With the uncertainty of standby travel we never set a firm itinerary for the first day we plan to arrive somewhere, but when non-rev luck is in our favor and our arrival goes as hoped we tend to spend that first day getting our bearings and learning the culture and personality of our destination. Our arrival in Cape Town was no different, as we spent our first day getting acquainted with the city’s culture and heritage. Here is the self-guided walking tour of Cape Town we used to get to know the Mother City.
From the balcony of our very posh AirBnB we had a sweeping view of Table Mountain, the City Bowl District (CBD) and the vibrant neighborhood of Bo Kaap. We started our itinerary walking southwest on Rose Street into the heart of Bo Kaap.
Bo Kaap is a historical district dating to 1768 at the foot of Signal Hill. It has been home to predominantly the Cape Malay Muslim population since its origins, and remains an important cultural center for the Muslim population in Cape Town. The neighborhood has become more gentrified following the end of forced racial segregation at the collapse of apartheid, and is known more now for its colorful colonial architecture and eclectic community.
We spent some time in the Bo Kaap museum, which is housed in one of the only remaining original structures from 1768. The museum features a small collection of beautiful Cape Malay art and housewares. It is designed to reflect the typical furnishings of the 19th century houses in this neighborhood, and in the “living room” a provoking documentary plays detailing the impacts of forced segregation during apartheid.
The museum is open Monday-Saturday from 10 am-5pm and a R10 donation is suggested.
Castle of Good Hope
From Bo Kaap we walked east toward the Castle of Good Hope, making a detour through the bustling market of Greenmarket Square along the way. Situated between Shortmarket and Longmarket Streets, the square is one of the oldest market areas in Cape Town, hailing from 1696 when it functioned as a trading market for passing ships. Today market vendors sell beautifully crafted art, clothing and other wares.
The Castle of Good Hope, which was completed in 1679, is the oldest building in South Africa. It was erected by the Dutch East India Company on the shoreline as a maritime replenishment station, which is rather unthinkable now that land reclamation projects have repositioned it right in the city center. We had just missed the 12:00 pm key ceremony, tour and Signal Hill cannon, so we explored the grounds on our own. Unfortunately for us a number of renovation projects were in the works, so many of the exhibitions were closed. We were able to learn a great deal about early tribal wars and the ensuing colonial wars in the military museum, which maintains an impressive collection of military regalia.
The Castle is open 9:00 am-4:00 pm and admission is R30 for an adult. Key ceremonies and tours take place at 10:00 am and 12:00 pm.
We were famished by the time we left the museum, so we set our sights on the more than 80 restaurants located on the bustling quays of Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The V&A Waterfront’s history is rooted in providing refreshment, and the today the mixed-use complex is a testament to the early days of the Dutch East India company. We enjoyed our first tastes of local Cape seafood staples and wines against the backdrop of Table Mountain.
After lunch we explored the many shops of the quay as the afternoon grew late. With nothing on our agenda, we set out to find the one sunset cruise our AirBnB host recommended, among the throng of tour hawkers lining Quay 4. We easily located the brick red sails of the Spirit of Victoria, paid for a sunset cruise with champagne and were instructed to return at 5:00 pm. Our epic two day rollercoaster of post-wedding late night partying, followed by over 20 hours of travel, and a day spent walking 5 km was beginning to get the better of us, so we stopped in to Vovo Telo for the popular “flat white”.
Fully caffeinated, we boarded our ship. We were given a brief safety demonstration and then more importantly a glass of champagne to enjoy as we watched the sun sink. The tour only lasted an hour, but it was a great way to get a unique view of Cape Town.
As an added bonus we spotted a few Bryde’s whales in the distance. You can’t beat a good sunset, a glass of champagne and whale watching for two for $50. If you go, bring a light jacket as the temperature drops noticeably on the water, particularly as the sun sinks.
Have you explored Cape Town on foot? What stops would you recommend? Leave a comment!
Bonus: If you sign up with AirBnB using the link in the post, we’ll both receive an account credit, at no additional cost to you!