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Cape Town is home to one of the world’s most remarkable live-music venues: a stage set in a natural amphitheatre in the famous Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens. The Summer Sunset Series, held here during summer months, is an event that locals and visitors can’t get enough of.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is a necessary inclusion on any Cape Town itinerary. But if you’re visiting during the summer months it makes absolute sense to visit on a Sunday evening, when the gardens come alive with musical performances from some of the country’s – and, occasionally, the world’s – most popular artists.
The first, and the most important, thing to note is that the line-up changes every year. There are some regulars, like South African favourites Jeremy Loops, Mango Groove, The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, Fokofpolisiekar, Mi Casa and Goldfish, but each year the organisers release an updated list that usually includes some surprises. These shows typically take place on Sunday evenings, with the exception of special events such as the annual New Year’s Eve event.
Don’t be surprised to see other concerts taking place at Kirstenbosch on others days during the week, though. Independent organisers are also able to book the stage, and over the years the gardens have hosted a range of huge international stars. These concerts are less predictable and more spontaneous, and usually announced on an ad hoc basis, but are well worth keeping an eye out for, particularly if you’re looking for bigger-name international bands.
The incredible setting and the broad popularity of the artists on the line-up mean these tickets move remarkably quickly. Most shows sell out, some in a matter of days, so if you’re set on seeing your favourite band perform, or are only in town for one of the events, you’re better off buying your tickets well in advance.
The good news is you can buy tickets online quickly and easily for the Summer Sunset Series via Webtickets. Traditional concerts are very competitively priced, while international acts, and the New Year’s Eve concert, are priced at a premium.
One of the best things about the Kirstenbosch concerts is that there’s typically no bar or food stands. Instead, concertgoers are free to bring their own snacks and supplies. So plan ahead and be like the regulars by packing a few blankets, a picnic basket and a few bottles of wine.
Many people choose to get there a little early, pick a good spot on the grass and get stuck into a picnic. If planning a picnic sounds like too much work, you can also preorder one directly from one of the two restaurants at Kirstenbosch.
Once you’ve got the ticket, packed the picnic, thrown a few blankets and some warm clothes in a bag, you’ll be all set. The ticket to the concert gives you access to the gardens as well, so if it’s your first time visiting, get there nice and early; you’ll miss the traffic, and can explore the gardens for an hour or two before the show starts. Don’t delay too long, though: although the amphitheatre is large, if you’re set on getting a great spot it makes sense to stake your claim as early as possible. Apart from the special events, the gates open at 4.00pm, the shows start between 5.00pm and 5.30pm, and most are done by 7.00pm.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens are pristine, and a litter-free zone. As such, there are no trash cans in the gardens, and visitors must remove all of their items – including all their rubbish – after the show.
Traffic to and from the event, as well as parking, can be a bit complicated. If you’re staying nearby, consider using a service like Uber or Taxify, otherwise factor in some time to negotiate traffic close to the venue and find parking. This is often complicated further by midweek events that clash with normal rush-hour traffic.
Even if you’re not a particularly big fan of the band that’s performing while you’re in Cape Town, a visit to a Kirstenbosch concert is a fantastic way to spend an evening. And given the wide mix of people, from young children to middle-aged suburbanites, the shows are always a low-key way to unwind at the end of the weekend, and you’ll be back home not long after dark.