South Africa is known for its safaris and abundance of outdoor adventures. Travelers often come to South Africa seeking elephants, lions, giraffes, and even whales. Ziplining, bungee jumping, hiking grand waterfalls, snorkeling and diving rank high on the list of sightseeing priorities.
The average length of stay for an international tourist in South Africa is 10 nights. This number accounts for sightseers on safari, but not everyone who visits South Africa is hiding in the brush, waiting to see a lion… Trust us: it won’t take you 10 days to spot one! Many tourists take in leisurely wine tours, decompress at a coastal resort, or seek out the historic sights that are so popular here.
Like the rich ecodiversity, South Africa also celebrates its rich cultural diversity. World-class museums decorate the cosmopolitan cityscapes of South Africa’s urban centers from Cape Town to Johannesburg. The museums contain a wealth of information and artifacts spanning history, science, art, religion, and technology. If you’re looking for a respite from the great outdoors during your vacation, the most challenging part will be picking just one of the many cultural institutions to visit.
The Best Museums in South Africa
Johannesburg, South Africa
South Africa does hide from its tumultuous history of apartheid. Rather the Apartheid Museum, an architecturally stunning complex in the heart of Johannesburg, seeks to educate the public about the dangers and ramifications of a racially segregated society.
Visitors to the museum are faced with a very real reflection of what it was like to live in a racially segregated South Africa before 1991. Depending on which ticket you are given (symbolically appropriate) you are to walk through one of the museum’s two entrances, labeled ‘White’ and ‘Non-White.’ Not surprisingly, the most popular exhibit at the museum is the Mandela Exhibition, a life-map of the world humanitarian icon.
The Apartheid Museum is also part of our in-depth tour that examines the cultural legacy of Apartheid in Soweto.
Johannesburg, South Africa
The Origins Center Museum is the “only museum dedicated to exploring and celebrating the history of modern humankind.” If you weren’t aware, South Africa is considered to be the birthplace of humanity. The Sterkfontein Caves in Gauteng is the site where the oldest human skeletal remains were found (3.5 million years ago).
The Origins Center Museum combines cutting-edge technology with the creative vision of some of South Africa’s foremost artists. The exhibits take visitors through the origins of humankind in Africa and the development of art, symbolism, and technology on the continent. Through art and artifacts, Origins Center Museum leads visitors down an 80,000-year path to understand what continues to inspire human innovation.
Franschhoek, South Africa
The Franschhoek Motor Museum is situated in the heart of South Africa’s wine country. A fun diversion if you’re en route from Boschendal Estate on the way to Franschhoek Vineyards, this museum catalogs over 100 years of motoring history with its unique collection of vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles and memorabilia.
The museum itself is located on the site of the breathtaking L’Ormarins Winery at the base of the Hottentots-Holland Mountain and the edge of the Simonsberg Nature Reserve. A visit to the Franschhoek Motor Museum would make an ideal day trip and scenic drive from Cape Town.
Cape Town, South Africa
The South African Jewish Museum in Cape Town tells the story of South Africa’s large Jewish community. The history begins with impoverished refugees seeking to escape persecution in Eastern Europe, beginning in the 1800s.
The building that houses the museum is a sight to see on its own, including a drawbridge that connects the Old Synagogue to the new museum’s building. The drawbridge is meant to symbolize a ship’s gangway, down which many a Jewish immigrant would have walked to arrive on the shores of South Africa. The Old Synagogue is a beautiful sight to behold.
Rivonia, South Africa
Liliesleaf Farm is a national heritage site in South Africa. The farm, located in the Johannesburg suburb of Rivonia was secretly used by African National Congress activists in the 1960s. The farm was used as the headquarters for the Communist Party and a safe house for political fugitives. The most famous African National Congress leader to operate out of Liliesleaf was Nelson Mandela. In 1963, police raided the farm and arrested 19 members of the underground, charging them with sabotage. Mandela was already in prison serving several years for relatively minor charges, but the police found documents further incriminating him and brought him up on new charges. During what is known as the “Rivonia Trial,” eight of the captured received life sentences.
Today, Liliesleaf Farm & Museum is a national heritage site that acknowledges the many individuals who forever changed the political landscape of South Africa through its educational programs. It is also the featured sight on our ‘Refuge to Liberation’ Tour.
Those who would like to take an in-depth look at the history and culture of Cape Town and Johannesburg should consider one of our expertly guided tours in either of these beautiful cities. For more ideas for activities visit us at vacationtosouthafrica.com.