In April, I finally had the chance to ‘hop on, hop off’ one of the Mother City’s most familiar sights: the bright red, open top CitySightseeing Cape Town buses. These buses exist in cities worldwide – and ever since I first discovered the sightseeing tours on offer, I have felt we are strangely blessed to be among one of these global cities, which CitySightseeing and their characteristically colourful buses frequent, granting even the stoutest local the chance of a unique, almost international experience.
Although originally brought to us from overseas (where their global reach ever increases; you can view the full list here), CitySightseeing now offers Cape Town and its visitors a great selection of tours, as well as catering for visitors to Johannesburg! Currently, those are the only South African cities where they operate – though perhaps they will expand locally in the future too.
The idea of CitySightseeing tours was born some eighteen or so years ago in Seville (this is still considered the “back bone” of their worldwide operations), and, after the concept was launched in London at the 1999 World Travel Market, the franchise ushered in the new millennium by starting out with a four tours in a “joint venture between UK-based Ensign Bus and newly established City Sightseeing Spain”.
Today, their buses are easily recognisable in nearly a hundred global travel destinations and span across six of our seven continents. Furthermore, each tour is unique, not only to its country, but also to its city and the most popular and/or fascinating historic and beautiful landmarks found locally in these places. In Cape Town, one such natural landmark is Table Mountain.
At present, CitySightseeing Cape Town passengers have a number of tour options to choose from, providing many fun and exciting stops along the way! They run as follows: Red City-, Yellow Downtown-, Blue Mini Peninsula-, Purple Wine-, Free Guided Walking-, Sunset Bus- and Harbour Cruise-Tour, as well as the Township and Bus + Chopper options too! Some of the bus stops are ually shared by the tours; the Blue one most frequently joins up with other tour stops.
So when it came time for my best friend – who, along with her husband, was visiting the Cape for a week – and I to choose a special tour to enjoy on our final day together, we had at least several great options at our disposal. Though, running times and value-for-money were always under consideration, it was between the Purple, Blue and Sunset Bus Tours for us.
At the eleventh hour, we switched from the Sunset Bus Tour to the Blue Bus Tour because of time constraints but honestly, the Blue Tour was always the one I had personally earmarked, especially as it would allow us both to visit the beautiful Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden for the first time.
As mentioned, prices vary and are dependent on whether or not you purchase a One- or Two-Day ticket. There are also Combo tickets (includes all tours) and many other deals to choose from. (See website for more information.)
It is also important to mention that tickets purchased online enjoy a discount – something we were only informed of at the V&A Waterfront ticket office (this is the main one, but there is also a Long Street Office and you can also buy tickets before getting on the bus), with minutes to spare before our bus left, so we paid R180 per adult for a valid 1-Day Blue Tour ticket.
Regardless, this proves to be excellent value for money, especially if utilised fully. Sadly, because we were sorely pressed for time, we could not get off at even half the stops along the way – but, having visited many of them previously on separate trips, I can attest to their being truly worthwhile if you have the time to hop on, hop off at even a quarter of the 15 set Blue Bus stops.
When you receive your ticket, you will also find discounts for certain stops printed on the flipside. (For Stop 1, for example, one of ours was “20% off on entry at the Cape Wheel, V&A Waterfront.”) Also, your ticket must be retained for you need to get back on the bus, so be sure to hang onto it or safely stow it away.
The V&A kiosk (inside, you can purchase some Cape Town merchandise like caps and it’s also a handy free Wi-Fi spot) is close to the Watershed, Market on the Wharf and the Two Oceans Aquarium, so you have time to explore on foot before departing. Look out for the signs like “Blue Route Q Here” or ask a staff member if you’re unsure where to wait.
We were blessed with gorgeous autumn weather; I would recommend a peak cap and sunscreen if you sit on the open deck seating as we did. Despite the heat, we couldn’t resist the open air and I really love the concept of double-decker (reminiscent of the London variety), open buses. Later, for a time, we did sit inside at the lower level and the window views are still amazing!
The buses come and go fairly often but be sure to check when the last returning bus will be departing from each of your stops – this may vary, depending on the day of the week (usually, it’s later on weekends and public holidays) and, although there are buses mostly every ten to fifteen minutes generally, it pays to be informed. We knew the latest we could leave Kirstenbosch was 16:20 p.m., as it was a Saturday afternoon (though, with a bit of a mad dash across the Garden, we actually made the 16:05 p.m. bus.)
If you are unsure about any of the finer details, it is best to ask a staff member to clarify. I must say that, although CitySightseeing has social media, email, a website and a toll number to contact (as well as their supplementary bright red pamphlets, widely available in local kiosks and tour offices), things are perhaps more unclear than they should be, and it is honestly quite hard to get through to them.
We tried emailing (repeatedly), calling (the call line needs to be worked on as you hold on for ages listening to recordings) and even trying to chat to one of the website’s online advisers in advance and had no luck with any of these, so this, if anything, is one thing I personally feel needs to be improved on.
Another thing: the tour workings and schedules could be a bit more obvious. For example, we ended up doing the whole route’s stops in the end after we left Kirstenbosch because there are no buses direct to the V&A again so you have to go back through all the stops, one way or another. This quickly became evident when we hopped back onto the bus and it started curling up Constantia Nek. I don’t regret this one bit but it delayed our meet-up with our other companions.
Still, the sights from the bus are spectacular, whether you’re looking back over the harbour miles below (things got a bit nervy when the bus bounces because you’re pretty high up!), passing through the inner city or winding along the Cape Peninsula and on to Hout Bay and Camps Bay.
The buses themselves are safe and extremely comfortable, with comfy red leather seats (these have grips and there are various side rails too) and are easy to hop on, hop off of. The interior reminded me of the MyCiti buses so I instantly felt right ‘at home’. The deck level does have partially covered seating too, which is a bonus!
When you purchase your ticket, you receive free earphones to use with your audio guide/commentary. This provides you with fascinating local tales (discover the real reason behind the city’s unfinished elevated highway), interesting information about places like the Cape Town Convention Centre or V&A Waterfront, and also gives you a sample of local music and artists such as Freshly Ground.
You can change the language settings (there are 16 available languages) and adjust the volume as desired. This as fun and engaging, and we chatted amongst ourselves whilst listening in on the audio so don’t worry about being disconnected from your companions or surroundings. 🙂
Many of the sights I was well-acquainted with but I loved watching the other passengers and my friend taking in the new sights, and pointing out various landmarks and fun places to visit to her.
You pass through Long Street and then on through the city, passing the well-known Labia Theatre, Company Gardens and Mount Nelson before entering upper District Six and curling around Table Mountain’s lower reaches (from the Devil Peak’s side), as you make your way into Constantia and on to the picturesque Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
– Mariner’s Wharf at Hout Bay Harbour
– Camps Bay and Clifton
– The President’s Hotel (Sea Point)
– Winchester Mansions Hotel (one of my favourite sights in the city)
– Green Point
Then, finally, you are back at the V&A Waterfront and all the fun has drawn to a wonderful close. 🙂
Overall, the CitySightseeing Blue Bus Tour gets a firm 8/10 rating from me as it was a wonderful, fun and rewarding experience, which I can highly recommend! The staff were professional and helpful, the facilities are clean, safe and of the highest standard and all in all, the tour and its offerings are wellthought out, slickly run and offer both locals and foreigners alike a fulfilling, great way to experience Cape Town unlike ever before! 😉
For more information on their tour options, please see: CitySightseeing South Africa, contact them on: (021) 511 6000, or find and follow them on social media:
– Twitter: @CapeTownRedBus
– Facebook Page: CitySightseeingSouthAfrica
– and Instagram too!
Author: Tamlyn Amber Ryan
Tamlyn Ryan is a writer and blogger, who runs her own travel blog, called Tamlyn Amber Wanderlust. Despite a national diploma in Journalism, her preferred niche remains travel writing. She is a hopeless wanderer, equipped with an endless passion for road trips, carefully planned, holiday itineraries and above all else, the great outdoors.