It’s said that travel broadens the mind. It’s certainly true that immersing oneself in a place beyond one’s usual comfort zone will definitely be a learning experience: about yourself and about the cultures and people you’ll meet while there.
Cape Town is a city filled with so many treasures – its diverse population, rich history, different cultures – and a visit to this city that regularly makes it into global lists of the top tourist destinations will certainly expose you to things that will be different, new and worth knowing about.
Beyond the iconic attractions, like Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront, a great way to experience this urban hub at the tip of Africa is to walk through the city. “Being relatively small in size, it’s quite possible to cover a major part of the CBD within a few hours,” says the CEO of Cape Town Tourism, Enver Duminy.
“In addition to the many things to see, hear and taste on your walk, you’ll also catch some stunning views of our iconic Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. If you’re there at midday, don’t be startled by the loud boom of the Noon Day Gun, a tradition that’s been part of the city for hundreds of years.”
You can walk on your own but it’s a good idea to take along some information to guide you about where to walk and what to look out for. Without this, you may miss the nuances relating to Cape Town’s pre-reclamation days when ambling around the lower end of the city. Look out for street names like ‘Strand’ and ‘Sea’ – although far from the sea today, they would have been situated at the water’s edge before the Foreshore area was created in the 1930s and ’40s through land reclamation from Table Bay.
This also explains an interesting fact about the Castle: although it is far from the sea now, the Atlantic Ocean was right in front of it when it was built.
You may learn far more, though, if you join one of Cape Town’s free walking tours. “These are well-structured walking tours, led by a guide, and the tourist is asked only to provide a tip. There is no formal charge for them,” Duminy explains.
The walking tours are themed, so a visitor can select a route that most taps into their own interests. For instance, the impact of the apartheid-era forced removals is revealed on the District Six Tour, an element of history that our children must be taught. The Historic City Walk focusses on both the pleasant and unpleasant stories of our history: slavery, Mandela’s speech after his release from prison, and the varied architectural styles that reflect the history of the city.
Look out for some of the lesser-known items that reflect this history: the ‘Whites Only’ benches in Queen Victoria Street and the piece of the Berlin Wall given to Nelson Mandela by the German government in recognition of the struggle for freedom.
The Bo-Kaap Tour takes you to the quaint area known the world-over for its rainbow of houses up the side of Signal Hill. Here you’ll learn about the Muslim population that traces its history back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Don’t miss out on trying some of the time-honoured food made by members of this community: it’s done in traditional Cape Malay style and will certainly prickle your taste buds.
Another fascinating walking tour takes you into Cape Town’s underground tunnels and sewers. While the smells aren’t always very pleasant, the history is – learn how Capetonians have used the canals and rivers flowing down from Table Mountain throughout our history.
So, make sure you include a walking tour on our list of things to experience when you visit South Africa’s Mother City. “Walking through the city will allow you to immerse yourself among the many cultures that make Cape Town so distinct. Chat to locals from different backgrounds, and you’ll gain varying perspectives about the city. These one-on-one human encounters will open your eyes to the different facets the city has to offer and how Cape Town is evolving in terms of diversity,” Duminy concludes.