News just in: My all time favourite travel destination – Cape Town, South Africa, of course – was just voted the No.1 Travel Destination in the World by TripAdvisor's Travellers' Choice Awards. To help celebrate, I thought I'd share an article I wrote on the Top 10 Things to See & Do in Cape Town for MSN NZ’s Travel Bite website:
Bold, brash and beautiful, Cape Town is one city that doesn't disappoint. With so many wonderful things to see and do, it's difficult to choose a top 10. But for first time visitors to South Africa's 'Mother City', here's what I'd suggest.
Sometimes it's possible to sum up an entire city with a single attraction. In Cape Town, it's Table Mountain. Rising 3,562 ft/1,086m above sea level and dwarfing even the city's tallest skyscrapers, the imposing flat-topped stone behemoth is impossible to miss. For the best view, you can hike to the top or catch your breath in the vertiginous, rotating cable car as it whisks you up to the summit. Once there, you'll be rewarded with exquisite wrap-around panoramas – provided the peak isn’t shrouded in clouds, of course.
Few places are more evocative of South Africa's apartheid past than the once notorious prison on Robben Island. It is here where former president Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 long years along other prominent ANC members including current president Jacob Zuma. Now a world heritage site, a tour of the island is a must for anyone visiting Cape Town – you can peer into Mandela's old prison cell and hear firsthand accounts from former prisoners who now serve as guides.
Set against the spectacular backdrop of Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront is touted as South Africa's most visited attraction. For serious shoppers the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre beckons with more than 400 retail outlets as well as some 70 restaurants, pubs and coffee shops to explore. While the adjoining Red Shed Craft Workshop is filled with an eclectic mix of handmade merchandise and art, and the Waterfront Craft Market offers a range of traditional handicrafts along with holistic lifestyle accessories.
Over the years this cobble-stoned square in the centre of town has served as a slave market, vegetable market and even a parking. Today, Greenmarket Square is the city's most popular flea market with artisans from across the African continent converge to hawk everything from replica radios expertly constructed from wire to hand-painted fabrics and magnificent wood carvings.
District Six Museum
The humble District Six Museum commemorates one of the most startling apartheid-era events in Cape Town – the 1966 bulldozing and forced removal of residents from this once vibrant, multi-ethnic community after it was declared a "whites-only" area. Exhibits are mostly photographs and artefacts donated by former residents.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Located on the eastern side of Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch is renowned for the beauty and diversity of its indigenous flora. The former estate of Cecil Rhodes, it includes a restaurant, gift shop, bookshop and garden centre. Sunset concerts are held on the lawn of the gardens every Sunday in December-March, and there's a craft market on the last Sunday of the month September-May.
Chapman's Peak Drive
Chapman's Peak Drive is one of the world's most awe-inspiring coastal drives. The 9km route with its 114 curves hugs the near-vertical face of its namesake peak as it skirts its way around the rocky Atlantic coastline from Hout Bay to Noordhoek. You can drive it either direction, but the reverse route from Noordhoek to Hout Bay is better with the best views afforded from the left side of the road.
It's a common misconception that Cape Point, a.k.a. the Cape of Good Hope, is the southernmost tip of Africa. That distinction belongs to Cape Agulhas, 150km southeast of Cape Town. Nevertheless, Cape Point, a narrow stretch of land 45 minutes south of town, where the Atlantic and Indian oceans collide, is spectacular. To get to the top, you hike 15 minutes uphill or take the five-minute ride on the funicular.
Just around the corner from the seaside village of Simons Town, Boulders offers the unforgettable experience of swimming with endangered penguins. The sheltered beach dotted with giant granite boulders, from which it takes its name, and its infamous colony of African Penguins is very popular, so be sure to get there early.
Two Oceans Aquarium
Africa's largest aquarium, Two Oceans is home to ragged-tooth sharks, large rays, turtles and about 300 species of fish. There’s a variety of exceptional exhibits including submarine kelp forests similar to those along South Africa's west coast, intertidal zones, and wave pools with native plants and bird life. Sharks inhabit the Predator Tank, and eels and other unusual creatures can be viewed in the Fangs display.
A win well deserved. Congratulations Cape Town!