Johannesburg the most visited city in Africa. It is Africa’s economic capital. However, because Joburg has Africa’s busiest airport, people often use the city as a layover. However, instead of using it as a layover, turn it into a spectacular stopover because there are so many things to do in Johannesburg.
Before you start planning, you should know:
- Johannesburg goes by many names—Joburg, Jozi, Egoli, city of gold.
- Just like in other big cities, crime is an issue. But it’s 100% avoidable if you stick to safer areas like Rosebank, Sandton, Maboneng, Braamfontein. It is best to avoid downtown Johannesburg, Hillbrow, and other sketchy areas. Wherever you travel, it’s also wise to follow sensible tips for staying safe.
What to do in Johannesburg, South Africa
Shopping and Entertainment
1. Shop at the lively Market on Main
The Arts On Main/ Market On Main is in the lively Maboneng Precinct. The area had previously suffered through urban decay, but it has been revived. The market was converted from warehouses and industrial buildings into galleries, artist studios, and shops. Check out regional foods and local design at their weekend market.
2. Explore the Neighbourgoods Market
This is one of the more prominent Johannesburg markets. If you’re in town on a Saturday, check it out. They have arts and crafts but also a variety of delicious food stalls and fresh fruit and vegetables.
3. Discover the Rosebank Rooftop Market
This is another weekend market—this one is open on Sundays. They have gourmet food traders, live music, and a large variety of craft stalls.
4. Visit the Gold Reef City Theme Park
Gold Reef City is one of South Africa’s biggest theme parks. As with any theme park, you can expect fun rides, restaurants, and retail stores. But Gold Reef City is a little different from other theme parks—the park takes you to the gold rush in the 19th century! They also have an underground mine tour.
5. Enjoy a show at the Market Theatre
The Market Theatre has a special place in many South African hearts because since its opening in 1976 and throughout the Apartheid era, it has operated as an independent, non-racial theatre. It has won 20+ international awards for its artistic works. This is a good place to see local talent perform.
6. Get your gamble on at Montecasino
If you enjoy a few hours in a casino, definitely check out Montecasino. It is one of the largest casinos in Gauteng, but it’s more than a casino! The Montecasino complex also has dozens of restaurants, a cinema, two theatres, bars, three hotels, a spa, a bird and wildlife garden, and a wide range of entertainment options for the whole family.
7. Take a tour of Soweto
Soweto is the largest black township in Johannesburg, South Africa. Many political activists like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and Desmond Tutu lived here. Soweto is known worldwide because of the massacre of school children during the Soweto Uprising, June 16th, 1976. (June 16th is now celebrated as Youth Day—a national holiday to commemorate the death of thousands of children during the apartheid years.)
8. Take a tuk tuk tour of Johannesburg
Tuk tuk tours are available in various spots around the city like Sandton, Rosebank, Soweto. Choose a place you’d like to see and tour it via a tuk-tuk.
9. Take a walking tour
Driving through a city is great, but if you walk, you get an in-depth look at the city, the culture, and the people. Johannesburg has several walking tours on offer, like the:
- Soweto walking tour,
- Maboneng art tour,
- Hillbrow tour,
- Johannesburg city center tour, etc.
10. Take a beer tour at the SAB World of Beer
The SAB World of Beer celebrates the history of South African beer through interactive tours. If you’d rather taste the beer than learn its history, you can go on a beer tasting tour instead.
11. See Johannesburg with the City Sightseeing red bus
The City Sightseeing bus is a great way to see a lot in a short amount of time. It’s safe, easy, convenient, educational, and very cost-effective! This is a hop on hop off bus that will take you through Johannesburg and its most popular attractions, including the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill.
Historical Landmarks & Museums
12. Visit Nelson Mandela’s House
As the home of South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela’s house (on Vilakazi Street) is now a national museum. Nelson Mandela lived there from 1946 to 1962. The museum contains artifacts and memorabilia that are connected to South Africa’s greatest icon.
13. Give thanks at the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum
Hector Pieterson is the heartbreaking symbol of resistance against the apartheid government. Hector was one of the first students killed during the 1976 Soweto Uprising. He was only 13 when he died. You may not recognize his name, but you may know of him. He captured the attention of the world and thereby highlighted the injustice of apartheid when his critically injured body was carried after he was shot. The Hector Pieterson Museum is two blocks from where he was shot and killed on 16 June 1976. (The Nelson Mandela Museum is nearby).
14. Go see the Apartheid Museum
In a vivid and dramatic way, the Apartheid Museum tells the story of Apartheid from 1804 to 1994. The exhibit is emotional as it documents the rise and fall of apartheid.
15. Check out Constitution Hill
In South Africa, Constitution Hill is important because there is likely no other prison that held so many famous men and women. These include Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Joe Slovo, Albertina Sisulu. This precinct also confined tens of thousands of ordinary people of all races, creeds, ages, and political agendas. These included women and children. There are self-tours or guided tours you can take. Constitution Hill also has events.
16. Explore the Cradle of Humankind
This is a World Heritage site. It is believed that humanity originated from this site. Here you will find the remains of the first hominid and several excavation sites.
17. Visit the Museum Africa
Museum Africa is in Newtown Johannesburg. It is a social and cultural history museum where you can discover various aspects of South African history. The museum has a large collection of artifacts, but only a few are on display at any one time.
18. Take a peek into the Lindfield Victorian House Museum
The Lindfield is a living museum of the Victorian era, so you will see historical settings that simulate the Victorian period. The house is in Auckland Park, Johannesburg. It is open by appointment only.
19. Stop by the South African Museum of Military History
This museum provides insight into all the wars and conflicts South Africa was involved in, including World War II. (The Ditsong National Museum of Military History is next to Zoo Lake—see below under Safari, nature & outdoor activities.)
20. Touch real meteorites from outer space at the Wits Origins Center Museum
“Wits” is short for the University of Witwatersrand. This is the university’s museum of African heritage and history through an extensive collection of fossils, rock art, ancient stone tools, and artifacts.
21. Discover local artists
Referred to by the locals as WAM, The Wits Art Museum is a beautifully curated museum with an outstanding collection of contemporary and traditional African art.
22. Check out The James Hall Museum of Transport
Go back in time and take an educational tour of the various modes of transport. The museum takes you from horse-drawn carriages to what you see today. This is the most comprehensive and certainly the largest transportation museum in South Africa.
23. The Credo Mutwa Cultural Village
This is an outdoor museum/ exhibition that showcases the African culture, art, sculptures and folklore of artist and traditional healer – Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa. It offers a wonderful opportunity for tourists looking for a more authentic village experience.
24. Remember the horrors of the past at The Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Center
The center does the important work of raising awareness about genocide, serving as a memorial for victims of genocide. It is a stark reminder of the consequence of racism, antisemitism, prejudice, xenophobia, and homophobia. The center’s focus is on the Holocaust and the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
25. Take a walk along Vilakazi Street in Soweto
Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners lived. During apartheid, this is where both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived. The street was named after Dr. Benedict Vilakazi, who wrote the first poetry book published in Zulu.
Safari, nature & outdoor activities
26. Explore the Mountain Sanctuary Park
This is approximately an hour’s drive from Johannesburg. It is beautifully nestled in the Magaliesberg Mountains, where you will find extraordinary rock formations and clear mountain pools. This is also a great spot for mountain biking and camping.
27. Have fun outdoors at the Hennops Hiking Trails
The Hennops trails are beautiful, unspoiled, and picturesque. It’s a great spot for picnics, braai/BBQ, hiking, mountain biking, and off-roading. There are 3 trails, historical sites along the trails, a river crossing (with a suspension bridge), a cable car, and an underground cave. You may also spot the wildlife that thrives in the area.
28. See the animals at the Johannesburg Zoo
The Johannesburg Zoo is a popular attraction for educational entertainment. It houses more than 320 species on 55 hectares of land.
29. Explore wildlife at the Lion & Safari Park
The Lion and Safari Park is about a 90-minute drive out of Johannesburg, but it is worth the drive. Once you are there, you can feed giraffes, pet lion cubs, take a self-drive tour through the park to see the wildlife, or go on a safari tour.
30. Appreciate nature at the Walter Sisulu botanical gardens
Take a relaxing stroll through The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens. Here you will a 76 yard/ 70m high Waterfall, 600 plant species, and 20 bird species to explore.
31. Enjoy a picnic or an event at Zoo Lake
Zoo Lake is a popular park in Joburg. Here you can go for a pleasant picnic or take a board ride on the lake. Zoo lake is also host to many events like the annual Jazz on the lake festival and the Artists under the Sun open-air exhibition. Zoo Lake has two dams—an upper feeder dam, and a larger lower dam. Both are constructed in natural marshland watered by the Parktown Spruit.
32. Go rafting at Hadeda Creek
The Hadeda Creek is on a beautifully secluded spot of the Vaal River. It is a great spot for locals to get away and go fishing, rafting. It’s also marketed as a teambuilding venue. Hadeda Creek is just over an hour’s drive from Johannesburg.
33. Bird watching at Montecasino Bird Gardens
The Montecasino bird garden has over 60 bird species plus iguanas, frogs, and small antelope to see. They also have bird shows featuring owls, cranes, pelicans, and vultures. If you are a flora enthusiast, you will also appreciate their collection of South Africa Cycad plants—the largest and most diverse private collection.
34. Find your way through giant mazes
If you are traveling with children, this is a great activity. Using a quiz, you try to find your way through the mazes.
35. Go birding at the Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary
This is a 7,5-ha bird sanctuary with more than 250 bird species recorded over 40 years. It is the oldest existing bird sanctuary in Johannesburg. If you are a birder, you will enjoy the tranquility as you listen to the sound of the birds.
36. Take an airboat ride on the Crocodile River
This is a bit of a drive out of Johannesburg, but it’s a popular leisure getaway for Joburg and Pretoria’s city dwellers. Tourists are welcome to enjoy the water sports.
37. Visit a Game reserve
South Africa is known for its Safaris, particularly those at Kruger National Park. However, Jozi has its share of game reserves too where you can go on guided safaris or self-drive safaris. Game reserves around Johannesburg include the Pilanesberg Game Reserve, Madikwe Game reserve, Dinokeng Game Reserve, Miki Private Game Reserve, etc.
38. Bungee jump from the Soweto Towers
If you are an adrenaline junky, you’re going to love this. Apart from bungee jumping, they also have base jumping, straight-jacket bungee jumping, wall climbing, paintball, and SCAD freefall, which is an unattached but controlled free fall. If adrenalin is not really your thing, you could simply go up to get a 360-degree view of Soweto.
39. Enjoy a hike through the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve
The Melville Koppies is a lovingly maintained Johannesburg City Heritage Site. It is a beautiful, unspoiled nature reserve that is popular amongst hikers and birders. It offers great views of Johannesburg and many points of interest that nature lovers will appreciate! The Melville Koppies also contains an archaeological site.
40. Croc City Crocodile & Reptile Park
This reptile park focuses on the conservation of indigenous reptiles. Crocodiles are bred here but you will also find tarantulas, tortoises, alligators, exotic reptiles, and indigenous snakes that are rescued or donated to the park.
41. Go ice skating at the Northgate Ice Rink
With South Africa’s climate being relatively mild, you may be surprised to know that Johannesburg has an ice rink. It’s a fun activity for those looking for something different to do.
42. Go hiking at Magaliesburg
Magaliesburg is just over an hour from Jozi. Primarily used for hiking and walking, the Magaliesberg hiking trail is a 5.2 mile lightly trafficked trail with beautiful wildflowers and views. It is suited for all skill levels.
43. Explore the Oppenheimer Gardens
The Oppenheimer Gardens (in Soweto) is a unique park that mixes history, art, nature, and African art. This is a wooded park where the trees attract a large and diverse collection of birds. There is also a large variety of herbs, succulents, and plants like aloe and wild olive that are used by traditional healers. (The Credo Mutwa village (mentioned above) is inside the Oppenheimer Gardens.
44. Roll down a hill in a giant ball
It’s called zorbing and it’s an exciting recreation. You will climb into a 3.28 yard/ 3m diameter ball before rolling down a 219 yard/ 200m slope. This is tons of fun for kids and adults alike. You’ll be given the option to roll down unharnessed with 40L of water, or fully harnessed and dry.
45. Watch cricket at the Wanderers Stadium
If you are lucky enough to visit when there is an international game, do check it out at the Wanderers Stadium. Otherwise, it’s also tons of fun to watch domestic games.
46. Watch international rugby at Ellis Park Stadium
If Johannesburg hosts a big rugby game, it will be held at Ellis Park. This is where you will want to be if you are in town at game time.
47. Watch Premium League Soccer at the FNB Stadium (Soccer City)
The FNB Stadium is home to Bafana Bafana – South Africa’s soccer team. The stadium also hosts over premium soccer games with the Kaizer Chiefs and other teams.
48. Eat your heart out in Johannesburg!
Because Johannesburg is the business capital of South Africa, there are tons of amazing restaurants. Even if you are on a budget, you could eat at upscale restaurants because the exchange rate is favorable to American and European travelers. Simply read reviews online, then take your pick of the best restaurants. You could also eat at any of South Africa’s chain restaurants, which are definitely worth a try. And if you are visiting over a weekend, absolutely make a stop at any of the Johannesburg markets for great local foods.
49. Take a deeper look at the African skies at the Wits Planetarium
Also known as the Johannesburg Planetarium, it serves as an academic and educational center. They offer a variety of shows, lectures, nightly events, and seasonal programs that are adapted to the conditions of the Johannesburg night sky.
50. Luxuriate at a spa
If you are looking for luxury and relaxation while you are visiting Johannesburg, you have lots of options. Where you choose to go will depend on what kind of service you are looking for. (The featured image above is from the Fairlawns Spa in Morningside.)