Last updated: 04:00 AM ET, Tue November 13 2018
Vintage shot of a Beautiful beach in Cape Town, with Lion's Head mountain (Photo via vwPix/ iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Cape Town

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Cape Town, South Africa, is sometimes called the Mother City of Africa. Founded in 1652 by the Dutch, it was the first permanent European settlement in Africa. It began as a way station for ships sailing around the southern tip of Africa.

Like New Amsterdam (New York City), which was also founded by the Dutch around the same time, Cape Town was chosen as the best harbor to be used as an outpost for Dutch traders and then taken over by the British. Cape Town developed its own rich history set against the history of colonialism. Slaves were brought in from Indonesia, Madagascar and West Africa, which all became part of the multicultural mix that gave rise to the city’s rich cosmopolitan culture of the 21st century.

Asians who were brought as slaves became the Cape Malay population, a cultural or ethnic group that became one element of a community that was later classified as a racial group known as “coloured,” and whose influence on the cuisine of Cape Town is still strongly felt. The Asian slaves transformed the European dishes into a new fusion of styles that became known as Cape Malay style. The city is also rich in Mediterranean and Asian restaurants, with a growing trend of native African styles of cuisine.

Cape Town has its own styles of folk, jazz and pop music; painting, sculpture and design; and its own blend of cuisines and accents. It was the major driving force in the growth of the cultural amalgamation that became modern, multi-ethnic South Africa. Cape Town remained the largest city until gold was discovered in Johannesburg in 1886, after which the tent town grew rapidly and by 1895 had surpassed Cape Town with a population of 80,000. Today Cape Town’s population is about 3.5 million.

The city stands against the imposing background of Table Mountain, which dominates the skyline, and looks dramatic from nearly any view. The city was laid out around the features of the mountain range, and Lion’s Head is a mountain in the city that interrupts the street plan and serves as a landmark from nearly any point in the city.

Cable car rides to Table Mountain are inexpensive and well worth the time for the expansive view of the harbor and the city. Hikers can scale Table Mountain and outfitters are there to help them do it.

 The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is at the center of the city’s busy harbor and has grown into a beautifully gentrified strolling, congregating and shopping area, with many restaurants, shops and a big mall full of top line stores. Nearer the city center, Long Street is an aptly named strip of colorful and funky restaurants, bars and shops with fascinating vintage architecture featuring ornate second-floor balconies over the street a la New Orleans.

 Air access is good, but flights from New York, Washington, D.C. or Atlanta travel to Cape Town with a stop in Johannesburg. The national carrier, South African Airways, provides many flights from New York and Washington, D.C. to Johannesburg. Other carriers who service Cape Town from the U.S. are Virgin, Delta, United, KLM and British Airways.