There’s no shortage of museums to visit in South Africa, but you probably won’t have time to visit them all on a short trip. Many are also crowded with tourists, so you might not be able to fully enjoy the exhibits. For a break from the crowds and some local intrigue (with a few exceptions), here are 15 of the top South African museums popular with locals.
This article originally appeared on AFKInsider.com. Sources: Louvre.fr, CapeTown.travel
1. Cape Town Planetarium
Sit back and enjoy a fabulous view of the southern hemisphere night sky at this fun attraction. Even if it’s cloudy outside you are sure to get a good view, because the planetarium uses multiple projectors and a Minolta “star machine” to create a stunning visual experience.
25 Queen Victoria Street, Cape Town. Entrance R40 (adults), R20 (Children, students, and SA pensioners), http://www.iziko.org.za
2. Origins Centre, Johannesburg
The Origins Centre is considered one of the best museums in South Africa and is constantly hosting new exhibits. The displays are expertly crafted and include human skulls that show the physiological changes of evolution, visual displays of DNA, and beautifully-lit cases of stone tools. Even if you’ve already visited this museum, you’ll still find the ever-changing exhibits fascinating on a return trip.
Jorissen Street, Johannesburg, Entrance R75 (adults), R60 (seniors and Wits University Staff), R40 (learners), R35 (children and university students), http://www.origins.org.za
3. Maropeng, the Cradle of Humankind
Maropeng, which means “returning to the place of origin,” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that celebrates the beginning of humankind. While the Origins Centre in Johannesburg might be easier to access, Maropeng offers a unique chance to see both the Sterkfontein caves where our ancestors lived millions of years ago, as well as interpretive exhibits in the visitor centre. Cave tours run every 30 minutes, seven days a week, with the last tour departing at 4 p.m.
R563 Hekpoort Road, Sterkfontein, Combined entrance to Maropeng and caves: R215 (adults), R155 (children 4-14), http://www.maropeng.co.za
4. Robben Island, Cape Town
The boat ride to Robben Island alone makes the visit worth it — the views back toward Cape Town are stunning. But of course people come for the cultural and historical significance of the site, which is basically a monument to the evils of apartheid. The island has many permanent exhibits, the most notably the prison which houses the cell block in which Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years of incarceration. You’ll also see a mine where Mandela and other political prisoners were forced to do hard labor. Tours (including the two 30-minute ferry rides) take slightly over three hours and can be booked online.
021 409 5100, www.robben-island.org.za
5. National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg
The Museum of Military History is a vast museum that features all manner of military equipment, including huge fighter aircraft, combat vehicles, and naval hardware. There are also great thematic displays about the Anglo-Zulu War, Anglo-Boer War, First and Second World Wars, and the resistance movements.
Located in Saxonwold, next to the Johannesburg Zoo, Entrance: R30 (adults), R25 (learners and students), and R15 (senior citizens), http://www.ditsong.org.za
6. Ditsong National Museum of Natural History, Pretoria
One of the eight Ditsong Museums throughout the country, this one (formerly the Transvaal Museum) is arguably the most impressive. It features vast numbers of carefully arranged animal displays, including large mammals, birds, and dinosaurs. Be sure to give yourself a lot of time here, because you can literally spend hours and not get bored.
432 Paul Kruger Street, Pretoria. Entrance: R30 (adults), R15 (learners), and R10 (SA Senior Citizens), http://www.ditsong.org.za/naturalhistory.htm
7. Apartheid Museum, Johannesburg
This important museum chronicles South Africa’s painful recent history during the apartheid era. Though many South Africans have already visited the museum — or personally remember the events shown in the exhaustive displays — it is perennially popular, particularly with school-age children.
Corner of Northern Parkway and Gold Reef Roads, Ormonde, Johannesburg, Entrance: R70 (adults), R55 (pensioners, students, and children), http://www.apartheidmuseum.org
8. District Six Museum, Cape Town
In 1900, District Six was a lively Cape Town community made up of of 60,000 artisans, merchants, immigrants, and Cape Malay people originally brought to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company. But by the 1970s all the residents had been forcibly removed and their homes razed as a result of apartheid-era segregationist policies. The museum chronicles the formerly thriving neighborhood, as well as the events that led to its destruction.
Located at Buitenkant Street, Cape Town, Entrance: R30 (adults), R5 (SA learners and students), and free for ex-residents and pensioners, http://www.districtsix.co.za
9. Arend Dieperink Museum, Mokopane
This museum showcases items important to the culture and history of Mokopane, including San rock art, old wagons, and Sotho artifacts. The landscaping is a beautiful addition to the learning experience, and makes for a perfect spot to relax and stroll around.
97 Thabo Mbeki Dr, Mokopane, Entrance R3, +27 15 491 9735
10. Irma Stern Museum, Cape Town
Irma Stern (1894-1966) was one of the most important South African artists of her time and gained considerable fame at home and abroad. Her namesake museum is not only worth visiting because of the importance of her artwork, but also because of how the pieces are uniquely displayed.
Cecil Road, Rosebank, Cape Town, Entrance: R10 (adults), R5 (pensioners and learners), http://www.irmastern.co.za/
11. South African Air Force Museum
South Africa has a long aviation history, and this museum seeks to preserve some of the important aircraft. It’s extremely popular with children, but anyone with an aviation bent will enjoy their time here. The most popular exhibit at the museum is a Boeing 707, no doubt because visitors can walk inside it and access the cockpit.
SAAF Museum, Swartkop Airfield, Valhalla, Entrance: Free, Tel: +27 (12)351 2290, http://saafmuseum.org.za
12. Nelson Mandela Museum, Mthatha
Set across three locations, this museum provides a cultural experience as well as insight into the life of Madiba. The Bhunga Building in Mthatha contains an exhibition tracing Mandela’s journey. Mvezo is an open-air museum, where Mandela was born and where his father was stripped of his authority by the apartheid government and forced to flee. Qunu is where the family took refuge and where Mandela spent his youth. Also at Qunu is the Nelson Mandela Youth and Heritage Centre.
Corner Nelson Mandela Drive & Owen Street, Bhunga Building, Mthatha, Tel: +27(0) 47 532 5110, http://www.nelsonmandelamuseum.org.za/
13. Mandela House, Soweto
Mandela’s former house now hosts photographic galleries and there are live guides to enable the visitor to get a glimpse of the family’s life under apartheid. House 8115, Vilakazi St, Soweto is one of the most famous addresses today in South Africa.
In his landmark autobiography, The Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela describes coming back here in 1990 upon his release after 27 years in prison: “That night I returned with Winnie [his then-wife] to No. 8115 in Orlando West. It was only then that I knew in my heart I had left prison. For me No. 8115 was the centre point of my world, the place marked with an X in my mental geography.”
8115 Orlando West, Soweto, Entrance: Adults: R40 (international R60), Tel: 011 936 7754, http://www.mandelahouse.co.za/
14. Museum of African Design, Johannesburg
A newcomer to the museum scene, the Museum of African Design (MOAD) is an exciting addition to downtown Johannesburg. Located in a refurbished art deco building, the musuem aims to showcase local talent by artists and designers.
281 Commissioner Street City and Suburban, Johannesburg, Entrance: Free, Tel: +27 (0) 84 951 2060, http://www.moadjhb.com/
15. South African Jewish Museum, Cape Town
This museum tells the story of South African Jews from the early beginnings, with the tale set against the backdrop of South African history. It also offers an overview of the Jewish community’s contribution in all its aspects of South African history and conscience.
C88 Hatfield Street, Gardens, Cape Town, Entrance: Free, Tel: +27 021 465 1546, http://www.sajewishmuseum.co.za/