How to spend a week in Cape Town

·8-min read
Cape Town, South Africa  (PA Archive)
Cape Town, South Africa (PA Archive)

After 18 months of travel restrictions, South Africa was removed from the red list last month.

The country has long topped lists of best winter sun destinations and airlines reported a 150 percent increase in bookings within hours of restrictions being lifted.

Fabulous beaches, excellent food, near-endless winelands, some of the world’s greatest scenery, wildlife, plus history and culture in abundance, Cape Town offers it all and in one city. With so much to see — but limited annual leave — it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some top tips on how to see the best of Cape Town and its nearby Winelands in just a few days.

Cape Town

It would take years to see and experience everything on offer in the so-called Mother City. While not the official capital of South Africa, it is the tourism capital of the country and it will keep you busy from the moment you land.

What to see

Table Mountain is the number one must-see attraction. You can walk up and there are various routes, depending on your ability and timeframe, or you can get the cable car. Go up as at your first opportunity - the cableway is often closed due to bad weather or poor visibility. If you fancy a hike, but don’t want as much of a commitment, there is also Lion’s Head or Devil’s Peak and even the Twelve Apostles, the crags facing the Atlantic Ocean.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are well worth a visit, the 528-hectare city centre nature reserve of indigenous forest and fynbos. It hosts summer concerts which are fabulous.

Spend some time enjoying the Clifton, Glen and Camps Bay beaches, and hire a car or book a tour to take you on Chapman’s Peak Drive - the stunning road that boasts one of the most jaw-dropping driving routes in the world. The toll road is about nine kilometres between Noordhoek and Hout Bay, south of the main city.

Glen and Camps Bay beaches (Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Glen and Camps Bay beaches (Bloomberg via Getty Images)

For shoppers, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is a must-visit. Trips to Robben Island leave from the Nelson Mandela Gateway in the waterfront, as do other boat trips - the sunset champagne tours are fantastic - as well as the scenic helicopter flights if you feel like splashing some cash.

Then there’s wildlife. For most visitors, seeing the Big Five — lions, leopards, black rhinoceros, African bush elephant, and the African buffalo — is on the bucket list for a visit to South Africa. The b news is, most of the safari parks and resorts in South Africa are nearer Johannesburg, around the world-famous Kruger National Park. The best wildlife experience I have had within touching distance of Cape Town is a few days at Gondwana Game Reserve near Mossel Bay where you will see giraffes, elephants, buffalo and hippos in the wild. It’s a around four hours by road, but you can fly to Mossel Bay from Cape Town. If you can spare a night or two and wildlife is an absolute must, it is well worth going. In Cape Town, visit the Simon’s Town penguins. Top tip: book a sea kayak tour of the area for something really special.

Elsewhere, Hermanus a two-hour drive from Cape Town offers whale watching at certain times of the year (season tends to be between July and Nov/December). You can book a tour, or just spend your time looking out to the ocean to spot the majestic beasts. Birkenhead House is a fabulous place to stay, should you fancy an overnight jaunt.

Where to eat

I am not exaggerating when I say I have an entire notebook dedicated to where to eat in Cape Town; it’s one of the greatest culinary cities in the world. Locals will roll their eyes at this touristy spot, but I always mention Codfather in Camps Bay — I spotted Dermot O’Leary there once — for its brilliant seafood and sushi.

Chefs Warehouse @ Beau Constantia is fantastic (it featured on a series of Masterchef) and boasts phenomenal views. Down the road there is La Colombe, one of the city’s most awarded French restaurants. In town, there is small plate eatery Between Us, Indian specialists Thali and contemporary South African venue Fyn.

Arguably one of the most famous restaurants in Cape Town is Test Kitchen, which is more of a Michelin-style experience than a simple bite to eat. It is owned by Luke Dale-Roberts, who has been described by Heston Blumenthal as being “a truly fantastic chef.” You need sharp elbows and a big budget to eat there. But its sister restaurants Pot Luck Club and The Shortmarket club are both excellent for something less extravagant (and easier to get a table at).

Wolfgat, the tiny West coast restaurant about two-and-a-half hours from Cape Town and named the best in the world a few years ago, is worth a visit — if you can get a table, of course.

Where to stay

Cape Town is full of fabulous accommodation options. Most visitors tend to stay in one of the following areas: Camps Bay (for beach lovers), Waterfront (for its close proximity to everything) or City Bowl/Kloof Street (for the night life-loving traveller).

Like any great city, Cape Town has its top hotels - one of the latest on the block being the Silo Hotel. It occupies six floors above the Zeitz MOCAA contemporary African art museum - which, with its enormous collection of African art, is an essential visit for culture lovers. The hotel has recently introduced tailored cultured experiences with their resident Art Concierge - who can book guests simply the very best art tours of the city.

The view of Table Mountain from The Silo Hotel (Photographer: Mark Williams)
The view of Table Mountain from The Silo Hotel (Photographer: Mark Williams)

Other popular choices include the Cape Grace in the Waterfront, The 12 Apostles, out on the Atlantic coast away, and the famous Mount Nelson, which has hosted countless celebrities and public figures over the decades.

Cape Winelands

Depending on your priorities, you could easily split your week in Cape Town so you spent half your time in the Winelands. It offers far more than just delicious plonk - but also world-class food, accommodation, views, nightlife and shopping.

What to see

The two most famous areas of the Cape Town Winelands are Stellenbosh and Franshoek. The former is well known but the latter is — in my experience — better. Both are less than an hour away from town centre. Most of the wine farms operate on a drop in basis, with no need to book tastings, but if you have a specific stop in mind it is best to check and call ahead.

Naturally, a visit to the winelands includes drinking and visitors have a few options: you can book a guided day tour departing from Cape Town, or you can stay overnight and taxi or walk between venues. In Franschhoek, book the Wine Tram, which is a hop-on, hop-off bus taking you to some of the region’s best venues.

My other favourite wine estates include: Grande Provence for wonderful wine surrounded by art and Haute Cabriere for the view and their bubbles.

The Franschhoek Motor Museum is also fun to visit. I was dragged there by my father, but did enjoy their collection of cars offering visitors a look back at 100 years of motoring history. Should you feel adventurous, you can paraglide, mountain and hike in Franschhoek.

Where to eat

Babylonstoren, the sister South African venue to The Newt in Somerset, is often mentioned in must-see places for its delicious wine (particularly the rosé), beautiful gardens and fantastic food — most of which is grown in the gardens. Book its restaurant Babel, its acclaimed farm-to-table restaurant.

Boschendal has a similar ethos to Babylonstoren but is perhaps less known among British travellers. As well as its excellent The Werf Restaurant, there are its Werf picnics - which can be ordered in advance and enjoyed on its immaculate grounds. There is also its deli and farm shop to snap up some goodies for the road.

A visit to the Cape Winelands is not complete, in my opinion, without lunch at Delaire Graff. It is one of the most beautiful wine estates in the area - and a lunch on the terrace at its self-named restaurant was a highlight of any trip. It serves bistro-style dishes on its oak-shaded terrace overlooking the Banghoek Valley. Its second, more formal restaurant Indochine, offers a Cape Malay-style menu for an excellent, high-end supper.

Where to stay

There are plenty of guest houses and hotels in Franschhoek, but if you fancy pushing the boat out, La Residence is top of the list of best hotels to splurge on (Elton John has a suite named after him and is a regular). The opulent hotel is set on its own 30 acre private estate, 12 acres of which are dedicated to its own vine. Guests can taste rosé, red blend (Cabernet and Shiraz) and the owner’s reserve cabernet sauvignon grown on site. It has recently introduced its delicious “farm-to-fork” brunch menu made of all its own produce, available from Thursdays to Sundays from 11am. Pre-booking is essential.

The pool at La Residence (La Residence)
The pool at La Residence (La Residence)

Covid restrictions?

At the time of writing, you will need to show a negative PCR COVID-19 test to get into South Africa, taken within 72 hours of your departure. Children under 5 are exempt. Mask wearing is mandatory in most public places in Cape Town and the surrounding areas.

How to get there

British Airways flies daily from London Heathrow to Cape Town, from £645 return including all taxes, fees and carrier charges.

Various providers offer connecting flights, including Virgin Atlantic, which will expand its offering towards the end of the year, Turkish Airlines and Ethiopian.

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