The Observatory, as that’s how the area is called, is located just 10 minutes by train from downtown yet it couldn’t be any more different. This residential area is build-up with small houses, most of them over century old. The back lanes are quite, colorful, people aren’t in hurry. Back in the Apartheid times, up until 1990s, the Observatory was one of the very few “grey” areas where everyone belonged, everyone could live, there was no hate or discrimination. Today things seem to be the same, everyone is welcome in the Obs (as citizens refer to the place) but the area is mostly occupied by national and international students of nearby University of Cape Town bringing in the young vibe to the place. It is also the largest arts community in South Africa!
While most of the area is a calm place with a funky touch, the small part of Lower Main Road, between Darien Square and Station Road, is where the fun happens. It’s barely 200 meters long but everything you wish for in the bohemian heaven can be found there. Quirky shops, cozy cafes, record store, funky restaurants, anarchy center (the only one in South Africa), bookstores, second hand boutiques… everything is there, decorated by the decent street art! The clientele is typical for this kind of places – a mix of artists, philosophers, hipsters, students, backpackers or local homeless. Everyone is extremely friendly, willing to talk to you about the wide range of topics – from random weather observations to philosophical life issues.
The only reason I stayed in the Obs was the lack of hostels in more central parts of Cape Town. But I couldn’t be happier as I felt right in that place. The hostel was located in the most central point of this hip area, overlooking the center of events on the Lower Main Road. Each day I started on the balcony, sipping my tea and observing how the Observatory wakes up after the crazy night. Each evening I dined in the funky Cafe Ganesh – a place that felt like township tavern yet served amazing African food for ridiculously low prices. Each time I went for a coffee or drink to one of the numerous places I quickly found new local friends to talk to, even when I was waiting two minutes for a friend there was always someone around trying to entertain me with some small talk or inviting me for drinks…
I spent 5 days in Cape Town and even if I fell big time for the city I felt like the Observatory is the place where I should be. I very quickly felt like at home then and had a pretty hard time leaving it. So if you are planning cheap holidays, make sure you visit this amazing South African city on your next holiday adventure. Don’t miss the Obs, even if just for few hours, to get into the artsy vibe.
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The best way to get to the Observatory is to take the train from the Cape Town Central Station. Trains run every 30-40 minutes, all the trains in the direction of Simon’s Town stop in the Observatory (3rd stop). The journey takes around 10 minutes, the first class return ticket costs 17,50 ZAR. To get to the heart of the bohemian Observatory take Station Road or Trill Road from the train station – Lower Main Road is three streets away. Here you can read more about the Observatory and cool places to stop by there!
Do you like bohemian / artsy / hipster neighborhoods too? Where did you visit them?
If you think of visiting South Africa or just want to read more about the country take a look what else I wrote about it!
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