Visit the historic, inspirational, vibey, chic heart of the Mother City!
The City Bowl in Cape Town is a truly wondrous thing. Unlike many colonial city centres, it has a distinct lack of the ubiquitous Western chain stores and manages in large part to retain several tiny and very specialized shops, eateries, galleries, theatres, hotels and bars that would simply not survive in a pressured rental environment in most modern industrialized cities.
This tour takes you to:
09h15 Kloof Street – vibey heart of Gardens and the ‘let’s do lunch’ crowd.
09h30 The Long Street Baths – historic Turkish baths and pool
09h45 The Company’s Garden – superb, ornate, city centre park with its own botanical section
10h15 St. George’s Cathedral – Tutu’s centre of resilience.
10h15 The Slave Lodge – how Cape Town and its people came to be
11h00 The District Six Museum – an inspirational piece of history
11h30 Greenmarket Square – bustling African craft market
12h00 Long Street – the ‘anything goes’ street from dawn till dusk (and dusk till dawn)
12h30 The Bo Kaap – the cultural home of the Cape Malay community
13h00 De Waterkant – design and chic abound in this gay-friendly quarter
13h30 The Waterfront – love it or hate it, Cape Town’s answer to Sydney harbour
Take a cab home
Kloof Street grew out of Long Street around about the mid 1970s. It was formerly just a residential street with a few supermarkets and things on it, so don’t be surprised when you find almost all the shops, art galleries, estate agents etc. looking just like houses. That is what they are!
On Kloof (which means ‘valley’ in Afrikaans), you’ll find a whole range of utilitarian shops (like supermarkets and petrol stations) but also a really pleasant smattering of art galleries, interior design shops, an art house cinema and many, many three to four-star eateries. Kloof is a very long street (it goes all the way up to Higgovale) and we don’t suggest you try to walk the length of it.
A really beautiful building with a story to tell, the Long Street Baths have Turkish baths, with steam and dry-heat facilities. These are the only original facilities. You can now swim properly though in a 25m-long heated indoor pool which for the die hard open water swimmers of Cape Town is very important!
If you’d like to go in, it’s R12 and they close at 19h00 every day.
The Company (i.e. the Dutch East India Company) needed fresh produce for its ships (this was in the days when Cape Town was just a way post to the orient and not yet a colony in any real sense) and decided to lay out on a convenient flat piece of ground with ample fresh water a fruit and vegetable growing area. Fresh water from Table Mountain still flows through the park under the wonderful treelined Government Avenue (the Houses of Parliament are on one side of the park and the High Court on the other).
Phil and Liz say: These days, the park is very much place to escape the heat of the day and relax, either at the South African Library, the Garden Tea Room (which does superb carrot cake) or in the small but beautiful botanical section of the Garden. Once you find Government Avenue (which is over the other side of the park you came in from), on the other side of it you’ll see Parliament and the Tuinhuis. In fact, the whole park is surrounded by important buildings, not the least of which is The Slave Lodge.
St. George’s Cathedral is a truly unique building: it was the centre of the Anglican Church’s resistance to apartheid (it’s often referred to as ‘Tutu’s Temple’) and bizarrely, has a jazz club in its crypt (which is rather aptly named ‘The Crypt’). The building itself is not architecturally earth-shattering but definitely worth stepping inside to escape the heat of the day. Occasionally there are a series of temporary exhibitions here called ‘The Crypt Memory and Witness Centre’, much of which deals with the place the Cathedral took in the downfall of Apartheid and Desmond Tutu’s work in that struggle.
You will also, if you have any interest in books at all, find the Cathedral Book and Bric a Brac store really interesting. It’s just around the corner on Queen Victoria Street.
The Slave Lodge now forms part of the Iziko Trust which manages most of the larger museums in the City Bowl as well as the Social History Centre on Spin Street. The original building was built in 1679 by the Dutch East India Company to house slaves who tended the gardens (hence the term Company’s Garden). Later, it came to house government offices and has now been made into a museum about slavery.
Phil and Liz say: The wonderful thing about The Slave Lodge as a museum is that it is suitable for all ages (which one would not think considering its subject) but it is a moving experience. Even if you are a studied sociologist, it will really make you think about how slavery has been part and parcel on what the modern world has become (and continues to be). There is a detailed look at how the various slave routes of the last 400 years came into being and how these have impacted on the countries of origin and destination the slaves were sent to. Every time we go we learn something new each time.
District Six was for a long time one of the few racially and socially mixed communities in early South Africa. Most of the people that lived and worked here were involved in the construction of what we now see in Cape Town or the workings of the port. Successive right wing governments in the Cape had become frustrated over what they saw as the problems of racial mixing but it was not until high apartheid that the process of removals and marginalisation of the inhabitants really got going.
The term 'resettlment' was used to try to encourage people to move to the then wastelands of Mitchell’s Plain and this started as early as 1901. Then, by 1966, it was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950. The large scale destruction and removal of people of all creeds and colours began in 1968 and by 1982, the life of the community was over. It has to this day not been entirely rebuilt and restitution has been a slow and difficult process.
The District Six Museum, established in December 1994, works with the memories of these experiences and with the history of forced removals more generally.
Phil and Liz say: Despite the reasons for the museum’s existence, the District Six Museum manages to retain an amazing amount of promise and hope in its exhibitions. You’ll find that the exhibits are very much a collage of found objects collected by the curators from inhabitants (either living or dead) of what used to be District Six and in this way, it’s both a moving and personal experience and encapsulates what the history of South Africa has been to date and how relevant and present it still is. Take some time to talk to the staff here, most of whom will be descendants of original inhabitants: you might be surprised by some of the things they have to tell you.
Greenmarket Square began its existence all the way back in 1696 when early Cape colonizers built a watch house there. It developed from there to become the City Hall – the Old Town House is still there – as a market and meeting place built up around it. Traders would haggle over wares as diverse as vegetables and slaves.
Nowadays there is still just as wide a variety of goods to choose from (despite that pesky abolition law) and Green Market Square is the best place to barter for all sorts of curio items that have been transported from everywhere in Africa – including fabrics, masks, herbs, clothes, drums, works of art and of craft. Prices start high but can be beaten down low by the proficient haggler.
The numerous cafes and restaurants that surround the square provide the perfect arcade from which to view the square and its assorted, vibrant community.
Long Street, with its open 2nd story balconies that provide boozy relief from the colourful, bustling street below, is the perfect place to find Cape Town’s trendiest restaurants and bars as well as numerous shops whose wares vary from clothes to antiques as well as African curio Bazaars. The fastidious shopper will find plenty of great deals on Long St.The not-so-picky may be easily ripped off.
Daytime highlights on Long Street are the Pan-African Market (about half-way down) and the Royale Eatery (best burgers in the land – near the top of the street).
Long St is one of the oldest streets in Cape Town and many of its Victorian buildings are still well maintained; particularly at the top of the street closest to Table Mountain. It was named Long St because it stretched from the old harbour all the way to Tamboerskloof (and the beginnings of Kloof St) for 3.8km. In fact its harbour associations don’t stop there. Early in the street’s life-time it was a hot spot for sailors trawling for “a good time” and the balconies provided excellent platforms for purveyors to advertise their wares.
If you’re looking for nightlife, you’re on the right street. Long Street is the epicentre of Cape Town’s youth-based entertainment. With many fine establishments ranging from crusty underground bars to chrome laser-lit clubs, party pilgrims will experience rapture. That is, on a good night. Long Street can be somewhat of an enigma with one night providing seemingly endless entertainment and a street bustling over, to the next; an apparent exodus out of town with very little explanation.
The Bo-Kaap or Cape Malay Quarter is largely inhabited by the descendants of slaves from Malaysia and Indonesia (though not exclusively) imported by the Dutch during the 16th and 17th centuries. It is considered the City Centre’s Islamic district and it is very culturally pluralistic. The Cape Malay inhabitants survived the forced removals of apartheid and their kind-natured legacy of friendliness to strangers and neighbours alike is kept alive today.
De Waterkant was part of the multicultural all-accepting Bo Kaap until 1966 when the National Party enforced the Group Areas Act and nearly every non-white who lived on the sea-side of Strand St was evicted. In an ironic cultural twist the neighbourhood is now extremely liberal and the gay centre of Cape Town!