Since I arrived in Cape Town almost six weeks ago as an intern, I was excited by the promise of natural beauty and prospect of a new city, but of course also nervous about the unknown. I’ve found the city to be diverse, active, delicious, and surprisingly affordable.
As a student, traveller, and intern, I’m on a budget. Therefore, I’m always excited by the high-value and low- to no-cost options Cape Town has for fun.
1) All You Can Eats
As long as you come hungry, these all you can eat deals are fantastic value for your money and save you some of the worry of choosing just one thing off the menu. I’ve gone to Trenchtown in Observatory every Monday I’ve been in Cape Town for unlimited pizza and drinks for R100 rand from 6-10pm. Their relaxed seating is great for talking to new people or meeting up with big or small groups of friends. If you prefer a more formal, sit-down experience, Mr Lin’s, also in Obs, offers all you can eat Thai, sushi, and dessert for just R149 (discounted to R129 for a group of eight or more). If you still manage to get hungry later at night, the surprisingly delicious sausage dogs outside of Kwikspar in Obs are only R15 – I end up there several nights a week.
Pic: Quasiem Gamiet
2) Art and Museums
Part of the reason I was drawn to Cape Town was the complex history and strong arts scene of the city. Thankfully, educating yourself isn’t difficult or expensive here. Try some of the Iziko Museums, which offer half price entrance to students, making the Slave Lodge, South African Museum, and SA National Gallery R15 rand and the Bo-Kaap Museum R10. The Irma Stern Museum has free entry for students, and the Social History Centre is free to everybody. For another free but more informal viewing of arts and culture of all kinds, paired with food and drinks, go to First Thursdays each month; the event is a great way to get connected to the most current arts and culture in Cape Town.
Pic: Quasiem Gamiet
There are a lot of reasons to love nature, but one of my favourites is that it’s free. Although there are many hikes to enjoy around Cape Town, for me, the best feeling is to look up at Lion’s Head and Table Mountain and know that I climbed them. Recently, I hiked Lion’s Head at sunset. Waking up around 4am is daunting, but the view of the sun slowly rising above the edge of Table Mountain is unforgettable. Maybe bring a thermos of coffee with you, though.
Often when I take a train or taxi in Cape Town, I feel like I’m getting off in a new city; the giveaway is Table Mountain or Lion’s Head in the background. It always feels like there is a new market, event, or park to see.
4) City Streets
Walking around the CBD for lunch or with friends on the weekends, there’s always something to see or someone to meet. On Thursdays I like to visit the Earth Fair Market near St George’s Mall for lunch or produce shopping. Talking to people the other day to gather quotes for another article, I encountered friendly men and women running market stands, taking smoke breaks, commuting, or waiting to meet friends. Although there always seem to be meeting places throughout the streets of the city, a couple of weekends ago, Open Streets on Bree Street brought a huge crowd. The highlight of this for me was watching live breakdancing while enjoying an ice-cream.
Pic: Quasiem Gamiet
Although beaches on the Atlantic side have polar-worthy water, it’s nice to take in some sun and maybe go in for a quick dip. Camps Bay is great for hanging out all day, visiting the beachside bars and restaurants, or picking up ice-cream or cold drinks from guys roaming the beach without even having to leave your towel. Clifton beach is ideal for shelter from the wind and a bit more seclusion. Hout Bay has a market with clothing vendors, food, a bar, and live music to enjoy after a day of sun. If you want to swim, head to the Indian Ocean – although you have to pay for access, the penguins on Boulder Beach are great companions, or to swim for free, head to surrounding beaches like Muizenberg, which has sand, swimming, and surf.
Pic: Lisa Burnell
Although Cape Town has obvious rugged natural beauty, I find myself visiting gardens for a dose of nature minus the rugged part. Kirstenbosch offers a 50% student discount (tickets reduced to R30) and is great for a day of learning about Cape Town’s nature or a picnic in the sun. The Company’s Garden is just past St George’s Mall in Town, great if you need a midday dose of nature – try feeding the squirrels or even baby ducks. Green Point Urban Park, another oasis in the city, has plenty of paved paths perfect for biking or walking, as well as manmade structures that contrast the natural beauty of the flora and fauna. Plenty of lawn space works for a picnic, while the outdoor gym is great for a free workout.
Coming to Cape Town I didn’t know what to expect, or whether foreigners and people from all backgrounds would mingle or not. I notice some of the most interesting mashups of people working from their own shops, market stalls, and offices gathering in the streets on the way to my office. In Observatory, I am always meeting students, interns, and locals.
7) A World of Food
Visit the Dog’s Bollocks for a unique and relaxed Cape Town vibe and bring your own booze during the summer. If you just want a bunch of meat, head to Mzoli’s on a Sunday for a lunch of pick-your-own meat cooked to order, also paired with bring your own booze. Eastern Food Bazaar in town has curries, Chinese food, kebabs, and more, plus ice-cream for dessert. Last time, I tried the Chicken Tikka Masala for only R50. For the quintessential Cape Town coffee experience, steampunk-themed Truth Coffee has twice been voted the world’s best coffee shop by the UK’s Daily Telegraph.
8) Living in Observatory
Before I moved to Cape Town, Obs was described to me as a diverse student area. However, walking through the streets of Obs I seem to see families with young children, elderly women taking walks, young couples, Dutch interns, American ex-pats, South Africans from across the country, and of course my friends and roommates from interning here. At night, whether I’m at out or a house party, I’ve learned about South African politics from a variety of viewpoints, had a drum lesson, learned what I should see in Cape Town, and been asked curiously about my own country by taxi drivers, bouncers, while waiting in line or traveling to work.
Pic: Lisa Burnell
9) The Commute
My chosen method of getting around since I arrived in Cape Town has been the train; I take it every day to and from work and sometimes on the weekends. Although my train ride is usually quiet, aside from those selling snacks, singing, or the occasional music played on the trains themselves, I still enjoy my daily commute. There’s always a variety of people on the train, a number of them choosing to read along the ride. Whatever experience I have on the train on a given day, I really do enjoy riding it and the savings it gives me – only R10.50 each way from Obs to Town.
Featured image: Lisa Burnell