Amazing V&A Waterfront

Overview & Information

The Victorian and Alfred Waterfront
This is the 2nd of Cape Town’s Big 6 that I will be covering in my Blogs over the next few months. The V&A as it is commonly known is a hugely popular spot for visitors and locals alike. It is a hive of activity (even after lockdown!) and consists of an array of hotels, restaurants, entertainment venues, museums, fun activities for the whole family, bars, shops etc.

A bit of history:
On my tours, I often get asked what the V&A stand for. The V stands for Queen Victoria and the A refers to Alfred her 2nd son who poured the first load of stone to commence construction of the Breakwater for Cape Town’s first proper harbour in September 1860. Prior to the building of the Breakwater, Table Bay was a very treacherous place to moor a ship during winter months. In June 1858, 30 ships were wrecked during some serious storms. This resulted in Lloyds of London refusing to ensure ships which were moored in Table Bay during winter. Many years prior to this, Simons Town was declared the Winter port for Cape Town for this very reason!

Interesting to note one of the hotels on the fringes of the City, the Breakwater Lodge was originally built in 1859 as a prison to house the convicts from Britain who were shipped to Cape Town to construct the breakwater.

Due to the discovery of gold and diamonds the Alfred Basin was not big enough to accommodate the increase in shipping and the Victoria Basin was built. Construction of these two basins continued from 1860 to 1920. Many of the old buildings built for administering the port activities are still standing today and have been incorporated into the V & A and have heritage status.

An outstanding example of this is The Dock House, today a 5 star elegant boutique Hotel, was originally constructed as the Harbour Master’s private residence. There is a tower on the property with a big red ball on a spire known as the Time Ball tower, which used to fall at the exact same time as the canon which was fired at 13h00 from the castle. This allowed the seafarers to set there chronometers correctly as it obviated the delay in sound between the Castle and the ship!

Another remarkably interesting relic from the distant past is the Chavonnes Battery Museum which has been created around the Chavonnes Battery, which, apart from the Castle of Good Hope is the country’s oldest fortification.

These and many other heritage sites were carefully incorporated into the development of the V&A which has been work in process since 1988 when the Victorian and Alfred Waterfront (Pty) Ltd was created as a wholly owned subsidiary of Transnet Ltd.

The Development of the V&A Waterfront in a nutshell

I have fond memories of the late 80’s when the first pub called Bertie’s Landing opened and was the place to be, then a while later, Ferryman’s opened across a broad canal.  If we wished to go from one drinking hole to the other, we paid the Penny Ferry (basically a rowing boat) a small amount – I think it was 50c to get across to the other side!

From 1990 onwards the Pierhead Precinct was developed which included shops, restaurants, taverns and the V&A Hotel.  Interestingly, this hotel, which is one of my favourite hotels to accommodate my  visitors was originally built as the North Quay Warehouse in 1904 and transformed into an elegant hotel in the 1990’s. Since then the Waterfront has been a continuous work in progress which includes the Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island, the Two Oceans Oceanarium, the V&A Marina Residential development as well as the Cape Grace Hotel and the One and Only Hotel. 

2014  Marked the commencement of the project which resulted in the conversion of an old grain silo into the Zeits Mocca Museum and later the stylish, world class Silo Hotel. This development is the most amazing feat of architectural design, construction and engineering and has to be seen to be believed.

The V&A today.

At the outset of the Waterfront Development our experts went overseas to have a look at best practice for waterfront developments.  Now Developers from overseas come to Cape Town to learn from what we have done.  It is the most amazing mix of land use, bringing together the old in the form of many heritage sites and the new in terms of commercial office space, retail, hotel, and entertainment space.

The developers took this rather rundown area of industrial harbour and turned into a world class place where you can wine and dine, shop, drink, stay, visit museums, work, conference, take a ferry to Robben Island, do boat and yacht cruises and helicopter flips.  The list is endless, I do not think there is much that you can not do at the V&A Waterfront.  Also and very importantly safety is of the highest priority and I think the V&A must be one of the safest places to spend time in Cape Town. 

During the first few levels of Covid 19 Lockdown, the V&A Waterfront was virtually closed. Since restrictions have eased, many of the shops, restaurants, and pubs particularly in the main shopping area have reopened. Whilst some of the shops, restaurants and hotels remain closed at the time of writing the vibe and the hustle and bustle has returned to the area. 

Buskers are in full swing, the Amphitheatre is in use, people are out in numbers, shopping, dining, and availing of the entertainment on offer.  All the tenants and  service providers are adhering to strict Covid Protocols and the V&A Waterfront has awoken from her slumber.

So I invite you to join me on one of my tours and let me share some of these places with you, not only the shops and the restaurants, but the countless heritage buildings, statues, and historical landmarks.  Come and experience some of the following activities:

16 Exciting Things to Do at the V&A Waterfront

  • Kayaking
  • Stand Up Paddling on the Canals
  • Helicopter rides
  • Yacht Cruises
  • Museums – Zeits Mocca, Chavonne Battery and others.
  • Fishing Charters
  • The Big Wheel
  • Bicycle Rentals and Tours
  • The Scratch Patch
  • Jolly Roger Pirate Boat ride
  • Movies
  • Cave Golf
  • Robben Island Ferry
  • Tommy the Tug Boat
  • Two Oceans Aquarium
  • Ocean Safaris

Come, hire me as your Tour Guide and let me share the splendours of the V&A Waterfront with you! I guarantee that there is something on offer that every member of the family will enjoy!

Posted in Blog, News.