Redevelopment of this historic core started in the early 1990s, and within a few years, the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront (www.waterfront.co.za) had been rated as the best of its kind, successfully integrating a top tourist attraction with southern Africa's principal passenger-and-freight harbor. Views of Table Mountain and the working harbor, as well as numerous restored national monuments and a wide array of entertainment options, attract an estimated 20 million visitors a year. The smells of diesel and fish mingle with the aromas wafting from pavement bistros, tugboats mingle with catamarans, and tourists mingle with, well, tourists. (If you're seeking tattooed sailors and ladies of dubious repute, you'd be better off taking a drive down to Duncan Dock, where the large working ships dock.)
In 2006, the V&A Waterfront was sold for R7.04 billion, and developments have been overwhelming -- if you've been here before, expect to see profound change, including massive new blocks packed with very exclusive chi-chi shops and almost disgusting displays of wealth. A rather sanitized place, the shopping precinct is concentrated in the Victoria Wharf Mall, which on its own contains over 500 stores (open until 9pm daily), an indoor crafts market, a wellness center, and a choice of more than 30 restaurants, as well as mainstream-movie screens (Nu Metro; tel. 021/419-9700) and a smaller art-movie cinema complex (Cinema Nouveau; tel. 0861/300-444). While Victoria Wharf has some lovely views in places, it feels like any other mall in a large city. Try to avoid getting stuck inside the V&A buildings -- the waterside action between Quay 5 and Pierhead Jetty is far more appealing, and you get some splendid Table Mountain vistas, to boot.
If you do only two things on the Waterfront, you should book a boat trip, preferably to Robben Island, and visit the Two Oceans Aquarium. Most cruises take off from Quay 5. Steamboat Vicky (tel. 083/411-3310; R45 for 30 min, R80 for 1 hr.), which tools around the harbor, takes off from North Quay. From June to November, you can also book a whale-watching cruise with the Waterfront Boat Company, at Quay 5 (tel. 021/418-5806; R400 adults, R200 children under 12). You may also want to keep at the back of your head that the Waterfront is also the starting point for Cape Town's popular helicopter flips, operated by four different companies, most based at Quay 5.
Beer lovers seeking more down-to-earth fun should make the detour to Mitchell's (tel. 021/425-9462) to sample the ales from the family-run microbrewery (try a pint of Bosun's Bitter, South Africa's first "real ale"), while boat spotters may be interested in the Maritime Centre -- a museum with one important floating exhibit, the SAS Somerset (the only surviving boom-defense vessel in the world), now berthed in front of the One&Only hotel.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.