Between Meetings: 10 Things to See in Cape Town in an Hour

By: Keith Bain

December 12, 2013

Capetonians are notoriously late, so scheduled meetings typically segue into all-afternoon socialising. Friday’s lunch hour usually continues into the weekend. Many Capetonians work where they meet up with clients and friends – in coffee shops, delis, anywhere conducive to setting up a mobile office. It’s a creative city and that inspires creative approaches to doing business; many people are involved in industries that don’t require a fixed address – meaning it’s refreshingly easy to get out and experience some of the many things to see in Cape Town.

Stroll the Company’s Gardens


Company’s Gardens are a destinations for Capetonians of all stripes © Robert Cutts


The first garden in the country was planted when Cape Town was a refreshment station for ships passing between Europe and the East, and in summer this is where many people who work in the city go to stretch their legs or take a nap on the lawns. The resident squirrels are so tame they’ll virtually tap you on the foot asking for hand-outs, but keep your eyes on the botanical collection – there are some rare trees here. If you have more time to explore, the gardens give on to the South African National Gallery, which is small enough to take in fairly quickly. Only a small part of its collection is permanently displayed, but there’s usually an excellent temporary exhibition. You can walk to the gardens from virtually anywhere in the city centre (it’ll be quicker than driving), otherwise grab a cab or use the MyCity bus service, which stops at both ends of the park. If you’re nearer the Atlantic Seaboard, you might want to walk through Green Point Park (open until 7pm), close to Cape Town Stadium, and featuring a dedicated biodiversity garden.

Experience Cape Town’s finest coffee houses

The stupendously inventive steampunk design at Truth Coffee HQ makes it an essential stop, even if you’re already full of caffeine. Besides droolworthy décor, the studiously roasted coffee is ridiculously good. Coffee evangelist David Donde is religious about what happens to the coffee that’s pulled here (although service can be iffy). If your meetings stretch towards later in the day, the café transforms into a very cool bar at night, with a spectacular counter.

Equally essential for coffee connoisseurs, Deluxe Coffeeworks is an urban sanctuary in an unexpected and slightly offbeat part of town; you enter what’s really a covered alleyway alongside a mechanic shop on a tightly-spaced road that seems like an industrial backwater. Deep inside, there’s exceptional espresso-based coffee, roasted on-site and served by skater-boy baristas who also make sure there’s a great soundtrack pulsing in the background. The garden furniture you pass to get to the coffee counter is where you can take a seat for very casual daytime dining, or arrive at night for some of the best burgers in town.

Browse for bikes or tour the city by side-car

Motorcycle | Things to See in Cape Town

Indulge yourself in Cape Town’s crazed motorbike culture © Keith Bain


Motorbike culture is a growing craze in a city that’s already obsessed with cycling and in summer is best navigated by Vespa. The House of Machines stocks some of the finest two-wheelers in the world, and has a boutique, coffee shop and after-hours bar on-site. Meanwhile, Los Muertos Motorcycles sells bikes and vintage-style biking paraphernalia for eager road warriors. There’s a Harley-Davidson outlet in Green Point, and Cape Bike Travel rents out bikes. And for a truly unique view of the city, Cape Sidecar Adventures offers chauffeured tours all around the Cape Peninsula in World War II sidecars.

See the land from the sea

A huge variety of boat trips are available from the V&A Waterfront. The view of Cape Town from out at sea is astonishing, and really puts the Table Mountain backdrop into riveting perspective. Sunset cruises are most popular and the lighting makes the experience extra-special, but there’s always some chance of spotting whales and dolphins while you’re out there. Waterfront Charters offer sunset cruises and hour-long jetboat rides; there’s a lunch cruise that’s perfect for between work sessions.

Hit the beach

Beach | Things to See in Cape Town

The water’s a bit chilly, but the beach is still the perfect place to while away an hour © Keith Bain


Cape Town’s compact enough for local surfers to stow their boards when they go to work and pop out over lunch to hit a few waves. The same attitude’s possible for a quick dip in the icy Atlantic. Camps Bay is the most accessible beach, but nearby Clifton offers four perfect coves that are more ideal if there’s a wind blowing since most of the time they’re magically sheltered by massive boulders.

Fly above the city

You need to be lucky with timing since paragliding off Signal Hill requires the right wind conditions; you can call them as your meeting ends to check the situation and then hurry to the launch site for 15 minutes of floating on thermals, and even land near Camps Bay beach. Para-Pax offers hassle-free tandem flights with highly qualified instructors.

Climb every mountain

Things to See in Cape Town | Table Mountain

Table Mountain offers the best views of Cape Town © Keith Bain


Well, you could feasibly hike to the top of Lion’s Head, the mountain that stands like a sentinel alongside Table Mountain. It’s 4km there and back – the uphill is vertical in places, but there are chain ladders and metal rungs to help you up the toughest bits. Problem is, once you reach the top you won’t want to come down; views are extraordinary. An easier mountain ascent would be to jump in the cable car and get to the top of Table Mountain for a dizzying perspective on the city.

Walk (or jog or cycle) the Promenade

The Sea Point Promenade is abuzz in summer. With waves crashing against the concrete barrier on one side and a varied skyline of mountains and apartment blocks on the other, there’s a lot to keep an eye on besides the hundreds of people doing exactly what you’re doing. If your next meeting is cancelled, you can walk all the way to Camps Bay (or further) – simply continue along the sidewalk with the sea close to your shoulder.

Explore the old quarter

Things To See in Cape Town | Bo-Kaap

The candy-coloured houses in Bo-Kaap are a favourite tourist destination © Keith Bain


The candy-coloured houses in Bo-Kaap are amongst the favourite material for tourist photographs; this neighbourhood on the slopes of Signal Hill and at the edge of the inner-city has a disproportionate number of mosques and a totally unique character and community atmosphere; it’s where slaves first lived after emancipation. Some of the cobbled streets are bewilderingly steep, and there are two quaint décor-slash-coffee shops on Rose Street to take a break when you’re done: Haas sells some beautiful and also macabre local art, and Luvey “˜n Rose flogs antique-style furniture.

Experience all-round bliss

No oil, no fuss – Enmasse is an addictive refuge in the city. Thai massage is the mainstay, but therapists are also able to offer a rigorous sports massage if you need deep tissue work. Although you can call ahead to book a slot, it’s possible to arrive at short notice, and they stay open till late at night. Slip into Thai pyjamas and then enjoy blissful assisted stretching in a partitioned communal space with a clever, nourishing soundtrack (no dolphins or pan pipes) and soothing, masculine-blue décor. Afterwards, you can sleep it off as long as you like, and then relax with artisanal teas and good magazines in the downstairs lounge. It’s grown-up, frills-free pampering that some say is akin to religious experience.

Written by Keith Bain

Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Cape Town from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

Have you visited Cape Town on business? What did you make of the city’s working culture? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Keith Bain

Cape Town-based writer Keith Bain has co-authored guidebooks to India, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Kenya & Tanzania, Ireland, and Italy. He also co-wrote A Hedonist's guide to Cape Town, and is the co-founder of Best Kept (, a bespoke trip-planning company that tailors holidays in India and Africa.

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