Top 10 Urban Tours And Activities In Cape Town And Johannesburg

James Bainbridge, The Guardian, January 03, 2014



Footsteps to Freedom Walking Tour

This walking tour of central Cape Town gives some context to a visit to Robben Island , the prison where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years. Taking in sights such as a 17th-century slave lodge, and historic characters including the diamond-digging Cecil Rhodes, the tour uses South Africa's oldest city to narrate the country's journey through the colonial era and apartheid to democracy. Alternatively, the From Prisoner to President walking tour focuses on Mandela-related sights including the Tuynhuys presidential office, where he held secret meetings with the apartheid leaders. Tours last 2½-hours, 10.30am Tues-Sat, R220 (£14), museum entries extra
Also recommended: Coffeebeans Routes is launching a series of Mandela-related tours, including a cooking safari based on freedom fighters' favourite meals, and walks led by locals who came into contact with Mandela

Cape Malay Cooking Safari

This walk through Cape Town's Bo-Kaap neighbourhood, where minarets overlook brightly coloured cottages on the slopes of Signal Hill, introduces the area's history through its food. The tour starts at the Bo-Kaap Museum, which tells the story of the neighbourhood and its Cape Muslim community, descended from slaves shipped from Asia by the Dutch. As the indomitable Faldela Tolker demonstrates in her bright orange kitchen, this mix of influences resulted in distinctive Cape Malay dishes including mild, aromatic curries. Visitors learn how to roll rotis, wrap samosas, make sambal (a tomato-and-onion side dish) and "cook with love" before feasting on a curry. Half-day cooking safari £45
Also recommended: Take a seat on a vintage sofa at Haas cafe and design boutique near the museum, then climb Signal Hill to try Cape Malay food at Biesmiellah restaurant or the Noon Gun Tea Room, with city views and the Noon Gun, a cannon fired at noon Monday to Saturday

Township Futures

This cultural route takes a positive look at the Cape's townships. Meeting the locals and stopping for lunch in areas such as Khayelitsha and Guguletu, the tour looks at community schemes, businesses and innovative responses to township challenges. "We look at how the townships are shaping the future," says Coffeebeans Routes' owner Iain Harris. The antitheses of disengaged bus trips, these tours show how design has played a role in social mobility – one of the reasons Cape Town was named World Design Capital 2014. Tours run on demand, 9am-1pm or 2pm-6pm. The tour costs £47, including a hot meal
Also recommended: Half- and full-day World Design Capital 2014 tours from the same operator look at projects in Cape Town and the townships as part of the city's design-focused year

Neighbourgoods Market

Food and craft markets have become weekly rituals for urban South Africans, building on Cape Town's centuries-old heritage of selling supplies (including cures for scurvy) to sailors. Leading the charge of fashionable markets is Neighbourgoods, which opened in 2006 at the Old Biscuit Mill , a converted factory in the suburb of Woodstock. Every Saturday, galleries, boutiques and gourmet restaurants are joined by a mind-boggling array of stalls, with local artisans and farmers offering tastings and live bands entertaining the happy grazers. Neighbourgoods also offers its cocktail of urban regeneration, organic produce and craft beers each Saturday in a former multi-storey car park in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Saturdays 9am-2pm (Braamfontein 9am-3pm)
Also recommended: On Sundays and Thursday nights, Market on Main fills the Arts on Main complex in Johannesburg's Maboneng Precinct with stalls selling everything from Ethiopian curries to handmade ravioli. In Cape Town, a quieter alternative to Neighbourgoods is the City Bowl Market on Saturday mornings and Thursday evenings

Woodstock art tour

Between the docks and the slopes of Devil's Peak, Woodstock is Cape Town's version of Shoreditch or Williamsburg. Derelict warehouses and factories have been converted and reclaimed, with galleries and creative businesses appearing among the dilapidated Victorian cottages. Michelle Obama even dropped by in 2011, lunching on aubergine ratatouille at The Kitchen. See Woodstock's street-level creativity on a tour of the area's public art, taking in 40 mural-covered walls with guide Juma Mkwela. Get a feel for the area's creative pulse, on the main drag, Albert Road, with its galleries, shops, restaurants and more galleries: don't miss the Woodstock Exchange at number 68, and Woodstock Foundry at number 120.
• Book a 90-minute public art tour (£10pp) by calling +27 73 400 4064 or emailing [email protected]
Also recommended: On the edge of Cape Town's business district, the Fringe is another regenerated neighbourhood with an art and design focus. A good starting point is steampunk-style cafe Truth, with its ornate metalwork and baristas dressed for the Mad Hatter's tea party


Joburg Places

Walking tours led by former journalist and landscape architect Gerald Garner showcase the regeneration of inner-city Johannesburg. Garner, who has written books about this urban rebirth, looks at public art, converted warehouses, rooftop bars and squares. Stops include the fashion district, the Ethiopian neighbourhood known as Little Addis, and the shopping area, where international brands compete with an African fruit and veg market. With young locals moving to the newly vibrant inner city from the suburbs and townships, says Garner, the tours offer a glimpse of a fully integrated South Africa. "You don't find such a dynamic and diverse social mix elsewhere in the country," he says. Tours typically last six hours and cost £20pp. Saturday and Sunday tours generally include eiyhrt the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein or Market on Main, Maboneng
Also recommended: Past Experiences walking tours on themes including Nelson Mandela and the anti-apartheid struggle, graffiti and Chinatown. Outside the centre, tours also cover Soweto, the Cradle of Humankind archaeological site and inner-city Pretoria

Maboneng Precinct Tour

Maboneng means place of light in the Sotho language, but place of hipsters is a better description of this regenerated warehouse district in central Johannesburg. Beanie-clad locals mix with international artists in the galleries, restaurants and bars. Schemes such as the artist exchange program, in which artists can swap work for accommodation, have encouraged Maboneng's creative community. Tours with Main Street Walks wanders between sights, including a traditional healers' market, pointing out murals along the way. "Maboneng is proud of the role art plays in its community – it gives it character and identity, a degree of consciousness and intellectual life," says guide Bheki Dube. Tours 10.30am Tues-Fri, £10pp, or £25 including lunch and a film about Johannesburg. At 2.30pm on Sunday, the company offers free guided walks focusing on Maboneng's public art
Also recommended: Pick up a free neighbourhood map (or download one) and hire a bicycle (£3) from Maboneng information office on the corner of Fox and Kruger Streets

Cycle Soweto

The shack-lined byways of South Africa's largest township may not sound like an obvious place for a ride, but a bike tour is an enjoyable way to see the sprawling area. Residents are used to foreigners wheeling past, and will happily pass you a gourd of homebrew at the shebeen (township bar). Given Soweto's role in the fight against apartheid, there are numerous historical sights, including a museum and memorial to the 1976 uprising. Also on the route is the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners lived – Mandela, whose house is now a museum, and Desmond Tutu. Hearing local stories and seeing Soweto's many faces, from corrugated iron shacks to the mansions of post-apartheid tycoons, is fascinating. Beginning and ending in central Johannesburg, an eight-hour tour costs £104 including lunch and stops at the Apartheid Museum and a former migrant workers' hostel. Alternatively, Soweto Bicycle Tours, based at the Soweto Backpackers hostel, offers tours by bicycle or tuk-tuk from £19
Also recommended: Cape Town's Awol Tours has a township bicycle tour of Masiphumelele on the Cape Peninsula, tying in with a bike-based community scheme

Constitution Hill

This hilltop complex in central Johannesburg is home to South Africa's Constitutional Court, built in 2004. As a powerful symbol of the post-apartheid constitution, the light-filled structure has many windows, representing transparency in the workings of the court. Skylights dapple the floors with sun and shadow, as if you are sitting under a tree, the traditional African setting for justice and community decisions. Also on the site is the Old Fort, a notorious apartheid prison complex that incarcerated both Mandela and Mahatma Ghandi. The prison museum throws open famous inmates' cells and shows how the penal system supported the apartheid machine. Exhibitions and installations make the site an informative and moving illustration of South Africa's path to democracy. Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat, Sun 10am to 3pm, entry£3.50pp, including an optional 60- or 90-minute guided tour, departing on the hour
Also recommended: The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg's southern suburbs gives an overview of the 50-year era and a sense of its terrible human toll, with first-hand accounts and interactive exhibits

Shebeen-style bars

For some township flavour in central Johannesburg and Cape Town, try a shebeen-style experience – they're popular with young black professionals and students. Amadoda Braai in Woodstock, Cape Town, is a typical example. BMWs line up outside, and their glamorous owners unload to down Castle lager within Amadoda's graffiti-splashed walls. A braai (barbecue) produces platters heaving with drumsticks, chops and boerewors (beef sausage). In Johannesburg, Sophiatown is a hipper take on the concept, in the Newtown Cultural Precinct, a regenerated section of the inner city. Named after Johannesburg's famous township, and decorated with black-and-white photos of anti-apartheid heroes, the lounge-bar is on the city's Jazz Walk of Fame, which honours local musical greats.;
Also recommended: Pata Pata , under the same jazz-loving ownership as Sophiatown; and Sha'p, both in Joburg's Maboneng Precinct

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