Explore: Museums in South Africa

Houses of nature and human history and achievement.

Museums are an ode to the past: to the natural heritage into which humankind was born; our subsequent evolution, mastery, and abuse of that heritage; the conflicts, cruelty, and kindness we are capable of; the exquisite art, craft, and creativity we are blessed with as a species; and the abundance of questions to which we seek answers, from who the critters we share our planet with are to what lies beyond the bounds of our atmosphere.

Museums are places to learn, remember, and honour our forward momentum towards better times, not just for our species, but for the planet too. And so, with winter weather around the corner, threatening to keep us housebound, why not include some of the country’s finest museums in your “local is lekker” tourist itinerary?

Zeitz MOCAA, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town

Inhabiting six floors and 100 000 square feet of warehouse space in the grain silo district of the V&A Waterfront, the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (MOCAA) is the largest public art space in the country and the continent. The artistic focus at MOCAA is the story of Africa as told through its art (paintings, sculptures, and photographs) and is the world’s first art museum to exclusively document modern life in Africa.

Mandela House, Soweto

“That night I returned with Winnie to No. 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison.”

The Nelson Mandela National Museum is the house on Vilakazi Street in Soweto where former president and national hero Nelson Mandela lived from 1946 to 1962. Today, this humble house is a portal through which visitors can immerse themselves in the memory of one of South Africa’s most important struggle journeys.

District Six Museum, Cape Town

In the 1970s, the forced removal of thousands of families from the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town by the Apartheid Government seeded what stands proudly today as the District Six Museum. Here, visitors can come to understand what happened to these families, from whom homes and livelihoods were outrageously torn by the reigning regime.

Iziko Planetarium, Cape Town

Iziko Planetarium, Cape Town

Behold – in full high-definition, digital glory – a constellation of shows about our planet’s place in the solar system, Milky Way galaxy, and cosmos, as well as the mysteries of the universe beyond! Outside the celestial theatre is an enchanting collection of space artefacts (including meteorites!) and photography illustrating just how small our home in the universe is.

Iziko Natural History Museum, Cape Town

The Iziko Natural History Museum has assumed pride of place in the historic Company Gardens since 1825. And it truly competes with the world’s best with its prodigious collections of fossils and dinosaur models; ancient art, tools, clothing, and weaponry; and specimens of scientific importance. There’s even the “whale well”, where one can admire an incredibly rare blue whale skeleton against a backdrop of warbling whale song.

Iziko Natural History Museum, Cape Town

Constitution Hill Heritage Museum, Johannesburg

Constitution Hill stands as a museum (and home to the country’s Constitutional Court) that tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy. Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Joe Slovo, Albertina Sisulu, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and Fatima Meer are a few of the well-known names who were imprisoned here, but tens of thousands more languished behind its walls over the course of its 100-year history.

Maropeng and Sterkfontein Caves, the “Cradle of Humankind”

In the 1930s, within the complex of limestone caves at Sterkfontein, the remains of never-before-seen creatures were unearthed. With scrutiny, these were revealed to belong to millennia-old hominid species: human’s earliest ancestors! Today, this UNESCO World Heritage Site welcomes thousands of visitors each year, eager to walk where our ancient ancestors once did.

Rupert Museum, Stellenbosch

Rupert Museum, Stellenbosch

Located on the banks of the Eerste Rivier, amongst the picturesque vineyards of Stellenbosch, the Rupert Museum showcases the unique private art collection of Anton and Huberte Rupert. Here, visitors can admire hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and tapestries by 20th Century South African artists, as well as magnificent views of the Cape Winelands.