From artsy to over-the-top, South Africa's most popular city has no shortage of great hotels. Here are our seven favorites now—all you've got to do is book a room.
An African Villa
19 Carstens St., Tamboerskloof; 27-21/ 423-2162; www.capetowncity.co.za/villa; doubles from $116, including breakfast.
WHAT IT IS A stylish inn. the scoop This 12-room boutique property is discreetly set within three Victorian terraced houses, a five-minute walk from lively Kloof Street. Inside, owners Jimmy van Tonder and Louis Nel have created a retreat that is distinctly African, with a touch of Zen. Every piece of furniture in the muted, individually decorated rooms was commissioned, and most of it is for sale—from the papier-mâché lampshade in the shape of a kudu head over the fireplace to the red Zulu hats mounted on the headboard.
NICE SURPRISE The three rooms that face the street (A4, B4, and C4) have private wooden balconies.
DON'T MISS A breakfast of fresh-fruit skewers beside the plunge pool in the back courtyard.
5 Upper Union St., Gardens; 27-21/480-8080; www.capecadogan.com; doubles from $145, including breakfast.
WHAT IT IS A romantic retreat. the scoop Once a dark and gloomy Victorian, this national monument is now flooded with light, thanks to a recent renovation by the English and South African owners, who tore down walls and retrofitted period windows and doors. In the 12-room house, cheery whites and golds complement Italian crystal chandeliers and framed pastel prints; beaded screens add an unusual local flair; and vases of fresh lilies and tuberoses fill the house with fragrance. Bedrooms have travertine-tiled bathrooms and showers that open onto a private courtyard.
NICE SURPRISE A basket of fresh fruit and a decanter of wine greet guests upon arrival.
DON'T MISS Port and chocolates by the fireplace in the lounge after a night out.
West Quay, V&A Waterfront; 27-21/410-7100; www.capegrace.com; doubles from $570, including breakfast.
WHAT IT IS The luxury standard-bearer. the scoop A 122-room luxury hotel on a private quay on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the Cape Grace is renowned for its personal service. The large, comfortable rooms are handsomely outfitted with mahogany furniture, cream linens, botanical prints, and brass light fixtures. The marina-side whiskey bar, Bascule, stocks 460 single-malts and blends from around the world; you can watch the international yachts drift into port from an outside table. There's easy access to the boutiques and restaurants of the waterfront, and you can't beat the excitement of being within a working harbor. To go farther afield, hire the hotel's personal shopper for a tour of the local art studios and shops.
NICE SURPRISE The view of Table Mountain from the top-floor spa is the best in town.
DON'T MISS Brushing up on South African history and wine at informal evening discussions in the library.
Daddy Long Legs
134 Long St.; 27-21/422-3074; www.daddylonglegs.co.za; doubles from $65.
WHAT IT IS An art-lover's dream. the scoop Thirteen artists were given the same budget to decorate the comfortable rooms here; the results are wildly different. Guests are given a tour of the unoccupied "exhibitions" and then invited to choose one for the night. Our favorites: Photo Booth, with 3,240 images of Cape Town residents, and You Are Here, a serene space with maps pinpointing your prime spot on one of the city's oldest and most vibrant streets.
NICE SURPRISES On weekends, ad hoc Drama Night parties are held in the lounge, with open-mike sessions and free concerts. Every six weeks, the hallways are hung with contemporary art—which is another excuse for a party. If you're sensitive to noise, pick a room at the rear of the building, far from the lounge and the street.
DON'T MISS The magnified-skin wallpaper behind the bar and the one-way glass in the lounge restrooms. Stroll up the street to the owner's other spot, Kennedy's Restaurant & Cigar Lounge, for a night of live jazz.
Hippo Boutique Hotel
59 Park Rd., Gardens; 27-21/423-2500; www.hippotique.co.za; doubles from $158.
WHAT IT IS The city's coolest hotel. the scoop Centrally located in the trendiest part of town, this 20-room hotel stands atop three café-style restaurants that draw the city's see-and-be-seen crowd. (Media types and production houses use the lobby lounge for business meetings and casting calls, so the people-watching is great.) Public spaces are adorned with natural materials—cherrywood floors, leather sofas, unfinished-stone walls—and black-and-white photographs of eighties supermodels. Guest rooms are equipped with mini-kitchens hidden in cupboards and include thoughtful details such as under-floor heating in the bathroom.
NICE SURPRISES The Thai restaurant, French champagne bar, and café supply room service. All bedrooms and public spaces are equipped with computers and free 24-hour high-speed Internet access.
DON'T MISS The Rooibos skin-care products and toiletries in the bathroom.
Mount Nelson Hotel
76 Orange St., Gardens; 27-21/483-1000; www.mountnelson.co.za; doubles from $582, including breakfast.
WHAT IT IS A traditional enclave, updated. the scoop Known as the Nellie, this pink hotel has been a Cape Town favorite for more than 100 years. Guests return for the sumptuous afternoon tea, the sweeping nine-acre gardens with two pools and two tennis courts, and the old-world elegance. A recent refurbishment of the Oasis wing has restored this grande dame's classic style, with gleaming mirrors, four-poster beds, and historical prints of South Africa.
NICE SURPRISE New executive chef Simon Templeton has modernized the Oasis Restaurant by paring down the buffet and simplifying à la carte dishes. Try the shrimp salad on house-made poppy-seed baps (rolls) with sweet chile mayonnaise, and the fresh West Coast oysters.
DON'T MISS The deluxe Garden suites in the terraced Victorian cottages, with stunning rose-filled gardens. They're a secret hideaway for visiting celebrities seeking sanctuary.
Vineyard Hotel & Spa
Colinton Rd., Newlands; 27-21/657-4500; www.vineyard.co.za; doubles from $195.
WHAT IT IS A resort in the city. the scoop Built around a 200-year-old homestead, the Vineyard just emerged from a major face-lift. Most of the 173 bedrooms have been redone: most successful are the five Riverside rooms—decorated in natural colors with Mozambican wood floors and stone-tiled bathrooms—that open onto private gardens. In addition to a state-of-the-art gym (staffed with Cape Town's top personal trainer, Chris van Loggerenberg), the hotel now also has an Angsana Spa, where the signature treatment is a blend of Thai, Swedish, and Balinese massage techniques.
NICE SURPRISES The views of Table Mountain are exquisite; garden trails run alongside the Liesbeeck River.
DON'T MISS French chef Alex Coupy in Au Jardin's open kitchen as he prepares impala bobotie, a local dish served with tomato ravioli, mango salsa, and vanilla-tea foam.
Le Quartier Français, Franschhoek
Anyone interested in food and wine should visit this boutique hotel and its award-winning restaurant, the Tasting Room, in the winelands, a 50-minute drive from Cape Town. Four new 1,184-square-foot suites, the Four Quarters, overlook a charcoal-hued lap pool set in a private courtyard. Each comes with two plasma TV's with satellite channels, under-floor heating, wireless Internet access, and a complimentary bar. Our recommendation?Curl up with a bottle of wine at a movie in the Screening Room, a 30-seat cinema with pink ostrich-leather seats. Corner of Berg and Wilhelmina; 27-21/876-2151; www.lequartier.co.za; doubles from $436, including breakfast; Four Quarter Suites from $948, including breakfast, lunch, and tea.