Cape Town’s beautiful Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is not just a beautiful garden set on the slopes of Table Mountain. For most visitors, Kirstenbosch, founded in 1913 to promote southern Africa’s rich flora, is about experiencing the beautiful sights and sounds of the idyllic natural garden; however, it also plays a critical role in education and preservation of this unique biome.
There’s a lot to see and do at Kirstenbosch throughout the year, from summer concerts and open-air movie screenings to quiet picnics, various restaurants, and an array of fascinating walks. No one visit to Kirstenbosch is ever enough, and no two will be the same. Those looking for some of the garden’s most remarkable sights, consider starting here.
There are beautiful annual beds in the lower part of Kirstenbosch. Though they are dotted throughout the gardens, those looking for a sight of them similar to what’s found in the famous Namaqualand, then go to the lower reaches from August to October.
There is a natural amphitheatre in Kirstenbosch that comes to life during the summer months. They hold weekly sunset concerts on Sundays throughout the summer and also host the occasional mid-week event for bigger international acts. This is one of those quintessentially Cape Town events that can’t be missed.
Kirstenbosch has one of the best bonsai collections in the country. There are several mature bonsais on the display at the lower entrance. The garden also hosts regular bonsai shows that expand upon this collection for a few days each year.
Officially known as the Centenary Tree Canopy Walkway, most simply refer to this remarkable curved steel and timber bridge as the Boomslang. That’s because it looks and feels like venturing into the interior of the famous tree-loving snake by the same name. The sides resemble the snake skeleton, and the carefully balanced walkway sways lightly with the footsteps of fellow visitors. After gawking at the architectural marvel of the structure, don’t forget to look up to witness one of the best views in the gardens.
Kirstenbosch’s Camphor Tree Avenue is one of the most impressive sights in the gardens. These grandiose trees that line what was once a major thoroughfare for wagons were planted by Cecil John Rhodes and date back to 1898. Today, the camphor trees combine with figs and stone pines to create a stunning pedestrianised walkway into the bottom section of the garden.
The Botanical Society Conservatory is close to the main entrance of the garden. The conservatory is a purpose-built desert house that displays plants from semi-arid and arid regions of southern Africa. Find everything from small stone plants through to a living baobab—the largest succulent in the world—inside the conservatory.
Kirstenbosch is currently home to a fascinating exhibition featuring life-size, anatomically correct tin dinosaurs set among a collection of rare cycads that are on the brink of extinction.
At most points in the garden, there are views of the towering Table Mountain, but it’s this view of what many call Teddy Bear Mountain that captures the imagination of most first-time Kirstenbosch visitors.
A beautiful bust of South Africa’s first democratic president Nelson Mandela stands at the feet of a pepper-bark tree. Mandela planted the tree on a visit to the garden in 1996, and the bust by John Francis Gardner was added to the site in 2010.
Many visitors to Kirstenbosch do a double take when they reach the garden’s Otter Pond. Set in the shade of an African mahogany and surrounded by a stone wall, the tranquil lake has a lifelike sculpture of the elusive Cape Clawless Otter. The pond and sculpture is a tribute to the animal that, though once abundant in the mountain’s lakes and streams, is now a very rare sight.
The Sculpture Garden is a constantly changing permanent exhibition of African stone sculptures. The sculpture technique originated in Zimbabwe and has garnered fame around the world. The works, also on display in the visitor’s centre, depict a variety of themes and some are available for purchase.
Kirstenbosch is the best place to view South Africa’s national flower, the protea. All protea varietals that form part of the Cape Flora, or fynbos, biome are on display in the garden. At certain times of the year, these magnificent plants dominate the flowerbeds.