Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, and the second largest in the continent. Rich in history & culture, visiting the city is a must if you want a true South African experience. Before we headed to Durban for the Essence Festival, we hung out for a few days in Jozi (or Joburg, depending upon who you talk to). Here’s a peak into our experience that you can use as a guide when planning your trip to Joburg!
No visit to Johannesburg is complete without stepping foot in Soweto! Twenty minutes or so from the center of Joburg, Soweto is ground zero for many of the historic moments during Apartheid. Here’s what you should do while you’re there:
Located on Vilakazi Street in the Orlando West section of Soweto, the museum is also the house where Nelson, Winnie and family lived from 1946 to 1962. The museum preserves the home and gives visitors a chance to truly see the lives of the Mandela family during the darker moments in South Africa’s history.
Although the bungee jump facilities at the top of the towers were closed during our visit (no worries, because we’re always thinking of our next trip to Joburg!), we were able to catch a tour of Soweto via electric bike. If bungee jumping or electric bikes aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of other adrenaline pumping moments to be had here!
Pro Tip: Check the website before your visit and plan accordingly, as some of the activities may not be available on a particular day.
After visiting Mandela’s house and taking a ride through Soweto, grab a table at Vuyos for lunch. Right on Vilikazi St., Vuyos provides South African cuisine with a patio’s view of the hustle and bustle of Soweto.
Try the mogodu and the grilled inhlanzi (fish of the day — which was clip fish), and for a drink, a shot of Jameson with Appletizer.
On your way back into the city, make time to visit the Apartheid Museum. For us, visiting the museum the day after Election Night in the U.S. put a different light on the history of South Africa. We walked away informed, but angry. The museum doesn’t sugarcoat the terror of Apartheid and stands as a testament to the power of protest and the quest for equality. Definitely a must-see.
The Maboneng Precinct in Joburg has evolved into a collaborative hub of culture, business and lifestyle that entices curiosity, encourages exploration and promotes a sense of urban togetherness. Hit Curiocity Backpackers for a drink with some fellow travelers at the Hide Out Bar and Soul Souvlaki for a quick bite as you walk the block. If you're there in the evening, stop by Pata Pata for dinner and drinks!
Famous for holding both Mahatma Gandhi & Nelson Mandela, Constitution Hill is a testament to the inhumane ways of South Africa’s past. A tour of the former prison will frustrate you, as you’ll learn about how the varying degrees in which prisoners were treated based upon their color, and how the prisoners as a whole were treated during their time there. Today, it stands as the Constitutional Court of South Africa, shifting its history from bias and prejudice to equality.
In Melrose Arch, an upscale development in the northern part of Joburg, Moyo takes traditional African dishes and places its own modern twist on them. The food and the ambience were equally fantastic. Have a dawa and the flame grilled chermoula fish for a perfect dinner. A visit on the right night will bless you with live music from a local band.
Alexandra is Johannesburg’s first township, and also the first place Mandela lived when he came to Joburg. We visited the township of Alexandra (also known as “Alex”) the day after torrential rains hit the city of Johannesburg and during our time there, we witnessed the aftermath of the storm and its impact on the homes near the Jukskei River. The South African government is currently in the midst of reforming the township, as it is one of the poorest, most densely populated areas of the city. The destruction from the floods add to the already low availability of housing in the area.
Looking for souvenirs that aren’t your run-of-the-mill trinkets? On your way outside of the city to visit the Cradle of Humankind, stop by the Bryanston Market for a snack (or if you’re really hungry, a seat at one of restaurants within) and access to some of the more creative art & clothing.
A visit to Johannesburg is not complete with a trip to the caves. Located in the Cradle of Humankind, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to several major archeological discoveries such as “Little Foot,” an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton dating back three million years.
Tumulus for lunch
After working up a sweat in the caves, hit Tumulus for lunch. Situated at the top of the Maropeng visitor’s centre, the restaurant offers a spectacular view over the Cradle of Humankind. If the weather is nice, grab a table outside on the patio!
Our experience is just a small taste of what you can experience in the “city of gold.” A short drive can lead you to safaris, historic sites, and moments you’ll never forget. Johannesburg is also a great place to start if you are looking to visit multiple cities during your time in South Africa, and a great compliment to the experiences you’d have in Cape Town or Durban. All in all, Jozi should definitely be on your list of places to visit or revisit, because you can’t possible do it all in one trip!