Cape Town is a superb melting pot of history, nature and cultures, writes Alex Frew McMillan
1 Table Mountain
The mountain, typically draped in cloud, gives Cape Town's cityscape its unmistakeable backdrop. The best way of seeing it is to hike (at least up or down), allowing three hours either way. The two most popular routes are: from Kirstenbosch Natural Botanical Garden, up the back of the mountain via Skeleton Gorge; or up the front via the rocky steps of Platteklip Gorge. Take water, a sun hat and a jacket - even in summer, the mountain peak can get chilly. Those with tighter timelines or weaker knees can take the cable car (www.tablemountain.net) on a 110-rand ($140) round trip that starts every 10 to 15 minutes. The last car down is at 10pm at the height of summer and 6pm in winter. Check the timetable to avoid an unplanned scramble down.
2 Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is a tourist trap, but of the best type. Developers began reworking rundown docklands in 1988 and have created a collection of restaurants, hotels and high-end condominiums that are now some of the city's most expensive real estate. The waterfront has retained historic features such as its 1882 Clock Tower and the 1894 Time Ball Tower. There are more than 250 shops, but nature lovers may be more interested in the resident Cape fur seals. The V&A Waterfront (www.waterfront.co.za) is also the gateway to Robben Island.
3 Robben Island
From 1964 to 1982, Robben Island was home to the city's most famous resident: Nelson Mandela, or prisoner 466/64 as he was known before he became South Africa's first democratically elected president. The island is 12km from downtown Cape Town in Table Bay and has been used for 400 years as a quarantine station, leprosy hospital, mental hospital and maximum-security prison. It became a museum (tel: [27 21] 5553100; www.robben-island.org.za) in 1997 and a World Heritage Site in 1999. Tours are conducted by former political prisoners who tell stories about their incarceration. The island also boasts a large colony of African penguins and other wildlife, including ostriches and springbok. It costs 150 rand for adults and 75 rand for under 17s. The boat trip offers a magnificent view of Table Bay and regular sightings of dolphins and whales.
4 Clifton Beach
Clifton Beach shows the city at play. It comprises four beaches, each with a different flavour and broken up by big granite boulders. Fourth Beach is the hippest, but all Clifton's sands are places to see and be seen. Only the brave will scamper into the breakers of the freezing Atlantic Ocean to cool off, but who goes to the beach to swim? Neighbouring Camps Bay also has a lovely beach and numerous seafood restaurants and cafes. Beware of unscrupulous operators and always check the price of seafood before ordering.
5 Cape Point
The southernmost point in Africa is not in Cape Town but at Cape Agulhas, or Needle Point, a two-hour drive southeast of the city. But Cape Point - the tip of the Cape of Good Hope - is more accessible and worth the trip. The new Table Mountain National Park stretches 60km from Signal Point and Table Mountain to the tip of the peninsula, interspersed with sections of the city. The Cape Point section of the park costs 35 rand for adults and 10 rand for children, and features baboons and buck. Go to www.sanparks.org.
6 District Six and the District Six Museum
District Six sums up one of the craziest episodes of the apartheid era. In 1956, the government classified a previously vibrant, mixed-race section of the city as white only, apparently threatened by the neighbourhood's cosmopolitan atmosphere and the apparent ease with which the black, white, 'coloured', Indian and Jewish residents interacted. After years of demonstrations and strong-arm attempts at resettlement, the area was finally razed by bulldozer and 60,000 residents resettled in the Cape Flats townships. Most of District Six is still barren, with legal battles working their way through the courts to restore ownership to the original residents. The District Six Museum (tel: [27 21] 461 8745; www.d6.co.za) tells the area's story.
7 Township tour
Townships are another legacy of apartheid-era life, recalling the Group Areas Act of 1950, which established where a person could live based on the colour of their skin. The townships are fringe cities on the edge of all South African urban areas and previously home to non-white residents. The Group Areas Act was repealed in 1991, and South Africans are now free to live wherever they like. But the townships remain largely segregated: Cape Town's Langa and Khayelitsha are largely populated by black residents; other parts of the Cape Flats are generally 'coloured'. Look for a small operation to take you around, such as siyaFundisa, run by Colleen Knipe-Solomon (tel: [27 21] 704 0802; www.fundisatours.co.za).
8 Boulders Beach
Boulders Beach lies between Simon's Town and Cape Point and is an extension of the Table Mountain National Park. The beach boasts an array of boulders and is home to about 3,000 African penguins with which you can swim. Entrance to the small park (tel: [27 21] 786-2329; www.cpnp.co.za) costs 15 rand for adults and 10 rand for students and pensioners.
9 Shark diving
Although you have to travel far north of Cape Town to come face to face with the Big Five game animals (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros), the Big Five of the Ocean - shark, whale, dolphin, turtle and whale shark - all live in the waters around Cape Town. At the top of the food chain is the Great White shark. South Africa was the first country in the world to protect these fearsome predators, whose mere shadow is enough to give most observers goose bumps. The waters just off Gansbaai at Dyer Island are home to 60,000 Cape fur seals, the prey of choice for the sharks. Many tour operators run cage dives from Gansbaai and Kleinbaai, offering you the chance to watch Carcharodon carcharias from the safety of a metal cage. Try Unreal Dive (tel: [27 21] 425 5375; www.unrealdive.com) or Carcharias (e-mail: info@carcharias. co.za; www.carcharias.co.za]. Nearer town, operators run tours to Seal Island in False Bay. Go early on a winter's day (seal-pup season) for best chance of seeing Great Whites in awesome displays of aggression.
10 The Wine Route
The beautiful country towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are the centre of South Africa's Wine Route, an easy 45-minute drive to the north of the city. Spend a night or two in either town. The bulk of South Africa's wineries are a short drive from both. There are 388 wineries in the country, complete with sublime Cape Dutch architecture and lush landscapes. Each winery has a flavour as distinctive as its wines. Some are working farms, others quiet homesteads, others full resorts. For smaller vineyards, call ahead to confirm a visit. Rustenberg (tel: [27 21] 809 1200; www.rustenberg.co.za) is an active and pungent dairy farm with one of the wine route's most delightful Cape Dutch farmhouses. It sells Camembert as well as wine. Delaire (tel: [27 21] 885 1756; www.delairewinery. co.za) offers alpine vistas through the Helshoogte pass that make it a favourite spot for weddings. Boschendal (tel: [27 21] 870 4200; www.boschendal.com) was once owned by the statesman Cecil Rhodes and has lovely grounds patrolled by a flock of waddling ducks. Spier (tel: [27 21] 809 1100; www.spier.co.za) is one of the most commercial wineries, with landscaped lawns for picnickers, a hotel and even a golf course.