The best things to do in Bo-Kaap

Lest we forget Salaam! Now, put on your walking shoes and join us on a Bo-Kaap treasure hunt. A few of the Bo-Kaap’s steepest cobblestone streets might put you in mind of Telegraph Hill, that San Francisco neighbourhood known for its vertigo-inducing roads. Situated on the lower slopes of Signal Hill and rising up to just before the Noon Gun,... Read more → The post The best things to do in Bo-Kaap appeared first on CapeTown ETC.

The best things to do in Bo-Kaap

Lest we forget

Salaam! Now, put on your walking shoes and join us on a Bo-Kaap treasure hunt.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

A few of the Bo-Kaap’s steepest cobblestone streets might put you in mind of Telegraph Hill, that San Francisco neighbourhood known for its vertigo-inducing roads. Situated on the lower slopes of Signal Hill and rising up to just before the Noon Gun, Bo-Kaap’s uphills are daunting – a decent calf work-out for pedestrians, absolute hell on your car’s clutch.

Not that its inclines are likely to faze the majority of tourists who visit. Most visitors to this historic CBD-adjacent neighbourhood end up on and around perfectly flat Rose Street where they hop out to pose for pictures with a few of the candy-coloured houses, perhaps pausing to peruse the shelves at the neighbourhood’s legendary family-run spice shop, Atlas.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

More intrepid visitors might take the time to take a look at South Africa’s oldest mosque: built on land belonging to the freed slave Coridon van Ceylon (Cape Town’s first Muslim property owner), the Auwal Masjid houses the earliest known South African manuscript of the Qu’ran, drafted from memory by the mosque’s first Imam, Tuan Guru, while he was imprisoned on Robben Island.

After mosque they might sit down for a few traditional dishes at Biesmiellah, a longstanding Cape Muslim diner. They could even try their hand folding samosas on an immersive cultural tour, during which they would also likely pop into the Bo-Kaap Museum for a quick history lesson.

Perhaps, if their timing’s right, they’ll be lucky enough to hear the call to prayer: the voices that sing out across the rooftop can bring tears to your eyes.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

No matter what you do on a visit to this neighbourhood, though, you will certainly see children playing in the streets, and you will get a feel for the personality of a neighbourhood that has been rolling with the punches since it was first developed in the 1760s.

Whatever you do here, whatever discoveries you make, it’s worth keeping in mind the deep history that this charming pocket of Cape Town embodies.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

Today, despite smatterings of gentrification and attempts to modernise, there is still plenty of tradition, and plenty of promise. And there are still people whose recent ancestors were among the emancipated slaves who established themselves here when they were granted freedom in the 1800s.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

First, pick the best room in town

High above the city, not far from where Signal Hill’s famous Noon Gun booms at midday, bohemians and misfits will feel fully at home at Dorp (021 422 1676 or 021 612 0298,, as will anyone looking for a break from reality. It’s a hotel like no other, where checking in feels like stepping onto a movie set.

Each detail hints at an artistic touch, a clever twist of humour, a feeling of having arrived somewhere timeless, impervious to the outside world. It’s filled with things to look at, read, and get comfortable on – knick-knacks and collectables are left lying around, intriguing pictures hang here, eye-catching fabrics cover a piece of furniture there. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, either: the pink velvet sofas and dinosaur prints in the salon are a treat, and mood music in the Arcadia wing tugs at you as you survey vintage photographs of Cape Town drag queens.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

The restaurant (open to non-guests with prior booking) serves delicious (if very rich) food; since there’s no liquor licence, you can bring your own. Plus, since late last year, there’s Dorp’s annex, Onder Dorp, which offers self-catering spaces in much the same vein as the hotel.

Start the day people-watching

With tables spilling out of the corner building and onto the pavement and even across the road, there’s just about always a buzz at Bo-Kaap Deli (064 518 4231, @bokaapdeli), a vibrant café serving smoothies and flat whites alongside all-day breakfasts, spicy masala mince shakshuka, burgers, and delicious koe’sisters. If you can’t find a table there’s more indoor space across the street, where the annex also incorporates The Sweet Spot (071 369 6280), where the shelves are stocked with imported sugary treats.

Discover artisanal spirit

Directly opposite the deli, in a beautiful corner building (Batavia Two) with an entrance marked by a pair of stone Chinese dragons, Artisan House (076 228 7873) opened in December. Inside, a beautifully all-white space features wares by two beautiful African brands. Milles Collines (, which originated in Kigali, designs and crafts high-end apparel, accessories and jewellery incorporating the work of artisans from Africa.

And then there’s Chill Cape Town (, a range of all-natural skincare products – body butters, hair treatment oils, face masks, skin repair treatments – created Nigerian-Barbadian entrepreneur, Aiwekhoe Iyahen. The space hosts occasional workshops on showcasing unique, specialised African artisanship. 

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

Get usable art

Right next door to the Dutch Mahal Hotel, Gracht ( is a small but lovely ceramics exhibition gallery attached to the studio of ceramicist Karen Scott. Workshops in glazing, hand-building and decal application are available – the studio’s side entrance is on the cobblestone Niederlands Lane. 

For label queens

At 166 Buitengracht Street, on the other side of Gracht, is Story (, a consignment store for collectable sneakers. Highly prized, and often outrageously expensive speciality kicks for picky feet, are displayed in what is essentially a footwear gallery. They also sell T-shirts and apparel – men’s underwear by Hanes, OVO socks, Travis Scott beanies, caps by Supreme. There’s a whole tekkie cleaning service, too, and shoe cleaning supplies for sale.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

If you’re more interested in locally-crafted clothing – jackets, leisurewear, tracksuit ensembles – then step into Tumi & Peng ( just down the drag. Everything is designed and made in Cape Town using 100% cotton.

Light up, float out

It’s a coffee shop, sure, but the real reason to step into High End Café & Dispensary ( is to get a glimpse of a brave new world, one where cannabis is responsibly sold, dispensed by knowledgeable folk who can talk you through the various strains and origins of the products on offer; co-founder, Cameron Aberdeen, who is a herbal doctor, can write you a script for the medical-grade marijuana sold at this dispensary, which operates by the book, which means you’ll be asked to sign up as a member after your first purchase.

Only top-drawer stuff is sold, a mix of locally grown weed and pricier imported stuff, and they also serve interesting non-alcoholic cocktails such as drinks using Aizoa, an 0% aperitif made from functional mushrooms and sceletium, a natural mood enhancer. And, yes, there’s quality coffee and a handsome dog named Bentley who greets you at the door.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

Get a short, back and sides

Two doors down from High End is where you’ll find Abbaas Sylvester who has been honing his scissoring since he was a boy – he says that, like many old-school cutters, he started out by sweeping hair and then learnt his craft by stealing with his eyes from the barber who mentored him. Now Abbaas has his own Sleek Barber Shop (071 486 1698, where you can slide into a vintage Theo A Kochs barbershop chair for a cut or a hot-towel shave. The real joy of spending time here, though, is the side-order of conversation and hospitality; and it’s not only Abbaas who has the gift of the gab – many of Bo-Kaap’s old timers like nothing better than to pop in here to chew the fat and share a few juicy stories.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

Pick up some trash

Aiming to highlight the sexiness of sustainable fashion by pushing the agenda that pre-loved clothing can help lessen the burden of fast fashion’s wastefulness, Kaap Diem (@kaapdiemthrift) is a thrift store with racks full of colourful, often delightful, and always less expensive, second-hand threads. Look for the words ‘Shop. Sell. Swap.’ on the wall – it’s adjacent to the African curio shop, on Wale Street.

Get ready to ride

At Cape Town Vespa Rentals (021 461 5961,, you either loan an Italian motorised pony for your jaunt around the city, or join a guided scooter tour. You can book online, or arrive and check out the huge inventory of bikes lined up on the pavement outside. Inside, it’s a repair shop and they do custom builds, and they can sell you the parts you need for your own two-wheel steed. Or just slip in for a hot brew and doughnut – their little café is called Two Stroke Roast.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

Buy from the bazaar

Across the road from the little Deluxe Coffeeworks store, the Turkish Bazaar (073 600 3648) isn’t quite as authentically Turkish as you might hope. Although there are plenty of specialty foods imported from Turkey, much of the focus is on its butchery and there are other non-Turkish comestibles for sale, too, including spices which try to compete with Atlas next door. Still, the more unfamiliar teas and coffees, sweets, treats, chocolates and preserves will keep you browsing for a while. More immediately satisfying for your taste buds, though, will be the little Turkish Döner kebab joint at the back – generous slivers of roasted meat are sliced from the skewer and slavered into a wrap, and you can grab a seat outside while to chow down, perhaps accompanied by a glass of ayran, a Turkish salted yoghurt drink.

Uncommon food, uncommon views

To reach Against the Grain (081 015 6185), follow the stairs tucked away between Atlas Trading (Bo-Kaap’s legendary family-run spice dealer) and the Turkish kebab nook. Once there, it’s not only the views and abundance of greenery in Gesant and Nabeela’s prime-position café that’ll appeal, but their slightly edgy menu. The idea is to celebrate Bo-Kaap’s culinary heritage and traditions, while adding an element of experimentation and hybridisation to create dishes you won’t find anywhere else.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

From deconstructed koe’sister oats and gesmoorde eggs on sourdough, to spicy fried chicken bagels and croissants stuffed with pickled fish, their dishes offer a unique local twist on the all-day breakfast theme. Plus, there’s a gorgeous rooftop where you might find a market unfolding, hear live music, or participate in whatever the latest community-geared happening might be. There’s also a monthly stand-up comedy act, and Gesant is obsessed with coffee, so you find all kinds of brews here, prepared from in-house roasted beans.

Make yourself at home

At Faeeza’s Home Kitchen (072 120 3710,, under the vaulted archway, up the stairs and into the peaceful, bougainvillea-shrouded courtyard on Chiappini Lane, Faeeza Abrahams has – since retiring – become an institution. What started as a small offering of home cooking classes to keep herself busy, has turned into appearances on TV and visits from Prince Harry and Roger Federer. The handful of tables are still serviced by her tiny home kitchen – the boards tell you which curries and snacks you can order. If you can’t decide, ask for a tasting plate of samoosas, dhaltjies and koe’sisters – or you can pause for a full-blown lunch, everything you ask for will be an authentic expression of traditional Cape Malay cuisine.

Picture: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc Magazine

Words: Keith Bain / Pictures: Claire Gunn / Cape Etc, Autumn 2023

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Picture: Claire Gunn

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