The Best Way to Explore Stellenbosch, South Africa – On Foot

Rhenish Parsonage, Stellenbosch
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A note to my readers: The world is gradually easing Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, but it will be a long time before we can travel freely again. For many of us that will mean staycations and more local travel, but I will continue posting new content for you to read at home and to inspire your future travels. Happy reading and stay safe!

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Stellenbosch is a stately town. From the starched linen cloths on the tables outside the restaurant to the wide roads lined with ancient oak trees, the whole of South Africa’s second oldest town has a period feel to it. And, as I found out, exploring by foot is the best way to discover the town’s heritage, with one or two surprises along the way.

Rhenish Parsonage, Stellenbosch
The Rhenish Parsonage is now a Toy Museum

The Historical Buildings of Stellenbosch

One of the pleasures of walking through Stellenbosch is the number of old buildings. They come in a variety of architectural styles, reflecting the long history of the town, but the result is surprisingly harmonious. Stellenbosch was built as a European type village in the 17th century but suffered a series of fires, leading to later rebuilding in varying styles. So the buildings are a mixture of early Cape Dutch, Victorian and Art Deco architecture, with a 20th century revival of classical Dutch features.    

Church House, Stellenbosch
The 18th century Church House

Some of the older buildings (such as the jail) have now been converted to private use, but there are still lots of historical buildings that you can visit. Some of these are in use as hotels or restaurants; others are museums. Then there is Oom Samie se Winkel (“Uncle Sam’s Shop”), the oldest shop in Stellenbosch and a reminder of a bygone age.

Uncle Sam's Shop, Stellenbosch
Uncle Sam’s Shop is crammed full of interesting stock, recalling an earlier era

Architectural Features in Stellenbosch

It is worth taking time to look at the architectural details. Not just the splendid gables that are a feature of Cape Dutch buildings, but the ornate wrought iron balconies on the Victorian houses, and the occasional building with a style all of its own, such as the neoclassical Hofmeyr Hall with its Greek pillars and symmetrical frontage. And there are the clocks – the official town trail lists 22 antique clocks, from wall clocks and church bells to 18th century long case clocks. The sundial on the side of St Mary’s on the Braak was transported from a village church in England, but never managed to show the right time in its new home!

Hofmeyr Hall, Stellenbosch
Hofmeyr Hall was built in the Greek revival style

Colonial influences are not confined to the architecture; the town is also famous for its oak trees, first brought from England in the 17th century. These lined every street, earning Stellenbosch the name “Town of Oaks”. Unfortunately fire, disease and the need for timber destroyed the earliest plantings but there are still a few trees that are almost 200 years old.

Dorp Street, Stellenbosch
The old oak trees of Dorp Street

Stellenbosch Today

Stellenbosch may be steeped in history but it is very much a living, vibrant community, particularly evident in the modern town centre with its smart shops and cafés.

City centre, Stellenbosch
The centre of Stellenbosch is modern and stylish

There is a flourishing art scene too; the streets were full of sculptures, designed by the Outdoor Sculpture Trust to make people more aware of the urban environment. The current theme was “Come Sit” and featured brightly designed or unusual benches for people to sit on as they explored the city.

Sculpture, Stellenbosch
A seated figure, part of the “Come Sit” outdoor sculpture display

I looked at the figure sitting on a bench, modern but perfectly at home among the old buildings of Stellenbosch. It seemed to sum up the town for me: a fusion of different cultures, both past and present.

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6 thoughts on “The Best Way to Explore Stellenbosch, South Africa – On Foot”

  1. You've hit on a few of my favorite things in Stellenbosch — history, art, architecture. Really quite a lovely place. South Africa is a part of the world in which I have no personal experience,, so relish learning about it in stories like this.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…

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