Gardens, Cape Town

About Heritage Walk of Cape Town's East City

Route: The corner of Adderley and Longmarket streets to upper Buitenkant Street
Description: an excellent way to explore the semi-industrial, creative hub of Cape Town's East City
Length: roughly 3 km
Time: a morning (leave time to eat at one of the trendy eateries)
Overnight: City Bowl Hotels
Our tip: if you want to do the Castle justice, you need to make this walk a whole day affair. We did the walk without the Castle, choosing to do that another day

Cape Town's vibrant and eclectic East City is one of the most interesting, and exciting parts of Cape Town. Very obviously an emerging creative and design hub of the city, it isn't going to be long before this area gives Woodstock a run for its money.

Known more formally as the East City Precinct, this heritage walk explores some really interesting buildings worth visiting, but it also takes place in the heart of the city where there is a constant hum and buzz of both people and cars.

Start your journey on the corner of Longmarket and Adderley streets at Church Square, just across the road from Groote Kerk. We parked in Plein Street (parking attendants charge you by the hour to park, but it does mean you can safely leave your car in a 60 minute zone, and not risk a fine) and walked to the start.

Church Square is interesting, but more interesting is Groote Kerk. This over 300 year-old Dutch Reformed church is the oldest place of worship in the country. In it you will find the country's largest organ and the biggest unsupported domed ceiling in the southern hemisphere. The doors are open to visitors (we easily went through the front door, but if this is closed, try the back).

A little way down, on the corner of Parliament Street, is Mullers Optometrists, a gorgeous black and chrome art deco shopfront that could easily belong in Paris or another European city. The Mullers still practise from here.

Just across the road, on the corner of Darling Street, Mullers is dwarfed by the huge Old Mutual Building. Around the lower edges of the building is a continuous carved stone frieze of some of the country's history. The animal cornerstones are incredible.

Interestingly, this old building is now an apartment block and often used for movie shoots. Much of it is available on short term rentals, for holiday makers, but students and young professionals also stay here. Residents gain access via a doorman, partway up the flight of stairs, which, combined with the 1940s architecture, gives it a distinctly New York feel.

Above the security desk's head is a clock that has told six o'clock for the last twenty years. The clockmaker responsible for the clock's upkeep died, and the administration has yet to find someone to fix it.

This art deco building was the tallest building in the country when it was built. Across from it is another art deco building, the large, square old post office. Today the post office is called Grand Central, but the huge banking hall, at which there were once central counters, is now a vibey market with stalls selling an array of clothing, handbags and boots.

Almost lost in the noise and carry-on in the market below, the six large murals that were a feature of the hall remain for those who notice them. And there is still a post office on the mezzanine level.

As you exit Grand Central, immediately in front of Trafalgar Place flower market stands the much neglected Thomas Fothergill Lightfoot monument. It's horribly neglected, and used as a urinal, but the story attached to the archdeacon of the Anglican Church, for whom this monument was erected, is fascinating.

Known as Southeaster (he had elements of swiftness and vigour to his personality, obviously) he, ironically, died from wounds effected by a strong gust of the south-easter. But his association with wind doesn't end there for the monument, in turn, was then also blown over by the wind.

A good time to break for tea, head back across Darling Street a couple of doors up from the Old Mutual Building to the Eastern Food Bazaar, where you can get a decent cup of tea for far less than you'd pay elsewhere.

Alongside the Old Mutual Building is the most darling building squashed in amongst the art deco buildings known as the Wellington Fruit Growers' Building that dates back to 1902. Its beauty is marred by the addition of a few extra floors.

The Scotts Building, on the corner of Darling and Plein, is another art deco beauty that used to house the Tivoli Theatre music hall. It is easier to see all of these buildings if you remain on the opposite side of Darling Street, across from them.

Continuing down Darling Street, you pass Grand Parade on your left. Remodelled in 2006, it was originally double its size and used for military exercises (the Castle is just across the parade), hence its name.

Today, other than for large events, it serves as a trading area. It is, however, the oldest public square in the country and the view of the City Hall across the parade is impressive. The statue is of Queen Victoria's eldest son, King Edward VII.

The splendid Italian Renaissance-style City Hall has its main entrance in Darling Street. Today it is used by court and traffic offences departments, its impressive mosaic floors trodden by those visiting officers of the law. To see the gorgeous hall you can either attend one of the regular concerts, or arrange for a tour.

Alongside but across Parade Street is the Central Library, contained in the Volunteer Drill Hall, built for military regiments in 1885. At this stage you can include the Castle in your walk.

Turn down Longmarket Street and then into Buitenkant. You'll pass the beautiful old Granary Building with its figures of Neptune and Britannia. It dates back to 1814. Look briefly down Caledon Street and you'll spot the Fugard Theatre, in what was the old Sacks Futeran centre.

District Six Museum, located in the Methodist Church at 25A Buitenkant Street is a little higher, but just two blocks before it is the Homecoming Centre, the restored Sacks Futeran textile and softs goods warehouse, a second venue used for rotating exhibitions that spark conversation, run by an almost all woman team.

Lunch break: there are numerous eateries and coffee shops in this part of the East City. Head up Barrack Street and you will find Field Office. New York Bagels is on the corner of Albertus and Harrington streets, Charly's Bakery is in the parking lot across from the bagel eatery, whilst further up Harrington are Wenches & Benches and Chopchop (if their chalk board is anything to go by, coffee is dirt-cheap).

After lunch, head further up Buitenkant Street, across Roeland Street (if you can manage to pass the Book Lounge without getting side-tracked) and visit Rust en Vreugd. Built in 1777 as a private home the museum, despite needing a good dose of TLC, has incredible gardens and houses the William Fehr Collection. It's quite exciting to discover such a big garden right in the middle of the city in this way.

Source: Walking Cape Town, urban walks and drives in the Cape Peninsula by John Muir

Need to Know

WhereThe Route takes you from, the corner of Adderley and Longmarket streets to upper Buitenkant Street.

WhenBest during daylight hours.

How muchFree

OvernightStay nearby in Gardens, in Cape Town


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