Catch the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, visit the penguins on Boulder’s Beach, enjoy a cocktail and the sunset from Camps Bay beach, and spend a day wine drinking and touring Stellenbosch… anyone who considers themselves a Capetonian has done them all. And if you’re a visitor to the Cape, you’ve absolutely got to tick them off your bucket list (they’re popular for a reason!)
Yet, step away from the well-trodden tourist route, its endless queues, crowds of Nikon-wielding foreigners, and steep admission prices and you’ll find a dizzying array of slightly unusual attractions that offer truly unique, quintessentially Cape Town experiences. Here are 10 unusual things to add to your bucket list while living in or visiting South Africa’s glorious Mother City!
# 1 – Olive oil tasting at Tokara Wine Estate
Olive trees and grapes vines not only thrive in similar climates and soil conditions, but they are the progenitors of two of the Cape’s proudest traditions: olive oil and wine-making. Perched on the lofty Helshoogte pass in Stellenbosch, Tokara Wine and Olive Farm is a beautiful winery that offers a truly unique experience. The tastings of the farm’s very own extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil are free and are held in Tokara’s Delicatessen, a veritable heaven for food lovers. There’s nothing better than washing down rich, grassy bites of olive oil-soaked bread with the estate’s award-winning wine while admiring the spectacular backdrop of the Simonsberg Mountain, olive groves, and vineyards.
Where: off R310 Helshoogte Road, Banhoek Valley, Stellenbosch
Opening hours: Monday to Thursday and Saturday (9:00 to 17:00), Friday (9:00 to 22:00)
Contact: 021 808 5900 or firstname.lastname@example.org
# 2 – Feed the squirrels in the Company Gardens
In 1650, the first European settlers in the Cape established the Company Gardens, the original task of which was to grow fruits and vegetables to refresh and restock the merchant ships travelling to India via the Cape. Today, the Company Gardens are beautifully kept and a wondrous and historic place to explore by foot. On Government Avenue, the tree-lined avenue running adjacent to the gardens, you’ll find vendors selling snacks and cool drinks and it’s from here that you can buy peanuts to feed to the resident squirrels.
Pick a spot on one of the lawns or on a bench and when you spot a squirrel, fill your palm with nuts and hold your hand out. The squirrels are tame and will eat out of your hand but be gentle (don’t frighten them), keep your fingers tightly together (to avoid accidental nips).
Where: 19 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town City Centre
When: Open daily from 07:30 to 20:30 in summer and 07:00 to 19:00 in winter.
Contact: 021 444 1901
# 3 – Feast on a seafood braai at “Die Strandloper” in Langebaan
Die Strandloper (beach walker) is an epic 10-course seafood braai (barbeque) hosted right on the beach, with sun-bleached and weather-beaten wood for shelter against the wind, old fishermen’s nets and shells for décor, and the white noise of the waves crashing on the beach for music. The seafood is incredibly fresh, prepared over a fire in the central cooking area, and absolutely delicious. You can eat as much as you want but save yourself for the final savoury course, which is usually a half crayfish!
For an authentic West Coast style seafood braai, a fantastic beach experience, and food you won’t find anywhere else in the world, head to Die Strandloper in Langebaan. Book well in advanced because they are very popular. You can also bring your own drinks and ice, or order from their Beach Bar.
Where: Leentjiesklip, Langebaan
Cost: R310 pp (bring cash – they do not have credit card facilities); R60 for kids between 5 and 11; kids under 5 eat free.
Contact: 022 77 22 490 or email@example.com
# 4 – Attend a weekend market in the Cape Winelands
The Cape’s abundance of wine farms is good for so much more than just wine (although that’s reason enough to visit them). On weekends, many of them throw fantastic farmer’s markets where visitors can buy fresh produce, indulge in delicious artisanal foods and craft beers, stock up on wine, lounge about on green, manicured lawns, and listen to live entertainment provided by local bands and performers. Some of the Cape’s best-loved weekend markets include Root 44 at Audacia Wine Estate, the Saturday Market at Vergenoegd Wine Estate, Groote Post Country Market, Lourensford Wine Estate, and the Blaauwklippen Family Market.
# 5 – Tour the Cape in style (and with the top down)
If you ever needed a sure-fire way to impress a date, this is it! Rent a sleek and sexy open-top classic car and hit the Cape’s scenic routes to enjoy the spectacular views, the salty sea air in your hair, and the sunshine on your face. You can plan your own route, starting at Paarden Eiland (the pick-up point for the cars), or you can follow the suggested route, which takes you to the beachside suburbs of Camps Bay and Hout Bay before hitting one of the world’s most dramatic and spectacular coastal stretches: Chapman’s Peak. You’ll feel like a million bucks, even if only for a day!
Where: Cape Cobra Hire, 10 Hermes Street, Paarden Eiland
Cost: R2 000 (Date Night); R2 450 (same day return); R2 900 (next day return), all with a R15 000 (refundable insurance deposit)
Contact: 083 321 9193 or firstname.lastname@example.org
# 6 – Visit the penguins by sea kayak
Consult any tourist bucket list for Cape Town and it’ll tell you to visit the penguin colony in Boulder’s Beach, Simon’s Town. While it’s an absolute pleasure to see these charming little tuxedo-clad water birds waddling around the beach, it’s even more fun paddling out in a kayak from the historic Simon’s Town Naval Harbour (past the retired war ships) to the boulder-strewn coastal section where the penguins nest. You’ll see them hanging out on the rocks and gliding elegantly through the water underneath your kayak. You may even get lucky and spot a pod of dolphins or a whale, depending on the season.
Where: Sea Kayak Trips, Wharf Street, Simon’s Town
When: Daily trips leave at 8:30 and 11:00 (summer) and 9:00 (winter), weather dependent
Cost: R300 pp for two hours
Contact: 082 501 8930 or email@example.com
# 7 – The ultimate sleepover on top of Table Mountain
Veer off the beaten path (i.e. forego the Cable Car) and earn your place at the top of Table Mountain by hiking there and then spending a night on her summit under the stars! The Table Mountain sleepover experience is pure magic and begins with a hike up from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. On the way there, you’ll take in spectacular views of the peninsula, walk through the Cape’s unique and beautiful fynbos vegetation, stop off at some historic sites, have unparalleled photographic opportunities, and then sleepover at the Overseers Cottage before heading back down. It’s the best possible way to experience Table Mountain.
The Table Mountain sleepover tour is provided by Afruka Eco Tours and includes accommodation, catering, luggage transport, entrance fees, and the guided tour.
Where: Pick-up from your hotel to be arranged
Cost: R2 475 pp for a minimum of six people, maximum of 12. Booking in advance is essential!
Contact: 083 275 7521 or firstname.lastname@example.org
# 8 – Eat delicious Ethiopian fare at Addis in Cape, Long Street
Addis in Cape is a beautiful and atmospheric Ethiopian restaurant located just off the vibrant Long Street, one of Cape Town’s main party strips. The décor and furnishings are authentically Ethiopian but it’s the absolutely gorgeous cuisine and the food traditions that people flock here for. All meals are shared, using nothing more than your hands and traditional injera (a sort of sourdough pancake) to scoop up the rich, flavourful, and aromatic curries and stews. You can then finish off with a classic Ethiopian coffee ceremony. Addis in Cape delivers a unique and unforgettable dining experience that is highly recommended for locals and tourists alike.
# 9 – Take the Stellenbosch wine route by tuk-tuk
When it comes to touring the world-famous Stellenbosch winelands, no one wants to be designated driver so why not eliminate the responsibility of driving (and inject a little quirky fun into your adventure) with a Tuk Tuk Stellies tour? The company offers a half-day and a full-day tour, which takes guests to some of the region’s best-known and loved wineries, including Morgenhof, Lanzerac, Waterford, Simonsig, and Neil Ellis. Zip from farm to farm. Relax and enjoy the scenery and the thrill of zipping between the vineyards.
Where: Stellenbosch Information Centre, Dorp Street, Stellenbosch Central, Stellenbosch
Cost: R500 for a half-day tour (10:00 – 13:00 or 14:00 – 17:00); R1 000 for a full-day tour (10:00 – 16:00, which includes lunch and wine tastings
Contact: 076 011 3016 or email@example.com
# 10 – Dinner, drinks, and some provocative theatre at the elegant Alexander Bar, Strand Street
The Alexander Bar, Café, and Theatre is a cosy and nostalgic, yet sophisticated and rather sexy establishment on Strand Street in Cape Town’s City Centre. If James Bond were ever to visit the Mother City, one would imagine that he’d look right at home sipping on a martini at one of the intimate corner tables. Visitors to Alexander Bar often come for cocktails and drinks prior to hitting up the Long Street party scene or will stay for dinner and theatre, the latter of which Alexander Bar has a rather risqué reputation. It’s a popular place without being rowdy and you’re guaranteed to meet a fascinating blend of characters, both young and old.
While there, be sure to try the antique rotary dial telephones: they work, and you can use them to call up a waitron or to chat to complete strangers across the bar.