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Cape Town with kids

Cape Town is a great place to travel with kids. Of course, as with other destinations, things are easier if you havenít got nippers in tow Ė and the winelands and city centre offer plenty of appeal for wine-loving Ďfoodieí couples, at prices that seem exceptionally cheap if you are travelling from the UK. But thereís no reason why you canít combine a love of good food and wine with a family holiday, in a setting of great natural beauty, by means of a visit to the Cape. On a recent two week trip with two young children (aged five and six), with some careful planning we managed to make sure everyoneís needs were met rather painlessly, and without breaking the bank.

In an effort to assist others making similar plans, here are my personal recommendations for fun things to do for families visiting Cape Town: many would also appeal to child-free visitors, too. Iíve also added a few general tips at the end.

Table Mountain
Yes, an obvious choice, but you really have to take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain. It's almost compulsory. Do it on the first clear day of your visit (you might not get another if the cloud -- named the 'tablecloth' -- decides to hang around at the top). Cost for a family of four is about £20, and you can take a picnic or eat at the top. It gets busy, so the earlier you get there the better, to avoid the queue and an extraordinarily long walk from where you park to the cable car station. Views from the top are spectacular.

One of the views from Table Mountain
Boulders Beach
Swimming with Jackass penguins at Boulders Beach is a remarkable experience. Penguins aside, this is a great place to spend a day at the beach, with warm currents and sheltered conditions. Just past Simonstown on the False Bay coast, a short drive from Cape Town. Cost is less than a pound each.
Cape Point
Not to be missed is a drive to Cape Point, through the national park. Despite its proximity to Cape Town, it's windswept, remote and spectacularly beautiful. You will probably meet up with the resident baboon population, which can be a little unnerving if you are on foot. 
Simonstown Scratch Patch
OK, this is one just for the kids, but ours loved it. You pay a small fee to fill a bag with polished semi-precious stones (the rejects from the processing plant), rooting around on the floor choosing your favourites. The original one is at Simonstown, but there's also one on the waterfront in town. 
Hout Bay
A working harbour, queue for high quality fish and chips (with an ice cold quarter bottle of crisp white wine?), and then eat them watching the boats unload their catch.  
World of Birds
A spectacular aviary complex outside Hout Bay, with a tremendous array of bird species, together with a range of monkeys and other animals. For us the highlight was going into the squirrel monkey enclosure and letting the cute but curious little critters climb all over us. Relatively inexpensive.
Picnic at Spier
Spier, on the R310 on the way to Stellenbosch from Cape Town, offers beautifully manicured grounds around a lake: you can picnic here, buying your food and wine from the classy deli on the estate. A great lunch option. There's also a Cheetah sanctuary on the estate (free admission).
The Tavern at Groot Constantia
The historical wine estate of Groot Constantia has two restaurants. I wouldn't recommend the pricier of the two, the 'Jonkershuis' (mediocre, non wine-friendly food), but the 'Tavern' has very good Austrian-pub-style food and an attractive children's play area.  

General tips

  • Cape Town is becoming an increasingly popular tourist destination. As a result, you need to book accommodation and car hire at least a couple of months in advance, or you might miss out altogether. The best time to visit is either side of the Christmas and January holiday period, when the weather is at its best and the crowds have subsided a little. Everyone I spoke to advised against visiting during the South Africanís peak holiday period when accommodation becomes booked up six months in advance and it becomes impossibly busy.

  • Cape Town is remarkably cheap. Even though the Rand has rallied in the currency markets, at the current rate of exchange (c. R13 = GBP 1), everything seems to be just a little over half the UK price. Eating out, in particular, is very good value: you can get a top quality meal for two, including wine, for about £30-£40, and a very good one for less.

  • Wine is spectacularly cheap, even on restaurant wine lists. You can plunder even the best wine list without being worried about the cost. Winery cellar door prices are absurdly cheap: as an extreme example, Thelemaís spectacular Rhine Riesling is R24, which is less than £2 a bottle. Their Sauvignon is R40, and around R70 in restaurants: the UK retail is the equivalent of about R150. 

  • With the huge social gulf between the haves and have nots being a very visible reality in South Africa, itís inevitable that crime has a high profile. Whatever the statistics say, I didnít feel at all threatened during my stay there, and although the ubiquitous security guards and electric fences can feel a little unsettling at first, Iíd be very happy to take my family back there again without any fears for their safety. 

  • If you plan to do any fine dining, it might be best to make your restaurant reservations before leaving the UK. I missed out on Constantia Uitsig, who couldn't offer anything for 10 days when I phoned.

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