The V&A Waterfront is one of Cape Town’s most popular tourist destinations, evoking visions of the harbour’s early activity. Much of its allure stems from the fact that this bustling commercial port is surrounded by a massive entertainment complex that includes pubs, restaurants, specialised stores, craft markets, theatres, and movie theatres.
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, located between Robben Island and Table Mountain in the heart of Cape Town’s working waterfront, has become South Africa’s most visited destination. Exciting shopping and entertainment venues are interspersed with inventive office settings, world-class hotels, and luxury apartments in the residential marina, which is set against a backdrop of stunning sea and mountain views. We encourage you to come and discover the V&A Waterfront, where you may live, work, shop, and play.
Seal watching is a fun way to pass the time. The Two Oceans Aquarium offers a magnificent underwater world to visitors. The Maritime Museum is dedicated to the history of shipping from prehistoric to modern times. Popular boat rides around the harbour and along the coast are constantly available. Helicopter flips give you a different perspective. The Information Centre provides maps as well as information on the day’s unique events.
Waterfront Heritage Route
In the early 1970s, there were calls for more public access and usage of Cape Town’s historic harbour. In 1988, the then-landowner (State-controlled transport enterprise Transnet Limited) formed Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (Pty) Limited, a totally owned subsidiary company to redevelop the historic docklands. This was met with widespread public appreciation.
The Port of Cape Town has been the site of excavations, reclamations, harbour construction programmes, and land-based projects since its inception in 1860. The trade routes to the East had transformed the city into a hive of coastal activity by the time Prince Alfred* dumped the first batch of stone into the sea to begin construction of Cape Town’s port. The discovery of gold and diamonds in South Africa necessitated the expansion of the harbour’s initial part, the Alfred Basin, and the construction of the Victoria Basin. (* The second son of Queen Victoria was Prince Alfred.)
The two harbour basins were built between 1860 and 1920, and the surrounding area is known for its exceptional heritage structures. It has the charm of Victorian industrial architecture, as well as the size of a harbour created for sailing and steam transit in the early days. Containerization has become the most common form of freight handling and transportation by the 1970s. This, combined with South Africa’s economic isolation at the time and the reopening of the Suez Canal, resulted in a significant decrease in the use of land and harbour facilities surrounding the Victoria and Alfred Basins. Transnet was in the midst of rationalising port infrastructure and assessing its harbour and other land holdings at the time, with a particular focus on the assets’ returns.
The port has changed dramatically over the last 140 years, and the redevelopment of land and buildings surrounding the old Victoria and Alfred Basins is continuing. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is the result of nearly three decades of planning and development plans.
The Clock Tower
The Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower, which stands beside the original Bertie’s Landing Restaurant, has long been a symbol of the ancient docks and has become an essential focal point in the Waterfront’s modern urban architecture. This was the first Port Captain’s Office, which was built in 1882. A magnificent mirror room on the second story provided the Port Captain with a view of all activity in the port. A tide-gauge device is located on the bottom floor and is used to check the tide level. The Clock Tower was restored to its former glory by the end of 1997.
Time Ball Tower
The Moment Ball (developed by Captain Robert Wauchope) is a signalling device in which a ball is dropped at a specific time to allow shipmasters to assess the accuracy and rate of their chronometers while in port. The Time Ball Tower on the Waterfront was built in 1894 and is located near to the former apartment of the Harbour Engineer (Dock House). It was in use for 40 years before being decommissioned for 63 years due to new technology. It was rebuilt and officially recommissioned in November 1997.
Robben Island Embarkation Building
The embarkation building for inmates bound to Robben Island is located at the end of Quay 5 on Jetty 1. Although the island’s purpose and use have changed over the last century or so, it has recently garnered international prominence as a prison for current political figures, notably Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected President. The Robben Island Exhibition and Information Centre, which is located next to the Clock Tower structure, is a one-of-a-kind museum that depicts the history of Robben Island as well as the political campaign to end apartheid. Guided tours require reservations, which can be booked by calling +27 (0)21 419 1300.
The pier at the Robben Island Exhibition and Information Centre in the Clock Tower Precinct and the Robben Island Embarkation Building on Jetty 1 both offer daily ferry journeys to Robben Island. On the island, guided excursions and bus trips include a visit to the prison, which includes a tour of the limestone quarry, as well as visits to the Garrison Church (1841), the lighthouse (1863), the Leper’s Church (1895), and a Kramat. The island’s biodiversity includes seabirds, African penguins, ostriches, and bontebok. Tickets are available for purchase at the Embarkation Building.
Seals prefer to breed on offshore islands, so getting a close look at them is unusual. However, a colony of Cape fur seals may be seen resting on the seal landing in the Clock Tower Precinct near to the original Bertie’s Landing Restaurant, as well as on old tyres lining the quaysides around the Waterfront. They are an important component of harbour life, and Capetonians are fortunate to have these seals so near to their homes.
Convicts working on the breakwater were housed in the original Breakwater Prison, which was built in 1860. The remains of a treadmill visible opposite the ancient jail building, now housing the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and the Breakwater Lodge – a nice hotel – are a vivid reminder of the punishing criminal views popular in the 1890s.
South Africa Maritime Museum
The museum depicts Table Bay’s maritime heritage and features South Africa’s greatest collection of miniature ships. The SAS Somerset, a decommissioned Naval Defence Boom Vessel, and the Alwyn Vintcent, a coal-fired steam tug, are among the floating displays in the Victoria and Alfred Basins. For a small cost, both can be boarded. +27 (0)21 419 2505, Fax: +27 (0)21 419 2505.
Chavonnes Battery Museum
The historical base of the new Clock Tower Precinct development, the Clock Tower, is a national monument in and of itself. Preliminary excavations have unearthed a part of the Chavonnes Battery, which was built in the early 1700s and is one of South Africa’s earliest European constructions.
The Archaeology Contracts Office of the University of Cape Town’s Department of Archaeology has completed an investigation into the battery’s history, which has resulted in a comprehensive study. The Chavonnes Battery, along with Fort Knokke and the Amsterdam Battery, was built by the Dutch East India Company between 1714 and 1725 to help protect the Cape. The Chavonnes Battery was characterised by eyewitnesses as the most formidable of the Table Bay fortifications. The Chavonnes Battery had been adapted to a variety of functions by the mid-nineteenth century.
It was employed as an isolation and convalescent wing of the old Somerset Hospital, in addition to fulfilling a military purpose. Crews and passengers of ships infected with contagious diseases like smallpox were quarantined until they were deemed fit. In 1861, the Battery was decommissioned. The Chavonnes Battery Museum has been kept as part of the new development, with a portion of the ruins exposed to the public for inspection – and serves as a major feature of the Clock Tower Precinct.
Why Is V&A Waterfront Famous?
The position of the V&A Waterfront is well-known. The V&A Waterfront is a favourite with locals and international visitors since it is located in South Africa’s oldest operational harbour, with the majestic Table Mountain as a backdrop.
More than 80 restaurants, ranging from rustic al fresco to fine dining, offer a fusion of international and local food. With 12 hotels, over 500 retail establishments, five museums, and live entertainment 365 days a year featuring the best local music, you’ll be spoiled for choice. Take part in a range of activities and attractions, including sunset cruises, helicopter rides, free audio tours, and the award-winning Two Oceans Aquarium, among others. The V&A Waterfront is also home to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), which is housed in the historic Grain Silo and houses the world’s largest collection of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora.
Kids will never be bored here, with everything from lovely play spaces and themed boat trips to fun-filled holiday programmes.
What Can You Do For Free At V&A Waterfront?
Battery Park is a new urban park that forms the gateway to the V&A Waterfront. Access to the park is free and includes a world-class skateboard park, basketball court, picnic area, a scooter track and a variety of eateries.
• “Frame” your photographs of Table Mountain by taking photos at our two yellow frames located at Silo Square and at Den Anker restaurant.
• Did you know that the V&A Waterfront have a treadmill used to punish prisoners, at the old Breakwater Prisoner, now the Breakwater Lodge?
• Try to swirl on a Heatherwick chair at Silo Square, while eating an ice cream…jip, all at the same time.
• Did you know at the bottom of Oscar’s statue (the golden seal in front of the Table Bay Hotel) is little plaques with all the names of the celebrities that have stayed with them during the past years.
• The Leon Thevenin, a cable repair ship berthed opposite the Table Bay Hotel has helped to keep several countries connected. The ship has been responsible for repairing any breaks that occur along cables located in the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian Ocean. The cables help form the backbone of international fibre-optic communications, and are used for transmitting internet traffic from continent to continent, and transmitting telephone and cable television signals. She has been ploughing through rough oceans for over 29 years and holds a maritime record for 230 repairs on cables in the Atlantic Ocean Agreement Go and see this marvel from the outside when she is back in our harbour again.
• Go and see the SAS Somerset, located next to the Two Oceans Aquarium, a boom defence vessel built in 1941 and serving the South African Naval Force during the second World War.
• Did you know that the Cape Town Harbour had to employ the services of a rat catcher during the previous century, while the breakwater was built. Rats arrived onboard visiting ships, travelling as stow-aways amongst the hay that were stored in the hull of the ships to feed the horses on board. These rats multiplied and became a health risk amongst workers in the harbour, which then called for the appointment of a rat catcher. His little house can still be seen and is located close to the Cape Grace Hotel.
• Nobel Square pays tribute to South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, namely the late Nkosi Albert Luthuli, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, former State President F.W. de Klerk and the late former President Nelson Mandela. Grab something to eat in the V&A Food Market located next to the square and listen to free live performances by one of our talented street musicians. This is also the perfect Insta spot.
• Visitors at the V&A Waterfront can test their mental dexterity and strategic skills on a giant, mobile outdoor chessboard. In addition, Clock Tower Square also boasts smaller, dedicated chess games built into outdoor tables for a more intimate game.
• The 2.5km and 5km V&A running routes meander past all the major attractions at the V&A Waterfront, offering magnificent views of the sea and mountains. The boardwalk is also incorporated into “the route and road markers ensure that runners stay on track, even if they are distracted by the views. The route starts and finishes from the V&A Waterfront Information Centre located in Dock Road, where a” route map is available.
• A colony of Cape fur seals has selected an unusual breeding ground on the jetty at the water’s edge beside Clock Tower Square as well as a few other spots around the V&A Waterfront, where the antics of these “charming marine mammals keep visitors amused.
• Can you find the famous plaque commemorating where Queen Victoria’s son, prince Alfred, tipped a pile of rubble into the bay to start building the breakwater in Table Bay. Hint – located close to the Amphitheatre