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Anyone who’s travelled to or lived in Cape Town will tell you that there’s a serene charm that follows you throughout the city. It’s a city that never seems to take itself too seriously. Attempt a business call on a Friday afternoon and you’ll soon realise that everyone’s at the beach. Take a look at the trails winding their way up Lion’s Head on a summery day, and you’ll spot a snake of enthusiastic hikers making their way to the summit. There’s a playful tranquillity that spreads throughout the city, from the wine farms to Table Mountain, through the city and the Cape Flats and all the way south to the tip of the peninsula.
The Bo-Kaap region of Cape Town, which hugs the slopes of Signal Hill, is rich in history, much of it painful, and yet the brightly coloured houses that characterise the suburb exude peace and happiness and epitomise the familial neighbourhood.
It’s telling that many tourists make this residential neighbourhood a key stop on their itinerary and stop to marvel at the charms of everyday life that they encounter along the way: imams making conversation outside one of the numerous mosques, young children kicking soccer balls along quieter backroads and corner-shop owners leaning against their business exteriors greeting passersby.
Nearby, coffee culture has also fully infiltrated Cape Town life. Coffee shops serve as convenient hubs for freelancers to work, for businesspeople to hold meetings and for others to relax with expertly poured cups of coffee.
If you keep walking down the hill away from Bo-Kaap, you’ll eventually stumble into the bottom of the Company’s Gardens. Once a refreshment stop for passing sailors, these days it’s a melting pot of cultures brushing up against the back of the parliament buildings.
On a weekday, you’ll find office workers perched on benches eating carefully packed sandwiches; tired construction workers stretched out in the sun for a few glorious moments; buskers playing to the passing parade; tourists feeding peanuts to overfed squirrels; and people with few other options but to try to bed down in one of the quieter corners of the garden.
There’s a strange atmosphere that hovers above the Company’s Gardens, likely due to its difficult history, its natural tranquillity, and the diversity of foot traffic as people pass through or take from the gardens what they can.
The city also reveals its playful side at restaurants and takeaway joints across the peninsula. City-centre establishments tend towards the cosmopolitan, with burger joints, coffee shops and eye-catching ice-cream parlours everywhere.
As you leave the city, you’ll stumble across traditional fish and chip shops that have been handed down through the generations. Though the food is serious, the warm, cheery atmosphere seldom is.
Oceanside attractions bustle on weekends and public holidays. Seagulls hover above casual restaurants hoping to score the occasional chip as South African flags flutter proudly in the strong southeaster.
Other destinations, such as Mariner’s Wharf in Hout Bay, attract a diverse crowd. Some come for the escapism offered by the nautically themed restaurant nearby, while others simply walk the wharf and soak up the views and the vibrant harbour-side atmosphere.
The nearby beach at Hout Bay offers the perfect sandy stretch on which to work off the fish and chips. Popular with families, it’s a charming spot for a late-afternoon stroll.
On the other side of the peninsula is Kalk Bay, a bustling working harbour. It’s characterised by quirky fishing boats bringing in the day’s catch, which is available for sale at the nearby market. Seals and seagulls hover nearby in the hope that they’ll score a free meal. High-end restaurants perched on the rocks offer expansive views across False Bay, and many make the trip here to take the walk across the jetty to the classic lighthouse at its end.
The surfing town of Muizenberg is perhaps one of the city’s most laid-back destinations. Even though the surfer culture has been overrun of late by developers looking to capitalise on the quaint appeal of this idyllic beach, there’s still a youthful cheekiness and authenticity that characterises the suburb.
There are few places as tranquil as the Cape’s wine estates. These farms produce some of the world’s best wines, and are set on some of the most idyllic farmlands in the Cape. Traditional Cape Dutch architecture sets the tone at most.
Many estates expertly lead visitors through to their core and into hidden gems. The greenhouse at Babylonstoren will make you feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to your childhood, with intrigue and mystery hiding around every corner.
Back on the Atlantic Seaboard, the city’s fitness freaks and wannabe fitness freaks strut their stuff on the Sea Point Promenade. This open space attracts people from across the city looking to breathe in the fresh ocean air, exercise on the open-air gym, try out their fancy sneakers or simply enjoy a picnic or a takeaway snack at a beautiful vantage point alongside the water.
The nearby V&A Waterfront may have a reputation as being a tourist hotspot, but it is still charming and worth exploring. Buskers line the pristine walkways and regular concerts play out from the amphitheatre. Seagulls hover menacingly above takeaways and children yelp with joy from the play park. As a true testament to the city’s love for all things playful, the large ferris wheel, due to be removed a few months after its installation, is still in place and as popular as ever.
If you’re looking to get beneath the skin of the city’s most creative side, then head to the suburb of Woodstock. There you’ll find a collection of remarkable stores, markets and galleries, as well as expertly crafted murals and examples of the country’s best street art.