The CBD is the heartbeat of every major city and it is no different for Cape Town. The city centre is the pulse of the Mother City, providing the lifeblood of the surrounding areas. It is a melting pot of diversity and culture, a smorgasbord of historical influences and a place like no other on earth. If you really want to get underneath the skin of Cape Town, you need to start in the city.
Here we look at what you can get up to in the CBD during the day.
WHERE TO EAT AND MAKE MERRY:
Where do we start? There are so many restaurants and bars to explore in the CBD that you would need months to explore them all. Here we list some of our favourites.
Some of Cape Town’s coffee shops are busy and bustling; others are perfect for hanging out with friends. The Tribe Coffee Café is a little different: housed at the Donford BMW Motorrad Bike Shop. And the coffee? The beans are gently roasted and the aroma fills the whole café: you certainly won’t be disappointed with the coffee in this Tribe Coffee Café.
As well as offering fantastic coffee, this popular coffee house also offers great music and welcoming friendly baristas. Another draw of this funky industrial-style coffee house, particularly for tourists visiting the city, is its location: Situated in the centre of the city, just near Greenmarket Square, Deluxe Coffeeworks is the ideal coffee stop if you need to spend some time in the city centre organizing your day trips, sorting out banking and organizing your travel money, or simply experiencing Cape Town’s urban heart. There’s no better place to take a break, unwind, and refuel with a delicious cup of coffee.
This cosy little shop on Roeland Street is a favourite on the East End of the CBD. Serving a variety of blends, they pride themselves on their love of coffee and claim to have the best wraps in town. Are they? We’re not giving anything away, so you will have to try them yourself as you sip on a good, strong cup of java.
Another popular haunt in the CBD – we’re spoilt for choice really – Kamili may not look like much from the outside, but once inside the warm, ambient interior with its basic benches and homely feel, while the blissful smell of their roasted coffee only serves to enhance your mood. Friendly staff and great coffee, Kamili is the perfect spot to dodge the rain and grab a quick cuppa.
The team at Bean There are absolutely devoted to sourcing and serving the very best coffee available. All of the coffee they serve is ethically sourced and they travel to the farms and communities where they source their beans personally in order to ensure that they are getting the best beans and serving to optimal roast. Add this to the wonderful atmosphere and the eclectic African interior, and you have the very best coffee shop in Cape Town.
RESTAURANTS – WHERE TO LUNCH
THE COMPANY’S GARDEN RESTAURANT
The newly refurbished restaurant in the Company’s Garden was clearly built with families in mind. Serving a selection of light meals and all the local teatime favourites, the new-look restaurant draws on the gardens around it with a number of quaint little hideaways for the kids to play in, while their parents enjoy their meals. Part of the city’s revitalisation project, the Company’s Gardens Restaurant is looking good.
NURI SUSHI FACTORY
It might not look like much from the outside – or the inside for that matter – but What Nuri may lack in aesthetic value and ambience, it more than makes up for with the food. The quality of their sushi is right up there with more high-profile restaurants and for a lot less cash. The service is great and the owners are always welcoming. Parking can be a bit of an issue, but for those of you working in the CBD and willing to walk for you lunch, Nuri is a fantastic option.
THE TWANKEY SEAFOOD, CHAMPAGNE AND OYSTER BAR AT THE TAJ HOTEL
This one is for the seafood lovers. Twankey offers up a variety of seafood tapas that can be enjoyed in a luxurious setting. The building was the ground floor of the Old Temple Chambers and has been fully restored to be elegant and glamourous.
LA PARADA BAR DE TAPAS
One of the many great restaurants on the ever popular Bree Street, La Parada is a celebration of the Spanish tradition of social eating. The long communal tables allow diners to sit close together for better interaction while enjoying the authentic Andalusian tapas that this establishment serves up.
One of the newest and best burger joints in the city, IYO Burgers only uses the freshest – and greenest – produce for all its meals. The burgers are insanely good and you have a choice of ditching the bun in favour of salad (one of the best salads around, do it!) and the curly fries are among the best in the Mother City.
BACON ON BREE
Cape Town’s first, and only, ‘baconporium’, Bacon on Bree is your port of call if you like bacon and who doesn’t like bacon? You won’t find a bigger and more comprehensive menu of bacon offerings anywhere in the city from the BLT to the Smokey Joe, they got you covered.
With a host of tasty offerings from the Venezuelan born Chef, Orinoco’s tasty platters for two – fish, meat, or veg – found on the Winter menu, promise authentic flavours of Latin America.
Housed in the old Reserve Bank building, Mint is the Taj Cape Town’s informal all-day dining restaurant. Specialising in innovative international and local fare, the restaurant sits on the upper end of St George’s Mall and is a great spot to get away from the city bustle and enjoy a meal from a menu boasting some serious variety – from seafood to meat and poultry dishes.
DELI’S AND MARKETS
Running every Thursday from 11am to 3pm, Earth Fair Food Market at St George’s Mall is famous for its good vibes, healthy energy and organic and ethically produced food that is unfailingly delectable.
EASTERN FOOD BAZAAR
Enjoy mystical Middle East decor while dining on yummy food. You’ll find shwarmas, kebabs, breyanis and more at Eastern Food Bazaar.
HOPE STREET MARKET
From designer clothing to designer chocolate, go exploring in the pretty suburb of Gardens and find delicious foods, live music and warm, happy crowds at the City Bowl Market. This one’s a perfect family event set in a prestigious old historical building.
WHERE TO STAY:
PEPPERCLUB HOTEL & SPA:
Situated in the Cape Town city centre, the Pepperclub provides a five-star experience designed to cater to guests’ every need. Among other things, the hotel offers a contemporary cuisine-themed restaurant, an intimate private cinema, a swimming pool with panoramic views, a fully-equipped gymnasium, a luxurious spa, 24-hour concierge service and security, and even sports a fleet of luxury vehicles used to ferry its clientele to business meetings, shopping excursions and sight-seeing tours. The hotel also connects directly to Long Street, one of the Mother City’s most vibrant and popular nightlife spots, meaning if you ever get bored with being treated like a celebrity or foreign dignitary, you can simply mingle with the locals.
Taj Cape Town is a luxury hotel set in the vibrant heart of Cape Town, offering guests a combination of refined hospitality and an authentic Cape Town experience. Out of the 176-rooms Taj Cape Town offers a selection of 11 room types. These include a two-bedroom, split-level Presidential Suite (TATA Suite) and 10 Heritage Suites. The Taj Club floor with its private lounge is served by a dedicated butler team, providing breakfast and evening canapés and cocktails. Within the restored historic buildings there are 20 Heritage Luxury rooms, with mountain views and a further 10 overlooking the city. The 17 new floors accommodate rooms with panoramic views of Table Mountain or the City. All the Tower rooms have a walk-out balcony.
The Townhouse Hotel and Conference Centre offers city-central, four-star luxury in the historic uptown heart of vibrant, cosmopolitan Cape Town. For business or leisure this intimate 106-room hotel, in a quiet corner of the busy commercial district, boasts deluxe contemporary-style comforts, gourmet dining, exceptional conference and function facilities, all within easy reach of the city’s top heritage sights, museums, shopping and nightlife and with Table mountain, V&A Waterfront and airport a taxi hop away.
Voted Lonely Planet’s best value for money hotel in the ENTIRE WORLD, South Africa’s oldest backpackers is also one of its most hip and happening – not to mention eco-friendly. Stylish décor is dedicated to promoting the vibe of the old Victorian setting, and with multiple communal areas for meeting your fellow world-wanderers, swimming pool, on-site café and travel centre, there’s no wonder it’s the wunderkind of the tourist talk. Add that to outstanding service and social upliftment projects, there’s nothing like The Backpack, situated just outside the City Centre, for getting in touch with the soul of Cape Town.
AIRSTREAM & PENTHOUSE TRAILER PARK AT THE GRAND DADDY HOTEL, CBD, CITY CENTRE
There’s nothing trashy about these trailers! The hotel owners brought seven vintage Airstream trailers over from the USA and put them on the roof of the hotel. As one does. Each trailer is individually designed with South African landscapes like ‘Rooftop Safari’ as theme.
HARBOUR BRIDGE HOTEL & SUITES
Situated on the Foreshore, Harbour Bridge is contemporary in style, has floor to ceiling windows, a rooftop pool with sundeck and views of the harbour. The hotel is located next to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC), built over the Roggebaai Canal at the entrance to the V&A Waterfront.
An eclectic mix of old-world charm and sophistication, the Cape Milner boast Art Deco architecture – with some Victorian finishes – and a trendy new Glass Lounge. African design, textiles and crafts take pride of place in this boutique hotel just one kilometre outside the city centre.
WHERE TO PLAY & LEARN:
The Company’s Garden is situated right in the city centre of Cape Town. It was planted by the Dutch East India Company in 1652 to produce fresh fruit and vegetables for the ships that were sailing along the spice trade route between Europe and the East Indies, via Cape Town. Today it is home to the oldest cultivated pear tree in South Africa, said to have been planted in 1652; a rose garden built in 1929; an aviary with a variety of birds and many other interesting landmarks. It’s also well-known for the resident and perpetually hungry squirrels, so take along some peanuts to feed to them. What’s more the garden offers free wireless – keep a look out for the zoned areas within the Garden.
DE WAAL PARK:
Sitting in the middle of the city bowl, an area just 2 km outside of the City Centre, De Waal park is an oasis of tranquillity and greenery amidst the urban jungle. Popular for picnics, dog walkers, slack rope walkers, bird watchers and more, it is perfect place to shrug off the vagaries of the rat race.
The CBD is a melting pot of culture and history with some of the best museums in the world ready to be explored.
SOUTH AFRICAN MUSEUM
Situated in the Company’s Garden and part of the popular Museum Mile, the South African Museum is home to more than 1.5-million items of cultural and scientific significance. Ranging from fossils and Stone Age tools to a dinosaur exhibit. Make sure you visit the Whale Well, where among the giant whale bones and life-size casts of marine creatures, musical recitals are often held. A must for families – the kids will love it.
The history of Cape Town is a torrid one and the Slave Lodge – part of the Iziko Museums – offers a haunting reminder of a darker time. It is not easy to stomach, but it is an important reminder of how the country was built on the backs of slaves and speaks to a global audience with many other countries sharing in the global slave trade. The museum was once where the slaves stayed and as such is very much part of the exhibit, while a visit to the re-created slave ship is an emotional experience and very much worth seeing.
DISTRICT SIX MUSEUM
Few areas are as vivid an example of the Apartheid regime as District Six. A once racially diverse and vibrant community, the original residents were forcibly removed from the area when the National Party government declared it a “white group area”. The District Six Museum – formerly a Methodist Mission Church – serves as a reminder of what the community once was. It contains a permanent multimedia exhibition called Digging Deeper, which includes narrated life histories of District Six residents.
CAPE TOWN HOLOCAUST CENTRE
Few episodes in human history are as dark, or tragic, as the Holocaust. The Cape Town Holocaust Centre stands alongside the South African Jewish Museum – also well worth a visit – and is home to a wealth of information on the period it covers. While undeniably wrought with emotion, the exhibition is beautifully laid out, offering written and verbal – both audio and visual – accounts of the Holocaust. The permanent exhibit is both heart-breaking and inspiring. Be warned, like the Slave Lodge, the Centre will leave its mark.
CASTLE OF GOOD HOPE
The oldest building in the country and a structure that has played an integral part in its history. Completed in 1679, the Castle of Good Hope, once a fort, has been restored and now functions as a museum. Guided tours are offered Monday to Saturday with The Key Ceremony performed Monday to Friday, followed by the firing of the Signal Cannon at 12pm. The William Fehr Collection, comprising paintings and decorative arts, is partly housed here, while the building itself has many a story to tell – including ghostly ones!
The Bo-Kaap – also known as the Cape Malay Quarter – is one of the city’s most popular destinations with its colourful houses a standout feature of the neighbourhood. But beyond the houses, the area has an incredibly fascinating history with many of the residents being descendants from slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and various African countries who were forcibly brought to the city in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Bo-Kaap Museum is the perfect place to discover the history of the area with the building dating back to the 1760s and the oldest in the neighbourhood. Amongst other things, the museum recreates the life of a typical Malay family.
Part of the “Big Seven” of Cape Town, the City Walk, which launched in April 2015, starts in the Company’s Garden, continues down St George’s Mall to Waterkant Street and progresses up the Fan Walk to St Andrew’s Square. It connects significant places in the urban heart of Cape Town through storytelling, public art, walking tours and retail offerings. By extending daytime foot traffic into the evenings and over weekends, it aims to activate the CBD as a 24-hour city. Look out for ‘City Walk Saturday’, which takes place on the second last Saturday of every month.
Led by local cycle lovers, AWOL tours take you from the heart of the Cape Town Waterfront to the surrounding landmarks. The three-hour cycle is suitable for all ages and fitness levels, and covers both the old and the new of Cape Town’s urban landscape. Expect to visit Adderley Street, Bo-Kaap, the Company’s Garden, St George’s Mall, Green Point Stadium and Eco-Park.
RUN CAPE TOWN:
Fitness fanatics who want to combine running and sightseeing should book a tour with Run Cape Town. Their tailor-made routes suit each runner and you can choose historic city sprints, trail runs up Lion’s Head or Table Mountain and many more. Guided by an experienced local runner, tours are experienced literally ‘on the run’ with only short stops for background information and photos.
Got an itchy trigger finger? This is where you can scratch it without putting anybody else in danger! With the Gun Fun Indoor Shooting Range in the Cape Town CBD you can fire everything from a pump action shotgun to an AK47, depending on the package you choose. With everything from the 007 Package to the Femme Fatale package, there are options for everybody looking to unload a few rounds.
Offering tours of Cape Town’s history and its cultural hub Bo-Kaap, City Sightseeing is your one-stop shop for experiences that get you up close and personal with the roots of the city. The Historic City tour is a 70-minute wander with highlights including Parliament, St Georges Cathedral and Green Market Square, with insight into African architecture and slave history. The Bo-Kaap walk is one hour long, exploring the cobbled streets of the neighbourhood, with its brightly coloured houses, Cape Town’s first mosque and Cape Malay cuisine.
Nobody knows Cape Town better than a local. When you’re in town be sure to visit the local VIC in Burg Street where staff can help you really uncover the magic on offer in the CBD and beyond. Take a walking tour with one of two guides who depart daily from the Information Centre – Mon to Saturday. Call 0861 322 223 for more details.
Check out our list of neighbourhood tours here