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Cape Town’s diversity, in nature, culture, attractions and various things to see and do, makes it the ideal destination for anyone easily overwhelmed by large groups or boisterous crowds. Whether you want to check out from all human interaction, or find easy ways to interact with new people in an unintimidating manner, Cape Town will have you covered.
There are few activities more rejuvenating than a long, tranquil hike or run. Fortunately, Cape Town has dozens of these. Table Mountain is the introvert’s wonderland, with hundreds of routes that will make you feel small among nature. Though hiking alone on the mountain isn’t always recommended, particularly along tricky or isolated routes, there are some that you can safely get away with.
Lion’s Head is busy route that still delivers moments of solitude, particularly during a weekday sunrise hike. Kloof Corner, which leaves from Tafelberg Road opposite, is the perfect sunset spot with enough fellow hikers to feel safe. The top of Table Mountain, which you can reach by cable car, is safe and it’s surprisingly easy to find a quiet spot a short walk from the shops and station.
Although hostels and backpackers can be the stuff of nightmares, particularly for the traveller who simply wants to escape the social niceties and live anonymously, they can also offer a perfect balance for the introverted tourist. Cape Town has backpackers catering to a range of needs, from hedonistic party establishments with sweaty dorms, to quiet single rooms in comfortingly social environments.
Cape Town’s transport options have improved dramatically in recent years. This means you can be less reliant on having to clip on to a large tour group, and far more independent and self-sufficient. The city’s main mode of official public transport is the MyCiti bus network. It can get you from the airport to the City Bowl, and surrounds, safely, cheaply, and with relative ease.
For sightseeing purposes, the hop-on, hop-off CitySightseeing buses offer a superb way to see some of the city’s major attractions over 24 or 72 hours. They also offer an audio guide while on board, perfect for shutting out the company around you.
For everything else, there’s Uber or Taxify, and unless you’re travelling vast distances, they’re surprisingly cost convenient and cost effective. Of course, if you want to dip back into the social side of travel, dozens of tour companies welcome solo travellers.
Cape Town’s beaches are world-famous. They’re also the perfect place to venture to if you’re looking to recharge. Though some, such as Camps Bay or Clifton Fourth, attract those looking to see and be seen, a quiet alcove or stretch of beach is never far away. Clifton First, Beta Beach and Glenn Beach are all within easy reach of the city centre, and at these beaches it’s as common to find people relaxing alone on a towel with a good book, as it is to find small laid-back groups of friends and families.
Cape Town may not have an endless array of independent bookshops perfect for escapism, but it does have some of the most appealing. The Book Lounge in the Cape Town CBD is a true haven for book lovers looking to browse the latest releases and some rare finds in a warm and welcoming environment. On the other side of the mountain you’ll find Kalk Bay Books, which offers a similar atmosphere.
Most people venture into Cape Town’s wine country with friends, family, or as part of a tour. Though organised tours can be an introvert’s worst nightmare, they may offer some respite from a few days exploring the city in solitude. But there’s also no reason why you can’t explore wine farms on your own steam — they are serene and beautiful places to visit, and most offer wine tastings that you can do alone or with friends.
Cape Town has seen a coffee shop revolution of late, with dozens of superb establishments popping up across the city. These are as popular among the city’s solo-freelancers as they are the Sunday brunchers. If your idea of a good coffee shop visit is to sit at a sunny table with a good book, most will welcome you with open arms, serve up an impeccable cup of coffee, and leave you to your own devices.
Dining alone isn’t always an easy thing to do, particularly for the more self-conscious travellers among us. But who wants to travel all the way to a new city to eat take outs in a hotel room? Cape Town’s various food markets offer the perfect balance. Busy and vibrant enough to provide some company without any need to interact or feel like a solo outcast, and diverse enough to offer a range of local and international flavours at reasonably competitive prices.
Weekly markets to check out include the Old Biscuit Mill (open on Saturdays), City Bowl Market (open on Thursday afternoons and evenings), and Oranjezicht City Farm Market (open on Saturday mornings). There are also daily food markets at the V&A Waterfront and at Mojo Market in Sea Point.
Though there’s a good network of established cinemas at shopping malls, no one really wants to spend their trip in sterile environments. Fortunately there are also some smaller independent theatres, and some regular outdoor screenings in summer, that showcase more intriguing movies in some unique environments. The Labia Theatre leads the way with this one, and they regularly host local film festivals that will lend context to your stay in the city.
The city may lack the parks and vast gardens of the likes of Paris or New York, but there are several safe public spaces that give you the opportunity to take a run, read a book, or feed a squirrel or two.
Dog lovers might find comfort in De Waal Park; if you’re in the city centre, the Company’s Garden is good for a squirrel sighting or two; and towards the Atlantic Seaboard you have the Green Point Urban Park and the famous Sea Point Promenade which offer ocean and mountain views, running routes, and plenty of open space.
Cape Town has always been one of the country’s creative hubs, and there has been a recent surge in art galleries catering to all tastes and needs. The South African National Gallery in the Company’s Garden is a great gallery in which to lose yourself. The beautiful building houses several notable local artworks and regularly hosts some thought-provoking exhibits. There are also several dozen art galleries around the city, and in the vibrant suburb of Woodstock, that host regular events and opening nights.
Museums in Cape Town tend to deal with historical themes, ideal for learning more about the country and its political past. The Slave Lodge, District 6, Bo-Kaap and Robben Island museums are all perfect for a quiet morning of reflection about the city and country’s past and present.
Cape Town’s City Centre is generally safe, well-maintained and accessible to tourists and local residents alike, though weary travellers may do best to stick to exploring the streets during daylight hours. But if you want nothing more than to live out a fantasy of what Andrew McCarthy describes as being “the anonymous and solitary traveler capturing a moment in time and place”, head towards Cape Town’s Bree Street, Long Street or St. George’s Mall during daylight hours, where you can engage in some stellar people watching.