T+L's Definitive Guide to Cape Town
Edgy boutiques. Independent galleries. Forward-thinking restaurants, each more innovative than the last. There’s never been a better time to visit Cape Town.
Lay of the Land
City Bowl: Cape Town’s commercial heart is home to trendy neighborhoods such as Gardens, De Waterkant, and Bo-Kaap, filled with stylish cafés and colorful cottages.
Clifton/Camps Bay: White-sand beaches border the city’s ritziest area, where cocktail bars spill out onto the shore.
Constantia: Known for its rolling vineyards, Constantia is just a 20-minute drive south from downtown.
V&A Waterfront: Fashion boutiques and live-music venues line this historic landmark, also a gateway to nearby Robben Island.
Woodstock: Design shops and galleries make up the artsy suburb of Woodstock, a hub for Cape Town’s creative set.
Taxis are easy to hail. Rent a car to reach the Winelands; many wineries are accessible off Route 62.
Seven hotels that top our list, from the latest openings to the classics.
Cape Grace: Located on a private quay, Cape Grace is a magnet for Hollywood royalty (Ryan Reynolds and Beyoncé have both been spotted here). Rooms are done up with whimsical chandeliers made from dangling delft saucers, botanical prints, and traditionally forged iron lamps. $$$$
Ellerman House: You’ll find plenty of discreet charm at this Edwardian, mountainside retreat overlooking the Atlantic. The main mansion has stark-white balustrades and sweeping patios that look out onto terraced gardens. Take a tour of the hotel’s art gallery, built into the bluff.$$$$
Kensington Place: In-the-know travelers love this eight-room town house in the foothills of Table Mountain. The interiors are ultracontemporary (white-on-white bedding; slick leather couches; hot-pink pillows), with tasteful accents such as original South African artwork. $$
Mount Nelson Hotel: The 1899 colonial-style structure is showing its age, but a recent renovation has given the storied hotel new life: updated Oasis wing rooms are decked out in plush red sofas and paintings by local artists, while chef-led tours bring guests to the coastline to forage for the night’s dinner.$$$
One&Only Cape Town: The postcard-perfect views of Table Mountain and Adam Tihany–designed rooms (bright geometric textiles; parquet flooring; freestanding soaking tubs) have made this V&A Waterfront hotel a new favorite.$$$$
Taj Cape Town: You can’t get more central than the Taj, just steps from Parliament and St. George’s Cathedral. Inside, old meets new: elegant Heritage rooms—tufted headboards; original mullioned windows—in two restored landmark buildings offset the more modern Tower wing, with floor-to-ceiling windows and private balconies.$$
Villa Zest Boutique Hotel: It’s all about the 1970’s at this new Bauhaus-inspired building in leafy Green Point: vintage Polaroid cameras and Panasonic Toot-a-Loop radios line the hallways, while rooms are decorated in mod egg chairs and shag rugs. $$
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
Our favorite one-of-a-kind boutiques across Cape Town.
Heath Nash: The 35-year-old owner of this open studio in Woodstock is a champion of sustainability, repurposing items such as milk cartons and galvanized wire into decorative art. We love the colorful lampshades, made from hundreds of hand-cut plastic flowers.
House of Machines: Equal parts men’s outfitter, motorcycle shop, café, and bar, House of Machines caters to various whims (and tastes). Try one of the small-batch bourbons, then shop for a pair of house-brand jeans and watch the mechanic at work.
Mungo & Jemima: Come here for a carefully chosen selection of feminine-yet-sophisticated women’s wear and accessories—bold pleated skirts; patent-leather brogues—by emerging South Africa–based designers including Coppelia, Margot Molyneux, and Selfi.
O.Live: Rupert Smith and Warren Matthee’s rustic-chic local housewares shop is an aspiring decorator’s dream. You can find everything from textured ceramics to ribbons, natural soaps, and vintage porcelain tea sets.
Olive Green Cat: You’re unlikely to leave this jewelry boutique empty-handed. Philippa Green and Ida Elsje turn out avant-garde treasures—embellished cuffs; rings with diamonds suspended in resin—that make a statement.
See + Do
Three ways to get your culture fix.
Whatiftheworld Gallery: Woodstock’s first art space, which participates in major fairs like Frieze New York and Volta, in Basel, Switzerland, showcases the city’s newest generation of contemporary artists. The highlights: exhibitions by local painters such as John Murray and international multimedia talents including renowned illustrator Olaf Hajek.
District Six Museum: This former Methodist church was a shelter for anti-apartheid protesters during the Sixth Municipal District’s 1960’s fallout. Today the museum hosts a diverse range of works, from South African photography and fine art to living documents (street signs; books; audio recordings), that are a chilling narrative of the city’s past.
Table Mountain: A 10-minute ride from downtown brings you to the base of Cape Town’s landmark Table Mountain, named for its distinctive flat top. An aerial cableway whisks sightseers to unbeatable views of Cape Peninsula and beyond; more-adventurous types can reach the summit via a three-hour hike from the base up Platteklip Gorge with outfitter Abseil Africa.
Here, six places to sample Cape Town’s ever-evolving “rainbow cuisine.”
Carne Sa: Braaiing (grilling) is a national pastime in South Africa, and no one does it better than this locavore steak house (the meats are sourced largely from owner Giorgio Nava’s ranch in the Karoo). You can’t go wrong with the free-range lamb, braaied over coal, or the 24-month-aged, grass-fed sirloin. $$
Grand Café & Beach: The ocean-facing tables and outdoor cabanas at this beachside hangout are perennially packed with stylish Capetonians. What to order: café classics such as smoked-trout salad and flatbread pizzas. $$
Neighbourgoods Market: On Saturday mornings, the city’s hipster bread makers and charcutiers gather at this collection of high-end artisanal food stalls in Woodstock. Pick up pastries, coffee, and crêpes, then grab a seat at one of the communal wooden tables. Or stock up for a picnic.
Pot Luck Club & Gallery: Chef-owner Luke Dale-Robert’s low-key tapas spot is the coastal port’s most buzzed-about restaurant. An airy, loftlike dining room decorated with contemporary art sets the backdrop for his creative dishes, prepared in an open kitchen. Don’t miss the pork belly with red cabbage and apple slaw. $$
Roundhouse: When restaurant designer—and jet-setting foodie—Adam Tihany comes to town, he stops in at this onetime Dutch East India Company guardhouse hidden on Table Mountain. The draw? An artful six-course tasting menu (rib eye ornamented with onion petals; beet carpaccio served with pickled eggplant and shimeji mushrooms) $$$
Test Kitchen: Pot Luck Club & Gallery’s sophisticated older sister made its debut three years ago with an ambitiously innovative concept. Ingredients such as ginger and yuzu are pickled and poached to intensify their essence, while dishes are presented in unexpected ways: biltong (cured meat) is topped with plum-cured foie gras; langoustines come alongside smoked quail and a corn-and-miso velouté. $$
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
Explore the Winelands
Some of South Africa’s best vineyards are a short drive from the center of Cape Town. These four are worth the detour.
Twenty minutes south of the city, the 450-acre Groot Constantia is one of the country’s oldest wine estates, known for its high-quality blends.
From there, make your way east to Fairview, just outside the historic town of Paarl; book a private tasting of the winery’s single-vineyard bottlings paired with Fairview’s own goat-milk cheeses.
In the nearby Franschhoek valley, Babylonstoren produces fruity Viogniers and Chardonnays.
Moving north, rocky landscapes line the coast—don’t miss Tierhoek, whose high altitude and breezy conditions contribute to the intense flavors in its Chenin Blancs.
Get the scoop on the city from these three Capetonians.
Restaurant entrepreneur and co-owner of the House of Machines
“On summer mornings you can find me catching surf breaks at Horse Trails, near Big Bay, before returning to town for a bacon croissant and fruit salad at Jason Bakery. My family and I often pack up the car and go swimming in the rock pools at Bakeoven Beach, probably Cape Town’s best-kept secret. I love to watch the lights come up on Table Mountain at dusk. For the greatest view, head to Tjing Tjing, one of the city’s few rooftop bars, and order a negroni.”
Food blogger at foodandthefabulous.com
“For a sneaky weekday brunch, I go to Hemelhuijs ($$), where chef Jacques Erasmus combines seasonal and classic ingredients like salmon with daikon radish. The freshly squeezed fruit juices served in tall jars are a must. Kalk Bay is a wonderful place to bring out-of-towners; be sure to have lunch at Harbour House ($$$), which looks out over the waterfront. The Orphanage cocktail emporium is a favorite for late-night drinks; the tapas are equally outstanding.”
Head sommelier at the One&Only Cape Town hotel
“After an early run along the seafront, I recharge with breakfast at Giovanni’s Deliworld (103 Main Rd.; 27-21/434-6893); get the ham-and-cheese ciabatta sandwich with a cappuccino. On my days off, I’ll put the top down on my convertible and drive out toward Stellenbosch to visit small but quality wineries such as Bizoe Wines, Grangehurst Winery, and Rainbow’s End. Along the way, I recommend stopping for a bite at Terroir ($$) at Kleine Zalze farm, known for its Shiraz.”
Beyond the City
Cape Point: You’ll pass Boulders Beach, home to a colony of African penguins, before reaching the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve. The view from one of the peninsula’s highest points is unparalleled.
Hout Bay: A scenic, cliff-hugging drive leads to this picturesque harborside town. Stop by the late-19th-century Chapmans Peak Hotel for lunch and order the fried calamari.
Scarborough: An hour outside central Cape Town, this seaside village draws urbanites seeking a quiet weekend escape. Stroll the boardwalk that runs along the beach—if it’s windy, you’ll have only kitesurfers for company.
For more on Cape Town travel, check out T+L's Guide to Cape Town.
Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel
Since 1899, this pink-faced colonial beauty—just a stroll away from the Company Gardens—has been the reigning queen of Cape Town’s hotels. Originally built by a shipping magnate to host wealthy Europeans, “The Nellie” today is operated by Belmond and hosts celebs like Richard Gere and Paris Hilton. The property includes nine acres of sweeping lawns and rosebushes, burbling stone fountains and swimming pools; the 209 high-ceilinged guest rooms are sophisticated aeries, decked out in white and cream–colored damask, dark-wood antique furnishings, and (in many cases) dramatically canopied or swagged beds. Colonial-era tradition is observed during afternoon tea service in The Lounge, while modern-day decadence abounds at the new (opened in 2008) Librisa Spa.
One&Only Cape Town
Table Mountain National Park
From its 3,500-foot summit, this flat-topped mountain that looms above Cape Town offers truly mind-blowing views: the entire city peninsula, including the Atlantic coast, False Bay, and the easterly valleys of Winelands, all stretch out shimmering below as far as the eye can see. There are various ways to reach the top; if you want to hike, the easiest of the several routes is up Platteklip Gorge, which allows you to ascend via zigzagging stone steps cut into the side of the mountain, amid Cape reeds and heathery Erica shrubs (fit folks can summit in just over an hour). Even easier, though, is the 10-minute ride up the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway (tablemountain.net), where the glass-enclosed gondola has a slowly revolving floor that allows everyone to savor the views.
Insider Tip: Dress in layers, as even on warm days it can be cold, averaging 59° F in summer. And if you’re not a confident hiker, consider hiring a mountain guide through the Mountain Club of South Africa (http://cap.mcsa.org.za).
District Six Museum
The area known simply as District Six was a vibrant, multiracial, working-class neighborhood on the city’s eastern fringe until 1966, when the apartheid government declared it a whites-only area. Over the next few years, 60,000 people were forcibly evicted from their homes and relocated, the houses and streets they left behind bulldozed. Though most of the area today is still just weeds and rubble, this onetime Methodist church—where anti-apartheid protestors once took shelter—has been turned into a fascinating museum documenting the area’s history. A highlight is the large floor map of District Six, where ex-residents have inscribed their family names on their old streets.
Insider Tip: Book a free guided tour in advance with Noor Ibrahim, a former District Six resident, founder of the museum, and notable raconteur (011-27-21-466-7208).
You’ll want to defend your espresso from the sudden swipe of a passing baguette at this thriving Saturday morning community market (open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) in the easterly district of Woodstock. Here, in an 8,600-square-foot, glass-covered warehouse, hipsters, foodies, and families gather to peruse the wares of some 120 vendors. There are gorgeous flowers and organic produce as well as pack-in-your-suitcase goodies of the dried and jarred variety—but some of the best eats here are meant to be enjoyed while strolling, or at central long trestle tables (try the tarts and meringues from Queen of Tarts or spicy Cape curries from Cumin).
Whatiftheworld’s mandate is to cultivate a community among Cape Town’s young furniture-, product-, and fashion designers and aspiring collectors. It takes the form of shows held in Whatiftheworld’s gallery/work space in Woodstock. There's also the Whatiftheworld Design Studio, a small retail space in the nearby East City area that showcases a rotating collection of furniture, lighting, and other design products by a growing roster of emerging South African talents, some of whom have begun garnering praise beyond the country’s borders.
Taj Cape Town
Housed in the former South African Reserve Bank headquarters, Taj Cape Town checks all the right boxes. Heritage rooms (on the first five floors) are spacious and richly colorful in ice-blue and pistachio, with original mullioned windows. Tower rooms feel more compact, but every inch is put to clever use (note the cubbies in the marble bath walls, where plush towels are artfully rolled and toiletries displayed). The whole of Cape Town is clamoring for a table at Bombay Brasserie, and the bang-on central location—steps from parliament and five blocks from the convention center—make it the luxe business hotel to book.
This rambling 17th-century Cape Dutch–style farm estate in the Cape Winelands is no rough-and-ready dude ranch. Rehabilitated by Afrikaans designer-owner Karen Roos, 14 guest rooms in three traditional landhuises (cottages) have been done up with vintage beds, Victorian claw-foot tubs, and chic, all-white sofas and rugs. For traveling gourmands, some cottages offer kitchens—glassed-in cubes facing an eight-acre garden from which you can pick your own herbs, fruits and vegetables, the same produce used by the chefs at the restaurant, Babel.