The Castle of Good Hope, South Africa’s oldest surviving colonial building, elicits two contrary impressions – the hardship of the early days, setting up a life in the unknown, and the later years of grace and elegance. 

Did you know?

Works by the acclaimed artist Thomas Baines appear in the William Fehr collection at the Castle of Good Hope.

The oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa is the Castle of Good Hope, built by the Dutch East India Company as a replenishment station for their ships journeying from Europe to the East on trading expeditions.

Building commenced in 1666, and a decade later the Castle was the centre of all life at the Cape. It was constructed as a pentagonal fortress with five bastions named after the main titles of Willem, the Prince of Orange, namely Leerdam, Buuren, Catzenellenbogen, Nassau, and Oranje.

During the British occupation of the Cape, there was little Colonial Office sentiment for this historic landmark. At one stage, so the legend goes, it was offered up for sale. The asking price? A mere 83 pounds and 34 pence. Even with appreciation that would be a paltry sum today.

The pastel-painted buildings constructed of stone are now home to the Castle Military Museum and the William Fehr Collection. The workshops the building once housed, the living quarters, the cellars and the dungeons can be toured, as well as the Kat Balcony, from which important announcements were made to an audience of soldiers, burghers (residents) and slaves.

The Fehr collection, dating from the 17th to 19th century, features art, antique Cape furniture, metal objects, ceramics and glassware collected by a Cape businessman between 1892 and 1968.

Guided tours of the Castle are conducted from Monday to Saturday at 11am, 12 noon and 2pm, while each weekday at 10am and 12pm a Key Ceremony is performed, replicating the ceremonial unlocking of the Castle in olden times. It is followed by the firing of the signal cannon. Horse-and-carriage rides of an hour are conducted daily at 10.30am, 12.45pm and 2.45pm, and can also be arranged at sunset. Meals can be enjoyed at De Goewerneur Restaurant.

The distinctive Castle of Good Hope Fort maintains its long association with the military, being the headquarters of the army in the Western Cape. Each November it hosts a popular Military Tattoo, offering family entertainment.

Another novel adventure that starts at the Castle is a tour of the underground tunnels that once channelled the canals and rivers that brought fresh water to the city. These tours last between one and three hours and take you on a fascinating tour of the past.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Castle of Good Hope
Buitenkant Street, opposite the Grand Parade, Cape Town
Tel: +27 (0)21 464 1260/4

Tour bookings
Tel: +27 (0)21 787 1249

Horse and Carriage Tours
Tel: +27 (0)82 575 5669

Tunnel Tours
Tel: +27 (0)82 482 4006

How to get here

If you don't have your own car, CitySightseeing, Cape Town's hop-off/hop-on bus will get you to the Castle (take the Red Route). Another option is to call for a taxi from a reliable service, or take an organised city tour.

Best time to visit

The city is idyllic in the spring and summer. If you're at the Castle in the winter, take an umbrella for rain protection in the outdoor areas.

Around the area

Some of the attractions close to the Castle include Greenmarket Square, the City Hall, the District Six Museum, Green Point and the V&A Waterfront.

Tours to do

Take a tunnel tour or organise a ride in the horse and carriage.

Get around

Touring the Castle requires walking, and there can be quite a bit of it. Stop off at the restaurant along the way to refresh before continuing with your sightseeing.

What will it cost

Adults pay R30 and children R15 entrance fee. Check with tour operators for individual tour prices.

Length of stay

Give the Castle at least half a day to do it justice.

Where to stay

Accommodation facilities close by can be found in the City Bowl, or Atlantic Seaboard.

What's happening

If you are in Cape Town in November look out for the Military Tattoo which is held at the Castle.

Related articles