed area has 150 vendors selling original craftwork, bohemian bags, and handmade jewelry.
Those are the kinds of goods that Greenmarket Square in the city’s business district was once known for. Now, shopping there more resembles a flea market experience for African artwork and clothing — so if you’re hunting for something more traditional, this is the spot. Be sure to haggle, though. Further from the city center, Old Biscuit Mill used to be just that in the late-19th century: a biscuit mill. These days, the mill is a redesigned shopping center encompassing a creative community of galleries, design stores, bistros, and workshops. If you want quirky housewares and a fabulous lunch, this is the place to add to your itinerary.