Observatory | Cape Town’s favourite alternative neighbourhood

Observatory, Cape Town is one of the trendiest, most eclectic suburbs in the city. It’s a student neighbourhood, close to both UCT and CPUT, so there’s always something going on, and it doesn’t usually cost much.

Obs is really special – I’ve been visiting for years, and I still find something new every time. The locals put genuine effort into their creations, whether its food, crafts, graffiti, or vintage displays. It’s a really arty, vibrant space.

I’ve put together a list of all the best things to do in Obs, whether you’re interested in food, music, shopping, and more. And if you don’t feel like reading a whole post, my main suggestion would be to just walk down Lower Main Road and explore every spot that jumps out at you! You can easily spend a day just on this road, and it’s the creative and economic hub of the suburb.

Things to do in Observatory

A day here in Obs is best suited to a sunny Cape Town afternoon, exploring quirky shops and sipping coffee in art-covered little cafes (I write as I sit in an Obs cafe after some second hand shopping). But below is a broader range of what to do in Observatory!

Visit the vintage/second-hand stores

There are so many second-hand stores in Obs! It’s a very trendy neighbourhood though, so you’ll find that many of the stores are vintage, with clothes that fetch far higher prices. This has it’s pros and cons – yes, it’s a lot more expensive, but the pieces are also more special, and usually are truly vintage pieces, rather than second-hand h&m.

The vintage markets here in Obs offer mostly clothes, but you can also find old records, vintage furniture, and other special pieces. I would highly recommend strolling along Lower Main Road and stopping in some of the shops below anytime you want to find a unique gift for others or yourself!

  • BangBang Vintage Market
  • Nevernew
  • Monthly second-hand market
  • RetroMania
  • Grand Funk Retro Vintage
  • Better Half
  • Voom Voom Records & Vintage
  • Lindsay & Lenny Vintage

Play pool at Stones

Observatory isn’t the only neighbourhood with a Stones, but this one feels special. It’s a large pool hall with dozens of pool tables and a drinks bar in the center of the room. But perhaps the best of the bar’s features is the large balcony overlooking Obs main road and Armchair opposite. It’s a space where everyone mingles and relaxes together, and can be a perfect spot to meet new people or have a laugh with friends.

Watch a performance at Armchair Theatre

Armchair is the main reason I go to Obs! It’s a large bar dedicated to showcasing South African talent, whether that’s rock bands, jazz musicians, even comedians. Monday nights are for karaoke, Wednesdays for comedy, and weekends for music!

It’s a fantastic spot, and in addition to the music, there’s pool and foosball and a large upstairs balcony. They also offer great drink specials and delicious pizza. And you’ll usually find a fire roaring in the center of the outdoor courtyard, bringing warmth and cheeriness to an already vibrant place.

Join an event at Trenchtown

Trenchtown is a partially open-air pizza spot with regular events. Like Armchair, they often showcase local musicians, usually more focused on electronic, while Armchair is usually instrumental. Trenchtown also has all-you-can-eat pizza nights, and it’s generally worthwhile checking out their facebook page to see what’s happening during your visit. They also have some absolutely brilliant graffiti and wall art, so they’re worth seeing just for that!

Relax at a coffee shop or cafe

Observatory, Cape Town has about as many cafes as it has vintage stores, all arranged on its Lower Main Road. In fact, unless you need to go grocery shopping, this lower road is the only one that really matters in Obs. Almost all the rest of the neighbourhood is residential (if you’re moving to Cape Town and looking for a vibrant student area with beautiful old houses, this is the area).

Whether you’re looking for healthy vegan meals, delicious sweet treats, or wholesome, hearty food, Observatory’s cafes won’t disappoint.

Ground Culture – Relaxed atmosphere, fresh food and brilliant coffee

Dolce Bakery – Vegan and non-vegan sweet treats, incredible cheesecakes and roast beef bagels (other bagels too but that’s my fav!)

Sonder – A genuinely beautiful little cafe covered with local art for sale; fresh juices, good coffee and a great selection of food

Love & Sugar – Very well priced, with all items under R20

Saint James Cafe – Quaint little coffee spot with limited seating and a tight-knit atmosphere

Nourish’d Café & Juicery – Organic and vegan treats and modern hipster aesthetic

Ground Zero – Delicious, imaginative food with a courtyard area with chess and low cushions

Run Rabbit Run Coffee Roastery – Amazing coffee and eclectic vibe

Go out for dinner and cocktails

Now I realise this post has been half about food. But food is one of the best things in the world, and Observatory knows how to do it well! So if you’re spending the evening here (maybe before a few games of pool at Stones or a live music gig at Armchair) check out one of these restaurants.

Reverie Social Table – Unique fine dining experience with exquisite wine pairings and a large sociable table

A Touch of Madness Restaurant – Comfort food with a twist, great service and a view out onto Lower Main

The Wild Fig Restaurant – Lovely 18th-century farmhouse with South African favourites

Jerry’s Burger Bar Observatory – I’ve loved Jerry’s Burger Bar for years, they serve fantastic burgers and great cocktails; it’s a lovely place to spend the evening with friends

Timbuktu Cafe – A quirky, colourful restaurant serving Ethiopian food in a traditional setting

Explore the street art

South Africa has some spectacular street artists, and Observatory is one great area to find their work. Explore the little side streets, and you’ll find plenty of special pieces dotted around – like the one in our header image, Armchair’s facade! And if you really enjoy amazing street art, go one suburb over to Woodstock, Cape Town’s graffiti hub.

Browse for something wonderful at OBZ Books

Another of Observatory’s fantastic second hand spots is this packed bookstore. It’s full of treasures, divided nicely into various categories to make your searching easier. Be sure to check out the African fiction and history sections along with fiction, there’s a lot of greatness to be found here!

Visit the South African Astronomical Observatory on open night

The historical building of the old Observatory is a National Heritage Site. It’s a lovely place to spend an educational and interesting evening on one of their open nights, on the second and fourth Saturday of every month at 8pm.

These open nights include an astronomy or physics presentation, an intro to the famous telescope, the library, and the museum. On clear nights, you can even do some proper telescope stargazing.

Where to stay in Observatory

If you’re interested in living in Obs, I’d highly recommend checking out the property section on Gumtree. You’ll often find people looking for housemates on here at great prices, and offering apartments for rent without a middleman. You do need to go and check out the property in person, though, as the safety measures that come with an agent are also gone.

If you’re keen to stay in Observatory on holiday (a great idea), I’d recommend these!

Budget: Green Elephant Backpackers

Obs has a few backpackers’ hostels on its main street, and if you’re visiting in off-peak season I’d recommend strolling along and finding one when you get here. If you’re more of a planner though (which you probably are if you’re reading this), Green Elephant is a great option. It’s clean and spacious, with friendly staff and a pool!

Mid-range: Werner Guest Room

Werner’s is a homey little guest room in a classic Obs home. The room is clean, with wooden floors and lovely little touches to make your stay special. Werner is a great host, and you can get some top tips on where to go and what to do from your handy local! This spot is perfect for a couple or a solo traveller.

Upper-mid-range: The Paragon Cosmo Sanctuary

This is a two-bedroom apartment with a lovely view. It’s situated in a building with a rooftop pool and a fitness centre. It’s much more private than a hotel, but safe, clean, and well-equipped!

Last thoughts on Observatory, Cape Town

Now you know as much as I do about what to do in Observatory! It’s such a fun and unique neighbourhood, you’re bound to love it now that you know where to go.

Have I missed any of your favourite spots in Obs? I’d always love to expand on the list!

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