Johannesburg. Jozi. Joburg. This city is the true heartbeat of South Africa. Many people tend to skip over it during their travels to this beautiful country, spending only enough time to land at OR Tambo International Airport and board their flight either to Cape Town or a safari destination. Yet, spending a day in this dynamic and historical city will not only intrigue you, but you will come away with an appreciation of how far South Africa has come and where it is going. With a full day in this city, you will be able to become plugged in to the South African culture as well as understand what makes Johannesburg a wonderful destination.
GUEST POST BY KAT BUTLER
BLOG: World Wide Honeymoon
Plan your trip to Johannesburg
1. What’s the Best Time to Visit Johannesburg?
2. A Few Facts About Johannesburg
3. One Day in Johannesburg Itinerary
3.1. Take a Guided Tour of Soweto
3.2. Visit the Apartheid Museum
3.3. Downtown Sandton and Nelson Mandela Square
3.4. Dinner at Melrose Arch
4. Where to Stay in Johannesburg, South Africa?
5. Day trips from johannesburg
6. Extra Tips for Visiting Johannesburg
Johannesburg is known for its mild climate temperature-wise, and therefore you can visit it year-round. However, to avoid the rainier times of the year, April through October are ideal. This is their fall, winter, and spring months where temperatures are a little cooler with less rain. However, most travelers visiting Johannesburg are pairing their trip with a safari and/or Cape Town, in which visiting in the late spring/early summer months of September-November are ideal.
Johannesburg, also known as the city of gold, was established during the gold rush in South Africa in 1886. It has been remade four times over the years from a tented camp, to a shantytown made of tin, to only a handful of Edwardian brick buildings, and now to the megacity of skyscrapers that it is today. Johannesburg also houses the Cradle of Humankind, where 40% of the world’s human fossils can be found. Johannesburg is home to several townships, most notably Soweto, or “South Western Townships,” where Nelson Mandela lived. South Africa also hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Johannesburg.
The best thing you can do while visiting Johannesburg is to check out Soweto. Soweto is home to two million people and the largest black urban settlement in Africa. It is also home to so much culture and life that a true picture of Johannesburg isn’t complete without a visit. This is where Nelson Mandela lived, where the 1976 Soweto student uprising took place, and overall, it was a political center during the Apartheid. As with many townships in South Africa, though, it is wise to go with a local guide. Ilios Travel is a great company to go with for local guides.
Upon passing the colorfully painted Orlando Towers and the FNB Stadium shaped like an African pot, you’ll start to feel the pride and excitement that buzzes around this area. You’ll want to start with the footbridge of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, where you will see a panoramic view of Soweto.
Then, you will dive into the history of Soweto starting with the Hector Pieterson Memorial in Orlando West, built in memoriam to those who passed away during the tragic student uprising during the Apartheid on June 16, 1976. There is a museum next to it where you can learn more about the events leading up to the uprising, most notably the government forcing students to be instructed in Afrikaans, a language many students did not know or understand.
Next, you will continue to drive through the neighborhood of Orlando West, past homes ranging from tin to upscale. You will notice these houses show the vast discrepancy of rich and poor. It is very eye opening, yet you still see smiles and happiness exuding from both sides. Perhaps a lesson can be learned in finding happiness no matter the circumstances?
After the short drive, you will continue to Nelson Mandela’s home, which is now called the Nelson Mandela Museum. Small and humble, the home is full of slices of history of his imprisonment, release, and presidency. There are photos of him with family, dignitaries, and more. To get a good glimpse into his life and family, this house is a great site to see. Also in the neighborhood, you will drive past Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s house and the Sisulu residences.
The Apartheid Museum is a must-visit during your time in Johannesburg. You could either add this onto your tour of Soweto or go on your own afterwards. This museum shows the eye-opening effects of segregation, with each person receiving a card indicating whether they are white or non-white upon entry. This determines which entrance you may enter. You’ll only be separated for a short while, but the museum shows many aspects of the Apartheid era and the suffering that occurred. It also shows how they are moving forward into the future in South Africa.
The most moving part was the outside display of glass with life-size photos of various people looking ahead. “South Africa is for everyone” as they look to the future.
If you’re still with the guide, ask them if they have time to drive to downtown Johannesburg. You will see the bustling cityscape, stopping at Nelson Mandela Square. This square features a statue in memoriam to their late president, and it also is a huge dining and retail center.
After a long day of learning about the history of South Africa and the Apartheid, it is time to see the current-day Johannesburg. Melrose Arch is a large shopping and residential center that is very popular with the locals. Explore the cafés, go shopping, and grab dinner at one of the many delicious restaurants. It is a great excuse to sample some South African wine as well at many of these establishments. Try the Chenin Blanc or Pinotage and enjoy the ending to your day in Johannesburg.
The Peech Boutique Hotel
North Street, Melrose, 2196 Johannesburg
The Peech Hotel is located in the Melrose suburb north of the city. The Peech contains sixteen rooms, with a lush garden and pool located in the courtyard. They have beautiful guest rooms containing unique South African décor as well as a balcony overlooking the garden. It truly is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of a day in the city. They also have delicious food served in the dining room with fresh, seasonal ingredients that are locally sourced or grown in their own garden. Don’t forget to wash the meal down with their small, independently crafted wine, spirits, and beers.
African Pride Melrose Arch
1 Melrose Square, Melrose, 2196 Johannesburg
African Pride Melrose Arch is located near Melrose Arch in the northern suburbs of Johannesburg. This artistic hotel is situated in the perfect spot for dining, going out, and more. With plush bedding, rainforest showers, and a relaxing pool, it is the perfect spot to end your day exploring the city of Johannesburg.
You’re in Africa, so it’s only natural that you want to see as much as possible. Fortunately, day trips from Johannesburg offer plenty of excellent destinations, and you won’t be disappointed, no matter which one you choose. Here are a few suggestions.
Pilanesberg National Park
A trip to Pilanesberg National Park is everything you’ve ever dreamed of when it comes to visiting Africa. The incredible photo safari tour you take there will bring you eye to eye with this continent’s big five: lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and Cape buffalo. You can even get some serious photo equipment at the park! Come here to experience the true meaning of African safari.
The Cradle of Humankind
The Cradle of Humankind is a huge area relatively close to Johannesburg and therefore a great choice for a day trip. See where the incredible journey of the human race, of all of us, started and explore the cave in which fossils of early humanoids were found. This UNESCO World Heritage Site also has a superb exhibition, so you can truly learn a whole lot in just one day. Visit this place to see the links that bind us all.
Just over 50 kilometers away, Pretoria is definitely a city worth seeing. Visit the nearby Cullinan mines where some of the world’s most exquisite diamonds are mined. Hazel Food Market is something every foodie must visit with treats from all over the world, but the impressive Voortrekker Monument is a sight to behold, too. With many other sights and a beautiful botanical garden to explore, Pretoria is the perfect choice if you want to see another South African city.
Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center
Yep, cheetahs. The fastest land animals in the world. Meet these incredible creatures up close in the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Center on the outskirts of Pretoria. This is a full-fledged safari we’re talking about, so you will be taken on a spectacular ride through the reserve and see many other animals, as well. Cheetahs are the stars of the show, though.
Kruger National Park
Be warned, Kruger National Park is not that close. It’s about a four hours’ drive, so if you’re planning this for your day trip from Johannesburg, plan carefully. That being said, the trip will be well worth it. An incredible array of all kinds of animals await you here, and you will witness Africa at its most beautiful. You can also stop for a meal, which will certainly be one of the most unique lunches you ever have in your life. If you have the time and the energy, go for it!
- Be careful if wandering around, as Johannesburg does have a higher crime rate than most cities. Be aware of your surroundings, don’t walk around at night, and don’t wear flashy clothes and jewelry. Most crime happens in townships, which is why going with a local guide is a smart idea versus on your own.
- Ubers are readily available throughout the city, just be sure to check that the license plate matches the app.
- Some of the local slang:
- “Hayibo!” means “Wow!”
- “Howzit?” means “How is it going?” or “How are you?”
- “Ag Man!” means “Oh man!”
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Enjoy your time in this less often visited city in South Africa! It truly is one of a kind and a great introduction into the heartbeat of the country.
Make sure you have everything you need
What to pack for your next trip?
Make your next trip as simple and as enjoyable as possible by packing smart. It’s amazing how much stress top travel items can save you, so choose carefully.
Things like lightweight travel backpacks, for example, are ideal for short trips and allow you to move around with ease, and a passport holder will make sure you keep your documents safe at all times.
Check our travel checklist guide for 2021 to make sure you haven’t missed anything, and travel to your next destination in style and with maximum comfort.
Kat Butler is based in Cleveland, Ohio and runs the blog World Wide Honeymoon, where she writes about couples travel, tips, destinations, and travel hacking to stay and fly places for less with your love (and maybe in a little luxury too). With over 1.2 million points collected and flights to 4 continents and 11 countries booked using airline miles, she’s teaching you how to do the same. Some of her favorite destinations include South Africa, Budapest, Paris, and Asheville, NC.