South Africa’s legislative capital is known for its rich history and thriving modern culture; and nowhere are these two elements more apparent than at the V&A Waterfront. Located at the foot of Signal Hill and washed by the deep blue waters of Table Bay, the Waterfront is Cape Town’s tourist showpiece—a place where crowds gather to eat, drink, shop, socialize, and admire breathtaking views of Table Mountain. There are a hundred ways to spend your time at the V&A Waterfront, with activities ranging from helicopter tours of the bay to some of the city’s top-rated restaurants and sightseeing attractions.
Take a Historical Walking Tour
Start your V&A Waterfront experience with a guided walking tour. The Waterfront is part of Cape Town’s working harbor, which dates back to 1654 when the first jetty was built by famous Dutch colonist Jan van Riebeeck. Your guide will introduce you to the landmarks that make up the area’s history, including the Clock Tower, the New Port Captain's Office, the Pumphouse (from which the continent's first electric lights were powered) and the Robinson Dry Dock (the first of its kind in South Africa). Tours last approximately 1.5 hours and depart daily from Chavonnes Battery Museum at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Tickets cost R150 per person, and are free for children younger than 5.
Shop for Arts and Crafts at the Watershed
A vast, light-filled warehouse providing space for more than 150 individual vendors, the Watershed specializes in the very best South African art and crafts with many of its high-quality products made locally in the Cape Town area. This is not your average African market: the prices are high and haggling is not expected. However, it offers a chance to invest in art, jewelry, fashion, and home decor created by some of the most exciting designers in South Africa. Make sure to visit the Watershed’s Jubilee Exhibition Hall, too, which hosts regular live entertainment, workshops, and exhibitions. Several stalls sell food and there's a children's playground at the entrance nearest the aquarium.
Get an Aerial View on a Helicopter Tour
Cape Town is often voted as one of the most scenic cities in the world. To see it in its full glory, book a helicopter tour with one of the charter companies based at the V&A Waterfront. Both Cape Town Helicopters and NAC Helicopters offer various sightseeing flights, ranging from 15-minute tours of the city itself (including landmarks like Camps Bay, the Clifton beaches and the Twelve Apostles hotel) to 50-minute flights along the length of the Cape Peninsula to the Cape of Good Hope. Whichever option you choose, the sight of the city and Table Mountain nestled between False Bay and the Atlantic Ocean is one you’ll never forget. Flights start at around R2,000 per person.
Meet the Marine Life at Two Oceans Aquarium
Just south of Cape Town, the tropical Indian Ocean meets the temperate Atlantic, creating a unique ecosystem defined by its incredible diversity of marine life. Two Oceans Aquarium reflects that diversity with magnificent, immaculately maintained displays of sea creatures from all over South Africa and beyond. Meet ragged-tooth sharks at the Predator Exhibit, or fall in love with the Penguin Exhibit's comical colony of African penguins. Feeding times and regular talks add an educational element, while kids love the touch tanks and walk-through underwater tunnel. For a truly immersive experience, consider signing up for a scuba dive alongside turtles and rays in the I&J Ocean Exhibit.
Book a Sightseeing Cruise
If you’d rather be on the water than under it, check out the charter companies based at the V&A Waterfront. There are plenty to choose from, so shop around for the vessel and itinerary that suit you best. Waterfront Charters gets good reviews and offers everything from budget Half Hour Seal and Harbor Cruises to Speed Boat Eco Adventures and Sunset Champagne Cruises aboard a beautiful sailing yacht. Prices vary according to which charter you choose. Whatever you decide, keep an eye out for Cape Town landmarks (like Robben Island, the Clifton beaches, and beautiful Blouberg beach); as well as local wildlife including the V&A Waterfront’s inquisitive resident Cape fur seals.
Sample Global Cuisine at the V&A Food Market
After a busy morning, you’re likely to be in need of refreshment. There are countless restaurants to choose from at the V&A Waterfront, but for the most eclectic dining experience, head to the V&A Food Market. Housed in the Old Power Station, the market features more than 40 vendors selling gourmet street food from all over the world. In the mood for Mexican burritos? You’ll find them next to stalls selling Knysna oysters, hand-crafted chocolates, Belgian waffles, and Thai noodles. Gluten-free and vegan diets are well catered for, while licensed bars sell the finest Western Cape craft beers and wines by the glass. Regular live music and outdoor tables add to the festive atmosphere.
Soak up the Sun in Nobel Square
The Food Market opens out onto Nobel Square, a lively public space at the heart of the V&A Waterfront perfect for picnicking, people-watching, and enjoying the district's talented street performers. There are large trestle tables arranged along the market side, where you can eat elbow-to-elbow with native Capetonians and fellow visitors. The square is named for the four bronze statues of South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize laureates that stand along the edge closest to the water. These life-size representations of Nelson Mandela, Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, and F.W. de Klerk make for a wonderful photo opportunity, especially on clear days when Table Mountain is visible in the background.
Visit the Waterfront's Art and Diamond Museums
At the Cape Town Diamond Museum, discover historical artifacts relating to the discovery of the first South African diamond in 1867; an event that sparked the diamond rush and changed the course of the country’s history. You’ll also learn about the modern diamond industry, including how the raw stones are graded and transformed into spectacular pieces of jewelry. Art lovers should head to Zeitz MOCAA, where ever-changing exhibitions give an insight into the best 21st-century art from across Africa and its diaspora. The building that houses the art museum is a masterpiece in itself. Dominated by concrete tubes that once served as the city's grain silo, it resembles the inside of a giant honeycomb.
Stroll the Waterfront at Night
At night, the V&A Waterfront transforms into a festive playground complete with street entertainers, live music, and hundreds of sparkling lights. Wander along the promenade, admiring the spectacle of the illuminated Cape Wheel and soaking up the sounds and scents spilling from the waterfront restaurants. Stop in for a craft beer and good conversation at one of the many pubs; or for a fine dining experience at celebrated seafood restaurants like Firefish or Baia. The Cape Town Comedy Club is known around the world for the quality of its stand-up performances, while pop-up bars add to the party atmosphere by plying the crowds with local craft gins and Western Cape wines.
Catch the Ferry to Robben Island
The V&A Waterfront is also the gateway to Robben Island, one of Cape Town’s top cultural attractions. The historic penal colony is located approximately 11 miles offshore, and the best way to get there is on a Robben Island ferry tour. Tours depart from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront and last for around four hours. They offer a moving insight into the prison where the iconic former president spent 18 years of his 27-year sentence (and where many other political prisoners were incarcerated for their role in the fight against apartheid). Many guides are ex-prisoners. Tours depart at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m. and cost R550 for adults. Children under 18 pay R300.