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Holidays to Cape Town

Overlooked by the distinctive Table Mountain and fringed by pearly white beaches lies beautiful Cape Town. With a national park at its heart and no shortage of entertainment, culture, fine dining, and top class hotels it is truly one of the world’s most attractive destinations. Cape Town’s diverse architectural styles add to its allure; from Cape Dutch to Georgian, as seen in the colourful Bo-Kapp district, to minarets and modern skyscrapers. Sightseeing highlights include the cable car trip to Table Mountain, rising 1086m above sea level.

On the precipitous Chapman’s Peak Drive, enjoy spectacular views over the pounding Atlantic Ocean. The V&A Waterfront is a hive of activity, with its wealth of shops, restaurants, wine boutiques and its unique aquarium. It is also the starting point for the excellent Robben Island excursion.

Many forms of sport are available; from paragliding off Lion's Head to windsurfing off Blouberg Beach. After dark, enjoy nighclubs, jazz venues, theatres and restaurants. Take a day tour around the Cape Peninsula to Cape Point, or explore the Garden Route, Hermanus and the Winelands or experience an African safari at Kariega Game Reserve.

The lure of a holiday in Cape Town lies in its spectacular setting and the beauty of its natural environment, as well as the rich cultural diversity of its people.

It has had a long and turbulent history, and the effects of Apartheid still linger in the minds and hearts of the people. Transformation, however, has led to a feeling of hope in this new 'Rainbow Nation', which can be experienced in the cosmopolitan city centre of Cape Town. Flower sellers, business executives, parking attendants, office workers and shoppers all rub shoulders in a setting of both historical and modern buildings, backed by the city's most famous landmark, Table Mountain.

The colourful Malay Quarter, the remains of District Six, St George's Cathedral, Government Avenue and the old Castle are historically significant, while world-class African and international restaurants tempt travellers with their culinary delights. Although an African city, Cape Town has a marked European influence and visitors can experience the excitement of Africa from the comforts of First World surroundings.

It is a city with four distinct seasons, each working its particular magic on Cape Town and bringing with it a flood of associations - summer and white sandy beaches, autumn's crisp colours, the ferocity of stormy seas in winter, and spring's show of Cape fynbosflowers. This vast combination of culture, history and scenery leads to an unforgettable experience. This is a special place with much to contribute towards its growing reputation as a favoured travel destination.

Information & Facts

Climate

Cape Town, on the Cape Peninsula, has a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and wet winters. Seasons are well defined, with winter, between May and August, being influenced by a series of cold fronts that cross the Peninsula from the Atlantic Ocean.

Winters are characterised by heavy rain, particularly on the mountain slopes, strong north-westerly winds, and low temperatures. In summer the weather in Cape Town is warm and dry, but the idyllic sunny weather is often punctuated with strong south easterly winds.

Eating Out

One of the many attractions of Cape Town is the quality and variety of restaurants in and around the city, which by international standards remain fantastic value. As well as a wide variety of international fare, there are numerous restaurants offering local Cape Malay dishes and traditional African cuisine, while seafood (especially sushi) is also extremely popular. Fine diners and families with young children will find they are equally well catered for.

Camps Bay and the Waterfront have a wide variety of restaurants, but many of the better ones are outside these tourist hotspots. The town of Franschhoek, 40 minutes outside Cape Town, is known as the gourmet capital of South Africa with plenty of first-rate restaurants, while many of the wine farms in Constantia and around Stellenbosch have fantastic restaurants for long lunching accompanied by a bottle of the superb local wine.

Visitors to Cape Town during the winter months should take advantage of "winter menus" offered by most restaurants - these are astoundingly good value deals, often packaged as a tasting menu of five courses or more.

Restaurants in Cape Town usually add a 10-15 percent service charge to tables of six or more; otherwise waiters expect a tip of 10-15 percent for good service. Recent legislation has banned smoking on all restaurant premises.

For a comprehensive list of restaurants in Cape Town check out www.diningout.co.za

Getting Around

Cape Town and its suburbs sprawl for miles, but with the ocean and the dramatic landmarks of Table Mountain and Lions Head the city is fairly easy to navigate. Most of the hotels are situated along the Atlantic Seaboard.

Public transport is poor and often unsafe, so most visitors hire a car, particularly if planning excursions from the city. To rent a car, drivers need to be over 23 years old and have a credit card and a full driving license (the license must have a photo and be in English, otherwise an International Driving Permit is required). Driving can be a harrowing experience in Cape Town and lane changes confusing, with signage often easy to miss, and the same road can change names several times.

For trips within the city or to the Atlantic beaches minibus taxis are cheap and convenient and can be hailed by adventurous travellers anywhere along their route, but the vehicles are often in very bad condition and the driving can be appalling. Passengers should expect to pay around R5 for most journeys within the city, but are cautioned against getting into an empty minibus. Golden Arrow buses leave from the main bus terminal to destinations around the city; although timings can be erratic they can be a good option for those on a budget.

Tourists are advised to avoid the trains, with the exception of the Simon's Town line, which runs through the residential Southern Suburbs, past Muizenberg and along the stunning False Bay coast. Pick pocketing is rife, however, and there have been several attacks on passengers.

Rikkis, or small, open rickshaw type vehicles, are a novel way to explore the city centre and Simon's Town and are usually safe and reliable. Taxis are expensive but are a good option at night for those without a car.

Public transport should not be taken after dark and the outlying township areas should be avoided at all costs unless on an organised tour.

Kids Attractions

With a warm climate, mountains, world-class beaches, and the great outdoors on its doorstep, there is no shortage of things for children to see and do in Cape Town. The question is more 'what can children notdo in Cape Town?' as the opportunities are endless.

Active families will enjoy the numerous hikes on Table Mountain, as well as the cable car. The surrounding areas, such as Tokai, False Bay and even Silvermine and Cape Point provide some excellent walking trails too. Being such a bicycle-friendly city, there are plenty of bike trails both on and off the mountains to be enjoyed. Pack the frisbee and sunscreen and head to one of Cape Town's picture-perfect beaches to enjoy a spot of sunshine, but beware - the water is cold!

Or for a more relaxing day in the shade, pack a picnic and lie under the shade of a tree in the world-renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens where there is plenty of space for kids to run around. For those with less energy, pop the kids on one of Cape Town's open-top sightseeing buses - a great way to see the top attractions in Cape Town.

On days when outdoor activities are not an option, head off to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront where craft markets, boat rides and restaurants will keep the little ones entertained. The Two Oceans Aquarium is also located here and provides a fascinating and educational experience for children of all ages.

When the sun sets on the 'Mother City' there are plenty of great restaurants where kids are welcome, such as the family-friendly Spur, which offers indoor playgrounds, colouring books and balloons for the little ones.

Language

South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. English is widely spoken.

Money

South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available (there is a daily limit for cash withdrawals) and major international credit cards are widely accepted, except in petrol stations where cash is required.

Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. Travellers cheques and some foreign currencies are accepted at larger hotels and shops, but commission is charged, otherwise all commercial banks will exchange them.

Nightlife

By far South Africa's most cosmopolitan city, Cape Town's nightlife is definitely something to write home about. This multicultural city has something for just about everyone from fashionable bars and watering holes to classy dance clubs and hotel bars, and visitors and tourists alike will find themselves brushing shoulders with the who's who in Cape Town's social scene.

Kick things off by sipping on a cocktail and watching the sunset at one of Camps Bay's trendy sidewalk cafes in the summer, offering fancy cocktails and gorgeous ocean views. Somerset Road in Green Point is where the main gay and lesbian clubs and bars are situated, although it is not uncommon for straight people to frequent these places.

If that doesn't float your boat, head to Observatory for a more bourgeois bohemian experience with students from the University of Cape Town. Everything happens at a slightly slower pace here and pool halls, reggae bars, avant-garde eateries and live music are the order of the day. For a younger and more mainstream clubbing experience, head to main road in Claremont where teens prefer to drink and dance the night away at clubs like Tiger Tiger.

Long Street in the centre of town is the heart of Cape Town nightlife however, particularly the mountain end. There is just about every kind of bar or club on offer, from live music and deejay bars to pubs, dance clubs and the more trendy and laid-back 'lounge' variety. It's can be a difficult and confusing task choosing a venue to while away the hours, and you are likely to find people from a myriad of nations wandering the streets on weekend nights.

Be wary of the numerous pickpockets in the crowd, however, and keep close watch on cell phones and wallets. This strip is happening all the time and there are plenty of quieter and less packed spots hidden away off the side streets. Near to Long Street, The Fez is a long-running popular club where you might run into international celebrities like Paris Hilton, Prince Harry, or Leonardo DiCaprio.

There is almost always a great line-up of original South African bands playing at lots of venues around Cape Town, the most popular for rock and alternative music being Zula Sound Bar, Mercury Live and The Assembly, while Manenberg's Jazz Café at the Clock Tower is a great spot to tap your toe to a bit of jazz.

For culture vultures, there are great local and often international shows to be seen at one of the many theatres such as the Theatre on the Bay, the Baxter Theatre or ARTscape while On Broadway hosts a wonderful mix of comedies and farces. The Cape Town City Ballet, the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Cape Town Opera are all world-class performing groups. Maynardville Open-Air Theatre hosts Shakespeare in the Park performances in Wynberg every summer.

Unfortunately, there is little to no public transport after 7pm in Cape Town, besides private taxis which often need to be booked in advance and can be very expensive, so it is best to organise your own car - but make sure there is a designated driver as the accident rate on weekends is frighteningly high and police road blocks are common. Due to recent legislation, bars and clubs in Cape Town stop serving alcohol at 2am.

Shopping

Shopping in Cape Town is largely centralised within a few shopping malls, the largest and most popular being in the V&A Waterfront, Cavendish Square and Century City. Many international brands can be found here, but shopping in Cape Town is not quite in the same league as international cities such as London, New York or Singapore.

Supermarkets are of a high standard, with Pick & Pay good for bulk shopping, while Woolworths is probably the best for fresh produce. For food lovers the Saturday morning market at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock is excellent for fresh, organic foods and unique, locally-made products. The Sunday craft market in Hout Bay is the place for handmade local arts and crafts, and for South African art it is worth taking a drive down to Kalk Bay and Simonstown where there are lots of small galleries.

The flea market at Greenmarket Square, off Longmarket Street, is worth a visit for African curios and gifts, where bargaining is often possible, particularly if buying a few items. Nearby Long Street also has a number of curio shops, mixed with local boutiques, and book and music stores. Popular Cape Town souvenirs include African masks, colourfully-printed fabric and clothing, and carvings made of wood and soapstone.

Most stops are open between 9am and 6pm, with reduced hours on the weekends. Stores in shopping malls may be open later, until 8 or 9pm. Overseas travellers can claim back VAT (14%) at the refund kiosk in Cape Town International Airport on presentation of all receipts; allow extra time before checking in.

Sightseeing

From museums and historic sites to scenic drives and beaches, Cape Town has plenty to offer visitors in the way of attractions and excursions. The open-top, hop-on hop-off Explorer bus operates two routes with 13 stops each at sights within the central city, as well as further afield in the suburbs, which is an easy way to see many of the city's top attractions in one day.

The city centre is easy to navigate on foot, with Table Mountain and the gentle slope of the city toward the sea providing a point of reference and making it difficult to get lost. At the very least, visitors usually include a trip up Table Mountain in the cable car on their itinerary, and many make time for an outing to Robben Island, Cape Point, the Winelands and of course any one of the city's many magnificent beaches.

Summertime visitors rarely come to Cape Town without at least one day spent enjoying its Blue Flag-rated beaches, whether lounging with the bronze bodies in Camps Bay and Clifton, or snorkelling with penguins in Simonstown. There are many active pursuits available in Cape Town as well, from kayaking with whales in the Atlantic Ocean, to hiking up Table Mountain or in the Tokai forest, to paragliding from Signal Hill to Camp's Bay.

For those with a bit more time, there are many museums that offer a glimpse into the apartheid era such as the District Six Museum, and an increasingly popular tour is to one of the predominantly black townships which usually includes a look at community projects, a visit to a craft market and a drink at a local shebeen.

Time

Local time is GMT +2.