What to do in Johannesburg?
Things to do
We were recently invited by South Africa’s tourism board to explore Johannesburg after our trip to Cape Town in 2019. Something we did not regret because Johannesburg also has a lot to offer. We made a handy list of what to do in Johannesburg that you can find below.
1 Soweto by bike
Johannesburg is home to one of South Africa’s largest and most famous townships: Soweto. An estimated 1.2 million residents live here. A visit to this township should definitely not be missing in this list. An ideal way to explore the township is by bicycle and a local guide. In fact, it gives you the opportunity to visit a big part of this village to get a good idea about the community. A local company (Lesbos Soweto) offers these experiences and ensures that a portion of the proceeds go back to the townships. Moreover, their guides are so passionate and convincing that we don’t think you can get a better guide to Soweto anywhere else.
2 The Apartheid Museum
South Africa unfortunately has a sad past due to apartheid. Opened in 2001, the Apartheid Museum portrays this history in a beautiful but bitter way with both photos and videos as testimony. We must not forget history and must learn from it for the future. In addition to the permanent exhibition, there are also regular temporary exhibitions. You can find all the information on the museum’s website. Moreover, a visit to this museum can also be combined with Constitution Hill. Where some freedom fighters like Nelson Mandela have been temporarily locked up.
3 The Orlando Towers
Anyone passing through Johannesburg and Soweto will always encounter the two colorful Orlando Towers. In fact, these two old cooling towers of the former coal-fired power plant have been completely painted by local artists which makes for a unique look. As such, the two towers are considered landmarks for this region. Besides the paintings, they also turned this into a unique activity park with the possibility of wall climbing and bungee jumping. The jump is done from a bridge stretched between the two towers. An unforgettable experience for those looking for some adrenaline.
4 DIAMOND MINE
A good hour’s drive from Johannesburg, you can find The Mining Town of Cullinan. This is an active diamond mine where the largest diamond ever found. Unfortunately, the diamond is no longer on display here because it has been incorporated into the British Crown Jewels. Although there are many votes that the diamond should return to “home” since it was taken from the country during colonial times. You can visit this mine both above ground and underground. Do check the website in advance as the underground mine is not accessible on all days. In addition, make sure you have not been drinking any alcohol because you will have to take an alcohol test on site for safety.
5 The Maboneng district
Johannesburg and by extension South Africa has invested a lot of money in the country’s renewal in recent years. The Maboneng neighborhood is a great result of this. Thanks to the many cozy restaurants and stores as well as numerous fun museums, you will get in touch with locals and local artists. Consequently, this trendy neighborhood is popular with tourists and local youngsters alike. In this district you can also find some boutique hotels that are ideal for finishing this list of what to do in Johannesburg.
6 Gold Reef City
Those looking for some action or those traveling with children can always visit the Gold Reef City amusement park. Built on the grounds of an old gold mine, this theme park takes you back to the 19th century when the gold rush was at its peak. This park features just over 30 attractions of which the “Tower of Terror,” which is located in an old mine tower, has to be the highlight of this Johannesburg amusement park. This park additionally has a Casino for adults where there are also shows on a regular basis.
7 Pilansberg Game Reserve
Anyone who thinks of South Africa also automatically thinks of safari. An ideal place to do this, just under a 3-hour drive from Johannesburg, is the Pilansberg Game Reserve. The protected area offers the chance to spot the Big 5 and counts several beautiful lodges for your overnight stay. You can visit this park with your own car although we recommend a real game drive with an experienced ranger. Not only is the chance of seeing animals greater, it is also a lot safer for both yourself and the animals. Pilansberg Game Reserve is also one of the cheapest parks to do a game drive. So we recommend staying here for several days and doing several game drives.
8 Cradle of Humankind and Sterkfontein Caves
Cradle of Humankind is an exhibition at the Maropeng Visitor Center and portrays the evolution of humans in a very beautiful way. Combining this museum with the Sterkfontein Caves, where some important discoveries have been made that help us understand evolution, only makes it more special. This unique place and its caves is therefore on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for good reason. Here you can find several organized tours .
9 Nelson Mandela Square
Those looking for fine dining or shopping should be at Nelson Mandela Square. The square is home to numerous cozy restaurants. Although the restaurants are not the only reason to visit this square. There’s a shopping center with famous brands. The shopping center is open every day until 10 p.m. except Sunday (6 p.m.).
10 Day trip to Pretoria
Another well-known city less than an hour away is Pretoria. This city also has a lot to offer but is definitely doable in one day. You definitely must have visited “Freedom Park” once. Which is a memorial site for freedom fighters against apartheid. And visiting the Union Buildings and the 9-meter-high statue of Nelson Mandela should also not be missing from your list. Additionally, the park at the Union Buildings gives you one of the most beautiful panoramic views of the city that you will find.
Safety in Johannesburg
As in almost every city in the world, there is some form of crime in Johannesburg. It is mainly about theft. So always put your valuables in a safe place and, in crowded places, keep a close eye on your travel companions. In addition, Johannesburg was or is often cited as the capital of crime due to its high rates. But that statistic needs to be nuanced. You should know that South Africa is one of the only countries where all the numbers are properly and comprehensively tracked. So it makes sense that they would achieve the “highest” grades, but that may be a distorted view.
Of course the statistics stay valid and there are a lot of carjackings and robberies. We don’t deny that. It is advised not to walk the streets alone and not to go outside after dark. Visiting a township unaccompanied is also not recommended.
Which neighborhood to avoid?
There are some neighborhoods in Johannesburg that are best left out as tourists. You should not visit a township without a (local) guide. In addition, neighborhoods such as Hillbrow, Yeoville and Berea are labeled as dangerous. However, the chances of coming here as a tourist are rather small. Crime in these neighborhoods is also often drug-related. So stay out of these issues. In addition, the Central Business District is also not the safest place at night. Driving through red lights is even allowed in this region.
What to do in Johannesburg?
Hopefully our “what to do in Johannesburg” list will bring inspiration for your next trip. This city in South Africa is worth visiting. We recommend a stay of minimum 2 and maximum 5 nights in this city. Those eager for more info can always turn to the tourism department’s website.