For both local and foreign tourists, the question of what to do in Johannesburg is easy and hard, as the city offers a lot, making choosing what to do, and where to go a daunting task.
Johannesburg, also known as the City Of Gold or Jo’burg is South Africa’s largest city, an industrial and financial metropolis, housing the country’s main international airport; O.R. Tambo International Airport, and the gateway for the majority of visitors to South Africa.
Below, are some of the best places to visit, and learn about the city itself, and the rich culture and history of South Africa.
But First, Where Is Johannesburg Located?
Johannesburg is a beautiful city, but unlike Cape town, it is landlocked, so don’t go there hoping for a surf.
The city was formed during the gold rush earning it the name “City of Gold” and it is the largest city in South Africa.
It’s also home to the largest man-made forest in the world.
The city has 11 official languages, a legacy of its colonial history.
I was in Johannesburg myself for a day or two before I went further into the country, and I was told to not wear any jewelry (well that’s not my thing anyway haha) and to keep an eye on my belongings.
Other than that, there are lots of things surely worth a visit if you would like to learn about the history and culture of the city.
Also, click on the map below to see where Jo’Burg is located on Google maps :
What To Do In Johannesburg?
Here’s a little list for you!
The Apartheid Museum.
The Apartheid Museum: the first of its kind in South Africa, documents the rise and fall of apartheid in the country.
For both history and art buffs, the museum offers exhibits that showcase South African culture and history through carefully organized and curated film footage, text panels, artifacts, and photographs.
Visitors learn of the struggles and determinate nature of South Africans and the dark days that were the National Government’s regime.
A living museum documenting South Africa’s road to democracy.
One way of understanding the people of Johannesburg and the country is to learn about its struggles and success.
The site is a former military fort and prison, the latter famous for the sheer number of world-famous men and women held within its walls.
Some notable mentions are Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Albert Sisulu, Winnie Madikizela Mandela, Fatima Meer, and many ordinary folks in its 100-year history.
I still get the chills thinking about all the things that happened in this prison when I visited it.
This was the first home of Nelson Mandela and his first wife Evelyn Ntoko Mase in 1946.
Although the pair divorced shortly after, his second wife, Winnie Madikizela Mandela eventually joined him here in 1948.
After he left the home which is situated in the Orlando West section of Soweto, the property was converted into a museum, holding some of the family’s belongings, honorary degrees, and awards given to Mandela.
The site is small, but it gives visitors an insight into South Africa’s most prolific politician.
Take a virtual tour around the house with the help of this fantastic video below:
South African National Museum of Military History
Another site in Johannesburg that details the country’s rich history, is the South African National Museum of Military History.
The standout exhibit in the museum is the military aircraft collection, featuring iconic planes like the de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito Combat Plane made mostly of wood, a Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter jet, and a Blackburn Buccaneer S Mk 50 carrier-borne strike airplane.
The museum offers a child-safe and conducive environment for those with toddlers.
Scroll a bit further into the video at about 35 seconds to see more impressions of this museum:
Cradle of Humankind
This is a UNESCO world heritage site located about a 40 minutes drive from Johannesburg.
This is the place where the first-ever hominid fossil: Australopithecus Africanus was found in 1924, called Mrs. Ples, and estimated to be about two million years old.
About 10 kilometers from the Cradle are the Sterkfontein caves which are six linked underground chambers with a lake set at about 40 meters below ground.
These caves are famous as they are where Mrs. Plea and Little Foot: a complete hominid skeleton were found. The fossils are currently on display at the Maropeng visitor center.
And we have yet another video for you to have a look at the Sterkfontein caves!
Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens
Johannesburg is a very busy city and the hustle and bustle of the city might get tiresome after a while.
The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens offers a serene and quiet slice of wilderness at the edge of the city.
The garden is one of nine national botanical gardens in South Africa managed by the South African National biodiversity institute.
Children will be able to let loose in the children’s garden and bird watchers will appreciate the bird hides.
Pilanesberg National Park
Located about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Jo’burg, Pilanesberg National Park is the perfect place to witness life at its most primal state.
The park is located in an extinct volcano crater, in a transition zone between the Kalahari desert and the Lowveld.
As a result, the wildlife is very varied, expect to see the big five as well as wild dogs, antelopes, giraffes, zebra, and various species of birds.
Follow the day tour of this park in the next video:
Lion and Safari Park
If you want an up-close and personal meet with the king of the jungle then head to the Lion and Safari park which is less than an hour’s drive from Johannesburg.
The highlight of the park is the chance to cuddle a lion cub, take a cheetah for a walk, and hand-feed giraffes.
There is also the chance to join a guided game drive in the park to see lions, cheetahs, antelopes, zebras, ostrich, wild dogs, and other types of animals.
Other activities include river rafting and nighttime feeding tours.
Lindfield Victorian House Museum
Life in Victorian times is a fascination for many, and the Lindfield Victorian House Museum, a provincial Heritage site, provides a glance at life in that era.
The Victorian house was designed by Herbert Baker, and the furniture inside and all items on display all date back to the 19th century.
To note is that although this is a heritage site, that is still well preserved, the owner and guide still live in it.
Gold Reef City
If you just want good old heart-pounding fun, then you cannot pass up the opportunity to explore Gold Reef City.
This amusement park, has attractions like the tower of terror, Jozi express: a rollercoaster with sweeping views of the city, and an anaconda.
Some may label the park a Disneyland copy, but the park offers fun in droves to both adults and kids.
A slight caution; if you aren’t a fan of long waiting lines, then avoid the park during holidays and instead visit on an off-peak day like a Wednesday.
Take a ride!
The market Theatre complex, located in a converted market building is a big part of Johannesburg’s cultural life.
It houses four live theatre venues, where some of South Africa’s finest productions are presented.
Kippie’s is a popular jazz venue, for lovers of jazz, graced by well-known jazz musicians in the South African jazz scene.
Opposite the Market Theatre complex, a flea market is held each Saturday.
Take a tour!
This is a mixed-use urban renewal project that was once a rundown neighborhood.
The name Maboneng means “place of light” and the precinct doesn’t disappoint in that aspect.
Top attractions include the weekly Market on Main which showcases food from all over the continent.
Other attractions include the Revolution House and Arts on main, which are areas in which artist showcase their talents, studios, and shops.
Maboneng is a place to feel the vibe of the city, grab a bite, and chill with a drink.
The biggest and most vibrant township in South Africa is a must-go for visitors to Johannesburg.
To understand Soweto is to understand the rainbow nation. Most of the struggles against apartheid were fought in and around Soweto.
The township presents a cultural and enterprising adventure for tourists. Many of the attractions include the Nelson Mandela home, mentioned above, the Hector Peterson memorial site, and Kliptown.
In Soweto, you will get the chance to taste authentic South African dishes. Some of the local delicacies include chicken neck, chicken feet, pigs feet, and tripe accompanied by a variety of salads and paap: a maize kind of dow.
The Carlton Centre
Finally one of the best places to get a jaw-dropping awesome view of the city is on top of one of Africa’s tallest skyscrapers.
The Carlton Centre is a 50-story, four-block-long skyscraper in downtown Jo’burg. It is a shopping destination and offers unparalleled views of the city. Take a look!
Things to Note – FAQ About Johannesburg.
Johannesburg is a beautiful city, but unlike Cape town, it is landlocked, so don’t go there hoping for a surf haha.
Furthermore, here’s a little list of FAQs on Johannesburg:
Is It Safe To Travel To Johannesburg?
That depends on where you go I would assume and if you are wandering around carrying expensive equipment or not.
If you are visiting certain townships, I think it would be better to be guided by a local, I wouldn’t advise walking around Soweto by yourself as a white tourist, sadly. Just my 2 cents, as I heard the stories when I was there 🙁
Is Johannesburg Rich Or Poor?
Johannesburg is actually the wealthiest city in Africa, followed by Cape Town.
Most of Johannesburg’s wealth is concentrated in Sandton, where the head offices of most of Africa’s largest banks and corporates are located.
The city’s major sectors include financial services (banks) and professional services (law firms, consultancies). The total wealth of Jo’Burg is estimated at $226 billion!
It is also the most powerful commercial center on the continent of Africa.
How Is The Weather In Johannesburg?
In Johannesburg, the climate is subtropical, which means that it has mild, sunny winters (however, nights can get cold) and pleasantly warm summers; usually, they are sunny, but some afternoon thunderstorms do occur.
The hottest month for Johannesburg would definitely be January with an average high of 78°F and a low of 59°F.
On the other hand, the coolest month is July, with an average low of 37°F and a high of 62°F.
My Final Conclusion.
I hope that you now know what to do in Johannesburg and that you might consider visiting it, even though it can sometimes have a bad reputation for being dangerous for tourists.
In another blog post, I will tell you about all the places where you can stay for the night in Johannesburg, so please do bookmark my website for more information in the future 😉
If you have any questions or observations about this article or if you would just like to chat with me, please leave a comment below or join me for more pictures on one of my social media channels or even Facebook group.
I wish you happy travels!