50 ways to travel like a local in Cape Town
I’ve learnt one thing since moving to Cape Town a couple of years ago: the absolute best way to experience this incredible (almost overwhelming) city, is to learn from the locals.
To discover what they do, what they like, what they eat.
See, the locals are your insiders, your confidants, your peeps. They’re the guys with all the secrets to the best places to hangout, things to eat and stuff to do on a weekend.
So to ensure that you don’t miss out on an authentic summer experience in the Mother City this year, we’re sharing our round-up of locals’ ultimate favourites according to your five senses: taste, touch, see, hear and smell.
TASTING CAPE TOWN
1. Craft Beer at a hipster hang-out
Whether you are a bearded, check-shirt-wearing skateboarder or just a regular Joe with a thirst, most Capetonians love their branded craft beers. Each of the beers are full of character as it’s been carefully brewed by independent breweries across the city. There are so many microbreweries in Cape Town that it’s difficult to recommend just a few.
2. Eat fish and chips at a take-away joint
If it’s one thing every local loves – it’s cheap fish and chips by the sea. For a lovely casual lunch on a Saturday afternoon, flock to the picturesque seaside towns of Hout Bay where you can find Mariner’s Wharf and Fish on the Rocks or Kalky’s in Kalk Bay to enjoy some traditional fish (locals love hake or snoek) and chips with relaxing views of the harbour, seals and seagulls.
3. Order gourmet take-away from a food truck
Okay, so don’t think sugary pancakes and dry hot dogs from a dodgy caravan. Cape Town’s trendy food trucks sell ridiculously delicious gourmet food, offering great value for money with a super chill atmosphere. Follow @CTFoodTrucks on twitter or Facebook to see where they park and swing by for a mobile lunch or dinner take-away.
4. Indulge in a Gatsby (aka huge sandwich)
When I mentioned to my true Capetonian colleagues that I’ve never eaten a Gatsby, they gasped for air, judged me a little bit, and then immediately sent someone to buy me one. Imagine an extra-large baguette filled with polony, masala steak, chicken curry or chips…or all of the above. Absolutely delicious, but be warned: it is recommended to share one and buy some heartburn medicine on your way home, if it’s your virgin Gatsby. The popular spots are Mariam’s Kitchen in the CBD, Golden Dish in Rylands and Aneesa’s in Wynberg.
5. Have a traditional Shisa nyama in a township
The best cure for the Sunday blues? Go to vibey places like Langa, Nyanga, Gugulethu or Khayelitsha, as there is sure to be a party atmosphere going on. Especially at the many shisa nyama joints who prepare amazing meat on the braai (barbeque). Catch a taxi there or join the City Sightseeing LaGugu tour. Mzoli’s Place and Amadoda are good options to try.
6. Have breakfast in Bree Street
Bree Street has become one of Cape Town’s most popular streets thanks to trendy restaurants and bars. It’s also one of the go-to streets for the pre-work or Saturday morning breakfasts. Jason’s Bakery and Clarke’s Bar are where you can find the locals.
7. Wine tasting in Constantia, Durbanville or Helderberg
Cape Town locals love the local wine so we love visiting the nearby farms to taste what they have to offer. Constantia, Durbanville and the Helderberg area all have something unique to offer and each wine is different and unique in its own way. Make a day out of it and do a quick wine tasting or food and wine pairing before settling in for a meal at one of the restaurants on the farms.
8. Eat a koesister on a Sunday morning
There’s always a debate about koesister vs koeksister, but that’s a story for another time. The one we’re referring to here is the Cape Malay version that is made of dough seasoned with cinnamon, aniseed, ginger and dried tangerine skin. These are then deep fried, dipped in syrup and rolled in desiccated coconut. These are usually enjoyed by locals on a Sunday morning. You can pick these up at a local supermarket or at the same place that sells the above-mentioned Gatsby.
9. Buy some akhni and roast for Sunday lunch
Sunday lunch is a thing in Cape Town. Many locals love the roast chicken and roast potatoes on a Sunday. Akni (an Indian-based spicy rice dish made with either chicken or lamb. It looks a lot like briyani) has also made its way onto the local Sunday lunch menu. You can buy the roast and the akni by the kilogram from various local shops. One of the local favourites is Lady Bee Dehli Diner, but many of the outlets mentioned in the Gatsby paragraph will have this dish. You may also find this at some of the Cape Malay restaurants in Bo Kaap. There are also many places off the well-known routes that will sell this. If you know a local, get them to take you to Landsdowne Road where you can find a few outlets selling akni and other Cape Town dishes.
10. Eat wherever there is a weekly special
Cape Town restaurants are great at offering weekly specials. You can find deals such as two pizzas for the price of one, half-price sushi, half price nachos, deals on beer and so much more! You could quite literally eat out every night in Cape Town for half of the usual price. Try Trenchtown in Observatory for great pizza and nacho deals or Spur (a local family friendly restaurant franchise) for two-for-the-price-of-one burger specials on a Monday. We suggest you google “weekly restaurant specials in Cape Town”. You will find an extensive list there.
FEELING CAPE TOWN
1. Feel the sand beneath your toes at night
Okay, this is one of the sacred secrets Capetonians keep. Did you know that when the stars come out, the beach truly becomes a magical place? People gather in groups of friends or as romantic couples, to enjoy picnics all over the beach to see Clifton light up with candles. Take a blanket, some board games and snacks and join one of the secret movements of the city.
2. Spoil yourself to a treatment at the spa
One of the ultimate treats for anyone is to kick off your shoes and relax at a spa. And I mean, what better indulgence, than a spa with a magnificent view? Clear your mind whilst someone is spoiling you with a massage, manicure or pedicure at one of the incredible spas around Cape Town. There are great spas at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, Mangwanani African Spa and the Vineyard Hotel and Spa.
3. Get tickled by a squirrel eating from your hand
A favourite pastime for suburban families over weekends, is coming to the city’s Company’s Gardens, strolling through, lounging out and feeding the squirrels in the gardens. Buy a packet of nuts and feel how these cute, fluffy-tailed animals tickle you whilst eating right from your hand. Insider’s secret: there is an elusive albino squirrel – so take a photo and boast if you spot it.
4. Take the young ones to pet a farm animal
Mum, I’m bored! Sound familiar? To keep the kids entertained (and ensure you don’t yawn through the whole experience), take the family to an interactive petting farm. Get them to hug the bunnies, touch the spiky hair on a pig’s back or feed a friendly pony. You’ll be joining many other Cape Town families enjoying the day out. Try Imhoff Farm in Kommetjie.
5. Catch a wave in the cool ocean
Okay, we all know that the water is colder here than in Durban…and Indonesia… and Mauritius. But what is keeping you from joining the locals in their wetsuits and enjoying the waves with some ocean sports? Get your dude-vibes on and try a surfing or stand up paddling lesson to feel like you’re one of the bru’s. Gary’s Surd School and Stoked offer some beginner lessons.
6. Feel the race cars thunder past you at Killarney
Killarney Raceway is Cape Town’s local racetrack. Locals flock here for monthly meet-ups and races. The cars blast past you as you stand close by as an onlooker and if you’re close enough, you can feel the “woosh” as it rushes by.
7. Run your hands across the textures of local design
When it comes to fashion and design, there’s a big “support local” vibe happening at the moment. And in Cape Town, we’re lucky to have our pick of the best. We have some of the top fashion and jewellery designers in the land, all of whom incorporate unique fabrics, textures and textiles into their products. Read here for more on local design.
8. Feel the sea air on your face as you run along the Promenade
We may not like to get an early start to the work day in Cape Town, but we do love to get out and about as early as possible. One of the ways that we do this is with an early-morning run on the Sea Point Promenade. The sea air is crisp and cool and perfect to keep you going.
9. Feel the tug of the kite in the wind
We get pretty crazy gale force winds in the Mother City. Some of the ways we use this to our advantage is by flying an actual kite on the beach or at one of the open public places around the city. Another way is kite surfing! There are many schools that offer beginner lessons in this sport.
10. Cleanse yourself in the gentle morning rain
While we don’t suggest getting out and about in a torrential down pour, we do know that running in that first light rain of the morning is so refreshing and the perfect start to the day. Take a few friends and try the various trails around Cape Town including the hiking ones, Newlands Forest and the Helderberg Nature Reserve.
SEEING CAPE TOWN
1. Appreciate local art at First Thursdays
The city comes alive at night every first Thursday of the month, when art galleries and shops stay open till late, and locals pretend like they see deeper symbolisms in paintings. Sample some free wine, walk between the streets and soak up the creative vibe as groups joyfully migrate from one spot to another.
2. View the full moon by doing some great full moon activities
Lion’s Head on a full moon night – what better way to see Cape Town than with 360 degree views of the city, Table Mountain, the V&A waterfront and Atlantic seaboard? Join the hundreds of locals when they set-off on a beautiful sunset hike up Lion’s Head at full moon. Don’t forget your headlights or torch to see where you’re going on the way down. There is also the Moonlight Meander in Muizenberg. You can view and experience Muizenberg beach with your family (including the furry ones) under the light of a full moon.
3. Take a pic at the colourful houses in Muizenberg and Bo-Kaap
It’s just one of those must-do things in Cape Town. You have to take that postcard pretty picture of the rainbow houses in Bo-Kaap or the brightly coloured washing houses on the beach in Muizenberg. You’re allowed to be a little bit vain and take a selfie, just proving that you were really there.
4. Be in awe of the stars at the Planetarium
No, you won’t spot Charlize, Clare or Leonardo there. It’s real stars, and it’s a great thing to admire with the whole family if you’re tired of the movies. Enjoy some indoor armchair traveling, whilst you explore the wonders of the universe with daily shows to keep everyone entertained and in awe.
5. See the works of talented graffiti artists in Woodstock
A way for the locals in the suburb of Woodstock to live out their talent and simultaneously prettify the side of boring buildings is with bright street art. From a detailed illustration of a street scene to more informal graffiti doodle, you will be surprised by the beautiful art found in unexpected places.
6. Participate in an Instawalk with the Cape Town Igers
There is an excellent Cape Town Instagram community. We have them to thank for many of the stunning images you see on Instagram about Cape Town. Want to take some of these images yourself? Then meet up with them at one of their Instameets and take in the sights of the city with some great locals.
7. Watch the sunrise from the top of Lion’s Head
Here’s something that the locals tend to keep a secret – we love to hike up Lion’s Head just before the sun rises. It’s when you can get the best light to see the majestic Table Mountain and it makes for a spectacular image. Take a head torch to light the way before the sun rises and go with a group of friends.
8. Drive the other Cape Town passes
Yes, Chapman’s Peak is our most famous pass to drive and see beautiful views of the ocean. But do you know that there are other local passes that offer a unique view of different parts of the Mother City? Take Boyes Drive for example. Situated along the top of Muizenberg and winding all the way to Kalk Bay, this road allows you to see False Bay from above and watch the surfers in the ocean at Surfer’s Corner. There is also Clarence Drive in Gordons Bay from where you can see the other side of False Bay and look down on Gordon’s Bay and Rooi Els. It’s truly beautiful.
9. See unique parts of the city with the City Walk and Open Streets
We loathe traffic and we are well aware of the fact that Cape Town is fast becoming a very congested city. This is why us locals love initiatives such as the City Walk and Open Streets. Both encourage you to take in the city and outlying areas on foot and to truly stop and look at what’s around you. The City Walk takes place once a month and starts in the Company’s Gardens, down St George’s Mall, to Waterkant Street, and progressing up the Fan Walk to St Andrew’s Square. Along the way, there are things to see and do and participate in. Open Streets happens every few weeks where a major street in an area is closed for the day and people are encouraged to walk down this street, participate in the performances and enjoy the day of activities. Open Streets is an especially unique way to see parts of the city you wouldn’t necessary see because these are not tourist-type areas (eg. Mitchells Plain, Bellville).
10. Watch a movie at an open-air venue
There are many places in Cape Town that offer open-air movie viewing. During the summer months (until end April) you can watch an open-air movie at one of the Galileo Open Air venues. If you prefer to be enclosed, give the Spier drive-in movie nights a try. Here you can park and watch the movie. At both venues, there is food on sale at the venue.
HEARING CAPE TOWN
1. Relax to the sounds of an outdoor concert
Nothing announces summer more, than the release of the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts line-up. Always featuring fantastic international and local acts, it’s such a chill Sunday experience to pack your picnic basket and enjoy a glass of wine in the open air with your favourite band jamming on stage. There are also many other open air events (some even free) that you can enjoy throughout summer such as the De Waal Park concerts in the park.
2. Listen to the celebrations of the Minstrels
Probably one of the first images of Cape Town you ever saw was a colourful image of a smiling minstrel with a painted face, an umbrella and an instrument. And you would be right to remember this, as the Cape minstrel carnival is one of the biggest and most festive events, for the last 200 years. Take a camping chair and some sandwiches and park out next to the road.
3. Enjoy the sounds of live music acts at the Waterfront
There’s always a great free show happening at the Amphitheatre at the V&A Waterfront. Local musos strut their stuff and put on a show for all to enjoy. And the best part? It’s free!
4. Rock to some live music at The Assembly
To hang with the rock and alternative crowds, you have to be seen at The Assembly. You can expect a great night of music, a party crowd and a cold beer. Check out the gig guide on their website for the low down on hot new acts and bands performing there.
5. Enjoy the laughter at the Cape Town Comedy Club
To get a 1-0-1 lesson in Capetonian humour, a visit to a comedy club is a must. Most comedians love using the accents, behaviours and strangeness of the locals to get the crowd laughing, thinking “Jaaa, that is so typically like Jerome, or Dawid or Jennifer.”
6. Listen to some great music at a Secret Sunrise
Imagine a party, a silent disco, a yoga session and a meditation session all wrapped up in one… first thing in the morning. Basically, the gist of a Secret Sunrise is that you show up at the venue (only revealed a few hours before the event), take a set of headphones, switch on your music and express yourself through dance and movement as the run rises. It’s all about self-expression and fun! You need to buy tickets to get a place at the event.
7. Hear the waves break on the rocks in Kalk Bay
Kalk Bay is a great little seaside town in Cape Town that locals love to visit. Choose any of the quaint restaurants in the area and chances are that you can hear the ocean and the waves break while you eat your meal. It’s the kind of area of that you will keep wanting to go back to over and over again.
8. Hear the birds chirping at one of the local nature reserves
There may not be lions roaming around our reserves, but we have an amazing variety of bird species all over Cape Town. You can listen to these birds and see them from one of the hides in our nature reserves. The entry to the reserves are cheap (around R12) and it’s a great place to enjoy nature.
9. Hear the cheering crowds at Newlands stadiums
There are two sport stadiums in the leafy suburb of Newlands – one for cricket and one for rugby. We love our sport. Not only in Cape Town but all over SA. And the supporters are truly passionate. Check ahead to see if there are any games being played while you are visiting our gorgeous city and go watch a match. The crowds will cheer and you can’t help but get caught up in the vibe.
10. Hear the cheers for the participants of the big sporting events
Every year, Cape Town opens its doors and arms to participants of big sporting events such as the Two Oceans Marathon and the Cape Town Cycle Tour. As locals, we love to pull off along the route or wait at the finish line to cheer them on in their gruelling event. There’s a great sense of community at these events.
SMELLING CAPE TOWN
1. Take in the variety of flavours at a local market
So if you’re still not into doing what the locals do, at least do this: visit a local market! Listen, it’s not like a small church bazaar with some curry and rice in a plastic container. We’re talking fresh produce, gourmet picnic food and skilled chefs galore. It’s the ultimate social hangout for weekend mornings, with more than 70 markets in just about every corner of Cape Town.
2. Browse and shop spices in the Bo-Kaap
If Cape Town had an official flavour, it would definitely be spicy. Go shopping like the locals in Cape Malay communities such as the Bo-Kaap, Cape Flats or Athlone to smell, sample and buy colourful spices like cumin, turmeric and coriander from big wooden containers.
3. Smell the fynbos during early morning hikes
Nothing makes you feel more refreshed and revived than inhaling the green aromas of the Cape Floral Kingdom in the surrounding mountain ranges and nature reserves. Go for an early morning run or hike or watch the sun set from within the fynbos.
4. Buy a bread or croissant at one of the local bakeries
Cheating on your low-carb-gluten-free diet is easy as pie (excuse the pun), when you have the delicious smell of freshly baked goods in your nostrils. Most pastry chefs start baking in the early hours of the morning to have the freshest bread, croissants, cakes and other pastries available just in time for breakfast. Try Loaves on Long or Jason’s Bakery in the CDB or Olympia Café in Kalk Bay.
5. Enjoy the aromas of a flat white at a trendy coffee joint
Something not unique to Cape Town, but über popular in every city all over the world is the very addictive ‘c’ word – coffee. Whether you like yours frothy and milky, creamy and smooth or strong and straight-up, the Mother City has some of the best, most trendy coffee shops to indulge in your favourite, whilst chatting about the weather with the local barista. Notable ones to try include the Department of Coffee, Bootlegger and Truth.
6. Smell the roses from the Adderley Street flower sellers
The Adderley Street Flower Market is a Cape Town institution. It’s bright, colourful and full of different scents from all the flowers. You can buy a wide variety of flowers here from early in the morning until late in the evening. It’s a must-see!
7. Smell the cakes and pastries at a high tea
High tea in Cape Town is a big deal. Many hotels around the city offer this and many locals enjoy participating in a high tea. From the minute you walk into the room, you can smell the delicious cakes and treats that are on offer. Try the Cape Grace Hotel, Mount Nelson Table Bay Hotel, and the One & Only.
8. Smell the sea at the various beaches
There are so many beaches around Cape Town and each with its own unique smell. The salty sea air is the strongest on the Atlantic side so think areas such Clifton and Camps Bay. An early morning walk on the beach gives you the best of the sea air.
9. Take in the aroma of a braai
A braai (BBQ) is a South African tradition. There’s a braai for any occasions – birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, a rugby game, a cricket game or just because we have a few beers in the fridge and we want to share it with friends. A braai has a distinct smell. It’s different to a BBQ where meat is cooked on gas. For a braai, it’s an open fire with a grid on top where you cook your meat on. If a South African smells the making of a braai, we close our eyes and it easily makes us lus (feel for) for a braai of our own. If you don’t have access to a braai place at someone’s house, there are many beautiful public places where you can braai in Cape Town.
10. Take in the scent and taste of Rooibos tea
A tea that originated in Southern Africa is rooibos tea. Made from the rooibos (meaning red bush) plant, rooibos tea has a unique smell. You can’t confuse it with any other tea. It’s usually made black with some honey, but can be had with milk and sugar. You can get rooibos tea at almost every restaurant in Cape Town.