It’s difficult to take visiting friends and family to places that don’t scream selfie sticks and long queues, in Cape Town. Obviously they must do Table Mountain, Robben Island, Kirstenbosch and the V&A Waterfront and it isn’t as if Cape Town is not surrounded on three sides by ocean, its City Bowl humming, its Atlantic beaches packed, and its winelands beckoning.
So, are there places to spend a few hours, or longer, without being besieged by tourists? We think there are.
Here’s our list of best non-touristy places in Cape Town …
The oldest Anglican cathedral in the country, St George’s Cathedral, is nothing short of marvellous inside. It’s a Sir Herbert Baker building with a legacy of services led by the Arch (the former Archbishop Desmond Tutu).
Designed along the lines of the Gothic St Pancras Church in London, it comes complete with a set of 10 ringing bells, a labyrinth within its grounds and a series of gorgeous stained glass windows that include a white and a black Christ (the church has a history of non-discrimination and is known as ‘the people’s cathedral’).
Its regular musical recitals include performances of the great composers, and the crypt below the church is a jazz restaurant.
A surprisingly lesser-visited landmark, the Slave Lodge is not only the second oldest existing colonial structure of the Cape Colony (dating back to 1660) but is also where all the slaves were kept overnight, locked in for the night in an overcrowded, damp unsanitary environment in which as many as 20% of them died every year.
The Afro-Asian slave trade of Cape Town is not as recognised as the American slave trade. Even less is known about the slaves themselves, but a visit here is essential to get in touch with Cape Town’s true history – the tale of thousands of people forcibly held within these walls, some of their names retained in perpetuity in the Column of Light.
The building has subsequently functioned as a brothel, jail, mental asylum, library, post office and Supreme Court.
The Milnerton Flea Market is a junk collector’s paradise open on both days of the weekend.
Second-hand treasures, bargains, vintage pieces, garage sale specials, cheap goods, plenty of odds and ends, and enough cutlery to keep numerous restaurants going are on display by traders operating out of their boots, trailers, under gazebos or umbrellas in a parking lot along the R27 in Paarden Eiland, Table Mountain in the distant background.
The best goods are snapped up early, but it easily provides a few hours of interesting finds, if chipped ornaments, seconds and old books are your thing. You won’t leave empty-handed.
Part business incubator (known as The Hub), part shopping mall (Container Walk) here’s a spot that definitely doesn’t attract busloads of tourists. In fact, you probably won’t have visited either. Philippi Village is based in the old cement factory in Philippi.
Your main reason for bringing guests here will be the brew at the Department of Coffee – Cape Town’s only township coffee shop (awesome coffee; good prices). But the shipping container shopping mile (the Container Walk) is equally exciting.
Over 120 containers are almost all let (leases are subsidised subject to tenants signing up for business courses at The Hub) with rentals that are half that of other shopping centres. Also visit: 2nd Take Clothing, Afri-Can Cafe, Ethical Co-Op, Haute Couture Dressmaking, Luv Hair Salon and others. Look out for the small-scale fish farm.
Cape Town’s original independent art movie house that has something of a cult following always has something worth watching on one of its four screens. It lies on Orange Street, Gardens and even screens the odd box office hit, provided it’s artsy enough.
This is indie-flavoured theatre at its best in a charming art nouveau building that originally served as an Italian Embassy ballroom, opened by Princess Labia in 1949.
The antique ticket booth alone is worth a visit, and we highly recommend the spiked slush (with a tot of gin thrown in), popcorn or brownies. Look out for the movie and dinner specials when the Labia partners with several local eateries to offer pre-screening deals. A crowd-funded campaign recently saw new digital projectors in all the cinemas.
THE BOMBAY BICYCLE CLUB
For sheer theatrical exuberance you can’t beat the Bombay Bicycle Club (the restaurant at the top end of Kloof Street, not the English indie rock band from Crouch End) at night.
This is one of several of the Madame Zingara chain of restaurants. You do risk stumbling upon the odd A-lister here, but it is certainly not a run-of-the-mill tourist trap. The food and the waitrons are delicious (try the chili-chocolate fillet), whilst the eccentricity and loud vibe will turn even the most boring house guests into party animals (after 10pm some drinks are two for one).
These cobbled streets and gentrified cottages make trekking out to Wynberg well worth the effort, particularly as they are still relatively unknown to tourists, despite being declared an urban conservation area in 1981. It’s also known as Wynberg Village or Little Chelsea for its European vibe, heritage Cape Georgian buildings and obvious likeness to London’s Chelsea.
Along the high street are a series of shops of artists, interior designers, designers and a fair number of restaurants, including the popular Four and Twenty Cafe and Deli.
Less touristy than the Biscuit Mill market and the OZCF Granger Bay market, this is an indoor food market that serves it all when it comes to food. Locals shop here regularly (Saturday mornings and Wednesday evenings) for meat, beer, cheese, bread, organic vegetables, deli food and flowers.
And the central table d’hôtes make for interesting dinner companions and conversation, if you can hear yourself over the din (on Wednesday evenings, particularly, you’ll be lucky if you can move in here, let alone find a seat). It’s vibey and the food is excellent.
This is as far from the madding crowd as you can possibly get in Cape Town, but it is worth the trek and the uphill back to the road afterwards. This gorgeously secluded beach just before Cape Point Nature Reserve is beautiful. You won’t get much swimming done, but it’s peaceful and a chance to just chill in amongst the beachside shacks without the crowds.