Secret Cape Town
20 lesser-known things to do and try
Hiking up Table Mountain, going to Camps Bay Beach, visiting Robben Island and the Kirstenbosch Gardens are all great things to do when visiting Cape Town. But besides the city’s obvious assets that have been written about to death, Cape Town is packed with a plethora of hidden treasures that will take you beyond the guidebooks.
Have you ever been at Clifton 3 1⁄2 beach?
Experience the real character of Cape Town and its unique local expression with our list of 20 things to do, try and taste that you won’t find on the obvious tourist circuit. Text by Megan King.
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Milnerton Market is Cape Town’s open-air thrift mecca. Bargain hunters, kitsch collectors and vintage lovers have the opportunity to sift through a medley of second-hand treasures ranging from vintage cameras, trinkets, kitchenware, furniture, precious books, vinyl records and old paintings. The market is open every Saturday and Sunday but make sure you arrive early to get your pick of the best. Take a break from shopping with a traditional Bunny Chow lunch from one of the food caravans.
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The Labia Theatre is South Africa’s oldest independent cinema and an icon of old-world charm and independent culture in the city. The Labia sets itself apart with its thoughtful lineup of documentaries, foreign-language and art house films. You also have the choice of accompanying your popcorn with beer and wine, not to mention the fact that you don’t need to go anyway near a shopping mall to go to the cinema.
Dubbed ‘sunset rock’ by some locals, the large boulders that sit in the affluent neighbourhood of Fresnaye make for an incredible sundowner spot with views overlooking Camps Bay and Clifton. Bring a picnic and a glass of bubbly and toast to the spectacular vistas that wrap around the Atlantic Seaboard.
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The Sandy Bay hike is one of the most beautiful and accessible trails in Cape Town. Starting just past Llandudno, the trail takes you past magnificent coastlines, huge rocks and epic coastal fynbos, and offers unique views of Table Mountain National Park. There also happens to be a shipwreck anchored along its rugged shores. The hike is dog friendly but isn’t very populated, so make sure not to go at it alone. Other highlights include nude bathing at Sandy Bay beach.
For a multinational food experience like no other, head to the Eastern Food Bazaar between Longmarket and Darling Street in the city center. Serving hundreds of people each day, the bazaar is an arcade of different flavours and aromas from the East including Turkish, Indian and Chinese cuisine. Sit down or take away a generous portion of curry and rice or a scrumptious falafel wrap and chips for as little as R30!
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Love good music but hate the idea of being in a dingy club? Straight no Chaser on Hope Street is Cape Town’s best spot for the live, intimate concerts from local musicians and jazz legends. The quaint little space provides a relaxed, intimate atmosphere where it’s all about the music. Expect vinyl sets, mesmerizing jazz ensembles, electronic improvisations and acoustic rock from some of Cape Town’s best talent.
Beta Beach near Bakhoven is a welcome respite from the crowded shores of Clifton and Camps Bay. The small stretch of sand and huge boulders offer sun worshippers the chance to find a secluded spot upon this little slice of paradise. Before hitting the water, full up on a delicious breakfast or enjoy a post-beach lunch at Baked Bistro on Victoria road.
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Travel by train to the charming little village of Kalk Bay, where the Southern Line out of the city provides passengers with one of the most scenic and often overlooked journeys in the Cape. Some of the best fish and chips can be found at the Kalk Bay Fish Shop right near the harbour. Grab a takeaway to enjoy on the pier while watching the show put on by the resident seals in the area.
Continue on the Southern Line to Simon’s Town and you’ll discover a Tibetan Teahouse and art gallery serving authentic Tibetan dishes and yummy chai teas. The teahouse also hosts various meditation groups on different days on the month. Browse the shop for prayer flags, singing bowls, art and other Buddhist items.
Bookworms will be delighted to discover some wonderful bookshops in the city. The Book Lounge on Roeland Street is the best independent bookstore in the city, its shelves stacked with all the best new titles, art books and poetry collections. There is a cute little reading corner downstairs where you can enjoy coffee and a cake while you read. Check in store or online about any exciting book launches that are being hosted in discussion with your favorite authors. Those looking for vintage or more obscure reading can explore some of the second hand and community book stores in the city including Kafta, with branches in Seapoint and Clearmont or the historic Clarke’s Books in town.
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Vegetarians shouldn’t miss Zucchini’s on Loop Street, a tiny hole in a wall restaurant serving up hearty meat-free meals daily. It may not be much to look at, but the vibes are good and the food even better.
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Head down to On a Roll in Mowbray every Wednesday night for an evening filled with fun trivia and gourmet hotdogs. The rock and roll themed quiz night promises laughter and a dose of healthy competition paired with tasty food. Teams can accommodate up to 6 people at R20 per person.
Photo by Damien du Toit/flickr.com
The Bishopsford Bonsai Nursery in Constantia houses the biggest Bonsai garden in the Western Cape, offering visitors an awesome selection of ready-made Bonsais, accessories and starter kits to purchase. Those interested in these immaculate little micro trees can inquire about taking a course in the art on Bonsai making.
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At the Woodstock Co-op on Albert Road you can buy a vintage handbag, find the perfect dining room furniture and enjoy a delectable lunch made from fresh organic ingredients and support local, ethical trading all in one great space. For a tasty, local snack grab some sticky treats from the Cooked Sisters in the building.
You might be familiar with Truth, the steampunk themed coffee shop on Buitenkant Street (which was named the best coffee shop in the world by The Telegraph) but what you might not know is that on the last Thursday of every month, the coffee shop becomes an awesome Science Café. Expert speakers present discussions on topics on a range of interesting topics like botany, chemistry, and physics, while translating scientific concepts into easy to understand language and explanations. Entrance is free with drinks and food on sale.
For a truly unique experience, Dine with Khayelitsha gathers people from all corners of the earth for a meaningful dinner experience in the township. Enjoy exciting dinner conversation on a range of topics, from current social issues to innovation and entrepreneurship and all grounded in traditional African cuisine.
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Lefty’s is a dive bar on Harrington Street and a popular local hangout and watering hole. Grungy, smokey and bustling; the menu is a blackboard of mouth-watering indulgences that include a pulled-pork belly sandwich, slow-roast lamb ribs, Kentucky chicken waffles and ginger and beetroot falafel. Make sure to pop into a ramen bar upstairs — they make the best pork bao buns in town.
The Biodiversity Park in Greenpoint is one best green urban spaces in the city. Situated right near the promenade, the park is a network of beautiful walkways and water features and even has a geodesic dome. Walk the labyrinth, have a family picnic and stroll through the paths dotted with information and examples of some of the outstanding biodiversity and wildlife in the region.
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Colorbox Studios is one of the best creative additions in the city. Situated just past Woodstock in Paarden Island, the space hosts weekly music and dance events - often with international guests - in a beautifully curated warehouse space. Colourbox events attract a diverse, energetic crowd, and offer a fresh take on Cape Town’s nightlife.
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Check out the Alexander Bar and Theatre on Strand Street for a unique dining and entertainment experience. Styled in grand, vintage décor, the bar serves classy martinis, malts and wines and the kitchen stays open late. The upstairs theater hosts an assortment of live local acts - from music, comedy, drama and readings in an intimate setting.