Caressed by two oceans and buzzing with an energy unlike any other city on the continent, Cape Town is the jewel in South Africa’s crown. The water and the majestic mountain backdrop — recently named as one of the natural wonders of the modern world — shape the physical contours of the city, and within its diverse districts you’ll find everything from botanical gardens to galleries, and world class restaurants to quirky boutiques. The Mother City welcomes all its visitors with a passionate embrace, and whether you’ve 24 hours or a week to explore, you’re going to want to come back for more. This is how you should spend the first day.
8am — Wake up at Ellerman House
Nowhere can compete with the views from Ellerman House, the best located boutique hotel in Cape Town. This dreamy mansion was once a private home, but it’s now an award winning property inviting guests to look straight out at the Atlantic Ocean.
For the ultimate in luxury, stay in one of Ellerman’s two gorgeous villas, each of which comes with private staff. These multi-level properties have their own infinity pools and outside decks, plus plenty of space to relax and entertain. There’s easy access to the gym and spa, and if you want to know more about the hotel’s impressive contemporary art collection, the in-house art guide will give you a personal tour.
Ellerman House, 180 Kloof Road, Bantry Bay
10am — Coffee at Yours Truly
Cape Town is a city which takes its coffee exceptionally seriously, so you will be spoilt for choice about where to get your caffeine fix. One of our favourite spots is Yours Truly, however, where coffee lovers soak up the vibes of the surrounding galleries and art studios.
Yours Truly is set within an attractive Victorian building, where striking contemporary designs have been mixed with the original architectural features. It’s the perfect place for a lazy morning browsing the newspaper over coffee and pastries, but it becomes increasingly lively as the day goes on. VANS sponsors the month long art exhibitions that decorate the walls, and there’s frequently live music as well.
Yours Truly, 63 Loop Street
11am — Stroll along V&A Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is the modern redevelopment of Cape Town’s docklands. The architects have kept intact many of the harbour’s more attractive features, including the historical facades and wooden jetties, but added urban parks, promenades lined with galleries and boutiques, and plenty of outdoor performance spaces for street theatre and buskers.
If you are here on the last Saturday of the month, be sure to visit the pop-up Silo Markets. This joint venture with Cape Town’s Craft and Design Institute showcases the work of the city’s up and coming designers, and is complimented by live entertainment.
If you want to learn about the V&A Waterfront’s history as yu explore, you can download the free VoiceMap app and listen to their audio tour. The Reinventing the tavern of the seas itinerary is designed to be an immersive audio documentary, and as the audio recordings are linked to specific GPS points, they’ll automatically start to play when you reach the right spot.
1pm — Feast at V&A Market on the Wharf
The combination of walking and fresh sea air will no doubt make you hungry. That’s just as well, as the V&A Market on the Wharf is a culinary delight.
The market is a place to browse and then snack on whatever catches your eye. You might want to start with artisanal breads and cheeses, or perhaps a local delicacy such as biltong. There are plenty of craft beers to try, and the ice cream at The Creamery is said to be the best in Cape Town. The atmosphere is wonderfully informal; you can eat as you wander, or stand at a bar and chat with whoever else is around.
V&A Food Market, Dry Dock District
2pm — Ride the aerial cableway to Table Mountain
The hop-on-hop-off City Sightseeing Red Bus runs from V&A Waterfront straight to the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway station. For almost 90 years this has been the best — and easiest — way to climb up above the city to the top of Table Mountain, getting panoramic views of Cape Town and Robben Island on the way.
Table Mountain is within a national park of the same name, and it is still wonderfully wild given how close it is to the city. There are mini guided tours on the hour throughout the day, but it’s just as easy to explore independently by following the clearly marked trails. There are gorgeous, fairly short routes to the Woodstock Caves and to Plattekip Gorge, and if you’re lucky you can see eland, porcupine, and rock hyrax, plus plenty of birds and lizards.
To get back into town, you can hike or return on the aerial cableway.
Lower Cable Station, Tafelberg Road
5pm — Harbour cruise in Table Bay
Late in the afternoon, it’s time to take a boat trip out from the harbour and appreciate Cape Town from the water. If you’re short on time, the Queen Victoria departs from the North Quay every half hour and will take you just beyond the breakwater.
For a longer trip, however, sail out on the iQ catamaran. The route takes in Table Bay, Mouille Point Lighthouse, and Clifton, and there’s a good chance that you’ll see the Cape’s famed marine life from the deck. Penguins crows on the rocks, and whale and dolphin often swim close to the boat.
Make sure that you are onboard for sunset. A glass of South African sparkling wine is the perfect way to toast the beauty and romance of Cape Town as the sky turns pinky red.
iQ Cruise, Alfred Basin
7pm — Rooftop cocktails at Sky Bar
You’ll find the coolest cocktail bar in Cape Town on top of the Grand Daddy boutique hotel: it’s quite possibly the only rooftop trailer park in the world! Somehow the hotel has winched seven meticulously restored vintage Airstream trailers up onto the roof.
The Airstream’s silvery forms reflect the city lights, creating a surreal adults-only play space. Sit between them in deck chairs, quenching your thirst with imaginative signature cocktails or a cold local beer. Look out at Cape Town’s impressive skyline as you soak up the buzzing vibe.
The Grand Daddy Hotel, 38 Long Street
9pm — Dinner at The Test Kitchen
Cape Town is well established as a foodie paradise. The Test Kitchen is included in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants, and if you do have a chance to taste chef Luke Dale-Roberts’ cuisine, you won’t ever forget or regret it.
The Test Kitchen is in Woodstock, a recently gentrified area of Cape Town, and it shares its site with sister restaurant The Pot Luck Club. TTK as it’s known to local gourmands has a semi-industrial feel, with a lot of exposed brickwork and metal. You move over the course of the evening between light and dark zones in the restaurant, both of which are wonderfully intimate.
Start your dining extravaganza with distinctive small bites from around the world. You might try South African blesbok tartare, miniature lamb rotis from India, then Mauritian coconut langoustine. Once in the Light Room, where the more substantial dishes are served, consider smoked scallop sashimi with mushroom ponzu and Jerusalem artichoke, or perhaps an assiette of goat and spring lamb.
It’s an imaginative touch that the sommeliers will pair your dishes with either teas or fine wine. Whichever you choose, you’ll want to stay and savour the subtle flavours into the early hours.
The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Road, Woodstock
Journeysmiths offers a seven night stay at Ellerman House, including return flights from the UK, from £4,142 per person.