You'll find a large selection of shops and hundreds of street hawkers catering to the African arts-and-crafts market, but because very little of it is produced locally, you will pay a slight premium. The better the gallery, the larger the premium. Beadwork, however, is a local tradition; a variety of beaded items is for sale at the tourism bureau, also the place to pick up an Arts & Crafts Map. But Cape Town shopping now offers a great deal more than naive wooden carvings and beaded trinkets. Sophisticated Eurocentric products with superb local twists are finding their way into design-savvy shops all over the world; and, from minimalist handbags made with richly patterned Nguni hides to gorgeous lamps made with polished horn or porcupine quills, you'll find them here, particularly in the De Waterkant area, for far less. For more listings, page through the annual Time Out Cape Town for Visitors, available in the city's bookstores. Remember that you are entitled to a 14% VAT refund before you leave.
If you take your shopping seriously and want the lowdown on the city's hottest consumer venues, contact Sandra Fairfax of Blue Bayou (tel. 083/293-6555 or 021/762-5689; www.bluebuyou.co.za) for one of her highly personalized shopping tours. She'll pick you up and put together a shopping and browsing itinerary that takes into account your tastes and interests. She has helped some of Cape Town's most prestigious visitors shop and led them to the front door of top designers, world-renowned artists, and splurge-worthy outlets where you'll meet the owners and get to know the history or background of objets that might otherwise mean nothing to you.
Take a Break -- Even if you haven't yet handed over your credit card, the sheer intensity of browsing through Cape Town's multifangled stores should earn you a pit stop. To sample Afro-chic hospitality, pop into beautiful Nzolo Brand Café, 48 Church St. (tel. 021/426-1857 or 083/353-3724; Mon-Sat 8am-5pm), where the colors and distinctive logos of Africa's most iconic products form a slick backdrop to quality teas (try the homegrown rooibos mixed with elderflower and rose), local-blend coffees, fresh cakes, and delectable dishes from the African continent. Beautifully packaged, the take-home tinned teas make great gifts.
Bibliophiles Browse Here -- Although there are several well-stocked bookstores on Long Street (Clarke's is an institution), the best place to browse for quality reads (no rubbish stocked), fabulous coffee table tomes, and the best in South African writing is The Book Lounge, 71 Roeland St. (tel. 021/462-2425), with seating for bookworms and a cafe on the downstairs level. It's also where you can catch regular literary events (held almost every Tues, Wed, and Thurs, but occasionally on other nights, too, usually commencing 5:30 or 6pm); these include book launches and discussions involving some of the biggest names in South African literature and publishing. Pick up a program of forthcoming events in-store.
Fine Art -- South Africa has a vibrant art scene, best experienced at the annual Art Fair held in Johannesburg every April, but the following galleries offer a good taste of what's out there. One of Cape Town's most successful exports, Paul du Toit's (www.pauldutoit.com) paintings have drawn comparisons with the work of Matisse and Picasso, and his recent creation of a bronze version of Madiba's hand is a permanent installation in one of the penthouse suites at the new One&Only hotel at the Waterfront. Paul works from his studio at his home in Hout Bay and welcomes interested art enthusiasts and potential buyers who'd like to meet with him or browse the limited work available for sale (his output is usually gobbled up by collectors before his exhibitions even open). E-mail him if you'd like to visit him, or make arrangements with Sandra Fairfax (tel. 083/293-6555), who can also lead you to a number of galleries and artist workshops, where you'll enjoy a warm introduction to the local art scene.
Great Shopping Areas
City Center -- Sadly, in the heart of the city center, historical Greenmarket Square (Mon-Sat 9am-4pm) -- surrounded by some of the loveliest buildings in Cape Town -- has devolved into a tourist trap (most of the stalls are owned by the same wholesaler, and goods here seldom inspire excitement). Do browse here, however, just for the atmosphere (it's an interesting cultural crossroads) and then check out the surrounding architecture. More serious shopping starts along nearby Church Street, where the pedestrianized cobbled walkway that links to Long Street attracts casual traders dealing in antiques, hand-fashioned leather jewelry, and T-shirts emblazoned with logo-style township names. Don't miss African Image, on the corner of Church and Burg ; the Cape Gallery, 60 Church St. (tel. 021/423-5309), for fine artworks with an emphasis on plant, animal, and birdlife; and the Association for Visual Arts, 35 Church St. (tel. 021/424-7436), an important nonprofit art gallery. The Collector, 52 Church St. (tel. 021/423-1483), trades in the expensive end of what they term "tribal" artifacts and antiques, while Imagenius is the heavyweight specialist in desirable modern African objets, and plenty else besides.
Where Church meets Long, turn right and head for the Pan African Market, probably the best place to pick up African crafts in Cape Town. It's a total contrast to the swanky interior of Tribal Trends, 72-74 Long St. (tel. 021/423-8008), which showcases an audacious (but pricey) selection of great African-inspired design.
If you double back down Church Street, you can continue all the way to St George's Mall, a pedestrian street that runs the length of town. Buskers and street dancers perform here, and a few street hawkers peddle masks and sculptures. For more options, head 1 block down to Adderley Street, cross via the Golden Acre, and browse the station surroundings, where the streets are paved with wood and soapstone carvings. It's also paved with pickpockets, so don't carry valuables here. By now you'll have had your fill of African crafts, so head back up to Long Street and walk toward the mountain. This is the city's most interesting street -- lined with Victorian buildings, Long Street houses, antiques shops, galleries, gun shops, porn outlets, hostels, cafes, bars, a church or two, and eventually a Turkish bathhouse. Be on the lookout for 210Long, a small, sustainable shopping "mall" at 210 Long St., where you'll find a small selection of good South African stores; Gravy sells T-shirts by local designer Craig Native (under the Electric Zulu label), which make perfect gifts for younger friends back home. On the other side of the road is Still Life, stocked with cool homeware items and beautiful objets. If you continue up Long and cross onto Kloof Street, it's definitely worth looking at the intriguing local homeware and design parody items displayed at all-white O.live (next to the Chinese eatery), where you'll fall under the spell of the dreamlike soundtrack (and dreamy-eyed shop assistant). Next door is laLesso, a boutique selling ladies' exotic garments made from Kenyan fabrics -- the Swahili logos on the dresses are good wishes; the innovative label has already found its way to Tokyo, London, Paris, Barcelona, and New York.
Finally, it's worth noting that life in the East City -- stretching from Parliament toward the dodgy end of town where District Six was once razed to the ground, is on the up and up, and rapidly filling up with some unique shopping stops. On Roeland Street, in particular, intriguing little stores are opening and a cafe culture is flaring. Witness the utterly local homeware and kitchen products on display in Dorp (Afrikaans for "Town;" tel. 082/829-7176), at 76 Roeland St., where the layout is reminiscent of quintessential small-town South African naïveté and you can buy homemade baked treats (ask for some hertzoggies and koeksisters). Just down the drag is Cape Town's finest bookstore.
De Waterkant -- Created in 2001, this area has developed into one of the most exciting shopping precincts in town, with lovely cobbled streets, a lively dining square (good protection when the wind is up), and a mob of excellent shops and cafes. With its 15 stores about to be bolstered (for better or worse) by the arrival of a new mall-like center, it won't take you long to find your favorites. You could start anywhere, but Jarvis and Waterkant streets and, of course, the Cape Quarter's inner sanctum are proven stomping grounds. Whatever you do, don't miss Africa Nova or Fibre Designs (details below). If you're interested in art, check out VEO Gallery, 8 Jarvis St. (tel. 021/421-3278), and Lisa King Gallery, Shop B14, Cape Quarter (tel. 021/421-3738). The great thing about Lisa is that she combines an excellent eye with an unpretentious approach. Already referred to as the South African Abercrombie & Finch, the brilliant new Kingsley Heath, 117 Waterkant St. (tel. 021/421-0881) has a stylish look inspired by adventures in the African bush. The sophisticated clothing and fashion accessories, including leather jewelry and cowhide shoes, prove that you needn't go in for obvious and unflattering khaki wear just because you're heading out on safari. There's even a Kingsley Heath men's fragrance.
Waterfront -- Shopping here is a far less satisfying experience than in the bustling streets of town or the gentrified cobbled streets of De Waterkant; at the end of the day, Victoria Wharf is simply a glam mall with a famous and fabulous location (which is totally wasted on what has become an almost exclusively indoor shopping experience). There are, however, a few gems, such as Out of Africa (adjacent to Exclusive Books), for a fantastic, albeit pricey, range of items from all over the continent. And if you're looking for a dress or shirt that will really make heads turn -- we're talking proper African designer wear -- head straight upstairs for Sun Goddess (tel. 021/421-7620). Outside the shopping center, in the old offices of the Port Captain (on the way to the Clock Tower), is the truly excellent selection of sculptures, jewelry, tableware, textiles, ceramics, and furniture at the African Trading Post, Pierhead, Dock Road (tel. 021/419-5364); spread over three stories, this is worth a visit even if you're not buying.
Woodstock & Southern Suburbs -- Every Saturday morning, a selection of the city's hippest congregate at The Old Biscuit Mill, 375 Albert Rd., Woodstock, a warehouse space that's been cleverly transformed to make way for the weekly Neighbourgoods Market (tel. 021/462-6361; Sat), now a defining Cape Town event with packed tables groaning under organic produce and great on-site prepared meals. There are a few stalls selling collectible T-shirts or jewelry, but most are here for the food (don't miss the Lebanese pies, cured meats from Bread & Wine, or addictive tarts from Queen of Tarts), with upcoming artisans waiting patiently in the wings as they move up the impossibly long waiting list for a stand here. While you're here (or on any weekday, too), it's worth your while to check out some of the permanent shops opposite the market. Imiso is owned by three young black ceramicists whose work is among the most exciting, even revolutionary, I've ever seen. Clementina Ceramics (tel. 021/447-1398) showcases a range of wonderful talent in glass, jewelry, and other materials, and the Clementina van der Walt tableware is stunning. Farther south, in Newlands, there's plenty of creative flair (as well as opportunities to join pottery workshops, watch ironmongers, and grab a bite at the farm stall) at the Montebello Design Centre, 31 Newlands Ave. (tel. 021/685-6445), where you could spend anywhere between an hour and an afternoon browsing the myriad shops.
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.