Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Cape Town
by Travel Writer Sasha Arms
Cape Town’s City Sightseeing Hop-On Hop-Off bus is a cost and time effective way to see the city. Whether you like the combination of being taken along a designated route with the ability to get on and off as you please, or if you only have a short amount of time in Cape Town, it ticks a lot of boxes for travellers’ time in the city.
The Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour means just that. Get off the bus as any one of the stops along the way, take as long as you want there, then catch another bus from the same stop to continue your journey. There are two routes available on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. The Red City Tour sticks to the key landmarks within the direct city area, while the Blue Mini Peninsula Tour stops at some of the city landmarks, but also ventures further afield. You can also buy a two-day Hop-On Hop-Off ticket that lets you do both on two consecutive days. The red tour tends to be the most frequented, and as a result has buses coming every 15 minutes or so throughout the day, whereas the blue tour buses come every 45 minutes.
Note that any museums or tourist attractions you want to go to along the route will be at your own cost. It will also be a very tight schedule if you want to go into every museum and attraction along the way, so it might be worth stopping at some and earmarking others to go back to on subsequent days during your stay in Cape Town.
Red Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
The main ticket office serving as the first stop of both the red and blue tours is located by the Two Oceans Aquarium in the V&A Waterfront.
If marine life is your thing, then the aquarium is worth a visit before you get on the bus. There are 3,000 or so marine species inside, the larger of which include seals and ragged-tooth sharks. If you go at feeding time, you’ll also see divers feeding the turtles, which is always an impressive event. The penguin feeding is fun too - they have Rockhopper, King and African Penguins there.
The next stop is the Clock Tower, also at the V&A Waterfront. You could even walk over there and join the bus from that stop if you like exploring by foot too, and you could do that between any stops along the route if you wanted to. The map and bus timetable you get with your tickets gives you an idea of how far the next stop is. The red brick clock tower used to be the Port Captain’s office and the precinct now holds the ruins of the Chavonne Battery, from which guns were fired to signal that ships were in trouble off the Cape’s coast.
Stop three is the Cape Town International Convention Centre, which regularly hosts an array of events, such as the Cape Town Book Fair and the Design Indaba.
Cape Town Tourism comes next and is a good stop to get off at if you want to start exploring the heart of the city. The tourist office has a lot of good ideas for things to do in the city and you can take away maps and leaflets with you.
Stop five is St George’s Cathedral and it welcomes visitors to look around if they wish. It’s famous for surviving three wars and welcoming a mixed congregation during the apartheid. The stained glass is particularly absorbing.
Next up is the South African Museum, located by Company’s Gardens. The museum looks at the country’s cultural heritage and houses more than a million items of cultural and historical importance, including fossils, centuries-old tools and clothes.
Stop seven is the infamous and luxurious Mount Nelson Hotel, which has hosted guests ranging from writers like Rudyard Kipling to royalty including the Prince of Wales. They boast the best cup of tea in the world, so if staying in one of its 201 ‘individually furnished’ rooms is not possible within your budget, then call-in for a cuppa.
The next stop is the South African Jewish Museum, also on the edge of Company’s Gardens and a short walk away from stop seven. The sensitively curated museum has a lot to see and as well as the museum includes a Holocaust Centre, a peaceful courtyard and a café selling some Jewish favourites.
Stop nine is the District Six Museum and if you choose just one museum to visit on your day out, then go to this one. It charts the forced removal of coloured people and the destruction of this area of Cape Town during the apartheid, and is told through emotional accounts by the displaced community.
The Castle of Good Hope is the next stop on the route and visitors have the opportunity to have a look inside the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa. Built in the 1600s, visitors can explore the massive structure while learning about the defensive fort. It’s great for the views too.
If you’re interested in gold, then get off at stop eleven for the Gold Museum, which looks at the history of gold in South Africa. It’s located close to the colourful Bo-Kaap if you’re interested in Cape Town’s ‘Malay Quarter’. Alternatively, get off the bus at stop twelve for Jewel Africa, which is located in Bo-Kaap. Jewel Africa is a huge jewellery and diamond showroom where you can have jewellery custom made.
From this point on the red bus tour starts moving away from the city centre. Stop thirteen is the Table Mountain Cableway stop. If it’s not too windy or overcast, the cable cars taking visitors to the top of the mountain will be running. It is absolutely worth going to the top of Cape Town’s most famous landmark and the views from the top are spectacular.
After Table Mountain is Camps Bay, which is most frequented by the wealthy and elite, whether they are South Africans, foreign visitors or international celebrities. There are loads of bars, restaurants and cafés lining the beachfront road as well as an alluring sandy beach to sit on. The water at Camps Bay and further up the coast is said to be some of the calmest in and around the Cape.
The next stop is another luxury Cape Town hotel – the President Hotel on Bantry Bay. If you don’t fancy having a look at the hotel, the walk along the bay is pleasant.
Sea Point is the red bus tour’s penultimate stop and is another trendy Cape Town suburb to explore and have a coffee. Sea Point merges into Green Point where you’ll see the FIFA World Cup football stadium.
The final stop of the red bus tour is Winchester Mansions, a renowned hotel. It sits on an enviable seafront spot and is perfect for relaxing after a tough day of sightseeing. The Gingko Health and Wellness Spa inside the hotel is a good place to start if you’re serious about being pampered. From here, the red bus will take you back to the Two Oceans Aquarium, where it will start its route again.
Blue Mini Peninsula Tour
The Blue Mini Peninsula tour helps visitors get to key attractions a bit further outside the city as well as those in the city. It misses out some of the central Cape Town stops the red bus goes to, but once you’re in the city centre nothing is too far a walk away. In theory, you could therefore see all the places the red bus stops at by doing a bit of walking too. The only constraint is time and how much you can realistically fit into one day.
The blue bus tour starts at the Two Oceans Aquarium, then goes on to the Clock Tower, Cape Town’s International Convention Centre, the tourist office and Mount Nelson Hotel, just like the red tour.
After the Mount Nelson Hotel, the blue tour deviates from the red route and goes off to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. The gardens are found in a massive 528 hectare estate making it a fabulous place to explore and get lost in. The gardens include the Peninsula Garden, where 2,500 plant species that are found on the Cape Peninsula can be seen. The Medicinal Garden and the Fragrance Garden are also really interesting gardens to traverse. There are also guided tours and shuttle car tours available once inside the grounds. Kirstenbosch is the perfect place to stop for a picnic lunch. The estate also hosts live music and other events on balmy summer evenings – even Elton John played there this year - so it’s worth finding out if there’s something on during your stay that you want to go back for.
Next stop on the blue tour is the World of Birds and the Monkey Jungle in Hout Bay’s valley. The bird sanctuary is the largest bird park in Africa and has more than 3,000 birds and animals. There are a hundred aviaries to walk through and lots of squirrel monkeys to see in the Monkey Jungle. Other mammals you might see include meerkats, marmosets, bushpigs and porcupines.
After the World of Birds is a stop at the Imizamo Yetho Township. It’s only in relatively recent times that the government allowed the informal settlement to have basic services including roads, water and sewerage to be introduced and for the settlement to be named. ‘Imizamo Yethu’ means ‘our combined effort’ in Xhosa, South Africa’s second most spoken official language. Home to thousands of people, this stop on the blue bus route is a really important one if you want to learn about life in the townships. You’ll be able to take a tour of the township with a resident as your guide. Giving you a real insight into how the community works as well as helping residents earn an income; you’ll be really pleased you went. You can also taste some local cuisine and buy some typical African handmade arts and crafts from one of the many shops and stalls.
The final stop in the Hout Bay area is Mariner’s Wharf – the bay’s harbour area. The Mariner’s Wharf Bistro has some tasty seafood takeaways of different kinds of fish and chips. Hout Bay is also the place to take a boat over to Duiker Island, which is home to a large seal colony, although you might want to come back to do this another day.
After the Mariner’s Wharf stop, you’re back on the red route again, and will stop at Camps Bay, the President Hotel, Sea Point and Winchester Mansions before being taken back to stop one at Two Oceans Aquarium.
The Hop-On Hop-Off buses have a summer and winter timetable and you’ll be given a printed itinerary of when and where the buses leave from throughout the day. During winter, which is from August until mid October, the first buses leave just after 9am and you need to be on the last bus between about 5pm and 6pm, depending on how far along the route you are. During the summer, which is basically the rest of the year, the timetable isn’t all that different, except that you can catch the bus from about 8.30am instead.
You don’t have to start your tour at the Two Oceans Aquarium, you could get on at any stop along the way and pay for your ticket on the bus. There are a range of different tickets available and either the attendants in the office or those helping visitors on the bus are extremely helpful and happy to discuss what your best option is.
You’ll also get given a pair of headphones – you can plug these into sockets by any seats and select your language. The audio tour will then point out other notable landmarks along the journey and recount interesting anecdotes.
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