It's still buzzing after this year's world cup—now without the crowds and those earsplitting vuvuzelas—and there's never been a better time to visit Africa's most exciting city.
DAY 1: ART + DESIGN
Turning out everything from colorful handcrafted goods to edgy multimedia installations, Cape Town's diverse creative community redefines the South African aesthetic on a daily basis.
About three miles east of downtown, the Cape Town neighborhood of Woodstock has become the city's de facto arts capital and the heart of its design scene. The sunny, year-old café Superette, opened by neighborhood pioneers Justin Rhodes and Cameron Munro (who also run Woodstock's Whatiftheworld gallery and Neighbourgoods Market), is an ideal place to get oriented. The shop unites the duo's interests in food and design under one roof: Funky curios like artfully scribbled ceramic mugs share shelf space with raw chestnut honey and jars of agave nectar sugar, and all the coffee drinks are made with beans from Cape Town roaster Deluxe Coffeeworks. 218 Albert Rd., superette.co.za, espresso from $3.
A complete Woodstock gallery tour can occupy most of a day, since the top spots are spread across a relatively large area, not all of which is walkable. (Tip: It's best to break the tour into two segments, connected by a cab ride.) A fitting first stop is Rhodes and Munro's Whatiftheworld (208 Albert Rd., whatiftheworld.com), which focuses on emerging talents like the avant-garde performance artist Athi-Patra Ruga. About six blocks away, the artists-in-residence at Greatmore Studios lead workshops on etching, drawing, and more for anyone who signs up on the website (47-49 Greatmore St., greatmoreart.org, workshops free). From there, a five-minute cab ride leads to Goodman Gallery (176 Sir Lowry Rd., 3rd Fl., goodman-gallery.com), where the roster includes renowned South African artist William Kentridge and Zimbabwe-born painter Kudzanai Chiurai. Two blocks away, the Michael Stevenson Gallery represents some of the country's most important young artists (160 Sir Lowry Rd., michaelstevenson.com).
Chef Karen Dudley had already made her name as a catering star before launching her low-key sandwich counter, The Kitchen, last year. Open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., it has become the go-to gathering spot for artists, gallerists, and other Woodstock locals, who pull up stools at the six-seat bar to await hearty servings of seasonal salads like panzanella or tabbouleh and inventive sandwiches served on artisanal rolls. 111 Sir Lowry Rd., karendudley.co.za, sandwiches from $4.
For a souvenir with a story to tell, head to Heartworks in Woodstock's converted Old Biscuit Mill building. The collective employs crafters from the Khayelitsha township in southeast Cape Town—many of them displaced by political turmoil in Congo or Zimbabwe—who hand-embroider teddy bears, wall hangings, and pillows in a rainbow of colors. 373-375 Albert Rd., heartworks.co.za, pillows from $39.
After a long day of looking at art, it's nice to meet one of the city's creative forces face-to-face. Designer Heath Nash, whose whimsical Flowerball hanging lamps are made with plastic salvaged from landfills, regularly opens his studio to visitors (call about a week ahead to schedule a time). Nash's pieces are admittedly pricey—lamps start at $90—but he encourages browsing and will happily share stories about his recent collaborations with weavers in his native Zimbabwe. 2 Mountain Rd., heathnash.com.
The 20-room Hippo Boutique Hotel in Cape Town's Gardens section, one mile southwest of Woodstock, tempers its modern aesthetic with just the right touches. The cherrywood floors, mid-century sofas, and painted headboards guarantee a vibe that's more homey than highfalutin (5-9 Park Rd., hippotique.co.za, from $190). Of course, design means something different to everyone, and in the Sea Point neighborhood six miles farther northwest, the folks behind Nu Rock Inn prefer playful period details to any serious statement. Its 10 studios have '50s-style furniture and throwback games like foosball, and most open onto a shared balcony with views of Lion's Head mountain (68 Regent Rd., nurockinn.co.za, from $67).
DAY 2: THE OUTDOORS
Cape town isn't merely defined by its natural assets—a bounty of beaches, plentiful hikes, exotic wildlife—it thrives because of them. and, of course, its mild climate (average november high: 73°F) certainly sweetens the deal.
Rising more than 3,500 feet above Cape Town, the two-mile-long plateau of Table Mountain can be seen from nearly every street corner in the city, and hiking to its summit is almost a rite of passage. Medium-difficulty trails begin in several places, but the best is in the 89-acre Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, which allows you to take in two outdoorsy sites in one go (for maps and information, go to sanparks.org). Most people need about two hours each way for the hike, but time-strapped travelers have another option: a five-minute aerial tram ride from Tafelberg Road, with clear views of Camps Bay, Robben Island, and Cape Town Stadium, built for the 2010 World Cup (tablemountain.net, round-trip tram ride $22).
They may not be as iconic as the continent's big five, but African penguins (once dubbed jackass penguins because of their braying calls) are as much at home here as lions and hippos. At Boulders Penguin Colony, part of Table Mountain National Park about 45 minutes south of downtown, visitors can get up close and personal with 3,000 or so of the frolicking sea birds from boardwalks suspended above their nesting ground. Simon's Town, sanparks.org, entry $4.50.
With its 150-seat terrace overlooking False Bay, Cape Point's Two Oceans Restaurant could easily skate by on location alone—which makes its solid selection of South African wines and its commitment to sourcing sustainable seafood a nice bonus. The menu ranges from à la carte snacks (fresh oysters from neighboring Namibia) to the signature built-for-two platter, a heaping pile of crayfish, prawns, calamari, mussels, fresh fish, and curry. Plateau Rd. (M65), two-oceans.co.za, oysters $2.50 each, built-for-two platter $60.
POINT OF VIEWS
This year, there is a brand-new way to reach one of the country's most-visited sites: the Cape of Good Hope, a rocky peninsula that juts out between the Atlantic and Indian Oceans an hour south of Cape Town. Completed in August after four years of work, the Hoerikwaggo Trail cuts through 60 miles of Table Mountain National Park and connects Cape Town to Cape Point, covering forested, mountainous, and coastal terrain in the process. Tackling the whole route is a four-night affair—made less daunting by the kitchenette-equipped tents at each of four campgrounds along the way—but hikers can also take on shorter segments. It's certainly possible to go it alone, but hiring a guide is recommended. sanparks.org, trail camping from $27 per person per night.
Cape Town's ocean-side community of Clifton is built on some of Africa's most expensive real estate. But while a luxe villa runs about $700 per square foot, the neighboring white-sand beaches are free for all. Each of the stretches of Clifton Beach, numbered 1st through 4th, has a distinct personality—from quieter to busier as the numbers rise. In the evenings, sunbathers migrate to beachfront bars like Café Caprice, in the more down-to-earth district of Camps Bay, for cocktails and people-watching. 37 Victoria Rd., cafecaprice.co.za, cocktails from $4.
Creating a peaceful retreat within a city of 3.5 million is no small feat, but the folks behind the 10-room Derwent House hotel rose to the challenge. The decor is spa-inspired: Teak chaises line the sandstone pool deck, common areas have high ceilings and open floor plans, and in the guest rooms, extra-long beds are an unexpected luxury. Any accent pieces that do appear are judiciously chosen: Pillows sewn from African textiles brighten the lobby couches, and signed lithographs by Nelson Mandela hang in the hallways. 14 Derwent Rd., derwenthouse.co.za, from $163.
DAY 3: FOOD + WINE
From farmers market stalls to high-end restaurants, plus the many vineyards just outside of town, evidence of the Cape's bounty is everywhere you turn—a blessing for the city's wealth of imaginative chefs and winemakers.
South Africans have a fierce sweet tooth, and Melissa and Mark van Hoogstraten have spent 14 years satisfying it. Their mini chain, Melissa's The Food Shop, specializes in handmade vanilla fudge and allergy-sensitive desserts like gluten-free almond cake. You don't even have to find your way to one of their six outposts to get a taste—more and more competing grocers across the country are carrying the couple's signature goodies on their shelves. 94 Kloof St., melissas.co.za, almond cake $3.
Since its creation in 2006, the Neighbourgoods Market at Woodstock's Old Biscuit Mill has become a Saturday-morning must-shop stop for Cape Town food lovers. Along with small-batch wines and South African snacks like boerewors (farmer's sausage) and biltong (meat jerky), vendors show off their unique takes on regional produce with items like Cape Gooseberry macaroons. 373-375 Albert Rd., neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za, Saturdays 9 a.m.–2 p.m.
In South Africa, a braai (or barbecue) is as much a social custom as it is a way to fill your plate—and it's most vividly experienced in a place like Mzoli's, a rowdy restaurant in the Gugulethu township that's standing-room-only on weekends (011-27/21-638-1355, meat from $4 per kilogram). Formality is nonexistent: Patrons simply pick a cut of chicken, steak, or sausage (the cost is calculated by the kilogram), and relax with a Castle lager as it cooks. While you're in the area, it's worth taking one of Liziwe's Tours through the township. Innkeeper and Gugulethu resident Liziwe Ngcokoto leads 40-minute walks that finish at Mzoli's (011-27/21-633-7406, about $14 per person).
Of the several dozen vineyards in the Cape Winelands area, about half an hour east of the city, Muratie Wine Estate is one of the oldest: It was first farmed in 1699 by a German soldier. The vineyards themselves are beautiful, but the real draw at Muratie is the farmhouse lunch of traditional South African meat, soup, and homemade breads, held in a centuries-old stone-walled cellar decorated with antiques and oil paintings (for parties of 10 or more only; reservations required). For smaller groups, the kitchen can assemble a picnic of cantaloupe, cheese from nearby dairies, and fresh koeksisters—supersweet South African doughnuts—to eat out on the lawn. Naturally, the staff will suggest wine pairings for either option. R44, Stellenbosch, muratie.co.za, lunch $26 per person including wine, picnic $20, picnic with wine tasting $23.
Sampling sauvignon blancs for an afternoon is great, but spending the night in a vintner's farmhouse is downright dreamy. At the Hawksmoor House, a classic Cape Dutch building with rounded gables, each of the eight rooms has its own distinct look (a four-poster bed and an antique vanity in one, bright-turquoise walls in another). Guests share the grounds—all 544 acres—with the owners' horses, cows, and four German pointers, and have access to the wine cellar, herb garden, lavender beds, and vineyard. Near Stellenbosch, hawksmoor.co.za, from $136, including continental or English breakfast and afternoon tea.