Let’s get things straight: we love Cape Town’s City Bowl. As far as commercial districts go, it’s up there with the best in the world.
Where else do you find a city centre hemmed in by towering mountains and spilling out onto pristine beaches? That said, we think the real heart of South Africa’s Cape Town is actually divided between its diverse neighbourhoods.
From the bohemian wonderland at Observatory to the Bondi-esque Sea Point, if you want to get a taste of ‘real’ Capetonian life, then it’s high time you went ‘hood. Just grab a MyCiTi bus card or make friends in the front seat of an Uber and wander the (not so) mean streets of Cape Town’s most interesting districts.
Cape Town’s most historic (and Instagrammed) neighbourhood is Bo Kaap. Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, this district is famous for its colourful facades and mix of Cape Dutch and Cape Georgian architecture. Top of your list is the Bo Kaap Museum, housed in the oldest house in the area, which gives you a solid insight into the local Islamic culture and heritage. Wander the streets, visit the mosques, and grab lunch at a local restaurant serving up traditional Cape Malay cuisine. Think aromatic curries, sosaties (kebab) and pickled vegetables.
This neighbourhood is all about food and drink. And it’s really good at both. Kloof Street is the main drag, excellent for breakfast, lunch, dinner and sundowners, and with Table Mountain rising up behind, every seat on the street is privy to a first class Cape Town view. Gardens has a big expat community, and a huge art scene, so it makes for one of the safer neighbourhoods in the city. Think tree-lined streets, gastro pubs, and the oldest movie cinema in South Africa.
Sea Point is all about its promenade, which is, as you’d expect, close to the sea. The 11-kilometre stretch is a magnet for exercise enthusiasts who come down to walk, or run, from Mouille Point lighthouse and straight into brunch. Signal Hill towers over the neighbourhood and the ocean laps at its front doorsteps. Think Bondi Beach-living, but more African.
Ask any local Capetonian where to go for a swim and they’ll undoubtedly tell you to make tracks for Camps Bay. Drive straight over Kloof Nek and Camps will spread before you, all golden sand, Atlantic Ocean and baking boulders. To your left you’ve even got the rugged Twelve Apostles. On a warm day, head down and join the locals in a game of beach volleyball before following it up with a bona fide braai (barbecue). This is beachside living at its most lekker.
Named after, well, an Observatory, ‘Obs’ is one of the most bohemian neighbourhoods in Cape Town. If you’re an artist or a musician, it’s likely that you’re calling this district home. Super eccentric, Obs is a jumble of cultures and creativity; it’s also the go-to district for live music. Pitch up to any party, cafe, or restaurant, and there is guaranteed to be musicians from every walk of life jamming.
Woodstock is the ultimate artisan’s haven. This industrial neighbourhood is best known for its Old Biscuit Mill Market and the local produce heaven at The Neighbourhoods Market. Woodstock is full of workshops creating beautiful handmade goods out of leather and wood, as well as jewellery and African textiles. It’s a place where street art stands beside minimalist design, and craft beer gets carted home in the back of vintage bikes.
Hello wine region! Right on the City Bowl’s doorstep sits Constantia, the site of the first vine plantings in South Africa. Roll up to this tree-lined slice of suburbia and sip on local wine, testing your palate at the tasting bench of pinotage and cinsault. Spend an afternoon, or a week, depending on your thirst.
This little fishing village is one of Cape Town’s best out-of-towner destinations. Just 35 minutes from the City Bowl, Kalk Bay sits right on a pristine coastline but has a more laid-back vibe than the city. Wander the town’s seaside streets, cruise the coast and don’t forget to stop for the famous (and delicious) Kalk Bay fish and chips down by the wharf.
Explore Cape Town – and all its colourful neighbourhoods – on an Intrepid small group adventure now.
Feature image by Mark Van Overmeire.