Exploring the museums is a fun and inexpensive way to spend a day, while learning about South Africa’s diverse cultural heritage. Iziko, meaning ‘hearth’ in isiXhosa, is an amalgamation of 11 museums, a planetarium, two libraries and a social history center situated on the ‘museum mile’, a route that begins in the Company’s Garden. Read our guide to Cape Town’s premier museum organisation.
Iziko’s flagship museum transports you hundreds and even thousands of years into the past as you make your way through its many fascinating exhibits. Founded in 1825, the museum is both a research and education institution, with many scientists working behind the scenes to preserve and record newly-found artifacts and fossils. For every artifact on display, there are thousands more carefully stored away.
Exhibits include archaeological collections from the Khoi-San and the fossils of early human ancestors; an impressive marine biology collection; rocks and minerals; dinosaur dioramas and a life-size display of African dinosaur fossils — a hit with families. The Planetarium is located inside the museum and provides a great introduction to the Milky Way, hosting shows for children and adults. The Planetarium is currently undergoing a technological upgrade and will be closed until further notice.
Founded in 1871, the South African National Gallery offers unique insights into South Africa’s past and present through a wide range of historical and contemporary artwork. The gallery has acquired a vast collection of African and international artwork, including paintings, sculptures, photography, beadwork, textiles, and works on paper. Every few months, artworks from the permanent collection are selected by curators and displayed in the gallery as part of a temporary exhibition program. Additionally, visitors are treated to the work of established South African artists who exhibit at the gallery on a regular basis.
The Bo-Kaap Museum was originally a residential house, built between 1763 and 1768, in the former Malay Quarter known as the Bo-Kaap. After restorations, the house was opened as a museum showcasing artifacts of Muslim cultural heritage and exhibits depicting the development of Cape Town.
The beautiful Rust en Vreugd Museum was built between 1777 and 1778, the home of a high-ranking official of the VOC, named Willem Cornelis Boers. The Cape Dutch house retains much of its original architecture and is set in a picturesque, period-style garden on the outskirts of Cape Town. Today the museum houses the William Fehr Collection of Artworks on Paper, depicting vivid scenes of life at the early Cape.
Most people walk past this historical gem on Strand Street, unaware of the rich history contained inside. Furnished as the home of a wealthy 18th-century family, the house was built some time during the late 1700s and named after its last private owner, Marie Koopmans-de Wet. Although it has undergone many renovations over the years, the house retains its original façade, large sash windows and entrance doors, reminiscent of Cape Dutch architecture from that era. It was the first private townhouse to be opened to the public in 1914, making it the oldest house museum in South Africa.
Bertram House is the only remaining example of the English Georgian-style red brick houses that were once common in Cape Town. It was built c. 1839 by the English immigrant and notary John Barker, who named it in memory of his first wife, Ann Bertram Findlay. The house is furnished as the home of a wealthy English family from the 19th century, and contains a beautiful collection of porcelain and furniture bequeathed by Winifred Ann Lidderdale.Bertram House is currently closed for maintenance until further notice
The Old Town House was built in 1755 in the Cape Rococo style. Situated on the colorful Greenmarket Square, the building served as a watch house, a senate, and a main city hall until the Cape Town City Hall was opened. Today the historical building is a museum that houses the world-renowned Max Michaelis Collection of Netherlandish Art from the 17th-century Golden Age. The Old Town House is currently closed for maintenance until further notice.
The Maritime Centre is situated in the bustling V&A Waterfront, and features an overview of shipping in Cape Town. Here you will find an impressive collection of ship models and artifacts from the era of mail-ships, specifically the Union-Castle Line. A superb collection of photos depicting Table Bay from the 17th to 20th century gives an idea of the development of the harbor, from a small breakwater to the international shipping port it is today.
We recommend that you reserve a full day for visiting the Groot Constantia Wine Estate, as there are a variety of things to see and do. For starters, the charming Manor House is a must-visit, situated in the center of the picturesque estate. The 300-year-old homestead features an excellent collection of furniture, paintings, textiles, ceramics and copperware, providing insight into the life of a successful 18th to late 19th century Cape farmer. Be sure to stop by the Orientation Center which gives an overview of Groot Constantia from the past to the present, including slavery on the estate. After exploring, relax and enjoy the estate’s award-winning wines and delicious cuisine at either Simon’s Restaurant or the Jonkershuis.
The oldest colonial building in South Africa, the Castle of Good Hope is a fortress built by Dutch colonialists between 1666 and 1679. The pentagonal fort served as the seat of military and government operations for over two centuries, and is a gateway into early life at the Cape. The William Fehr Collection is situated in the Kat — a building that once housed the Cape governor’s residence in the center of the Castle grounds. The exquisite collection consists of paintings, ceramics, and furniture offering insight into the people and landscapes of early colonial South Africa.