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Cape Town – an introduction

Written by 13 February 2013 4 Comments

Before visiting Cape Town for the first time I really did not know much about it. Every now and then I heard about a TV production (anything from “The Bachelor” to “Germany’s next Topmodel”) being produced there and that models and photographers went down there during the months of December to March (the South African summer) to shoot swimwear editorials for the upcoming season while we back home froze our butts off at -15°C. Needless to say that when I had the chance to go down there for the first 2 weeks of January I could not believe my luck.

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“Isn’t Cape Town fucking amazing?” – That seemed to be the question everyone asked me when they heard it was my first time there. This type of enthusiasm is shared by visitors and locals alike when it comes to the most southern of South Africa’s three capitols (Bloemfontein and Pretoria are the others). Scroll down this post and you’ll quickly understand why people get so excited over Cape Town – it really is unbelievably beautiful, words could never do it justice.

cape town

Few cities are better located when it comes to stunning natural surroundings. Table mountain, Devil’s peak, Signal Hill and Lion’s Head all tower majestically over the 3.5 million people metropolis, forming a breathtaking panorama to the center of town, referred to as City Bowl. Ideally come here with a good camera, you won’t want to put it down. Views, sunsets, beaches, mountains – everyone’s favorite motifs are happening here and you will be hard-pressed to find a photographer who does not rave about “that light” this place enjoys.

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Driving through the city the worldwide traveler will find themselves seeing bits of San Francisco, Sydney, Auckland and even Rio in Cape Town and most of the time it gets very easy to forget you’re actually in the world’s poorest continent. The best way to make sense of it all is to board one of the red 2-storey hop on – hop off buses and do the tour. It takes you around City Bowl, explaining some of the history of notable buildings and neighborhoods and eventually drives you up to Table Mountain where you can hop on a cable car uphill or simply go for the climb. The latter is an option many people go for, just be sure to bring enough water as things do get sweaty.

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When you’re not on the bus or in a (rental) car CT is a perfectly walkable city. The city center extends around Long Street, a shopping mile that also hosts many great hotels and restaurants, making it an ideal departure point for exploration. Around here there are charming shopping opportunities such as the market on Greenmarket Square that sells local art and crafts, clothes, bags and souvenirs. It’s somewhat touristy but still worth a stroll. Parallel from Long Street run Loop and Bree Street, both of which are great adresses for some of the city’s hippest cafes and bars. I will introduce my favorites in a Travelettes’ guide to Cape Town soon.

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All the shops and restaurants should not stop you from exploring beyond the center as there is loads more to see. Walk up to De Waterkant, the city’s gay area where colorful houses and luscious green trees are lining the streets. From there head to neighboring Bo-Kaap for more pink, blue and yellow homes and a great atmosphere. Grab a cab to Observatory, the alternative side of Cape Town, and sit in one of the cafes to soak in the vibe. You’ll find it very different from the rest of town.

From Observatory it’s just a 15 minute walk down Lower Main Road until you hit Albert Road – the main street in Woodstock, another up and coming area in Cape Town. This area is great for shops run by young creatives who produce furniture, frames, clothes, you name it. The two main adresses on Albert road not to be missed are the Old Biscuit Mill (come here on Saturdays for the Neighborgoods market, we wrote about it here) and Woodstock Exchange, a collective of artists, designers, photographers, etc.) selling and presenting their work in small shops. Both of these still get a bit dodgy at nighttime and it is not recommended to leave the main roads but a stroll during the day is no problem. Simply refrain from dangling a big camera in front of you and holding up a map.

cape town

The biggest attraction, apart from the gorgeous mountains certainly is the ocean and thankfully there is plenty of coastline around the cape. Seapoint is a neighborhood with a fantastic strip along the sea, ideal for sunset jogs or romantic walks. The large park area is great for kids to play in.

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A little further South is Camps Bay, a somewhat posher part of town with pretty sidewalk bars and restaurants where you can enjoy your sun-downers surrounded by models and scenesters. The beach here is very popular, even though the water is probably too cold for most people to actually swim in. Miraculously though I have spotted numerous small children who don’t seem to feel the cold and happily go for a swim in the gentle waves.

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One of the real selling points of Cape Town is the very close proximity to amazing weekend trip destinations. Various suburbs feature great beaches, restaurants and town centers and should not be missed out on by visitors either. If you don’t have a car make use of the well-run and affordable train system with trains departing regularly from the beautiful central station. Go down to the beach-side suburb Muizenberg and watch talented surfers from around the world ride the waves of the Atlantic. Just a bit further there is Kalk Bay, an adorable fishing village that makes for a great escape from the hustle bustle of the city.

Finally, Hout Bay is a lovely little place with a great market from Friday to Sunday – the so-called Bay Harbour Market – an ideal spot to buy souvenirs, crafts or simply to relax over great food while listing to some live music. I admit I arrived a little bit too late for the market but a stroll along the wide empty beach made up for it.

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Finally, among the highlights of any trips to Cape Town is to watch the sunset from the top of Signal Hill. You can actually drive to the top of Signal Hill and while you will likely have a tough time finding a spot to park, it’s worth looking for one as the view is just spectecular. The setting sun shines through the trees and the clouds are lying over Table Mountain like a blanket. Or should I say table cloth, because that’s where the famous rock got its name.

As the following photos suggest, this is a highly romantic thing to do, so you’re advised to bring a love interest.

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Cape Town truly is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I look forward to telling you much more about it inthe coming weeks.

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  • ute (durbanville) said:

    yes CT is the most beautiful city … we got married on a lighthouse 7 years ago … and I am totally Melissa’s addicted


  • Kasha said:

    Oh my gosh – this post has made me so homesick!

    I’m a born-and-raised Capetonian, and you’ve highlighted some of the best city spots. Great photos and great intro for travellers new to Cape Town’s loveliness.

  • Michelle said:

    Loved reading this post! I have always wanted to visit Cape Town. Can’t wait to read more about it in your future posts :)

  • Where To Stay said:

    A really great article that highlights everything that is great about our Mother City. Cape Town is a wonderful city to walk around and the beaches at Camps Bay and Clifton are lovely as your photos have captured. You even got to do something I havent done yet and that was see the sunset from Signal Hill – it’s on my list and your photo has inspired me to make sure I do this soon. Cape Town sends you a big hug and hopes to see you again soon.

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