Your Observatory Cheat Sheet
Every street in Cape Town has a unique personality. If Kloof Street is the aloof sophisticate of the Cape Town family, and Bree is the quirky art student, then Lower Main Road in Observatory is the black sheep, the cousin who went backpacking in India to find herself and came back with piercings and tattoos.
Yep, there’s no doubt that Observatory is the bohemian centre of Cape Town, attracting students, backpackers, and voluntourists. Diverse and multi-cultural, expect to hear a mix of accents—from West African to Scandinavian—when walking the streets.
If you’re looking for a place to hang out, meet new people, and get involved in some of Cape Town’s most creative activities then Obs should be first on your list.
Hello Sailor is a trendy but relaxed little bistro on Lower Main Road with decor inspired by Sailor Jerry tattoo artwork and hearty and well-priced food. It’s a great place to grab a meal and a beer and watch the parade of people pass by on Observatory’s busiest street.
The Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre
Just as you drive over the Observatory bridge from Liesbeek Parkway you’ll see a building with large, elaborate metal doors. This is the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre where you can learn the flowing, graceful movements of the Chinese martial arts combined with a hardcore push-ups-on-your-knuckles kind of workout.
This large red building on Lower Main Road is difficult to miss. It was once an integral part of Cape Town’s live music scene, and now it’s a backpackers and pub that still knows how to party. Be sure to catch the regular Sunday night stand-up comedy.
The Observatory Community Centre
The Observatory Community has been the central hub for the area’s creative pursuits for many years. Home to The Cape Academy of Dramatic Arts, it also offers a space where locals teach capoeira, yoga, fire dancing and ninjitsu. Check out the class schedule on the website.
South Africa’s favourite pool hall franchise has one of its oldest establishments in Obs. Rack em up, play, and drink while a DJ plays tunes. Expect loud music, people into impromptu karaoke and lots of friendly banter. Pro tip: if somebody offers to play you for money then politely decline.
The River Club
The River Club is the country club counterpoint to Observatory’s colourful bohemian chaos. Offering a driving range, nine-hole course, and a Slug and Lettuce pub, it’s the place to go if you’re looking to hit a few balls, catch the rugby on TV, and have a few beers with your mates.
A Touch of Madness
This eclectic restaurant has played host to hundreds of events, occasions, and celebrations over the years. It is made up of different rooms, and offers a well-stocked bar where you can mingle with the locals. The veranda in the front and a garden out back make for plenty of places to explore and enjoy.
A real Obs institution, Café Ganesh has been part of Lower Main Road scene for decades and still manages to maintain its grungy charm and vibrant energy. The unique Afro-global cuisine is great to share and it’s the perfect place to meet friends before a night out.
South African Astronomical Observatory
The reason Observatory has its unusual name is this centre for optical and infrared astronomy. Check out the Open Nights where you listen to talks about the cosmos, tour the Observatory and get an opportunity for some real stargazing if the weather permits.
Refurbishments have given this Obs landmark a chic, urban feel that distinguishes it from the rest of Lower Main Road. Great food and coffee, wifi and craft beers on tap make this a good spot if you want a base to work from for the day.
The South African National Circus School
Fancy some flying trapeze, aerial silks or clowning around? The South African National Circus School was started by Dmitri Slaverse to give underprivileged youth the opportunity to take part in the circus arts. It always needs support so visit and take a class.
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