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Swingbridge and Penguin, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
Photograph: V&A Waterfront

What to do on the V&A Waterfront: a local’s guide to Cape Town’s oceanside hub

It’s an essential stop on any Cape Town visit – so here are the best things to do, eat, drink and buy at the V&A Waterfront

Matthew Sterne
Written by
Matthew Sterne

When the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront was reborn way back in 1991, few could have predicted how it would transform Cape Town’s social scene.

Named after Queen Victoria and her son Prince Alfred, and with a maritime legacy dating back more than 350 years, the picturesque harbour of the V&A Waterfront is still used by tugs, fishing boats and various other vessels. But its reinvention as a quayside leisure hub – with ten distinct districts, each with its own character and charm, spread over 300 acres – has also made it the most visited destination in all of South Africa.

A safe, clean, central and expertly managed hub of energy, activity and creativity, it’s easy to see why locals and visitors alike (25 million people a year, in fact) flock to the V&A Waterfront. With 500 shops, 100 places to eat and a bucketload of family-friendly activities, the V&A offers everything from sunset cruises to trendy shops and live entertainment – all with the icon that is Table Mountain as your backdrop. And it’ll soon be home to Africa’s first Time Out Market, to boot.

Ready to dive in (not literally)? Here are the very best things to do on your visit to this lively, historic harbour precinct.

Matthew Sterne is a writer and tour guide based in Cape Town. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines and check out our latest travel guides written by local experts.

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The best things to do on Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront

As the locals like to say when discussing where to shop, ‘the Waterfront probably has it’. Selling everything from fashion, homeware and curios to jewellery, leather goods and tech, the V&A Waterfront is Cape Town’s most popular shopping destination for a reason. The best bit is being able to step outside the mall for a quick break and a breath of ocean air.

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Cape Town has plenty of powerful design stories to tell – and the Watershed is where over 150 makers bring them to life. Stocking more than 300 local brands, this large market – separate to the main shopping centre – is a craft and design space bursting with fresh fashion, art and flavour. It’s a relaxed area that offers the best in local art, ceramics, jewellery, clothing and more, all with a strong sense of local flair.

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With over 3,000 creatures – from rays and penguins to yellowfin tuna and sharks – the Two Oceans Aquarium lets you delve below the surface of the oceans that surround the South African coastline. Make sure to check when the animal feeding times are, and don’t skip the predator exhibit, the astonishing kelp forest and the penguin area. There are jellyfish, eels, seahorses and even crabs – these enormous tanks contain them all. The Touch Pool is great for kids, as is the ten-metre-long tunnel that allows you to get up close with subtropical species.

Eat, eat, eat!
Photograph: V&A Waterfront

4. Eat, eat, eat!

From quick bites and pubs with a view to some of the city’s best fine dining, the Waterfront genuinely has something for every palate. There are over 100 restaurants and food stalls to choose from, including exceptional sushi and fresh fish from Willoughby’s, Harbour House and The Cape Town Fish Market. The centre has more casual steak and fusion restaurants, plus plenty of spots for a light bit and a cup of coffee while you’re taking a break from shopping.

Go on a sunset cruise
Photograph: V&A Waterfront

5. Go on a sunset cruise

One of the best ways to end the day in Cape Town is on a yacht in the bay with a glass of bubbly in hand. There are a range of operators to choose from, but most offer something similar – namely a 90-minute cruise at sunset. Whichever you go with, it should include fantastic views of Table Mountain, the cityscape and Sea Point; fresh ocean breezes; waves lapping against the boat; a glass of sparkling wine and the sense that life simply doesn’t get much better than this.

The transformation of a decommissioned grain silo, which lay empty for more than a decade, into a world-class art museum and hotel has been widely lauded (and awarded). Indeed, the building is as striking as the exhibitions found within. The Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) houses an outstanding collection of art from across the continent – in fact, it’s the world’s largest museum of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora. The top floors of the building are occupied by the Silo Hotel – highly recommended for an afternoon tea or post-museum cocktails, even if you’re not checking in.

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Makers Landing is an emporium filled with the most exciting food entrepreneurs in Cape Town, a place where you can sample a huge variety of cuisines and drinks. Think African dishes, Indian street food, specialised chocolate and brewed-in-front-of-your-eyes beer. The Landing’s mission is to create a space where local food businesses can access state-of-the-art shared kitchen spaces and equipment, learning, support services and networking opportunities.

Used as a prison for over 300 years, Robben Island is Cape Town’s version of Alcatraz – except it's 50 times bigger and has also served as a leper colony, a mental hospital and a military base. Nowadays it’s a Unesco World Heritage site that has been preserved as a memorial to those who were incarcerated here. The ferry trip to Robben Island leaves from the Waterfront's Clock Tower area, and once you’re there, tours include a walk through the old prison (with the obligatory peek into Nelson Mandela’s tiny cell) and a 45-minute bus ride around the island with commentary on the various places of note. You’ll see the lime quarry where Mandela did hard labour for years; the house where Robert Sobukwe, leader of the Pan-Africanist Congress, was held in solitary confinement for six years; and a church from the island’s days as a leper colony. This is the place to face up to Cape Town’s chequered history and gain a greater appreciation for the strides the city, and nation, have made since Mandela was freed.

Take a ride in a helicopter
Photograph: V&A Waterfront

9. Take a ride in a helicopter

Turn the adrenaline dial right up on a scenic flight around the peninsula, taking in scenic panoramas and ocean vistas from above. Chopper tours take off regularly from the V&A Waterfront, soaring through the air for a dash to Camps Bay and back. Various helicopter companies boast a range of tours – some just dash to Camps Bay and back, with longer trips flying all the way out over landmarks such as Hout Bay, Simon’s Town and the Twelve Apostles rocks.

While most visitors admire the V&A’s canals from dry land, there are other, more hands-on ways to explore the area’s waterways. SUP Cape Town offers stand-up paddleboard rentals from the Waterfront’s Canal District. You can paddle as far as the city’s convention centre or head towards the Waterfront itself. You don’t need to be an expert – the canals are protected from the wind, ensuring the water is often flat and easier to navigate – but lessons are also available if you’re not quite ready to go it alone.


Located near the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island, the Cape Town Diamond Museum is for anyone interested in the history of Africa’s diamonds. It has replicas of the world’s most famous diamonds and displays on how rough diamonds are transformed into creations of ‘fire and light’ – plus you can learn about how diamonds are set into jewellery such as engagement rings, earrings and pendants.

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