As Covid-19 vaccination drives continue around the world, hopes are high in many countries that the normalisation of tourism could soon commence. But for now, much still remains taboo due to closed borders, various restrictions and the economic impacts of the pandemic. South Africa is no exception.
However, among the activities that are slowly returning to normal, are those that can safely be done outdoors, such as hiking, kayaking, game drives, camping and… city walking tours. As the focus turns to domestic tourism in the ongoing absence of foreign tourists, now is perhaps the best time ever to really get to know our cities.
Walking tours are available in all our cities – some with qualified guides, some do-it-yourself tours, some at a fee, others totally free. You can of course also put together your own tour by googling what’s on offer in the different cities, from Pretoria/Tshwane in the north, to Durban/eThekwini in the east and Cape Town in the southwest.
Here we have selected a number of city walking tours, interesting places and other offerings to help our readers decide which city walking tours they might want to do.
Cape Town Historic City Tours
A uniquely Cape Town offer are the free, tip-based walking tours offered by Free Walking Tours (https://freewalkingtourscapetown.co.za/#.) They are open and their daily, tip-based tours start at 11am and 2pm, while no booking is required. Their Historic City Tour starts from Motherland Coffee Company in Mandela Rhodes Place, in the city centre. It will introduce you to the heroes and villains of colonialism, drama and harmony and a great deal of personal insight in living and being a real Capetonian. Get introduced to the different eras of Cape Town and South Africa’s history and see highlights that include the Company’s Garden, Parliament, Green Market Square, the Castle of Good Hope and the Slave Lodge. Another of their tours will introduce you to the history of apartheid in Cape Town and the places related to it. Highlights and Cape Town attractions include St George’s Cathedral and Desmond Tutu, The Cape High Court and the “apartheid benches”, a stop-over in District Six and the spot where Mandela made his first speech as a free man from the steps of City Hall.
Soweto Walking Tour
The best way to get to know the sprawling township on Johannesburg’s southwestern flank named Soweto, filled with much history and many delights, is by walking its streets. For this there is not only one, but many organised and guided walking tours to choose from. Prices range from around R300 to well over R1,000 depending on what all is included – such as visits to historical sites, building and museums, local eateries, shanyamas local pubs/shebeens, and more. Guided tours are advised as by yourself you may get lost if not familiar with the township. Some of the major attractions include the Apartheid Museum, Orlando Towers, Vilakazi Street where Nobel Peace Prize laureates Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu once lived, the Hector Pietersen Museum where you can learn about the 1976 student uprising, the Oppenheimer Gardens and Credo Mutwa Cultural Village, among much, much more. Just google it, and you will undoubtedly find a Soweto walking tour to suit you.
East London City & Beach Front Tours
The East London Walking Tour offered by Imonti Tours (www.imontitours.co.za/activities/east-london-walking-tour-3/) starts at R280 per person for 3 hours, and is the easiest way to learn about the history of the city, to meet the locals and get to know about some of the important buildings in the city. The meeting spot for the tour is at East London Aquarium or East London Museum where you will meet with your guides. Some of the places of interest you will visit, include Hero’s Park, the German Settler Memorial, Lock Street Jail Complex, Fort Hare University, Walking in Oxford Street, East London City Hall, a herbal shop, the Ann Bryant Art Gallery and the War Memorial. You can also do your own walking tours. If you are energetic or fairly fit, start at the northern end of Oxford Street at the East London Museum and make your way south passed the Ann Bryant Art Gallery to the shopping district around Fleet, Terminus and Caxton Streets. From here you can make your way down to the harbour, the yacht club and Orient Beach. Then make your way along Esplanade Street passed the East London International Convention Centre, the aquarium, German Settlers Memorial, and on to Beacon Bay East Beach. On your way back take a tour through Quigney where you can try some of the best milkshakes in the world. You can also do walking tours at Nahoon Beach, along the Nahoon River, Quenera River and at Bonza Bay Beach.
Johannesburg City Walking Tours
There are a large number of guided tours on offer in Johannesburg. But the city also lends itself to putting together one’s own, free self-guided tours. Of course, like most big cities, there is a vast choice of places to visit and things to do, so you won’t be able to do it all in one day. For some of the riskier areas when it comes to petty street crimes, it’s best to hire a guide. There are plenty of guided tours, both free and at a fee, to choose from, like Main Street Walks, Strawberry Free Walking Tours, the Maboneng Walking Tour, the Yeoville Taste of Africa Food Experience, the Johannesburg Like A Local tour, among others. Some of the more iconic places to visit include the Apartheid Museum, the Constitution Hill complex, the Carlton Centre skyscraper, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, or the the Maboneng Precinct. Or take transport to the Gold Reef City Theme Park and spend the day walking around the recreation of an early Johannesburg mining village, including a ride down a real mining shaft, and visit the local casino. Another possible walk includes exploring the restaurant, clubs and pubs district of Melville. Of course there is plenty more.
Cape Town Bo-Kaap & De Waterkant Walking Tour
You can join Free Walking Tours every day at 2pm on their free walking tour of the Bo-Kaap, the historical Malay Quarter of Cape Town where you will find the country’s oldest mosque and a vibrant community descended mostly from slaves and political prisoners brought to the Cape centuries ago by the Dutch. Meet your guide at Motherland Coffee Company in Mandela Rhodes Place in the city centre. From there you will proceed to Buitengrach Street and up into the Bo-Kaap. Here you can delight in the multi-coloured little town houses that have been occupied by the same families for many generations. Smell the spices of the East, hear the call for prayer from the various mosque turrets, visit the Auwal Masjeed and learn the story of Tuan Guru and see the Quran he wrote from memory by hand while incarcerated by the Dutch on Robben Island. Visit the old Tailor’s House, Biesmiellah Cape Malay Restaurant, the Atlas Spice Trading Centre for spices from the east, the Moslem cemetery and the beautiful Chiappini Street. If you wish to explore on your own, you can add in a walk up and down the entertainment district of historical Long Street, or head on across Strand Street to the very trendy De Waterkant district with its eateries, pubs and boutiques. An alternative option is spending the day exploring the V&A Waterfront. Or following the coastline from the Waterfront to Camps Back and take a bus back to the city.
Durban City, Markets and Golden Mile Walking Tours
In Durban you will also be spoiled for choice when it comes to city walking tours. A good choice will be any of an inner-city tour, the historical landmarks route, the city markets tour, exploring the beachfront Golden Mile, exploring the Durban Point area and the harbour, walking along Margeret Mncadi Avenue that snakes around the Point Yacht Club and Maydon Wharf, taking in Florida Road with its restaurants, bars and clubs, and plenty more. Be sure to stop at Little Gujarat restaurant on Doctor Goonam Street to sample the original Durban Bunny Chow. Other experiences in and around Durban allow one to discover historical figures like the great Zulu warrior leader, King Shaka, or the statue of Dick King, the young Englishman whose epic 10-day, 950km journey on horseback saved the British garrison at Port Natal (now Durban) from an attack by Boer forces, or the statue of Fernando Pessoa, one of the greatest poets in the Portuguese language. Or visit the markets in and around Warwick Junction at the city’s main public transport hub where trains, buses and taxis, and about half a million commuters, converge every day and where between 5,000 and 8,000 vendors trade here in 9 different markets ranging from the Victoria Street Market, also known as the Indian Market, famous for its curries and spices among many other delights, the Zulu Muti Market where traditional healers – inyangas or herbalists, and sangomas or diviners – prepare and display their medicines, herbal powders and other wares, the 100-years old vegetable and fruit market known as the Early Morning Market and the lovely, noisy Berea train station’s maze of stalls and shops housing both formal and informal traders. Other markets in the area include an African bead market, lime and impepho (incense) market, cow’s head meat market, the Brook Street crafts and clothing market, the meat and fish market, and the Music Bridge market. Nearby is the impressive Emmanuel Cathedral which was built partially with a donation from Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon III after her son, the Prince Imperial, had been killed in the Anglo-Zulu War. Finally, a walking tour along the beachfront Golden Mile is a must, starting at Blue Lagoon and making your way all along North and South Beaches to uShaka Marine World.
Pretoria Museums & Historical Landmarks Tours
As South Africa’s administrative capital city, Pretoria has much to offer by way of historical landmarks and cultural attractions, most of it accessible on foot in a walking tour of the city. For some attractions like the Voortrekker Monument, you will have to travel by car. Pretoria has a fascinating array of monuments and museums to keep you busy all day long, from the Church Square monument of Boer president Paul Kruger, to the Unions Buildings seat of government with its giant statue of Nelson Mandela, to the Freedom Park memorial complex, and to a choice of no less than 11 museums including the Voortrekker Monument, the Freedom Park Museum, Pretoria Art Museum, Kruger House Museum, Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, the Sammy Marks Museum, Fort Klapperkop, Willem Prinsloo Agricultural Museum, Pioneer Museum, Correctional Services Museum, Melrose House Museum, and more.
Historical Bloemfontein Walking Tours
Bloemfontein, the judicial capital of South Africa that was once the capital of the Orange Free State Boer republic, is another fascinating city to explore on foot. It has many, many monuments, museums, cultural attractions, and historical buildings. In Kings Park you can drown in the fragrance of more than 4,000 rose trees. Or you can visit landmarks such as Naval Hill with its large Mandela statue, the Free State Botanical Garden, Bloemfontein National Museum, Oliewenhuis Art Museum,or the Choet Visser Rugby Museum, the Ultimate Cheetah Experience, Bagamoya Wildlife Estate, Franklin Nature Reserve, the Anglo Boer War Museum, the Women’s Monument, the South African Armour Museum, Loch Logan Waterfront, the Langenhovenpark Boeremark and the Fourth Raadsaal, seat of the old Boer republic government. In-between you can treat yourself to art gallies, shops, malls, pubs and restaurants, or visit Hertzog Square with its many shops.