Cape Town’s landscape is nothing short of remarkable. At 3,500ft Table Mountain’s flat top frames the city and gives Cape Town its iconic backdrop. In contrast, the peak of Lion’s Head, to the south, forms a pyramid-like summit. Together with Signal Hill, these mountains envelop the city, creating the rim of the so called ‘city bowl’, which seems to pour the cosmopolitan city down into the ocean. We climbed all three mountains and were treated to some spectacular views and unforgettable sunsets. Most people choose to take the cable car up Table Mountain but we thoroughly enjoyed the steep hike that literally took our breath away.
From the top of Table Mountain, you can see Robben Island, the maximum security prison where Nelson Mandela and hundreds of other political prisoners were incarcerated during apartheid. Our visit to Robben Island was our most memorable Cape Town experience. Our tour guide was a former political prisoner who shared his story with us. We heard a firsthand account of his struggle and everyday anecdotes about life on the island. This personal touch brought the tour to life. His choice to return as a tour guide, to the very prison that confined him for a decade, to remind visitors of the injustices of apartheid, speaks volumes about the unbreakable will of Africa’s freedom fighters.
The District Six Museum was another historical site that should be on any history lover’s list. This museum tells the stories of eviction and forced displacement of non-whites from one of Cape Town’s most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods. For better or worse the Dutch East India Company shaped Cape Town’s history. From as early as the sixteenth century, trade, and the slave trade, brought Dutch, English, Malaysians, Indians and Sri Lankans to the city. But it wasn’t until the 1950’s that apartheid uprooted families and moved them to new neighborhoods designated by race. It’s easy to understand why freedom fighters like our tour guide, like Mandela, were enraged, as this was just one of the many discriminatory laws they had to endure. What is hard to fathom is that this regime stayed in power until the free elections 1994.
We love history and hiking but there’s much more to this city. In summer, crowds flock to the beaches. And all year round, wine lovers flock to Constantia, which is a world away yet just outside the city. Foodies love this city too; the cuisine is first rate — every meal we ate felt like it should have been Michelin rated. We recommend the bobotie or any line fish, and the samosas in the Bo-Kaap neighborhood are to die for! If you’re braaing chicken smother it in plenty of peri peri sauce.
This is one city we’ll be back to without a doubt. I’d like to say that we’d consider moving here if it weren’t so far away, but the fact is that it’s just too dangerous. Thankfully, we didn’t see that side of the city.
Our Favorite Attractions:
- Hiking Table Mountain, Lions Head and Signal Hill.
- Robben Island
- District Six Museum
- Exploring the colorful homes of the Bo Knap neighborhood
- Constantia’s Wineries
- Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden – Perfect for a Sunday Picnic
Some Helpful Tips:
- Read Nelson Mandela’s autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’. We read it while in South Africa and it gave a lot of context to the historical sites
- Take the Hop on Hop off Bus. It’s worth it and goes to the wineries — think of it as your designated driver
- Splurge on High Tea at Mount Nelson Hotel
- Be mindful of the weather it changes quickly. Clouds can obstruct views from Table Mountain and wind can ruin hang gliding plans, so check the weather.
- We weren’t impressed with Cape Point or the Cape of Good Hope. If you’ve done the Garden Route, skip these sites.