Historic sites in South Africa

If you’re looking to explore Historic Sites in South Africa and the surrounding area then you can explore our interactive map above or navigate further by using the links below.

There’s a fantastic selection of  Historic Sites in South Africa and you can plan some great things to see on your trips by browsing our selection. Once you’ve explored the  Historic Sites in South Africa you can use our itinerary planner tool to plan out your trip and then print off a free pocket guidebook.

Our database of historic sites is growing all the time, but we may not cover them all. Remember, if you know of other  Historic Sites in South Africa, you can always add them to Trip Historic now by visiting our upload page.
 

South Africa: Site Index

Anglo-Boer War Museum

The Anglo-Boer War Museum in Bloemfontein explores the history of the Second Anglo-Boer War.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Anglo-Boer War Museum, also known as the War Museum of the Boer Republics, in Bloemfontein, South Africa is one of the country’s most comprehensive museums about the Second Anglo-Boer War.

The Second Anglo-Boer War was a major conflict between Britain and the Orange Free State republics and Boers of South Africa which raged from 1899 to 1902. It was a clash between British imperialism and the nationalism of the South Africans, in which the British tried to unite the different areas into one unified colonial state.

Bloemfontein was a vital location in the war as it was both the site of the Bloemfontein Conference in 1899, which served to fan the flames of war, and was also captured by the British commander Lord Roberts on 13 March 1900.

The Anglo-Boer War Museum chronicles the events leading up to the war, the course of the war and its aftermath. One of its most moving exhibits is that relating to concentration camps. The Second Anglo-Boer War is notorious for being the first war in which such camps were used, a strategy spearheaded by Lord Herbert Kitchener. The museum is next to the Women's Memorial, which commemorates those who perished in these camps.

The Anglo-Boer War Museum also features as one of our top South African tourist attractions.

Photo by jasonwhat (cc)

Apartheid Museum

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg tells the story of South Africa’s apartheid regime and how it eventually fell.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg chronicles the history of apartheid in South Africa and the struggle for human rights which ended this regime of racial segregation.

From 1948, when the National Party came to power, until 1994 South Africa had a series of racially discriminatory laws which oppressed certain races, particularly anybody of non-white descent. People were categorised according to their race and those who were not white were treated as second class citizens. This was the period known as the Apartheid.

Through its twenty-two exhibition areas, comprising original artefacts, information panels and multimedia presentations including films, the Apartheid Museum provides an in-depth insight into life under the apartheid regime. It also looks at the gradual campaign against the apartheid and the struggle for equal rights led by Nelson Mandela, the country’s eventual president.

Battle of Blood River Memorial

The Battle of Blood River Memorial commemorates a fierce clash between the Boers and the Zulus in 1838.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Battle of Blood River Memorial (Bloedrivier Monument) is a monument to a nineteenth century battle between the Boer pioneers or ‘Voortrekkers’ and the Zulus.

Prior to the Battle of Blood River, a Boer diplomatic group led by Piet Retief were massacred by Zulu forces. On 16 December 1838, angered by the attack, a force of Boers led by Andries Pretorius defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River. The river in question was actually the Ncome River, which was said to have flowed red with the blood of 3,000 Zulus after the clash.

The Battle of Blood River Memorial depicts the main tactic used by the Boers, known as a “laager” or wagon circle. Comprised of 64 bronze wagons, the Battle of Blood River Memorial is located on the original battle site. There are also the nearby Blood River Museum and Ncome Museum, each chronicling the battle from the respective Boer and Zulu perspectives.

Photo by Historvius

Castle of Good Hope

The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Castle of Good Hope (Casteel de Goede Hoop) in Cape Town is the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa and the current seat of the military in the Cape.

The Castle of Good Hope was built by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) between 1666 and 1679 as a maritime replenishment station, but became a thriving settlement for military personnel and civilians alike. Imposing and expansive, the castle casts a very distinct pentagonal shape across Cape Town. Visitors enter through its large gateway bearing the coat of arms of the United Netherlands, built in 1682 to replace the original sea-facing entrance.

Visitors can either explore the Castle of Good Hope independently or join one of the many tours which uncover the Castle’s extensive history including a fascinating (if slightly creepy) visit to a dungeon.

There are also a number of exhibitions, including the Castle Military Museum exploring past battles and wars, the William Ferh Collection of period paintings and furniture and a replica of the original Castle Forge. The Castle of Good Hope features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in South Africa.

Photo by derekkeats (cc)

District Six

District Six was a thriving multicultural area in Cape Town, South Africa until it was destroyed by apartheid.

DID YOU KNOW?

District Six, named the Sixth Municipal District of Cape Town in 1867, was a lively, multicultural district made up of artisans, freed slaves, merchants and labourers. However, following the Group Areas Act of 1950, District Six was declared a white area in 1960 and the government forcibly removed 60,000 of its inhabitants to make way for white settlements.

Despite some attempts to build residential areas in its place, most of the area which made up District Six is now empty, standing as a stark reminder of the savagery of apartheid with only grass fields marking its original place.

Those visiting Cape Town can drive past the original site of District Six on the city’s Red Tour Bus system or visit the nearby District Six Museum.

Photo by thomas_sly (cc)

District Six Museum

The District Six Museum is dedicated to the history of District Six, an area destroyed during the Apartheid.

DID YOU KNOW?

The District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa is a museum which serves as an apt memorial to and celebration of District Six, immersing visitors in the lives of its previous inhabitants.

District Six was a thriving community destroyed during the Apartheid. For more information, see the District Six entry. The District Six Museum also offers guided tours of District Six, but these must be booked in advance.

Other exhibitions are located at the District Six Museum Homecoming Centre (see the local amenities section for the address), specifically sports exhibitions on local and international football focusing on apartheid and its effects on the sport and the lives of the people that played the beautiful game.

Geelbecks River Blockhouse

Mortared stonework type blockhouse, 12km North of Laingsburg, and right next to the N1 national highway (motorway) between Cape Town and Johannesburg.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Geelbecks River Blockhouse is a very typical, easily reachable and well preserved example of the blockhouse fortifications erected by British forces during the Anglo Boer War between 1899-1902.

These were strongpoints in their defences of the colony borders and strategically important locations like railway bridges, as in this case.

Photo by NH53 (cc)

Isandlwana Battlefield

Isandlwana Battlefield was the site of a British defeat in the Anglo-Zulu Wars.

DID YOU KNOW?

Isandlwana Battlefield in South Africa was the site of the Battle of Isandlwana during the Anglo-Zulu Wars. The Anglo-Zulu Wars were in part an attempt by the British to repress the Zulu army so as to pave the way for the creation of a Confederation of South Africa which united all of the colonial entities into one unit.

On 22 January 1879, on the same day as their success at Battle of Rorke’s Drift, the British Army suffered a major defeat at Isandlwana Battlefield. Around 1,750 British were camping at Isandlwana at the time or had arrived as reinforcements when they were besieged by approximately 20,000 Zulu warriors. The Zulu captured the camp and killed almost all of the soldiers, resulting in a decisive and humiliating defeat for the British.

It is thought that Lord Chelmsford, who was leading the British in the region, went to great lengths to cover up the defeat. It was also overshadowed by the victory at the Battle of Rorke’s Drift.

Today, memorials and markers show the points at Isandlwana Battlefield where British soldiers fell. There is also a small Isandlwana Battlefield museum at the visitor centre. A visit to Isandlwana Battlefield is usually coupled with one to nearby Rorke’s Drift, particularly as the two are connected by road.

Isandlwana Battlefield also features as one of our top visitor attractions in South Africa

Ladysmith Siege Museum

The Ladysmith Siege Museum explores the town’s history during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Ladysmith Siege Museum is dedicated to the four month siege of the town of Ladysmith, South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

The Siege of Ladysmith occurred when, on 30 October 1899, Boer forces under Commandant-General Piet Joubert forced British forces into Ladysmith and surrounded the town.

It was not broken until 29 February 1900, when British relief forces arrived, including a young Winston Churchill who was among the first British troops to relieve the city. By this time, starvation had set in and the British had suffered significant losses, many of them caused by disease.

The Ladysmith Siege Museum explores both the siege itself and the war as a whole, displaying artefacts from the conflict. The building in which the Ladysmith Siege Museum is housed was constructed in 1884 and was used to store rations during the siege. Information is provided in Afrikaans, English and Zulu.

Photo by Elizabeth Thompson (cc)

Laing’s Nek Battlefield

Laing’s Nek Battlefield was the site of a major battle in the First Anglo-Boer War.

DID YOU KNOW?

Laing’s Nek Battlefield in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa was the site of a major battle in the First Anglo-Boer War.

On 28 January 1881, the British forces under Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of the Boer forces under Commandant-General Piet Joubert. The Battle of Laing’s Nek was a blow for the British in their attempts to capture the Transvaal region.

Laing’s Nek Battlefield is close to Majuba Hill where only a month later the British would suffer a defeat that would lose them the war and Colley would be killed in battle.

Photo by Vberger (cc)

Majuba Hill

Majuba Hill in South Africa was the site of the final battle of the First Anglo-Boer War.

DID YOU KNOW?

Majuba Hill in South Africa was the final battlefield of the First Anglo-Boer War. Sometimes known as the Transvaal War, the First Anglo-Boer War was an approximately year-long conflict in which the Boers rejected British annexation of the Transvaal region of South Africa.

Approximately 400 British soldiers, made up of the 58th Regiment and the 92nd Highlanders and led by Major-General Sir George Pomeroy Colley, had occupied Majuba Hill in early 1881. On 27 February 1881 at the Boers defeated the British in battle, effectively ending the war. Colley himself had been killed together with almost half of the force.

Mvezo

Mvezo was the birthplace of Nelson Mandela.

DID YOU KNOW?

Mvezo in South Africa’s Eastern Cape was the birthplace of Nelson Mandela and is now an open air museum which forms part of the Nelson Mandela Museum.

National Women’s Memorial - Bloemfontein

The National Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein is a Second Anglo-Boer War monument.

DID YOU KNOW?

The National Women’s Memorial in Bloemfontein in South Africa commemorates the 26,000 women and children who perished in concentration camps set up by the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

Depicting an Afrikaner woman holding her child seeing her husband off to war, the National Women’s Memorial is flanked by a large obelisk and is located near the Anglo-Boer War Museum.

Qunu

Qunu was the childhood home of South African leader Nelson Mandela and is part of the Nelson Mandela Museum.

DID YOU KNOW?

Qunu in South Africa’s Eastern Cape was the place where Nelson Mandela spent much of his childhood. Today, it forms part of the Nelson Mandela Museum.

Robben Island

Robben Island was the prison in which Nelson Mandela was held under South Africa’s apartheid regime.

DID YOU KNOW?

Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town in South Africa was a notorious prison, best known for its internment of political prisoners during South African apartheid. Its most famous prisoner - prisoner 466/64 - was Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who would later become the country’s president.

Robben Island was used as a prison as far back as the seventeenth century, when the Dutch settled on the mainland. Since then, it has been used as a World War II military base and a nineteenth century hospital for the seriously ill, such as patients with leprosy.

However, whatever its other uses, Robben Island was used as a prison in one measure or another until the twentieth century. Even in its time as a hospital Robben Island was prison-like, its isolation ensuring that diseases could not be spread to the mainland. Furthermore, prisoners were kept here even whilst it housed the hospital.

From 1961, the South African government used Robben Island as a prison, housing many political prisoners.

In all, Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost 27 years, many of them at Robben Island, together with many other anti-apartheid activists. Robben Island’s prison closed in 1996.

Today, Robben Island is a UNESCO World Heritage historic site and a museum. A visit to Robben Island is by way of a standardised 3.5 hour guided tour (time includes two 30min ferry rides).

In addition to touring the maximum security prison buildings, the tour includes a 45 minute guided bus ride around the island and interaction with a former Robben Island prisoner. A visit to Robben Island provides a fascinating insight into the island’s history and that of South Africa. It is worth noting however that tours can get fairly crowded.

There are also exhibits at the Nelson Mandela Gateway museum, worth seeing, especially if you can’t make it to the Island.

Rorke’s Drift

Rorke’s Drift was the site of a famous British victory in the Anglo-Zulu Wars.

DID YOU KNOW?

Rorke’s Drift in South Africa was the site of a famous battle during the Anglo-Zulu Wars in which 139 British soldiers fiercely and successfully defended the area and their garrison against between four and five thousand Zulu Warriors.

The Battle of Rorke’s Drift took place on 22 January 1879 and was a welcome piece of good news for the British following their disastrous defeat at Isandlwana Battlefield, which occurred on the same day. Considered to be one of the most heroic and brave defences in British military history, the Battle of Rorke’s Drift resulted in the award of a momentous eleven Victoria Crosses.

Today, there is a British memorial at Rorke’s Drift, where visitors can tour the battlefield and view the visitor centre. Most visitors also take the opportunity to visit the nearby Isandlwana Battlefield.

Rorke’s Drift features as one of our Top Ten tourist attractions in South Africa.

Spioenkop battlefield

Spioenkop battlefield in South Africa was the site of a Boer victory in the Second Anglo-Boer War.

DID YOU KNOW?

Spioenkop battlefield, also known as Spion Kop Battlefield, in South Africa was the site of a British defeat to the Boers during the Second Anglo-Boer War.

The Battle of Spioenkop was an attempt by British forces to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith, in which Boer forces had been surrounding the British in the town for around four months.

From 23 January 1900, the British tried in vain to free the town in a clash with Orange Free State and South African Republic forces. However, on 24 January, the British withdrew, having suffered significant casualties.

Today, Spioenkop battlefield contains several memorials to the battle which can be seen together with graves and trenches along a trail. It also features as one of our top ten visitor attractions of South Africa

The Nelson Mandela Museum

The Nelson Mandela Museum tells the story of one of South Africa’s most iconic leaders.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Nelson Mandela Museum at the Bhunga Building chronicles the life of South Africa’s iconic former president and his struggle for democracy and the end of the apartheid regime.

Nelson Mandela was the leader of South Africa’s ant-apartheid movement who was imprisoned by the government for 27 years on charges of treason and went on to become the country’s president. He is famed for his role in ending apartheid and fighting for human rights.

There are actually three locations of the Nelson Mandela Museum in the Eastern Cape, of which the Bhunga Building forms one. At the Bhunga Building, visitors can learn about Nelson Mandela’s past in his own words through extracts of his autobiography, “A Long Walk to Freedom". It also houses gifts given to Nelson Mandela when he was president.

From the Bhunga Building, tours then go onto the other two sites of the Nelson Mandela Museum, Mvezo, where Mandela was born and Qunu, where he spent his childhood.

Photo by Mister-E (cc)

Voortrekker Monument

The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria commemorates South Africa’s Boer pioneers.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, South Africa commemorates the exodus of the Boers – Voortrekkers meaning pioneers - from the Cape Colony from 1835 and 1854.

Sparked by the British abolition of slavery in all their colonies in 1834, this “Great Trek” resulted in the creation of several republics and laid the foundations for the modern layout of South Africa. The Great Trek also resulted in conflicts between the Boers and the Zulus, particularly the Battle of Blood River, which the Voortrekker Monument also commemorates.

The Voortrekker Monument is comprised of a vast granite structure surrounded by 64 ox-wagons – a symbol of Voortrekker practices - and is flanked by numerous statues of historic figures such as Boer leader Piet Retief. Inside the Voortrekker Monument is its large Hall of Heroes housing a historical frieze depicting the history of the Trek and a museum of Voortrekker history .

 This fascinating site also features as one of our top Tourist Attractions of South Africa