Cape Town is the oldest and second largest city in South Africa, after Johannesburg, and also the seat of the Parliament of South Africa.
Colloquially named the Mother City, it is the largest city of the Western Cape province and forms part of the City of Cape Town metropolitan municipality. The Parliament of South Africa is situated in Cape Town. The other two capitals are located in Gauteng (in Pretoria, the executive capital, where the Presidency is based) and in the Free State (in Bloemfontein, the judicial capital, where the Supreme Court of Appeal is located). The city is known for its harbour, for its natural setting in the Cape Floristic Region, and for landmarks such as Table Mountain and Cape Point. Cape Town is home to 66% of the Western Cape’s population. The city was named the World Design Capital for 2014 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design.
In 2014, Cape Town was named the best place in the world to visit by both The New York Times and The Daily Telegraph. Cape Town has also been a host city for both the 1995 Rugby World Cup and 2010 FIFA World Cup, and annually hosts the Africa leg of the World Rugby 7s. It will also be host to the 2023 Netball World Cup.
Located on the shore of Table Bay, Cape Town, as the oldest urban area in the Western Cape, it was developed by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India, and the Far East. Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival on 6 April 1652 established the VOC Cape Colony, the first permanent European settlement in South Africa. Cape Town outgrew its original purpose as the first European outpost at the Castle of Good Hope, becoming the economic and cultural hub of the Cape Colony. Until the Witwatersrand Gold Rush and the development of Johannesburg, Cape Town was the largest city in South Africa.
Cape Town has a warm Mediterranean climate (Köppen: Csb), with mild, moderately wet winters and dry, warm summers. Winter, which lasts from the beginning of June to the end of August, may see large cold fronts entering for limited periods from the Atlantic Ocean with significant precipitation and strong north-westerly winds. Winter months in the city average a maximum of 18 °C (64 °F) and minimum of 8.5 °C (47 °F) Total annual rainfall in the city averages 515 millimetres (20.3 in) although in the Southern Suburbs, close to the mountains, rainfall is significantly higher and averages closer to 1,000 millimetres (39.4 in). Summer, which lasts from December to March, is warm and dry with an average maximum of 26 °C (79 °F) and minimum of 16 °C (61 °F). The region can get uncomfortably hot when the Berg Wind, meaning “mountain wind”, blows from the Karoo interior. Spring and summer generally feature a strong wind from the south-east, known locally as the south-easter or the Cape Doctor, so called because it blows air pollution away. This wind is caused by a persistent high-pressure system over the South Atlantic to the west of Cape Town, known as the South Atlantic High, which shifts latitude seasonally, following the sun, and influencing the strength of the fronts and their northward reach. Cape Town receives about 3,100 hours of sunshine per year.
Water temperatures range greatly, between 10 °C (50 °F) on the Atlantic Seaboard, to over 22 °C (72 °F) in False Bay. Average annual ocean surface temperatures are between 13 °C (55 °F) on the Atlantic Seaboard (similar to Californian waters, such as San Francisco or Big Sur), and 17 °C (63 °F) in False Bay (similar to Northern Mediterranean temperatures, such as Nice or Monte Carlo).
Unlike other parts of the country the city does not have many thunderstorms, and most of those that do occur, happen around October to December and March to April.
The Western Cape is an important tourist region in South Africa; the tourism industry accounts for 9.8% of the GDP of the province and employs 9.6% of the province’s workforce. In 2010, over 1.5 million international tourists visited the area.
Cape Town is not only a popular international tourist destination in South Africa, but Africa as a whole. This is due to its mild climate, natural setting, and well-developed infrastructure. The city has several well-known natural features that attract tourists, most notably Table Mountain, which forms a large part of the Table Mountain National Park and is the back end of the City Bowl. Reaching the top of the mountain can be achieved either by hiking up, or by taking the Table Mountain Cableway. Cape Point is recognised as the dramatic headland at the end of the Cape Peninsula. Many tourists also drive along Chapman’s Peak Drive, a narrow road that links Noordhoek with Hout Bay, for the views of the Atlantic Ocean and nearby mountains. It is possible to either drive or hike up Signal Hill for closer views of the City Bowl and Table Mountain.
Many tourists also visit Cape Town’s beaches, which are popular with local residents. Due to the city’s unique geography, it is possible to visit several different beaches in the same day, each with a different setting and atmosphere. Though the Cape’s water ranges from cold to mild, the difference between the two sides of the city is dramatic. While the Atlantic Seaboard averages annual water temperatures barely above that of coastal California around 13 °C (55 °F), the False Bay coast is much warmer, averaging between 16 and 17 °C (61 and 63 °F) annually. This is similar to water temperatures in much of the Northern Mediterranean (for example Nice). In summer, False Bay water averages slightly over 20 °C (68 °F), with 22 °C (72 °F) a common high. Beaches located on the Atlantic Coast tend to have very cold water due to the Benguela current which originates from the Southern Ocean, whilst the water at False Bay beaches may be warmer by up to 10 °C (18 °F) at the same moment due to the influence of the warm Agulhas current. It is a common misconception that False Bay is part of the Indian Ocean, with Cape Point being both the meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, and the southernmost tip of Africa. The oceans in fact meet at the actual southernmost tip, Cape Agulhas, which lies approximately 150 kilometres (93 miles) to the southeast. The misconception is fuelled by the relative warmth of the False Bay water to the Atlantic Seaboard water, and the many confusing instances of “Two Oceans” in names synonymous with Cape Town, such as the Two Oceans Marathon, the Two Oceans Aquarium, and places such as Two Oceans wine farm.
Both coasts are equally popular, although the beaches in affluent Clifton and elsewhere on the Atlantic Coast are better developed with restaurants and cafés, with a strip of restaurants and bars accessible to the beach at Camps Bay. The Atlantic seaboard, known as Cape Town’s Riviera, is regarded as one of the most scenic routes in South Africa, along the slopes of the Twelve Apostles to the boulders and white sand beaches of Llandudno, with the route ending in Hout Bay, a diverse bustling suburb with a harbour and a seal island. This fishing village is flanked by the Constantia valley and the picturesque Chapman’s Peak drive. Boulders Beach near Simon’s Town is known for its colony of African penguins. Surfing is popular and the city hosts the Red Bull Big Wave Africa surfing competition every year.
The city has several notable cultural attractions. The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, built on top of part of the docks of the Port of Cape Town, is the city’s most visited tourist attraction. It is also one of the city’s most popular shopping venues, with several hundred shops as well as the Two Oceans Aquarium. The V&A also hosts the Nelson Mandela Gateway, through which ferries depart for Robben Island. It is possible to take a ferry from the V&A to Hout Bay, Simon’s Town and the Cape fur seal colonies on Seal and Duiker Islands. Several companies offer tours of the Cape Flats, a mostly Coloured township, and Khayelitsha, a mostly black township.
The most popular areas for visitors to stay include Camps Bay, Sea Point, the V&A Waterfront, the City Bowl, Hout Bay, Constantia, Rondebosch, Newlands, and Somerset West.
In November 2013, Cape Town was voted the best global city in The Daily Telegraph’s annual Travel Awards.
Cape Town offers tourists a range of air, land and sea-based adventure activities, including paragliding and skydiving.
The City of Cape Town works closely with Cape Town Tourism to promote the city both locally and internationally. The primary focus of Cape Town Tourism is to represent Cape Town as a tourist destination. Cape Town Tourism receives a portion of its funding from the City of Cape Town while the remainder is made up of membership fees and own-generated funds.
The Tristan da Cunha government owns and operates a lodging facility in Cape Town which charges discounted rates to Tristan da Cunha residents and non-resident natives.
Cape Town is noted for its architectural heritage, with the highest density of Cape Dutch style buildings in the world. Cape Dutch style, which combines the architectural traditions of the Netherlands, Germany, France and Indonesia, is most visible in Constantia, the old government buildings in the Central Business District, and along Long Street. The annual Cape Town Minstrel Carnival, also known by its Afrikaans name of Kaapse Klopse, is a large minstrel festival held annually on 2 January or “Tweede Nuwe Jaar” (Second New Year). Competing teams of minstrels parade in brightly coloured costumes, performing Cape Jazz, either carrying colourful umbrellas or playing an array of musical instruments. The Artscape Theatre Centre is the largest performing arts venue in Cape Town.
The city also encloses the 36 hectare Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden that contains protected natural forest and fynbos along with a variety of animals and birds. There are over 7,000 species in cultivation at Kirstenbosch, including many rare and threatened species of the Cape Floristic Region. In 2004 this Region, including Kirstenbosch, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Cape Town’s transport system links it to the rest of South Africa; it serves as the gateway to other destinations within the province. The Cape Winelands and in particular the towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek are popular day trips from the city for sightseeing and wine tasting. Whale watching is popular amongst tourists: southern right whales and humpback whales are seen off the coast during the breeding season (August to November) and Bryde’s whales and killer whale can be seen any time of the year. The nearby town of Hermanus is known for its Whale Festival, but whales can also be seen in False Bay. Heaviside’s dolphins are endemic to the area and can be seen from the coast north of Cape Town; dusky dolphins live along the same coast and can occasionally be seen from the ferry to Robben Island.
The only complete windmill in South Africa is Mostert’s Mill, Mowbray. It was built in 1796 and restored in 1935 and again in 1995.