Anyone who’s been to Cape Town will not hesitate to tell you the same thing: it is the most beautiful city on the planet. No doubt about it. Joburg, for all its grit and quirkiness, is charming for reasons other than its physical beauty. Cape Town, on the other hand, is the beautiful cheerleader who’s never had to think twice about being the most popular kid in school.
Framed by perfectly flat Table Mountain and surrounded by jaw-dropping sapphire oceans, Cape Town is African glamour at its best. And at the centre of all this lies the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, the luxurious tourist hub of the city. But while you can always be sure there will be throngs of people from every corner of the world strolling around in the sunshine and shopping for curios, there is also plenty to do for those who prefer to avoid the typical tourist activities, and there are always plenty of local Capetonians mixed in with the bunch as well.
The most popular activity is of course, shopping, for which the Waterfront is reknowned, housing famous international brands like Louis Vuitton, Chanel and as well more affordable brands like H&M and Zara. It’s also a great place to pick up jewellery, whether high-end or costume, and traditional African curios. There is a massive market housed in the old warehouse at the side of the mall, the Watershed, that sells gorgeous local clothes brands and artsy goods, and usually has great live music playing to keep you entertained while you stroll through the stalls of beautifully crafted products.
Right next door you’ll find the Food Market, a delicious experience with everything you could fancy from ice cream, traditional samosas and biltong to waffles, locally-produced honey and freshly baked bread. Grab a drink and head upstairs to find a table to sit and listen to the music while you enjoy your meal. Wader further along the waterfront and you can watch the boat-cleaning operation at the dry dock, and maybe even catch a glimpse of a playful Cape Fur Seal frolicking in the harbour. Further along, at the amphitheatre outside the shopping mall, you’ll always find some sort of entertainment going on, whether it’s a music act, a puppet show for the kids or a workout class for the energetic. You can find a table at one of the many seaside restaurants to grab a sundowner and watch the going-ons (or just the people strolling around- equally as entertaining) or otherwise you can take a boat trip out to Robben Island, Seal Island, or just a cruise round to Clifton or Camps Bay beaches.
On a recent visit to Cape Town I received a gift of a ticket on the Jolly Roger, a famous old pirate ship moored at the Waterfront that does themed- and very emphatic- boat trips out of the harbour and around the bay, depending on the weather. We boarded as dusk settled on the Waterfront and were greeted by a hoard of suitably dressed (or undressed) pirates, captained by an old mate who looked like he hadn’t stepped foot on land in years. We set off and received a complementary glass of punch as the old boat heaved out of the harbour onto the thankfully-not-so-high seas. In addition to the local seals, we also thought we spotted a Southern Wright Whale, but it quickly slipped back under the surface as we carried on our jolly old way out to sea. Finally, the boat turned slowly around, just as we caught a glimpse of beautiful Clifton beach, and as the sky started to turn a fiery orange, and headed back to harbour. After we’d docked, and been suitably bid farewell by the hoard of pirates, we found a table at another of the seaside restaurants and finished off the day with a delicious seafood meal. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from, serving a wide variety from Mexican and sushi to local South African food and everything in between. If you feel like keeping the night going, there are also bars in the area, or you can head out the Waterfront to Long Street, the famous party strip of Cape Town.
All in all, a day at the Waterfront is not to be missed if you’re visiting Cape Town for the first time, and probably on everything other trip afterward too. There’s far too much to see and do, and often events being held in the beautiful outdoor space next to the water. What’s more, it’s walking distance to other Cape Town hubs like Green Point, Seapoint, Long Street and Kloof Street. If you’re visiting Johannesburg I highly recommend you also make a stop in scenic Cape Town. Its relaxed, hipster feel is completely different from the vibey and gritty Johannesburg, and will give you a good understanding of the contrasts to be found in this beautiful country of ours.
The V&A Waterfront is open all year round, 7 days a week.
The Watershed is open 7 days a week from 10:00 to 19:00. The Food Market is open 10:00 to 18:00 or 19:00 (depending on the time of year) every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day.
The Jolly Roger: there are daytime trips more suited to families with young kids, including face painting instead of the glass of punch. You can book tickets at Quay 5 or by calling +27 21 421 0909. There are 4 trips a day, and tickets cost R150 to R260 (depending on the time of day) with drinks are available for purchase. They are open 7 days a week from 09:00 to 17:00 or 19:00 (in summer).