Cape Town has a vast informal economy of traders who give our streets a vibey, entrepreneurial atmosphere. Walk the streets and expect to be offered everything from beadwork to phone chargers—sometimes by the same person.
If you’re looking to purchase gifts or to find something to remind you of your stay, then you’ll find no shortage of options but there are a couple of things you should keep in mind.
First, always consider the source. Aim to buy from traders that are transparent about where their wares come from, and that use both socially and environmentally sustainable practices. Second, always pay a fair price. Although some traders are happy to negotiate, always aim to fairly compensate artists and traders for their work.
With that in mind here are some of the places that you can find unique and interesting curios to take home with you.
Greenmarket Square is the de facto centre of curio shopping in Cape Town. Originally built in 1696, this quaint cobbled square used to be a shipping market but is now packed with traders selling curios from across Africa.
This is the place to go if you’re looking for cheap and cheerful goods—great for when you need to buy a lot of gifts for extended family or colleagues. If you’re looking for unique and authentic African art then you’ll be better off looking at some of the other traders on this list.
The Watershed Waterfront
The V&A Waterfront is one of Cape Town’s top attractions and is a hub for shopping of all kinds. The Watershed is one of the Waterfront’s permanent markets and is a great place to find unique African designs.
The Watershed hosts over 150 traders offering upcycled jewellery, guitars made out of oil cans, African beadwork, traditional carvings, and laser-cut sculptures. The shed is right next door to the Two Oceans Aquarium, and Mineral World, so it can easily be included into a family day trip.
The Pan-African Market
The Pan-African Market is the place to go if you’re looking to buy a drum. The hide-covered African djembe drum has been used for hundreds of years and makes a great keepsake to remind you of your trip. The market is situated on Long Street and has an eclectic mix of traders from all over Africa, and also offers masks, art, and beadwork.
The Maboneng Township Arts Experience
The Maboneng experience combines social entrepreneurship and tourism to create a perfect blend of African art, culture, and hospitality. The organisation helps local artists to turn their homes into mini-galleries, giving creators a platform to show their work to an international audience.
It is a highly-recommended experience for visitors, taking place in the suburb of Langa and giving access to some of our most talented local artists in their own spaces.
The Artvark Gallery in Kalk Bay is the place to go if you’re looking for a bespoke piece of art for your home. They specialise in African fine art, and have a variety of paintings, ceramics, jewellery, and steel sculpture. The gallery strives to be representative of South Africa’s diverse artistic heritage and is a good place to ask questions if you want to know more about our country’s contemporary art scene.
Mogalakwena Craft Art @ Montebello
The Mogalakwena Craft Art Development Foundation is a worthy organisation that looks to develop employment opportunities for women in South Africa. They promote the traditional handcrafts of beading, embroidery, stitching, basket-weaving, and knitting, and invest in developing the skills of women in rural communities.
Their shop at the Montebello Design Centre showcases items made by these women and is a great place to find interesting design items while supporting a great cause.
Baraka Gifts is known as the ‘little shop with a big heart’ in Green Point’s trendy De Waterkant area.
They strive to be the middleman between visitors and small, independent crafters, providing a much-needed platform for artists to showcase their wares.
Leather goods are some of the most popular items at Baraka, and they’re also a great spot to buy East African scarves and kikois.
Streetwires is an African beadwork shop and working studio in the artistic neighbourhood of Woodstock. They specialise in high-quality wire beadwork and can create pretty much anything your imagination can come up with.
Visiting the studio is an experience in itself; you can watch the artist’s at work, browse the many beadwork products, and have a go at beading something yourself.
Ashanti Design has a socially and environmentally uplifting business model. They take discarded fabric and employ artisans from local communities to upcycle it to create everything from beanbags to lampshades. Their style is bright and cheerful and will appeal to anybody looking to add a splash of colour to a dull space.
The Long Street Antique Arcade
Last on the list is something completely different. If you’re a collector who is interested in African art, militaria, maps or old watches and jewellery then there’s an entire arcade that’ll have you engrossed for hours. Dig through relics of the past, have something to eat at the deli, and then delve back into the treasure horde. Warning: history geeks will have to be dragged out.