Sure, a visit to Cape Town is not complete without going up Table Mountain. And there are many other must-see tourist spots to visit such as Robben Island, the V&A Waterfront, and Kalkbay. But if you want to really soak up Cape Town like a local, you need to go off the beaten track.
The Best Kept Secret Places in Cape Town
Cape Town is home to some of the most beautiful and unique views in the world. And many of them are hiding in unique locations. We’ll let you in on the secret!
#1 The Heritage Vine
Location: Corner of Bree and Short Market Streets
The oldest wine-producing vine in the Southern Hemisphere and the oldest vine in South Africa, the Heritage Vine is considered something of a miracle. It is one of the few remaining original French vinifera rootstock still alive. Estimated to have been planted in 1771, the vines roots trace back to the burghers of Cape Town, who planted vines in their gardens to make their own wine.
The vine has continued to thrive despite the Phylloxera epidemic that spread to Cape Town in 1866 and the car park project that left the Heritage Square abandoned for over a decade. The vine survived on rainwater alone until the Cape Town Heritage Trust took over the square in hopes of renovating and returning it to its natural beauty. Now, the Heritage Vine still thrives and produces a few litres of wine every year.
#2 We Are Still Here Memorial
Location: Long market Pedestrian Mall, Cape Town Central
This powerful piece of art-work created by mosaic artists Lovell Friedman and Leora Lewis memorializes the 7,000 children that were advertised as destitute in the Cape Government Gazettebetween 1841 and 1921.
These children, some as young as eight-years-old, were often found roaming the streets of Cape Town. If no one came forward to claim or support them after the ad was run, they were sold as indentured labourers. Copies of these advertisements form the image of a child, who is surrounded by drawings and written work by current street kids.
Situated just outside the Cape Town Central Library, the We Are Still Here Memorial is a compelling must-see when visiting Cape Town.
#3 The Ubuntu Tree
Location: 99 Kloof Street, Gardens, City Bowl
Though to be planted over 400 years ago, the Unbuntu Tree is believed to be endowed with magical and spiritual healing properties. The tree, also referred to as “Nokuphila” in Xhosa, means “’place of the healing mother, where people gather for health and wellness.”
The Unbuntu and other trees originally marked the border of a dam that held waters from Camissa, water that ran from the mountain, and people from near and far would gather to collect the fresh water. The tree is in the courtyard of what is now a health and wellness centre, still providing a place to receive, refresh, and inspire people.
#4 Netsuke Miniture Carvings
Location: South African Jewish Museum, 88 Hatfield St
Located in the South African Jewish Museum, a small room houses over 200 carvings created from wood, ivory, staghorn and bone. These miniature sculptures, called Netsuke, are ceremonial carvings that were worn by wealthy male merchants during the time of the Samurai. These netsukes were both functional, as they held containers for tobacco, money and other objects, and decorational as a form of expression of the artist with elaborate decorations, lacquer, and exotic materials such as ivory. Subjects for the work included history, mythology, religion, popular humour, and any other aspect of Japanese life.
With their intricate, life-like features, these sculptures quickly became small works of art. One of the founders of the South African Jewish Museum, Isaac Kaplan, developed a passion for netsuke after being introduced to Japanese okimono, or ornamental art, by a friend who visited Japan in the 1930’s. Although he never visited Japan himself, Kaplan acquired over 600 of these carvings through trading houses and auctions. The exhibit showcases over 200 of these sculptures and includes specific details and background information for all artwork on display.
#5 Beta Beach – Bakoven
Location: Beta Beach, Beta Road, Bakoven, Atlantic Seaboard
Looking for a small, secluded, quite beach? With exceptional views of the Twelve Apostles and Lion’s Head, Beta Beach is the perfect spot. Located in the heart of the Atlantic Seaboard’s Bakoven and next door to Oudekraal beach, this spot has a short bright, white, sandy stretch and big boulders to keep the wind away while you read the paper or soak up the sun.
Although Beta is surrounded by several residences and thought to be private, this small beach is open to anyone. Beta Beach is the perfect, quiet, secret spot for safe swimming and beautiful sunsets.
#6 St Georges Cathedral in Woodstock
Location: 75 Mountain Road, Woodstock
St. George’s Cathedral, also known as the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St George, was built in 1904 for the Greek community of Cape Town. Byzantine-style frescoes decorate the vaults, walls, and apse with depictions of Jesus and various other saints and icons. This artwork, painted by the Romanian priest and hagiographer Father Nikolai during the 1990’s, is nothing short of beautiful. The domed ceilings are painted light blue and dotted with stars, and when the light shines in through the stained glass windows, it is as if you are transported east to the shining Mediterranean.
In 1968, St. George’s was accorded cathedral status and became the seat of the Orthodox Archbishopric of Good Hope, Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa. The archdiocese presides over the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape provinces, the Orange Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland.
Hidden in a little spot in Woodstock, perched almost atop the hill on Mountain Road, St. George’s is a beautiful, hidden landmark.
#7 The Singular Cycad
Location: Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
It is one of the rarest and most highly prized plants in the world, and can be found in the Cycad dell at Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. John Medley Wood discovered the plant in the oNgoye Forest in KwaZulu-Natal, where it was later identified as a new species and named after him in 1908.
When Wood discovered the plant, it was part of a clump made up of four trunks. Deputy James Wylie, sent by Wood in 1907, returned to the forest to collect two of the larger trunks, which still grow in the Durban Botanical Gardens. 5 years later, an excursion through the forest resulted in finding only one three-meter tall trunk left in the wild, which died in 1964. Searches through the oNgoye Forest have resulted in no other plants being found. Due to this, the Wood’s Cycad is considered to be extinct in the wild.
There is still hope that one day another wild, female Cycad might be found somewhere in the oNgoye Forest. However, for now it remains as the “the loneliest plant in the world.”
#8 Van Riebeeck’s Hedge
Location: Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens
Located on the lower slopes and above the stream, with its large, intertwining branches growing in all directions—lies a section of the Van Riebeeck’s Hedge.
Van Riebeeck’s Hedge, a series of indigenous wild almond trees, was planted in 1660 by the governor of the Cape to define a boundary between the Dutch and the Khoi-Khoi. The goal was to create a barrier that would prevent any livestock, or people, from getting through. The plant quickly expanded and soon became a hindrance as some of the best land for livestock developed on the other side of the hedge. For many, this separation symbolized the start of apartheid—white South Africa cut itself off from the rest of Africa, dispossessed the indigenous people of their land, and kept the best of the resources for itself.
Two sections of the hedge remain today, with one in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and the other located in Bishops Court.
#9 Koeberg Nature Reserve
Location: Off the R27, Melkbosstrand
Looking for a place to bike or hike surrounded by beautiful animal and plant life? The Koeberg Nature Reserve is home to a thriving animal life with over 153 species of birds, including Ostrich and the African Fish Eagle. Although it is located around the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, the Reserve was opened to the public in 1991 to stay in line with Eskom’s environmental policy.
There are several biking routes to follow. These routes are perfect for families and beginners with a flat terrain and less than 50 meters of climbing. Not into biking? The Reserve also has two different hiking trails—the Dikkop Trail, which is a 13-kilometer loop with two kilometers on the beach, and the Grysbok Trail which is a 6-kilometer, 2-hour walk. Whichever path you choose, keep an eye out for the Eland, Zebras, Angulated Tortoise, or even the Cape Cobra you might see along the way.
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#10 Charles Darwin’s Rocks
Location: Parking lot at the South-end of Queens Beach, near the intersection of Beach and Alexander Roads in Sea Point
These striking rocks are considered a ‘geological wonder.’ They represent an impressive ‘contact’ from about 540 million years ago between granite and the sedimentary rock that forms Signal Hill.
Although the honour of discovery lies with Clark Abel who discovered them in 1818, the rocks are named after Charles Darwin who visited them on his world-wide journey in 1836. Darwin was intrigued by what he saw and decided to stay at the Cape of Good Hope, which was the second-longest of all his stops during his five-year voyage. His later accounts of the rocks at Sea Point, which he called “Green Point,” resulted from 8 years of writing and correspondence after he returned to England. Today, there is a plaque located in the parking lot that commemorates Darwin’s observations.
#11 Groote Schuur Residence
Location: Klipper Road, Rondebosch
Now the official home of South Africa’s president, the Groote Schuur Residence is a fascinating house steeped in history with a beautiful view, set against the slopes of Table Mountain. While arranging a visit requires a tour scheduled in advance and a form of identification, it is definitely worth the time and effort.
Cecil John Rhodes, who became Prime Minister of the Cape Colony in 1890, was the first to rent the property and bought it in 1893. He then hired Herbert Baker, a British architect visiting Cape Town, to renovate the building. The style he created became known as the ‘Cape Dutch Revival Style.’ After a fire in December of 1896, Baker and Rhodes reconstructed and modernized the building using handmade ironmongery and antique Dutch and Spanish tiles, bricks and lanterns.
Rhodes released his estate to the nation, and it was used as the official Cape residence of South Africa’s prime ministers and presidents from 1911 to 1994. In 1990 FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela signed the ‘Groote Schuur Minute’, an historic commitment to peaceful negotiations.
#12 Paulsberg Cannon
Location: a 45-minute walk up the path behind Bordjies Rif parking lot along the Farmer’s Cliff Trail in Cape Point Nature Reserve
Located on the Eastern seaboard of the Cape Point Nature Reserve, a black-painted, 4-pound, Dutch cannon stands on top of Paulsberg. It offers you beautiful, uninterrupted views of the Atlantic Ocean, False Bay, and Cape Point. The cannon was once a signal cannon, created by the Dutch to warn people if an enemy ship entered False Bay and posed a threat to anchorage.
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