Jan 20, 2022
9 min read

A Filmmaker's Guide to Cape Town

More and more friends seem to be heading to the Southern Hemisphere to visit South Africa’s most popular city – Cape Town. Apparently seasons don’t matter all too much in Cape Town, so consider this your new year-round option.
There’s surfing, hiking, an excellent food scene, and countless activities in, around and just outside of the city, so allow enough time to explore. We tapped 
Ashley Ellis
, local Cape Town resident and a writer, teacher, PhD candidate, and filmmaker, for her expert tips. 
Read on for Ashley’s guide to Cape Town.
Cape Town

If you didn’t live in Cape Town, which hotels would you choose to stay in?

The Belmond Mount Nelson
. The epitome of luxury and relaxation on gorgeous, manicured grounds. Belmond is one of my favorite brands, and this property doesn’t disappoint.
. The perfect hideaway for a screenwriting retreat, however, they are currently closed indefinitely. Sister property
Camissa House
is a great alternative.  
The Silo Hotel. The building is an architectural gem; the decor, ambience and views are unparalleled; and it’s adjacent to Zeitz MOCAA and the V&A Waterfront, so the location couldn’t be better.

Favorite places to eat in Cape Town? What do we order?

Cape Town is such a diverse food city, so you’re spoilt for choice. On weekdays, I’ll head to 
Eastern Food Bazaar
 for shawarma (but, do try Bunny Chow while visiting South Africa, too); 
, for beef stew, pap and veggies; and 
Obz Cafe
, for prego chicken wings with chips.
At the weekend, it’s all about 
Neighborgoods Market at The Old Biscuit Mill
; or 
Mojo Market
. Take your pick from the internationally inspired food stalls.
Where to Eat

Where would you go to eat for a special occasion in Cape Town?

Grand Africa Cafe & Beach
 – all things seafood are nice at this restaurant.

We’ve lost our luggage. Where shall we shop for a new wardrobe?

This is one time when you won’t be sorry. Cape Town is considered one of the design capitals of the world, and there are tons of local talents creating contemporary and African-inspired fashion.
The Watershed
 at the V&A Waterfront features all styles of clothing, including global brands, plus lots of gift options. Then, in Woodstock, a very short drive outside of the city centre, is 
The Old Biscuit Mill
, which has a variety of stores and some great art. On Saturdays, Biscuit Mill hosts a pop-up market with live music, and just outside of the building, Albert Road is lined with factory shops from leading local designers. 
There are many boutiques in town to check out, too. My favorites for African-inspired wear are 
WAG Fashion
Merchants on Long
. Otherwise, 
AKJP Studio
 on Kloof Street. Last but not least is a concept store for the fashion forward that I love, 
Bastille | Maison Mara
, which does womenswear and menswear.

What are your favorite bars around town? What should we be ordering?

Yours Truly
 on Kloof Street is an intimate spot that’s perfect for a warm night.  There’s usually a diverse crowd and good music, and because it’s attached to an upmarket backpackers, the bar attracts both locals and international travelers. Try some of their homegrown Truly White and make some new friends.
The Gin Bar
 is a speakeasy behind a small chocolate cafe. I love gin, and my absolute favorite in the world is the amber gin by Inverroche, made from fynbos botanicals, which are only found here in the Western Cape. For that reason alone, I highly suggest The Heart, one of their cocktails made with this particular liquor.
If beer is your thing, you’ll get a huge selection of craft beers at 
, in an unassuming atmosphere that overlooks all of the action on Long Street. At night it’s pretty lively, but I’ve been plenty of times during a lazy afternoon just to chill with friends and a cold brew. 
Kloof Street House
, for gorgeous, delicious, high-end cocktails with prices that aren’t so ridiculous. Try the Strawberry, Mint, and Rooibos Daiquiri. 

Best place for coffee in Cape Town?

I’m a coffee addict, and there are plenty of places to find a good fix in Cape Town. But, I think a much rarer find is a great tea house. My friends at 
 have curated a selection of teas from all over the world, use state-of-the-art equipment to make the perfect brew, and have cultivated a cozy, intimate environment in which to enjoy it.  
I wouldn’t seem to be “in the know” if I failed to mention 
Truth Coffee
, though; a steampunk-inspired local spot for serious coffee lovers. However, my personal favorite is 
Ou Meul Bakkery
, because they’ve got Bootlegger Coffee, another great local brand and freshly baked everything. You can also get fresh juices there if that’s your jam. 

We have an entire afternoon free, and are looking to do some damage to our credit card. Where should we go?  

Definitely all of the below for African housewares, art, and curios. At these places, you’ll find beautiful, quality and authentic pieces that are actually made in Africa, which isn’t always the case at the big tourist markets.

Where can we get our dose of culture, which won’t be packed with other tourists?

District Six
 is in an area of the city that is rich in culture and history, but doesn’t get too much tourist traffic.  It’s a great place to turn inward and learn about how and why Cape Town came to be the way it is today. You’ll also be supporting those who are working against the erasure of certain people and places in post-apartheid South Africa. 
Similarly, the heritage neighborhood of the Bo Kaap is worth exploring. And if you get hungry, stop at 
The Kombuis
, which has the some of the best traditional Cape Malay food you can find. 

We’re looking to party in Cape Town like a local. Where should we go?

Check out the slew of bars and restaurants on and around Lower Main Road, in the Observatory neighborhood. Here, you’ll find a dedicated local crowd in unpretentious settings. 
Otherwise, you can travel a bit farther out of the city into Khayelitsha and head to 
, which has great food and dance music. 
Khayelitsha is one of the largest and fastest growing townships in South Africa and is vibrant and full of energy. Visiting will give you a fuller understanding of Cape Town than just hanging out in the CBD. With that said, townships are not tourist spectacles; go because you want to have a good time, but be respectful and aware of this. 
Visit both of these neighborhoods with a local who’s familiar with the area if possible. It’ll be a better experience overall. 

We’d love to see some live music. Where to?

You know how it is, different spots for different nights! 
In no particular order: 
  • The Waiting Room
    . DJ’s, hip hop, eclectic, acoustic; a multilevel bar with inside and outside hang out spots.
  • Aces n Spades
    . Where bands perform, just before they become famous.
  • The Piano Bar
    . Jazz vibes (SA is known for jazz!).
  • Alexander Bar
    . An intimate performance venue for all kinds of shows, even for the literary types.
  • Dizzy’s Camp’s Bay
    . Beachside dive bar vibes with a karaoke night and live shows.

Favorite secret spot to get some alone time?

The Company’s Garden
 is just a one-minute walk from my flat, so I go there often to clear my head or read a book. 

Tips and tricks for getting around town? 

Most of the Cape Town CBD is walkable, which is one thing that I love about the city.  The MyCiTi Bus is cheap, convenient and safe. Otherwise Uber is easy, because most things aren’t very far in distance.

Where should we hang out if we’re single?

I’d suggest you put on your best beachwear and head to Camp’s Bay. 

And if we are coupled up, what is the best date spot that will actually have a table?

, an upscale and romantic restaurant-bar-music venue.

Where should we go for some time well spent in nature (if not a full-on hike)?

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
 is one of the richest and most comprehensive gardens, and has plenty of walking trails. 

Where would you go with your sketch pad or journal?

I’d go to 
Rhodes Memorial
, because it’s so quiet. It has a dazzling view of the city for the sketch artists and a tea garden for those who bring their journal.  

Where would you go to work remotely in Cape Town?

I take a long walk or a short drive to 
 in Woodstock Exchange. It’s a bright, comfortable environment to work with coffee, treats, and delicious light meals. The wifi is powerful enough, and I can stay and work for hours without being rushed. 
It’s bustling, but not noisy nor packed; and I always feel surrounded by the good vibes of creative entrepreneurs hard at work.

Where do we go to work out like a local? 

The hike life
 is definitely a thing here, and it’s understandable, because the landscapes in Cape Town are treasures. If you’re looking for a traditional gym experience, then I’d recommend 
Virgin Active
, which has plenty of locations.  

We’re jet-lagged AF. Where do we go to treat ourselves, spa or massage-wise?

Definitely the spa at 
12 Apostles Hotel
.  The views alone will get you feeling right. 

Anything else you want to add in terms of interesting activities or must-see/do’s?

Yes definitely. I have three very important suggestions! 
  1. Do pay your respects to the freedom fighters who were willing to serve time in abhorrent conditions to see South Africa become a more just society.  I think anyone who comes to Cape Town should visit
    Robben Island
    . Today, the tours there are led by former inmates and guards, but these people will not be around forever to tell their stories first hand, so this is truly a once in a lifetime experience.   
  2. If you have time, take a day trip to down the coast to Cape Point and experience the southern most tip of the continent, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. It’s considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world, which I cosign. There are several ways to approach the trip, but do stop in Llandudno Beach, Muizenberg, Simon’s Town, and Hout Bay along the way and just give yourself time to explore.
  3. Most people who come to the Western Cape want to visit the wine country at some point. I highly recommend visiting the French-influenced town of Franschhoek, and the 
    Solms Delta Wine Farm 
    specifically. Solms Delta sits on land where artefacts from some of the Earth’s first humans were left. It has a social business model, which is completely unique to the region and empowers its farmworkers. Plus, two small museums that pay homage to the history of the people who have worked the land for hundreds of years. And the wine is superb – they have a Shiraz (a personal favorite) in the 1,001 wines you must try before dying. Oh, and there’s a hidden gem of an Ou Meul Bakery on the road to Solms Delta that has a farmstall with the most delectable items for your pantry.
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