South African Museum

Cape Town

South Africa’s oldest museum was undergoing renovations at the time of research, so some galleries were closed. The museum contains a wide and often intriguing series of exhibitions, many on the country’s natural history. Look out for an amazing example of San rock art – there’s an extraordinary delicacy to the paintings, particularly the ones of graceful elands. Another highlight is a 2m-wide nest – a veritable avian apartment block – of the sociable weaver bird, in the Wonders of Nature Gallery.

The atmospheric Whale Well is hung with giant whale skeletons and models, and resounds with taped recordings of their calls. The terracotta Lydenburg Heads, the earliest-known examples of African sculpture (AD 500–700) are currently removed from the African Cultures Gallery, which is undergoing a major revamp.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Cape Town attractions

1. South African Planetarium

The displays and star shows here unravel the mysteries of the southern hemisphere’s night sky using images caught by the Southern African Large Telescope …

2. Delville Wood Memorial

0.08 MILES

This monument was built to honour the 2000-plus South African soldiers who fell during a five-day WWI battle. The ensemble’s elements include Alfred…

3. VOC Vegetable Garden


Installed in 2014 at the southern end of the Public Garden, but inspired by the original market garden laid out by Dutch settlers here over 350 years ago…

4. Great Synagogue


It's worth making time to see the handsome Great Synagogue consecrated in 1905 and still in very active use. Volunteer guides will point out aspects of…

5. Cape Town Holocaust Centre

0.11 MILES

This small museum packs a lot in with a considerable emotional punch. The history of anti-Semitism is set in a South African context with parallels drawn…

6. Jan Smuts Statue

0.12 MILES

The more attractive and abstract of the two statues of former general and prime minister (1870–1950) Jan Smuts, which stand at opposite ends of Government…

7. Bertram House

0.13 MILES

The only surviving Georgian-style brick house in Cape Town dates from the 1840s. At the time of research it was closed for maintenance, so you may only be…

8. South African Jewish Museum

0.14 MILES

You need a photo ID to enter the secure compound that's home to this imaginatively designed museum, which partly occupies the beautifully restored Old…