The transformation of this historic port area was the foundation for the rebirth of Cape Town in the 1990s and the node point for the growth of South Africa’s tourism sector.
Like Camden Lock in London, or Faneuil Hall in Boston, no one could have foreseen how this area would grow and what an attraction it would become. Its wharves and warehouses are now crammed with a cornucopia of shops and restaurants to suit every taste. There is almost too much to do here.
People often think they should stay at the Waterfront, and there are hotels here, but many people find it rather too busy and too bustling for their holiday base. It’s fine if you are staying at the Cape Grace, an oasis of clam on a private quay, or if you are going to be clubbing into the early hours. Otherwise, you might prefer to be a little further away in a quieter neighbourhood. It’s easy to get to the Waterfront from almost anywhere in Cape Town. Many hotels have shuttle buses, taxis are cheap, and there is as much car parking as you need at the Waterfront.
Leaving the Waterfront to travel north-east along the Atlantic Seaboard, you pass through a series of beachfront areas – Green Point, Sea Point, Bantry Bay, and Clifton - which are all slightly different in style and character. Signal Hill rises up as a backdrop to them all.
Green Point is immediately adjacent to the Waterfront and has benefited from the overspill. There is a massive stadium and open space by the sea and, on Sundays, the whole area is given over to a flea market – a mixture of bric-a-brac, crafts and cheap clothing – that is certainly worth a visit. The five-star Radisson Waterfront Hotel is here, on Granger Bay, as well as one of our favourites, Romney Park Luxury Suites hotel, which has good value, spacious apartments with balconies overlooking the sea.
This area, previously characterised by mansion blocks with an aging middle-class population, had become a run down hangout for hawkers, hobos and hookers, until the explosion in house prices forced people to take another look at this prime seafront real estate. The wide promenade has been replanted and reclaimed and joggers and rollerbladers weave in and out of the pensioners walking their dogs. The neglected mansion blocks have been repaired and redecorated, and the flats sell for a small fortune. One block that turned out to have a different destiny was Winchester Mansions, converted into a five-star luxury seafront hotel. If you want to be facing the sea, near the Waterfront, but not right in it, this is the place to stay.
Bantry Bay is in the heart of an exclusive residential area stretching along Cape Town’s Atlantic coastline. Once a wealthy suburb on the edge of the city, Bantry Bay is now simply one part of the development that extends beyond Clifton to Camps Bay. The seafront area has been largely rebuilt in the last few years. It features hotels like The President, an established favourite with the English in the period before the Waterfront was built. As one climbs Lion’s Head, you find smaller, more exclusive hotels: Les Cascades is a lovely place to stay, with gardens that plunge down the hillside; and Ellerman House is probably the most exclusive hotel in Cape Town, with stunning views from its rooms and gardens. This is an area of expensive villas precariously hugging the cliff side.
Clifton is next along and the first place that has sandy beaches along this stretch of coast. Consequently, it gets hugely crowded in the summer season. The apartment-hotels here - places like The Peninsula and The Ambassador - are used more by South African holidaymakers than foreign tourists. The super-rich have their cliffside villas here. There are four beaches at Clifton and all of them will be pretty well jam-packed at the height of the season. The beaches are numbered, and each beach attracts its own clientele – families, gays, surfers etc.
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