The 15 Best Museums in Cape Town

The 15 Best Museums in Cape Town

When it’s time to time travel…

History runs deep in Cape Town, South Africa’s oldest city. The mix of cultures that have created the Mother City add an extra dimension. From Dutch, French, British, Cape Malay, African and indigenous influences to industry, technology and science, there is a wealth of information about life on Earth to enjoy.

The city’s museums are filled with fascinating objects, ideas and stories – that alone make them worth a visit. More importantly, they allow us to step back in time to understand the present.

Iziko South African Museum + Planetarium

Founded in 1825, the country’s oldest museum has seen millions of visitors navigate its halls. The mostly nature-based collection includes more than 1.5-million specimens, from fossils and stone tools, meteorite samples and animal displays to dinosaurs, giant squids, jewel-like insects and an extinct quagga, as well as anthropological artefacts and rock art. The most awesome exhibit is the atmospheric Whale Well – a collection of whale skeletons, including a giant 20.5-metre blue whale, and pods in which to listen to whale calls.
The Planetarium next door has received a 21st-century makeover with a Digital Dome, making it the most advanced planetarium on the continent. With its 360-degree screen, it makes virtual voyages of the entire universe possible. It offers a variety of shows, some of which are specifically for children.
Good to know Iziko operates 11 museums in Cape Town; ones we have not listed here include the Old Town House in Greenmarket Square, Groot Constantia and Rust & Vreugd on Buitenkant Street.
Opening times Museum: Monday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm
Planetarium shows: Tuesday – Friday, 3pm
Saturday + Sunday, 10.30am, 11.30am, 1pm + 2pm
(Note: Load shedding affects the Planetarium, so the schedule changes accordingly.)
Cost Museum: SA citizens: R40 (adult), R20 (child, student + pensioner; free on Friday)
International visitors: R60
Planetarium: SA citizens: R70 (adult), R40 (child, student + pensioner)
International visitors: R100
Contact 021 481 3800, info@iziko.org.za
Where to find it 25 Queen Victoria Street, Company’s Garden, Cape Town
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Heart of Cape Town Museum


Giltedge DMC

Cape Town has had many firsts, but the world’s first heart transplant – performed by Prof Christiaan Barnard and his team on 3 December 1967 – is right up there when it comes to ground-breaking achievements. Today, this museum at the hospital where the surgery took place honours all who played a role in this medical milestone. You will be taken on a two-hour tour with guides who retell the story of the historic day and recount the dramatic events before, during and after – including in recreations of the research lab, the donor’s home bedroom, Barnard’s office, the scrub room, operating theatre and ICU ward.
Good to know It is not recommended for children under 10 years, as it is quite “graphic”.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 9am, 11am, 1pm + 3pm (booking essential)
Weekend tours possible for groups larger than 6 people.
Cost SA citizens: R190 (adult), R140 (pensioner), R90 (student), R60 (child)
International visitors: R400 (adult), R350 (pensioner), R250 (student)
Contact 021 404 1967, info@heartofcapetown.co.za
Where to find it Groote Schuur Hospital, Main Road, Observatory
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District Six Museum

Museums District Six Museum

Established in 1994 – the year of our first democratic election – this museum pays tribute to a once-vibrant community that was forcibly removed and demolished during apartheid (it was declared a whites-only area in February 1966). Using family photos, maps, artefacts and storytelling by former residents, it sheds light on this dark episode and celebrates a community finding their way to healing and restoration. Visit the Museum’s The Little Wonder Store, a wonderful product shop featuring ‘Memory Threads’, a range of homeware products developed through community workshops. The affiliated Homecoming Centre (HCC) nearby hosts temporary exhibitions, events and performances in two theatre spaces. Site walks in District Six itself can also be booked.
Good to know For a different yet similar perspective, visit the Bo-Kaap Museum at 71 Wale Street. This community had close ties to District Six and was the only one to not have full-scale forced removals.
Opening times Monday – Saturday, 9am – 4pm
Guided tours: 9.30am, 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm 1.30pm + 2.30pm
Cost R60 (adult), R25 (children 7–17 years)
Tour with ex-resident/guide: R65 (adult), R30 (children 7–17 years)
Guided site walk: R130 (by prior arrangement, includes museum entry)
Contact 021 466 7200, reception@districtsix.co.za
Where to find it 25A Buitenkant Street, Cape Town
Homecoming Centre: 15 Buitenkant Street
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Castle of Good Hope

Museums Castle Of Good Hope

Don’t expect a European-style castle – it’s actually a fort built in a five-pointed-star shape, and the oldest building in South Africa (over 350 years old). There are many layers of history to discover here, including artefacts, furniture and art from the 16th to 19th centuries, gloomy prison cells and ghosts, the lovely Dolphin Pool, a Khoi kraal, statues of key historical figures, a blacksmith’s forge and a ceramics exhibit in the old granary. It’s still home to the Cape Town Highlanders Regiment, and there is a Military Museum with one of the finest sword collections in SA. You may also be lucky enough to hear the Artillery Pipes & Drums practising.
Good to know For more military history, visit the SA Naval Museum in Simon’s Town (its most famous exhibit is a submarine) and the SA Air Force Museum at Ysterplaat (weekends only).
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm (last entry 3.45pm)
Cannon firing: 10am, 11am, 12pm (except Sunday)
Key ceremony: Weekdays, 10am + 12pm
Guided tours: 11am, 12pm, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm
Cost R50 (adult), R25 (child, student + pensioner)
Contact 021 461 4673, info@castleofgoodhope.co.za
Where to find it Corner of Castle and Darling Streets, Cape Town

Iziko Slave Lodge

Museums Slave Lodge

Cape Town’s second-oldest building (built 1679), the Slave Lodge (formerly the Cultural History Museum) was inaugurated on Heritage Day in 1998 with a focus on exhibitions that address and raise awareness around human rights. The building was used as a Dutch East India Company slave lodge until 1811, and the names, lives and contribution of these former inhabitants are honoured here. The upper galleries house the cultural collections, including ceramics from across the globe, European silverware and an Egyptology section.
Insider tip The current special exhibition, “Who Were The Enslaved?”, takes a detailed look at the origins, work and lives of the multicultural slaves at the Cape, as well as the freed men and the Khoi.
Opening times Monday – Saturday, 9am – 5pm
Cost SA citizens: R40 (adult), R20 (child, student + pensioner – free on Fridays)
International visitors: R60
Contact 021 467 7229, info@iziko.org.za
Where to find it Corner of Adderley and Wale Streets, Cape Town
Good to know Leeuwenhof Slave Quarters, at the Western Cape Premier’s official residence in Hof Street, Gardens, is open on the first Saturday of every month, 10am – 3pm.
021 418 5663, capetownmuseum@westerncape.gov.za
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Robben Island Museum

The prison home of Nelson Mandela for 18 years (and several other freedom fighters), this museum and World Heritage Site is a pilgrimage site for people from across the world. On a tour – perhaps guided by a former inmate – you’ll see Mandela’s tiny cell, the lime quarry he worked in, Robert Sobukwe’s house, the lepers’ graveyard and learn more about the island’s and SA’s tragic history. Tours take place daily (weather permitting) and visitors are transported to the island via ferries that depart from the Waterfront. The trip alone is worth it, for wonderful views of the city from the water.
Good to know The tour takes 3.5 hours, including the ferry trip, and includes bus transfers between sites on the island. Pre-booking is essential. Even if you’re not planning to visit the island, the museum at the Nelson Mandela Gateway is worth a look.
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 9am, 11am, 1pm (+ 3pm in summer)
Cost SA citizens: R400 (adult), R210 (child)
International visitors: R600 (adult), R310 (child)
Contact 021 413 4200, infow@robben-island.org.za
Where to find it Nelson Mandela Gateway, Clocktower Precinct, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
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Cape Town Holocaust & Genocide Centre

Museums Holocaust Museum

Established in 1999, the centre raises awareness of the WW2 Holocaust, other genocides and human rights issues. The exhibits include texts, photos, film footage, documents, multimedia displays and recreated environments, with a section on the pseudo-science of race that led to anti-semitism and the institutionalised racism of apartheid. Don’t miss the moving 20-minute documentary that tells the story of how Holocaust survivors made their home in Cape Town. There are also temporary exhibitions – currently, “In the Country of Numbers Where the Men Have No Names” and “Seeing Auschwitz” – plus discussions, film screenings and other events.
Good to know Next door is the SA Jewish Museum, a beautiful building dedicated to preserving the history of the Jewish diaspora. It includes the country’s first, oldest and surely grandest synagogue, and a contemporary art gallery in the basement. Café Riteve serves delicious kosher food, and there are regular music concerts, talks and more.
Opening times Sunday – Thursday, 10am – 5pm
Friday, 10am – 2pm
Closed on Jewish holidays
Cost Free or donation (entry only with ID, driver’s licence or passport for security purposes)
Museum: SA citizens: R100 (adult), R50 (teen + pensioner), free (child)
International visitors: R250
Private tour: R500
Contact 021 462 5553, admin@holocaust.org.za
021 465 1546, info@sajewishmuseum.co.za
Where to find it 88 Hatfield Street, Gardens, Cape Town

Iziko House Museums

Museums Iziko House

Cape Town has a couple of fascinating museums where you can step over the threshold into another time. Koopmans-De Wet House, the oldest house museum in SA, is a window into the life of a well-to-do Cape family in the late 1700s, and is filled with priceless antique furniture, silver, porcelain, tapestries and murals. Exhibits also detail the inhabitants, including the slaves who worked here and socialite Maria Koopmans-De Wet.
Bertram House, hidden in the Company’s Gardens, is the only remaining Georgian-style red-brick house in Cape Town, built around 1840. It, too, is furnished in period style (lovely wallpaper, chandeliers, woodwork and silverware), and has special exhibitions of jewellery and ladies’ hobby equipment. There is also an exhibit that challenges memorialisation, including an upside-down Van Riebeeck statue in the garden. Also in the garden is a cube structure housing a camera obscura.
Opening times Thursday + Friday, 9am – 4pm
Cost SA citizens: R40 (adult), R20 (child, student + pensioner – free on Fridays)
International visitors: R60
Contact 021 481 3800, info@iziko.org.za
Where to find it Koopmans-De Wet House: 35 Strand Street, Cape Town
Bertram House: UCT Hiddingh Campus, Orange Street, Gardens
Good to know Other house museums include the Bo-Kaap Museum in Wale Street (built in the mid-1700s) and the Irma Stern Museum in Mowbray (home of an early 20th-century artist).
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Cape Diamond Museum

For an overdose of sparkle, take a guided tour of this museum dedicated to everyone’s favourite precious gem. Learn about the world history of diamonds, the 1867 diamond rush in SA, how diamonds are formed (especially those coloured ones), plus see specimens of kimberlite and replicas of some of the most famous stones in the world – the Cullinan, the Hope, Liz Taylor’s gems… You’ll also get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the working diamond studio at Shimansky, and get a pic taken in old-school mining gear if you like.
Good to know Booking is essential.
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 9am – 7:15pm
Cost R200 (adult)
Free for children under 14 years + pensioners
Contact 021 421 2788, info@capetowndiamondmuseum.org
Where to find it Level 1, Clock Tower, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
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!Khwa ttu San Heritage Centre

Museums San Heritage Centre
Georgia East

The story of southern Africa’s First People, and touching on humankind’s origins, is told with a journey through three buildings – one, Way of the San, is a beautiful, purpose-built space that immerses visitors in the cosmology, spirituality, philosophy and lifestyle of hunter-gatherer culture. Other exhibitions cover the painful history and “encounters” with colonisation, archaeology, rock art and contemporary art. The centre was created in collaboration with San communities in Namibia, Botswana and the Northern Cape, and is staffed by San people. You can explore on your own or join one of the 45-minute, themed tours that cover tracking, food, the “veld pharmacy” and more.
Good to know !Khwa ttu has a lovely restaurant, outdoor trails for hiking or biking (BYO bike), a nature reserve with game drives, and accommodation.
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm (last entry 4.15pm)
Cost R100 (self-guided), R210 (guided tour)
Contact 022 492 2998, info@khwattu.org
Where to find it R27 (West Coast Road), Yzerfontein/Darling

Glass Museum

Madame May de Lencquesaing, owner of Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch, has been collecting glass for over 50 years. Her collection, made up of over 600 pieces, has a home in an underground cellar filled with sparkling, glistening, colourful decorative art. From antique examples that are over 2 000 years old, stained glass, the iconic wares of Baccarat, Tiffany, Daum, Lalique and Murano, to Italian maestro Lino Tagliapietra, “Woodstock” glass (the first to be made in SA), works by contemporary SA glassblowers and artists, and even a Salvador Dali design, this is a treasure trove in every shape and form.
Good to know Afterwards, put some glassware to good use over a meal with wine at The Vine Bistro.
Opening times Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm
Sunday, 10am – 3pm
Cost Free entry
Contact 021 809 6440, info@glenelly.co.za
Where to find it Glenelly Estate, Lelie Street, Ida’s Valley, Stellenbosch

Franschhoek Motor Museum

Museums Franschhoek Motor Museum

Even if you aren’t a petrolhead, it’s hard not to be impressed by the magnificent collection of cars, motorbikes, tricycles, bicycles and auto memorabilia on display – all in mint condition, and with a bit of their history included. More than a century of motoring history is housed here, from antique and vintage to post-1945 and post-1960. In the four exhibition halls, you can get up close to an A-to-Z of icons, from Bentleys and Buicks to the Ford Model T and Mustang, Rolls-Royce and Porsche. The displays are rotated to keep things interesting, making return visits a must. Visits are by pre-booking online only.
Insider tip Ask for a guided tour at no extra charge.
Good to know Hop on a free tram that transports you to neighbouring Antonij Rupert farm for a wine-tasting. Or enjoy a snack (with wines) at the Pitstop Deli.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 10am – 5pm (last entry 4pm)
Saturday, Sunday + public holidays, 10am – 4pm (last entry 3pm)
Cost R80 (adult), R60 (pensioner + motor-club member), R40 (child)
Contact 021 874 9002, fmm@fmm.co.za
Where to find it L’Ormarins Estate, R45, Franschhoek

Huguenot Memorial Museum

Museums Huguenot Memorial Museum

Passing through Franschhoek, you might have spotted the Huguenot Monument (a woman standing on top of the globe, in front of a serene pool, surrounded by a colonnade). Next time, stop and visit the museum to find out more about the monument’s symbolism and the 300 French refugees who arrived at the Cape in 1688 – exhibits range from magnificent models of their ships to household items, religious artefacts and family portraits. You’ll also learn more about Franschhoek, fynbos and the Khoekhoe of the area. The architecture itself is also beautiful.
Good to know Follow your nose to the Perfume Museum, on the same property, where you can see bottles and paraphernalia dating back to Roman times. The actual Perfumery, which offers workshops, is nearby at 2 Huguenot Street.
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm (last entry 4.15pm)
Cost R100 (adult), R50 (child)
Perfume workshops: From R620
Contact 063 758 1623, hugmus1688@gmail.com
Perfumery: 072 342 4174, info@kumanovperfumery.com
Where to find it Lambrechts Road, Franschhoek
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Stellenbosch Village Museum

Museums Stellenbosch Village Museum

Spread out over four historical houses and their gardens in the heart of the City of Oaks, this is a fascinating window into the early days (even the staff are in costume). A comparative walk from Schreuderhuis (1709), the oldest documented townhouse in SA, through Blettermanhuis (1789), Grosvenor House (1803) and OM Berghuis, a mid-19th century dwelling, will show how lives and fashions changed and “domestic technology” improved. The museum’s Library is also interesting if you have a few hours to browse. There are occasional craft workshops, presentations and special events run by the museum.
Good to know The Toy Museum, in Market Street, is enchanting, with its dinky cars, dolls, soft toys, miniature rooms, train sets and more. There’s also a small Shoe Museum.
Opening times Monday – Saturday, 9am – 5pm
Sunday, 10am – 4pm (1pm in winter)
Toy Museum: Monday – Friday, 9am – 4.30pm; Saturday, 9am – 2pm
Cost R100
Toy Museum: R40
Contact 021 887 2937, admin@stelmus.co.za
Where to find it 37 Ryneveld Street, Stellenbosch

Taal Monument

Museums Taal Monument

On the slopes of Paarl Mountain, the iconic curved sculpture, built in 1975, represents all the languages that converged to shape Afrikaans (European, Indonesian, African and Khoi). It’s worth the drive as the site has several attractions for a day out, apart from the fantastic views. There is a bistro serving local food, an open-air “green” gallery with changing exhibits, a playground and outdoor games for the kids, and hiking and biking trails. In summer, look out for the Full Moon Picnics (with a live band), Stargazing Picnics (astronomer and telescopes provided) and concerts in the garden amphitheatre.
Good to know The Afrikaans Language Museum is in town (Pastorie Avenue) if you want to learn more. The bottom floor is a furnished historical home from 1875, while upstairs exhibits include the oldest Afrikaans text, written in Arabic, and Afrikaans music.
Opening times Monument: Monday – Sunday, 8am – 8pm (5pm in winter)
Museum: Monday – Friday, 8am – 4pm
Cost R40 (adult), R10 (child, student + pensioner); free for children under 6 years
Annual permit: R120 (individual), R220 (family of 4)
Contact 021 863 0543, admin@taalmuseum.co.za
Where to find it Gabbema Doordrift Street, off Main Road, Paarl
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You might also be interested in Cape Town’s best art galleries.

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Disclaimer:

The Inside Guide has made every effort to ensure that the information in this post was correct at the time of publication. However, we do not assume any liability caused by errors, such as price, cost, time, and location.

Time of publication: 22 November 2023

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3 Responses to “The 15 Best Museums in Cape Town”

  1. Vernolia

    Greetings. Thank you for the opportunity.

    Reply
  2. Mary Lynne Hoarau

    So nice to have a great list of the Museums. Just wish there was a condensed version of contact details that would be easy to print for future reference.

    Reply
  3. Ntando Nsele

    This is such a detailed curation of all the museums. This article is very helpful. Thank you so much.

    Reply