This is a big year for Cape Town. It marks the 20th anniversary of the dawn of modern democracy in South Africa, with the election as president of the recently departed Nelson Mandela – a moment that will be celebrated in a city that is the main home of the government. Cape Town is also the World Design Capital for 2014, and hopes to use this as a platform to begin the re-engineering of a metropolis whose districts are still divided along apartheid lines, by highways and railways.
Get your bearings
Cape Town is South Africa's second-biggest city, the capital of the province of Western Cape. It sits at the south-west corner of Africa, framed by rocky ridges, of which Table Mountain is most iconic. The city flows southwards and uphill. Areas such as Gardens and District Six lie in the centre, with Sea Point and Green Point to the west by the ocean.
The MyCiti bus network (myciti.org.za) has 19 routes. Journeys under 5km cost from R4.40 (25p).
However, the centre can be seen on foot – it is safe to walk in daylight. Cape Town Tourism has an information office at the Waterfront on Dock Road (capetown.travel), open daily 9am to 6pm. For more information, see southafrica.net.
Take a hike
Start at the corner of Buitenkant and Darling Streets, where the Castle of Good Hope, the city's Dutch fort, sings of the 17th century as the oldest colonial building in South Africa (castleofgoodhope.co.za) – open daily 9am to 4pm; admission R30 (£1.75). A little to the north-west along Darling Street, pause outside City Hall. This ornate pile of Somerset limestone, built in 1905, hosted one of the 20th century's keynote events – Mandela's speech to 60,000 people, preaching tolerance and forgiveness, on the day he was set free from prison (11 February 1990). Banners bearing his face adorn the balcony.
Continue along Darling Street and take the third left into Parliament Street and walk to Church Square, where marble memorial blocks remind you that this was once a slave market.
Reborn in the past 20 years, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is the city's retail hub. Shopping here – in the likes of the Victoria Wharf mall (waterfront.co.za) – is of the name-brand variety, but the heady swirl of people is a totem of modern South Africa.
You can find vintage fashions at the flea market held daily, except Sunday, 9am to 4pm, on Greenmarket Square. But the city's most intriguing pocket of stores lies east of the centre, at 375 Albert Road in Woodstock. The Old Biscuit Mill (theoldbiscuit mill.co.za) makes fine use of a former factory.
Lunch on the run
The Mill has several lunch options, including Burrata (burrata.co.za), which serves a selection of pizzas. The "Di Mare" comes laden with prawns and squid for R112 (£6.50).
In the 18th century, Slave Lodge, on the corner of Adderley and Wale Streets, was a processing house for the trade in humanity. Open daily, except Sunday, 10am to 5pm, R30 (£1.75), it sheds light on the practices of the era (iziko.org.za). The District Six Museum shows how this busy area was emptied under apartheid rule by the removal of its black population to segregated suburbs. Artefacts – old photos, school uniforms – make these persecution tales personal. It is open 9am to 4pm daily, except Sunday, at 25a Buitenkant Street (districtsix.co.za; entry R30/£1.75). Elsewhere, the South African National Gallery on Government Avenue (iziko.org.za), showcases art by British luminaries (Gainsborough, Turner) and major South African figures (Walter Battiss, Irma Stern). Open daily 10am to 5pm; entry R30 (£1.75).
Dining with the locals
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront has a range of inviting eateries. Karibu at Shop 156, The Wharf Centre (kariburestaurant.co.za) serves South African cuisine, including ostrich fillet with onion marmalade for R169 (£10). Hildebrand Ristorante at Pierhead (hildebrand.co.za) revels in seafood – its tuna steak with pesto