Winter in the Cape can be beautiful. On clear days, of which there are quite a few, the sky appears a deep azure blue, the air assumes a clean, crystalline quality, and cloud-scattered horizons give way to spectacular sunsets in the evening. It’s on days like these that Capetonians settle down to sunset cocktails, smug in the conviction that while winter elsewhere is beyond miserable, here in the Cape it can be lovelier than summer.
Yeah, we’re not talking about those kinds of days.
We’re talking about the winter days that inspired the early settlers to call our neck of the woods the “Cape of Storms” – when the wintertime cold fronts perform their epic fender benders with the peninsula, bringing with them driving winds and horizontal rain. On these days, aside from hibernating, what is there to do in the Cape?
Well, a lot, actually!
Carbo-load, fine dining style
First up is the obvious: you’re going to need to pile on a little insulation against the cold and the best way to do that is to indulge in some extraordinarily fine dining at one of Cape Town’s myriad restaurants. No matter what you’re in the mood for – Argentinian, Bavarian, Chinese, Dutch, Ethiopian, French, Italian, and every other letter of the alphabet – there’s a cosy, fire-lit restaurant that delivers Master Chef worthy meals. Have a bit of fun with this one: perhaps arrange a supper club with friends and family and try a new restaurant / cuisine each week.
Oh, and order all the carbs. You can worry about your beach body later. That’s what spring is for.
Here are some great restaurants to try this winter: Bistro Sixteen82 or Catharina’s at Steenberg Estate, Bone’s Kitchen & Bar, Cowboys & Cooks, FYN, Grande Provence Wine Estate restaurant, Greenhouse Restaurant at Cellars Hohenort, Grub & Vine, Kwéyòl, Lapo’s Kitchen, Macau Asian Tavern, The Potluck Club, Sotano on Bree, Vivaldi Restaurant, and YU Restaurant at the ONYX Hotel… just to name a few.
The whales are here!
Whales don’t give a blue bubble that the weather isn’t great for seaside visits. To them, the Cape is pure heaven during the winter months and so they hang out along the peninsula and in our bays, having babies and showing off their fins. If you thought the ocean was beautiful on a sunny day, try whale watching from the coast when the sea is choppy, slate grey, and undulating with enormous swells. It’s more dramatic than an episode of Isidingo and it’s punctuated with sightings of the enormous mammals.
The best places to see the whales are anywhere along the southwestern Cape coastline, really, but it has to be said that Hermanus and Gansbaai have the greatest reputation for whale watching opportunities. Plus, they boast a plethora of lovely ocean-facing accommodations, restaurants, and bars. For large families or groups of friends looking for a luxurious self-catering villa to stay in with sweeping views of the ocean, visit Whalehuys in De Kelders, right next door to Gansbaai.
Indoor market retail therapy
There’s something about shopping at a farmers’ market that makes one feel a whole lot less guilty about engaging in retail therapy. And with Cape Town having so many sheltered or indoor options, your indulgence in locally sourced, grown, and crafted produce, meals, tipple, furniture, clothing, and more doesn’t need to go into hibernation along with your bikini!
The Hout Bay Harbour Market, Mojo Market in Sea Point, Market at the Barn (Durbanville), Elgin Railway Market, and Watershed Market at the V&A Waterfront are just a few indoor markets that are guaranteed to keep you dry, well-fed, and happy on winter’s wetter days.
Rediscover red wine
Nothing pairs up as beautifully with a chilly evening as a glass of red wine, and with hundreds of wine estates here in the Cape, we are spoiled for choice! Rich Cabernet Sauvignons, velvety Pinotages, sultry Bordeaux style blends, and seductive Shirazes…there’s a red wine for every palate. Don’t let the weather keep you inside either – the Cape Winelands are absolutely beautiful in winter and many launch winter menus and light wood fires to keep guests warm while indulging in a wine tasting, wine pairing, and multi-course meals.
A small sampling of our favourite Cape wineries to visit in winter (because they do great red wines, serve delicious hearty food, and have fireplaces) include:
Cavalli Wine & Co., Idiom Wines, Avontuur Estate, and Benguela on Main in Somerset West; Durbanville Hills, Diemersdal, and Groot Phesantekraal in Durbanville; Groot Constantia, Buitenverwachting, and Constantia Glen in Constantia; Hazendal Wine Estate, Dornier Wines, Tokara Wine & Olive Farm, and Waterford Estate in Stellenbosch; and Grande Provence, La Motte, Backsberg Estate, and Leopard’s Leap Family Vineyards in Franschhoek.
Treat yo’self with a spa day
Take your mom or a mate to have a manicure, pedicure, and/or facial, or sprawl out on a massage table and allow a skilled therapist to press and manipulate the workweek’s stresses from your aching muscles. If the weather dictates that you stay indoors you might as well have a mighty good time doing it. You’re worth it!
There are plenty spas scattered throughout the Mother City. The Heavenly Spa by Westin Cape Town is our favourite, while the Life Day Spa at Century City, Urban Spa in Tyger Valley, One&Only Spa, Angsana Spa a the Vineyard Hotel, Twelve Apostles Hotel Spa, and Librisa Spa at the Mount Nelson come highly recommended.
“Ooh” and “aah” at the heavens
Now that we’ve indulged the body, it’s time to engage the mind! The newly revamped and updated Planetarium at the Iziko Museum is a wonderful activity for families and a great idea for a first date (you’re welcome). Sit all the way back in your recliner seat and watch as a fascinating digital show unfurls on the darkened dome above you. When you’re done, why not spend an hour or two wandering around the natural history museum?
Where: 25 Queen Victoria St, Gardens, Cape Town
Take in an artsy film
Tucked into a bend on Orange Street is the Labia Cinema, which is named after Princess Labia of Italy (the building used to house the Italian Embassy ballroom). Today, this independent cinema screens thought provoking, artsy, and sometimes noir films in a setting that is decidedly ‘old school’ and romantic. They even have a fully stocked bar, so grab some popcorn and a glass of red wine and sit down to an evening of cinema that will do the opposite of put your brain to sleep.
Where: 68 Orange Street, Gardens, Cape Town
A night at the theatre
On the subject of theatre, why not take in a play, comedy show, or opera? From Cape Town’s premier performing arts venue, the Artscape Theatre in the Foreshore to the Baxter Theatre in Rondebosch, the Fugard in District Six, Theatre on the Bay in Camps Bay, Masque Theatre in Muizenberg, Kalk Bay Theatre, and Alexander Bar Theatre. These are just a few of the theatres our city has to offer and, this winter, there is no shortage of shows to take in. Go get you some culture!
A day at the museum
Despite its rather chequered past, Cape Town and South Africa in general is bursting at the seams with vibrant culture and tradition. This winter, steep yourself in the story of our country’s people and past by visiting Cape Town’s museums, such as the South African Natural History Museum (Iziko), the Iziko Slave Lodge, South African Jewish Museum, and District 6 Museum. These odes to history serve as a reminder of how far we have come and to celebrate the unique cultural melting pot that is our country.
Browse an art gallery
When the weather outside is frightful, art galleries offer shelter from the rain and an interesting, educational, and inspiring lens on the country, the world, and its people. The South African National Gallery in the Company’s Garden is a good place to start and, being right next door to the Iziko museum and planetarium, ensures that you have a whole-day itinerary sorted.
The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA) at the V&A Waterfront is the largest museum of contemporary African art in the world – the building in which it is located is a work of art on its own! Then, like colourful marbles scattered across Cape Town, there are many other galleries to explore, such as Whatiftheworld Gallery and Michael Stevenson in Woodstock, the NORVAL Foundation at Steenberg Estate, and the AVA Gallery in Church Street.
Dive beneath the waves
No, not the waves of the ocean (unless you have a 5 mm thick wetsuit on). We’re talking about the Two Oceans Aquarium at the V&A Waterfront! It doesn’t matter how young or old you are, there’s nothing quite as enchanting as diving beneath the ocean surface to examine the kalaeidescopic life that thrives beneath. There are live exhibits to explore and even interactive experiences for the little ones. Then, after dark, the fun continues…
Following the sold-out success of the 2018 After Dark shows, Texx and the City and the Aquarium are once again joining forces to showcase some of South Africa’s finest musical acts performing stripped-down acoustics sets in front of the I&J Ocean Exhibit. The area here is transformed into a cosy, living room-style setting where guests can enjoy two bands on each evening.
Where: Dock Road, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
Watch the ‘Cape of Storms’ in action
If all other activities fail to intrigue and interest, pack a thermos flask with coffee, drive (carefully and slowly) to one of the Cape’s renown look-out points, park your car facing the onslaught and the ocean and watch the Cape of Storms in action!