Urban exploration in Cape Town

2012-11-14 10:47

There was a time that city centres were heeded as only useful for the 9 - 5 type things: business, banking and only the most austere sorts of shopping. However, over the past century there has been a large-scale, worldwide movement to give those once overlooked urban areas a facelift. Instead of having people enter the city centre, just to leave as soon as possible, these projects have aimed to attract visitors, encouraging them to explore, spend more time and enjoy cityscapes. 

While this sort of urban renewal started as early as the 19th century in developed nations such as the US, it only really started taking off here on home soil since the dawn of the naughties. This has seen the urban centres of especially Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban cleaned up, regenerated and repurposed as areas for creative expression, exploration and (re)discovery. 

We take a look at a few of the best ways to explore Cape Town's (beautiful) innermost city areas.

The Fringe


About ten years ago Cape Town's Fringe District was the sort of place you'd rather avoid... especially at night, but even in broad daylight. However, when the area was earmarked as the next information, technology and creative hub for the city in 2007, things started to change. The dilapidated buildings were transformed into stylish studios, apartments and business properties (of course maintaining their industrial chic charm) and soon followed the influx of dynamic go-getters. 

With its boundaries set loosely to include everything between Roeland and Darling Streets, Buitenkant and Canterbury Streets, The Fringe has come to be known as not only Cape Town, the Western Cape or South Africa's up-and-coming environment for design, media innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship, but Africa's.

Here are some of the coolest things to do and places to visit: 

- Cape Town World Music Festival 

This year saw the very first installment of the Cape Town World Music festival at the beginning of November. Drawing acts from all over South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Swaziland, even Israel and France, the festival proved to be a welcome urban addition to the variety of country-side festivals such as Rocking the Daisies, Up the Creek and Synergy. Centered upon the oh-so-happening Harrington Street - more, specifically Charly's Bakery Parking Lot and the Assembly - the festival was easy to access from anywhere in the city and well structured. 

- Coffee shops 

There are two main conveyors of really fine coffee in the district.

The one is Field Office, which you will find in Barrack Street and serves a really good cup of Deluxe. The website describes the minimalistically decorated shop as "a meeting place, an office-away-from-the-office, a sometimes quiet spot to hide, read, blog, gaze or pretend to be working." Apart from coffee, they also offer free WiFi, a range of artisanal sandwiches, pies, cakes and fresh juices.

Then there's the Truth Coffee Cult HQ located on the Fringe's main artery, Buitenkant Street. Housed within a sprawling industrial-looking space, this quirky steampunk-inspired coffee shop invites creatives to settle down at one of the long wooden tables and get some work done between chit chat, networking. If you don't have time for that, just stop at the street-side serving window and grab a paper cup of one of their delicious brews for only R10! 

- Other cool places to visit

The Fugard Theatre - The 280-seater Fugard Theatre is located within the historic Sacks Futeran building, with the renovated Congregational Church Hall in Caledon Street as its entrance. It's named in honour of Athol Fugard, South Africa's greatest playwright and provides a more intimate theatre experience than the likes of Artscape and Baxter. 

Book Lounge - Located on one of the busy corners where Buitenkant crosses Roeland, you will find an old-fashioned pink and white building with an intriguing array of books peaking through the downstairs windows. Book Lounge is an independent store and something of a hub for Capetonian authors and literati who like to gather here and discuss the latest developments in the industry. 

Dogs Bollocks - Despite (or maybe precisely BECAUSE of this) being nothing more than a pop-up restaurant in a garage, complete with white wire garden furniture, serving wine in plastic tumblers and burgers in paper wrapping, Dogs Bollocks has come to be known as one of the best burger joints in town. You will find it in Roodehek Street just off Buitenkant.


Every full moon Cape Town's streets get an extra sprinkling of magic as hundreds of bikes, boards and wheels of all sorts take over in a mass celebration of the city and the unique joy of navigating it using only eco-friendly energy. 

Going by the name of #moonlightmass, this invigorating community event started in January 2012 when Daniel Graham and Elad Kirshenbaum decided that a full moon ride along the promenade would be quite dandy indeed. "We turned to twitter... and started as a social experiment. We tweeted about the ride, time and date, and waited patiently to see who would join us on our debut #moonlightmass," the two co-founders explain on the webiste. 

While the first one may only have seen a handful of eager cyclists, the even draws a hugely diverse crowd these days, and has certainly become one of the most popular ways to experience Cape Town's unique urban vibe. 

It happens every full moon at about 9pm. It starts at the Green Point circle and wends its way all along Granger Bay Boulevard, Beach Road, Moullie Point Promenade, the Fan Mile cycle lane, and comes to an end at Greenmarket Square. The route is approximately 12 kilometers long and takes an easy hour to complete. 

Walking tour

Even if you've been living and working in a city for years, it could take you by surprise if you just gave it half a chance. 

We recently joined one of the Taj Cape Town's ‘Footsteps to Freedom' walking tours, which took us on the usual paths we tread everyday - from the office to a favourite coffee shop, grocery store or corner café - but somehow managed to infuse new life into them. While the flower sellers on Adderley Street are an everyday sight to most people who work in the city centre, do you really know when they started selling their colourful wares? Or did you know that there's a tiny sculpture of David Livingstone on the Mutual Heights building in Darling Street? 

Check out the Footsteps to Freedom website for more details:  

CitySightseeing Night Tour

If you, at a whim, feel the need to rediscover your city through the eyes of a tourist, pack a picnic basket and head out on one of the famous topless red buses for an evening of exploration. While the CitySightseeing Night Tour does not necessarily concentrate on the inner city areas, it takes you on an interesting meander of the Atlantic Coastline, giving rare insights into this picturesque outlying area. 

One of the humorous anecdotal gems from the tour is the story about the infamous Graaff's Pool in Sea Point. Once a favourite spot among male-only nude bathers, a high wall protected the area from prying eyes. Despite this an elderly lady complained to the city council about the ungainly activities playing themselves out behind the wall, and when they asked her how she managed to spot the frolickers she said: "It's all plainly visible when I stand on my kitchen table!" 

Check out the CitySightseeing website for more details. 

Farmers markets 

Rather ironically, the most gritty of urban areas have become popular spots for a new spin on the traditional farmers market. While most Capetonians are quite familiar with the Biscuit Mill (perhaps the market that started it all), many may be unaware of smaller markets popping up here, there and everywhere. 

- Market at the Palms
A great alternative to the Biscuit Mill if the maddening crowds and parking problems get to you, this quaint little market can be found in the Palms Lifestyle and shopping centre on Victoria Road in Woodstock. It offers anything from wine tasting, to delicious edibles and even a few attractive crafts. Catch all the delightful action between 09:00 and 14:00 on Saturday mornings. Check out their Facebook page for more details. 

Read more on:    travel south africa


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