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Cape Town - Capital of South Africa

The city lies in a spectacular broad natural bay location set against the majestic allure of Table Mountain.

It's long white sandy beaches are perfect for lazy afternoon strolls or a spot of volleyball.

Established by European settlers in 1652, the town soon outgrew its original purpose as the first European outpost in the region, becoming the cultural and economic focal point of the Cape.

Until the development of Johannesburg during the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886, Cape Town was the largest city in South Africa.

As of 2007 the city had an estimated multi-cultural population of 3.5 million.

Top 10 things to do in Cape Town

Table Mountain/Aerial Cableway

The Table Mountain overlooks the city of Cape Town and has at its top a 3km level plateau surrounded by steep cliffs. To the east is Devils Peak and to the west is Lion's Head.

Rising 1,086 metres above sea level, it's highest point at the eastern end is marked by a stone cairn built in 1865 by Sir Thomas Maclear.

The best (and fastest) way to get to the top is by cable car. The cars run throughout the day every 10-15 minutes and the 10 minute ride to the top gives an extraordinary 360° panorama of the city and Table Bay.

Once at the top there are over 2km of walks leading to different breathtaking views over the city, bay and peninsula. Guided tours are also available. Facilities include a cafe, deli and small shops.

Getting to the cable car station on Tafelberg Road is very easy due to the frequent signposts on all the major roads. It's best to check the website in the morning as the system will close in adverse weather.

Robben Island

This island is located 7km off the coast of Cape Town in Table Bay and is notoriously famous for it's prison which was once home to former South African president Nelson Mandela for 18 years as well as many other black political freedom fighters.

The site has been a World Heritage Site and museum since 1997 and has become an extremely important symbol in the new South Africa, reflecting the triumph of good over evil, of democracy over apartheid.

The museum's guides are former prisoners themselves and listening to their stories makes a visit to Robben Island a humbling and emotional experience.

Tours last around 4 hours including the ferry rides and need to be booked well in advance during the busy tourist seasons and it's best if you do this through an agency rather than any street touts.

Two Oceans Aquarium

Opened in 1995, the aquarium comprises seven exhibition galleries with large viewing windows.

Each exhibit has a unique story to tell about ocean life and there's plenty to keep the kids (and larger kids) happy. Check the website for feeding times so that you can plan your tour accordingly.

There is also shark diving available for the more adventurous holiday maker.

As well as the exhibits, the aquarium is also actively involved in local conservation projects including rescue of injured/stranded sunfish and research of ocean life using tagging and satellite monitoring.

Open every day of the year, it is located at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town.

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens

Situated at the foot of the eastern slopes of the Table Mountain, this botanical garden is the most popular of the eight national gardens.

Founded in 1913 solely to preserve the country's unique flora, it was the world's first botanical garden to do so using this premise.

What makes these gardens so unique is that (with minor exceptions) only indigenous plants are grown and cultivated here.

Sculptures are regularly displayed around the gardens and there is also a large indoor greenhouse which exhibits plants from a number of different regions.

Several walking trails lead off from the gardens towards the mountain slopes if you are looking for a more active pace.

Victoria Alfred Waterfront

This is the historic heart of Cape Town's working harbour and South Africa's most visited tourist attraction.

Situated between Robben Island and Table Mountain and set against a backdrop of sea and mountain views, it offers a variety of shopping and entertainment options.

This is the expensive area with luxury apartments and a nearby marina.

The waterfront is gorgeous at dusk when the sun glints off the buildings and if you're a fan of night photography, the reflections of lights in the calm bay water will not disappoint.

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Cape Point

The first European to reach the cape was the Portuguese explorer Bartolomeu Dias in 1488, who named it the "Cape of Storms".

It was later renamed by John II of Portugal as "Cape of Good Hope" because of the great optimism engendered by the opening of a sea route to India and the East.

There is a common misconception that the Cape of Good Hope is the southern tip of Africa and the dividing point between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, but in fact the southernmost point is Cape Agulhas, about 150km to the east-southeast.

All along the cape there are good walking trails and fantastic views out to sea. Amongst the other places to visit here are The Cape Point Lighthouse, the Flying Dutchman Funicular and Two Oceans Restaurant.

As far as local legends go The Cape of Good Hope is the home of The Flying Dutchman. Crewed by tormented and damned ghostly sailors, it is doomed forever to beat its way through the adjacent waters without ever succeeding in rounding the headland.

Castle of Good Hope

Built by the Dutch East India Company between 1666 and 1679, the Castle is the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa.

It is a star-shaped fort and was built on the original coastline of Table Bay, however, due to land reclamation over the years, the fort seems nearer to the centre of Cape Town than the coast.

Today the Castle is the seat of the military in the Cape, and houses the Castle Military Museum and Iziko Museums of Cape Town (William Fehr Collection).

Guided tours are available every day except Sunday and food is available from the De Goewerneur Restaurant which also affords a great view of the Table Mountain.

Hout Bay

If you're asking for directions to here then you may get some conflicting advice as the name Hout Bay can refer to the town, or the bay on which it is situated, or the whole valley.

The name in Afrikaans is Houtbaai from the Dutch for "Wood Bay" as it was the Dutch who established a colony here in 1652.

They required a great quantity of good timber for building and other purposes however there were no forests nearby the current settlement. They soon realised they would be able to get the wood they needed in the wetter valley that lay on the other side of a low pass, hence the name.

The area is still pretty rural and divided into 28 distinct neighbourhoods with an overall population of around 42,000 people.

The Hout Bay bay has a white sand beach which is a popular attraction for tourists and locals and has one of the busiest harbours in the Western Cape.

To surfers, the area is known as "Dungeons" and is one of the sixteen recognised big wave spots around the globe. The annual Red Bull Big Wave Africa competition is held here.

The harbour is a worthwhile visit, as there are spectacular views of the bay and boat rides to Duiker Island and around the Sentinel

Simon's Town

This village and naval base is situated near Cape Town on the shores of False Bay, on the eastern side of the Cape Peninsula and is named after Simon van der Stel, an early governor of the Cape Colony.

The village itself is very picturesque with its cobbled streets and restored cottages and homes, whilst the main road is an assortment of shops, coffee shops and restaurants.

The town's historical mile, St. George's Street has 21 buildings over 150 years’ old and includes a local museum, the navy museum and a toy museum.

This mile also includes the Church of St Francis, said to be the oldest Anglican Church in the country, a Mosque built in 1926, and the Dido Valley Cemetery, filled with headstones that are practically impossible to read due to erosion from the sea air.

The sea view restaurants all have fantastic panoramas out over the ocean and the great beaches that this area has to offer.

If you are in this area, which you really should be, a must visit is to Boulders beach. It is home to a colony of African penguins and very popular with families at the weekends. There is an entrance fee to get on the beach, however, this seems negligible compared to the chance of swimming with the penguins in the calm bay waters.

Clifton beaches

Clifton is an affluent suburb of Cape Town and is made up of four coves.

The beaches here are somewhat blandly named. 1st, 2nd, 3rd and yes, you've guessed it, 4th.

Well sheltered from the wind, the coves are very popular and well used by both locals and tourists.

The beaches are made up of white granitic sand giving them an almost white appearance and the waters, although a little chilly, are host to a variety of water sports amongst which surfing is by far the most prevalent.

If you are a keen surfer, then you'll want to head out to 1st beach where the surf is the strongest, diminishing as you get round to 4th.

3rd beach is usually the choice for families and volleyball players, where 4th is by far the most popular and glamorous with yachts anchoring off it during the summer.

Clifton 4th beach has also been awarded the Blue Flag award in recognition of its environmental, safety and tourist standards.

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Temperature & Rainfall Guide for Cape Town

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