As waterfronts go, the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town’s Table Bay is a world-beater. Not only has it become South Africa’s premier tourist attraction, it also attracts Capetonians seeking to re-connect with their harbour, has become a sought-after residential address and still maintains its day-to-day commercial activities as Africa’s top port.

Did you know?

The V&A Waterfront boasts 10 of South Africa’s top hotels – and nearly 500 shops.

Imagine having a late lunch 100 years ago down at the Cape Town waterfront at a popular local called the Harbour Café. Snoek fishermen drift past in their rowboats, curious seals twitch their whiskers at the delicious aroma of good old fish 'n chips, the staple menu item being served at the Harbour Café – and the ale is cold and frothy. There is no shortage of wheeling, squawking seagulls closely monitoring every morsel that passes your lips.

The harbour is a frenzy of activity: seamen and stevedores rushing about, passengers from a great ocean liner have disembarked, vendors are everywhere. It is 1912, only two years after Union was declared in South Africa – and only two years before the outbreak of World War I.

Even though the Suez Canal is open, commercial air traffic has not yet been introduced. Cape Town’s Table Bay is still the world’s gateway to southern Africa.

Table Bay was always a tough port to operate in. In the cold months between June and September, the north-wester would rise and batter visiting ships, often with fatal results. If your vessel was moored in Table Bay in winter, you could forget about insurance.

In 1860 however, Prince Alfred, the second son of Queen Victoria, officiated at the launch of the building of the breakwater – the first stage in construction of a harbour for Cape Town. Only 10 years later, the Alfred Basin was complete. The Victoria Basin was opened 35 years after that.

However, by the 1960s the people of Cape Town had been cut off from their own harbour. The Foreshore Freeway with its raised highways and traffic roundabouts helped to separate the port from the city. The area around the harbour was fenced in and yet people still loved going to the Harbour Café for a beer and a plate of fish 'n chips.

By the mid-1980s there was a strong movement in civic circles to reconnect the Mother City to the harbour precinct. The plan was to combine a world-class working harbour with a place that offered great accommodation, tourism and commercial opportunities.

Other leading world waterfronts in places like San Francisco, Sydney and Hong Kong had already proved what designers could do with ‘water spaces’ and urban settings.

Today, the V&A Waterfront is a South African success story. Now only has the ‘V&A’ become the country's prime tourist attraction, it is also a favoured spot for Capetonians and still carries on the important business of being a world-class port.

In fact, the presence of a dry dock, flotilla of hard-working tugboats and active fishing industry combines beautifully with the restaurants, shops, living spaces and museums in the area.

And if you want a cold beer and some high class fish 'n chips, visit a place called Hildebrand Ristorante. It used to be called the Harbour Café...

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