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Must Dos in Cape Town
A locally-inspired overview of offbeat Mother City sightseeing alternatives and activities
While it’s a well-known fact that Cape Town is rife with premier sightseeing activities and tourist attractions (think Table Mountain, Robben Island and Cape Point), this dynamic city also claims an abundance of options that are still quintessentially Capetonian, but that lie somewhat under the radar. While a little more removed from your archetypal round-up of text-book things to do, these alternatives have garnered almost institutional status amongst locals, and are ideal for anyone searching for activities that are slightly off the beaten track.
With such options in mind, what follows is a comprehensive overview of lesser-known yet still iconic must-dos in the Mother City. Whether you’re a novice tourist on a first-time vacation, a seasoned visitor that’s holidayed here multiple times before or simply a city dweller eager to get in on those things that are considered so classically (but quietly) Cape Town, this guide is set to be your new local best friend.
Watch the Rugby at Foresters Arms
Established in its original form way back in 1852, this much-loved Newlands pub and restaurant was, for many years before becoming an eatery and sports fanatics’ haven, both a resting place for woodsmen working in the surrounding forest (hence the name) and an inn for weary travellers passing by on horse-drawn carts. Today, Forries – as it is affectionately known by its regular patrons (many of them students from the nearby University of Cape Town) – is well recognised as something of a Southern Suburbs institution, having quenched the thirsts and satiated the appetites of multiple generations with an extensive range of on-tap beers, wines, cocktails, liquors and whiskies and a broad array of delicious, fresh dishes and traditional pub fare. Though, with five television screens inside and two that are set up in the outdoor area on sports days, this laidback spot is also a favourite venue for catching a rugby match (a veritable South African religion), with a few friends and a cold one in tow.
52 Newlands Avenue | Newlands | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 689 5949
Browse for White Elephants at Milnerton Flea Market
Born some 20 years ago in Milnerton (it since relocated to a tarmac seaside stretch in Paarden Eiland), this extensive, informal open-air bazaar is both one of Cape Town’s longest running, landmark markets and a utopia for bargain-seekers, junk addicts and collectors of genuine antiques and dusty old odds and ends . While items in all imaginable forms can be found here, the fair is most famed for second-hand goods, discarded bric-a-brac and, well, a wide assortment of white elephants (think vintage vases, chipped mugs, old records, bathroom taps, accordion cameras, bird cages, brass door knockers, glassware, rusty African masks and more). What’s more, if browsers work up an appetite while rummaging through the heaps of ‘trash’ for that one rare treasure (a thrilling quest that’s a big part of the market’s appeal), the souk also features a selection of trailer-like food stalls serving anything from pancakes and Aylesbury ice cream to cheese grillers and curry mince. Though a far cry from Cape Town’s many upscale city centre artisan bazaars, this lively trading space is nonetheless an important part of an authentic Mother City experience.
Marine Drive (R27) and Milner Road Intersection | Paarden Eiland | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 551 7879
Read more about the Milnerton Flea Market.
Hike up Lion’s Head
As much as this sphinx-shaped mountain forms a distinctive part of the Mother City skyline, for years it’s also provided Capetonians with an age-old favourite pastime: climbing to its peak to soak up spectacular 360-degree views over the city and coastline. The hike – which, at a leisurely pace, takes no longer than an hour and a half one-way – carries walkers on a winding, scenic path up the mountainside (there are some steeper rocky precipices that need to be scaled too), and is something of a local tradition at full moon when, from the summit, hikers can take in the spectacular aerial sight of the fiery sun setting and plump orange moon rising simultaneously. The flat top is ideal for resting while sipping on sundowners (it’s recommended climbers bring a bottle of wine or bubbly), and nibbling on snacks, and, on busy evenings when large numbers of locals flock in, the atmosphere up there is nothing short of electric. Of course, ascending this peak at any time of the day is also just a good way to exercise while taking part in something considered quintessentially Capetonian.
Read more about Cape Town’s hikes and trails.
Buy a Bouquet at Adderley Street Flower Market
For more than a century, this historic market space – the largest of its kind in Cape Town – has been decorating a short stretch of city centre street daily (Monday to Saturday) with bucket upon bucket of bright bunches of well-priced, freshly-cut blooms. An almost endless variety of seasonal blossoms in flashes of exotic colour are available (both in mixed bespoke bouquets and individually), and the animated peddlers, who, in many cases, are the grandchildren of the founders of the flower fair, are as much of a sightseeing attraction as the glorious medleys of roses, proteas, poppies and lilies themselves –listening to their quirky tales is certainly as essential to the experience as purchasing a pretty stem or two. Needless to say, when looking to enliven a space with a splash of bold hues and heady scents, stopping in at this Cape Town cultural icon is a must.
Between Strand Street and Daring Street | City Centre | Cape Town
Eat Fish and Chips in Hout Bay
Snacking on a hearty helping of greasy fish and chips is about as classically Capetonian as it comes; and there are few better places to engage in this timeless tradition than in Hout Bay (just a 20-minute drive from Cape Town’s CBD). It’s recommended that anyone craving a freshly-caught, no-frills meal take a leisurely drive to the fishing village’s bustling harbour, and pop in at Mariner’s Wharf, Africa’s first harbour-front emporium, established back in 1984. While the charming portside centre claims a world-class seafood restaurant upstairs, the Wharfette Bistro on the lower level, a casual take-away outlet on the water’s edge, offers a more authentic experience for those looking to lunch on tasty, out-of-a-box finger fare straight from the surrounding ocean. In addition to your classic grilled hake and chips, the bistro-cum-canteen also dishes up a wide range of other on-the-go seafood options – including prawns, lobster, calamari, sole and snoek – over the counter, which are best enjoyed sitting at the heavy wooden tables outside or while lazing amidst seagulls and salty breezes on the adjacent jetty. Not to mention, patrons also have the option of picnicking on the nearby beach right next to their fresh food’s glistening source.
Mariner’s Wharf | Hout Bay Harbour | Hout Bay | +27 (0) 21 790 110
Feed the Squirrels at the Company’s Garden
A verdant oasis in the middle of the city centre, this lush park and registered heritage site was founded in 1652 by early European settlers as a horticultural half-way house used to supply ships travelling to the east with fresh produce – it’s therefore a highly historic spot that marks the start of the Western colonisation of SA. Today, with an abundance of flora, sprawling lawns perfect for lazing and picnicking, multiple walkways amongst ancient trees, a rose and herb patch, an aviary, a colourful fish pond and a charming tea room, the gardens are a cherished respite and popular leisure pursuit for Cape Town’s public. Still, perhaps one of the activities it is most frequented and well known for is feeding peanuts (they can be bought from informal vendors) to the many squirrels that dart and frolic in and amongst the foliage (there’s even a white one to look out for). These endearing little Cape creatures have, in fact, become so tame and accustomed to humans here that they will eat straight out of the hand, making this a great way to see and interact with them up close and a delightful pursuit for young kids (and many an adult).
Queen Victoria Street |City Centre | Cape Town
Have a Pint at Perseverance Tavern
One of South Africa’s first licensed pubs (the then inn started serving liquor to seafarers, travellers and District Six locals back in 1836), this unassuming traditional watering hole has stayed true to its name, lasting through the times and preserving much of Cape Town’s heritage within its age-old walls. Naturally then, there are few more enjoyable ways to journey into the city’s past than by sipping on a good ol’ cold jug of beer or chilled glass of wine either inside or in the back courtyard amongst remnants of days gone by (décor accessories include some of the Cape’s first electric street lamps, historical paintings and an original 19th century menu). To complement its broad medley of drinks, the large laidback city centre bar, which is known by most as ‘Persies’ and which won the prestigious ‘Pub of the Year’ award in 1985, also flaunts a diverse and delicious menu featuring, amongst other pub grub, beef burgers, steaks, pork ribs, bangers and mash and deep-fried calamari.
83 Buitenkant Street | Gardens | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 461 2440
Braai at Mzoli’s (also known as Mzoli’s Place, Mzoli’s Meat, Mzoli’s Butchery and Kwa-Mzoli)
Started informally out of a garage in 2003, this Gugulethu-based butchery-cum-thriving social hangout has fast developed into Cape Town’s hottest township attraction, pulling in throngs of seasoned locals and curious foreigners. While thumping house music and general merry making are staples, day and night, at this festive institution, it’s the trusty, time-old SA tradition of braaiing meat that lies at its foundation. Guests can pick their own cuts of succulent beef, lamb, pork and chicken from the butchery counter, and then, once they’ve been barbequed on fires out back, dig in to these delicious marinated mounds of meat off tin plates at one of the many tables in the adjacent covered canteen. Traditional African starches like pap and samp and beans are also available and diners can bring their own booze (which can be bought from nearby shebeens). The ambience is always vibrant, the space always alive with a melting pot of diverse cultures, and the experience unequivocally, uniquely South African.
NY115 |Shop 3 | Gugulethu | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 638 1355
Read more about Mzoli’s.
Party at Café Caprice
As home to the Mother City’s swanky, sexy, affluent and eminent (think celebrities, supermodels and sport stars), this well-located Camps Bay sidewalk café has carved a firm and enduring niche in Cape Town’s party scene, cementing itself as a well-known institution of beachside revelry. While, with splendid sea views and a comfy lounge area, it’s an ideal spot for sundowners in the early evening – the eatery serves up a broad mix of classic and ‘Caprice-style’ cocktails, as well as a solid selection of wines, beers and bubbles – after dark it transforms into something of a booze-fuelled playground for the well-dressed and who’s who. What’s more, a number of different DJs – DJ Sox is the resident deck man – spin commercial, lounge and house grooves (golden oldies are played on Sunday evenings) until the wee hours of the morning. Needless to say, if there’s one must-do perch to party on in the Mother City, it would be this one.
37 Victoria Road | Camps Bay | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 438 8315
Participate in Pub Quiz at The Fireman’s Arms
Widely regarded as one of the oldest surviving watering holes in Cape Town (it was established in 1864 to service passing sailors with a tipple or ten), this traditional haunt, with its maritime memorabilia and old-world ambience, makes for a fine setting to test the intellect and awaken those brain cells, the focus of their weekly quiz night. Held every Thursday evening from 8pm, this two hour-long social but competitive affair challenges pub-goers’ general knowledge with a diverse selection of tricky questions in a number of different categories, including art and literature, music, geography, history (an especially appropriate one) and current affairs. Spot prizes in the form of shooters are up for grabs throughout the night and a grand hamper is awarded to the weekly winner (read biggest geek). What’s more, for those looking to get festive, the bar serves a wide range of premium beers and wines, as well as a good ol’ traditional brandy and coke (a drink that can easily be considered as much of a local institution as the venue itself), and for the hungry, there’s a wide selection of hearty pub fare, soups, pizza and salads.
Corner of Buitengracht and Mechau Street | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 419 1513
Take a Train to Simon’s Town
While doing a day trip to this breathtaking coastal town via rail is an especially inexpensive (and scenic) means of travel, it also happens to afford a special and unique Mother City experience and an unusual way to view the breathtaking shoreline of the Cape Peninsula. The Metrorail route – which features trains that run at regular intervals – carries passengers from various points throughout central Cape Town and the Southern Suburbs along a part of the rocky False Bay coast, hugging the water’s edge, through surfing hotspot Muizenberg, charming fishing village Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Glencairn and on to quaint SA naval base and historic neighbourhood Simon’s Town. Along the way, travellers can hop off at a number of different sites (Brass Bell restaurants and pubs, which sits on the rocks of Kalk Bay, is a great pit stop for delicious pizza, live music and drinks, being as much of a well-loved institution as the train ride itself), and while the final destination boasts many attractions – the Boulders African penguin colony, a scratch patch and assortment of museums – it is the actual excursion and the joys of railway travel that make for the highlight of this classic Cape Town journey.
Drink Tea at Rhodes Memorial
Built as a temple of sorts to honour the memory of British-born SA colonialist Cecil John Rhodes, this grand monument on the slopes of Devil’s Peak now claims a charming cottage-style restaurant and leafy alfresco tea garden to match its panoramic views. Naturally, engaging in the English pastime of drinking tea here is not only appropriate but an enjoyable way to engage with Cape heritage. In addition to the more standard rooibos, Ceylon and Earl Grey brews, the quaint eatery also makes up an array of innovative health blends in various flavours, including Lively Lime and Orange Infusion, Italian Almond, Peppermint and English Toffee, and Acai Berry, Pomegranate and Vanilla. Pots of these refreshing infusions are best paired with a homemade sweet or savoury snack – a scone, muffin, brownie, lemon meringue or milk tart, perhaps – whipped up in the working on-site bakery. Though, for those seeking something a little more substantial, there’s also an assortment of fresh, delicious dishes, as well as a few (fittingly) traditional Cape specialities, such as bredie, Ostrich Bobotie and Cape Malay Chicken Curry.
Rhodes Memorial | Rondebosch | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 687 000
Listen to Live Music at Zula Sound Bar
While regularly playing host to a whole horde of dynamic events (including theatre, dance, balkanology parties and stand-up comedy), this long-time Long Street favourite has garnered institutional status as one of Cape Town’s top, most-loved spots to jam to a little local live music. In the many years it’s been open, the funked-up venue has featured an impressive assortment of both established and up-and-coming South African bands and solo artists (Freshlyground, The Arrows, Mr Cat & The Jackal and Grassy Spark are a few examples), and as it boasts a number of diverse upstairs and downstairs sections and three different stages, revellers can move between various eclectic musical genres (from hip hop to dubstep to alternative rock) in one evening. A well-stocked bar downstairs keeps liquor flowing and spirits high, and the cafe’s kitchen dishes up a selection of fresh fare, including their celebrated pizzas. All in all, this vibrant sound venue and its various offerings make for a top-notch environment within which to experience authentic local talent.
98 Long Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 424 2442
Read more about Zula Sound Bar.
Stroll along the Sea Point Promenade
As one of the first areas in Cape Town to be desegregated after apartheid (for some time it was exclusively white), Sea Point and its extensive beachside walkway have played a prominent historical role in promoting cultural and racial diversity. Hence, today, a leisurely amble along this scenic paved esplanade, which features a famed public swimming pool complex and boasts splendid ocean and mountain vistas, is both a great way to experience a truly cosmopolitan and heritage-rich Cape Town and a highly popular, must-do Mother City activity. Aside from being a long-time favourite for a relaxed saunter with family or friends, this vibrant seaside stretch attracts large numbers of locals and tourists alike as an ideal spot for jogging, walking dogs, exercising (the greenbelt flaunts the city’s first outdoor gym), people watching, enjoying sundowners at one of the promenade bars, picnicking or playing a casual game of soccer (there are sprawling grassy areas along a significant part of the walkway). In essence, for both grown-ups and children, seasoned professionals and surfer-types, spending regular time on this strip is an integral part of Cape Town culture.
Tuck into a Steak at Nelson’s Eye
Having opened its doors to Mother City meat lovers back in the early 1960s, this old-school, pub-like steakhouse has been dishing up succulent, superior cuts of meat for several decades now – a legacy that’s gone some way to cementing the restaurant in the minds of the masses as a long-time master of the trade. With a warm, woody ambience and various references to the regal admiral Horatio Nelson, the eatery oozes with history, making it a fine, character-filled spot to indulge in a solid chunk of tender, wet-aged steak; diners are encouraged to pick their own raw cuts at the grill and can choose between rump, sirloin, fillet or T-bone, or select quality slices of game (such as springbok loin or ostrich fillet). For those less inclined to the time-old South African tradition of tearing into pieces of meat, the restaurant does also offers a range of seafood, starters and fresh salads. Still, it’s a taste of the delicious super grade steaks that make dining here an authentic Capetonian experience.
9 Hof Street | Gardens | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 423 2601
Eager to experience some of the more prototypical Mother City tourist attractions and activities? Browse through our Cape Town bucket list overview for a guide to those sights, activities and spots that simply shouldn’t be missed.