Sat in the lap of Table Mountain and on the shores of the Atlantic, Cape Town is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. African, Indonesian, French, Dutch, British and German settlers have all left their mark on the city, and all creeds and colours continue to share it to this day. With a population of three million, Cape Town the parliamentary capital of the republic also enjoys the status as South Africas most laid-back city, thanks partly to a low crime rate, lively cultural scene, rugged landscapes and glorious beaches. However, all this is tempered by the 'informal settlements' (shanty towns) that dominate the Cape Flats, the vast plain stretching east of Table Mountain. This is where most of the 'coloured' and black communities were relocated under apartheid, and they continue to live here in appalling conditions. Cape Town boasts a train line running north to south from the seafront in Cape Town to False Bay, passing through Observatory, Rondebosch, Newlands, Claremont, Wynberg and terminating in Fish Hoek. There is also a bus service but this like the Metrorail - is pretty rudimentary. Shared taxis are in plentiful supply along the major thoroughfares but caution is advised: crime is relatively rare, but it still exists. Given the limitations of the local public transport - and that Cape Town's unique geography means her associated parts are often to be found on opposite sides of a mountain ridge - owning a car is practically essential.

Atlantic Seaboard

Just ten minutes by car from the city centre, stretched along the white beaches at the base of the western slopes of the Table Mountain range, are the highly coveted residential areas of Camps Bay, Fresnaye, Bantry Bay and Clifton. With awe-inspiring views of the ocean from almost every property, the Atlantic Seaboard is the very embodiment of 'des-res', and boasts the highest real estate prices in Africa. Houses range from beach bungalows to vast villas around Camps Bay and Clifton, with seafront apartment blocks being the dominant architecture of Fresnaye and Bantry Bay. Camps Bay's beach promenade is lined with cafs, bistros, discotheques and restaurants and is the place to be seen during the long summer months. Other than a respectable secondary school in Camps Bay, basic amenities are quite thin on the ground - but with the city lurking just over the crest of the hill, such trivialities hardly matter.

Blouberg Coast

Running north from Cape Town around the rim of Table Bay are the towns of Blouberg, Milnerton and Tableview, all of which have experienced exponential growth over the last decade as developers have cashed in on the cheap seaside land that runs uninterrupted up to Namibia and beyond. The explosion of building has put beach-side living within the reach of the middle-income bracket, and has attracted young families in their droves. Unfortunately, the rapid spread of suburbia has given rise to a sprawl of modular homes that has left the area with no real hub and precious little atmosphere. Furthermore, the growth of the area appears to have outpaced the provision of infrastructure, and water shortages, sewage disposal problems and rush-hour jams are on the rise. However, the beaches are perfect and the views across the bay to Table Mountain are stunning. There is a wide range of property in the area including houses, apartments and security complexes. There are also three government schools and four private schools in the immediate environs. The Canal Walk shopping centre, located about 5km inland, is one of the best malls in the country, and entertainment is provided by beach-front restaurants, cafes and clubs. The bay is world-famous for its kitesurfing and windsurfing and, accordingly, for its very strong winds. Golfers can choose from the Milnerton links course, dating from the 1920s, or the posh new Atlantic Beach course.

Bo Kaap/Waterkant

Tucked just south of the Waterfront, clinging to the northern foot of Signal Hill, lie the Cape Malay quarters of Bo Kaap and Waterkant. The neighbourhood was first settled in the early 19th century by freed Muslim slaves of the Dutch-East Indian Trading Company, and the area, dotted with mosques, minarets and colourfully painted houses, remains faithful to its heritage. In recent years the area has seen an influx of wealthy hipsters, boutiques and ultra-cool restaurants and bars, but the neighbourhoods roots are still in rude health. Properties tend to be either renovated artisan houses or chic loft-style apartments reclaimed from the old warehouses that once served the nearby harbour.

City Bowl

Hemmed in by the sheer face of Table Mountain and the city centre are the sought-after residential districts of Tamboerskloof, Gardens, Vredehoek, Oranjezicht and Higgovale. Despite the close proximity to the city centre, the area exudes a serenity born of the stunning backdrop and intelligent city planning, which has kept high-rise monsters at bay. The City Bowl's infrastructure is that of a modern European city, with excellent shopping malls and a myriad of entertainment options catering to all tastes. The resident population is almost exclusively professional, edging towards the higher-income end of the scale. Primary schools are in plentiful supply, but secondary students tend to make the trip to the nearby Southern Suburbs. The actual central business district is compact, but hasn't got much to offer beside office space. A large regeneration project, using Cape Town's glitzy new International Convention Centre as its focus, is hoping to breathe new life into the downtown area.

Constantia, Tokai & Bishopscourt

Set above and just south of the Southern Suburbs lie the salubrious settlements of Constantia, Tokai and Bishopscourt, where enormous houses sit in leafy grounds behind tall walls. Groot Constantia, the Cape's oldest vineyard, is located in the area, and land that has not been sequestered by villas and mansions is given over to viticulture, polo and parkland. Given the exclusivity of the area, there is no real hub, and the few amenities on offer are discretely tucked away. But with the Southern Suburbs, Hout Bay and False Bay all nearby, the local residents are within a short car journey from most major facilities including schools and hospitals. A trip to the city centre takes around 25 minutes, but perhaps double that time during rush-hour.

False Bay

Dotted along the western coast of False Bay are the towns of Muizenberg, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simons Town. The area lies about 25km from the centre of Cape Town and is linked to the city by the railway and the N4 motorway. Simons Town has long been the home of one of South Africa's principal naval bases, whilst the rest of the area started life as the summer retreat of Cape Town's propertied class. The legacy of the coastline's haughty past is a faded grandeur, with 'faded' being the operative word. But with the motorway bringing the area within easy reach of the city, False Bay is now enjoying a revival. New properties are springing up in the vicinity of Muizenberg, whilst the elegant Victorian buildings of trendy Kalk Bay are slowly being revamped. Amenities such as shopping and schools are not yet quite up to scratch, but are within driving distance. False Bays leisure activities revolve around the ocean - despite the growing number of shark attacks - and the great outdoors, but there are also plenty of passable bars and restaurants around Kalk Bay.

Hout Bay

Situated 20km south-west of Cape Town is the picturesque seaside town of Hout Bay which boasts safe beaches, walking trails, horse-riding, beautiful homes and wonderful heritage sights. It is also the gateway to Chapman's Peak Drive, one of the most spectacular stretches of coastal road in the world. Although this fast-growing satellite settlement has managed to keep hold of its village atmosphere, its dependence on tourism is beginning to threaten its authenticity. The majority of the population is made up of transient holiday-home owners and weekend commuters, and the basic amenities reflect this. That aside, Hout Bay still boasts a small working harbour and a couple of adequate local schools, but major commercial and after-hour activities are in desperately short supply.

Llandudno

Nestling 18km south-west of the city centre in the seaboard folds of the Table Mountain range is the super-exclusive coastal village of Llandudno, which boasts one of the most beautiful beaches in Africa. But 'village' is perhaps a misleading description for this collection of luxury beach houses. By common community consent, shops and all related commercial activities, including bars and restaurants, have been banned from the cove, leaving precious little to do save sit on your money and enjoy the fabulous views. A short walk down the coast will get you to Sandy Bay, the Cape's nudist beach and gay stamping ground, but for anything else you will need a car, or an errand boy.

Northern Suburbs

Cape Towns so-called Northern Suburbs lie around 15km to the north-east of the city centre, straddling the N1 motorway which connects the Mother City to South Africa's vast interior. Cape Town's recent growth has given rise to a gradual exodus of housing and industry to the hinterlands, and nowhere is the creeping spread of suburbia more evident than around the towns of Bellville, Parow and Durbanville. Developers have taken advantage of the open expanses of the Tygerberg Valley to construct spacious and affordable free-standing houses around the old town centres. There has been a sharp increase in construction over the last decade, but planning has been orderly and the area remains well groomed, with enough open spaces and amenities to attract the young families that make up the bulk of the inhabitants. Traffic becomes a problem around rush hour, but larger businesses have begun to follow their workers out of the city and several business parks have sprung up in recent years. Large, upmarket and modern shopping centres also pepper the area, as do sports facilities, but restaurants and bars are a little thin on the ground. Schools are in plentiful supply and of good standing, but the lingua franca reflects that of the majority of the locals: Afrikaans.

Observatory

Despite the image that the name might conjure, the district of Observatory is not perched on the summit of Table Mountain but at its eastern foot, tucked around the corner from the city centre but within easy reach of just about every destination in the cape peninsular. 'Obs' is Cape Town's bohemian suburb, and it has both the blessings and the drawbacks of that title. The main strip, Lower Main Road, has a distinct 'villagey' vibe, and is a hive of happening bars, restaurants, theatres and health food stores. But street corners are not places to dally; crime is a problem, and the swings and slides of the area's various miniature parks are more likely to be occupied by winos than by wee children. In fact, kids are few and far between; the non-hipster inhabitants are mainly students at the nearby University of Cape Town and young medics working at Groote Schuur hospital. The area's architecture dates back to Victorian times and the houses, although all majestic and spacious, have by and large seen better days.

Sea Point & Green Point

Nestling to the west of Cape Town on the seaboard slopes of Lions Head are the residential suburbs of Green Point and Sea Point. Both areas are served by good schools (mostly primary) and decent private medical clinics. Green Point, so called for its various sporting clubs and facilities, is within a stone's throw of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and the city centre, and has become one of the city's most sought-after areas. Sea Point, being just slightly further out, is a little less salubrious, but it is not without its charms. The area has a vibe that swings between trendy and seedy, and boasts all sorts of amenities, from designer boutiques to massage parlours. The foreshore of both areas is dominated by high-rise apartment blocks, but houses populate the slopes of the mountain, with prices risings in line with the altitude. There are no beaches in this neck of the woods, but the seafront is lined by a lengthy promenade which is patrolled 24/7 by a curious mix of young mothers, fitness fanatics, romantics and winos. Green Point is as close to the centre of the city's nightlife as you can get, and its restaurants, bars and pubs are the place to be seen if you are bercool or gay or both.

Somerset West

The town of Somerset West - named after Lord Charles Somerset, a former governor of the Cape Colony - is located 45km south-east of the city centre on the N2 motorway and at the foot of Hottentots mountains. Follow the N2 over the range and you hit the Cape's winelands; keep going and you reach the Garden Route. The town also lies near the shores of False Bay on the warm Indian Ocean side of the cape peninsula. Given the distance from Cape Town, Somerset West should be considered an independent entity with most of its inhabitants employed in the various agricultural and manufacturing enterprises in the area. The town is also popular with the older generation, and those Capetonians who enjoy a country atmosphere and who don't mind a long commute. Shoppers are well served by the mammoth Somerset Mall, but there's not much nightlife to be had out here; entertainment in these parts is derived almost exclusively from Mother Nature. The area has a couple of above-average independent schools but, as is the norm across the Cape, most children commute to the Southern Suburbs for lessons.

Southern Suburbs

The leafy Southern Suburbs lie on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain, approximately 10km from the city centre, and comprise the prestigious districts of Rondebosch, Mowbray, Newlands, Claremont and Wynberg. These are the Cape's most established suburbs and boast some fine old houses. Indeed, Wynberg has the highest concentration of historical buildings in South Africa and was duly designated as a conservation area in 1981. Newlands is the sporting capital of the country, and Rondebosch is home to the stunning University of Cape Town, built on land bequeathed by Cecil John Rhodes. There is a huge variety of quality property available, with large townhouses being the principal dwelling of choice. The area is dotted with outstanding private schools and there are also a number of first-class private and government hospitals and other medical facilities. The commercial heart of the area is Claremont, with Wynberg and Rondebosch coming close behind. There is easy access to major motorways, and outdoor enthusiasts are well served by the Table Mountain range, the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and Maynardville Park. The Southern Suburbs after-hours scene has no real hub, but most of the Cape's most renowned restaurants and watering holes are scattered throughout the area.

Waterfront

The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront sits at the heart of Cape Town's working harbour and has become South Africa's most visited tourist destination since its regeneration in the early 1990s. The harbour buildings date back to 1860, when Prince Alfred, Queen Victoria's second son, tipped the rock for construction of the breakwater. The original buildings have now been renovated and new ones built in the same Victorian style. The V&A now comprises a host of shopping and entertainment venues, state-of-the-art office locations, world-class hotels and luxury apartments in the residential marina. Its handy location and designer flats have made the Waterfront one of Cape Town's prime 'des-res' areas, and flat prices and rent are on the up and up.