What to see and what to skip in Cape Town

Here's the best way to see this South African city.

— -- If Cape Town is on your to-do list, you’re not alone: South Africa forges forward to attract visitors all over the world, and the word is out -- its second most populous city is diverse, eclectic and notoriously laid-back.

For many, it’s the threshold to bucket list-style and world-class safari vacations. But as a destination all its own, it offers an attractive mix of culture, cuisine and nature-inspired adventure. And, with the U.S. dollar still strong against the rand, it’s especially accessible now.

If you’re planning your first visit to what’s known as South Africa’s “Mother City,” check out these enthusiastic suggestions from locals and experts.

Skip Summer, Go Shoulder

Skip the Bar, Hit the Winelands

After You Sip, Pedal

Skip Table Mountain Early, Visit at Night

What many people don’t realize, though, is that Table Mountain offers prime viewing at night. Lucille Sive is a Cape Town native who heads Lion World Tours and African Travel Inc., travel industry leaders in luxury safaris and conservation initiatives. She says, “one secret is climbing Table Mountain and watching the sunset from up there. It’s absolutely spectacular. See a bit of Cape Town by day, have a drink up there, and then see from above how beautiful the city can be at night.”

Ernst Storm adds a tip: “Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the foot of Table Mountain is one of the best in all of Africa.” You’ll find 7000-plus native plants here.

Skip the Museum, Visit Robben Island

For a very personal and humbling look at this country’s freedom struggle from an apartheid regime, many visitors head to Robben Island, a short boat ride from Cape Town. Several of South African presidents spent time as prisoners here, including Nelson Mandela and current leader Jacob Zuma. “It’s a visit that’s moving and memorable, and it really frames the remarkable nature of the nation’s resurgence since these dark days,” says Andrew Young.“Tickets sell out weeks in advance, so this is one thing you want to make sure you plan ahead.”

Skip Boulders Island, Penguin-Watch at Sony Point

After the Safari, Dive with Sharks

Skip the Restaurant, Nosh at the Market