Cape Town Shopping Guide
by Travel Writer Sasha Arms
You can’t avoid shopping when you go to Cape Town, and nor would you want to with the array of goods on offer - the hand-made crafts in particular. There’s something for everyone in Cape Town’s malls, markets and supermarkets.
Cape Town Malls
There are seven major malls in Cape Town. Located in the city and in the suburbs, you can choose which one is most convenient or appealing to you, assuming you’re unlikely to visit all of them.
The most central malls are those located at the V&A Waterfront, which is home to Alfred Mall and the much larger Victoria Wharf. Alfred Mall has a handful of speciality shops, including one selling paintings by African artists, one selling sports paraphernalia for those who want a Springboks or World Cup shirt and some small craft shops selling handmade African crafts. On the other side of the Waterfront is the much buzzier Victoria Wharf. Here you’ll find a lot of designer and internationally-recognised brands, from the likes of Body Shop and Mango to Chopard and Gucci. There are some standalone craft stalls in the central lobby for some quirkier buys.
A popular and impressive mall outside of the city is Canal Walk. Set inside an Italian renaissance exterior, it attracts visitors for the architecture as well as the shopping. Canal Walk is a very large mall and has shops ranging from popular African brands like Mr Price, to brands like Diesel and Lacoste. The mall is a combination of polished and unconventional, and also has some great craft shops, like Afri-Bizarre, which sells the work of local craftspeople.
Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs has Constantia Village mall and Cavendish Square. Constantia Village is unique because it has independent art galleries, antique dealers and small fashion boutiques as well as some of the bigger brands. Cavendish Square is similar to some of the other malls in Cape Town, with more than 200 shops ranging from South African brands to international ones.
Tyger Valley serves the Northern Suburbs with its 275 shops, as does the slightly smaller Bayside Mall a bit further out in Blouberg. Over in Somerset West is the Somerset Mall, with much the same stores as most of the other malls.
As a general rule, most shopping centres are open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm, and for a few hours on Sunday mornings.
Cape Town’s Markets and Craft Shops
If it’s arts and crafts you’re after, then you will definitely find what you’re looking for in Cape Town.
The malls pretty much all have shops that sell African-made arts and crafts, whether they are small-scale South African brands or shops that sell crafts on behalf of local craftspeople and community groups. The prices aren’t cheap, even for the recycled crafts ingeniously made out of tin cans, plastic bottles and safety pins. However, you will notice in general across South Africa that the quality of craftwork is high and you can see the care and pride that’s gone into the work. If you do pay a bit more than you think the materials are worth, remember that you are supporting peoples’ livelihoods too.
If you’d rather get a bit closer to the real Africa to buy your crafts, then leave the malls and head to any one of the city’s markets. The V&A Waterfront has a couple of them, including the Waterfront Craft Market in the ‘Blue Shed’ and the Red Shed Craft Workshop. The Waterfront Craft Market has at least a hundred stalls at any one time, filled with African cloths, clothes, jewellery, woodwork and other art. The Red Shed Craft Workshop has more of the same, but also some more unusual products. You can watch the craftspeople at work and order custom-made goods. Definitely stop at the Siyakatala stall which sells products on behalf of people from the townships.
If you want to avoid the polished façade of the Waterfront for your market visit, then head to the centre of town. Your first stop should be Greenmarket Square. There are rows of stalls in the historic square and it’s the perfect opportunity to try out your haggling skills with the vendors, who will call out to you if you pass without looking at their wares. You’ll find everything from art and jewellery to clothes and masks from vendors originating from across Africa.
Not far from Greenmarket Square is the Pan African Market on Long Street. This one’s an indoor market, set inside a huge old Victorian building over several floors. Go where the mood takes you along the winding corridors and pathways created in between displays of crafts. The Pan African Market doesn’t seem to get the same volume of tourist traffic as Greenmarket Square does, so the vendors are a bit more relaxed and ready for a good old chinwag. You’ll have a merry old time and you might even pick up some crafts too – you will pretty much find anything you’re looking for inside.
You don’t even have to go to a market to get some crafts in Cape Town. In many streets you’ll find artisans have set up makeshift displays of their work along the road. Don’t be nervous about stopping to have a look – you might just find what you’re looking for and you may also be buying it directly from the person who made it too.
Food and Groceries in Cape Town
The last type of shopping you might want to do while in Cape Town is grocery shopping. If you are self-catering, there are so many tempting and reasonably-priced restaurants in the city, so you might not be eating-in that frequently anyway. But if you do, South African supermarkets are really well-stocked and decently priced. Pick ‘n Pay must be the best known supermarket in the country and has everything you’d expect to find, including a wide range of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat. Woolworths is a more upmarket supermarket if you want some treats or really high quality food.
Sasha Arms is a freelance writer, editor and web communications strategist. She has travelled extensively, particularly across South Africa, Europe and the Americas and has contributed to a number of notable publications, including the Lonely Planet Bluelist. Read more about Sasha Arms