A relatively weak rand makes Cape Town a more affordable destination to visit, and the city certainly provides value for money when it comes to eating and accommodation. However, everyone likes to get something for free, and in this respect the Mother City is overflowing with options.
Attracting 24 million visitors a year – more than Cairo’s pyramids – to its glitzy mix of retail and tourist entertainment, the V&A Waterfront remains a working harbour with much of its historic fabric intact. One of the best ways to get an insight into its past, as well as make sense of this sprawling site, is to follow the self-guided historical walking tour; pick up a free map detailing the route at the visitor information centre on Dock Rd.
Along the way have your photo taken with Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela – larger-than-life statues of both men, designed by Claudette Schreuders, stand in Nobel Square beside those of South Africa’s two other Nobel Prize winners, Nkosi Albert Luthuli and FW de Klerk. At the Nelson Mandela Gateway, departure point for ferries to Robben Island, there’s a good free exhibition about the freedom struggle and life in the prison that is now a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The Market Square Ampitheatre is the focus of much free entertainment, including buskers and various musical and dance acts. Videos are shown on a giant screen and there are live shows from 5pm to 6pm on Saturdays and Sundays.
Table Mountain National Park is an amazing natural resource that is the pride of the Mother City. Although there are admission fees to some parts of the park, such as Boulders (home to a colony of African Penguins) and the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve, there’s no charge for hiking the myriad trails on Table Mountain, up Lion’s Head or along Signal Hill.
None of the routes up Table Mountain are easy, but the 3km-long Platteklip Gorge route, accessed from Tafelberg Rd, is at least straightforward. It’s very steep and you should reckon on it taking you about 2½ hours to reach the upper cableway station at a steady pace. Be warned that the route is exposed to the sun, so climb as early in the morning as possible, bring plenty of water and sunblock, and preferably don’t climb alone.
However, there’s no need to reach Table Mountain’s summit to get brilliant views. A short hike up behind the lower cableway station will bring you to the Contour Path, running a fairly level way eastwards around Devil’s Peak to the King’s Blockhouse. The Pipe Track runs along the west side of the mountain towards the Twelve Apostles and provides stunning coastal views.
Looking down from the Pipe Track you’ll spy some of Cape Town’s most beautiful beaches. Separated from the bar and restaurant lined promenade by palm trees and a grassy bank, Camps Bay is a gorgeous sweep of soft sand. However it can get crowded, particularly on weekends, and is exposed to the wind. The surf is strong and the Atlantic Ocean is freezing, so it's also not particularly suitable for swimming.
More sheltered are Clifton's four beaches, split by giant granite boulders. Clifton 3rd, the prettiest and most secluded of the quartet, cocooned by hillside beach houses, is popular with gay Capetonians, as is Sandy Bay, the nudist beach further south down the Atlantic coast. You don't need to be gay or a nudist to enjoy either beach, though, and the latter has amazing giant rock formations to explore.
Families will love Muizenberg and St James beaches, both lined with colourfully painted Victorian chalets. Located on the False Bay side of Cape Town, both have much warmer water than on the Atlantic side. Also consider a walk along blissful Noordhoek Beach. In the middle of this 5km beach, the rusted shell of the steamship Kakapo sticks out of the sand like a weird sculpture. It ran aground here on its maiden voyage in 1900 from Britain to Australia.
It costs nothing to admire the vivid street art that decorates the sides of many buildings in District Six and Woodstock. A blue-hued painting of Nelson Mandela covers one side of electricity Substation 13 on Canterbury St, while on the other is a mural dedicated to District Six. Both images are the work of Mak1one (mak1one.com; aka Maxwell Southgate) who also decorated the façade of Charly’s Bakery opposite, and whose distinctive street art can be spotted at several other locations around town.
Another prolific street artist is Faith47 (faith47.com). Land & Liberty, her image of a mother with a baby strapped to her back pointing up towards Lion’s Head, covers the side of an eight-storey building on Keizersgracht. The side of another building viewed from De Waal Drive, is the canvas for the artist’s The Harvest. This proud African woman holding a crop of reeds integrates electronic lights that switch on when a donation is made to the #ANOTHER LIGHTUP project (anotherlightup.com), which funds lighting for public spaces in the township of Monwabisi Park.
A grid of streets off Albert Rd around the Woodstock Exchange is a canvas for some amazing street art, much of it created during a collaborative project between a word of art and Adidas Originals in 2011. More pieces have been added since, such as Raised By Wolves by Nardstar, and Freedom Day Mural by Freddy Sam.
Gardens and parks
It costs nothing to stroll through the shady Company’s Gardens in the heart of the city centre, where you can admire various sights: trees that date back to the times of the Dutch East India Company, pretty flower beds and a variety of statues, including a bronze one of politician and mining magnate Cecil Rhodes.
Also in the city centre, the Prestwich Memorial Garden is dotted with a collection of quirky sculptures and installations by Capetonian artists; these include the rainbow arch It’s Beautiful Here by Heath Nash and Full Cycle Tree by KEAG, the latter being made from recycled plastic.
An eco-legacy of World Cup 2010 is the Green Point Urban Park, which showcases the biodiversity of the Cape and provides a front row view to the Cape Town Stadium. And from the beautifully laid-out urban Oranjezicht City Farm on the slopes of Table Mountain, there are splendid views of the Table Bay harbour.