16 Historical Sites in Cape Town, South Africa

There are many historical sites in Cape Town, South Africa, which is not surprising since Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa. Its modern history started in 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck arrived to set up a supply depot for traders working for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in the Netherlands to use on their way to the far East. 

The city was a European colony and became a melting pot of cultures because of the slave trade. It experienced naval battles, experienced apartheid, and played a significant role in the democracy of South Africa. If you visit Cape Town and have an interest in history, you will find multiple museums and memorials to learn more about Cape Town’s history. 

To get a glimpse into the history of South Africa, this article contains details of some of the best historical sites in Cape Town, South Africa you can visit.

Map of the historical sites in Cape Town, South Africa 

The following map shows the historical sites in Cape Town, South Africa. Click on the map to zoom in and move the map around as you explore these sites.

Some of these museums may be closed because of renovations and/or Covid restrictions. It is always better to check their websites for updates on whether they are open, possible restrictions and operating hours.

Learn about the historical sites in Cape Town, South Africa

If you are a history boffin with an interest in learning more about South African history, here are the best historical sites in Cape Town, South Africa

1. The Castle of Good Hope 

The Castle of Good Hope - a historical site in Cape Town South Africa
By Debbielouise – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21831090

After arriving in South Africa, Jan van Riebeeck erected a fort in 1666. By 1679, the fort had grown into the Castle of Good Hope as it is today. The Castle is the oldest remaining building from the colonial era, and it is popular with visitors to Cape Town. 

Today, the Castle of Good Hope is the seat of the military in Cape Town. Visitors can explore the Castle by themselves or join a tour. The tour is perfect if you want to learn more about the Castle’s extensive history and even visit the dungeon! 

Today, the Castle of Good Hope is the seat of the military in Cape Town. Visitors can explore the Castle by themselves or join a tour. The tour is perfect if you want to learn more about the Castle’s extensive history and even visit the dungeon! 

The Castle also has several on-site exhibitions, such as the Castle Military Museum, where you can discover past battles and wars. The Castle also hosts the William Fehr Collection of period paintings and furniture, including a replica of the original Castle Forge and Fired, a permanent ceramic exhibition. 

Some unique experiences at the Castle of Good Hope are the daily key ceremony and the firing of the cannons (not on Sundays).

Here are some of the best tour options for a visit to Robben Island:

2. Iziko South African Museum 

The South African museum, founded in 1825, is near the famous Long street and the beautiful Company’s Garden. The museum features over a million artefacts dating back over 100,000 years ago. You can see fossils, historical tools, and ancient insects while visiting this museum. 

Iziko South African Museum in Cape Town
By Josephou – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21531699

Permanent exhibitions include maritime exhibits, Boonstra Dioramas, a collection of whale skeletons and casts, and the stone bones of the Ancient Karoo.

3. The Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum 

Historical Sites in Cape Town, South Africa

The Bo-Kaap Museum focuses on the local Islamic culture and its history, dating back to the times of slavery in South Africa. The Museum is in one of the oldest Bo-Kaap homes and dates back to the mid-eighteenth century. 

The museum is in a historic area where many Muslims and freed slaves lived after the abolition of slavery. The house became a national monument in 1965, and they restored it in the 1970s. It shows the lifestyle of a 19th-century Cape Muslim family.

You should definitely visit the historic Bo-Kaap. It is a beautiful area with colourful houses and cobbled streets. 

4. Robben Island 

Robben Island is west of mainland South Africa. The name is the Dutch word for seals, and you can find many seals in the seas around the island. During the 16th and 17th centuries, passing ships used to stop at the island. Some settlements took place on the island before becoming a Dutch and then British penal colony. The island housed a leper colony and insane people from 1846 to 1931, 

In 1864, they built a lighthouse on the island. Fortifications followed this during World War II. Since the mid-1960s, the island served as a maximum-security prison. Most of its inmates, including Nelson Mandela, were black men imprisoned for political offences. In 1997, the island became a museum and national monument. In 1999, it became a World Heritage site.

Robben Island near Cape Town South Africa
By User:Rüdiger Wölk – photo taken by Rüdiger Wölk, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44642

You can visit Robben Island and go on a guided tour by one of the former prisoners of Robben Island. When you do the tour, you go on a bus ride to see more of the island, including where prisoners performed hard labour. 

5. The Iziko Slave Lodge 

Close to the South African Parliament is the Slave Lodge, housed in one of Cape Town’s oldest buildings. It has been used to be slave accommodation, government offices and even the supreme court. The Lodge gives visitors a glimpse into South Africa’s history of slavery, and it focuses on highlighting human rights issues. 

Iziko Slave Lodge - a historical site in Cape Town
By Sami Mlouhi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76488333

Do an audio tour museum for a small fee to learn about the historical journey of the Lodge and the slaves in South Africa’s living conditions.

6. Groot Constantia

The farm called Groot Constantia dates back to 1685. Simon van der Stel established a commercial wine farm at Groot Constantia, one of the oldest in South Africa.

On the farm, you can visit the Orientation Centre in the Jonkershuis complex, where they use panels, objects and archaeological displays to depict the history of Groot Constantia.

The Coach House often displays carriages. Definitely visit the historical wine cellar and the Wine Museum for its exhibits focusing on wine storage and drinking vessels.

The Homestead contains ceramics, furniture, textiles, paintings, brass, and copperware. It shows the life of a wealthy Cape farmer from the 18th to the late 19th century.

7. Bertram House

The Bertram House is on Government Avenue in the centre of Cape Town. Bertram House is the only existing example of a typical English Georgian-style red brick house. John Barker built the house in 1839 and named it after his wife, Ann Bertram Findlay, who died in 1838.

Bertram House Cape Town
By Janek Szymanowski – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28557315

Some of the house owners included Captain Robert Granger, a merchant and owner of 5 ships, and Tiberias Benjamin Kisch, the first professional Jewish professional in Cape Town.

Before becoming a museum, they used the house as office space. The house became a museum when Mrs Winifred Ann Lidderdale bequeathed a collection of porcelain and furniture to depict the Bertram House as the home of a wealthy English family of the first early 19th century. After restoration, the museum opened on 12 May 1984.

8. Mostert’s Mill

Moster’s Mill is a Cape truncated-cone tower-mill with a thatched cap. Next to the Mill is the threshing floor and a thatched house, most likely used as the miller’s house. The mill was build on a farm, Welgelegen, by Gysbert van Reenen in 1796. 

The Mill received its name from Sybrand Jacobus Mostert, who inherited the farm from Gysbert in 1823. Eventually, Cecil John Rhodes bought the farm and eventually bequeathed the Mill to the South African nation after his death in 1902. 

Historical sites in Cape Town - Mostert's Mill
By A3alb – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35403739

In 1986 the Vernacular Architecture Society of South Africa campaigned for the restoration of the Mill. This resulted in the establishment of a new society, the Friends of Mostert’s Mill, who continued campaigning for the restoration of the Mill. In 1995, the Department of Public Works restored the Mill. 

After the restoration, the Mill became the only working mill in Africa, south of the Sahara. During this time, people could visit Mostert Mill to see how a mill works.

Tragically, Mostert’s Mill burned down on 18 April 2021 because of wildfires. Currently, a restoration fund has been created to restore the Mill for the third time.

9. The Iziko Old Town House

The Old Town House or Burgher Watch House is near Greenmarket Square. The building was built in 1755 in the Cape Rococo style by the governor, Rijk Tulbach. It features a three-arched portico with green shutters against yellow and white plasterwork. It was one of only a few double-storey buildings in Cape Town. The Cape-silver trowel used by Baerendt Artois, who laid the first stone of the building, is on display in the Old Town House. The building has been a police station, magistrate’s court and city hall throughout the years.

Old Town House in Cape Town
By Borisgorelik – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5207003

The Old Town House features the Michaelis Collection donated by Sir Max Michaelis in 1914. This collection comprises a world-famous selection of Dutch art from the 17th century. The house also features works of art from Jan Steen, Frans Hals, Anthony van Dyck and Jacob van Ruisdael..

After hours, they use the building for chamber-music concerts and lectures on cultural topics and meetings. Apart from the permanent exhibitions, the Old Town House also hosts temporary exhibitions to cater for local and international visitors. 

10. Rust en Vreugd

Willem Cornelis Boers was the first to live at Rust en Vreugd from 1777-1778. After him, several private owners lived in the house. In 1878, the Dutch Church bought the house and used it as a teachers’ training college. The Cape Town High School used the property from 1925–1957. In the early 1960s, they restored the house and converted it into a gallery.

Rust en Vreugd - a historical building in Cape Town
By David Stanley from Nanaimo, Canada – Rust en Vreugd, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=96667854

A second restoration took place in 1993. In 1965, William Fehr donated his collection of art to the people of South Africa. Rust en Vreugd houses these artworks, and only a selection is on display because of the sensitive nature of paper artworks. 

11. The Iziko Social History Centre

The Social History Centre is a world-class museum housing social history archives and collections. The collections include:

  • Indigenous cultural material from southern Africa.
  • Artefacts from the colonial era in Cape Town.
  • World ceramics.
  • Coins and furniture. 

Some of the best items at the Cente are pre-colonial archaeology from the middle and late stone age periods, San rock art, Indigenous beadwork, basketry and the Bleek-Lloyd Collection of 19th Century San drawings. Other items include:

  • a variety of postal stones from Table Bay, 
  • William Fehr drawings, paintings, prints of early Cape Town and South Africa, and 
  • South African philately and numismatics. 

12. The Maritime Centre

The Maritime Centre provides visitors with an overview of shipping history in South Africa. It features the earliest existing model of Table Bay harbour, which prisoners and warders of the Breakwater Prison completed in 1885. You can also find 17th to 20th-century images of Table Bay to show you the development of the harbour through the years.

The SAS Somerset at the Maritime Museum in Cape Town
By User: (WT-shared) Pbsouthwood at wts wikivoyage, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22710950

The centre hosts a collection of shipping objects and a collection of ship models. You can also find the collection of John H Marsh at the Maritime Research Center. This collection is an archive of almost 20 000 photographs showing over 9000 ships from the late 1920s to the early 1960s.

While visiting the centre, go to the SAS Somerset, permanently moored in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in Table Bay Harbour, Cape Town. The South African Navy took over the SAS Somerset on 24 May 1988, and the SAS Somerset is the only remaining boom defence vessel in the world. 

13. Koopmans-de Wet House

Reynier Smedinga started building the house in 1699, and the house changed over the years to meet the needs of its owners. 

The Koopmans-de Wet House is furnished as the house of a wealthy Cape family from the late 18th century. It has some of the best examples of Cape furniture, ceramics and silver in South Africa. The family had many slaves and servants. 

Koopmans de Wet house in Cape Town
By Jim.Henderson – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=70992608

The house became a museum in 1914 when its last private owners, Marie Koopmans-de Wet and her sister Margaretha died. The house is the oldest house museum in South Africa. It was the first-period house museum in South Africa. It is also one of a few remaining 18th-century townhouses in Cape Town. The house is named after Marie Koopmans-de Wet, who helped the Boer orphans and widows during the South African War.

For more information: https://www.iziko.org.za/museums/koopmans-de-wet-house

14. Groote Kerk (Large Church)

Groote Kerk Cape Town - the first church in South Africa
By Debbie Louise Lloyd – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21823252

The Groote Kerk was the church in South Africa. The building was completed on 31 January 1841 and was the second church for which construction took place on the same site.

15. Auwal Masjid

They built the Auwal Mosque in Dorp Street, Cape Town, in 1794. It was the first mosque in South Africa.  

Auwal Mosque in Cape Town - the first mosque in South Africa
By Sami Mlouhi – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76619614

In 1793, Tuan Guru was released from prison on Robben Island after completing a 13-year sentence. He established a madrasah in 1793 in a warehouse that Coridon of Ceylon, the freed slave of Salie van de Kaap, bought in Dorp Street – he was the first Muslim to own properties in Cape Town. He left the properties to his wife, who sold them to their daughter, Saartjie van die Kaap. She made the land available for the building of the mosque. Although the mosque was completed in 1794, the building was extended in 1807. 

16. St George’s Cathedral

Historical sites in Cape Town South Africa

The oldest cathedral in southern Africa is St George’s Cathedral. It is a classic cruciform building with a courtyard garden and labyrinth. 

They opened the original St George’s Church in 1834 and it became a cathedral in 1847. The first Anglican Bishop in Africa, Robert Gray, and William West Jones, wanted a grander cathedral. 

In 1901, the future King George V laid the first stone of the current building, and you can still view it today. The construction of the eastern side started in 1906, and they completed the northern side in 1936. In 1963, they completed the Lady Chapel and southern side. In 1978, they finished the Bell Tower and the link. 

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By Sabs

Editor of the South Africa Travel Blog that focuses on travel to South Africa, including destinations, attractions, accommodation, food & drink.