Cape Town City Centre Travel Guide

The city centre has experienced tremendous growth over the last few years. It’s a mix between European and African cultures, with some wonderful architecture and interesting sidewalk cafes. St Georges Mall and Greenmarket square are vibrant areas with loads of colourful African markets. The 5 cornered Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town’s “Tower of London” was build in 1666. Don’t miss the 2 hour journey on The Cape Town Explorer – a topless tourist bus tour. A quite stroll through the Company Gardens ends an exciting day.

Get your camera and map, and grab your hiking shoes.. Africa’s southernmost city is calling!

The City Centre is small and compact and can easily be explored in one or two days. We suggest that you explore the best of the city by means of:

1. The Cape Spirit™ City Walk: The city walk takes you through the most interesting streets in town to experience day to day city life. Extend the walk by visiting museums, galleries and cafés you would like to visit.
2. The Cape Town Explorer: The City’s most popular topless bus ride takes you to some of Cape Town’s hottest spots. It drops you at all our suggested city attractions not covered by the Cape Spirit™ City Walk.
3. Visit Long & Kloof street and Bo-Kaap & De Waterkant: See the next attractions for details.

The Cape Spirit™ City Walk

Start the walk at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) on the corner of Coen Steytler Ave and Lower Long Street as early as possible. Construction on the CTICC commenced beginning 2001 and it opened its doors to the public in July 2003. Since its opening Cape Town has become one of the world’s conferencing hotspots with many global events been held here. 

Walk up in Lower Long Street towards Table Mountain. You are surrounded by some of Cape Town’s latest buildings and office blocks, and although the city is not a global financial city this area is the centre of the Western Cape’s financial district. Turn left into Hans Strijdom Avenue and right into Thibault Square to view some of Cape Town’s older skyscrapers. Walk through the square to Riebeek Street and turn left towards Adderley Street.

Adderley Street was once the main shopping street in Cape Town but much of the city’s focus moved to the V&A Waterfront during the last view years. One can probably still call this Cape Town’s main street and developers are currently restoring the street back to its former glory days and bringing back the high street shops. Turn right into Adderley and walk all the way facing Table Mountain. Observe the great diversity of South African society rushing to work. (Although the pace is not nearly as fast as in other world cities – and don’t be surprised if people start rushing back just before four..)

You will pass the Cape Town Train station  (which is in a desperate need of an upgrade)on your left hand side, with the Golden Acre shopping centre just after that. Just next to the Golden Acre visit the flower market at Trafalgar Place on your left. The market has been running for over a 100 years and sells flowers at very reasonable prices.

As you walk up the road visit the following two buildings: Standard Bank on your left, and First National Bank on your right hand side. Although not official tourist destinations the insides of these two buildings serve as fine examples of old South African city architecture.

Opposite First National Bank you will see a beautiful white building called Groote Kerk (Great Church) The church is the Mother church of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. Building on the original church started in 1678 – of which the original tower still exists. The second church was completed in 1841. Next to Groote Kerk you will see the Iziko Slave Lodge. Built in 1679 it is one of the oldest buildings in South Africa and originally served as a slave head quarter. It was later the Old Supreme Court and serves as a Cultural History and Slave Museum today.  

As you walk further up, the road turns right and become Wale street. You will see an old Anglican church across the road – St Georges Cathedral. Nobel peace price winner bishop Desmond Tutu has preached here several times and the Church became known as the focus of resistance against apartheid during the old regime. Daily services are being held here and visitors can attend them or view the inside of the Church.

Right next to the Cathedral you will see the start of Government Avenue – a pedestrian road with beautiful trees and buildings next to it. The walk up this road is delightful, and you are surrounded by many of the city’s most famous attractions – make a point to visit them all: 

The Company Gardens An interesting city park founded by Jan Van Riebeeck in 1652. It was originally built to serve as vegetable supply for passing ships. More than 8000 plant species can be found here and there is a coffee shop and restaurant between lovely trees.

The South African Library The beautiful library was found in 1818 and is the oldest Library in South Africa.

South African Houses of Parliament and De Tuynhuys As you walk up Government Avenue you will pass these impressive buildings on your left. The front of the House of Parliament is best viewed from its other side in Plein Street. Do not miss a free organised weekday morning tour of The South African Parliament. Loads of history and stunning architecture with a chance to see South Africa’s Government in action. You will observe the National Assembly or National Council of Provinces, and have the opportunity to talk to a Member of Parliament. Bookings are essential. De Tuynhuys ("The Garden House" – its back gardens are spectacular indeed) is the office of the President of South Africa and is closed to the public.

The SA National Art Gallery The gallery holds more than 60 000 art pieces with stunning displays of South African, African and European Art. It’s open to visitors Tuesdays to Sundays. Not to be missed by any lover of art.

The South African Museum and Planetarium A must see attraction in Cape Town. The museum, established in 1825, holds fascinating natural history, social history and human science exhibitions. The Planetarium presents interesting productions on the night sky above. The museum is visited by almost half a million people annually - if you only want to visit one museum in town, this is the one. Great fun and very interesting!

Bertram House The museum is a fine example of an upper class British house during the British occupation of South Africa 200 years ago. The museum holds some wonderful history.

South African Jewish Museum (access from Hatfield Street / St Johns Road) The museum displays different aspects of the huge South African Jewish community and their contributions to South African society.

Walk all the way up Government Avenue until you reach the Mount Nelson Hotel – one of the world’s top hotels. Visit the hotel for their famous afternoon tea – voted by the UK Sunday Times as the best tea in the world. Turn around and walk back down Government Avenue to Adderley Street. Turn left in Whale Street and right into St Georges Mall.

Time to visit  Greenmarket Square – a popular and must see African market located between St Georges Mall and Burg Street. The market dates back to 1696 when locals gathered here to trade and socialise. It operates Monday to Saturday from early morning until about 4 pm. Visit the Michaelis Art Collection located in Old Town House on Greenmarket Square. The building holds a world renowned Dutch Art Collection dating back to the Golden Age.

The most popular section of St Georges Mall lies between Shortmarket and Strand Street. It is a busy pedestrian street packed with interesting shops. Sit at one of the many sidewalk cafes or restaurants and see the world goes by. You can almost hear the heart beat of the Mother City.

Walk all the way down St Georges Mall until you reach Strand Street. Turn left into Strand. You will pass the Koopmans de Wet House, your last destination on the Cape Spirit™ City walk. This is the first private townhouse in South Africa to be opened to the public and it’s a good example of  a Cape Town live-in house in the 18th century. Not to be missed by history lovers.

End you walk by turning right into Long Street back towards the CTICC.

The Cape Town Explorer

A journey on the Cape Town Explorer provides a unique opportunity to view the city from the roof of a joyful bus. Hop on and off at any of its stops, which include the V&A Waterfront and Cape Town International Convention Centre. (corner of Coen Steytler Ave and Buitengracht street) Tickets can be purchased on the bus and are valid for a full day.  It stops at major tourists attractions along its circle journey, of which the following city attractions should not be missed: District 6 Museum, the Cape Castle, the Gold Museum and Jewel Africa.

District 6 Museum
More than 60 000 non-whites where forcibly removed from District 6 during the apartheid years. The Museum portrays the day to day lives of those who lost everything and finally won the battle for a democratic South Africa.    

Castle of Good Hope
The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest colonial building in South Africa. It was build between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East Indian Company as a pentagonal fort replacing a small clay and timber fort built by Jan Van Riebeeck in 1652. A guided tour takes you through the main areas of the Castle including the Cape Malay and military exhibitions. Enjoy freshly baked scones at the De Goewerneur Restaurant with Table Mountain in the background. Although the Castle is not situated in the best part of Cape Town (close to the station), it is not to be missed. 

Gold of Africa Museum
The museum displays the world’s most comprehensive collections of African gold displays with several exhibitions, a wine cellar and coffee shop.

Jewel Africa
View one of the most impressive jewellery manufacturing showrooms in the world and purchase exclusive jewellery at good prices. Jewel Africa boasts a vast display of diamonds, gemstones and curios. Take one of the various types of tours on offer including Diamond, Gold and Gem Tours.

Travel checklist Cape Spirit™ City Walk

  • Attended an exhibition at the Cape Town International Convention Centre  
  • Stood on Thibault Square 
  • Bought flowers at the Flower Market at Trafalgar Place  
  • Saw the insides of Standard Bank Building and First National Bank Building in Adderley Street  
  • Visited the Groote Kerk Church building  
  • Visited the Iziko Slave Lodge 
  • Attended a service at St Georges Cathedral  
  • Walked through Government Avenue 
  • Picnicked in the Company Gardens  
  • Visited the South African Library 
  • Attended a free organised morning tour through the Houses of Parliament 
  • Visited the South African National Art Gallery 
  • Walked through the South African Museum and attended a show at the Planetarium  
  • Saw the inside of Bertram House 
  • Visited the South African Jewish Museum  
  • Had a famous afternoon tea at the Mount Nelson Hotel 
  • African art shopping at Greenmarket Square  
  • Saw the Michaelis Art Collection at Greenmarket Square 
  • Wandered through St Georges Mall 
  • Visited the Koopman de Wet House

Travel checklist Cape Town Explorer (city attractions)

  • Learned about the history of District 6 at the District 6 Museum  
  • Explored the corners of the Castle of Good Hope 
  • Discovered gold at the Gold of Africa Museum 
  • Purchased jewellery at Jewel Africa

Useful numbers

Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) 021 410 5000
Iziko Slave Lodge 021 460 8240
The South African Library 021 424 6320
South African Houses of Parliament Tour Bookings 021 403 2266
The SA National Art Gallery 021 467 4660
The South African Museum 021 481 3800
Bertram House 021 481 3940 
South African Jewish Museum 021 465 1546
Michaelis Art Collection 021 481 3933 
Koopmans De Wet House 021 481 3935
District 6 Museum 021 461 8745
Castle of Good Hope 021 787 1249
Gold of Africa Museum 021 405 1540
Jewel Africa 021 424 5141

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