Live Like a Local With Our Top Ten Alternative Things To Do In Cape Town
Cape Town is one of the world’s favourite destinations because it is indisputably beautiful with more than its fair share of natural wonders. However, I’ve noticed tourists always seem to gravitate to the same attractions – Table Mountain, Camp’s Bay Beach and the Waterfront – and, don’t get me wrong, these tried and tested classics are great; but what about stepping out of the main frame and exploring the Mother City like a local? For every major attraction, I’ve provided an alternate, lesser-known and locally loved hot spot.
I challenge you to cast away your guide book and explore some of these beauties:
1. A mountain that’s not Table Mountain
What’s the number one icon associated with the fairest Cape? Table Mountain of course! Gracefully watching over the city, the cloud-covered Table tends to monopolise Cape Town’s mountains, making us forget that there are plenty of other peaks to ascend.
Chapman’s Peak is not only known as a prime picnic location, it also happens to boast some of the city’s most beautiful hikes. Gaze out over the Atlantic Ocean, Hout Bay, Fish Hoek, Gordon’s Bay and the Constantia Berg Mountain Range and marvel at one of the Cape’s greatest vistas. Breathe in the sweet scent of fynbos (South Africa’s famed floral biome), watch out for swift sunbirds, and bring binoculars to look for whales in the vast blue below. If hiking is not your thing then pack a picnic instead, head to one of the allocated look-out points and sip sun downers as you watch the sun dip down seeping colour into the sky.
Runner’s Up: Karbonkelberg near Sandy Bay (the city’s infamous nudist beach) and Steenberg Peak in Silvermine Nature Reserve.
2. A beach that’s not Boulder’s Beach, Clifton or Camp’s Bay
Circumvent the ever-popular penguins at Boulder’s beach, Clifton, and Camp’s Bay to explore some of the Cape’s lesser known sandy havens. If you’re not concerned about cruising with the cool crowd and would rather avoid beaches populated with bronzed beauties en masse then head slightly further afield to Witsands.
Tucked away at the mouth of the Breede River in the Cape South Coast region, Witsands beach is particularly known for its glistening white sands, whales and waves, making it a popular nook for the surfing and kite-surfing crew.
Three hours is, admittedly, a fair distance away from the Mother City but once you arrive and witness the serene sands for yourself, it will all feel worthwhile. It’s a Blue Flag Beach with an estuary that attracts myriad birds making it a favoured retreat for nature lovers. It’s also known as Southern Africa’s whale nursery because of the numerous whales that frequent the vicinity in season to calve.
Runners-up: Danger beach in False Bay (don’t let the name put you off, it’s quite safe), Muizenberg Beach (here you can learn to surf or volunteer to teach children to surf), Long beach in Kommetjie and Beta beach in Bakoven (this is a local favourite that’s well worth a visit).
3. A historical gem that’s not the V&A Waterfront or Robben island
The V&A Waterfront is a favourite tourist destination primarily due to the history of its harbour and its shopping and dining opportunities. Robben Island is, of course, where our beloved Madiba was imprisoned for 27 years. Both of these places tend to be the city’s most historically renowned locations, but there are certainly many other options to explore.
The Cape Town City Hall is a gorgeous Edwardian building erected in 1905. Located to the west of the Castle, its design is the result of a public competition which was won by architects Harry Austin Reid and Frederick George Green. The limestone that it is built from was imported from Bath in England, and its organ was specially designed by Sir George Martin, the organist from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The tower’s turret clock strikes every hour, while its carillon (a musical instrument consisting of bells) serves as a memorial to World War One.
On the 11th February 1990, Nelson Mandela made his first public address after his release from prison from the City Hall’s balcony, and today, the building hosts multiple cultural concerts and events. It’s not only its historical side that’s impressive – it really is a lovely design and it’s in a great part of town, close to the Book Lounge, Fugard Theatre and Truth Coffee.
Runners-up: The Bo Kaap Museum (in Cape Town’s most colourful hot spot) and Groot Constantia (think shady tree-lined avenues and bottles of crisp white wine).
4. A street that’s not Long Street or Kloof Street
If you find Long Street passé and are on the hunt for a new hipster highway then get your best skinny jeans on, bristle that beard and venture forth to Bree Street, home of some of the city’s most vibrant restaurants and bars. It’s subculture-central bustling with creativity, from modern galleries, to unique furniture shops and sleek, chic boutiques.
Pop into Orinoco for a taco tapas, visit Jason Bakery for the Cape’s favourite coffee and croissants, head to Clarkes to mingle and munch burgers, venture to Brewers&Union for a beer or two, wine and dine at Publik, admire the beauty of Birds Boutique and sample sensational cocktails from Orphanage. On Saturdays, visit the South African Market (SAM) for carefully crafted local artworks and artefacts, and on the first Thursday of every month, be sure to incorporate Bree into your art-walk agenda.
Runners-up: Park Road in Tamboerskloof (home of Fat Cactus and Rick’s American Café), Derry Street in Vredehoek (home of the Red Sofa Café, The Sidewalk Café and Carlyles) and Roodebloem Road in Woodstock (home of colourful buildings and Jamaica Me Crazy).
5. A gallery that’s not the National Gallery
Narrowing down Cape Town’s galleries is nearly impossible as art is such a subjective pursuit. The National Gallery is rather lovely, located in the Company Gardens and hosting a permanent collection of African, historical, modern and contemporary works, including well-known examples from the likes of Irma Stern, Jane Alexander, Gerard Sekota, Penny Siopsis and Kendall Geers.
If you’re more of a contemporary art fan then peruse the World Art Gallery in Church Street, which specialises in managing and marketing South African artists and their work. There’s a definite lean towards urban and pop painting styles and the exhibitions change frequently.
If you’re like me, and simply can’t decide which galleries to visit then why not visit them all? First Thursdays happens on the first Thursday of every month and involves a number of galleries, restaurants and boutiques opening their doors until 9pm to allow the public to browse. There’s plenty of wine and snacks on offer and the atmosphere is always festive making it a pleasant night out.
Runners-up: The Cape Gallery, Salon 91, Lovell Gallery, Stevenson Gallery, Goodman Gallery and What if the World.
6. A neighbourhood that’s not Camp’s Bay or Woodstock
If your pocket can’t withstand the rather frightening prices of Camp’s Bay’s all-too-hip hot spots and you’re tired of mingling with the famous and fabulous; you might need to retreat to trendy Tamboerskloof. Woodstock is all very well with its multiple shabby-chic warehouses and chaotic revelry, but there’s something enticing about Tamboerskloof’s more laid back pace and Jacaranda-adorned streets. And I’m not just saying that because I live there.
It’s a quaint neighbourhood, with slightly dilapidated Victorian-style buildings decked out in pretty colours, with latticed balconies overlooking Table Mountain. Cats of all descriptions rule the streets and the neighbourhood park is the place where mums and tots assemble for their daily play-dates. Don’t be fooled by the slower pace however; Tamboerskloof is home to a number of lively restaurants including the Power & the Glory, the adorable bunny-themed Peter’s House, the cosy Tamboerswinkel and the raucous Rafikis. It’s also within walking distance from Kloof and Long Street, and the Central Business District.
Runners-up: De Waterkant (flamboyant, historical houses and boutiques), Observatory (gritty street scenes and vibrant bars) and Kalk Bay (a busy harbour with bookstores and boutiques).
7. A wine route that’s not Stellenbosch
Stellies is superb – the student town is rich in white-washed Cape Dutch buildings, oak-lined avenues, upmarket restaurants, and, of course, the multiple wine farms that make up the world-famous Stellenbosch Wine Route. The undulating vineyards of Stellies tend to overshadow some of the country’s alternative grape offerings, including the world-class Constantia Valley vineyards.
The Constantia Wine Route is perfect for a fun day out with friends and family – think verdant vines, shady oaks, rolling lawns and sun-kissed harvests. Stop in at Steenberg, the Cape’s oldest registered farm, to sample the estate’s unique terroir including the Nebbiolo and Methode Cap Classique.
Next, head to Constantia Uitsig for outstanding views and vintages, and then drive to Buitenverwachting for a delectable lunch on the mountain-facing terrace, accompanied by award-winning wines. Groot Constantia is another must for the tasting agenda as it is the Cape’s oldest wine producing estate, founded by Simon van der Stel in 1685.
Follow this up with a trip to Eagles Nest where you can taste sumptuous wines in the serene garden, and then drive up the hill to Constantia Glen, which offers wonderful cheese platters, outstanding wines and a breath-taking view of the valley. End your day with tapas and wine at the modern and intimate Beau Constantia.
Runners-up: Durbanville Wine Route (equally wonderful with a fantastic selection of vineyards).
8. A market that’s not the Old Biscuit Mill
If you’re not the crowd-loving, artisan-seeking sort with a passion for standing in queues and jostling others for free honey samples then you may want to give the Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill a miss. It really does have some lovely stuff but its remarkable popularity means that it gets inundated every Saturday and you have to contend with other folks for everything, from parking to pizza.
The Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay is gaining in popularity as well, but it’s not quite as crazy and it has some great stalls supporting local vendors. Every Friday from 5pm onwards there’s a live music act so you can select your supper from the numerous tasty food offerings available and then soak up the vibe as you eat. There are lots of treasures on offer, from exquisite antiques to artisanal clothing and arts and crafts. Once you’ve explored the market, visit the seals in the harbour and take a stroll along the Hout Bay Beach.
Runners-up: Blue Bird Garage Market (Muizenberg), Cape Point Vineyards (Noordhoek) and the Porter Estate Market (Tokai forest).
9. A sunset that’s not Signal Hill
Signal Hill is the city’s prime sunset watching spot – it’s a flat-topped hill situated next to Lion’s Head which offers panoramic views of Cape Town. Unfortunately, because of its fame, you’re going to be elbowing tourists for picnic blanket space and you’ll probably have to contend with not-so-restful tunes being blasted from the cell phone of the person sitting next to you. It’s worth a visit because of its view and history – it’s the home of the South African Navy’s noon gun – but the large crowds don’t make for a romantic evening out.
Tucked away from the crowds, Oudekraal forms part of the Table Mountain National Park region and consists of a stunning little beach, large boulders and a grassy picnic and braai area. It’s historically and spiritually significant due to it being used as a slave refuge in the 18th century, sheltering various Muslim spiritual leaders. Today, it’s a gorgeous spot to enjoy a braai or clamber up a boulder and witness the sunset – the combination of turquoise waters and fiery skies makes this my top sundown viewing location.
Runners-up: Llandudno (beautiful beach with great big boulders for sunset watching).
10. A braai that’s not Mzolis
If you’ve ever spent five minutes in a South African’s company, you’ll know how sacred the braai is in our culture. One’s ability to braai is a measure of one’s manliness – adept handling of tongs and boerewors (much-loved type of sausage) dictates status in society. A braai is similar to a barbecue – coals, flame (the bigger the better) and lots of meat.
Let’s just put this out there – Mzolis is fantastic and if you’re looking for a meat extravaganza (it’s known as Gugulethu’s Church of Meat) in a township setting then it can’t be topped. However, Die Strandloper in Langebaan is to seafood what Mzolis is to meat.
What could possibly be better than a seafood braai on the beach? And this is not just any braai – expect ten courses of the freshest seafood sensations, including mussels in garlic butter, braaied snoek (barbecued fish), waterblommetjie bredie (stew-like dish made with Cape pond weed), smoked angelfish (smoked fish), stompneus (another local fish) and fish curry, along with koeksisters (deep-fried, crispy, syrupy doughnuts), and fresh farm bread and home-made jam.
Lunch starts at 12 and ends somewhere around six in the evening. Guests are encouraged to dress for the beach, bring games and musical instruments and embrace the relaxed-festive atmosphere. This is South African dining and hospitality at its finest.
So that concludes my list of the top ten alternative attractions to explore in Cape Town. I hope they have inspired you to find some other secret spots during your travels. Cape Town is the city of my heart – it’s my home and my love, which makes me slightly biased when I say that it is the best city in the world. I hope you come and visit soon and have the most wonderful time getting lost in the Rainbow Nation’s hypnotic rhythms and unparalleled creative culture.
If you’re travelling on beyond Cape Town check out one of our previous blogs for our Top 10 Things To Do In South Africa.
I hope you found this blog useful. I’d love to hear your feedback. Have you spent time in Cape Town? Please add to our list if you feel I’ve left somewhere special out. Please leave your comments below.
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