The dream for many Capetonians is to get away: to step outside the familiar and receive a heady dose of culture, history, and natural heritage someplace far away. We get so distracted by the allure of the exotic that we forget the incredible attractions on our very own doorstep! It’s for these very attractions that millions of tourists fly from the far reaches of the globe… and yet, we sit here dreaming of being elsewhere.
When last did you stroll through the city bowl’s historic districts to admire the centuries’ old architecture? Have you ever walked around and met with the colourful characters of Bo-Kaap? Do you know how apartheid shaped the Cape and the lives of the people who live here?
Most Capetonians are only familiar with a few chapters of Cape Town’s incredible story. And so, with summer firmly on its way, what better way to become a tourist in your own city (and brush up on your history and culture) than to go on one or even all of these walking tours? They’re free and you may even learn something!
Option # 1: Historic city tour
Times: Every day at 11am and again at 4.20pm
Cape Town began as a colony and the story of her development was as triumphant as it was tragic. Meet the cast of villains and heroes in this epic story as you wander the oldest, most historic districts of the city, admiring the architecture of buildings that date back to the 1600’s. The historic city tour affords keen insights into the whole story of the Mother City and the various eras, people, and groups that have shaped her and the entirety of South Africa’s history.
On this tour, you can expect to take in the Company Gardens, Green Market Square, the Castle of Good Hope, the Slave Lodge, Parliament, the President’s House, and the oldest living citizen in Cape Town.
Option # 2: Bo-Kaap walking tour
Times: Every day at 2pm and again at 4.20pm
Few places in Cape Town and indeed South Africa can rival the colour and character of the famous and historic Bo-Kaap. Located on the slopes of Signal Hill overlooking the city (Bo-Kaap means “above Cape Town city”), you’ll find an enchanting district of colourful houses, where the heady smell of Cape Malay spices and the singing of the Islamic Imams permeates the air. Bo-Kaap is a place of great cultural heritage here in Cape Town and, on this tour, the guides will follow a route where its vibrant atmosphere is most electric, perhaps even stopping for a beer at a local tavern.
Highlights of the Bo-Kaap tour include the city’s oldest Mosque “Auwal Masjeed”, the old Tailor’s House, the beautiful multi-coloured homes, Biesmiellah Cape Malay Restaurant, and the Atlas Spice Trading Centre. You’ll also pass through the historic Long Street and Bree Street, which are famous for their restaurants, cafés, bars, and nightclubs.
Option # 3: Apartheid to freedom tour
Times: Every day at 11am and again at 2pm
You’ll be hard-pressed to find a local or even a visitor to South Africa who isn’t aware of the era of Apartheid and the impact it had on our country. This free walking tour brings alive the characters, stories, and events that played out against the backdrop of Table Mountain, right here in the Mother City. Receive a sweeping introduction to the history of this era, its laws, consequences, and sites of significance and then how the struggle for freedom eventually saw Nelson Mandela released from prison.
On this tour, you can expect to take in St. George’s Cathedral (with an introduction to Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu), the Cape High Court, District Six, the “apartheid benches”, and hear an account of Mandela’s first speech as a free man.
Free walking tour details
All tours depart twice daily from Greenmarket Square in the Cape Town city centre – look out for the green umbrella, as that will be your meeting point. There’s no need to book your place on any of these tours, just arrive a few minutes before the designated starting time and, if it’s a hot day, slap on some sunscreen. Also make sure you’re wearing decent walking shoes, as each of these tours averages two hours in length.
The tour guides
The tour guides are friendly and knowledgeable and will explain the history, sights, and attractions you see along your chosen route. They should also introduce you to a little of Cape Town’s unique culture, traditions, and lingo, as well as the popular eateries and watering holes.
Are they really free?
Yes, these walking tours won’t cost you a thing! However, you should still bring a little “moolah” with you in case you get thirsty or spot a souvenir you want. Also, the guides that run the tours rely on tips to get by. So, it would be a kind and appreciative gesture to leave them with a little something at the end of the tour if you feel they deserve it.
There are a number of different tour companies offering free walking tours around Cape Town, but the details mentioned in this article apply to Nielsen Tours. For more information, you can reach them on (+27) 76 636 9007 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, check out the website: www.nielsentours.co.za/capetown