The best of South Africa

Stunning South African cities: from buzzing Johannesburg to restful Rustenburg

The best of South Africa Vibrantly coloured houses in the streets of Bo-Kapp, Cape Town - © iStockphoto.com/Neil Bradfield
By Chris Moss

We’re used to it by now, so when England lose to Germany on penalties there’s no need – if you’ve made the trip – to storm back from South Africa. Stay and enjoy the country’s highlights as chosen by the Time Out Cape Town Travel team.

Cape Town

The oldest of South Africa’s cities, Cape Town was established in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company as a halfway stop on the spice route. Since the company forbade Jan van Riebeeck, the man in charge of the refreshment post, to colonise the local inhabitants, he set about importing slaves from the east to work the land.

Slavery in Cape Town was abolished in 1834, but in 1948 the ruling National Party passed a series of laws on enforced segregation (apartheid), under which non-European races were relocated to separate residential areas. 

South Africa was finally declared a democracy in 1994 and today Cape Town is a hub of cultural diversity.

The city bowl, where you’ll find cafés, gardens and historical buildings, rests between Table Mountain and the Atlantic. On one side you’ll find the Bo-Kaap (Upper Cape), a cobbled, colourful suburb that was the Malay Quarter during the apartheid years and is still home to a thriving Muslim community. Near the Atlantic Seaboard is the V&A Waterfront, one of Cape Town’s biggest shopping destinations.

On the other side of town, the leafy Southern Suburbs are home to the country’s oldest university and the Constantia Wine Route. There’s also the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens for stunning flora and picnics. A drive along the Southern Peninsula will take you to Kalk Bay, after which you find Simon’s Town, home to the Boulders Penguin Colony.

You can explore the Southern Peninsula all the way to its tip at Cape d  Point, and enjoy stunning vistas and charming villages. To the north-east of the city lie the Cape Winelands, where you can taste some of the world’s best wines.

For more information contact the Cape Town Tourism Visitor Centre (corner of Castle and Burg Sts; +27 21 487 6800, www.capetown.travel).

Drink

The verdant Constantia valley is where it all started for the South African wine industry. In 1655 Cape Commander Jan van Riebeeck planted the first vines in the fertile soils of Groot Constantia (www.grootconstantia.co.za). The estate was bought by Governor Simon van der Stel 30 years later, and subsequently divvied up and sold off after his death in 1712 creating, additionally, Klein Constantia (www.kleinconstantia.com), Buitenverwachting (www.buitenverwachting.com) and Constantia Uitsig (www.constantia-uitsig.com). Completing the quintet of Constantia stalwart estates is Steenberg (www.steenberg-vineyards.co.za).

Cape Town highlights

Two-hour trip

Take a ride in the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway
Glide up to the summit of Cape Town’s iconic mountain via the chic cableway. During your five-minute ascent, you’ll get a 360-degree view of the awe-inspiring surrounds from the slowly spinning carriage. Say hi to a dassie – these rock rabbits are related, unbelievably, to elephants! Remember to take a warm jacket and hat – it’s icy up there. +27 21 424 8181, www.tablemountain.net.

Half-day trip

See the penguins at Boulders Beach
Set in nautical Simon’s Town, this spot is home to a 3,000-strong colony of African penguins. Check out the braying birds’ antics from the raised walkways. + 27 21 786 2329, www.tmnp.co.za.

One-day trip

Visit Cape Point Nature Reserve
Lighthouses, shipwrecks, caves and cheeky chacma baboons – this nature reserve has it all. The iconic promontory forms part of the Cape Floral World Heritage Site and has several trails snaking through the fynbos (shrubland)and passing wildlife such as bontebok and eland. www.capepoint.co.za.

Read our full guide to Cape Town

Durban

Durban is a hot, hip and happening city where three major cultures have coexisted for more than 150 years. It’s home to friendly locals, who include bronzed surfers, Zulus bedecked in beaded head-dresses and Indians in iridescent saris. Durban also has the biggest port in Africa and an ever-expanding business sector.

Perhaps it’s the warm Mozambican currents of the Indian Ocean which stroke this coastal city 365 days a year, or maybe it’s the perennial holiday atmosphere that pervades this lush, tropical destination, but one thing’s for sure, beach-bum Durbanites know how to take advantage of their position. Activities abound along the Golden Mile of beaches; copious restaurants, cafés, bars and nightclubs buzz, and Durban’s Gateway Theatre of Shopping is the biggest shopping centre in the southern hemisphere (www.gatewayworld.co.za).

From Amanzimtoti in the south to Umdloti in the north, Durban spreads itself over more than 50 kilometres of coastline; many of the city’s main attractions are on the beachfront or scattered around the harbour. If it’s wild animals you’re after, travel north towards Zululand, where big-game country begins.

For more information contact KwaZulu-Natal Tourism (Tourist Junction, 160 Pine St; +27 31 366 7518, www.zulu.org.za).

Eat

Durban has the biggest Indian population outside India, so take advantage and dine out on curry. At Silverani’s you’ll find very serious fare to eat in or take away (5 Silvervause Centre, Silverton Road, Berea; +27 31 201 5088 and Suncoast Casino; +27 31 368 1396). Bean Bag Bohemia (18 Lilian Ngoyi (Windermere) Rd, Morningside, +27 31 309 6019) has an innovative restaurant upstairs and a lively bar downstairs which draws a cool, diverse crowd.

Johannesburg

Johannesburg is big, buzzing and boldly metropolitan; a heady mix of business and pleasure. Nicknamed Jozi, Jo’burg and Goli (city of gold), it is the largest city in the country, located in the wealthiest province in South Africa and one of the 40 largest metropolitan areas in the world; in other words, there’s room to play here.

The CBD sits in Jozi’s heart: catch the lift to the top of the 50-storey Carlton Centre to see Jo’burg’s mine dumps, urban jungles and cityscapes in all their glory. Bordering the city centre to the east is Hillbrow – a no-go zone – but use the Hillbrow Tower as a point of reference to navigate around the city.

Jozi’s suburbs – offering concentrated venue-rich pockets – fan out around the city centre. Move in a northerly direction and you’ll hit suburbs including Rosebank, Parktown North, Parkhurst and Greenside – great to shop, eat and drink – and Sandton, Jozi’s upmarket business district and home to the city’s most glamorous hotels, shops, restaurants and clubs.

West of town are the vibrant, quirky suburbs of Brixton and Melville, which is famous for its eclectic venues, multicultural vibe and 24/7 party-till-you-drop attitude.

The south houses one of Jozi’s most fun-filled attractions, Gold Reef City, and South Africa’s most famous sprawling township, Soweto. Aside from its hip shebeen music scene and the fact that Soccer City Stadium sits on its outskirts, Soweto is also a diverse feast of culture, history and community.

For more information contact the Johannesburg Tourism Office (195 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parktown North; + 27 11 214 0700, www.joburgtourism.com).

Shop

Shop at lifestyle centre 44 Stanley – it’s all the rage – and pop into Imagine Nation Homeware for something deliciously off-beat: the stainless steel impala antlers are a showpiece (44 Stanley Ave, Milpark; +27 11 726 8865, www.imaginedhome.com). For contemporary African curios visit Art Africa. Its main aim is to keep the nation’s talented arts and crafts self-help groups in business by providing them with sustainable work (62 Tyrone Ave, Parkview; +27 11 486 2052).

Port Elizabeth

With its beautiful beachfront and big city amenities coupled with small-town charm, it’s no surprise that visitors fall in love with Port Elizabeth. Algoa Bay, next to Port Elizabeth harbour, was the landing spot of the 1820 settlers, whose houses still stand proudly on the hill overlooking the bay.

Overlooking Marine Drive, the main drag, is the small, smart suburb of Brookes Hill, flaunting beautiful vistas across the bay. To the north west, you can shop in the malls or explore the city’s historical district, Central, where the 1820 settlers set up home. These days, you’re more likely to find people enjoying water sports than sailing ships, though the city has a bustling working harbour.There’s plenty to keep you busy: new on the block is the Nelson Mandela Stadium on the shores of the North End Lake, which holds rugby and football matches. Less than 5km away, you’ll find the historic township of New Brighton, the Oceanarium on the beachfront and Hobie Beach’s Shark Rock Pier, where anglers cast their lines.

For more information contact Nelson Mandela Bay Tourism (40 Mitchell Street, corner Walmer Boulevard, South End; + 27 41 582 2575, www.nmbt.co.za).

Art

Snap up quirkily mismatched cups and bowls made by local artist Ayanda Mji. Reflecting her Xhosa heritage, each ceramic piece tells a story. Aya’s Ceramic Studio is in the historic New Brighton township (+27 41 454 3350).

Rustenburg

Rustenburg means ‘town of rest’, but in recent years it’s grown into a large, bustling hub of activity. It’s bang in the middle of a lush green belt close to the gorgeous Magaliesberg Mountains and is a perfect base from which to explore the area’s nature reserves: Kgaswane (+ 27 14 533 2050), Madikwe (+27 18 350 9931/2) and Pilanesberg (+27 14 555 1600) are just two of the nearby game parks.

Hartbeespoort Dam, with its buzzing restaurants and activities, is a fun day trip, and just around the corner from Rustenburg is Sun City, where you’ll find a man-made water park complete with a sandy beach.

For more information contact Rustenburg Tourism Information and Development Centre (corner of Kloof and Nelson Mandela Drive; +27 14 597 0904, www.tourismnorthwest.co.za).

Drink

Get orange, naartjie and minneola alcoholic citrus beverages from Monate Citrus Cellars in Hartbeespoort (on the R514; +27 12 258 0712).

Nelspruit

Nelspruit has a laid-back vibe and is home to some of the most spectacular natural scenery in the country – it’s close to Mozambique and Swaziland and the stunning Kruger National Park is only a stone’s throw away.

A hundred years ago, Nelspruit was a sleepy rural community made up of die-hard pioneers, and in a sense, it still is. Set in the fertile Crocodile River Valley, the area is known for its citrus, avocado and tobacco farms.

Whether you arrive in Nelspruit by car via the N4 or by plane at Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport, Mbombela Stadium will be the first sight you see – the stadium’s 18 roof supports look like giraffes.

Going south, the R40 takes you to Barberton, a historic mining town, and to the Cradle of Humankind, a Unesco World Heritage Site. To the north it leads to White River (where you’ll find excellent restaurants), adventure sports capital Hazyview and the delights of Kruger National Park.

Retreat from the crowds in Kaapsehoop – think spectacular walks, wild horses and cosy fireplaces.

For more information contact the Mpumalanga Tourist Information Office (N4 National Road, Hall’s Gateway, Mataffin; +27 13 759 5563, www.mpumalanga.com).

Fast facts

Getting there

South African Airways (www.flysaa.com) flies to the main South African hubs and operates internal and continent-wide flights.

Currency

£1 = 11 rand (approx).

When to go

Cape Town has warm, dry summers (November-February) and mild, moist winters (May-August). Summer temperatures on the coast range from 15C to 35C (inland it increases by 3-5C). In winter it’s between 7C and 18C.

Time Out guidebooks

Time Out Cape Town

Time Out Cape Town gives you the inside track on local life and culture, with incisive features and idependent venue reviews covering everything from whale-watching to the World Cup.

Time Out Cape Town is available in the Time Out shop.

Time Out South Africa City Guide

To buy a digital edition of ‘Time Out South Africa City Guide’, visit www.timeout.com/SAdigimag.

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