Cape Town, South Africa was recently voted world's best tourist destination by travelers, which might make you think it would be a challenge for a visitor to experience the city like a local.
Fortunately, that’s not the case.
It’s easy to avoid naff sites like the V&A Waterfront, and you could even give Cable Mountain a miss to if you like, although that’s one tourist attraction I’d recommend you actually do.
Here are my tips to experiencing Cape Town like a local:
1. Stay by the beach
The dramatic coastline and white sand beaches backed by mountains are what make Cape Town one of the most alluring cities in the world, so choose a beachside suburb to settle in for a while. My husband and I loved Camps Bay for its stunning stretch of sand, buzzy beachfront cafés and bars, and vicinity to the city centre.
2. Rent a house
We stayed in a lovely home called The Bayleaf (thebayleaf.co.za), with a piano, swimming pool, and barbecue (a must in Cape Town, see 8.), that is just three minutes walk to the beach. It’s owned by a local family, who are a phone call or email away, and who are generous with local tips. (You can check the house out here.) If I went back to Cape Town, I wouldn’t think twice about renting a place again.
3. Spend time on the sand
The locals are on the beach everyday. Even on cloudy days or when it’s too cold to swim, they’re down on the sand, beachcombing, picnicking, kicking a ball about, or enjoying the sunset with friends. You should too.
4.Get your bearings by bus
As soon as you arrive do a lap on the Red Line of the open-top, double-decker, hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus. There’s no denying it’s touristy, but it’s a great way to figure out where things are. Get a seat up the top as the views of the bays, beaches, parks, and pools at Clifton, Bantry Bay, Sea Point, Three Anchor Bay, Mouille Point, and Green Point are jaw dropping.
5. Spend Saturday morning at the markets
The Neighbourgoods Market (neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za) at the Old Biscuit Mill (373 Albert Rd, Woodstock 9am-2pm Saturdays), where Capetonians socialize while soaking up the sun, is a must for shopping and soaking up the city scene. Join the locals as they wander about with beers or bubbly in hands while chatting to friends, browsing stalls selling local produce (organic fruit and vegetables, fresh flowers, honeys, olive oils and homemade preserves), and devouring delicious things, from pizzas to curries. Try the steak rolls by Kitchen Cowboys.
6. Learn to cook Cape Malay cuisine
Cape Town’s Cape Malay people are the descendants of slaves the Dutch imported from Indonesia, Malaysia and Mozambique, and the colourful Bo Kaap quarter is their home. Andulela (andulela.com) offers cooking courses in the homes of locals such as Faldela Tolker, who is a real character. They include a walk around the neighbourhood and visit to shops, including a fragrant spice store.
7. Do a township tour
Most of Cape Town’s locals don’t live by the beach, but in the suburbs and ‘townships’, as its poverty-stricken communities are called. The best and safest way to get a taste of what life is like there is to do a tour with a responsible travel company, such as the award-winning Cape Capers (tourcapers.co.za), which offers the Township Experience and the Cape Care Route, which showcases inspirational projects. Both allow you to interact with locals and we loved them – for us, the experience was transformational.
Locals love a good barbecue, or braai as it’s called in South Africa. You’ve got a few options: try to score an invitation to someone’s home for a lekker braai (nice barbecue), head to a tshisa nyama (barbecue place) in a township (Mzoli's is one of the most popular, and there are few experiences more local); or grill your own, but to do that you need to make sure your holiday rental has a BBQ (see 2.). Asking locals their barbecue secrets is the best way to make new friends.
9. See some local jazz
Cape Town has a long rich music history and it’s own unique style of jazz that formed from absorbing the music of different peoples who landed on South Africa’s shores. The best way to experience Cape Town jazz is on a Jazz Safari, a small-group tour jointly-ran by Coffeebeans Routes (coffeebeansroutes.com) and Andulela, that takes you to the home of a jazz musician in a township for dinner and to Swingers jazz club at Landsdowne.
10. Linger over Sunday lunch in the sun
Locals like to spend Sundays browsing the vintage shops and bookstores at Kalk Bay or the crafts market at Hout Bay followed by a long lunch in the sun. Our favourite spot for the latter is on the terrace of Chef Pete Goffe-Wood’s Wild Woods bistro (Chapmans Peak Drive, Hout Bay; 021 791 1166). Lunch here is a must, but don’t save it to the last day, as we did. We were wishing we could go back for another!