One must-visit place to include in your Cape Town holiday has to be Simon's Town!
A beautiful and warm sea-town, Simon's Town is synonymous with the treasured African penguins and is a popular tourist destination. Besides, it is rich in history and culture the multi-pluralism of the region adds to its wealth.
Uniformed sailors and holidaymakers mingle easily in this little town. The area is vibrant throughout the day, especially in summer and the hustle and bustle of activity promotes an air of festivity.
Simon's Town offers stunning views of False Bay and visitors can choose from a range of interesting local activities.
Brief history of Simon's Town
Located in the vicinity of Cape Town and warmly nestled on the shores of False Bay, the town was named after Simon Van Der Stel, the Dutch governor of the Cape colony between 1677 and 1699. In fact, Simon’s Town is South Africa’s third-oldest settlement. The governor chose it as a safe refuge from the stormy Cape coast during the tempestuous winter months.
Progress in Simon's Town happened very gradually but it certainly left its prints. The town started growing when it became a Royal Naval Base and the home of the South Atlantic Squadron under the second British occupation of the Cape in 1806, thanks to the construction of a big man-made sandstone breakwater.
The construction of the modern harbour was completed by 1910 and over 300 ships were repaired at Simon’s Town during the Second World War. By 1957, the control of the Naval base was given to the South African Government. By that time, at least 125 Allied ships had been sunk by the Germans, Japanese and Italians relatively close to the shores of Simon’s Town.
Simon's Town's population comprises an interesting amalgamation of many descendants of the world’s sailing and exploring nations, slave families from the 17th century and many of South Africa’s indigenous peoples who were attracted to the place. Thus, despite its resemblance to an old Victorian seaside town, it has a multicultural heritage which adds to the beauty of the town.
Attractions in Simon's Town
Boulders Beach and Penguin colony
As a seaside town, Simon's town is famous for its beaches, especially the Boulders Beach. The major attraction at the Boulders Beach is the penguin colony of about 3000 African penguins. The African penguin is the only one to inhabit the African continent. In 1983, a pair of African penguins was seen on Foxy beach, just a stroll away from Boulders Beach. In 1985, they began to lay, and this, along with a wave of immigration from Dryer Island, caused the penguin population to grow.
The exquisite Boulders beach has big granite boulders of 540 years. These huge rounded rocks shield the beach from currents, gusts of winds and large waves, hence making is a favourite of visitors! The numerous coves and rock pools on the beach lure you to explore them.
Boulders Beach also forms part of the table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area and an access fee has to be paid to go to the sandy shores. This great swimming beach is very popular with families. Swimming with the penguins is a real delight to kids and adults alike! However, It is recommended not to get too close to them as they can give you a nasty nip. Nothing to worry! Don't disturb or harm them and they won't be mean to you either.
Other facilities at Boulders Beach include a walkway to the nesting and breeding sites of the penguins, toilets and outdoor beach showers. Strict control ensures that the beach is always clean and tidy. Park rangers keep on patrolling the beach to make sure that both the visitors and the penguins are safe.
For a better penguin viewing experience, one can walk to Foxy Beach. If Boulders Beach can be considered as the “swimming beach””, Foxy Beach is the “penguin beach”, exclusively for the penguins. Further away and closer to Fish Hoek Beach lies to Seaforth Beach. Seaforth Beach is the “freebie” version of Boulders Beach. Penguins can be seen early in the morning and in the evening. Seaforth Beach has a narrow, 600 m long, sandy shore and has shaded grass areas, perfect for pick-nicks.
Scratch Patch and Mineral World
Done with the penguin? Now, welcome to Aladdin’s cave! With a multitude of colourful gemstones, Simon's Town's scratch patch is a wonder of its own! This multicoloured pebbly paradise has been around since 1970. Here, you can have lots of fun scratching or your favourite tumble-polished gemstones from the thousands of polished stones that literally cover the floor.
There is an array of tumble-polished gemstones in the Scratch Patch, mostly popular Southern African stones such as Tiger’s Eye, Rose Quartz, Amethyst, Jasper, Agates and Crystals. With some luck, you may even come across Lapis Lazuli, Blue Lace Agate and some really exotic stones!
This inexpensive visit is popular with all ages. Being surrounded by so many colourful stones can be quite a memorable and uplifting experience. Some people now even believe that the gemstones have “powers” and that being surrounded by countless gemstones does have a calming effect on people, especially kids! No wonder that South Africa is considered to be the “gemstone capital of the world”! almost half of the world’s gemstones are found in this part of the world.
At the Mineral World, you can find an unbelievable collection of gemstone, from low-priced souvenirs to authentic collectors items and investment gems. A major quantity of the items are derived from the Topstones factory. At the Topstones factory in Simon’s Town, one can see one of the world’s biggest gemstone factories and assist to the process of how gemstones are tumble-polished and crafted into many interesting and varied products.
The well-experienced staff can assist you in finding whatever gemstone item you wish for! Stock items contain a wide variety of jewellery (including gold, silver, and faceted stones - many of which are cut from the local premises), gemstone carvings and ethnic-art items, gem trees, gemstone gifts, souvenirs, bracelets, pendants, home décor items, ornaments among others.
Gifts for men comprise of executive games made from gemstones, rough, natural gemstones and mineral specimens from the Rock Shop and many inexpensive items that make perfect take-home-gifts for your near and dears.
Simon's Town Waterfront
Warmly set at the foot of the Cape Peninsula mountains with plenty of great views of False Bay, the yacht basin and naval harbour, Simon’s Town Waterfront is a small and friendly place. It is a perfect place to stop and shop, simply while away some time, or relax at one of the restaurants and treat yourself with the local cuisine.
The town awoke from a contented slumber with the opening of the Waterfront and now, it forms an important landmark of the area. Simon's Town Waterfront is an extremely attractive area and it has many interesting shops and boutiques selling clothing, artistic items and souvenirs. There is an excellent choice of restaurants (Bertha's, The Salty Seadog) and a hotel (Quayside Hotel) with conference facilities.
Museums in Simon's Town
Simon's Town Museum
Simon Town's Museum is currently housed in “The Residency” which was built in 1777 as the winter residence for the Dutch East India Company Governor at the Cape. The museum was established in 1977 by the Simon's Town Historical Society.
Earlier, the museum was housed in the old Simon's Town Municipality complex but it moved to “The Residency” in 1982. The museum building has quite a long history. It has previously served as a hospital, post office, school, customs house, police station, gaol and magistrate’s court.
The museum depicts the history of the people Simon Town's while highlighting its multi pluralism, connecting its past to its present and displaying the beauty of its diverse origin, culture and religions. It also showcases the connection of Simon's Town with the Dutch East India Company and the Royal Navy.
Museum layout and exhibits
- Shop and information bureau
- The Early History Room
- Churches, Schools, Hospitals and Cemeteries
- Military Room
- The Gerry Read Lecture Hall
- The People of Simon's Town Room
- The Royal Navy Room
- The Africa Station Club
- The Shipwreck Room
- The Trade and Industries Room
- The Black Hole
- The Awaiting Trial Cell
- The Stockroom
- The Punishment Cell
- The Gordon Wilson Courtyard
Some useful info:
- Guided tours are provided.
- Tours of the exhibitions, lectures, films and talks are organised.
- Research on family histories, ships, properties and general history in Simon's Town are also offered.
- Monday to Friday: 10am to 4pm
- Saturdays: 10am to 1pm
- Sundays & Public Holidays: Closed
South Africa Naval Museum
As you stroll about Simon's town, the numerous evidences of naval presence in the place cannot leave you indifferent and you will definitely want to walk down the alleys of the past and steep in the naval history of this sea-town. Be it the gun batteries on the hills or the warships docked in the harbour, you will undoubtedly feel intrigued and the South African Naval Base offers a wonderful overview of the naval history of the town.
The South Africa Naval Museum is housed in and around the original Dockyard from 1810 when the Royal Navy shifted its headquarters from Cape Town to Simon’s Town. The museum has a vast collections of uniforms, medals, weaponry (including mines, torpedoes and naval guns), charts, photographs and naval equipment that trace the timeline of the South African Navy, the Royal Navy and the Natal Volunteer Reserves. One can also explore the history of “Able Seaman Just Nuisance” here.
If you are curious about what the insides of a submarine looks like, then you will be extremely delighted! The South Africa Naval Museum hosts the first museum exhibit on board a submarine. The SAS Assegaai is a submarine acquired from France in the 1970s and then withdrawn from service as a working submarine in 2003. The whole submarine is now a captivating museum. Experienced submariners guide maximum 10 persons at a time through this vessel. They are all able to provide a unique overview of life aboard a submarine. These submarine tours are conducted seven days a week.
If military affairs interest you, and in particular naval subjects, then this museum is worth every minute spent in it. There’s a real-size ship’s bridge, a cross-section of the inside of a submarine’s operation room, and different types of naval guns and general equipment. The various uniforms worn by branches of the South African Navy, from the past to the present era, are on display. There is also a very interesting old diving suit. There is also some very dramatic naval artwork on display in the museum, reminiscent in particular of various sea battles fought during World War II.
09:30-15:30 except Good Friday, Christmas Day and New Year's Day