By  Jessica Thiefels

This South African capital has become a travel mecca for thrill seekers, culture buffs and foodie epicures the world over thanks to architecture steeped in Afrikaner and Islamic history and sweeping natural vistas. Not to mention pulsing urban energy and world-class vineyards.

There’s no shortage of recreation and beauty to enjoy in Cape Town, so when planning your adventure, make sure these iconic sights are on the itinerary.

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Greenmarket Square

This cobblestone plaza is among Cape Town’s most historic outdoor spaces and located walking distance from the trendy Victoria & Albert Waterfront. Once a colonial slave trade center, Greenmarket Square has now become a thriving bazaar, complete with local merchants selling unique, artisan commodities and street performers entertaining the crowd through music and dance. This marketplace is traditional South Africa at its most eclectic, vibrant and welcoming.

Kirstenbosch

This 89-acre botanical garden is considered one of the continent’s most spectacular landscapes. It’s also home to thousands of indigenous plants, some of which you won’t find anywhere else on this planet. Wander along various trails through the expansive grounds, learning about this nation’s biodiversity. A guided tour may provide even more information about conservation efforts to protect the endangered species inside both Kirstenbosch and the entire Cape Floristic region. After exploring the garden, enjoy an array of on-site dining options.

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Boulders Beach

This inlet of the Atlantic Ocean was named for the large rock formations jutting out from the shore. It boasts mild aquamarine waters, intimate sandy alcoves and the main attraction, throngs of African penguins. These native beachcombers don’t seem to mind sharing their coastal paradise with human visitors and are no strangers to the flash of a camera. Boulders Beach is accessible with Cape Town’s public transit system, just 26 miles outside the metropolitan area.

Constantia Valley

Dating back to 1685, this lush region is the birthplace of South Africa’s oldest vineyard Groot Constantia. It’s also where the nation’s burgeoning reputation for winemaking began. When visiting, you’ll stroll past 17th-century mansions, take in seemingly unreal mountain views, and tour local wineries, several of which offer tasting rooms. During the warmer months, Constantia Valley hosts music festivals and other al fresco pastimes too.

Table Mountain  

Visiting Cape Town gives you a chance to visit one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Table Mountain, a flat-topped summit, provides an extraordinary panorama of both the Cape Town skyline and the entire Table Mountain National Park, which also comprises Boulder Beach the Cape of Good Hope and more attractions. You can reach the peak through hiking trails or suspended cable cars that allow passengers a 360-degree vantage point. Views extend to the ocean and other mountain ranges on the distant horizon, making for a gorgeous trip to the top.

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Bo-Kaap        

Perching at the foot of Signal Hill, this multicultural neighborhood is where the city’s Muslim population has lived for centuries. The diverse community features colorful houses, ornate mosques and the Bo-Kaap Iziko Museum, where you can learn about the origins of this ethnic enclave. Bo-Kaap was initially settled by Muslim slaves from Southeast Asia, and its modern residents still embrace the customs of their predecessors.

Robben Island

Known as a symbol for the human spirit’s triumph over adversity, this island off the Cape Town coast is a landmark of the former South African apartheid regime. Previously used to incarcerate enemies of the state, Robben Island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offering public tours of the prison fortress. You can even step inside the famous cell that once housed Nelson Mandela before he rose to prominence as the nation’s first elected African president in 1994.

District Six Museum

This exhibit honors the displaced citizens from District Six, an area of Cape Town designated for “whites only” at the height of apartheid rule. The museum exists as a solemn reminder of the 60,000 people who were evicted from their homes and relegated to a ghetto on the urban outskirts. The District Six Museum is a disquieting and sobering experience, but worth visiting to truly grasp the magnitude of Cape Town’s history.

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Jessica Thiefels

BIO: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than ten years and is currently a lifestyle blogger. She’s written for Lifehack, Reader’s Digest, Tripping and more. When she’s not writing she’s traveling around the Southwest and planning her next great adventure. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07.

 

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