Top 8 Ways To See Cape Town Through A Different Lens
If you’re looking for a way to get away from the madding crowds in Cape Town, try these 8 alternative ways to see the city through a different lens.
By Lucy Corne
Cape Town is one of those places that everyone should visit in their lifetime. It has everything: natural beauty, a vibrant cocktail of cultures, belt-expanding food and wonderfully welcoming people. Many attractions have reputations that precede them — I’d heard of the Cape of Good Hope and Robben Island before I had any idea what or where they were — but what if you want to step off the beaten track? The main attractions are undeniably outstanding, but when the swarms of tourists get too much, you might want to seek out a quieter way to enjoy the “Mother City.” Here are eight alternatives to the tour bus favorites.
1) Follow the crowds: Take the cable car up Table Mountain
An original take: Hike to the top of Lion’s Head
Table Mountain tops most people’s list of things to do in Cape Town, but there are more options than just jumping on the revolving cableway to reach the mountain’s flat top. You could join the energetic travelers who hike to the 1,086-meter summit or, for a less congested hike, opt to scale nearby Lion’s Head. It’s a challenging hike that takes in narrow paths, steep drops and occasionally has you grasping on to chains to haul yourself up the rocks. Still it’s all worth it for the stunning views — in my opinion far superior to the vistas from the top of Table Mountain. Of course, since Lion’s Head is just a couple of kilometers away from the mountain, the panoramas are similar: ocean views and the city laid out beneath you. But seen from Lion’s Head you get an added bonus, Table Mountain is part of the view as well. If clambering to the top is not thrilling enough for you, book a paragliding tour and take the more adventurous route back to sea level.
2) Follow the crowds: Sip wine in picture-perfect Constantia
An original take: Down beer at the SAB Brewery in Newlands
South Africa is often associated with wine, but you don’t have to spend long in the country to realize that you’re in a nation of beer lovers. The Ohlsson’s Brewery in Newlands might lack the aesthetic value of the Constantia winelands just south of the city, but the informative tour through a fully functioning brewery makes up for the lack of prettiness. And of course, once the hour-long tour ends, the fun really begins as you’re left in the on-site pub to taste SAB’s many different brews.
3) Follow the crowds: Paddle with penguins in Simon’s Town
An original take: Take a boat to see seals near Fish Hoek
There aren’t many places where you can paddle in a boat amongst penguins, and I wouldn’t for a second suggest that you miss out on Boulder’s Beach and its colony of African Penguins, but there are other notable wildlife encounters around Cape Town. Jump on one of the regular boats from Fish Hoek’s harbor and visit the small colony of Cape Fur Seals lounging on an island a couple of bays away. Be prepared for the overwhelming stench; they might look cute, but they smell like rotting fish. The choppy boats also take in a shipwreck before heading back to Fish Hoek’s stunning beach. Those who don’t mind venturing a little further should head to the real Seal Island in False Bay. There are hundreds of seals here and the waters are a favorite lunch stop for Great White Sharks.
4) Follow the crowds: Follow the Long Walk to Freedom on Robben Island
An original take: Follow in the footsteps of the San at !Khwa ttu
Okay, in truth there really is no substitute for the moving trip to Robben Island, home to the prison that held Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years of incarceration. But once you’ve taken the choppy ferry over to the former prison and leper colony you might like to consider stepping a little further back in time to explore !Khwa ttu, a cultural center dedicated to the San, South Africa’s earliest dwellers. San descendants offer an insight into this forgotten culture and a quick lesson in their bizarre-sounding but delightful “clicking” language. The center is 70 kilometers north of Cape Town, near Yzerfontein.
5) Follow the crowds: Enjoy a relaxing picnic at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
An original take: Work for your lunch with a hike through the Kogelberg Nature Reserve
With its manicured lawns and dramatic mountain backdrop, Kirstenbosch is certainly beautiful and a great place to stroll, but if your trip to Cape Town is brief why not opt for a more challenging outdoor experience? The craggy mountain scenery is echoed at Kogelberg, but visitor numbers are limited, meaning you get a quieter, less polished encounter. The rugged terrain makes for wonderful hikes where you might spot small antelope, baboons, eagles and the locally famous herd of horses descended from those abandoned here after the Anglo-Boer War.
6) Follow the crowds: Chain stores and lunch at the V&A Waterfront
An original take: Haggling and lunch on Long Street
The Waterfront is one of Cape Town’s favorite attractions and its pedestrian-friendly complex of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants is definitely worth a visit. But prices here can be steep, and while undoubtedly pretty, the Waterfront lacks character. For a more vibrant buying and dining experience, head to Long Street, the heart and soul of central Cape Town. Shop for quirky souvenirs in the African Bead Store, lunch on local dishes or gourmet sandwiches in the hip cafes and end with a haggle in the Pan-African Market or Greenmarket Square — great places to pick up six-feet tall giraffes, township art crafted from trash and scary but perfectly-carved masks.
7) Follow the crowds: Have an emotional encounter at the District Six Museum
An original take: Have an emotional encounter at Lwandle’s Migrant Labour Museum
Visiting the District Six Museum is an utterly moving experience. It recounts one of the most hated policies of the apartheid regime: the forced removal of families from their homes across the country as regions were designated “white only.” The museum is excellent and never fails to have you reaching for your hankie, but sometimes the endless stream of tour groups can detract from the poignancy of the exhibits. If you have a rental car and feel like supporting a project in need, head east of the city to Lwandle, a township near Somerset West. After visiting the deserted but excellently laid-out museum, staff will take you on a walking tour to visit the former hostels — depressing boarding houses built for migrant workers who were forced to leave their families behind as they searched for work in the cities.
8) Follow the crowds: Get snap-happy at the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point
An original take: Head to the real “end of the world” at Cape Agulhas
It’s a common misconception: Crowds of tourists descend daily on the Cape of Good Hope, intent on visiting the southernmost tip of Africa and snapping a few shots of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meeting offshore. Sadly, neither of these things is possible here. Stunning views are a given, as are hordes of tourists and a few rogue baboons stealing people’s picnics, but the real “end of the world” is actually 200 kilometers east of Cape Town. Cape Agulhas can’t compete with Cape Point’s dramatic scenery, but it certainly holds the trump card in tranquility. There’s not a lot here other than a very photogenic lighthouse, a shipwreck and a far less-photographed sign than the one found at the Cape of Good Hope, but if you’re the kind of traveler who likes superlatives, silence or photos of significant signs, then it’s definitely worth the trek.