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Cape Town winters get a bad rap, particularly from fellow South Africans. But it’s a closely guarded secret that this is actually one of the best times to visit the city.
It’s true that the city’s mediterranean climate means we have winter rainfall, and some consecutive days of low temperatures and grey skies. But spend one winter in Cape Town and you’ll find out why it may just be the best season to explore the city.
Cape Town’s population swells come November, December and January. This means that there’s an electric atmosphere on the streets and beaches. But it also means that you’ll struggle to find parking, restaurants fill up quickly, prices escalate, it takes longer to queue for Table Mountain Cableway than it does to hike to the top, and the once tranquil beaches become a cacophony of ringing cellphones. Winter’s bad reputation means that there are significantly fewer people in the city, which often means you can enjoy the many attractions all to yourself.
Although Cape Town can have several back-to-back days of rain, when the cold fronts eventually clear you’re left with some of the most sublime weather imaginable. Think cloudless blue skies, no wind, and perfectly manageable temperatures in the low 20s.
Our water is freezing regardless of the season, so don’t let the winter weather put you off your surf. In fact, surfers in the know will tell you that the waves are significantly better during the winter months, and the water is even slightly warmer. There’s also more chance you’ll have the waves to yourself.
Though there are some winter days that are still good enough to spend on the beach, if it’s a little on the cold or stormy side there are still dozens of incredible walks you can take along the sand. Beaches that are packed with visitors during summer are mercilessly tourist free during winter, even on the sublime winter days.
Winter is whale season in the Cape. From July through to mid-September you stand a chance of spotting whales from various vantage points across the peninsula. Most sightings take place in False Bay, Hermanus and Gansbaai — all of which are within easy reach of Cape Town.
Because Cape Town gets winter rainfall, the city is impressively green and alive during the colder months. Stunning waterfalls flow off the mountain, fields turn bright green, and the fynbos revitalises after the long dry summer.
If you’re a fan of hiking, it’s the best time to take to the slopes of Table Mountain. The sun is mild, the scenery is sublime, and there’s less chance you’ll have to slow down your pace because of other hikers also trying to reach the summit.
Not everyone is a fan of the smaller winter crowds. Restaurants, for example, see a marked dip in foot traffic. This is a good thing for budget-conscious travellers. Each year, most of the city’s top restaurants lower their prices in what’s become known simply as the ‘winter specials’. You can visit some of the top dining spots in the country for up to 50% off. Other attractions also get in on the action and offer deep discounts during the off season.
Winter can produce some of the perfect wind conditions for paragliding. Though this is a year-round activity, if the winter wind streams play along nicely, there’s a good chance you can experience an epic paragliding experience from one of the city’s numerous launching spots.
Winter is the perfect time to taste some of the country’s best wines. Most estates have cosy tasting rooms with log burning fires, and there is more space and time to savour your wines free from the crush of peak season tourists.
Towards the end of winter it’s wild flower season in and around the Cape. There are spectacular multicoloured fields of flowers that spring up miraculously each year. You can reach these fields, such as those in the West Coast National Park, in an easy day trip from Cape Town.