Pierneer painting - tree against blue sky A Pierneef painting in the National Cultural History Museum

South African art galleries and museums are invaluable resources for understanding and interpreting the country's history and cultures. Custodians of the past, these institutions also track the present and offer insight into the future. For the visitor to South Africa, local museums and galleries offer lots to explore and wonder about.

Did you know?

The Mapungubwe Interpretation Centre won the World Building Award in the Culture Category in 2009.

South African museums and art galleries are found throughout the country, from Cape Town to Musina and, everywhere in between.

The country's 300 plus museums are housed in prestigious historical buildings, in cutting-edge modern constructions, on university campuses, in cultural villages or in old houses. Some are even aspects of the natural landscape, such as the caves which protect ancient rock art.

South African museums are dedicated to an endless range of subjects - art, history, culture, transport, sport, photography, gold, medicine, entomology, palaeontology and anthropology. Their contents span tens of thousands of years, with the Cradle of Humankind looking at our earliest ancestors, while others look to our more recent past.

Since 1994, a number of new museums recording the recent anti-apartheid freedom struggle and the advent of South African democracy, have opened. Their narratives are enhanced with high-tech, interactive displays at locations such as Johannesburg's Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill, at the Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto, at Freedom Park in Pretoria and Red Location outside Port Elizabeth.

The content of South Africa's art galleries also span a lengthy timeline, from traditional arts and crafts to contemporary installations. South African art also finds unusual platforms, from overhangs sporting ancient rock art, to stately institutions such as the National Gallery in Cape Town, to corporate collections and commercial galleries, right down to restaurants and coffee bars.

South African art galleries and museums do not shy away from sometimes controversial topics, and spark vigorous and necessary debate about our society and the events and concepts that shape it. They are repositories of objects, representations and records that give us insight into the past, glimpses of the future, and preserve our present for generations to come.

In the vast material found in museums and art galleries of South Africa, there is something to suit every interest, be it general, academic, quirky, conventional or off-beat.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

The South African Department of Arts & Culture
Tel: +27 (0)12 441 3000

Best time to visit

Most national museums and art galleries are open daily.

Tours to do

Some larger museums and art galleries offer guided or audio tours.

What will it cost

Entry into some of South Africa's museums and art galleries is free, with others charging an entrance fee of between R10 and R100.

What's happening

Museums and art galleries in South Africa often host temporary exhibitions that complement their permanent collections. See their websites for details.

Best buys

Art galleries and museums often have a gift shop selling interesting books and local arts and crafts.