The new buzzword among South African city travellers is ‘book safari’. It’s not just about hunting down the book you’re looking for, it’s also about the ambience of the ‘hunting grounds’ – like vibey Long Street in Cape Town, where discovering good books is only part of the experience.

Did you know?

Many of Cape Town's prime museums, including the Iziko Museums' South African Museum and the South African National Art Gallery, are within easy walking distance of Long Street.

Embarking on a Long Street book safari in the heart of Cape Town is a bit like going shopping for a wand in Diagon Alley, Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s fabulous, riotous, quasi-Victorian side street.

You know the wand (or, in this case, the book) is lurking there somewhere, amid the clutter of colour, traders, late-night mojito bars, tattoo parlours, lunch counters, samoosa dens, craft emporia and backpackers’ palaces.

And the fun of it all is in finding it.

There’s nothing like a good old Long Street book safari, which takes you deep into the worlds of Clarke’s Bookshop, Tommy’s and Select Books, just a short hop from the historic Long Street Baths.

At Clarke’s, for instance, you move from new offerings on the ground floor to an upstairs cave of collector’s literature. The owners travel regularly through southern Africa and keep local authors and customers happy with their stock.

Tommy’s also caters for the internet set, while Select Books takes visitors on a long journey from archaeology to zoology, with many stops en route – which include subjects such as hunting, mining, military, travel, trees, sport and the social life of early Cape Town.

The owners and managers of the book shops in Long Street live their literature and are only too happy to take the time to talk books.

Long Street book safari veterans generally stay somewhere on the street – such as an upmarket backpackers' establishment or one of the innovative new hotels like the Grand Daddy (with a retro trailer park on its roof) – and dedicate at least a day to one shop.

That way they can scour the myriad shelves, discuss prices, place orders and indulge themselves in the many pleasures of what people are calling 'Cape Town’s own little Bourbon Street'.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Clarke's Bookshop
Tel: +27 (0)21 423 5739
Email: books@clarkesbooks.co.za

Baobab Books
Tel: +27 (0)21 422 3894
Cell: +27 (0)83 411 8001
Email: firsted@iafrica.com

Select Books
Tel: +27 (0)21 424 6955
Email: selectb@mweb.co.za

Tommy’s Books & Internet Cafe
Tel: +27 (0)21 424 7675
Cell: +27 (0)82 443 7089

Cape Town Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)21 487 6800
info@capetown.travel

How to get here

Long Street is practically the spine of Cape Town's inner city, very close to Parliament and Company’s Garden park at one end, and the docks at the other. It is flanked by Loop Street.

Best time to visit

Any time of the year, because your book safari is an indoor adventure.

Around the area

There's so much to do: museum visits; night clubbing and late dinners (Long Street is one of the best places in Cape Town for night life); and walks through the culturally significant Bo-Kaap area. Also, visit Book Lounge nearby at 71 Roeland Street.

Tours to do

Check the Cape Town Tourism website for information on the many special tours available.

Get around

Your best bet is to find a place to stay in Long Street, park your vehicle for the duration and walk.

What will it cost

There are many bargains and some dealers will haggle, but the really valuable literature goes at established prices.

Length of stay

Spend a day or two on a book safari.

What to pack

Informal clothes, providing for changing weather conditions.

Where to stay

Visit the Cape Town Tourism website (listed below) for backpackers' details, as well as some boutique hotels in the area. Long Street has some seriously funky, eccentric and beautifully designed hotels, backpackers and guest houses.

What to eat

Long Street provides many options, so take your pick. One good idea is to visit the Long Street Cafe for Phyllo Fingers and pork ribs, finishing off with a Choc Mud Pie.

What's happening

Whenever Cape Town wants to celebrate in style, it stages something in Long Street. Check the listed Cape Town Travel website for current happenings in Long Street.

Best buys

Mama Afrika is a treasure trove of African arts and craft. You should also browse through the nearby Greenmarket Square for curios.