In 1652, Jan van Riebeeck of the Dutch East India Company founded Cape Town as a halfway point on the trade route between Europe and the Far East. Today, the Mother City, as it is affectionately known, is the second largest in South Africa, after Johannesburg, and home to the National Parliament. The capital of Western Cape province is a blend of ethnic cultures, including African, European (mostly Dutch and English), and even a smattering of Asian, with Afrikaans being the most widely spoken language, followed by English and the African language of Xhosa. Located at the southern tip of the African continent, the city enjoys a warm climate similar to Southern California and the Mediterranean, only with the seasons reversed: Winter is from June to September, and summer from November to March.
A 2011 census reported that a whopping 43.2 percent of the population was below the age of 25, and the city caters to its young populace, with a robust nightlife scene and a passion for the outdoors, especially adrenaline-fueled adventures. Cape Jazz, a distinct music genre that arose during the time of apartheid, is celebrated annually as part of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, often called “Africa’s Grandest Gathering.” A local custom in effect since 1806 is the firing of the Noon Gun, situated on Signal Hill and heard all over town. Years after the abolishment of apartheid, Cape Town still struggles with racial tensions, and locals can have passionate views either way on the issue.
Table Mountain, whose iconic silhouette can be seen from most every point in the city, can be summited either by aerial cableway or, for the more adventurous, by foot. Also part of Table Mountain National Park, the pristine landscape of the Cape of Good Hope (incorrectly believed by many to be the southern-most tip of Africa) is home to numerous flora and fauna, including a colony of African penguins. Today a living museum, Robben Island once served as a prison for such anti-apartheid activists as Nelson Mandela, who gave his first public speech after release at Cape Town City Hall. In recent years, vintages from the Cape Winelands have gained prominence in the international wine scene.
Shops and restaurants abound at the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, which also features the Two Oceans Aquarium and a colorful clock tower dating back to 1882. Every evening, Long Street comes alive as the Mother City’s nightlife hub, with patrons crowding the wrought-iron balconies of its Victorian buildings. The former township of Bo-Kaap is now a multicultural district, with cobblestone streets and a museum detailing the area’s Muslim history. With the ongoing gentrification of Woodstock, the Cape Town suburb has become a bastion of arts, with galleries taking over the many picturesque homes located at the base of Devil’s Peak.