There are a lot of things to do in Cape Town: you can explore the beautiful beaches, diverse restaurants, craft beer breweries, wine farms, and Table Mountain for starters. But there are also a few things that are less well known, that take a bit more digging to discover. Here are 21 suggestions for different things to do that you may not have known about – even if you’re a local, there should be a few surprises on here for you.
Also read: top things not to do in Cape Town
1. SOPHEA Gallery and Tibetan Tea House
This quaint art gallery and tea house in Simon’s Town hosts various meditations and serves authentic Tibetan vegetarian dishes. The “singing bowl meditation” is an interesting experience and takes place on the first Wednesday and last Saturday of each month. By rotating a small wooden mallet in a bowl (made from seven different metals and representing the seven different planets), the bowl literally starts to vibrate and “sing”. It takes a bit of practice, but its soothing effect during a meditation is wonderful. After your meditation try their chai or Tibetan butter tea served in a wooden cup – according to Tibetan folklore, drinking tea from a wooden cup makes you handsome, popular and wise! The slices of cake are huge (and delicious) and they also serve some interesting Tibetan dishes, including a Sherpa stew (lentil balls served with mashed potato and topped with sesame seeds), for a very reasonable price. You can buy prayer flags here, along with other Buddhist items and there’s also artworks on sale. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 17:00.
2. First Thursdays
Explore the Mother City after hours on foot, visiting art galleries, restaurants and food trucks from 17:00 to 21:00 (some places stay open later). This is not a tour, but rather enjoying what the city has to offer in the evening, choosing where you want to go from a map showing participating venues. First Thursdays is spread throughout the central city, but most of the galleries and cultural events are found along Bree Street and Church Street. It can get very crowded, so get there early to grab a spot and find parking.
3. Visit the Oranjezicht City Market
Cape Town is full of lovely little markets, but this one is special. Since beginning as a small non-profit project at the original Oranjezicht City Farm, it’s grown to new premises in Granger Bay, where small-scale local farmers sell fresh vegetables and artisanal food products. Pick from the season’s first peaches, or get some almond milk, crusty bread and great coffee at Market Day on Saturdays from 09:00 to 14:00. There are also pick-your-own-harvest days on the first Wednesday of every month at the original farm in Oranjezicht.
4. Science Café at Truth Coffee
Join Truth Coffee in Buitenkant Street for interesting science talks on the last Thursday of every month from 18:00 to 20:00. The topics range from chemistry to physics to botany and the speakers make an effort to present them in a simple format (i.e. you don’t have to be a science boff to understand what they are talking about). Entrance is free and while you are there you can enjoy Truth’s famous coffee, along with pizza and light meals in a steampunk environment.
5. Woodstock Graffiti Walking Tour
If you like graffiti, take a walk around Woodstock with Juma Mkwela and see almost 40 outstanding works of street art by local and international artists. The project started in 2008 and includes artists like Faith47, Jack Fox (Faith’s son), Freddy Sam (curator of the street art project), Nard-Star, Masai Lou, Spazio, Giya, Dodie Boy and Daleast (Faith’s husband) to name a few. The Woodstock Walking Tour costs R200 and it will possibly be the most creative hour of your life. To book a tour with Juma, call 0734004064, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. PechaKucha Night
PechaKucha Night was devised in Tokyo in 2003 and draws its name from the Japanese term for the sound of ‘chit chat’. It was started as an event for young designers to meet, network, and show their work in public, but is now a massive event taking place in hundreds of cities around the world. PechaKucha Cape Town takes place every second month on a Tuesday evening and is usually held at The Assembly, or occasionally at The City Hall (you really want to go to that one for the venue alone). Each event has a selection of different speakers from all walks of life who present their talk in 6 minutes and 40 seconds, along with slides comprising 20 images displayed for 20 seconds each. Speakers range from artists to songwriters, to clowns and everyday people making a difference. Topics range from shark-spotting and travelling the world, to how to survive a robot uprising. That’s the great thing about PechaKucha, you never know what you are going to get. But you will always leave feeling inspired! And it’s free.
With SecretEATS, the build-up to the event is as important as building up your appetite for the multi-course dinner. To be in on the secret you need to sign up for invitations to the dinner events on the SecretEATS website. Sign up is free and you are under no obligation to accept the invitations when they arrive in your inbox. If you do accept an invite, you pay for your ticket(s) and sit back and wait for further instructions. On the morning of your dinner date you’ll receive an sms, followed by an email, disclosing the address for dinner. Then all that remains is be at the right place at the right time and with the correct password to get through the door. What follows is multi-course extravaganza paired with the country’s top wines in a beautiful venue and in good company.
8. Springbok Experience Rugby Museum
No country is quite as mad about rugby as South Africa and if you are a Springbok fan, the Springbok Experience Rugby Museum at the V&A Waterfront (above the Ulundi parking) is worth a visit. Through various interactive displays you’ll learn about the history of South Africa’s favourite team, along with how apartheid had an effect on the game. Photos of matches and fans line the walls and various rugby memorabilia is on display, including trophies, jerseys and boots. You can test your kicking, passing, fitness and reaction skills in the interactive ‘Springbok Trials’ games zone and shop for Springbok shirts, pens and more in the shop. The Springbok Theatre is a must-see, where you can feel the tension and the glory of a match (and get up close and personal in a scrum). Even if you are not a huge fan of rugby, you’ll get swept up in it all! We are also a nation of beer-lovers and a 340ml Castle draught at Quay Four is included with your entrance ticket. R65 for adults, R40 for scholars and pensioners. Open every day of the year from 10:00 to 18:00.
Tel 021 418 4741, www.sarugby.co.za
9. Underground Tunnel Tour of the City
If you are not claustrophobic and love adventure mixed with history, then take a tunnel tour and explore the labyrinth of tunnels under the city. These underground canals and rivers date back to 1652 when they supplied fresh water to the Company’s Garden, as well as to passing ships. As the years passed and the city expanded, the tunnels were created as a convenient way to divert mountain water to the ocean. For a while they were also used to transport sewerage, but have been carrying clean storm water since 1895. Armed with gumboots, a hard hat and a torch, you can now discover these underground canals with a qualified guide. Tours can range from 1-3 hours and you need to be reasonably fit. From R175 per person (depending on how many in the group).
10. Free Walking Tours of the City
Cape Town Free Walking Tours will open your eyes to a fascinating world right under your nose that includes history, architecture and culture. The tours are free (tip-based) and all you have to do is pitch up and look out for their yellow umbrellas. Tours are every day (rain or shine) and leave from Greenmarket Square (corner of Burg Street and Shortmarket Street). The Historical City Tour starts at 11:00 and the Bo Kaap Tour leaves at 14:00. As each guide has their own stories to tell with many of them from personal experience, you could join these tours many times over and probably learn something new every time!
Do you like playing games? Enjoy solving puzzles? Consider yourself a strategic thinker? HintHunt in Woodstock gives you the perfect opportunity to embrace all of that when you get locked in a room for 60 minutes with a small team of people and have to work through a series of puzzles and mysteries in order to find your way out. It’s a fun way to spend an hour with friends (assuming they will still be your friends afterwards), or for a corporate team-building exercise (nothing like finding out that the person who sits opposite you can work out puzzles). There are two separate room to choose from – a Dick Tracy style who-done-it, and a Japanese-themed ‘Zen Room’ (the harder of the two). A third room is being planned for 2016. From R165 per person.
12. I Love My Laundry
Yummy dim sum, wine tasting evenings, art exhibitions, art workshops, fondues… and you can also do actual laundry! There are three branches of this whimsical laundromat – Buitengracht Street, Bree Street and Buitenkant Street. The biggest and most spacious is the Bree Street branch, but the most popular is Buitengracht Street. Their Dim Sum is absolutely delicious (and affordable too) with plenty of combinations to choose from. They also serve sweet treats, coffee, juices, wine and craft beer. Each branch exhibits art by local artists, from paintings to photography. You can also book a fondue evening with friends (R185 per person) and more recently, attend art workshops. They are also open in the evening on First Thursdays for wine-tastings. Doing your laundry has never been so much fun!
13. Short and Sweet movie screenings
Short & Sweet take cinema out of the theatre and into the city with drive-in cinema experiences, rooftop and open-air screenings, silent cinema (wireless headphones) and more. Each of their short movie screenings are carefully curated to take you on a journey: creatively, personally and emotionally. Ticket prices vary according to the venue. Follow their Facebook page to get regular updates on the latest screenings.
14. Take the train
Most locals know that the Southern Line from Cape Town to Simon’s Town is one of the most scenic journeys in the Cape and yet it is often overlooked. A return ticket from Cape Town station to Simon’s Town costs a mere R31 (Metro Plus) and the fare decreases if you catch the train further along the line. The journey takes you from the inner city, through the leafy southern suburbs and then right next to the sea as you chug along from St James to Simon’s Town. Worthwhile stops are St James for the beach, Kalk Bay for the quirky shops and right-on-the-sea pubs and restaurants, Muizenberg for the surf culture and Simon’s Town, home to the South African Navy and the penguins of Boulders Beach.
Please note: At time of writing the Fish Hoek to Simon’s Town section of the line is closed for essential maintenance. It is currently reported that this section will reopen in mid-January 2016.
If you prefer the glamour of a bygone era, take the steam train, with coaches dating from 1922 to 1938. While the Fish Hoek section of the line is being repaired, steam trains are only running from central Cape Town to the Stellenbosch winelands. Trips to Spier, Vredenheim Wine Estate and Stellenbosch are available (from R300 to R500 per person). Steam trips along the Southern Line route are expected to reopen in 2016.
15. Cycle along the Sea Point Promenade
Rent a bike from Up Cycles and enjoy a gentle ride along Cape Town’s Atlantic Seaboard. You can pedal along to the V&A Waterfront, make a turn through Green Point Park, or go further and explore the city. Just arrive at any of their stations to grab your bike and go! Up Cycles can be found at The Pavilion on the Sea Point Promenade, the Clock Tower Square at the V&A Waterfront or at the Breakaway Café on Waterkant Street. A recommended route map can be downloaded from their website and you can also download an Audio Walking Tour from VoiceMap to make your ride even more interesting. Rentals from R50 (one hour) to R200 (full day), or grab a bike at sunset for R40.
16. Intaka Island and Ferry at Century City
There is more to Century City than a vast array of shops and giant office buildings. There’s also a 16-hectare wetland and bird sanctuary, with 8km of navigable canals where you can take a 35-minute ferry boat trip and go on self-guided or guided walks. Intaka Island is home to over 120 species of birds and 212 indigenous plants, with two designated hides for bird-lovers and photographers to enjoy. The ferry boat ride takes you along the canals and through Century City, while a guide points out interesting architecture and shares informative facts about the birdlife you encounter along the way. There are also workshops for kids during the school holidays. Entrance is R14, or R40 with a ferry boat ride.
17. Galileo Cinema
Romantic dramas, timeless classics, documentaries and action movies are all shown at various beautiful outdoor venues across Cape Town, including Hillcrest Quarry, V&A Waterfront, Kirstenbosch and the winelands. You can hire a chair and blankets, or bring your own blanket if you prefer. There are various food options available (from pizza to burgers and nachos), along with coffee, wine and craft beers; but if you are on a budget you can take your own picnic (alcoholic beverages are permitted, except at wine farm venues). It’s a novel way of watching a movie and the closest you are going to get to re-living the days of going to a drive-in. Tickets from R79.
The Consol Solar Jar makes for an interesting and fun light source for low-light photography and The V&A Waterfront offers a wide range of sights and subjects. Take a walk with thephotowalkers.com through the V&A Waterfront as the sun sets and capture scenes under the guidance of a professional photographer. During the Solarwalk, you can buy a Solar Jar (R160) for charity, which will be distributed within the local townships. The aim is to ‘Save Africa One Solar Jar at a Time’ and replace kerosene and paraffin with free solar light. Learn some low-light photo tips and support a good cause at the same time! The Solarwalks will be returning to the V&A Waterfront from December and cost R500 per person (maximum 8 people).
19. Tuning the Vine – Inner City Wine Route
The latest offering in inner-city adventures, Tuning the Vine links 13 venues in the city centre, with wine tastings at each one. Venues include the Twankey Bar at The Taj, Publik Wine Bar, Tjing Tjing Torii and Rooftop Bar, Weinhaus & Biergarten, House of Machines and The Gin Bar. Your ticket includes a glass, a map and wine-tasting at each venue, including wines from Klein Constantia, Babylonstoren, Signal Hill Winery, Creation and Villiera. Many of the venues have live music and some offer wine and food pairings, wine-tasting challenges, cellar talks and cocktail courses. Tickets cost R150 per person and the event takes place once a month.
20. Poetry nights
Every Thursday evening at 7:30pm, aspiring poets get together to recite poetry, write poetry and talk everything about poetry at A Touch of Madness in Observatory. They also have the Irish Session Band playing on Thursday. Whether you are the next Shakespeare or Keats, or simply want to stop by and listen, everyone is welcome. A Touch of Madness itself is a beautiful old-world restaurant and pub situated in a Victorian house where decor from a bygone era mingles contentedly with modern fittings.
21. Kenilworth market
After a short hiatus, the Vineyard Oval Market that was held at the Newlands Oval has found a new location at the Kenilworth Racecourse. It’s predominantly a food market and every Wednesday night it hosts Cape Town’s burgeoning food truck brigade, plus a few extra suburban specialities you won’t find on the regular market circuit. A handful of stalls complement the setup (think leather goods, lamps, clothing, and an alarming range of cat-venerating crafts) and the layout has an easy, relaxed flow, but it can get very busy. There’s beer (nothing on tap, though) and wine and the not-ridiculous prices make it a great way to spend a hot summer night. Entrance is on Wetton Road, opposite the McDonalds. Open Wednesdays, 16:00 to 21:00. Entrance is free, but there’s a R30 deposit on wine glasses.
Compiled by Rachel Robinson.
Think we’ve missed something? Feel free to tell us in the comments!
Also read: 10 unusual things to do in Joburg that won’t cost a fortune