Cape Town Cultural Experiences

Looking for something unique and exciting to do in Cape Town that will immerse you in the vibrant cultural diversity and rich history of the Mother City? Here are some of the top cultural attractions and unique cultural experiences that should undoubtedly be on everyone’s Cape Town bucket list.

#Vist the District Six Museum

Cape Town Cultural Experiences - District Six Museum

Photo credit: District Six Museum

Few areas are as vivid an example of the Apartheid regime in South Africa and Cape Town as District Six. What was once a racially diverse and vibrant community turned upside down when the original residents were forcibly removed from the area when the National Party government declared it a “white group area”. The District Six Museum – formerly a Methodist Mission Church – serves as a stark reminder of what the community once was.

A visit to the iconic District Six Museum is both an enriching and eye-opening experience. Giving you a real and raw perspective into Cape Town’s intricate and often heart-breaking history, a visit to this renowned cultural and historical landmark and museum will show you a side of Cape Town you haven’t seen or experienced before. The District Six Museum was set up as a visual display to show what people of color living in this area went through in the 1970s when over 60,000 people were forcibly removed during the Apartheid era.

In addition to housing an impressive collection of historical materials including photographs, paintings, artefacts, physical remains and audio-visual recordings, the District Six Museum also came into being as a vehicle for advocating social justice. It’s therefore seen as a space for reflection and contemplation! The Museum is committed to telling the stories of forced removals and assisting in the reconstitution of the community of District Six and Cape Town by drawing on a heritage of non-racialism, non-sexism, anti-class discrimination and the encouragement of debate.

#Take a trip to Robben Island

Beyond being one of Cape Town’s top attractions, sights, and landmarks, Robben Island is an integral part of South African history.

Things to do in Cape Town

Cape Town is at the heart of a country with one of the most prolific histories in the world, and right at the center of it all is Robben Island. Arguably home to one of the most recognizable and well-known prisons in the world, Robben Island was a place of banishment, exile, imprisonment, and isolation for nearly 400 years.

For centuries Robben Island was used as a penal colony, primarily for political prisoners. The most famous political prisoners that spent time on Robben Island include former and late South African president, activist, and world icon, Nelson Mandela, Tokyo Sexwale, Walter Sisulu, and Govan Mbeki. Nelson Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island for 18 years during the South African apartheid era.

Cape Town Cultural Experiences - Robben Island Museum

Today it is regarded as a symbol of hope and testament to the triumph of the human spirit over adversity – A place that has played a pivotal role in South Africa’s journey to democracy. In 1997 Robben Island was turned into a museum – The Robben Island Museum – and in 1999 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Now locals and tourists alike can visit this South African landmark and historical site, tour the Robben Island Prison where Nelson Mandela was held, as well as the island’s museum and lighthouse.

Robben Island Tours are typically led by ex-inmates with first-hand knowledge and experience of what life was truly like during those pivotal years / times – The exact times that would ultimately change the entire course of South African history.

Visiting Robben Island on your future trip to Cape Town is a great way to immerse yourself in a vital piece of South Africa’s history and journey to democracy – It is without a doubt an experience that should be on everyone’s Cape Town bucket-list!

#Explore Bo-Kaap

Cape Town Cultural Experiences - Bo-Kaap

Situated at the foot of Signal Hill, on the fringe of the city center, Bo-Kaap is known as one of the most vibrant and culturally diverse neighborhoods in the Mother City. It is also one of Cape Town’s oldest neighborhoods and undoubtedly the most colorful. This is largely owed to its colourful mix of Cape Dutch and Georgian architecture homes that line the steeply cobble-stoned streets. Besides its colorful surroundings, Bo-Kaap boasts a rich and diverse history which has shaped this beloved neighborhood into what it is today.

Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, Bo-Kaap is celebrated as the historical center of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town. Bo-Kaap’s origins date back to the 1760s when numerous “huurhuisjes” (rental houses) were built and leased to slaves. These people were known as Cape Malays. Many of Bo-Kaap’s residents were descendants of slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and various African countries who were forcibly brought to the city in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Bo-Kaap is also home to the iconic Bo-Kaap Museum, which is the perfect place to learn all about the history of the area with the building dating back to the 1760s, as well as the first established Muslim mosque in South Africa, the Auwal Mosque, and the famous Diamond Gallery (one of the largest diamond wholesalers in South Africa).

Besides its vibrant cultural diversity, one of the top things to do in Bo-Kaap besides exploring its colorful streets of course, is enjoy some authentic Cape Malay cuisine. Enjoying a traditional Cape Malay meal in Bo-Kaap undoubtedly deserves to be on everyone’s Cape Town bucket-list. Not to mention it’s a great way to fully immerse yourself in Cape Town’s diverse culture and rich history.

#Visit the Slave Lodge

Cape Town Cultural Experiences - Slave Lodge

Photo credit: Iziko Museums of South Africa

The Slave Lodge is a South African social history museum located in the heart of Cape Town. Forming part of the list of the oldest buildings in the Cape, the Slave Lodge is home to several cultural experiences in South African history. Built in 1679, it is the second oldest existing colonial structure of the Cape Colony. Used as a slave lodge until 1811, it was initially used to house slaves who belonged to the Dutch East India Company. Thereafter the Slave Lodge was converted several times and used for a variety of purposes. It was also the home of Government buildings and the Supreme Court before it became a cultural museum.

Today the Slave Lodge is a museum managed by Iziko Museums of South Africa and undoubtedly one of Cape Town’s top cultural attractions. Exhibiting mainly the material culture of the descendants of the Dutch and British colonists, the Slave Lodge is dedicated to showcasing exhibitions and installations that deal with human rights, equality, and the importance of remembering the past. As time has progressed however, it has also embraced showcasing newer exhibitions that aim to raise awareness of human rights globally.

#Go to the Castle of Good Hope

A visit to the iconic Castle of Good Hope is one of the top things to do on Heritage Day in Cape Town. The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest building in the country and a structure that has played an integral part in its history. Once a fort, the Castle of Good Hope was completed in 1679.

It has since been restored and now functions as a museum. Visitors can enjoy tours of this renowned Cape Town historical attraction from Monday to Saturday with The Key Ceremony performed Monday to Friday, followed by the firing of the Signal Cannon at 12pm. While the building itself is filled with incredible history and has many a story to tell (including a few ghostly ones), the William Fehr Collection, comprising of paintings and decorative arts, is partly housed here.

#Visit the Cape Gallery

The Cape Gallery is one of the oldest galleries of its kind in Cape Town and therefore an absolute must-visit for any art enthusiast visiting the Mother City. Situated on Church Street in the heart of the old city off the Church Street walking mall and flanked by the colourful Georgian and Dutch facades built by the 18th and 19th century settlers, the Cape Gallery’s location is every bit as authentic as it’s artistic display.

Featuring the works of art that invoke Africa’s cultural identity, this beloved artistic gem pays tribute to the Cape’s history, culture and diversity. Central to the tradition of South African painting is the abiding love of the land, therefore much of the work here is in the form of classic landscapes paintings and sculptures. However, the recent emergence of Cape Town’s vibrant street art scene has added an essentially African character to the work on display.

#See a show at the Fugard Theatre

A visit to the iconic Fugard Theatre deserves to be at the top of every theatre lover’s Cape Town to-do list. Named after the legendary South African playwright Athol Fugard, the Fugard is one of Cape Town’s most beloved and celebrated theatres. It is also where you’ll catch the biggest shows on the circuit, usually with a uniquely South African flavour. Seeing a show at the iconic Fugard is therefore another one of Cape Town’s exciting cultural experiences and one that can be enjoyed by theatre lovers as well as those new to the theatre scene.

#Visit & explore the renowned Zeitz MOCAA Museum of Contemporary Art Africa

Named one of TIME Magazine’s Top 100 destinations of 2018, Zeitz MOCAA Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is a true artistic and architectural stroke of genius. Boasting the largest display of contemporary African art in the world, Zeitz MOCAA spans over 9 floors and is home to over 100 galleries situated within the museum dedicated to displaying art from more than 50 African artists. This iconic Cape Town gallery also includes German-born businessman Jochen Zeitz’s renowned private collection of African artworks and installations, as well as cutting-edge contemporary art from around the continent.

With its glorious artistic display, the building within which the Zeitz MOCAA is housed truly is a work of art itself. Built in 1921 the Grain Silo is an icon of the Cape Town Skyline and hast fast become one of the main attractions in the city. The architectural design of the Grain Silo not only pays tribute to its original industrial design but has established itself as one of the leading not-for-profit cultural institutions in the world. Housing the most significant collection of contemporary art from Africa and beyond, the Zeitz MOCAA is without a doubt one of the top art galleries to visit in Cape Town.

#Visit The Cape Town Holocaust Centre

There are few occasions in human history that are as dark and tragic as the Holocaust. The Cape Town Holocaust Centre, which stands alongside the South African Jewish Museum, is home to an incredible and eye-opening wealth of information pertaining to the Holocaust and the events that transpired during that time. While wrought with emotion, struggle and tragedy, the exhibition is beautifully laid-out and offers visitors a variety of written and verbal (both audio and visual) stories, tributes and accounts that took place during the Holocaust.

#Attend a screening at the Labia Theatre

The Labia Theatre is the oldest Independent Art-Repertory Cinema in South Africa, showing independent movies, foreign films, historical cinema and other alternative and art circuit films. It’s a must-visit destination in the Mother City and undoubtedly one of the top cultural experiences in Cape Town. This cultural heritage institution located in Orange Street is Cape Town’s original Independent Art Movie house dating all the way back to 1949 when it originally opened.

Today, it’s a quirky movie house which screens mostly artsy, alternative and foreign films in a relaxed non-commercial setting. Attending a screening at the Labia Theatre is therefore not only one of Cape Town’s top cultural experiences, but a great choice for a day out exploring the Mother City. It also has a cosy coffee café and a licensed bar, thereby making it one of the only cinemas where you can relax, sip a drink from the bar and watch a movie.

#Attend First Thursdays in the inner-city

First Thursdays have undoubtedly become one of Cape Town’s most exciting cultural experiences. On the first Thursday of every month Cape Town’s inner-city streets come alive with avid art enthusiasts eager to explore the Mother City’s thriving artistic scene. First Thursdays are dedicated to dozens of art galleries and cultural events showcasing the wealth of talent Cape Town has to offer.

It’s a night filled with incredible artistic pursuits and tons of fun as people freely explore the inner-city streets of Cape Town. It’s completely free and there is no structured tour, thereby inviting you to explore as many art galleries as you’d like. Cape Town’s inner-city restaurants, bars and hangouts are also buzzing on First Thursdays, thereby allowing you to enjoy a truly thrilling night out on the town.

#Visit the Iziko South African National Gallery

The Iziko South African National Gallery is one of the oldest galleries in the country as well as one of the foremost art museums in South Africa. Located in Cape Town’s leafy Company Gardens with Table Mountain as the backdrop, this Cape Town art gallery has become one of the Mother City’s main attractions and a fan-favorite amongst locals and tourists alike. Featuring a variety of artwork from acclaimed local and international artists as well as a large collection of South African, British, French, Dutch and Flemish art, there truly is something for everyone to enjoy and admire.

This iconic Cape Town gallery also operates on a regularly changing schedule in order to allow for temporary exhibitions of paintings, works on paper, photography, sculpture, beadwork, textiles, and architecture. While Iziko South African National Gallery is one of the top galleries to visit in Cape Town, the beautiful Company Gardens is also great for picnics and a family day out exploring the Mother City.

#Baxter Theatre

Located in the suburb of Rondebosch, the Baxter Theatre showcases both international and South African major works. Built in 1976, this remarkable theater used to challenge the apartheid regime and held multi-racial plays and performances at a time when censorship was part of the everyday life in South Africa. It was also home to many theater legends including Andrew Buckland and John Kani.

Today, the Baxter Theatre stages dramas, musicals, ballets, and comedies. If you wish to have a drink or dinner, the Long Bar and the buffet-style Baxter Restaurant are located on the ground floor of the theater.

#South African Jewish Museum

Opened in 2000 by Helen Suzman and the late president Nelson Mandela, the South African Jewish Museum is situated at the site of an old synagogue in Company’s Garden and covers the history of the Jewish people in South Africa and the world. There are numerous interactive displays and artifacts on-site, as well as a shop where you can purchase ceramic mezuzahs, cookbooks, embroidered challah covers, and many more items. The museum features two buildings: one is about the Holocaust, while the second one focuses on the Jewish history in general.

#Iziko South African Museum

The oldest museum in the country, Iziko South African Museum is one of the most visited cultural attractions in Cape Town. Founded in 1825, this excellent museum is home to many social history and natural collections and houses close to two million specimens of which some are 120, 000 years old. Some of the highlights include dinosaur dioramas and recorded whale calls. Make sure to check out the on-site Planetarium which offers a spectacular 3D space experience.

#Springbok Rugby Experience Museum

The ultimate cultural attraction for sports fans, the Springbok Rugby Experience Museum is located at the V&A Waterfront and offers deep insight into the history of the most popular sport in South Africa. Travelers will find a wide range of audio-visual displays, as well as many memorabilia including animated paintings, clothing, and famous trophies. There is also an on-site rugby store where you can try various fitness tests to see if you have what it takes to become a professional rugby player.

#Explore Church Street in Tulbagh

Tulbagh is known as one of the Western Cape’s most charming towns, and this stunning Church Street is located right at the heart of it. Home to the largest concentration of National Monuments in the country, Tulbagh’s Church Street has fast become one of Cape Town’s most beautiful and beloved streets. The picturesque Church Street boasts 32 historical buildings, many of which have been restored in an extensive restoration project.

The whole of the restored street has thus been declared a national monument. With its deeply rooted historical significance, the charming old Church Street and the captivating town of Tulbagh is around 300 years old. Walking through this quaint street is one of our favorite things to do in Cape Town.

#Visit the Norval Foundation

The Norval Foundation is a contemporary art museum and centre located in Steenberg, on the slopes of Table Mountain. It exhibits 20th and 21st-century art by African artists. The building itself is spectacular. Along with the art gallery, it also features a library, a sculpture garden, an amphitheatre children’s playground, a picnic area, and a restaurant.

The facade of Norval Foundation boasts strong timber and granite rectangular mass and a light roof that lets in indirect sunlight to facilitate viewing of the art pieces. The view from the Foundation building is stunning as well. The art exhibitions rotate every four to six months. In addition, many art workshops such as glass painting are held regularly alongside other cultural events such as concerts.