The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is one of the top attractions in Cape Town, welcoming some 24 million visitors per year. With its pirate-themed boat rides, curio-filled shops and swanky hotels, it is dismissed by some as a tourist trap. But the Waterfront covers an area equivalent to 180 rugby fields and there is plenty to see and do beyond souvenir shopping or slurping ice cream on the promenade.

Tourist boats come and go from the energetic harbour; people mill on the docks for boats; birds fly and Table Mountain looms in the background.
Cape Town's V&A Waterfront, with Table Mountain as a backdrop, is one of the city's most alluring visitor sites © Chiara Salvadori / Getty Images

1. Historical walking tour

Many people think of the V&A as not much more than a particularly beautiful open-air mall, but the development has a history that dates all the way back to the 17th-century arrival of the Dutch. Walking tours lasting 90 minutes leave the Chavonnes Battery museum at 11am and 2pm, detailing the construction of the breakwater back in the 19th century and visiting key historical sights like the Clock Tower and the 130-year old Robinson Dry Dock, still in use today.

A dozen paddle boarders cruise along a narrow section of the V&A Waterfront; in the background is Table Mountain.
Take to the waters of the V&A Waterfront on a stand-up paddle board © SUP Cape Town

2. Stand-up paddle boarding

While most visitors spend their time admiring the water from the V&A’s walkways, you don’t have to stay dry to explore. SUP Cape Town offer stand-up paddle board rentals from the Waterfront’s Canal District. You can paddle as far at the city’s convention centre or head into the Waterfront and hop out at the Cape Grace Hotel’s Bascule bar for a mid-SUP sipping session. Lessons are also available if you’re not quite ready to go it alone.

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3. Lindt Chocolate Studio

As well as stocking up on pretty much any incarnation of Lindt chocolate, you can join a cooking class at the Lindt Chocolate Studio in the recently revamped Silo District. Classes include macaron-making, chocolate truffle workshops and the chance to bake the most decadent chocolate cake you will probably ever eat. Kids’ classes are also available – bookings are essential for all activities.

A pterodactyl-like piece of art hangs in a huge atrium within the Zeitz MOCAA; the atrium has been hewn from a stack columnar silos, with each having been cut away in various ways (some appear as circles floating above, while others have just had portions of their sides removed, which resemble oval windows).
The interior of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), housed within a former grain silo © christianthiel.net / Shutterstock

4. Zeitz MOCAA

The transformation of this decommissioned grain silo, which lay empty for more than a decade, into a world-class art museum is as remarkable as the exhibitions found within. The Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) houses an outstanding collection of art from across the continent, much of which comes from the private collection of businessman Jochen Zeitz. The top floors of the building are occupied by the luxury Silo Hotel – recommended for afternoon tea or post-shopping cocktails on the roof.

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5. GPS walking tour

If you fancy learning a little more about the Waterfront but want something a bit less rigid than a guided tour, head to the tourist information office and download the Voicemaps walking tour. They’ll even lend you a set of headphones so that you can wander along the route listening to stories of the V&A’s development through the years. The tour hits all the main sights, starting at the information office and ending up in the Silo District.

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6. Battery Park

The latest addition to the Waterfront is this park designed to reconnect the V&A to the city. The highlight is the skate park, packed in the afternoons with teens fitting in some half pipes on their way home from school. There’s also a basketball court, jungle gym, places to picnic and relics from the Amsterdam Battery – one of the oldest structures in the city.

A young musician plays a traditional African drum, with a blurred set of modern drums in the foreground.
Open-air art also includes musical performances, such as this drummer working a djembe © Rich Townsend / Getty Images

7. Open-air art

The Silo District is the creative heart of the Waterfront and has become home to a series of temporary art exhibitions. Wander the car-free precinct keeping an eye out for current installations, some of which are interactive. Sticking around until the end of November 2019 is Es Devlin’s giant Zoetrope, where you can view 12 minute-long videos shot in a dozen different Cape Town neighbourhoods. 

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8. Outdoor yoga and dance

Free yoga classes take place at various locations around the Waterfront throughout the year – check with the tourist information office for details on the latest classes. In summer, you’ll also find open-air dance sessions taking place in the Silo District. Join in with a salsa class or take a seat on the steps and watch tango dancers in action.

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9. Dine on the water

There are plenty of boat trips leaving the harbour here, but few of them offer such a ritzy ride at The Alba. This floating restaurant takes passengers out for brunch, lunch, sundowner cocktails or a two-hour dinner cruise that tours Table Bay offering marvellous views of the city. Be sure to book ahead.

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10. OZCF Market

Cape Town has a bit of a love affair with food markets, but the OZCF is one of the very best. Held on Saturdays and Sundays at Granger Bay, it’s a place to stock up on organic fruit and veg and freshly baked breads or to stop for a sit-down lunch. The market is linked to the Oranjezicht City Farm, a non-profit organisation encouraging small-scale farming within the city limits.

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