Many visitors to Cape Town leave with a fairly limited view of the Mother City. They see the whitewashed beachfront restaurants and hotels, take the cable car up Table Mountain and top up their tan before heading home with a suitcase full of overpriced carved wooden animals that were actually made in China.

The overwhelming majority of Capetonians inhabit a very different world. That world is broadly referred to as the Cape Flats, and comprises the range of crowded informal settlements and “ghetto” townships – once known as “apartheid’s dumping ground” – that sprawl beyond the city centre and its leafy suburbs.

But a number of young township-based innovators and entrepreneurs are reimagining and repackaging these traditionally peripheral areas as much more than sad, impoverished and passive backdrops for a quick tick-the-box “poverty safari”. To these guys, the townships are the pulsing epicentre of urban South African experience, culture and creativity.

Take the time to get beneath the surface of Cape Town’s townships and you’ll find it’s hard to argue with them. Here are five of the best ways to see the irrepressible township revolution in all its glory.

Enjoy the sounds of Jazz in the Native Yards

Just around the corner from the raucousness and revelry of Mzoli’s Place in Gugulethu, you’ll find a live jazz venue with a difference.

Jazz in the Native Yards, the brainchild of former arts journalist and local boy Luvuyo Kakaza, takes some of the best jazz musicians from across South Africa away from overpriced and exclusionary city centre venues and squeezes them into a cozy township living room.

When the music isn’t playing, drinks can be ordered through the kitchen hatch and there’s a braai (barbecue), lots of banter and a distinct lack of racial boundaries to enjoy outside in the yard as the sun goes down.

Get your caffeine fix at the Department of Coffee

In 2012, The Department of Coffee was the first artisan coffee shop and espresso bar to open in a Cape Town township.

Found behind the busy Khayelitsha train station and the labyrinth of market stalls that surround it, this shop, run by three local twenty-somethings, is showing the surrounding community that a good brew is not just for the affluent – none of the delectable creations on offer cost more than R10 (about 50p), and all are made with local beans roasted specially for Department of Coffee.

You can sit and enjoy your coffee and the incessant hustle and bustle of this part of town on one of the shaded stone tables out front.

Department of Coffee, Cape Town, South AfricaImage by Chris Clark

Catch dinner and a show at Theatre in the Backyard

Acclaimed theatre producer and director Mhlanguli George has teamed up with Cape Town experiential tour operator Coffeebeans Routes to offer an innovative and interactive twist on traditional dinner theatre.

George’s visceral, hard-hitting theatre pieces are staged in a township backyard in Nyanga, where his actors make use of the various “props” that are available to them while the audience, with no allocated seating, have to negotiate their way around the performers and the space.

After the show, you join the unfailingly affable director and his performers for a home-cooked dinner and a couple of beers, and George will tell you more about his Theatre in the Backyard concept.

Theatre in the Backyard, Cape Town, South AfricaImage by Chris Clark

Experience the urban creativity of The Langa Quarter

According to the Langa Quarter’s creator Tony Elvin, a black Brit who has settled in Langa, this so-called Social Enterprise Precinct will one day be to Cape Town what the French Quarter is to New Orleans.

Langa is both Cape Town’s oldest township and, interestingly, the geographic centre of the metropole. The Quarter thus serves both as a museum of the city’s past, and a creative hub of contemporary music, art, culture and design. Various artists living in the precinct use their houses as open art galleries, while others have painted directly onto the quarter’s walls and buildings themselves.

A ”hotel homestay”, where you’ll be put up and fed by a local resident, is the best way to experience the Langa Quarter’s growing number of attractions.

Langa Quarter, Cape Town, South AfricaImage by Chris Clark

Feel the vibe on Spine Road

Strangely quiet during the week, this long road into the heart of Khayelitsha comes alive on weekends in a cacophony of sizzling meat, bassy Kwaito music, tooting car horns, laughter and general revelry.

At the sophisticated Deep Kultsha Café, the local elite dress to the nines and enjoy the views of the street below from the floor to ceiling windows of the raised venue. Just around the corner at the open air Rands Lifestyle Space, the in-house DJ gets the droves of beautiful people moving to the beat long before dusk. Punters bring their own alcohol and ice and set in for the long haul.

The crowds on the street – deck chairs out on the pavement and beats pumping from their car sound systems – sometimes outnumber those inside the venues. To those in the know, this is the city’s undisputed party capital.

Explore more of the Cape Town with the Rough Guide to Cape TownBook hostels, hotels and tours for your trip, compare flights, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

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