What to do on Heritage Day in Cape Town

It’s time to celebrate Heritage Day in true South African style! Heritage Day is a public holiday, which takes place on the 24th of September. It is a day in which all South Africans are encouraged to celebrate their cultural traditions in the wider context of the great diversity of cultures, beliefs, and traditions that make up our rainbow nation. In a country that boasts a vibrant cultural diversity, eleven official languages, a rich and intricate history and a vivid variety of different traditions, Heritage Day is recognised and celebrated in many different ways in South Africa.

THE HISTORY OF HERITAGE DAY

While many South Africans are aware of Heritage Day, how many of us know the real reason behind this momentous holiday, how it all began and its connection to various cultural celebrations and traditions?

Heritage Day was initially known as ‘Shaka Day’ or ‘Shaka’s Day’, a day dedicated to commemorating the legendary King Shaka Zulu. Shaka Zulu played an important role in uniting different Zulu clans into one cohesive Zulu nation in Kwa-Zulu Natal. To this day, thousands of people gather at King Shaka’s grave on the 24th of September to pay tribute to him and to honour his memory and legacy.

When the New South African Parliament omitted Shaka Day from the proposed Public Holidays Bill, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), a South African political party with a large Zulu membership, objected. Eventually, a compromise was reached, and it was decided that a national holiday would be created where South Africans of all cultures and creeds could come together and celebrate their diverse cultural heritage, thus giving rise to Heritage Day!

“When our first democratically-elected government decided to make Heritage Day one of our national days, we did so because we knew that our rich and varied cultural heritage has a profound power to help build our new nation.”

– Late former President Nelson Mandela in an address marking Heritage Day in 1996

In more recent years, National Heritage Day has become synonymous with National Braai Day. Some call it Shisa Nyama or Ukosa, while others call it a braai – regardless of what you call it, the intention remains the same – gathering around a fire, enjoying good food, good company and celebrating with friends, family and the ones you love.

If you’re celebrating Heritage Day in the Mother City, here are just some of the ways you can celebrate Heritage Day in Cape Town this year.

VISIT A MUSEUM

Visiting one of the Mother City’s many iconic museums is a great way to celebrate Heritage Day in Cape Town. Cape Town is known for its vibrant cultural diversity and rich history. Boasting a lively melting pot of people, cultures and traditions, the Mother City is a cultural hub with a long and storied history. While Cape Town’s history is rich and diverse, it is also rooted in times of struggle. This has given rise to a number of world-class museums, all dedicated to telling the story of how the city of Cape Town came to be what it is today. Here are some of Cape Town’s top museums to visit this Heritage Day or any other day of the year:

#DISTRICT SIX MUSEUM

Photo credit: District Six Museum

Few areas are as vivid an example of the Apartheid regime in South Africa and Cape Town as District Six. A once racially diverse and vibrant community, the original residents were forcibly removed from the area when the National Party government declared it a “white group area”. The District Six Museum – formerly a Methodist Mission Church – serves as a stark reminder of what the community once was.

Visiting the District Six Museum is both an enriching and eye-opening experience as it gives you a real and raw perspective into Cape Town’s intricate and often heart-breaking history. It was set up as a visual display to show what people of colour living in this area went through in the 1970s when over 60,000 people were forcibly removed during the Apartheid era.

Besides housing an impressive collection of historical materials including photographs, paintings, artefacts, physical remains and audio-visual recordings, the District Six Museum also became a vehicle for advocating social justice. The Museum is committed to telling the stories of forced removals and assists in the reconstitution of the community of District Six by drawing on a heritage of non-racialism, non-sexism, anti-class discrimination and the encouragement of debate.

#SLAVE LODGE

Photo credit: Iziko Museums of South Africa

The history of Cape Town is a torrid one and the Slave Lodge offers a haunting reminder of a darker time. The Slave Lodge is a South African social history museum located in the heart of Cape Town. Built in 1679, it is the second oldest existing colonial structure of the Cape Colony. Used as a slave lodge until 1811, it was initially used to house slaves who belonged to the Dutch East India Company. Today the Slave Lodge is a museum managed by Iziko Museums of South Africa and is undoubtedly one of Cape Town’s top cultural attractions.

Exhibiting mainly the material culture of the descendants of the Dutch and British colonists, the Slave Lodge is dedicated to showcasing exhibitions and installations that deal with human rights, equality, and the importance of remembering the past. As the museum was once the very location where slaves stayed, it is very much part of the exhibit.

#ROBBEN ISLAND

If you’re looking to immerse yourself in an integral piece of South Africa’s history and journey to democracy, a trip to the renowned Robben Island is definitely recommended. This well-known Cape Town attraction has a very chequered past. Robben Island was first used as a prison when the Dutch Settlers were in the Cape and was briefly used as a leper colony and animal quarantine station. However, Robben Island is most famous for being a political prison during South Africa’s apartheid regime. Due to the 18-year incarceration of Mr. Nelson Mandela (former South African President and iconic world leader), Robben Island now houses one of the most recognisable prisons in the world today.

Visitors to the island will get the opportunity to experience a nostalgic stop at the very cell Nelson Mandela called his home for over a decade. All Robben Island tours are led and guided by previous political prisoners. Visitors can expect a real and raw perspective and understanding of both the prison’s history and the personal plight of the prisoners themselves during their time spent there.

#CASTLE OF GOOD HOPE

Photo credit: Castle of Good Hope

A visit to the iconic Castle of Good Hope is one of the top things to do on Heritage Day in Cape Town. The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest building in the country and a structure that has played an integral part in its history. Once a fort, the Castle of Good Hope was completed in 1679. It has since been restored and now functions as a museum. Visitors can enjoy tours of this renowned Cape Town historical attraction from Monday to Saturday with The Key Ceremony performed Monday to Friday, followed by the firing of the Signal Cannon at 12pm. While the building itself is filled with incredible history and has many a story to tell (including a few ghostly ones), the William Fehr Collection, comprising of paintings and decorative arts, is partly housed here.

#CAPE TOWN HOLOCAUST CENTRE

Photo credit: South African Holocaust & Genocide Foundation

There are few occasions in human history that are as dark and tragic as the Holocaust. The Cape Town Holocaust Centre, which stands alongside the South African Jewish Museum, is home to an incredible and eye-opening wealth of information pertaining to the Holocaust and the events that transpired during that time. While wrought with emotion, struggle and tragedy, the exhibition is beautifully laid-out and offers visitors a variety of written and verbal (both audio and visual) stories, tributes and accounts that took place during the Holocaust.  

HAVE A BRAAI

There is nothing more South African than lighting a fire, throwing a few chops and boerewors (or whatever your choice of meat may be) on the braai and having a great time with friends and family. It is something that transcends racial, cultural, religious, and social boundaries. 

The National Braai Day was developed by Stellenbosch native, Jan Scannell, more commonly known as ‘Jan Braai’. This initiative was founded in 2005 with the intention to unite South Africans. The mission of National Braai Day is centred around creating an annual day of celebration in South Africa that calls on all South Africans to unite around fires and share and celebrate our unique culture and heritage.

In South Africa, a braai or Shisha nyama is far more than a simple food experience. It is a tradition that is deeply entrenched in South African food culture. It is about community, coming together, and celebrating our South African heritage with our fellow South African citizens.

**Best braai spots in and around Cape Town: Oudekraal Beach; Newlands Forest; Silvermine Nature Reserve; Tokai Forest; Maiden’s Cove; Buffels Bay and Bordjiesdrif; Perdekloof and Wildschutsbrand Picnic Sites; Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve; Wynberg Park; Eerste Steen Resort in Blaauwberg; Berg River Resort.

#OUDEKRAAL BEACH

Tucked away in a sheltered cove between Camps Bay and Llandudno, Oudekraal is not only one of the best braai spots in Cape Town, but one of the most beautiful too. Oudekraal has about 40 private braai spots scattered along the lawns above the sheltered cove and sandy beach below. Besides being one of the top braai spots in Cape Town, Oudekraal is perfect for enjoying a fun-filled family beach day. The beach is surrounded by large granite boulders that keep big waves at bay, making it an ideal place to swim. The water is also calm enough for snorkeling near the shore.

**Tip: Because of its sought-after status and stunning beach location, the braai spots at Oudekraal can get snatched up pretty quickly. It is important to arrive early to secure a top spot.

  • Location: Oudekraal, Victoria Road, between Llandudno and Camps Bay
  • Entry fee: Conservation Fees for 1 November 2019 to 31 October 2020: South African Citizens and Residents (with ID): R32 per adult per day; R16 per child, per day | SADC Nationals (with passport): R64 per adult per day; R32 per child, per day | Standard Conservation Fee (Foreign Visitors): R128 per adult per day | R64 per child, per day

#SILVERMINE NATURE RESERVE

Located within the Table Mountain National Park, the Silvermine Nature Reserve is arguably one of the most beautiful locations in Cape Town for enjoying a braai or picnic. This stunning natural gem is open for picnics right throughout the year, however, because the Silvermine Nature Reserve is considered a high risk area for wildfires, braaing is only permitted here during winter (typically from June until the end of September). Silvermine’s relatively secluded braai areas are scattered around a natural reservoir, with many of them nestled in discreet rocky hollows and tucked behind bushes of fynbos.

Besides enjoying a traditional braai at one of the many braai spots, you are free to take a dip in the refreshing waters of the reservoir. The Silvermine Nature Reserve also boasts a variety of exciting hiking trails and walking routes as well as tons of hidden gems, waterfalls and natural wonders to discover.

  • Location: Silvermine, Ou Kaapse Weg, Westlake, Cape Town
  • Entry fee: Conservation Fees for 1 November 2019 to 31 October 2020: South African Citizens and Residents (with ID): R32 per adult per day; R16 per child, per day | SADC Nationals (with passport): R64 per adult per day; R32 per child, per day | Standard Conservation Fee (Foreign Visitors): R128 per adult per day; R64 per child, per day

#MAIDEN’S COVE

Nestled between Glen Beach and Clifton Fourth, Maiden’s Cove is by far one of the Mother City’s most beautiful beach gems. Besides it’s blissful beach location and magnificent view of the Atlantic, Lion’s Head, and the Twelve Apostles mountain range, Maiden’s Cove is one of the best braai spots in Cape Town. This stunning scenic area offers plenty of designated public braai and picnic spots – perfect for those looking to enjoy a great braai with family and friends, paired with a slice of Cape Town beachside bliss. Not to mention Maiden’s Cove is known as one of the Mother City’s most beautiful sunset spots.

Maiden’s Cove is also a great snorkelling spot as well as boasts a refreshing tidal pool, perfect for a cooling dip between sunbathing on the big boulders. If you’re lucky, you may even be able to spot dolphins and whales from the shoreline. 

  • Location: Maiden’s Cove, Victoria Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town
  • Entry fee: Free

#TOKAI FOREST

Situated within the Table Mountain National Park, the serene woodlands of the Tokai Forest is perfect for enjoying a braai with family and friends this Heritage Day. The Tokai Forest braai area is located on the edge of the Tokai Plantation, and offers visitors plenty of braai spots to choose from. For those looking to add a bit more adventure to their day, Tokai Forest boasts tons of thrilling trails and walks for nature lovers to enjoy. The wide open spaces also makes it perfect for families looking to enjoy a fun day out.

**Important note: Occasionally, the delicious smell of food attracts baboons to the picnic area hoping to get lucky. SANParks warns visitors to avoid contact and not feed the baboons.

  • Location: Tokai Forest, Tokai Road, Tokai, Cape Town
  • Entry fee: Conservation Fees for 1 November 2019 to 31 October 2020: South African Citizens and Residents (with ID): R32 per adult per day; R16 per child, per day; Additionally: R28 per vehicle | SADC Nationals (with passport): R64 per adult per day; R32 per child, per day; Additionally: R28 per vehicle | Standard Conservation Fee (Foreign Visitors): R128 per adult per day; R64 per child, per day; Additionally: R28 per vehicle

#BUFFELS BAY & BORDJIESDRIF

Although worth visiting for the spectacular views, stunning beaches and scenic hidden gems alone, Buffels Bay and Bordjiesdrif located in the Cape Point Nature Reserve are famous for their amazing braai and picnic spots right on the beach. At both sites there are tidal pools for safe swimming, grassy picnic areas and unrivalled views of the mountains and ocean.

**Important note: The reserve baboons like to make an appearance when they smell food, but whatever you do, don’t feed them!

  • Location: Cape Point Nature Reserve, Cape Point Road, Cape Town
  • Entry fee: Daily conservation fee (rates valid until 31 October 2020): South African Citizens and Residents (with ID): R80 per adult per day; R40 per child, per day | SADC Nationals (with passport): R160 per adult per day; R80 per child, per day | Standard Conservation Fee (Foreign Visitors): R320 per adult per day; R160 per child, per day.

**Have a look at our ‘Braai Spots in Cape Town’ blog to find out more about all the amazing braai and picnic spots in the Mother City.

VISIT BO-KAAP

Situated at the foot of Signal Hill, on the fringe of the city centre, Bo-Kaap is known as one of the most vibrant and culturally diverse neighbourhoods in the Mother City. It is also one of Cape Town’s oldest neighbourhoods and undoubtedly the most colourful. This is largely owed to its colourful mix of Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture homes that line the steeply cobble-stoned streets. Besides its colourful surroundings, Bo-Kaap boasts a rich and diverse history which has shaped this beloved neighbourhood into what it is today.

Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, Bo-Kaap is celebrated as the historical centre of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town. Bo-Kaap’s origins date back to the 1760s when numerous “huurhuisjes” (rental houses) were built and leased to slaves. These people were known as Cape Malays. Many of Bo-Kaap’s residents were descendants of slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and various African countries who were forcibly brought to the city in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Bo-Kaap is also home to the iconic Bo-Kaap Museum, which is the perfect place to learn all about the history of the area with the building dating back to the 1760s, as well as the first established Muslim mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque, and the famous Diamond Gallery (one of the largest diamond wholesalers in South Africa).

Besides its vibrant cultural diversity, one of the top things to do in Bo-Kaap besides exploring its colourful streets of course, is enjoy some authentic Cape Malay cuisine. Enjoying a traditional Cape Malay meal in Bo-Kaap undoubtedly deserves to be on everyone’s Cape Town bucket-list. Not to mention it’s a great way to celebrate heritage day in Cape Town.

TOUR & EXPLORE THE CITY

What to do on Heritage Day in Cape Town - Red Bus Tour
Photo credit: City Sightseeing South Africa

A great way to celebrate Heritage Day in Cape Town is to tour and explore the beautiful, vibrant, and culturally diverse Mother City. By far one of the most exciting ways to see the city of Cape Town is to go on a famous Red Bus City Sightseeing Tour. The iconic Cape Town Red Bus Tour is the ultimate hop-on-hop-off experience. Stopping at some of the city’s top landmarks, hidden gems, and sought-after attractions, it is a great way to see and experience the Mother City. Plus, it’s tons of fun for the whole family!

**Tip: There are a variety of Cape Town Red Bus City Sightseeing tours to choose from, visit their website to find out more.

TRY TRADITIONAL CAPE TOWN FOOD

While the Mother City is widely celebrated as being one of the top food capitals in the world, boasting a world-renowned culinary scene, local and authentic is what its really all about. Because in Cape Town, there’s no experience quite like the local food experience. What better way to celebrate Heritage Day in Cape Town than by trying some of the Mother City and South Africa’s favourite local dishes?  Here are just a few fan-favourite local dishes you absolutely have to try.

#GATSBY

No trip to Cape Town is complete without digging into the ever-popular Gatsby! An iconic local Cape Town dish, this Mother City super sandwich is traditionally filled with loads of saucy chips and meat, as well as a few other delicious surprises tucked in there. While the great Cape Town Gatsby is delicious in every way, it is not to be underestimated – it’s not dubbed the SUPER sandwich of the Cape for nothing.

#BOBOTIE

Regarded by many as the flagship dish of South Africa, Bobotie is a fan-favourite among locals and travellers alike. Bobotie is essentially a delicious, mild curried mince dish, topped with a thin layer of baked savoury custard or an egg-based topping. The dish is usually served with yellow curry rice and Chutney.

**History of Bobotie: Bobotie was first imported to South Africa from Indonesia in the seventeenth century. It was then adopted by the Cape Malay community who were brought to South Africa as slaves for the European settlers in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Since then the culture and history of the Cape Malay have had a major impact on both the city and its cuisine. Giving us this (any many more) beloved local dishes.

  • Get them at: Cafe Charles in the De Waterkant, Bo-Kaap Kombuis in Bo-Kaap,

#BUNNY CHOW

Regarded as South Africa’s very own street food, the famous Bunny Chow is a South African fast-food dish consisting of a quarter loaf of bread filled with delicious Durban curry. For the full local Bunny Chow experience you MUST eat it like a real local – with your hands only of course! It may be a bit messy, but you’ll love every second of it!

#KOEKSISTERS

Time for something sweet! A koeksister is a delicious sweet treat with a firm texture, soaked in the most delicious syrup. Did you know that there are actually two variations of this local sweet treat – The Afrikaner version, ‘koeksister’ and the Cape Malay version ‘koesister’? The Afrikaans original, koeksister, is a golden, twisted plait, crisp on the outside with a sweet syrupy centre. Koesisters on the other hand are authentic to Cape Town’s Cape Malayan influence which consists of oval dough balls with a doughnut-like texture, flavoured with spices and naartjie peel.

#Heritage Day The Food Co. braai box special!

Photo credit: The Food Co.

Are you planning on celebrating Heritage Day with a picnic on the beach, having a braai with your family or meeting friends in the park? Save the hassle of having to go to the grocery store and instead check out The Food Co. pre-prepped braai boxes and their generously packed picnic boxes! All The Food Co. braai boxes, picnic boxes & burger boxes are 25% off for the month of September. Use our discount code “secretcapetown” to get a further 10% off!

Get your special The Food Co. Heritage Day braai box today by following this link!