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5 free things to do in Cape Town, South Africa, from oceanfront views to a quiet garden park

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa - Cape Town is a place of wry contrasts, a place where you might encounter an international fashion model, a hippie or a "bergie" (beggar). There are urban black townships and picturesque seascapes. A mix of colonial history, the struggle against apartheid and 20 years of democracy colour what Cape Town is today.

Two of the city's most famous attractions are Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and Table Mountain, with an aerial tram to the top. You'll have to buy tickets to take the island ferry or the tram, but many other experiences can be had for free.

SEA POINT PROMENADE

This is the perfect vantage point to see sea gulls, waves crashing onto rocks and miles of Atlantic beaches. With the taste of sea salt in the air, you can walk, jog or sit on a bench to view the Mother City. The promenade offers a temporary art project, art54, with new pieces exhibited from time to time. For exercise lovers, there is a free outdoor gym.

Around the corner, Green Point Urban Park, a 2010 World Cup legacy, offers one of the most biodiverse regions with Wetland Walks and child-friendly spots for picnicking.

COMPANY'S GARDEN

The Company's Garden was started in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company, which supplied ships for the spice trade route via the Cape of Good Hope. It's a calm, quiet hideaway from the surrounding busy streets for students, tourists and people who work in the centre of Cape Town.

The oak trees that silhouette Government Avenue lead to landmarks like the sombre Slave Bell memorial, the Houses of Parliament and the National Gallery (which charges admission).

You can also meet cute and curious squirrels that expect visitors to feed them nuts. Will you by chance spot the particularly aggressive albino squirrel made famous by YouTube and the Company's Garden travel writings?

FALSE BAY

Visit quaint Kalk Bay, a village with old-fashioned stores, sea-hugging trains and natural harbour. Walk along as waves crash the wharf and see rustic boats and seals that are lazy on land but look elegant in the water. You can meet Afrikaans fishermen, colorful and candid, while locals barter for the catch of the day.

Along the scenic coastline of False Bay — so called because sailors confused it with another nearby bay — you may see both penguins and whales. Enjoy spotting majestic Southern Right whales from June until November. The endangered African Penguin Colony offers a look at adorable jackass penguins waddling on Boulder's Beach, but does charge a fee. You know you're near when you see penguin road signs on the streets.

LION'S HEAD AND SIGNAL HILL

Drive up Signal Hill for a scenic perch above this beautiful coastline. At 12 noon each day, a gun is fired, waking up birds and making you jump out of your skin with laughter. Two centuries ago, the South African Navy used the cannon to announce the arrival of ships.

Locals love this spot for sunset picnics, drinks and meeting friends. It offers views of Robben Island, Table Mountain and the seascape.

There are easy trails from Signal Hill to the top of Lion's Head, and full moon hikes offer a chance to see spectacular glittering moonlight on the sea.

A word of caution: There have been reports of muggings and other security issues in the area, so be aware of your surroundings and be careful with your possessions.

WOODSTOCK

Woodstock, infamous for crime and drugs, has become a rejuvenated inner-city suburb. The warehouses, old and rundown, have been transformed into trendy shops, art galleries and fashionable places to be.

You can stroll through Saturday markets that offer all-the-rage food and a wide range of designer stores.

Feast your imagination on the street art around each corner. You will see graffiti tags in neon and a variety of abstract images and realistic portraits by renowned street artists from all over the world. The art themes range from the neighbourhood's crime-ridden past to its rebirth.

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