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Top 10 must-visit museums in Cape Town

Museums are no longer dull repositories filled with archaic collections that gather dust.

Any museum worth its salt has reinvented the way it displays objects of scientific, artistic, cultural or historical importance, using virtual exhibits and other modern tools to transform its halls into places of interest; spaces that can compete with the Internet.

There are over 55 000 museums in 202 countries across the world.

Visitors are offered a wonderful selection of museums in Cape Town …

Bo-Kaap Museum

This small museum is located in the oldest house on the cobblestoned streets of the area that became home to Muslims and freed slaves after slavery was abolished in the Cape, known as Bo-Kaap (above the Cape). Set in amongst brightly painted houses, with Signal Hill behind it, and the muezzin’s cry a timeless call to prayer, visitors gain insight into the lifestyle of 19th century Cape Muslims, their history and culture.

Find: 71 Wale Street, Bo-Kaap
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Cape Town Holocaust Centre

The centre serves as both a constant reminder of, and a memorial to, one of the darkest times in the world’s collective history – the Holocaust. The emotive subject is handled thoughtfully and effectively by the museum which combines photographs, film, artefacts and mementos of life in the ghettos as a signpost to the evils of racism and prejudice.

Find: 88 Hatfield Street, Cape Town Central
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Castle of Good Hope

Built after 1665 by the Dutch East India Company this stone-walled, star-shaped fort is Cape Town’s oldest building, and continues to serve as headquarters for the Western Cape military command. Once on the very edge of the shore, the reclaimed foreshore has relegated the museum to Buitenkant Street. Free guided tours, if you time it right, give you access to the decorative arts and antiques of the William Fehr Collection.

Find: C/O Darling and Buitenkant Streets
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District Six Museum

A memorial to the forced removal of 60 000 residents of various races from District Six, a former inner-city residential area during apartheid. The floor of the museum is covered with a map of the district littered with handwritten labels from former residents showing the location of their houses. Many of the staff are former residents who have hearbreaking stories to share.

Find: 25A Buitenkant Street
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Irma Stern Museum

Housed in the artist’s former Rosebank home, the Irma Stern Museum is not only a repository of of one of the century’s most progressive artists’ expressionist-influenced work – complete with a re-creation of her studio; easel, tubes of paint and all – but it also contains numerous intriguing artefacts from her extensive travels, and handcrafted furniture.

Find: Cecil Road, Rosebank
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Jewish Museum

Incorporating the Synagogue, and making use of interactive multimedia displays and detailed accounts of South African Jewish history, this museum includes rare Judaica, video footage of early Jewish settlers, and a documentary about Nelson Mandela. Its entrance lies in the Old Synagogue.

Find: 88 Hatfield Street
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Michaelis Collection

The Michaelis Collection is housed in the Old Town House, a Cape rococo building that served as Cape town’s original City Hall. It became the city’s first art museum in 1914 and now houses an exciting collection of early Netherlandish art (the work of artists sometimes known as the Flemish Primitives, active during the 15th and 16th century Northern Renaissance). The art is impressive, and the two-storey building equally so, it’s cool interior courtyard a respite from the noise of Greenmarket Square.

Find: Greenmarket Square

Planetarium

Renowned for its astronomical shows and displays, this theatre in the round, housed in the South African Museum, hosts forever clear night skies over Cape Town. Live interactive lectures, shows that cover celestial topics, and children’s shows, make it extremely popular.

Find: 25 Queen Victoria Street

Robben Island Museum

Robben Island is where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years in maximum security prison. The island is also a World Heritage Site since 1999. Accessed by ferry, one of the island’s ex-political prisoners will take you on a tour to learn the significance of the prison and its inmates in shaping the history of South Africa.

Find: Nelson Mandela Gateway, V&A Waterfront
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South African National Gallery

Housing collections of South African, African, British, French, Dutch and Flemish art with regular changes to the permanent collection, and a range of temporary visiting exhibitions, the National Gallery boasts impressive works that include best-known contemporary works, like Jane Alexander’s Butcher Boys.

Find: Government Avenue
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