We arranged a transfer from Cape Town airport to our accommodation, there are also taxis, shuttles and an airport bus service. Safety is obviously something high on everyone’s list of concerns, be sensible and you should be perfectly safe. Use taxis that clearly show the company they work for, fares are usually agreed when you get in so check with locals what the fare should be. We used the MyCiti bus service, purchasing a card from the Tourist Office which is then loaded with money. The buses were perfectly safe but not recommended late at night.
There is a huge amount of poverty on the streets particularly around the central City Bowl area, begging can be persistent so be prepared. In the same area at weekends Long Street which is packed with bars can feel edgy, so don’t carry valuables and be wary. This should not put you off visiting the city and seeing it from the streets as oppose to the back of a car. Sunday the City Bowl is almost totally shut so head elsewhere.
The Open Top bus company does three routes and these are all excellent, well organised and very good value. The peninsula tour takes two hours and gives you a wonderful chance to see the coastal area surrounding the centre of Cape Town.
Food and wine in Cape Town is a major highlight, this is a chance to eat some of the best food anywhere and at incredibly reasonable prices and the local wines are excellent at a cost that most visitors will not be able to believe.
We chose to stay in the City Bowl area to give us access to transport links, good restaurants and bars and some of the major sites of the city, using www.booking.com we chose the Greenmarket Place Apartment. This is one apartment in a large block set on Greenmarket Place with a spectacular view to Table Mountain, there is 24 hour security, Katia the owner is very helpful and the apartment is large, stylish and an absolute bargain.
The Test Kitchen, The Old Biscuit Mill, Woodstock, www.thetestkitchen.co.za is in the world’s top 50 restaurant list and certainly deserves to be, reservations for dinner are full for up 6 months, lunch is slightly easier but even 3 months in advance we were only able to get seats at the bar area overlooking the kitchen, no problem for us it was fantastic. We had the 5 course tasting menu and it is almost certainly the best meal I have ever eaten, it was faultless, every single dish and ingredient worked, the service was top notch, knowledgeable yet friendly. I cannot recommend this too highly.
Pot Luck Club, The Old Biscuit Mill, Woodstock, is owned by Luke Dale-Roberts who owns and runs The Test Kitchen, this is a different style of dining with tapas portions, divided up into sweet, salty, sour, bitter and unami. There are two sittings for dinner, 6pm & 8.30pm, go for the later and you can relax and enjoy however many dishes you choose. All the dishes we chose were excellent and you cannot help but want to return to try more. Booking well in advance is required.
Bistro Bizerka, 98 Shortmarket Street, City Bowl, was another excellent Cape Town meal, a relaxed and informal atmosphere with a blackboard menu of seasonal dishes using local produce. There is a really exciting choice of dishes, all of which were well explained by the staff. As ever there is a great wine list of local wines to compliment the food, incredible value for those visiting from outside South Africa.
Fork, 84 Long Street, City Bowl, www.fork-restaurants.co.za , close to our apartment and therefore a easy choice for lunch on our first day, it was ideal and we enjoyed it so much we went back twice more during our stay. The menu offers tapas style dishes and while some were perfectly acceptable some stood out as very good cooking, in particular the ravioline with beef and a poached egg. There is a wide enough choice that you can go more than once and try different dishes. Excellent wine choice and a good selection by the glass, amazing value for the quality.
Hemelhuijs, 71 Waterkant Street, www.hemelhuijs.co.za , had great reviews and since it is only open during the day we popped in one morning and booked a table for lunch, just as well we did as it was packed when we returned. The minute you walk in the door you know that this is going to be special and it was, a shared salad of roasted cauliflower, avocado, radish and poached egg, to which we added slow cooked duck meat was fantastic, the mains were also very good but memories of the salad still linger. Lovely staff and excellent value.
Inside & You’re Out, IYO, 103 Bree Street, City Bowl, yes it’s a burger joint but boy is it a good one. Not easily found up a steep flight of stairs, IYO aims to be an ethical restaurant with it’s furnishings, packaging and sourcing and it was a great find. Excellent burgers, good value wines and craft beers and friendly young staff who were delighted to serve a couple of visitors who were rather older than the average customer, made this a good choice.
Knead, Kloof Street, City Bowl, part of a small chain, this bakery and restaurant made a great lunchtime stop, we shared an excellent sandwich and a really good pizza. It had relaxed, friendly service with a manager who sorted out a table in minutes even though it was packed, I would happily have visited any other of the branches based on our experience here.
Long Street is the main bar area in the City Bowl and while there are some excellent bars there are also many that are not very attractive, Kloof Street which is an extension of Long Street has some more upmarket places.
House of Machines, 84 Shortmarket Street, City Bowl, definitely our favourite bar, during the day it is part bar & café and part motor bike shop. Owned by motor bike enthusiasts, at night it changes to a cool bar with excellent cocktails, live music and food. The team behind the bar are great and we loved the House of Machines.
La Parada, 107 Bree Street, City, large modern bar with tapas dishes on offer and pleasant place to chill out over a drink except on Friday evenings when it is so packed it is impossible to get into the bar.
Mama Africa, 178 Long Street, City Bowl, there is live music six nights a week, they shut on a Sunday, from one of three Marimbi bands that perform. Great atmosphere and friendly service, there is also a large restaurant area which gets good reviews, the diners are often seen up dancing to the bands between courses. Just be careful walking down Long Street late at night particularly at the weekends when it is busy.
Tiger’s Milk, 44 Long Street, City Bowl, owned by the same group at La Parada this is one of the more relaxed bars on Long Street, again at weekends it is packed. There is a decent food menu on offers as well as a wide range of drinks.
South African wines are widely available outside the country but a visit gives you the chance to visit some of the wineries and try some fantastic wines. The main region is around the Western Cape and between 2003 and 2013 exports have more than doubled. In the past the vineyards were dominated by white wines but there was a ten year reversal with more reds been planted although this has again changed over the last four years.
There is a wide variety of red wines on offer, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot are both very common, with Shiraz becoming more popular and the wines we enjoyed most. There is of course Pinotage, a local cross of two other grape varieties, that with strides being made in the making of this is gaining acceptance and we tried one or two very good ones. There are a number of grape varieties found that are more common in lesser known Portuguese and Spanish wines. A similar wide variety of white grape varieties are found with some top notch Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay as well as Chenin Blanc the most widely cultivated variety.
Craft Beers have also become popular in the country especially in Cape Town, many bars have a wide range of mainly bottled beers. The Woodstock area of Cape Town seems to have become a mecca for new micro breweries, Devils Peak, Woodstock and Riot are among the ones we came across.
As I mentioned at the start, the Open Top Bus tours are a great way to get to see the city. The City Bowl has some of the main sites such as Greemarket Square, The Company Gardens and many good museums and galleries. After a stroll through the gardens a refreshment at the 5 star Mount Nelson Hotel is a lovely way to spend an hour or two, their afternoon tea is legendary.
Table Mountain is another must, although finding a time when it is clear can be difficult, you can buy tickets valid for 7 days on line and it saves a queue when you get there. It is accessible by public bus with a free shuttle taking you the rest of the way to the cable car.
Robben Island is another top place on the visitor’s list, we did not make it due to poor weather during our stay making the boat trip over either impossible or unpleasant.
A train journey down the coast to Simonstown is spectacular and can be done from Cape Town station travelling in first class compartments on the Metro trains for a very small amount of money. Stop at Kalk Bay and wander around the fishing port and have a meal or a drink at the The Brass Bell for great views over the port.
The V&A Waterfront is a must for the selection of bars and restaurants and also some excellent shopping in either the mall or the lovely craft market. There is also a food hall only open during the day which has some excellent choices, we loved The Fish Box.