Cape Town Waterfront

The V & A Waterfront in Cape Town | Cape Town Top Attractions

The Cape Town Waterfront or the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront is today the Mother City’s foremost entertainment and shopping district. But did u know, that this area only exists for a bit more than thirty years? Once part of the historic docklands, the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town welcomes now more than 24 million visitors every year.

The Cape Town Waterfront was established on reclaimed land around the Victoria and Alfred basins in 1988 and is still a working harbour with the local fishing industry occupying 60% of the site. Cape Town harbour, originating from 1860, is today one of the world's few working harbours and caters for a wide range of vessels from working boats to yachts. The harbour provides also berthing to passenger boats, super yachts and has a new cruise terminal for luxury cruise liners.

The V&A Waterfront boasts magnificent views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mother City at the foot of majestic Table Mountain and is located close to most of Cape Town's famous tourist attractions.

V&A Waterfront courtesy of V&A Waterfront TourismCape Town Waterfront at sunset - a magical experience

Cape Town Waterfront Attractions:

  • Shop till you drop: With over 450 retailers in the various shopping centres around the waterfront, you can find pretty much all your shopping heart aches for. Shopping hours are from 9h00 to 21h00 daily. And make sure to stop at the bright yellow Watershed and support the local shopkeepers offering local designer clothes and locally-made arts and crafts. 
  • Visit the Waterfront museums and take a historic tour: For these, start at the Chavonnes Battery Museum which is built on the remnants of the old Dutch fort. See the old fortress' walls and the go on the official guided walking tour with the knowledgeable guides. Take note of the blue Old Port Captain’s Building and the red Clocktower, both landmarks which will be hard to miss.
  • Hop on the Ferry to Robben Island: The swing bridge leads from the Waterfront's Portswood district to the Clocktower district and the Nelson Mandela gateway where the ferries to Robben Island depart. The museums tour on the former prison island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his life is very insightful as it is lead by former political prisoners. 
  • Explore the new Silo District: The area around the remodelled silos houses various chic eateries, but also designer shops as well as a Lindt chocolate store, where you can buy chocolate chips in bulk or take a chocolate cooking class.
  • Taste the lekker South African food: The V&A Waterfront boasts more than 80 eateries, including South African specialty restaurants, coffee shops and fast food outlets. Visit the Cape Town Fresh Food Market next to Nobel Square and enjoy lovely freshly prepared local delicatessen or quench your thirst with a freshly squeezed exotic fruit juice. And in the evening relax with a refreshing cocktail or a glass of South African wine at one of the many bars for a sundowner and marvel at the glorious Table Mountain views.

Cape Town Waterfront Museums | What to do on a rainy day?

There is plenty to do around the Cape Town waterfront whatever the weather. Besides going on a shopping spree or relaxing in one of the many cosy restaurants or coffee shops, there are also a variety of world class museums to explore:

Museum of Contemporary African Art

Collection of cutting-edge African Arts from the 21st century in over 100 galleries with sculptures, paintings, photography, art projects and installations

Costs: R190 per adult/under 18 year: free entry. ExpatCapeTown Tip: Half price entry every first Friday afternoon of the month. And African citizens and SA-PR holders get free entry every Wednesday from 10h00 - 13h00. Take note that the museum will be closed on 9 April 2019. Open daily from 10h00 - 18h00. More info.

Cape Town Diamond Museum

This museum is located in the Clocktower shopping mall. Explore here the story of the South African diamonds and enjoy a tour in the diamond factory. Read more here - A very positive surprise will await you. 

Costs: R100/Children under 14 years: free entry. Open daily from 9h00 - 21h00. More.

Chavonnes Battery Museum

Built on the ruins of the historic fort that have been buried over 140 years under the sea, this museum houses archeologic displays and changing international photo exhibitions. Take part in the historic tours and attend the cannon firing session. Open from 10h - 17h daily.

Costs: R100 for adults/R70 for Red Bus and Wildcard ticket holders and R50 for children. Open daily from 10h00 - 17h00. More info.

Robben Island Gateway | Nelson Mandela Gateway

Robben Island, one of Cape Town's world heritage sites can be reached via ferry departing at the V&A Waterfront's Nelson Mandela Gateway. The gateway is located next to the red Waterfront landmark, the Clocktower and houses a documentation of the history of the island. Tours are weather-dependent. More info.  

More on Robben Island here.

South African Maritime Museum

Get an overview over shipping in Cape Town and marvel at the large collection of model ships and the history of the Union-Castle line.

Costs: R20/Family ticket: R50. Open daily from 9h00 - 16h00. More info.

Springbok Experience Rugby Museum

This museum tells the story of rugby in South Africa. Visual displays and interactive touch screens exhibits will give wonderful insights not only to rugby enthusiasts.

Please note: Unfortunately the museum will close down by the end of March 2019 due to cost-saving measures by SA Rugby - until then entry is free. More info.

Mineral World | Scratch Patch  | Gemstones

Admire the gemstones in all colours and let the kids play in the scratch patch. Fill a bag with your favourite stones.

Cost: From R22. Open daily from 9h00 - 17h00. More info.

Breakwater Prison

Cape Town Breakwater Prison building - image by BKP/Creative commons

The old prison building dates back to 1902. Today it houses the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business. Join a walking tour starting from the Chavonnes Museum to learn more about this old prison. More info

Costs: R150 for the walking tour. Enquire at the Chavonnes Battery Museum here.

Two Oceans Aquarium

Explore the exhibits and experience a feeding show presented by their experts or feel a variety of marine animals and plants in the touch pool. The very adventurous can even book a diving session at the aquarium.

Costs: R175 for adults/reduced entrance fees for children. Children under 4 years gain free entry. Open daily from 9h00 - 18h00. More info.

Interesting Cape Town Waterfront Facts

The Cape Town Waterfront is recognised as one of the most visited tourist destinations in Africa, with a wide range of retail, entertainment and lifestyle offerings to locals, expats and visitors. The average number of visitors to the V&A Waterfront is 1.7-million per month, which increases to over 2.5 million during the popular summer months as domestic and international tourists descend on Cape Town. 

How to get to the Cape Town Waterfront?

The Cape Town Waterfront is easy to reach and close to many other Cape Town attractions, just to give you an idea: Cape Town Stadium can easily reached by foot (1km), the city center's main pedestrian zone St George’s Mall and the colorful Greenmarket Square can be reached as well by foot (roughly 2 km) or by bus, watertaxi or shuttle. 

What else to know about the V & A Waterfront?

Today the V&A Waterfront forms an integral part of South Africa’s historical legacy with 22 official landmarks on site. Here you will not only experience the atmosphere of a working harbour, but you will see well-preserved historic buildings of the first harbour settlement after the land reclamation.

Among the most prominent historic buildings at the Waterfront are certainly Chavonnes Battery which was established in the 1800’s on the foundations of the old Dutch castle. Then the picturesque Dock House is today a hotel, but was once the Harbour Master’s residence in the 1870s. The Old Breakwater Prison which today houses UCT’s Graduate School of Business is from 1902. This building is located in nearby Lower Portswood Road while the blue painted Old Port Captain’s Building from 1904 still stands proudly and wonderfully preserved next to the swing bridge.

Did you know that the V&A Hotel was formerly a warehouse dating back to the 1930’s. The hotel is now located in the midst of the Cape Town waterfront next to Noble Square where the four South African Nobel Peace Price Laureates are honoured. Read more on our picture blog post here.

Official trading at the Waterfront began in 1990 when the first shops, restaurants, hotels and markets opened around the Victoria Basin and the Pierhead Precinct. Ferrymans Tavern, a lively restaurant and bar with live music, had opened its doors already in 1989.

Most of the newer buildings around the V&A Waterfront were completed between 1991 and 1995. In 1996, the five-star Table Bay Hotel and the five-star Cape Grace Hotel opened. After this the V&A Marina residential development commenced. In 2009, Cape Town’s uber-luxurious One& Only Hotel next to the Cape Town aquarium opened its doors and in 2017, the extraordinary five-star Silo Hotel welcomed its first guests. The Silo district is the newest addition to the Waterfront development.

One of the newest tourist attractions at the Waterfront is the new footpath link to Battery Park. Take a walk along the scenic pathways behind the majestic Cape Grace Hotel, marvel at the luxurious yachts and the modern apartment blocks and then relax at one of the channel-side coffee shops or be more adventurous and try a stand-up-paddle further up and down the channels of the Cape Town waterfront.

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