We all expect to spend money while travelling but sometimes it helps to have a cheaper day out. One of the great joys of Cape Town is that there are plenty of ways to entertain yourself without spending anything at all. Be warned however – you will need comfortable shoes and iron will power. You are in for a lot of walking and severe temptation.
Go to the beach
The Cape Peninsula is lined by beautiful beaches.
Apart from the cost of getting there, there is only the cost of suntan cream and the occasional drink. Obviously swimming is a summer-only activity but year-round the Indian Ocean water is far warmer and more gentle than on the wilder Atlantic coast. Clifton Beach is probably the trendiest in town, Camps Bay the most beautiful.
Sandy Bay, near Llandudno, and a fair hike from the car park is the official nudist beach.
Window shop round the markets
Whether this one stays free depends entirely on your willpower. Cape Town’s markets are all about shopping but they are also amazing places for people-watching, so leave your valuables at home, grab your camera, and head out for some fun. Best of the lot isGreenmarket Square in the city centre, open every working day, packed to the gunwales and heaving with life and colour. On Sundays there is a less touristy market next to the Green Point Stadium. If you are feeling peckish, the Neighbour Goods Market in Woodstock on Saturday mornings has over 100 suppliers who hand out liberal samples of gourmet food and drink.
Free art shows
The Michaelis Collection in Greenmarket Square and 18th-century Cape Dutch mansionRust en Vreugd both have excellent collections of old masters and are free to enter, although they do ask for donations. As long as you don’t feel compelled to pull out a credit card and ship home a sculpture, some of South Africa’s finest commercial art galleriessuch as Everard Read, the AVA and Michael Stevenson have wonderful exhibitions which are completely free to the general public.
Indulge in a little (or a lot of) wishful thinking with a tour of The Diamond Works, where they give you a glass of bubbly and show you how diamonds are cut. There is also a section on the history of diamonds and as long as you can resist the temptation of getting them to run you up your own tiara, it’s all free.
For a different sort of sparkle, on the 2nd and 4th Saturday of every month, the South African Astronomical Observatory’s Cape Town headquarters opens its doors to the public at 8pm for a tour, talk and a chance to peek through the telescope at the stars. Their astronomers also lead full moon hikes up to the Lion’s Head with small telescopes; see their website for details.
One of the best walks in Cape Town is the gentle stroll through the historic heart of the city. At the bottom end, just near Greenmarket Square, are the Anglican St George’s Cathedral, the Dutch Reformed Groot Kerk, and the Iziko Slave Lodge. Now pedestrianised, Government Avenue is a leafy green path past the Company Gardens, the lush green park first laid out as a working kitchen garden by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. On the opposite side are the Houses of Parliament, the South African Library, and De Tuynhuys, now the office of the state President. The magnificent collection of Cape-Dutch architecture continues with the South African National Gallery, the Jewish Museum, and the South African Museum and Planetarium. There are charges for most of the museums, but the park and churches are free, and you can do a tour of parliament and listen to a debate with a week’s notice; tel: 021 403-2266. Remember you’ll need your passport. There are occasional free concerts in the cathedral, so keep an eye out for notices.
These boots were made for walking
There are some terrific walks in the area. Start easy with seaside promenades such as Seapoint and in quaint seaside towns filled with antiques shops and tearooms such as Kalks Bay and Simonstown. If you are feeling more energetic, head up hill through the charming sugar cube houses of Bo-Kaap to the Noon Day Gun or hike up to the Lion’s Head for amazing views across the bay. If you are serious about getting some hard-core exercise, scorn the cable car and climb Table Mountain the hard way. Just remember to take the proper gear – you need sensible boots, a good map, water and weather-proof clothes – the climate can change within minutes.
The V&A Waterfront
Inevitably, whatever else you do, all tourists in Cape Town end up back at the V&A Waterfront. There’s lots to spend money on here, but you can also have a good time without spending a single cent. There are plenty of places to wander, park yourself on a bench and people-watch. Seals sometime come right in and play around the jetties. The Maritime Centre, Cape Town’s museum of shipping is free (although donations are requested) and there are plenty of buskers from lone guitarists to full jazz bands to liven up proceedings. Keep an eye on local listings because there are frequent festivals and some of the many local pubs, clubs and wine bars offer live music, free wine tastings and other enticements on a regular basis.