You’re Only a Cape Town Expert if You've Done These 17 Things

View from the base of Lion's Head, Cape Town | © Andrew Thompson
View from the base of Lion's Head, Cape Town | © Andrew Thompson
Photo of Andrew Thompson
Freelance Writer - August 2017

Cape Town is so full of life and character that it’s an easy city to know on a surface level. But if you want to get beneath the skin of everything that the Mother City has to offer, you may have to take things to the next level. Passionate Capetonians take their city very seriously. We draw a stark line between pseudo-fans and true professionals. So if you’re planning on calling yourself a true Cape Town expert, make sure you start by ticking off these 17 things.

1. You’ve gone for sunset runs on ‘The Prom’

Only amateur Capetonians call it the Sea Point Promenade. Some may call it The Promenade. But true professionals know to refer to this idyllic oceanside pathway simply as ‘The Prom’. It stretches along the Atlantic Ocean between Mouille Point and the far end of Sea Point. It’s great for gentle walks, picnics or sneaky ballgames at any time of the day, but the pros know that its true charm reveals itself in balmy sunset jogs.

Sea Point Promenade at sunset / | © Andrew Thompson

2. You’ve avoided Lion’s Head at full moon (but been somewhere equally impressive)

There are few more spectacular places from which to watch the sun set, and the moon rise, than the summit of Lion’s Head. But everyone knows that by now. It’s better to find a spot where you can watch the beautiful full moon rise over the distant mountains, and then the sparkling lights of the masses filtering down Lion’s Head. Anywhere on the slopes of Table Mountain will do, but true experts have their favourite spots, and they’re generally unwilling to share them too widely.

Lion's Head offers safe, tranquil hikes with incredible views | © Andrew Thompson

3. You know your Pinotage from your Merlot (or at least you pretend you do)

Most of us know that Cape Town has some of the world’s best and most affordable wines. Some even know that Pinotage is the country’s signature grape, and others will tell you about the tremendous nose or delicate flavours of our varietals. Whether you know what they’re talking about or not, there’s a lot to be gained from a day of wine tasting — even if the only remarks you can make are about the panoramic views or the serene atmosphere.

View over the Constantia Winelands | © Andrew Thompson

4. You’ve ordered a flat white instead of a cappuccino

A coffee revolution has gripped all corners of the Mother City. Don’t be a rookie caffeine drinker and order a cappuccino. Walk boldly into your fair-trade small-batch coffee roastery and casually order a flat white. Though chances they’ll pour it in an identical fashion to your cappuccino, at least you’ll look like you belong.

Deluxe | © Caitlyn Long

5. You’ve ordered a local craft beer (and commented on how this batch is different from the last)

As with the coffee, Cape Town has hit a winning formula with its craft-beer revolution, and Cape Town craft breweries are conjuring up some remarkable brews. So the best thing to do is to head to a local hipster-run bar, order whatever local beer they have on tap, and pretend it’s just a little different from the previous batch you sampled.

Aegir Project Brewery | Courtesy Aegir Project Brewery

6. You’ve returned to your favourite stand at the Biscuit Mill after a two-year hiatus

Saturdays at the Old Biscuit Mill market have been a thing for longer than most people care to admit. Though it’s long since past the status of hidden gem, expert Capetonians still derive a sense of pleasure from returning to their favourite food stand amid the crush of first-timers, complaining about the increase in prices and ordering something just for nostalgia’s sake.

Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill, Cape Town | © Nick Gray/Flickr

7. You know, and actually hike, more than one way up Table Mountain

Get up on those Table Mountain trails as often as you can. Though some lifetime Capetonians only know the views from the cableway, the truly loyal fans know at least three routes up the flat-topped rock, and they head out into the wilderness at any possible opportunity to breathe in the fresh air and soak up the views that never get old.

Table Mountain from Kloof Corner | © Andrew Thompson

8. You’ve swum in Cape Town’s secret dams and reservoirs

If you haven’t swum in one of Cape Town’s illicit dams or reservoirs then not only are you missing out, but you’re also teetering on the edge of amateurism. There are several throughout the city and on the top of the mountain that may technically be off-limits, but which offer a perfectly refreshing dip on a hot summer’s afternoon.

De Villiers Dam on Table Mountain at 40% full / | © Andrew Thompson

9. You’ve learned the difference between the Shark Spotter flags

Cape Town’s oceans are popular with Great Whites, but fortunately, the city has your back. The amazing Shark Spotters perch on the mountain above the most popular surf and swimming spots and will alert you to poor visibility or any imminent shark arrival. You can tell this by the colour of the flag flapping in the southeasterly wind, and seasoned pros don’t even need to look it up on the accompanying signboard.

A copper shark is spotted by a drone in False Bay, Cape Town | © weFix

10. You’ve played 2am pool at The Shack

This institution serves some of the cheapest alcohol in the city. They’re open until late and have more pool tables than bar staff. Though far from the chic, glamorous bar you’ll find on the likes of Bree and Kloof, there’s a gritty charm that makes this a true local favourite — and an increasingly endangered find in Cape Town.

11. You’ve complained about the sound at Mercury Live

Next door to the Shack is the ‘Has it closed down yet?’ live-music venue Mercury Live. Once the most iconic live venue in the city, these days it’s almost always teetering on the edge of financial ruin. Still, time it right and you can catch a great local act at a bargain price, and leave with mild hearing problems for the next few days at no extra cost.

12. You’ve had sundowners with a bottle of local wine somewhere scenic

Buy a bottle of affordable wine and take it to an idyllic setting such as Signal Hill or Clifton beach. Drinking in public is generally outlawed and strictly policed on the city’s beaches, so it’s best not to flaunt it. But there’s really no better, or more Capetonian, way to end a day than with an all-South African sundowner.

Signal Hill Road from Lion's Head / | © Andrew Thompson

13. You’ve dipped more than your toes in the Atlantic Ocean

Part-time beach-goers dip their toes in the cold waters of Camps Bay or Clifton, yelp, and launch themselves back to the safety of dry land. Expert Capetonians wade in all the way, dip their head under the first big wave and spend at least 10 minutes rapidly approaching frostbite until they return to proclaim about the ‘refreshing’ water.

Clifton 4th beach | © Warren Rohner/Flickr

14. You’ve formed an opinion on the city’s best burger/pizza/sushi

The city has become a bit of a foodie haven. There’s no way to beat the onslaught of fancy sushi and gourmet burgers, so it’s important to get to grips with the best offerings in each category. If you want to proclaim true Cape Town expert level, throw your favourite gatsby spot in the next food-driven conversation.

Hudson's burger joint | Courtesy Hudsons

15. You’ve picnicked and watched a concert at Kirstenbosch

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, or simply Kirstenbosch, is one of the city’s most serene destinations for an afternoon picnic. The natural amphitheatre is also the venue for a popular selection of summer concerts that you have no choice but to attend at least once, if you want people here to take you seriously. The good news is the concerts take place in a beautiful setting and are one of the best ways to while away the last few hours of a Sunday evening.

The Summer Sunset Series is held in the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens | © Warren Rohner /

16. You’ve seen the city from the water

The city takes on a whole new perspective from the water. Head out on a boat, kayak or sunset cruise from somewhere on the Atlantic Seaboard to gain a whole new appreciation of the natural features and glitzy oceanside suburbs.

17. You’ve spent a day exploring the peninsula

It’s one thing to know and love the inner city, but there’s an entire peninsula worth of quiet beaches, small towns, quaint harbours, coastal roads and lighthouses to explore. Head out early, plan a circular route from the city that includes both False Bay and Chapman’s Peak Drive, and return tired and sunburned later that evening, comfortable in the knowledge that you’re one step closer to being an expert Capetonian.

Cape Point | © Andrew Thompson