Mother City markets: where to shop 'til you drop in Cape Town

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The fervour for markets in South Africa's Cape Town has a long history, but the city's market scene has experienced a renaissance in recent years, with artisan foods, craft beers and designer goods drawing early-morning crowds across the 'Mother City'.

In the late 18th century in cobbled Greenmarket Square, the city’s second-oldest public site, slaves were traded alongside food staples like fruit and vegetables. Today the very same site is popular with tourists for its mix of arts, crafts and curio stalls. From the mid-19th century, buckets of colourful blooms, including the national flower the protea, have been hawked in an alley off Adderley St, while the Trafalgar Square flower market remains a great photo opportunity and chance to chat with the garrulous sellers, most of whose families have worked here for generations.

Fresh produce lines one of the tables at the City Bowl Market on Hope St. Image by Simon Richmond

The new-style markets have similarities between them, such as live music, whimsical decor (hay bales for seating, milk jugs filled with flowers hanging from the rafters) and children’s play areas. But each one also offers a subtly different grazing and shopping experience, as well as an ideal opportunity to engage with locals, catch up on the current vibe and snap up unique items, often from the makers themselves. From Thursday through Sunday, zig-zag around the Cape peninsula to the following venues.

Thursday

Based in a lovely old building with a lofty hall and outside gardens and courtyards, City Bowl Market (www.citybowlmarket.co.za), in the central Gardens area, began as a chilled Saturday (9am–2pm) alternative to the frenzy at Neighbourgoods; in late 2012 it also started trading on Thursday evenings (4:30-8:30pm). Fresh produce and plenty of delicious nibbles and drinks are on offer, including freshly made salads, juices, sandwiches and even craft beers. There’s a clothing store downstairs and occasionally on Saturdays they have a larger selection of fashion vendors.

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Friday

The place to be in the southern peninsula community of Muizenberg come Friday night is the Blue Bird Garage Food & Goods Market (bluebirdgarage.blogspot.co.uk),which rocks from 4pm to 10pm. Located in a 1940s hangar that was once the base for the first airmail delivery service in the Southern hemisphere, this is a particularly fun place to shop, graze and drink local wines and ales while grooving to live jazz. Look out for the American woman toasting s’mores with a mini blowtorch! Drop by on Sunday for vintage finds, antiques and collectables.

Tempting cakes at Hout Bay's Bay Harbour Market. Image by Simon Richmond

Saturday

Time for the big one – the Neighbourgoods Market (www.neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za). When Justin Rhodes and Cameron Munro started Neighbourgoods in 2005 they had little idea it would turn into the phenomenally popular institution it is today. Based at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, with an offshoot in Bramfontein, Johannesburg, this expertly curated collection of local producers and micro-entrepreneurs has been the inspiration for several more markets featuring crafts, artisan foods and designer goods that have blossomed around the Mother City. It runs on Saturday from 9am to 2pm at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock (but get in and out early if you want to avoid the crowds). Gourmet eats and drinks are gathered in the main area, where you can pick up groceries and edible gifts or just graze, while the separate Designergoods area hosts a must-buy selection of local fashions and accessories. Check out Bluecollarwhitecollar for tailored shirts in eye-popping patterns and Grant Mason Originals for shoes made from luxury fabric offcuts.

A pleasant alternative to the other Saturday markets is the Porter Estate Product Market (www.pepmarket.co.za) which offers farm-fresh produce and crafts in the leafy surrounds of Tokai. Grab breakfast here and let the little ones run wild in the children’s activity areas.Enjoying cocktails and gourmet nibbles at the Neighbour Goods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill. Image by Simon Richmond

Sunday

For many years Hout Bay, on the Atlantic Coast side of the peninsula, has been a destination on Sundays for its excellent craft market (10am–5pm), held on the village green. Among the items on offer are beadwork and other trinkets made in the nearby township of Imizamo Yethu.

At the far western end of Hout Bay’s harbour is the newer Bay Harbour Market (www.bayharbour.co.za). This imaginatively designed indoor market, which runs Saturday and Sunday from 9.30am to 4pm (and Friday from 5pm to 9pm between November and February), has been a riproaring success. There’s a good range of gifts and crafts, as well as very tempting food and drink options and live music.

If it’s the last Sunday of the month, scoot over to Newlands for the excellent Kirstenbosch Craft Market (9am–5pm), which features one of the area’s largest and best selections of local crafts, from brightly painted tin fridge magnets to ceramics and designer millinery.

Freshly squeezed juices and smoothies being made at Bay Harbour Market in Hout Bay. Image by Simon Richmond