Founded in 1680, Simon’s Town is a historic seaside anchorage nestled into the eastern flank of the Cape’s dramatic peninsula. For more than 350 years, this sheltered harbour, which overlooks False Bay, has served as a major naval base, first to the Dutch settlers, then the British, and now the South African Navy. Few other places in South Africa, never mind the Cape, can rival the maritime history of Simon’s Town but it’s for many more reasons than history alone that locals and tourists flock to this South Peninsula suburb. Let’s take a look at ten awesome ways to spend your day in Simon’s Town.
# 1 – Watch the sun rise over False Bay
With its face to the east, sunrises are something spectacular to behold in Simon’s Town. It might be a bit of an early morning but with the sun rising later in winter (07:00 and getting later until 21st June), it shouldn’t prove impossible to peel the family out of bed. Getting to Simon’s Town earlier rather than later is also a good idea because the wind can pick up in the late afternoon.
# 2 – Grab a light breakfast and a coffee
With the sun firmly in the sky and everyone’s stomachs catching up with their eyelids, it’s time to grab a decent cup of coffee and a breakfast. St. George’s Street, the main road through Simon’s Town, is peppered with cafés. Monocle & Mermaid serves coffee, pastries, and light meals, and also sells local art and music; The Sweetest Thing dishes up a mouth-watering selection of baked goods, cakes, pastries, and pies; and Think Coffee is the place to go for a truly excellent cuppa.
# 3 – Go on an audio tour
Named after Simon van der Stel, the first Governor of the Cape Colony, Simon’s Town is steeped in centuries’ old history. An audio tour is an engaging way to learn and appreciate this history while strolling down the town’s “historic mile,” taking in attractions such as the Admiralty House, St Francis Church, Simon’s Town Museum, The British Hotel, and more.
Simply download the audio tour for Simon’s Town, narrated by local author Maureen Miller, for only $1.99 or R30 from VoiceMap. The tour kicks off at the Simon’s Town train station (the last stop on the southern line from Cape Town) and ends conveniently in the village centre, where there’s lots to do and see.
# 4 – Visit Just Nuisance
One of Simon’s Town’s most beloved characters is the Great Dane Just Nuisance: the only dog to ever be officially admitted to the Royal Navy! From 1939 to 1944, Just Nuisance served on the HMS Afrikander and was buried with full naval honours when he passed away. He remains a beloved character to this day, so no trip to Simon’s Town is complete without a picture taken with his bronze statue in Jubilee Square. You can also visit his special display at the Simon’s Town Museum or walk the Cable Hill pathway up to his gravesite on Red Hill.
# 5 – Do a little shopping at Jubilee Square
Since you’re in Jubilee Square making your acquaintance with Just Nuisance, why not indulge in a little retail therapy? You’ll find scores of informal traders peddling traditional wares, arts, and curios in this scenic square, which also overlooks the water. On Saturdays, the trading erupts into a full-scale crafts market.
# 6 – Refuel! Go for a seafood lunch
With all that walking and shopping under the belt, it’s time for a hearty lunch! And being a seaside village, what better way is there to refuel than to sit down to a meal of fresh seafood? Bertha’s Restaurant is an institution in these parts and serves a mean fish and chips. They also do seafood platters, fresh oysters, and prawns, which can be enjoyed on their terrace with gorgeous views over the harbour. To the west, on Wharf Street, you’ll find the slightly less formal Salty Sea Dog and, to the east, Neptune’s Restaurant. A little further towards Cape Point, there’s the Black Marlin.
# 7 – Visit the penguin colony at Boulder’s Beach
Perhaps the most famous of all Simon’s Town’s attractions is Boulder’s Beach, a wonderful sheltered little beach that’s home to a breeding colony of 3,000 African penguins. The recently constructed boardwalk offers decent views of the penguins; alternatively – and more favourably – you can pay the entrance fee and spend an hour or two chilling on the sand and swimming in the ocean (you’ll very likely share the water with the penguins).
# 8 – Go sea kayaking
Another way to see the penguins is to sign up for a sea kayaking trip with a company like Kayak Cape Town, which offers daily adventures (all year) in and around False Bay. Glide in the shadows of the navy base’s retired warships, enjoy the brisk ocean air, and paddle side-by-side with African penguins. Look out for whales, seals, and dolphins, the latter two of which are year-round residents. No prior experience is needed and a professional guide will make sure you’re safe at all times.
# 9 – Whale watching with the Simon’s Town Boating Company
Get up close and personal with the Cape’s extraordinary marine life and visiting whales with a 10:30 or 14:00 excursion with the Simon’s Town Boating Company. Their highly qualified crew operate four custom designed vessels and all tours are accompanied by expert commentary. The most common visiting mammal to the western half of False Bay is the southern right whale, but sightings of Bryde’s whales, humpback whales, dolphins, and even orcas are not uncommon.
# 10 – Visit Simon’s Town’s museums
Simon’s Town is a treasure trove of museums and carefully restored and maintained heritage sites, which radiate the antiquity and charm of this naval village. Whether you simply take a stroll down St. George’s Street to appreciate the heritage buildings or pop in to one of the many museums here – the Simon’s Town Museum (housed in ‘The Residency’, which was built in 1777), South African Naval Museum, or Warrior Toy Museum – it’s virtually impossible not to feel transported to a bygone era.