City Life: Eat, drink, dance and sunbathe
Glorious beaches and soaring mountains frame this thriving city built on the foothills of Table Mountain, along the edge of the Atlantic.
The oldest city in South Africa, this patch of the world also experiences one of the highest numbers of sunshine hour a year. Mind you, you may want to banish all thoughts about how you look in a bikini, as eating and drinking in Cape Town is world-class and wonderfully inexpensive. The city's cosmopolitan personality and welcoming spirit is best experienced among the lively cafés, bars and vibrant boutiques of Long and Kloof streets and the Cape Quarter, while Camps Bay is the bustling holiday strip where sun-worshippers flock to its white beaches by day, and crowds fill the bars for the local tipple, a sundowner, at dusk. Once you've had your fill of the surf, there is no shortage of excitement on turf - from animal-watching on safari or sampling the fruits of the winelands. And as it is only two hours ahead of GMT, European visitors can delight in escaping any jet lag.
Hiring a car to drive is easy and cheap (particularly if you're British: they drive on the left side of the road), although you need to book cars well in advance as they get booked out. It's worth noting that it is South African law to carry your international driving license at all times. Also, some driving tips: at roundabouts there are four-way stops where whoever gets there first, leaves first. And minibus taxis have right of way - let them go ahead.
Flights take 11.5 hours from London; Virgin, BA, South African Airways fly direct. Cape Town airport is a 30-minute drive from the city centre and there is a half-hourly bus service into town: www.airports.co.za. On the way home you can use the comfortable airport lounge for R140 and enjoy one last glass of South African wine. It's also wise to have your luggage wrapped in plastic at the airport, especially if flying via Johannesburg where things notoriously go missing in transit.
Public transport around Cape Town isn't fantastic. There are mini-bus taxis and slow trains from certain parts of town, but you're better off driving; see automobiles.
Country code for South Africa: +27. Cape Town: (0)21.
Like other cultures with a history of political and identity tensions, South African literature has been extraordinarily rich, so stray from the feel-good reads usually reserved for beach holidays. A Dry White Season by Andre Brink and July's People by Nadine Gordimer are vast accomplishments from the apartheid era. Post-apartheid novels, which are strong, though not merry, include Disgrace by JM Coetzee and The Heart of Redness by Zakes Mda.
Do go / Don't Go
Cape Town is a fantastic year-round destination, but March until May is when the sun and the wind are at their most enjoyable. If you plan to travel here during the school holidays, which are in January, be sure to book your hotel well in advance.
Fans of freshwater fish can prepare for their mouth to water, while committed carnivores will feast like nowhere else. Warthog may sound weird, but it's the tastiest ham you'll ever eat. Cape Cuisine or Cape Malay cuisine consists of semi-sweet curries, bredie (stew), bobotie (spicy minced dish with custard), sosaties (kebab), but what Capetonians really love is a braai or barbecue, from the Afrikaans for 'meat grill'. Potjieko are meals cooked on a three-legged pot over an open fire. A short drive out of Cape Town and you'll be in the heart of the Cape Winelands region; sample liquid gold (and garnet) in the form of chenin blanc, chardonnay or cabernet sauvignon with a meal in one of the countless vineyard-cum-restaurants around Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl.
For rides such as from the city centre to the Waterfront, try Rikki's Intercity (+27 (0)21 418 6713) minibuses, otherwise hail cabs in the street or ask your hotel to arrange one.
It is customary to tip 10-15 per cent for what is usually super-friendly service.
The South African rand (ZAR); the exchange rate is roughly R14 to £1; R7 to $1.
Surfwear vs windcheaters. Beware the 'southeaster': this wind can play havoc on the beaches, although its also nicknamed the Cape Doctor as it also means perfect sea conditions for surfers.
Walk through the Gardens, a pretty patch of greenery near the city centre which was originally planted by Jan van Riebeeck, the chap who founded the Cape. He originally planted these grounds to keep the visiting ships stocked with fresh veggies. (Luckily these days you'll have no problem finding fabulous restaurants to keep you in supply in that department.) Here you can also gain access to the National Gallery, the South African Museum (www.iziko.org.za) and the acclaimed new Jewish Museum (www.sajewishmuseum.co.za).
Cape Town is fast becoming a favourite destination to pop to for some serious beautifying. Not only is express cosmetic surgery a speciality, but it's also a hub for holistic medicine. So there's no excuse now not to go home from your trip looking and feeling your best.
Long Street is lined with enticing art galleries and antiques stores; explore Pan African Market's maze of passages and Burr & Muir on the corner of Church Street for Art Deco and Art Nouveau treasures - they'll happily ship your purchases. And if you like your craftworks, pop into the Bead Shop. The V&A Waterfront, the huge touristy harbour complex, has every entertainment and retail offering and though not particularly charming, it's worth a visit to see the wild seals sunning themselves in the harbour. Keep your receipts as you can claim taxes back at the airport before you check in.
Don't miss climbing to the top of Table Mountain - or at least take the cable car. Our top tip is to go early in the day to avoid the crowds, and don't forget to take water and a light jacket - it gets chilly up there at the top.
Go animal spotting! Whale- and dolphin-watching is the best at the former fishing village of Hermanus from July to November, while African Penguins pose on the rocks all year round at Boulders Beach, half an hour south of the city. That's not to mention all the monkeys that might swing by to say hello along the way.
1 January The street party that is Cape Town New Year Carnaval promises colourful song-and-dance shenanigans. March-April Cape Town Festival is an exciting arts extravaganza that takes place in the City Bowl and at the Waterfront - the short-film and food offerings are our favourite part of it. November-April Picnic in the prettiest part of town, to the smooth sounds of Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts (www.nbi.ac.za).