Johannesburg Travel Guide

South Africa  

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.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated August 16, 2017

  • #1
    Things to do in Johannesburg
    View all Photos
    #1 in Johannesburg
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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.

  • #2
    Mandela House
    View all Photos
    #2 in Johannesburg
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Museums, Sightseeing
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME 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.

  • #3
    Constitution Hill
    View all Photos
    #3 in Johannesburg
    Museums, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Sightseeing, Tours
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    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).

  • #4
    Maboneng Precinct
    View all Photos
    #4 in Johannesburg
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Free, Neighborhood/Area
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME 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.

  • #5
    Montecasino Bird Gardens
    View all Photos
    #5 in Johannesburg
    Parks and Gardens, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Zoos and Aquariums
    TYPE
    2 hours to Half Day
    TIME 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.

  • #6
    South African National Museum of Military History
    View all Photos
    #6 in Johannesburg
    Museums
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME 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.

  • #7
    Gold Reef City
    View all Photos
    #7 in Johannesburg
    Amusement Parks
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Amusement Parks
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME 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.

Explore More of Johannesburg

Recommended

The World's 30 Best Places to Visit in 2019-20

Using reader input and expert analysis, U.S. News identified the latest can't-miss vacations.

Tilly PeckerJune 25, 2019

The 16 Best San Diego Tours

Take advantage of the adventures this coastal city has to offer with a guided trip.

Lyn MettlerJune 24, 2019

12 Top Napa Valley Wineries to Visit

Set your sights on these can't-miss wineries during your next visit to California's wine country.

Lyn MettlerJune 24, 2019

The 6 Best Denver Brewery Tours

Discover the buzz about Denver's craft beer scene with these tours.

Holly JohnsonJune 21, 2019

The 10 Best Charleston Walking Tours

Experience true southern hospitality as you explore Charleston on one of these strolls.

Claire LawtonJune 20, 2019

The 15 Best Charleston Tours

See everything this historic South Carolina city has to offer on one of these guided excursions.

John RodwanJune 19, 2019

The 5 Best Kauai Helicopter Tours

See the Garden Island's far-reaching beauty from the air.

Holly JohnsonJune 14, 2019

The 6 Best Las Vegas Helicopter Tours

Get a thrilling look at the lights and sights of Sin City and its surroundings with one of these tours.

Holly JohnsonJune 13, 2019

20 Road Trip Essentials for Your Vacation

These road trip must-haves can help you save money, travel more comfortably and ensure you stay safe on the open road.

Holly JohnsonJune 13, 2019

13 Top Charlottesville Wineries to Visit

Sip a glass of Virginia's signature viognier as the sun sets over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Gwen PratesiJune 12, 2019