Originally called "12 Mile Post" (Afrikaans: "12-Myl-Pos"), since it is located 12 miles (20 km) from Cape Town city centre, it was originally founded as a railway station on the line from Cape Town to Stellenbosch and Strand. In 1861 it was renamed Bellville, after the surveyor general Charles Bell.
The Karl Bremer Hospital functioned as the Academic Hospital for the University of Stellenbosch Medical School, but now the adjacent Tygerberg Hospital houses the medical school. The Cape Peninsula University of Technology and the University of the Western Cape are also situated in Bellville. D.F. Malan High School and Bellville Hgh School are both located in the area.
The multi-purpose Bellville Velodrome is located in the Tyger Valley area of Bellville. The Bellville Velodrome has the only indoor cycling track in South Africa and is also the annual host of the MTBS athletics competition.
Bellville is notable in the local South African music scene, gaining the nickname "Bellville Rock City" due to the number of bands that hail from the city, such as Fokofpolisiekar, Foto Na Dans, Jax Panik, Jack Parow, aKING and Die Heuwels Fantasties.
The novel 2 Dae in Mei (English: 2 Days in May) by Jaco Fouché takes place in Bellville.