Cape Town on Foot
Don your walking shoes and hit Cape Town's eclectic streets
Cape Town city, at the core of the City Bowl, offers a fascinating walk through time, from ancient tales of the country's first settlers, to some of the country's trendiest stores, restaurants and hotels. This route is easily doable in a few hours, a morning, or over an entire day, so don your walking shoes and hit Cape Town's eclectic streets, for this is one of the most overlooked yet best things to do in Cape Town.
Stay in the heart
There is a wealth of accommodation in Cape Town city centre, catering to various budgets, tastes and standards. Few, however, are as historically significant, or luxuriously opulent, as the Taj Hotel on Wale Street. In light of its recent completion, it might come as a surprise that this five-star establishment can lay claim to being one steeped in history. But a careful examination of its exterior will reveal that this building is one of the city's oldest, occupying two buildings of different eras - the 1896 Temple Chambers, and the 1932 South African Reserve Bank.
The Taj Hotel makes the perfect starting point for the exploration of Cape Town's St George's Mall and the Museum Mile, with wide doors that open onto two different features: on the western side, St George's Mall, and to the south, St George's Cathedral and the upper end of the Company's Gardens.
Breakfast in St George's Mall
Breakfast in the area is a delightful affair, with a multitude of options catering for all desires. Mint Restaurant, located inside the Taj Hotel offers a delectable and classy selection menu in its bright and breezy location at the bottom of the mall; if you're just looking for a quick and delicious pastry and perfect cappuccino, pop in to Doppio Zero, located in Mandela Rhodes Place, nearby.
Walk the Mall
Once you've satisfied your early-morning hunger, continue your morning with a gentle walk along St Georges Mall, a buzzing tree-lined pedestrian-only zone packed with street-side traders, hustling nine-to-fivers, wide-eyed tourists and an enthralling cross-section of Cape Town's hard working citizens and innovative entrepreneurs.
Originally known as Berg Street, this artery running through the Cape Town city centre was one of the most desirable addresses for the settlement's wealthy bourgeoisie dating back to 1693 until it developed into a region dominated by commercial and financial institutions in the early 19th century. The street was eventually closed to vehicular traffic in 1992, signalling a new era for this fascinating stretch of road.
As you wander down St George's Mall, pop into the various stores along the way, with platinum credit card in hand - the city's highest concentration of jewellers is located right here. Haggle with informal traders for anything from cigarettes to sunglasses, and pop into the many stores of big brands located nearby.
Keep an eye out for an original slab of the Berlin Wall, towards the top of the mall, donated to Nelson Mandela, find the infamous Bart Simpson Statue, and be sure to seek out the buildings housing two of the city's biggest newspapers, the Cape Argus and Cape Times. Once considered Cape Town's own Fleet Street, the Cape Argus and Cape Times still have offices here, and their displays on the outside of their buildings offer fascinating insight into the city and country's news over the ages.
Most importantly, however, don't forget to look up - the buildings that line this stretch of road are among the city's most grandiose and are typically a mixture of Cape Dutch, Georgian, and Victorian styles. Many of these buildings have seen luxurious revivals of late and today some of the city centre's most expensive real estate is hidden behind the classic facades.
As you reach the top end of the mall the atmosphere begins to change, and the high-end stores and restaurants fall away to a selection of fast food vendors and a greater focus on informal trading. At this point, many tourists opt for the curio Mecca of Greenmarket Square, where dozens of traders from across Africa peddle their wares. This cobble-stoned square was originally built in the late 1600s and was the location for the city's first burgher watchtower. It also served as an informal trading zone for weary sailors passing through the Cape of Storms, and the buildings that tower over the square date back to the mid 1800s. At their feet, you'll find a diverse selection of coffee shops, bars and eateries catering for all tastes.
In the cramped aisles of this well-managed market, you'll have to be firm with demanding stall owners, and be prepared to barter - a good starting point is typically 40% of their asking price. Alternatively, offer to buy more than one item from the same vendor, and you're sure to bag a great bargain. Ensure that you visit all the stalls before you make any commitments - chances are good that the vendor on the other side of the square will have similar products at better prices. And if you spot a one-of-a-kind curio but don't have the hand-space, negotiate a pick-up time later that day so you can explore the city luggage-free.
The Original Beachfront
Return to St George's Mall and continue walking towards the Foreshore and Strand Street; now in the heart of the city, Strand (beach, in Afrikaans) Street was the original marker of Cape Town's beach front.
For a spectacular and heart-stopping perspective of the city, take a quick ride in the glass walled elevators in the Southern Sun Cape Sun Hotel, which offers panoramic views of the City Bowl, the Cape Town Stadium and of course Table Mountain.
Head east on Strand and turn right down Adderly Street. Once the city's premier shopping location, Adderly Street is now a busy mash-up of vintage architectural styles and garish 1960s and 70s buildings. This street, previously known as Heerengracht (Gentleman's Canal) was a canal that ran from the Company Gardens through to the ocean, which was all but buried in the 19th century, which was when the street was assigned its present day name.
Pop into the somewhat unattractive Golden Acre Mall to get a taste of how regular Capetonians, most of whom have just arrived at the Cape Town Station, do their shopping, and look out for a small remnant of the Golden Acre Ruins - South Africa's oldest colonial structure, demolished during the establishment of the centre. Continue on to the Grand Parade and the City Hall - the site of Nelson Mandela's first speech after being released from prison, and, more recently, the location of Cape Town's spectacular FIFA 2010 World Cup Fan Park.
The incredibly popular Eastern Food Bazaar, hidden in a slither of a building between Parliament and Plein streets is accessible from either Darling or Longmarket, is your best bet for lunch. This food court style restaurant serves up a spectacular selection of Asian meals at unbeatable prices, which are available to take away or eat-in. Weekday lunchtime is busy and often chaotic, as office workers nearby flock to this gastronomic gem, often overlooked by hungry tourists.
Continue south along Adderly, being sure to pick up freshly cut flowers from the famous Adderly Street flower sellers, keep an eye out for two of the country’s most spectacular bank buildings, and you'll soon find yourself back where you started - at the foot of the historically significant St George's Cathedral, and at the start of the Museum Mile - at the top of the Company's Gardens.
Walking Cape Town's City Centre is one of the best ways to experience the heartbeat of the Mother City, and will give you a great taste of one of the country's most successful Central Business Districts. There's no right or wrong way to walk the city centre - head out with our Cape Town maps and these guidelines in hand, and be prepared to be drawn in along the way as you drink in everything that its stores, buildings, attractions and people have to offer.