CITY GUIDE: 10 things you didn’t know about Cape Town

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CITY GUIDE: 10 things you didn’t know about Cape Town

The inaugural Cape Town E-Prix sees Formula E visit the southernmost tip of the African continent. We get to grips with the oldest city in South Africa to see why Cape Town and the Rainbow Nation are a match made in heaven for electric street racing.

Cape Town

The Mother City

Founded in 1652, Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa, leading to the moniker “Mother City”. With a population of around 4 million, it’s the country’s second-biggest city after Johannesburg, and is one of three national capital cities (along with Pretoria and Bloemfontein), acting as South Africa’s legislative centre.

cape town landscape

The city is South Africa's second economic centre and Africa's third economic hub city, and is a vital technological centre in Africa, with the highest number of successful IT companies anywhere on the continent, including companies in the space industry. Cape Town also benefits from one of the largest film industries in the Southern Hemisphere.

WATCH: Don't miss a minute of the Cape Town E-Prix

Cape Town city centre

Rainbow Nation

Due to its geographical importance for trade by sea, the Republic of South Africa is one of the most diverse and complex countries in the world. Known as the Rainbow Nation, and with the motto “Unity in Diversity”, the country has 11 official languages, with only Bolivia, India and Zimbabwe counting more.

The 2011 national census showed that Zulu was the most widely-spoken first language in South Africa at 23%, followed by Xhosa (16%), Afrikaans (14%) and English (9.6%). In Cape Town itself, the census showed that 35.7% spoke Afrikaans, 29.8% Xhosa and 28.4% English as their first language.

Cape Town Bo Kaap architecture

Architectural heritage

The city enjoys a renowned architectural legacy, having been named the World Design Capital in 2014. South Africa’s Boer past is particularly noticeable in Cape Town and the wider Western Cape province: the city contains the highest global density of Cape Dutch style buildings, which incorporate the design sensibilities of the Netherlands, Indonesia, Germany and France and are seen most prominently in the affluent Constantia district and South Africa’s Houses of Parliament in the Central Business District.

City of mountains

The central area of Cape Town, known as the City Bowl, enjoys one of the most awe-inspiring backdrops in existence. There are over 70 peaks above 300m within Cape Town’s city limits, but Table Mountain, with its 1,000m flat-topped summit and sheer cliff edges, flanked by the spire of Devil’s Peak and the unmistakeable dome of Lion’s Head, form the city’s most famous view.

Due to Cape Town’s coastal location, a thin strip of cloud, known as the tablecloth, regularly sits above Table Mountain.

Cape Town Table Mountain Devils Peak Lions Head

Directly to Cape Town’s south is the Cape Peninsula, a 52km long mountainous peninsula that juts into the Atlantic Ocean and is the southernmost point of the African continent.

At one of the tips lies the rocky Cape of Good Hope, given its name by King John II of Portugal due to its symbolic opening up of a sea trading route to India. Contrary to popular belief, however, the Cape of Good Hope isn’t Africa’s southern tip – that accolade belongs to Cape Agulhas, 150km to the southeast.

Natural treasures

Sitting this close to the might of the Atlantic means there’s plenty of incredible animal and plant life threaded throughout the region.

The never-ending coastline, dramatic mountain ranges, wide plains and hidden inland valleys offer nature enthusiasts everything they could wish for. Located within the Cape Floristic Kingdom – named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 – the city has one of the highest levels of biodiversity anywhere in the world, and the Cape Peninsula contains the highest concentration of endangered species of any equivalent area, with critically-threatened species surviving in small pockets across the region.

There are 30 nature reserves across the Cape Town municipality, including Table Mountain National Park, which is home to approximately 2,200 unique species of plants – more than the whole of the UK. The 36-hectare Kirstenbosch National Botanic Garden alone contains 7,000 species in cultivation.

Cape Town penguins

Whale watching is a popular attraction, with southern right and humpback whales seen off the coast during their August to November breeding season, and Bryde's whales and orca seen year-round. Heaviside's and dusky dolphins can also be spotted along Cape Town’s coast.

Penguins are a familiar sight along the coastline, too, with African Penguin colonies finding a home at Boulders Beach.

Vine and dandy

Cape Town is the home of the South African wine industry. The very first wine produced in the country was bottled in the city, and a selection of famous wineries continue to trade within the city’s boundaries such as Groot and Klein Constantia.

The Cape Point wine region is known for weathered terrors and a maritime climate, leading to much more concentrated and flavourful berries, with grapes such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Shiraz performing particularly well. Some of South Africa’s most famous wine-growing towns are a short journey from Cape Town, including Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek.

Cape Town vineyards

Sporting history

Cape Town has seen its fair share of sporting history. The city famously hosted the opening game of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, which saw an unfancied Springboks side beat defending champions Australia 27-18 to kick-start their march to a famous World Cup title.

The 70,000-seater Cape Town Stadium (known as the DHL Stadium) was built in preparation for the 2010 FIFA World Cup and hosted multiple games, including a 4-0 quarter-final win for Germany over Argentina and the semi-final between the Netherlands and Uruguay.

Cape Town stadium

The long way down

The new Formula E Cape Town circuit is only the second track to host the series on the continent of Africa, after five races in Marrakesh, Morocco. However, Cape Town is almost 5,000 miles away from the North African nation, meaning the circuit is actually 900 miles closer to next round’s venue, Sao Paulo, than its African sibling – it’s also 2,300 miles closer to Antarctica.

Green Point

Formula E’s aptly-named home in Cape Town is the Green Point district, a suburb on the city’s Atlantic Seaboard that looks out towards the infamous Robben Island, home to Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years of imprisonment before his release in 1990 and celebrated election as president four years later.

Northwest of the city centre, and just north of Signal Hill, Green Point is popular with young professionals and the city’s LGBTQ+ communities, along with sports fans travelling to the DHL Stadium.

cape town landscape

The circuit

The high-speed 2.921km Cape Town circuit couldn’t be better placed to take in everything great about the city. The stunning Table Mountain serves as a worthy backdrop to a winding, electrifying track that snakes around the DHL Stadium and almost splashes in the Atlantic.

The promising combination of GEN3 car and open track layout (including bumpy braking zones, a tight chicane at Turns 4, 5 and 6 and a pacy, eye-of-the-needle section midway around the lap) means that there’s a significant chance to see Formula E’s fastest lap and fastest race records broken.