Johannesburg divides South Africans into two: those who love and adore the city and those who hate it at all costs. In any case, we can’t deny that it is not only the centre of art & culture but also a city with a thriving business and startup scene. We have to be honest; we absolutely lowered our expectations when we made our first visit; however, we were pleasantly surprised by the combination of history, culture, diversity and friendliness of people.
One challenge of visiting this unique metropolis is that it is really large with many neighbourhoods and attractions spread out. If you have limited time (24 hours or maybe even less), you might even give up on exploring it. So, here are a few suggestions for you to make the most of it.
1. LEARN THE LOCAL HISTORY WITH PAST EXPERIENCES
One of the quickest and most productive ways of exploring a city is to join the guided walking tours and Johannesburg is no exception. Past Experiences is one of the oldest and most regarded tour companies with a wide range of tours through the inner city. The tours successfully inform you about the history and evolution of historic neighbourhoods such as Braamfontein, Maboneng and Newtown.
Among the unique tour options offered are street-art tours looking at graffiti, shopping tours taking tourists to vibrant street markets and evening tours informing tourists about the apartheid era and the mining history. We can guarantee you that you will learn more in one day than others can barely learn in one week.
2. GRAB A SEAT ON THE HOP ON – HOP OFF BUS
We admit; walking in a city with notorious crime rates can be intimidating even with a guide. If so, why don’t you consider taking the old friend called the ‘Hop On & Hop Off’ buses? Luckily, these buses run regularly for tourists and take you to 20 attractions including the Carlton Center, Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill. You can get off at any destination you desire, spend as long as you need and take the next bus to continue your journey. 1-Day Ticket option allows unlimited access to the red buses and includes a shuttle service that can pick you up from selected hotels in the city. The ticket costs R200 for adults and R120 for children.
3. SOWETO’S GUIDED WALKING TOURS
If you made a little research about the history of Johannesburg, you would find out that the township of Soweto witnessed many events throughout the 20th century. Today, it is the most populous district of Johannesburg, almost as crowded as the whole of Cape Town. Walking tours will take you to the houses where important political figures of apartheid-era once lived, such as Nelson Mandela House, Desmond Tutu House, Winnie Mandela House and Hector Pieterson Museum.
Important landmarks such as Diepkloof (an extremely affluent neighbourhood among the townships) and Orlando Towers (tower that used to belong to power plants, now serving as a bungee-jumping spot). The prices of the tours range from R600 to R800 depending on the length and scope of the tour, but most of them include pick-up from and drop-off at your location via shuttles. Prepare to witness the chaotic harmony of the richest and the poorest parts of Johannesburg in one day.
4. SPOT WILD GAME AT PILANESBERG
Here is a bonus suggestion for those who are not interested in the concrete jungle. Pilanesberg Nature Reserve is only two hours from Johannesburg and is a perfect alternative to Kruger National Park that is much further away. Being with professional guides the whole time, you will be at the right place at the right time to spot the Big Five. The daily tours include transportation and lunch meals. Although it currently costs R2250 per person, there are discounts for large groups of 10 or more people.
5. STRIKE LUCKY IN GOLD REEF CITY
Situated only 8 kilometres from the city centre, this amusement park and casino has a lot to offer. Whether you’re travelling solo, with family, or young children, there are enough options to cater for all. Watch a movie in the Victorian-themed cinema, go bowling, eat at one of many fine dining restaurants, or play the slots. There’s lots of family-friendly roller coasters, live shows, and entertainment on offer. Gold Reef City is a must for all, especially, high-class, luxury travellers wanting to spend time in an elegant casino resort.
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The theatre connoisseur need not look any further as we cater for all preferences, ranging from large Broadway shows making their Johannesburg debut to popular musicals, hilarious comedy and much more. The stunning Lyric Theatre in Johannesburg South is home to some of the best shows in the city. Find out more at goldreefcity.co.za #LoveGRC
6. DISCOVER YOUR ROOTS AT THE CRADLE OF HUMANKIND
This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to a rich collection of early human remains. Just 50 minutes away from the city, the Cradle of Humankind is a museum and series of caves. Within the caves lay the remains of ancient animals, plants and hominids. The most prominent cave, Sterkfontein, is home to Mrs Ples and Little Foot, both of which are the earliest known ancestors of man. You can take a self-guided tour, which is highly interactive, and explore the fossil remains at your own pace. The site is open daily between 9 am and 5 pm. The entry fee is around R120.
Where to Eat in Johannesburg
- Marble Restaurant – Great spot for cocktails with cosy seating areas. It also offers vegetarian options.
- Restaurante Parreirinha – An upmarket, atmospheric Portuguese and seafood venue. We recommend trying the prawn and peri-peri dishes.
- Moyo (Melrose Arch) – an African, multi-level restaurant, with dishes from around Africa and African-inspired decor, plus live bands.
- Lucky Bean Restaurant – A highly-rated, South African bistro-style fare in a relaxed, contemporary space, plus a bar with cocktails and DJs.
- Foundry – A western bar and bistro. Serving cold craft beers, home-roasted coffee and global dishes in a contemporary, rustic-look bar and eatery. See their menu here.
Where to Stay in Joburg
- Four Seasons Hotel (The Westcliff) – A 5-star hotel, boasting a chic property overlooking Johannesburg Zoo, offering 2 heated outdoor pools, 5 restaurants & a spa.
- The Munro Boutique Hotel – A 5-star hotel with antique-filled suites, plus a 3-story atrium & an outdoor infinity pool with panoramic city views.
- Villa Simonne Boutique Hotel – A quirky, 4-star hotel with lavish themed suites, plus an outdoor cinema, a pool and a restaurant.
- 10 2ND Avenue Houghton Estate – A boutique, 5-star hotel offering a halal restaurant & an alcohol-free bar, as well an outdoor pool.
Getting to Johannesburg
There are loads of affordable, domestic flights to and from Johannesburg International Airport. You can use Travelstart to search, book, and compare cheap flights throughout the year. Travelstart curates the best deals across South Africa. Whether you’re travelling alone, with friends, or family, they have you covered. Find out more here: https://www.travelstart.co.za/
For those who have a layover in Johannesburg, or plan to spend a day or two in the city, we got you covered. This list will keep you entertained and allow you to make the most of your visit. Have any further suggestions for things to do in JHB? Leave your comments below.