Exploring Cape Town On The Cheap: The Best Walking Tours

With stunning Table Mountain in the background and narrow pedestrian-only streets, the beautiful Central Business District (CBD) is a popular tourist attraction in Cape Town. Stretching from as far as Parliament Street to the foreshore, this part of the city offers historical landmarks, stunning scenery and Victorian buildings. It is also the area where most Capetonians spend the majority of their working week. 

With the CBD being very linear and easy to get around in, it is the perfect place for a walking tour. These tours offer an insight into the events and history bound up in the streets, and are easy on the budget–in fact most are free or very low cost.

Many companies offer Cape Town walking tours. Here are a few of my favourites.

Sex & Slaves In The City

Cost: $15
Duration: Two hours
Starting Point: 10am at Old Town House, Green Market Square

As the name suggests, this unique guided tour takes walkers on a well planned tour of lives of Cape slaves. Slavery in Cape Town has made a huge contribution to the city’s cuisine, language and religious and the tour explores these topics in in the form of interactive street theatre. Two guides sing and dance their way through the streets of the city, highlighting the slave-influenced aspects in both an entertaining and educational way. Beginning at Green Market Square, the tour moves through the colourful Bo-Kaap, down Long Street, to The Golden Acre and The Slave Lodge on Adderley Street.

Walking Tour of Central Cape Town (Self-guided app)

Cost: Free
Duration: As long as you want
Starting point: Where ever you are

If you’re not so good at keeping up with a tour guide and want to explore the city at your own pace, grab your mobile phone and download the Walking Tour of Central Cape Town Tour app. The app was created by Cape Town Tourism and Tourism Radio and includes an audio and visual guide of all the best places to visit in the Mother City. One of the coolest features is that the app finds where you are and lets you know about nearby attractions as you walk by them. With more than 40 points of interest including museums, restaurants, shopping and accommodation, it is really useful–and often better than a guided tour. The also has a ‘Take Me There’ feature which will guide you to a specific place of interest.

CitySightseeing Walking Tours

We all know the famous red buses of the CitySightseeing Tours; in Cape Town they also offer two walking tours every day: the Historic City Walk, and the Bo-Kaap Walk.

Historic City Walk at 11am

Cost: $7
Duration: 70 minutes
Starting Point: Long Street Tour Office

Being a historic city walk, the tour takes walkers to places like City Hall, where Nelson Mandela made  his first speech after being released from prison, the Slave Lodge where you’ll be exposed to the hardship and suffering of Cape slaves, and St George’s Cathedral, where you’ll learn about Desmond Tutu and his role in the abolishment of apartheid. It also makes a stop at the Eastern Food Bazaar, where many of Cape Town’s cultures are celebrated through food–and you can pick up a fairly cheap yet delicious meal.

The Bo-Kaap Walk at  3pm

Cost: $7
Duration: 70 minutes
Starting Point: Long Street Tour Office

The suburb of Bo-Kaap (formerly known as the Malay Quarter) on the slopes of Signal Hill is famous for its brightly coloured houses and cobblestone streets. On this tour walkers will learn about the history of the Malay and Muslim population of the city. Between exploring Cape Town’s first mosque, visiting the Bo-Kaap Museum, and experiencing the smells and tastes of Cape Malay food, this tour is definitely one for the senses. The tour also stops at Green Market Square and is an opportunity for visitor to the the city to buy authentic African artwork, drums, cloth and jewellery.

Nielsen Walking Tour

Cost: Free
Duration: One and half hours
Starting point: 11am or 2pm at St Georges Cathedral

This tour works on a simple concept: walkers get to decide what the tour is worth and pay that to the certified tour guides (who work exclusively off tips). Having their own love for Cape Town, each guide has their own unique stories to tell, routes to take and experience to share, making each tour different and varying from day to day. The tour takes walkers from St Georges Cathedral to the Parliament building, the president’s house, City Hall, and Green Market Square, the celebrated flower market. It ends at The Company Gardens, where kids can feed the squirrels.

Footsteps To Freedom Walking Tours

With two tours to choose from, these walking tours are more expensive, but also more extensive.

Footsteps to Freedom City Tour

Cost: $22
Duration: Two and a half hours
Starting Point: 1030 am, on steps of  Robert Gray Memorial (between Taj Hotel and Mandela Rhodes Place)

On this tour walkers will get a unique look at the historic old city of Cape Town as they weave through the streets, past old buildings and charming squares. A few of the tour highlights are visits to the Grand Parade, City Hall and Castle of Hood Hope. From stories of the apartheid era told in historic places like in District Six and Bo-Kaap, to going to historic slavery sites like the Slave Lodge, Slave Tree Site and Church Square, the tour covers it all. You’ll also learn about South African newsmakers including Jan Smuts, Cecil Rhodes, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and F.W De Klerk.

From Prison to President: Mandela in Cape Town

Cost: $22
Duration: Two and a half hours
Starting Point: 10 30am on steps of  Robert Gray Memorial (between Taj Hotel and Mandela Rhodes Place)

Bringing life to a series of significant events in the late Nelson Mandela’s time in Cape Town, the tour explores both his time as a prisoner and as South Africa’s first democratically-elected president. Tour highlights include visiting the Mandela Rhodes Building where the context and continuing legacy will be set, City Hall where the iconic event of 11 February 1990 took place, and a stop at Parliament. Here apartheid laws were legalized and Nelson Mandela sat as the first democratically-elected president; you’ll also see Tuynhuis, which hosted many secret, behind-the-scenes meetings and negotiations between Mandela and the apartheid government. It is definitely one of the most memorable tours, often bring locals to tears, and leaving tourists in awe of Madiba’s greatness.

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