Insiders travel guide to Cape Town, South Africa

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Travel Guide to Cape Town, South Africa

This travel guide to Cape Town will assist you with every thing you need to know before visiting South Africa’s Mother city. From currency, to local foods and unique places to stay. There are loads of activities, suitable for every traveller around the beautiful city, not to mention all the incredible scenery and wildlife. We would recommend spending a minimum of 3 days in Cape Town, although it wouldn’t be hard to spend a couple of weeks exploring the city and its surrounds.

In which continent/state /province is the city found?  

Cape Town is found on the Southern Most tip of Africa. It is found in the Western Cape, where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meet.

What is the city most known for?

The city is known for Table Mountain which is a flat-topped mountain forming a prominent landmark overlooking the city. Cape Town is also known for its Wine farms, beautiful golden beaches and abundance of wildlife.

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Table Mountain Cape Town

Related Article: Which country in Africa should you visit?

What currency is used in Cape Town?

South African Rand (ZAR), ATM’s are available throughout the city.

What language is spoken in Cape Town?

There are 11 official languages used throughout South Africa. English is the main language and most locals understand and speak the language, however there are two other language’s (Afrikaans and Zulu) which are also commonly used.

A few basic words in the Afrikaans language are:

  • Hello – Hello
  • Good bye – Totsiens
  • What is your name? Wat is jou naam?
  • Where do you live? Waar woon jy?
  • Thank you Dankie

A few basic words in Zulu are:

  • Hello – Sawbona
  • Good bye Salakahle
  • What is your name?Ubani Igama Lakho
  • Where do you live?Uhlalaphi
  • Thank you – Ngiyabonga Kakhulu
Best time to visit?

The best time to visit Cape Town is late January to February. December is a very busy time, prices are escalated, tours are congested and traffic can be insane. By the end of January the local school’s have gone back and the rush subsides. One thing to remember about Cape Town is that the use to the cold water,it is generally cold throughout the year.

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Summer time on the beach in Hout Bay
Seasons in Cape Town?
  • Summer – December, January, February. Its beautiful days in Cape Town, the sun sets late around 8pm and this is when you find the most amazing sunsets.

  • Autumn –  March, April, May. It starts getting cooler in May, the trees shed their leaves it is still a pleasant time of year allot less busier than in Summer.

  • Winter – June, July, August and it is cold. It rains in the Winter and ice cold winds from the snow capped nearby mountains sweep over the city.

  • Spring –  September, October, November, it starts warming up in November and the days start getting longer.

Related Article: Story Behind The Lens #3 – Johnny Be Good (Cape Town)

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Cable Car going up Table Mountain
Five must visit attractions in the City?
  • Table Mountain – The best views of Cape Town are seen from the top of Table Mountain. The Cable car takes you to the summit in under 5 minutes and the car’s rotating floor ensure that all visitors get a 360 degree aerial view of the city- you cannot go to Cape Town and not see this! Make sure you book your tickets in advance for the cable cars to avoid long ques (Especially in the peak seasons and holidays)

  • V&A Waterfront – The V&A Waterfront is situated in the oldest working harbour in South Africa. The V&A boasts 22 heritage sites across the property. There is a wide range of different experiences from leisure, dining and shopping to family entertainment. You can also catch boat rides and get to see seal’s in their natural habitat.

  • Lions head – Lions Head in Cape Town is the distinctive shaped mountain slope found alongside Table Mountain. The proud lion overlooks the city and Table Bay on one side, and the scenic Atlantic Ocean coastline on the other. This mountain is great for hiking and photography opportunities.

  • The Castle of Good Hope – Cape Town landmark, the Castle of Good Hope, is a prime example of a “star fort”. Built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company, it’s the oldest existing colonial building in South Africa. Its position marks the original shoreline before years of land reclamation changed the Table Bay coastline.

  • Chapman’s Peak – A 9km scenic drive with a 114 curves along a cliffs edge parallel to the ocean. There are three major picnic areas, and more than 60 picnic tables & benches provided along the route for your leisure needs. There are numerous areas to pull over and see the view, sunsets in summer is a must do!

Five nearby attractions to Cape Town?
  • Robben island – Robben Island is an island in Table Bay, 6.9 kilometres west of the coast of Bloubergstrand. The name is Dutch for “seal island.” Its full of historical sites and all the tour guides were once prisoners on the island.

  • Wine Route – Cape Town has beautiful cheese and wine farms, there are many different tours to taste and sample some fine wines. Our favourite wine farm is Fairview, they offer the best combination of cheeses and wine.

  • Cape Point – At the tip of the Cape peninsula you will find Cape Point, a nature reserve and a natural world heritage Site. There is an abundance of animals and you get to see the point where two oceans meet.

  • Seal Island – Also known as Duiker Island. Enjoy a boat ride from Hout bay to the island and see hundreds of Cape Fur seals in their natural habitat.

  • Garden Route – South Africa’s famous Garden Route is must do to see some of the country’s most beautiful scenery and a few endangered animal species. There are many stops along the way and some tour operators offer a stop at the Addo Elephant National Park which is a must do!

Related Article: Travel Tattoo Inspiration

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Seal soaking up the sun
Closest Airport?

Cape Town has a international airport is a 20 minute drive from the city centre.

Best form of transport?

Cape Town has various city buses that are tourist friendly and a cost effective form of transport. The City Siteseeing double decker buses offer a variety of guided tours which pick up and drop off at most of Cape Towns major tourist attractions. Uber is available throughout Cape Town if you looking for a safe and reliable option to get around. (Sign up to get R50 off your first ride)

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City Tour Bus
Three local dishes?
  • Fish and Chips at Kalkies – Kalkies is a small seafood take away found at Kalk Bay, it is a very basic set up, a container with a few tables and chairs but here you will find the freshest and best tasting fish caught on the day. It is very tasty and popular hit among the locals.

  • Gatsby – A Gatsby originated in the Cape flats and dates back to the mid-70s. Technically it’s a large submarine-style sandwich that comes with various fillings. The reality is that it’s crammed full of a variety of meats, chips, and sauces. A Gatsby costs only a few Rands, and is almost impossible to finish due to its size.  You won’t find this meal on the menu of a typical high-end restaurant, but rather smaller canteens and corner shops

  • Bobotie – Bobotie is a Cape Malay creation consisting of minced beef topped with a custard of milk and eggs. It’s a fragrant dish flavored with spices and dried fruit. The result is a variety of sweet and sour flavors, with a hint of spice. You’ll find this on restaurant menus throughout the city, and it’s a particularly comforting meal on a cold winter’s night.

Local Beer?

The legal age to drink in South Africa is 18 years. One of the popular local beers in South Africa is Castle Lager. The beer is one of Africa’s finest award winning beers that has been brewed in perfect balance. Castle Lager, is a top seller and the most widely distributed brand on the African continent. The beer is available in 40 countries across four continents and is known as the world’s 12th largest beer band. Other popular South African brands include Black Label and Lion.

Recommend places to eat? 
  • V&A Waterfront – There is a wide variety of different restaurants available along the waterfront which will tickle every taste bud. We have had some of the best seafood at the restaurants overlooking the harbor. Not only is the food good but the area is vibey and it’s relaxing watching the boats come in and out the harbor. The V&A Waterfront also has a food market which is located in a warehouse full of vendors selling savory treats, baked goods, coffee, craft beer, fresh juices, spices, nuts and full gourmet meals. The waterfront is a great spot to spend the evening with friends and family, dining and taste some incredible flavours.

Recommend places to stay?
  • Grand Daddy Hotel – The famous Grand Daddy Hotel’s penthouses at this hotel are old school trailers with a very modern twist, each of the seven trailers and communal spaces have been renovated by talented local artists creating unique and playful living spaces.

  • Once in Cape Town – A backpackers with style, centrally located in Cape Town it is close to local restaurants, bars shopping centres and the famous Long Street. They have a variety of rooms to choose from and a very arty vibe to them. Its a great place to stay or even grab a few beers with your friends at their on site bar Ýour’s Truly’

  • Air BNB – Always a popular choice to find unique accommodations, stay with locals or find long term apartments to rent.
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Roof Top Safari at The Grand Daddy Hotel
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Roof Top Safari
Recommended places to shop?
  • V&A Waterfront – Once again the V&A Waterfront comes up and ticks all the boxes. There are many different shopping experiences here, from the actual mall to boutique shops and the Red Shed Craft Warehouse where you will find paintings and hand made local crafts.

  • Hout Bay Market – On a Friday night, Saturday and Sunday this little market is very lively. From exquisite arts, crafts, jewellery and fashion to a delicious choice of culinary delights all with local live music playing in the background.

  • Long Street Cape Town CBD – Long Street runs straight through the middle of Cape Town there are an array of shops to brows through, cocktails bars and everything in between, at night this part of town becomes very lively.

  • Kalk Bay – This area has become increasingly popular over the past few years. It is a small fishing village with an assortment of interesting shops to meander through. There are a few small restaurants to grab something to eat while you shop.

Related Article: Finding The Most Beautiful Waterfalls In The World

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V&A Waterfront shopping
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Kalk Bay
Local cellar Networks?

The primary networks in South Africa include Vodacom, Cell C, MTN and 8ta. Vodacom is however the largest and first mobile network in SA with the biggest subscriber base and coverage. You can get a local sim card and data at the airport when you arrive.

Best local airlines for domestic flights?

Local South African Airlines are SAA, Mango Airlines, Kulula.com, Flysafair and British Airways South Africa .

Best local tour operators

Always speak to your host or hotel for recommendations on the best travel operators. Here are a few popular operators in the city; Travel Services, Ashtons Tours, Von Liers Travel, Find Tours, Saraswati Leasure group, Journey in style, Escape for Africa Travel and Zepher Tours.

Local Customs that tourists need to know about
  • Tipping – When tipping in restaurants and bars a 10-15% tip is considered standard. Petrol station attendants and car guards expect from R2 and up. Porters at airports and hotels expect around R10, depending how much luggage you have.

  • Same sex relationships – Marriage between same-sex partners is legal in South Africa, and in many cities displays of affection between same-sex partners is unlikely to gain much attention. Cape Town is LGBT friendly, people are very open.

  • Shopping at traffic Lights and on street corners – Dont be surprised to find clothing hangers, cellphone chargers, crafts, décor items and car products  sold at a traffic light. It is advisable to keep your windows closed and doors locked the traffic light as there are a few bad apples who have taken advantage of this to distract the driver and bag grab.

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Cape Town
Top Festivals, Celebrations and Annual Festivities?

Cape Town is South Africa is the most cosmopolitan city. It is a city with many suburbs and out lying area’s that are considered to still be part of ‘Cape Town’. Being such a big city there are too many festivals, celebrations and world renowned sporting events to many to mention. We advise checking the cities insideguide.co.za which tells you month to month what is happening in the city.

Local/traditional souvenirs

There is so much artistic talent in Cape Town. Look out for local crafts, paintings and beaded wire animal decorations. You wont have to worry about going home empty handed.

Related Article: 24 Adrenaline Pumping Adventures To Add To Your Bucket List

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Cape Town Souvenirs
Scams and areas to avoid
  • Destitute –  One scam that you must avoid is people coming up to you claiming they were robbed or have broken down and need a bit of money in order to get home etc. This is a classic scam as people will try and take advantage of others kindness.

  • The “broken taxi meter” – This is one of the simplest scams, and also one of the most common. Taxi drivers try this trick all around the world. The key is to check and inquire with the taxi driver beforehand and make sure that the meter is indeed working. If it isn’t, try and discuss a rate that you find appropriate with the driver and if he doesn’t agree, just find another taxi. If you are unsure just speak to your hotel or hostel, they will point you in the right direction.

  • Street Beggars – It’s practically impossible to distinguish between a legitimate street beggar, and one who is either trying to rob you or con you. Many of them are usually pregnant, accompanied by small children or disabled, which plays on your emotions. Unsuspecting victims will either get robbed or pick pocketed. To avoid this, simply do not allow yourself to get drawn to beggars or, if you must, be extremely vigilant.

  • Helpful locals at the ATM  – This is a particularly easy scam to fall for when you’re on your travels in a foreign place. Criminals are increasingly resorting to credit card skimming, swapping your card or copying your pin. Simply never allow a stranger to help you out at an ATM, no matter what!

Any Safety and travel tips?

Cape Town is generally safe but like in every country, keep your valuables and camera out of site. Don’t leave your bags unattended, walk on your own in remote places or accept rides from strangers as legit as it may seem.

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Boulder Bay, Cape Town
Have you been to Cape Town? What was your highlight during your visit? Let us know if you have any insiders advice or suggestions we can add to our travel guide to Cape Town in the comment below.

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This travel guide to Cape Town will assist you with every thing you need to know before visiting South Africa's Mother city. From currency, to local foods and unique places to stay. There are loads of activities, suitable for every traveller. #capetown #travelguideafrica #westerncape #travelafrica #capetowntravel #tourismcapetown #thingstodoincapetown #placestostaycapetown #placestoeatcapetown #tablemountain #sealisland #beachescapetown #bestofcapetown This travel guide to Cape Town will assist you with every thing you need to know before visiting South Africa's Mother city. From currency, to local foods and unique places to stay. There are loads of activities, suitable for every traveller. #capetown #travelguideafrica #westerncape #travelafrica #capetowntravel #tourismcapetown #thingstodoincapetown #placestostaycapetown #placestoeatcapetown #tablemountain #sealisland #beachescapetown #bestofcapetown This travel guide to Cape Town will assist you with every thing you need to know before visiting South Africa's Mother city. From currency, to local foods and unique places to stay. There are loads of activities, suitable for every traveller. #capetown #travelguideafrica #westerncape #travelafrica #capetowntravel #tourismcapetown #thingstodoincapetown #placestostaycapetown #placestoeatcapetown #tablemountain #sealisland #beachescapetown #bestofcapetown

* Although we try to ensure that all information provided is as accurate and correct, we cannot be held liable for any errors. All opinions in this travel guide to Cape Town are our own.  Images may be used around the web as long as you credit us and link back to our website souldrifters.com. Images may not be used for advertising and commercial purposes. You are welcome to contact us for rates and terms for commercial rights. This page may contain affiliate links which allows us to earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps us with the cost to keep this blog running. 

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Liza Williams

Born in South Africa, fascinated with culture and loves wood fire pizza. “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away” Follow me on twitter: @soul_drifters

7 thoughts on “Insiders travel guide to Cape Town, South Africa

  • June 14, 2018 at 8:19 pm
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    You have give very detailed information for Cape Town visit for first timers. Table Mountain and Cape Point looks very picturesque and worth visiting. Also shopping local stuff from Hout Bay market would be great thing. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • June 12, 2018 at 5:09 pm
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    Cape Town looks so beautiful! I would love to try the Kalkies fish and chips. It looks yummy! It’s so handy that you added some African and Zulu basic words at the beginning. I hope to visit Cape Town one day and will take your advice to go there in late January.

    Reply
  • June 12, 2018 at 4:43 am
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    Wow Cape Town is a gorgeous place, looks like in France! I want to visit this city and explore, and enjoy the beach and recommended food. Which part of Cape Town is your favorite?

    Reply
  • June 11, 2018 at 7:24 pm
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    Great information about an equally beautiful city. Cape Town is on my bucket list and your blog has just helped quite a bit. The tabletop mountains dominate the city and a great feature. So much to do in terms of active. Great piece of work with in-depth information. Photos are lovely to. Thanks fir sharing

    Reply
  • June 11, 2018 at 3:26 pm
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    Cape Town sounds like a great place to visit. Table Mountain has been on my bucket list for a while, the views just look spectacular. I would never have thought of fish and chips as being a typical South African meal but it sounds delicious nonetheless.

    Reply
  • June 10, 2018 at 5:12 pm
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    The city looks beautiful and so much green and nature right there! I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from friends who have spent time there. I’d like the Seal Point and Cape Hope-sucker for cute wet seals flopping around but also always love to check out food & cheese trails

    Reply
  • June 10, 2018 at 10:02 am
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    These are good to know facts aboust Cape Town, South Africa. will keep in mind the best time to visit it. Thanks for the heads up about the cold water al year round.

    Reply

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