Something for Everyone in Johannesburg

More often than not when planning an adventure to South Africa, the itinerary is limited to Safari and Cape Town. Rarely does the country’s big city, Johannesburg (Joburg to the locals) get a moments notice. Joburg is vibrant, bustling and has just as many insightful and entertaining attractions as the rest of the country.

Here is what to do in and around Johannesburg and there really is a little something for everyone.

City Slickers 

1.Neighbourgoods Market

This lively weekend only market is easily the best food market in the city. A maze of stalls with an array of cuisine and drinks from cake, paella to fresh oysters and organic wines.neighbour goods market

2. Mangwanani African Spa

This is no ordinary spa where you pop in for a mani/pedi, rather an African retreat that focuses on pampering and relaxing in a beautiful nature-inspired setting.

3. Sandton City

The biggest and best shopping centre in Johannesburg – the shopping mecca of the city – Located in the mall is the Nelson Mandela Square, which is home to wonderful restaurants, a great place to people watch and the Nelson Mandela Statue.

4. Sunset over the Highveld

Carlton Centre is Africa’s tallest building, the Observation Deck on the 50th floor has an unbeatable 360-degree view of the city. But there are a few more conveniently located places you can grab a cocktail and watch the sunset. The trendy San Deck, Tsogo Sun Hotel. The poolside Island Bar, Southern Sun Hyde Park. Get a panoramic view of the city at the rather undiscovered Higher Ground Restaurant in the St. Stithians College grounds. Or grab a drink on the terrace of the iconic hillside Westcliff Hotel, Flame Restaurant which also has an amazing city view.

Carlton Centre_Pictorgram PhotographyImage by Pictorgram Photography

History and Cultural Buffs

5. Apartheid Museum

Gives you a peek and an understand into what the oppressive apartheid South Africa was really like. But it is not all doom and gloom, the museum serves as a beacon of hope demonstrating how South Africa is coming to terms with its past and working towards an inclusive rainbow nation.

In the same complex is the country’s biggest and best amusement park – Gold Reef City.

6. City Walking Tour

Take a free walking tour through the busy streets of the inner city or the now very hip Braamfontein area, showcasing the city’s vibrancy and historical landmarks.

Johannesburg_Pictorgram PhotographyImage by Pictorgram Photography

7. Union Building 

The impressive Union Building (South Africa’s parliament building) situated on the top of the highest point in the capital city, Pretoria. It is like a castle lording over the city. Access to the building is prohibited but just to marvel at this landmark structure and stroll through the surrounding indigenous gardens with their scenic view over the city is well worth a visit.

8. Soweto Tour

One of the largest townships in the South Africa and the battleground of many significant historical events. Soweto will give you a glimpse into the other side of the city. A tour through this lively informal settlement will highlight the country’s history, struggles as well as the country’s development and sense of community. Whether a full day or half day visit, these enlightening tours will leave you feeling grateful, reflective and humbled.

Soweto_Pictorgram photographyImage by Pictorgram Photography

Nature Lovers

9. Sterkfontein Caves

Situated in the Cradle for Humankind, an area in which most of the world’s human fossils have been found. It is here in the biggest and best-known of the caves – Sterkfontein – that the most significant finds, Mrs Ples (a skull dating back 2.5-million years) and Little Foot (an almost complete ape-man skeleton that could be just over 4 million years old) were found.

10. Hot Air Balloon

Is there really any better way to take in the breath-taking landscapes of the Cradle of Humankind and Magaliesberg than soaring above at the stillness of sunrise.

Hot air balloonImage by Hendra Pontomudis

11. Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

A sanctuary outside the CBD. The Botanical Gardens is a massive reserve filled with indigenous flora and fauna. Pack a picnic basket or go for a hike on one of the many trails through the reserve or simply go to admire the waterfall and try spot the Black Eagles that nest on the waterfall cliff.

There is a fee to enter the Botanical Gardens but if you looking for a little escape and a picnic spot Zoo Lake or Emmarentia Dam are free, safe and beautiful.

Botanical Gardens

12. Monkey Sanctuary

Walk through the 7-hectare reserve whilst the monkeys live, roam and play freely. Many of the primates were raised as household pets (so some are very friendly) but have been rescued and given a new lease on life to live as they would in the wild.

Monkey Sanctuary

I urge you not to visit the Elephant Sanctuary next door, as it offers elephant interaction and rides which equates to unethical treatment of the animals. Practice responsible tourism.  

A 2.5-hour drive out of the Johannesburg gets you to the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, home to the Big Five. The well-maintained roads within the park allow you to take your own self-guided drive or you can opt to book a game drive.
The reserve also borders Sun City, an entertainment complex with a man-made beach resort.
Sun City

Visit the official Gauteng Tourism site for more info on what to do in the different neighbourhoods and hotels, restaurant, boutique shop ideas

Safety guidelines from a born and bred Johannesburg city girl

  • Stick to using Uber or a reliable taxi company, and not the local trains or white minibus taxis
  • Don’t leave anything visible on the cars seats when you park and leave your car, place items in the boot (trunk)
  • Don’t drive around with your handbag/ backpack on the passenger/ back seat.  Place items in the boot (trunk) whilst driving as this is an easy target to have your car window smashed at a traffic light and your belongings stolen
  • Don’t walk/ drive in unsavoury areas (hotels and B&Bs will advise you on where to steer clear of)
  • Beware of pickpocketing in crowded area and public parks (as with everywhere in the world)
  • Walking in downtown Joburg CBD or through the townships alone is not advisable, rather book a tour

The question on most people’s minds, is South Africa Safe? Yes, in general walking around in main tourist hubs, shopping malls and driving the streets you will be fine. But you do need to be vigilant just as you should be where ever you choose to travel.

Have you visited Johannesburg? How many of these items have you done? 

Tracey Pictor

Tracey is a South African expat living, travelling and working her way around the world with my dear husband and cat.

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