Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, the Bo-Kaap (meaning "Upper Cape") forms a pretty pocket of color in the busy city of Cape Town. The brightly-colored buildings and cobbled streets are an Instagrammer's dream, but beyond this visual splendor lies a rich, fascinating history in one of the city's oldest residential areas.
Join us on a tour of the best attractions in Bo-Kaap, and discover what makes the neighborhood a Cape Town must-see.
A brief history of Bo-Kaap
Bo-Kapp is around a 10-minute drive from the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront, Cape Town. You can also walk if you choose – it's a leisurely 45-minute stroll to reach the district, with plenty of enjoyable scenery along the way.
Once on Longmarket Street, you’ll be struck by a dazzling, multi-colored glow from the buildings of Bo-Kaap – that’s when you’ll know you’re in the right neighborhood. The Bo-Kaap is a vibrant, multicultural area with plenty of historic charm. Some of the houses – which are an attractive blend of Cape Georgian and Cape Dutch architectural styles – date back to the 17th century. At that time, Bo-Kaap was used as a garrison for soldiers. After their emancipation in the 1830s, freed slaves started to settle there.
Later, under the 1950 apartheid law, the predominantly Muslim descendants of these slaves were segregated into Bo-Kaap, where they established a thriving community. These are the residents who painted the neighborhood in the beautiful colors we see today, partly in celebration of Eid.
When apartheid came to an end in 1994, non-Muslims were able to move to Bo-Kaap, and property taxes began to shoot up. Some activists living in the area have called for an emphasis on cultural preservation, in order to counter the resulting gentrification.
Bo-Kaap's top attractions
You can easily spend your entire visit to the Bo-Kaap wandering along the winding streets and photographing the vivid hues of its distinctive houses. However, there are also a number of fascinating attractions that will give you plenty of insight into life in this charming neighborhood:
Free Walking Tours
The best way to get an overview of the Bo-Kaap is to join one of the free walking tours offered in the area. City Sightseeing South Africa and Cape Town Free Walking Tours both offer two 90-minute Bo-Kaap walking tours each day. An expert guide will lead you through the most picturesque streets, take you to the main attractions and introduce you to the flavorsome local cuisine – with plenty of opportunities to capture that Instagram-worthy shot!
The Bo-Kapp Museum
There’s a lot of history to uncover in the area, but you can get the full story at the Bo-Kaap Museum. Established in 1978, the museum is located in one of the district's oldest and best-preserved buildings, which has been carefully furnished to depict 19th-century family life in the neighborhood. The venue is currently undergoing gradual redevelopment as a social history museum, which will tell the community's story within a broader cultural and historical context. It's the perfect place to get a deeper sense of the people who inhabit these beautiful homes.
Built in 1794, the Auwal Mosque is the oldest and best-known of the Bo-Kaap's many mosques – not to mention the first to be constructed in all of South Africa. Here you can see a copy of the Quran that was written down by the mosque's first imam entirely from memory while he was a political prisoner – an impressive feat!
The Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour
One of the best ways to get to know a community is through its cuisine, and this fun, hands-on foodie experience provides plenty of insight. The Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour features a short walking tour with host Zainie (including a visit to the local spice shop), followed by an interactive cooking lesson where you'll learn to mix masala and prepare samoosas, curry, daaltjies and other mouth-watering Cape Malay specialties – which, best of all, you then get to eat!
If you're looking for souvenirs with a conscience, be sure to check out the elaborate jewelry, beaded animals and other crafts available at this colorful boutique. Monkeybiz is a non-profit venture that aims to revive traditional African beadwork skills while simultaneous providing income and support for local families. All profits are reinvested in services for the shop's artisans – so you can treat yourself to their exquisite wares, and know you're helping the community.
Complete your visit to the Bo-Kaap by sampling a wide range of authentic Malay cuisine at Bo-Kaap Kombuis, a family-run restaurant owned by Yusuf and Nazli Larney. Savor a tempting selection of traditional curries, samosas, and meat dishes prepared with fragrant spices – including local favorites such as bobotie (curried meat baked with a creamy, egg-based topping) and denningvleis (a spiced lamb dish served with mashed potatoes and yellow rice) – all while enjoying fantastic views of Table Mountain in a chic, contemporary setting