South Africa Travel
My top 10 heritage attractions in South Africa
March 11, 2015
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South Africa is a country blessed with rich natural and cultural heritage sites – definitely too many for one blog post! Besides our 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites there are hundreds of national and provincial heritage attractions.

So when Webjet asked me to share my insights on my top heritage site in SA, I decided to focus on our cultural and historical heritage. Here are my picks, in no particular order:-

"San Painting, Ukalamba Drakensberge 1" by Photo by Lukas Kaffer (Super.lukas) - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -,_Ukalamba_Drakensberge_1.JPG#mediaviewer/File:San_Painting,_Ukalamba_Drakensberge_1.JPG

Photo by Lukas Kaffer

1. Drakensberg

Growing up in KZN,  we often went for family weekends away to the Drakensberg. These ancient  mountains are home to the greatest concentration of San Bushman rock art in South Africa. The ‘Berg’ (as we locals call it) is perhaps more famous for its hiking and spectacular mountain scenery than its thousands of Bushman rock art sites. The best way to experience San rock art is by hiking to some of the many sites. The  ‘Main Caves Museum’ on the Giant’s Castle Reserve are the most accessible – you don’t have to do a major trek to get there.


2. The Cradle of Humankind

A UNESCO World Heritage site, the Cradle is the world’s richest hominid fossil site, where around 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils were discovered. Heard of Mrs Ples and Little Foot? A visit to the Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng information centre to learn about the origins of mankind is a must when you’re in Gauteng.

Maropeng Visitor Information Centre (Photo courtesy FlowComms)

Maropeng Visitor Information Centre (Photo courtesy FlowComms)

2. Robben Island

The island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. Besides being a prison, over the years the island has housed a hospital, mental institution, leper colony and a military base. I think it’s pretty cool that their tours are guided by former political prisoners of the island, offering visitors unique insight into the personal stories of prison life.

4. Kwazulu Natal Battlefields

On my high school history tour of the KZN battlefields, I became enthralled with the rich history of this area – Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift are two of the most famous battlefields in the SA, and also perhaps in British history. It was here that the Zulu forces, armed mainly with traditional weapons defeated the mighty British Colonial Empire –  one of the few times they were ever overpowered by an indigenous army!

KZN battlefields

The Battle of Isandlwana (Charles Edwin Fripp)

5. Mapungubwe

Mapungubwe, in Limpopo, is one of the most underrated heritage sites in SA. This ‘lost city’ is an important Iron Age archaeological site.  A millennium ago, the ancient city was the centre of the largest known kingdom in the African sub-continent, where a highly advanced people traded gold and ivory with Asia. Artefacts discovered on the hill include glass and gold beads, and the famous Golden Rhino.  Mapungubwe, a World Heritage Site, is also famous for its magnificent sandstone formations, wildlife and nature.

6. Apartheid Musuem

I’ve visited the Apartheid Museum at least four times over the years, and it never ceases to move me. The buliding’s stark design reflects the hostile days of apartheid and its rich archival exhibits take you on a journey through South Africa’s darkest time.

apartheid museum

Photo courtesy Gauteng Tourism

6. Constitution Hill

The Constitution Hill Precinct is probably my top heritage site to visit in Johannesburg. The hill was formerly the site of a fort (built in 1982) which was later used as a prison. Political activists opposed to apartheid as well as common criminals were held at the Old Fort Prison.The precinct is home to the Constitutional Court, Women’s Gaol museum, Number Four museum, and Old Fort museum. Famous inmates include Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Fateema Meer and Joe Slovo.

The Old Fort - Constutition Hill

The Old Fort


8. Hector Pietersen Museum

Situated just a few blocks from where 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot in the Soweto Student Riots of 1976, The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Soweto, commemorates the role of the country’s students in the struggle against apartheid. The museum tells the story of that specific politically charged moment in apartheid history. I found the large format images highly effective, taking me back in time to senseless violence of 1976.

9. Satyagraha House

Did you know that Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa? Satyagraha House – where Gandhi lived for two years – has been converted into a private museum and boutique hotel dedicated to Gandhi’s history in South Africa. I like that the decor ans style of the hotel and museum pays homage to Gandhi’s satyagraha philosophy.

satyagraha house gandhi

Photo courtesy Satyagraha House


10. The Bo Kaap

I love the brightly painted houses of the Bo-Kaap. Cape Town’s most colourful neighbourhood is not just pretty, it has important heritage value. The Bo Kaap, was established centuries ago by freed slaves, many of whom hailed from South East Asia and practiced Islam. A visit to the Bo-Kaap Museum provides visitors with fascinating history of the Bo Kaap’s Muslim community, its history and culture.

Cape Town bo kaap

Jumping in the Bo Kaap!


Of course i had to end with a jump pic, that’s how excited heritage makes me 🙂

I may have skipped a few, but that’s only because we have too many heritage attractions to choose from! What are your favourite heritage sites in Mzansi?




About author

Meruschka Govender

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There are 14 comments

  • Kate says:

    I think maybe I would include Naval Hill in Bloem 🙂

    • Meruschka Govender says:

      Nice one Kate, but with all the Mandela monuments out there its hard to choose. Personally I prefer the Capture Site statute, but I guess the Bloem one is the largest

  • Wayne says:

    Great Blog!, I’ve nominated you for a Liebster Award – You can check out the questions and answers on my blog this week.

  • Christian says:

    Actually, the places that you mentioned is very interesting .Your article is very informative.Thanks.

  • Elna says:

    Great Post! Deakensberg definitely on the top of my list too. I would like to see the Baviaanskloof Heritage site in there too. Both of these make for tranquil back to basics experiences. Keep it up!

    • Meruschka Govender says:

      Thanks for the comment. I would love to spend some time exploring the Baviaanskloof area. I love back to basics experiences!

  • Dale says:

    Hi, great post. The Chavonnes Battery is Cape Town’s newest Heritage site (8yrs old) and best Hidden Treasure opposite the Robben Island ferry departure. It is the only site where you can learn about the history of Cape Town. It’s also the only site you can touch the sand of the original Cape Town shoreline that has been buried for 300 years. It is a Tourist Guide incubator providing work experience for unemployed youth. On your own or in a group, you are welcome.

  • Hilton says:

    Good post. I visited South Africa in 2010 and I’ve always remembered it fondly. South Africa has a rich history and diversity and I was able to appreciate some of it. On this list, I went to Robben Island, Constitution Court, and the Apartheid and Hector Pietersen museums. As an aside, I spent weeks in Durban since I have relatives there.

    • Meruschka Govender says:

      Hi Hilton. Thanks for your comment. South Africa does indeed have a rich history. Glad you enjoyed your trip, hope you visit again soon!

  • I love this list; thank you, Meruschka We met recently at the Turbine Art Fair and, especially as visual arts are my absolute passion, it would be great to include them in another list – a major collection or street art, perhaps. I also enjoyed recently the Freedom Park museum, even more than the Apartheid one. Hope this is helpful, Kate @culture_sa

    • Meruschka Govender says:

      Hi Kate! Great ot meet you at the Turbine Art Fair! Maybe I need to do a list of my favourite pieces of street art in SA. I’ve been to Freedom park, and really enjoyed it too. It’s such a special place! It was so hard keeping this list to just 10. I think I need to do a follow up post.

  • Surabhi says:

    Awesome List! I should have visited the museum when I was there. Thank you Meruschka

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