Whether you’re a tourist or a local, there is always something to be learnt while exploring Cape Town. From historical facts to traditional foods, there is a tour for anyone looking to expand their knowledge on the Mother City, its culture, and its past. So where are the most interesting places to start? Suzanne Duncan investigates.
For an authentic experience, with unique insider access to interesting places and opportunities off the beaten track, Explore Sideways offers immersive travel experiences.
Guests can choose to explore the winelands with a certified winemaker, learn about the colourful history of the Cape from a published historian, or navigate the burgeoning design industry with a personal stylist. Each guide is qualified and experienced in their field, providing an immersive experience of the Cape’s unique culture. Each tour is private and itineraries are constructed according to clients’ particular wishes, with guides being flexible to changes even on the day.
Each guest is matched with one of over 45 specialist guides who provide a distinctive perspective on the desired experience. Considerations include language (12 different languages available), the guest’s age and country of origin, and psychographics such as interest in outdoor activities or wine knowledge.
The Cape Town History Tour includes a walk through the Company Gardens where guests learn about the role the Dutch played in colonising the Cape. It also takes in the Slave Lodge, the District Six Museum, the Cape Malay area of the Bo-Kaap and the Bo-Kaap Museum. Guests are also treated to a cellar tour and a chocolate-and-wine pairing at Cape Town’s oldest winery, with the tour finishing in a sunset drive home via Hout Bay.
The City Foodie Tour is also popular, and a great way to sample local culture, with insider stops at a range of locations. The Tour begins with a visit to an artisanal coffee roaster for an early morning caffeine kick, before raw chocolate items are sampled at Honest Chocolate. Guests also have the opportunity to try some Cape Malay snacks from locations in the Bo-Kaap, including the famous ‘Atlas Trading’ spice shop. Lastly, droëwors and biltong can be sampled at the famous Frankie Fenner Meats, before rounding off with an exclusive tasting of artisanal locally distilled gins.
Each private tour fills a full day, allowing guests to spend as much time at each location as desired. Guests are also picked up and returned to their private accommodation allowing for ultimate ease.
Size: 1 to 10 people per group (larger by arrangement)
Age: Dependent on activities
Time: History tour 8am to 5pm | Foodie tour 9am to 5pm | Daily (except Sundays)
Cost: Dependent on numbers, distances, activities etc.
Bring: Camera and comfortable walking shoes
Mother City Jewish Tours offer a chance to explore the burgeoning roots of the Jewish Community in Cape Town with the Cape Town CBD Tour which includes the site of the first Synagogue in Cape Town, the Great Synagogue, Jewish life in District Six, and a little-known artefact in the South African National Gallery.
Guided by Craig Nudelman – a history teacher who also has a Masters in Justice and Transformation – participants learn about the growth of the community from a small service that included just 17 men in 1841, to the vibrant society that it is today. With a distinctly humorous eye for detail, Nudelman intertwines broader South African history with the story of how the Jewish culture first came to this country, and tales of the individual Jewish politicians, political activists, and artists who were and are part of Cape Town society. He encourages questions, and brings excitement and adventure to each of his tours, emphasising the fun in historical fact.
Mother City Jewish Tours offers a unique guided tour through Jewish history and culture at the tip of Africa. Whether you are of Jewish heritage, a history buff, or simply curious, this tour is sure to delight and surprise.
Size: Maximum 15 people
Duration: 3.5 hours
Time: 9.30am to 1pm on Sundays or during school holidays
Cost: R300 pp (or R250 pp for 6 or more people)
Bring: Water, a hat and sunscreen, as well as comfortable walking shoes
Here’s something different – how about learning about Cape Town’s diverse heritage from the seat of a bicycle? AWOL’s City Cycle Tours are led by local guides who are familiar with a number of routes, and who have the ability to impart the intricacies of Cape Town’s cultural legacies and contemporary life.
Specialists in outdoor travel since 2002, AWOL Tours has a number of offerings. During the Cycle Tour, cyclists are led from the V&A Waterfront through the historic city centre into the brilliantly-coloured Bo-Kaap and through to Green Point, before heading back to the Waterfront along the picturesque Atlantic Seaboard.
Landmarks visited include Adderley Street (one of the oldest streets in Cape Town), the Bo-Kaap, the Company Gardens, St. George’s Mall, and the Green Point Stadium and Eco-Park. The Castle of Good Hope is available on request. While safety is always paramount, AWOL’s Cycle Tours are deliberately relaxed.
Tours are private and available to groups from single travellers and couples, to families and larger educational groups – a great way to see the city, learn something new and get some exercise all at the same time.
Size: 1 to 10 people
Age: All ages
Time: Depart daily at 10am from the Information Centre at V&A Waterfront
Duration: 3 hours
Cost: R600 pp (10% discount when booked in combination with a Stellenbosch Guided Bike Tour)
Step away from the familiar and into the dark with an Adventure Tunnel Tour and discover the underground canals and rivers that exist beneath Cape Town’s city streets.
Matt Weisse is a guide who structures his tours around the concept of “edutainment”. There is a particular emphasis on creating environmental awareness on the use of water in Cape Town, on which Good Hope Adventures has conducted in-depth research.
Weisse encourages questions, and responds with knowledge and enthusiasm. The history of the tunnels is as detailed as the tunnel network itself, built as they were at many different stages in the town’s history, and for many different uses. Guests can discover post office tunnels, secret military tunnels and old bank vaults, including hand-formed masonry dating back as much as 300 years.
Rat encounters aren’t likely in these surprisingly clean spaces, but cockroaches do collect here (10 points if you spot a white cockroach). And some visitors have reported an eerie presence that haunts the tunnels.
The Tunnel tour begins and ends at the Castle of Good Hope. The Sunset Tour is one of the most popular, and can be combined with an optional Castle Tour which takes in the secret passages, dungeons and torture chambers. Dungeon platters and refreshments are available on request before or after the tour.
So disappear down a manhole cover and go back in time to discover the fascinating subterranean underworld below Cape Town’s streets. The route is safe enough for most people of average fitness and is a great team-building exercise.
Size: 10 to 25 people
Age: 7 to 87
Duration: Around 2.5 hours
Cost: Dependent on route and numbers
Bring: A good torch (or buy a headlamp for R100), non-slip shoes that can get wet, and a windproof jacket
The Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour takes visitors on a tour of the life, food and culture of the Cape Malay people of the Bo-Kaap through the eyes of one of the area’s most renowned residents, Zainie Misbach.
The tour begins with a walk through the area, including a trip to the local spice shop to get supplies. Zainie then leads guests back to her home where she teaches them how to fold samosas, make dhaljies (chilli bites), fry rootis, and the secrets to mixing masala for the perfect Cape Malay curry. A typical warm Bo-Kaap ‘Auntie’, Zainie is ready not only to share the tips and tricks of Cape Malay cooking, but to regale her audience with stories of life in the Bo-Kaap, where her family have lived for generations. This heritage gives her an ideal background from which to share authentic insights into the food, culture and tradition of the area and the people who make it as colourful as its brightly-painted houses.
Refreshments and tasters are served before everyone tucks into a spicy and aromatic lunch together. Afterwards everyone is given a recipe booklet and a bag of Zainie’s special masala mix.
Guests on the tour leave with a new understanding of what a big role food has to play in the local culture, particularly if they visit during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan (but be warned – bookings are limited at this time).
Website: www.bokaapcookingtour.co.za (availability and bookings available online from end May 2017)
Size: Minimum 3, maximum 12
Age: All ages (kids aged 10 and younger pay half price)
Duration: 3 hours, 15 minutes (including a 30 minute walking tour)
Bring: Sun hats when it’s sunny and umbrellas when it’s rainy.
This is a tour that requires no pre-booking, so any self-organized traveller can join, no matter their budget, making it an excellent way to meet other visitors to Cape Town.
A few different walking tours take place throughout the day. The historical tour covers some of the iconic landmarks of Cape Town and tells the stories of the people and events that shaped Cape Town and South Africa. The tour guides are passionate and entertaining and the tours contain historical topics as well as personal stories, quirky angles and tips and tricks on what else to do while spending time in the City.
Highlights of the Historic City Tour include St George’s Cathedral, with an emphasis on Desmond Tutu; the Parliament and the President’s house; City Hall – where Mandela conducted his first speech as a free man; the oldest living citizen in Cape Town; Greenmarket Square; The Castle of Good Hope; The Slave Lodge and the Company’s Garden.
Although the tours are free, it is up to visitors to place a monetary value on the experience, as the guides work on tips alone. They are often extremely entertaining, and you may find that you want to reward them handsomely for their extra special service.
Age: All ages
Duration: 90 minutes
Starting point: All tours begin at Greenmarket Square, except for their V&A Waterfront Tour, where you meet by the sightseeing office by the Aquarium. Look out for the green umbrellas.
Cost: At your discretion – guides work for tips alone