The city’s natural charms are just a short journey from its central skyscrapers, with everything from surfing to sandboarding on offer in the surrounding mountains and coastlines.

Capetonians love their city and they take every opportunity to enjoy the outdoor adventures that surround it. Running south from Table Mountain to the Cape of Good Hope, the Cape Peninsula is a favourite local day-trip destination; on weekends paragliders fleck the skies around the serrated peak of Lion’s Head mountain and surfers head south to False Bay’s balmy waters.

Likewise, visitors need not slip into the “Cape coma” – the lethargy that notoriously overcomes travellers who come for a few days and, seduced by the city’s laidback vibe and vibrant nightlife, stay for weeks. It is easy to make the most of the surrounding mountains and coastline when most outdoor activities can all be tried within an hour’s drive of central Cape Town – and many of the walking trails and beaches can even be reached by taxi or bike.

Table Mountain trails
From downtown Cape Town, cable cars ascend the hulking mass of Table Mountain, which looms above the city and sometimes disappears into the cloud covering, known locally as the tablecloth. Numerous trails climb the 1,000m-high plateau but the most popular is Platteklip Gorge, a steep, 3km walk that begins near the lower cable-car station. On weekends, a diverse cross-section of Capetonians  manoeuvre their way between the boulders lining the trail, including groups of students in scarily inappropriate footwear.

Trails criss-cross the table top offering views of the city, Table Bay and the peaks of Table Mountain National Park beyond. Visitors can also climb from the 36-hectare Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on the mountain’s eastern side, one of the world’s most beautiful with 7,000 plant species including indigenous Cape flora and South Africa’s signature Protea flower.

For a longer look at the mountain – proclaimed this year as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature by the Zurich-based New7Wonders Foundation,  the five-day, 75km Hoerikwaggo Trail leads through Table Mountain National Park and down the peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope at its southwestern tip. Hoerikwaggo, the nomadic Khoi people’s name for the famous formation, means “mountain in the sea” – an excellent description of the sturdy mass surrounded by shimmering bays and beaches.

Lion’s Head
Table Mountain’s neighbouring peaks may not be as instantly recognisable, but they offer just as many options for breathing some fresh African air. The most distinctive is the jagged tooth-like 669m-high Lion’s Head, which rises northwest of Table Mountain between the city centre and the Atlantic-facing suburbs of Clifton and Camps Bay. At full moon, locals ritually walk up Lion’s Head for sunset, finding their way back down by moonlight and torch beam. Starting from Kloof Nek -- the pass between Table Mountain and Lion’s Head -- the 10km return Pipe Track is a gorgeous contour path that follows the Atlantic coast towards the dramatic peaks of the Twelve Apostles mountains.

Lion’s Rump
Another scenic stroll leads 2.5km northeast from Lion’s Head along the ridge of the 350m-high Signal Hill, also known as the Lion’s Rump. The two adjoining hills resemble a lion sphinx, and the rocks in the sea below are even known as the Lion’s Paws. En route, a pretty green-and-white karamat (a Muslim saint’s tomb) overlooks the Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, the traditional home of the Islamic Cape Malay people. An atmospheric 1km city walk climbs past the Bo-Kaap’s colourful facades and cobbled lanes to the Noon Gun. This cannon on the lower slopes of Signal Hill is still fired at noon Monday to Saturday, continuing a 200-year-old tradition begun by the British in 1806, initially to announce the arrival of ships to people living inland, and later as a time signal, allowing ships to check their navigational equipment and Capetonians to set their watches.

Beach life
Cape Town’s beaches are as equally accessible as its mountains, and as varied as the multicultural locals catching some rays. Overlooked by Lion’s Head, the suburb of Clifton’s four sheltered white-sand beaches, separated by giant granite boulders, are popular for sunbathing and swimming. Their proximity to the city centre sees a diverse selection of sun-seeking locals arriving in vehicles from shiny Mercedes to shared minibus taxis. Fourth beach is an excellent spot for a sunset picnic; facing west it is sheltered from the Cape’s infamous southeasterly wind and also has a prime view of the sun setting over the Atlantic.

The windy, white-sand beach at neighbouring Camps Bay, beneath the Twelve Apostles, has strong surf and lifeguards during summer. The affluent suburb’s beachfront cafes and bars are the hangouts of choice for the city’s beautiful people, who sip their cocktails as a golden sunset spreads across the horizon.

Continuing south, the Cape Peninsula’s beaches get quieter as you head towards the Cape of Good Hope. Horse or pony riding on the broad, sandy 8km-long Noordhoek Beach and into the nearby wetlands and mountains makes for a windblown, cobweb-banishing day out.

Across the peninsula from the suburb of Noordhoek, False Bay arcs away to the east, bookended by distant Cape Hangklip. The bay’s water is about 6C warmer than on the peninsula’s western side due to currents from the Indian Ocean, and the area’s beaches and rock pools attract both swimmers and surfers. The beachfront suburb of Muizenberg, with its colourful row of Victorian bathing chalets, gently shelving beach and safe conditions is a great place to learn how to surf. “The waves are really soft and gentle and the currents and tides aren’t too hectic,” said Gary Kleynhans, a former South African surf champion and the owner of Gary’s Surf School, the oldest in the country. “Intermediate to advanced surfers go to Long Beach, Kommetjie and Noordhoek on the Atlantic side of the peninsula. Kalk Bay is also advanced, but it’s beautiful and round like a baby pipeline.”

Sea kayaking and kite surfing
The Cape Peninsula also offers some surprising sights for sea kayakers. The Boardroom Adventure Centre, conveniently located at the gateway to the peninsula in Hout Bay, offers paddles to the large Cape fur seal colony on Duiker Island and along the rugged coastline to local landmark Chapman’s Peak. Overlooking the warm waters of False Bay, Paddlers runs trips to the Cape of Good Hope, perhaps spotting whales and dolphins en route, and takes visitors to the colony of 2,800 waddling African penguins at Boulders Beach For kite surfing, meanwhile, cross town to the suburb of Bloubergstrand (“blue mountain beach” in Afrikaans), where seasoned instructor Phil Baker offers lessons and equipment hire with Table Mountain and Robben Island views through his company Windswept.

Sandboarding is the closest many locals get to snowboarding There is more chance of generating static than feeling the wind in your hair, but if you wax your board thoroughly, whizzing down dunes is an exhilarating novelty. Mechanized lifts are a long way off, but you can try sandboarding at the town of Fish Hoek on the Cape Peninsula through Gary’s Surf School, or on the towering white-sand slopes in the Atlantis Dunefields, 40 minutes drive up the west coast from central Cape Town. Downhill Adventures, which runs sandboarding day trips to Atlantis, offers packages including skydiving, quad biking and surfing.

Mountain adventures
The numerous mountains offer many options to serious climbers, but anyone with an adrenaline craving can take the Abseil Africa challenge. The self-described “dope on a rope”  is one of the world’s highest commercial abseils – a 112m rappel from the top of Table Mountain with the city far below. Another route down the mountain, closer to the ground but equally hair-raising, is mountain biking along dirt tracks and private roads to neighbouring Devil’s Peak. Downhill Adventures provides a specialist biking guide for the two-wheel scramble, making the ride suitable for all levels of fitness and ability.

The paragliders who colour the skies around Lion’s Head, the most dependable local launch site, are as characteristic of Cape Town as the summer wind. To join these weekend gods and get an eagle’s view of the city, try a flight with Cape Town Tandem Paragliding’s experienced instructors. “The big plus is the amazing location – all these unique mountains like Table Mountain are plonked in the middle of the city,” said owner Manu Wegmershaus. Passengers are required to do little more than take a few steps at launch – and enjoy the views as they glide towards Camps Bay, where a cocktail on the beach awaits.