In Cape Town, as we did in Barcelona, we decided to play at being tourists for a day. We’ve resisted sightseeing and ticking off attractions in most of the destinations we’ve visited on our grand tour so far this year, preferring to explore neighbourhoods and hang out with the locals, do classes and learn things, or get beneath the skin of the places we’re in on walks with local experts.
So why did we give in here? Well, nearly every person we met in Cape Town told us that we simply had to take the cable car up to Table Mountain and almost as many said a visit to the V&A Waterfront was a must. They attractions are apparently two of the most popular things to see in Cape Town.
The owners of our Cape Town holiday rental highly recommended the red hop-on hop-off bus and in Barcelona we found it was a great way for visitors with patience (if you stay on for the whole route it seems to take all day) to orientate themselves with a city. The V&A and Table Mountain are both stops on the hop-on hop-off bus, so we decided to give it a shot. Here’s our verdict…
CAPE TOWN HOP-ON HOP-OFF BUS
We jumped on the open-top double-decker hop-on hop-off bus at a stop by the beach just a few minutes from our holiday rental at Camps Bay and took the Red Line along the coast. We were lucky to snag seats on the ocean side so we enjoyed spectacular views of the beaches, bays, pools, and parks as we drove through Clifton, Bantry Bay, Sea Point, Three Anchor Bay, Mouille Point, and Green Point. At that point the bus leaves the beachside road, passing the stunning new stadium built for the World Cup, before stopping at the V&A Waterfront (see below). From here it heads into the city centre, and does a loop around the downtown, passing key sights and museums, and driving through District Six, before leaving the city centre to head up the hill to Table Mountain (below). From there, it zigzags down the hill to Camps Bay.
Verdict: Recommended. But only if you make it the first thing you do. We’d already been in Cape Town for a bit when we rode the bus and had already been along much of the route. The audio commentary is a tad dull although it’s peppered with some interesting trivia. The ocean views from the top of the bus alone are worth it!
THE V&A WATERFRONT
Modelled partly on Sydney’s Darling Harbour, the V&A Waterfront consists of a smattering of remodelled historic buildings and new 1980s-style developments around Cape Town’s attractive old working harbour, including a few family-friendly attractions such as the Maritime Museum, Two Oceans Aquarium, and crafts market, swanky shopping malls, souvenir shops, restaurants, fish and chips places, cafés, bars, and pubs. We found ourselves here a few times during our stay, mainly because it was the nearest and best place to shop, and we even ate dinner here once. While the V&A seems to attract as many locals as tourists, it felt super-touristy to us and didn’t win us over.
Verdict: Only recommended if you’re in the neighbourhood. Don’t put the V&A Waterfront at the top of your to-do list and don’t make a special trip here. Instead, check out the place if you have some shopping to do – there’s an excellent supermarket at Woolworths and a good adventure store if you need to pick up some gear before going on safari. It is a lovely spot for a sunset drink and locals pack the bars on Friday after work.
We could see Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain and its cableway from our bedroom balcony at our holiday rental at Camps Bay, where we enjoyed watching the effect of the clouds rolling over the mountain that the locals refer to as ‘the table cloth’ (see our video here). How could we not go up to the top to take a closer look? We decided to leave the best for last and thought we’d time our trip up for sunset. Unfortunately, we arrived just as the ticket office was closing and the doors were about to shut on the last cable car going up for the day. Cape Town Tourism had kindly given us complimentary tickets, which I accidentally left at home, so I found myself begging the staff to sell me two tickets and, um, er, bribing the cable car attendant to let us on board. Once up top we had about 20 minutes before the last car for the day went down – just enough time to plead with the café staff who were closing up to sell me a small bottle of sparkling South African wine, and enjoy it as we took in the spectacular views. And discover what a dassie is!
Verdict: Highly recommended. The sweeping views of Cape Town are absolutely stunning. The Cableway’s rotating cable cars make for a weird ride up but it’s worth it. Double-check the times before heading up as they change frequently through the year. Go for sunset and allow enough time for a glass of bubbly before it goes down.