Simon’s Town, Cape Town
Did you know?
Simon’s Town Naval Base was responsible for the care of Napoleon Bonaparte after he was exiled to St Helena island.
The history of Simon’s Town reads like a naval adventure.
Ships of all shapes and sizes – frigates, corvettes, sloops, pirate brigantines and, lately, hi-tech submarines – have docked at Simon’s Town somewhere between 1741 and today. And with them came the legends: battles at sea, pirate booty, encounters in strange lands and sad news of another shipwreck somewhere along the 3 000-odd kilometres of South Africa’s coastline.
As you wander down St George’s Street – also called the Historic Mile – you will pass ancient filigreed buildings from another era. The Historic Mile extends from the railway station to the East Dockyard gates, with intriguing little alleyways leading off it.
Although Simon’s Town was established by the Dutch – and named after governor Simon van der Stel – it was really with the establishment of the Royal Navy Base there in 1806 that the little settlement became such a legendary port of call.
Slip back in time and you could find yourself in the company of a rather dashing young British Naval lieutenant called Horatio Nelson, on shore leave from the HMS Badger, stalking this very street in search of a rowdy pub that served a decent repast.
There are four museums in Simon’s Town, all worth a look.
The Warrior Toy Museum near Jubilee Square (where the statue of beer-drinking Great Dane Able Seaman Just Nuisance stands) displays cars, trains, dolls and lead soldiers fashioned long ago.
The South African Naval Museum has interesting displays about both the Royal Navy and the South African Navy, including a submarine diorama.
The Heritage Museum chronicles Simon’s Town’s rich Muslim past, while a visit to the Simon’s Town Museum is the best way to lift the historic veil from this fascinating seaside town.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Simon’s Town Museum
Tel: +27 (0)21 786 3046
South African Naval Museum
Tel: +27 (0)21 787 4686
Simon’s Town visitor information centre
Tel: +27 (0)21 786 8440
Simon’s Town Historical Society
Tel: +27 (0)21 786-4404
Cape Point Route
Tel: +27 (0)21 782 9356
How to get here
Simon’s Town is about 40km from Cape Town and lies on False Bay on the Cape Point Route.
Best time to visit
Because there are so many indoor venues such as museums, great restaurants, pubs and bookshops, visits to Simon’s Town are not that weather-dependent.
Around the area
Nearby Kalk Bay is a great destination. Take the water taxi from Simon’s Town for a special experience, and perhaps have lunch at Kalk Bay Harbour or the Olympia Cafe. You're also not far from Cape Point, which is well worth a visit.
Tours to do
Check the listed websites – there are many local tours on offer. The most popular take in the penguins at Boulders Beach, a quick dip at Seaforth Beach and a round of the museums.
There are many bus tours and personal guided tours from Cape Town, but the most recommended way to experience Simon’s Town is by driving yourself on a day trip along the Cape Point Route.
What will it cost
Costs vary, according to the services and their ratings. Check one of the listed websites for local accommodation costs – museum entry fees are generally quite low.
Length of stay
A visit to Simon’s Town can be done in half a day; however, for full value an overnight stay is recommended. Why not really go the ‘historical route’ and stay at a place like the British Hotel in St George’s Street?
What to pack
Dress for a long walk, and carry a warm jacket in case of a turn in the weather.
Where to stay
See the various listed websites for accommodation options.
What to eat
Simon’s Town boasts some very good seafood restaurants.
Check the listed websites for events along the Cape Point Route.
There are a number of bookshops in Simon's Town where you can get copies of titles like Just Nuisance AB - His Full Story, or Simon's Town – An historical review with early postcard illustrations.