Best Things To Do in Johannesburg
History buffs will find plenty to see and do in Jozi. From museums like the South African National Museum of Military History and the Apartheid Museum to historic properties like Constitution Hill and the Mandela House, chances are you'll have a full itinerary. For those looking for a bit more action, Gold Reef City offers an array of rides suitable for all ages. Other family-friendly attractions include the Johannesburg Zoo and Montecasino Bird Gardens. And if you'd rather take in some Jo'burg art, music, food and shopping, save time for a visit to the city's trendy neighborhoods like Melville and Maboneng Precinct.
Updated August 16, 2017
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For a thorough understanding of South Africa's appalling apartheid era, a visit to Johannesburg's Apartheid Museum is a must. The museum features a series of graphic yet informative exhibits, including an array of hanging nooses that represent the execution of 131 government opponents and a series of televisions that show footage of anti-apartheid residents being attacked and killed. The museum also features several interactive exhibits, such as a room where visitors are invited to move a stone from the right to a pile on the left to show their commitment to fighting discrimination and racism. There's also two museum entrances – one for whites and one for nonwhites – to denote the physical separations once apparent during apartheid.
Although several recent travelers warned that you will feel emotional while making your way through this attraction, many agreed that the Apartheid Museum's heartbreaking atmosphere is necessary to help you truly understand what occurred during this period. And remember to take your time here. With so much information to digest, at least a few hours (if not a full day) is recommended.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Johannesburg8.9 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/Mansions, Museums, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND8.9 miles to city centerHistoric Homes/Mansions, Museums, SightseeingTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Constructed in 1945 in the Orlando West section of Soweto, Johannesburg, the Mandela House became the home for Nelson Mandela (also known as Madiba) and his first wife, Evelyn Ntoko Mase in 1946. Although the pair divorced shortly after, Mandela continued to live in this quaint brick structure. His second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, eventually joined him here in 1948, and together the couple resided at the property with their two daughters. However, due to Mandela's prominence in the anti-apartheid movement, he was forced to leave his family to try to evade government authorities. As a result, Madiba would not return to his home until 1990 when he was released from prison following his arrest in 1962. But after a mere 11 days in the home, Mandela permanently left this Soweto property in favor of a larger, more secure home in Jozi's Houghton neighborhood, where he resided until his death in 2013.
After Madiba left his Soweto home, the property was converted into a museum, which now includes family belongings, honorary degrees and awards given to the former president, original kitchen appliances and furniture, and photographs of Mandela and his family. Although small in size, most visitors appreciate the insight this structure gives into South Africa's most famous politician. Another noteworthy feature: In the home's exterior, bullet holes and fire damage left from petrol bombs used during police raids are still visible.
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Located in the city's Braampark neighborhood, Constitution Hill provides travelers with a mix of old and new Jo'burg. For those looking for historic Jozi, there's the Women's Gaol, the Old Fort and Number Four, three former prisons that were used to separately house female, white and black political prisoners until 1987. Famous inmates of Number Four include Mohandas Gandhi and Robert Sobukwe, while the Women's Gaol once held prominent female activists like Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Fatima Meer and Albertina Sisulu. And iconic anti-apartheid leader Nelson "Madiba" Mandela holds the distinction of being the Old Fort's only black prisoner, kept here because of his status and escape concerns.
Also within steps of the former prisons is the Constitutional Court. Known as South Africa's highest court (much like the United States' Supreme Court), the Constitutional Court was founded after apartheid ended in 1994 and continues to serve as the highest court in important legal and constitutional matters. The property also features several noteworthy elements, such as a low-lying window that allows people to look into the court from outside (which represents the court's transparency) and an eye-level judges podium decorated with different Nguni cowhides (indicative of the diversity of the bench and equality between judges and lawyers).
- #4View all Photos#4 in Johannesburg0.8 miles to city centerFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND0.8 miles to city centerFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
Lovers of good food, contemporary art and trendy shops will enjoy exploring the city's Maboneng Precinct. Known for its eclectic vibe (think New York City's Chelsea neighborhood or the Hackney area of London), the once unsafe Maboneng Precinct now offers an array of quirky galleries, eateries, clubs and stores, many of which are housed in former factories and warehouses. The majority are located inside of Arts on Main, a multi-purpose building that acts as the neighborhood's central creative hub.
Although many of the shops are open during the week, Maboneng is best experienced on the weekend, most notably Sunday. That's when the neighborhood's popular Market on Main is held, which locals and tourists alike flock to for its array of international fare, live music and fun atmosphere. Another popular time to visit is on the first Thursday of every month — excluding January and April — when the area offers a night market, complete with live music and lots of food and crafts.
- #5View all Photos#5 in Johannesburg12.6 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND12.6 miles to city centerParks and Gardens, Zoos and AquariumsTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
One of Jo'burg's most popular family attractions, the Montecasino Bird Gardens – which sits about 19 miles northwest of downtown – houses an array of brightly colored birds, reptiles and smaller mammals within a lush garden setting. In addition to strolling through the property's grounds, visitors can feed more than 60 species of birds in the aviary or enjoy a 30-minute bird show at the on-site amphitheater.
Overall, past travelers raved about the Montecasino Bird Gardens. In particular, many appreciated the park's friendly staff, reasonable entrance fee and entertaining bird show. To truly make the most of your visit, reviewers suggested buying some food at the ticket office to feed to the birds.
- #6View all Photos#6 in Johannesburg2.8 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND2.8 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Whether you're a history buff, a military enthusiast or just want a place to cool off on a hot South African day, odds are you'll enjoy the South African National Museum of Military History. With an array of military exhibits that include everything from military vehicles and service medals to Anglo-Boer War paraphernalia and a small arms display, there's plenty to peruse. But the standout here is the museum's military aircraft collection, which features iconic planes like a Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter jet, a Blackburn Buccaneer S Mk 50 carrier-borne strike airplane and a de Havilland DH.98 Mosquito combat plane made mostly of wood.
In addition to its informative, attention-grabbing displays, travelers rave about the museum's friendly staff and well-maintained grounds. What's more, thanks to its kid-appropriate exhibits and proximity to the Johannesburg Zoo, the South African National Museum of Military History is a convenient attraction for visitors traveling with children.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Johannesburg3.1 miles to city centerAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND3.1 miles to city centerAmusement ParksTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
For a bit of heart-pounding fun, families cannot pass up an opportunity to explore Gold Reef City. Influenced by the region's prominent gold mining industry, this Jozi amusement park includes attractions like Tower of Terror (a former gold mine head converted into a freefall ride), Jozi Express (a rollercoaster with sweeping city views and several mine dump drop-offs) and Anaconda (a high-speed coaster ideal for adrenaline junkies). A kids section, multiple water rides and tamer experiences like gold panning and mine tours are also offered.
While some past visitors said the park is merely a wannabe Disney World, others argued Gold Reef City offers plenty of fun for adults and kids of all ages. Additionally, many of the food offerings receive high praise. But if you aren't a fan of long wait times for rides, avoid the park during the holidays. Instead, consider visiting during the offseason on a Wednesday or Thursday when local students are in school.
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