Jump to main content
British Airways logoHigh Life logoHigh Life logo
Landscape view of a city with old and new buildings dominated by sweeping Table Mountain range behind it
10,000-step city guide

A walking tour of Cape Town

Cape Town’s bustling central business district (CBD) is the heartbeat of the city, and it’s totally doable on foot. Bonus? Table Mountain will be within your sights with every step you take

01/10/2020Fact-checked 19/11/2020

Bo-Kaap’s houses were painted in bright colours by their newly liberated owners as an expression of their freedom (Julian Goldswain)

Community colour

Approximately 900 steps: Start your walk at the top of Wale Street where it meets Yusuf Drive, in Cape Town’s historic Bo-Kaap neighbourhood. You’ll want to have your camera ready. The multi-hued buildings and cobbled streets hug the CBD, as they have for more than 200 years. Originally home to Malay slaves, the community has retained much of its identity and heritage. The Bo-Kaap museum is housed in one such building dating back to the 1760s and gives a glimpse into the early Muslim settlers’ lives. In Rose Street, Ahmed’s Tikka House sells barbecued boerewors (traditional spiced beef sausage) and tikka chicken from a smoky street-side stall. Hang around till 12pm. The Bo-Kaap is the best site to experience the boom of the daily Noon Gun, a cannon from Signal Hill above that was fired for the first time in 1806. The views of Table Mountain won’t disappoint, either.

Honest Chocolate Café serves handmade fare using only the finest raw organic Ecuadorian cacao (Julian Goldswain)

Elegant edifices

Approximately 2,385 steps: Head down Wale Street, pausing to pick up a takeaway hot chocolate from Honest Chocolate Café – an artisanal bean-to-bar foodie pilgrimage filled with locally made treats. Turn right into Long Street, which at night throngs with bars and clubs and is also home to some of the finest examples of Victorian architecture. Think wrought-iron balconies, broekie lace, and pinnacle gables. You’ll pass the Long Street Baths at the top of Long Street, built in 1908, and recently restored. The heated pool and Turkish baths are popular with locals.

Mark O’Donovan’s kinetic sculpture, Man Running from Lion, at the entrance of the National Gallery (Julian Goldswain)

Outdoor art

Approximately 2,025 steps: Turning on to Orange Street and down, passing the Planetarium and South African Natural History Museum, you’ll enter Company’s Garden, where you’ll find the Iziko South African National Gallery. Take a moment to admire the façades painted with iconic Ndebele motifs. Then pay your respects at the Delville Wood Memorial, which commemorates the WWI battle of Delville Wood in the Somme, France, where most of the 3,000 strong South African regiment lost their lives.

The Company’s Garden is the oldest in South Africa (Julian Goldswain)

Blooming lovely

Approximately 4,385 steps: The Dutch East India Company established a vegetable patch in its grounds in 1652 to provide for its fleets sailing to Asia to trade, and a pear tree with the ripe age of 368 is still happily rooted here in Company’s Garden. Breathe in the intoxicating blooms in the rose garden. The industrious Dutch made rose oil, which they exported as a side hustle, and the formal garden now hosts a small red ribbon memorial in the centre, a fragrant space dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of South Africans who have died of Aids. 

A human-sized nest in Company’s Garden (Julian Goldswain)

Snacks and squirrels

Approximately 5,185 steps: Stroll past the Company’s Gardens Restaurant and take a breather on the giant logs that sit under a monstrous fig tree and are surrounded by quirky swings and human-sized nests designed by South African designer Porky Hefer. Pick up some nuts to feed the squirrels and pass the statue of controversial imperialist Cecil John Rhodes in the public garden. Then meander slowly down the oak tree-lined Government Avenue, where many city workers come to enjoy their packed lunches on the shady benches. There’s plenty of architectural eye candy along the avenue, most notably De Tuynhuys. Its history is as varied and complicated as that of South Africa. Since 1682, it has grown from a garden ‘shed’ for the storage of tools to a stately residence for dignitaries.

The Arch for Arch tribute to Desmond Tutu (Julian Goldswain)

Making memories

Approximately 5,685 steps: At the end, where we meet Wale Street again, you’ll find an avenue poignantly straddled by an architectural wooden structure of 14 beams, the Arch for Arch, designed by Croatian boat builder Dario Farcic as a tribute to its namesake, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and the contribution he made to the fight against apartheid. Each beam features a phrase from one of the 14 chapters of the South African constitution.

The Slave Lodge: “From human wrongs to human rights” (Julian Goldswain)

Past to present

Approximately 6,185 steps: On the left is the Gothic revival style St George’s Cathedral, built in 1901, and most famous as the starting point for Tutu’s peaceful marches and protests against apartheid. On the opposite side of the avenue is the Slave Lodge, another site memorialising the country’s dark history. It operated as a ‘home’ for enslaved workers who were brought to South Africa from India, East Africa and other far-flung locations to work the gardens. When slavery was abolished in 1811, it was converted into government offices and then the Supreme Court. Today, it is a museum that sheds light on the history of slavery in South Africa.

Local souvenirs can be found in Greenmarket Square (Julian Goldswain)

Souvenir shopping

Approximately 6,985 steps: A stone’s throw away, in the Parliament gardens, is the marbled gaze of Queen Victoria. The statue was erected to celebrate her Jubilee, and it has been watching passers-by from here since 1887. Crossing the road, you will enter St George’s Mall, a pedestrian artery in the city filled with hawkers selling crafts, art and souvenirs. Turning left on to Longmarket Street will take you on a detour to the historic cobbled Greenmarket Square, home to a huddle of souvenir traders from all over Africa.

Father of the nation Nelson Mandela is immortalised in a statue on the balcony of City Hall (Julian Goldswain)

Madiba the magnificent

Approximately 8,335-10,000 steps: Back on the Mall, breeze your way down to Strand Street. ‘Strand’ means beach in Afrikaans and, before the land reclamation project in the 1930s and 1940s, the waves of the Atlantic Ocean lapped here. Turning right, walk about a kilometre to the Grand Parade, opposite the city’s train station. Here, an unforgettable moment in South Africa’s history is remembered in the form of a beaming and waving statue of Nelson Mandela on the balcony of City Hall, where he addressed 250,000 supporters on 11 February 1990 after being released from prison after 27 years. Pause and take in the moment for as long as you need.