Things to Do in Cape Town - page 2
Greenmarket Square in Cape Town's city center is an historic square which has served many purposes over the years. The square was built in 1696 in front of a burgher watch house. Today, the square is overlooked by the Old Town House, built on the site of the burgher house in 1761, which once served as the city hall. In different years, the square has been home to a slave market, a produce market, and even a parking lot.
Today, Greenmarket Square is the setting for a popular craft and flea market, including a wide variety of African art, clothing, music, and jewelry. There is a nice selection of restaurants, cafes, and hotels lining the square.
The Cape Wheel of Excellence is a huge observation wheel in Cape Town, opened in 2010 just in time for the South Africa World Cup.
Standing at just over 164 feet tall, the giant observation wheel has 36 fully-enclosed pods (called gondolas), each with room for six adults. A complete revolution of the wheel takes about 2.5 minutes, but during one ride passengers get to go around four times. This gives everyone a chance to see the spectacular views over Cape Town multiple times.
South Africa is increasingly well-known for its wines, with the wine country near Cape Town being a particularly popular stop with oenophiles and foodies alike. One highlight of any wine tasting trip near Cape Town is to the oldest wine estate in South Africa at Groot Constantia.
The property in Constantia was given to Simon van der Stel in 1685 by the Dutch East India Company, which had an outpost at the Cape of Good Hope. At the time, van der Stel was the Dutch East India Company’s Governor of this area, and it’s his name that later was used at Simon’s Town south of Cape Town. He built a manor house and began farming grapes for wine production. In 1779, a wine-making family purchased the part of the Groot Constantia estate that included van der Stel’s manor house. It’s that family, the Cloetes, who is to thank for making Groot Constantia one of the area’s top wine estates, especially noted for its Constantia dessert wine.
In the small town of Betty's Bay near Cape Town sits a colony of African penguins at a promontory called Stony Point. The colony is not as well-known as the one at Boulders Beach, but there are thousands of the little penguins in Betty's Bay – and, usually, fewer tourists. The colony is fenced in to protect it from predators, and there are raised walkways that allow visitors to watch the birds without disturbing them.
African penguins – also called Jackass penguins for their donkey-like braying – typically nest on islands, and the Stony Point colony is one of only three mainland colonies in South Africa. The penguins have also been known to make themselves at home in Betty's Bay residents' backyards.
Modern medical advances are remarkable things – so much so that there is a museum in Cape Town at the site of the first human heart transplant, Groote Schuur Hospital.
The Heart of Cape Town Museum is in the still-working hospital, in the actual rooms where that heart transplant took place in December 1967. Exhibits in the museum including features on the man who received the heart transplant, the woman whose heart was donated, and the doctor who performed the historic surgery. The guided tour of the museum lasts about two hours.
Cecil Rhodes' wealth, influence and fervent championing of the British Empire were integral in the formation of modern-day South Africa. He died in 1902, and a decade later, the Rhodes Memorial was built and dedicated at the start of the Cape-to-Cairo road he envisioned would unify British influence across Africa. Modeled after the Greek temple at Segesta, the memorial features 49 massive granite steps, quarried at nearby Table Mountain. Flanking them are eight bronze lions, and at the bottom of the stairs is the world-famous equestrian statue, Energy, dedicated to his memory.
Found within the Table Mountain National Park, the Rhodes Memorial offers sightseers breathtaking panoramic views of Cape Town, Cape Flats and Helderberg and Hottentots Holland Mountain range. Hikers can reach it on a 3-hour walk from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. It is also accessible by car.
Dyer Island sits just off the coast of Gansbaai, a town in South Africa's Western Cape. The largest island off Gansbaai's coast, Dyer Island sits roughly five miles from shore. It was originally called Ilha de Fera, Portuguese for “Island of Wild Creatures,” which makes sense given that the island is home to hundreds of African penguins.
Another nearby island has thousands of resident Cape fur seals, and the channel between the two islands is known as “Shark Alley” for the high numbers of great white sharks found there. As you might guess, the sharks like feeding on the seals.
One of the oldest museums in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Iziko South African Museum is home to more than half a million unique artifacts. Visitors can explore the halls of this historic place, which was founded in 1897, and learn more about the history and the people of the continent’s most-southern country.
Fossils dating some 700 million years back and tools fashioned by natives more than 120,000 years ago are just some of the unique—and archaic—items that make Iziko a destination for history lovers.
More Things to Do in Cape Town
The Noon Gun, as you might guess from the name, is a signal gun fired every day at noon in Cape Town. The gun is perched atop Signal Hill, not far from the city center, and it has been marking the time since 1806. The two cannons (one is a back-up) on the hill date from the late 18th century, brought on a British ship and once used in warfare. The firing of the gun at noon was meant to give ships in the harbor a chance to synchronize their chronometers.
Even after the gun was no longer needed to establish chronometer accuracy, it was still fired each day at exactly noon – as it still is today. The only days the Noon Gun does not fire are Sundays and public holidays.
Cape Town's Diamond Works offers a glimpse at South Africa's diamond mining industry through the eyes of a custom jewelry maker. Yes, Diamond Works is essentially a jewelry store, and you can certainly visit with the intention of buying some custom-made diamond jewelry. Even if you're not in the market for diamonds, however, a visit to Diamond Works is worth it to learn more about this fascinating industry.
Diamond Works offers what it calls a “Sparkling Tour,” during which you'll see diamond cutters and jewelry designers at work, you'll learn about the history of diamonds, and find out what to look for when evaluating a diamond.
Housed in a Victorian-era biscuit factory in the middle of Woodstock, Cape Town’s Old Biscuit Mill now houses day and night markets where local and traveling foodies flock to sample some of the city’s best bites.
On any given day, the market teems with diners and shoppers enjoying the mill’s many restaurants and designer shops, but it’s on Saturdays that things really get lively. Each Saturday the Neighbourgoods Market takes over the Old Biscuit Mill, with more than 100 local vendors selling craft food, organic produce, artisanal chocolate, beer, cheese, clothes and crafts, all to the sounds of live music.
Hungry travelers will find one of the world’s best restaurants, the Test Kitchen, inside the Old Biscuit Mill, as well as the slightly more budget-friendly Pot Luck Club.
Settled in the mid-1920s as a designated area for black Africans, Langa Township is Cape Town’s oldest and largest township. This lively community, which was established pre-apartheid, is steeped in history of the Xhosa people. Even its name pays homage to a famous tribe member who rebelled against the government in the late 1800s and was later imprisoned at Robben Island.
Visitors can tour the community with local Xhosa guides and explore the streets of Joe Slovo, the largest informal settlement in the township. A monument recognizing those who lost their lives in anti-pass campaign protests during apartheid stands at the community’s center, as well as a newly opened craft market stocked with local handmade items and a recently renovated cultural and multi-purpose center.
The Chavonnes Battery Museum houses the remains of an old cannon battery, one of the fortifications the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) built at the beginning of the 18th century to protect themselves from sea-borne aggressors. It is said to have taken over a decade to complete the battery, which stood at what is now the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. Inaugurated in the 1720s, the battery’s firing platform used 16 large guns to open fire on hostile ships from its vantage point overlooking the bay.
The battery remained active until it was partially demolished and buried in 1860. It wasn’t until 1999 that the Chavonnes Battery was rediscovered, excavated, and conserved. Today, the site is home to a museum where visitors can wander around and get an insight into this fascinating part of Cape Town’s history.
Simon's Town has long been an important military base and, more recently, a popular tourist destination near Cape Town. Sitting on False Bay, the town has been home to the South African Navy since 1910 and was even founded in 1680, with many of the historic buildings dating back to the Victorian era.
The most popular attraction in Simon's Town is the penguin colony at Boulders Beach – one of only three mainland colonies of African penguins in the country. Other things to see in town include the Simon's Town Museum and the picturesque St. George's Street.
The town of Paarl is not far from Cape Town and known around the world for its wine production. Founded in 1688, Paarl was immediately recognized as an ideal climate in which to farm. Settlers began growing grapes and planting orchards of various fruits. To this day, Paarl is known as a prominent fruit-growing area in South Africa.
In addition to the wineries you can visit around Paarl, the town is also worth a visit for its historic Cape Dutch architecture, many of which date from the 17th century. The town is also famous as the place where the Afrikaans language was born.
The Atlantic Coast near Cape Town is dotted with wealthy suburbs and small, seaside villages. You'll find a variety of ocean activities; many of the small villages are the gateways to secret surf spots. Within these communities, you'll find vibrant nightlife, art galleries and trendy hotspots - gourmands take note, as some of these suburbs have high-end restaurants waiting to astound your palate.
Of note are the towns of Green Point, Sea Point, Bantry Bay, Clifton, Camps Bay, Llandudno and Hout Bay. Green Point and Sea Point are famous for their bustling night lives - Sea Point is more or less a 24 hour party town. The suburbs of Bantry Bay, Clifton, Camps Bay and Llandudno are enclaves for the rich and super-rich. If you like to marvel at multi-million dollar homes that have to-die-for views of the ocean, these are your towns.
Long Street is a major, buzzing thoroughfare located in the City Bowl part of Cape Town. Both commercial yet bohemian, Long Street is lined with secondhand bookstores, antique shops, and independent boutiques, which give way to a lively party scene of bars, clubs, and various international restaurants come nightfall.
Along with this heady mix of commercial stores and nightlife options is the Palm Tree Mosque, which dates back to the end of the 18th century. There’s also the oldest Mission church in South Africa, as well as Cape Town’s newest public art installation, the Open House. The buildings themselves are Victorian in style, many featuring traditional wrought-iron balconies. The most attractive part of the road can be found between the junction with Buitensingel Street, running north to Strand Street.
Khayelitsha is thought to be not only the largest township in South Africa but also the fastest-growing. It was established in 1985 as part of a 1950 law assigning difference racial groups to different residential areas, when black residents were forcibly moved to the new township, sometimes violently.
Today, Khayelitsha has a population of more than 390,000 people. Living conditions in the township have improved a great deal since the fall of apartheid, but even as recently as 2001 most of the residents still lived in shacks and did not have easy access to fresh water. Tourism to Khayelitsha is increasing, with visits to the craft market and township tours on offer.