Experience Johannesburg: Top 10 Activities and Landmarks to Visit

Last updated on June 24th, 2023 at 05:21 pm

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and is located in Gauteng province. The city was founded in 1886 after the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand area which led to a gold rush and the rapid growth of the city. Johannesburg became the center of the gold mining industry in South Africa and played a major role in the country’s economy.

The city has a complex and diverse history shaped by colonialism, apartheid, and the struggle for democracy.

Today, Johannesburg is a vibrant and dynamic city with a rich cultural heritage and a diverse population. It is home to many important cultural and historical landmarks as well as a thriving arts and entertainment scene.

Some of the best tourist attractions in Johannesburg include:

1. Apartheid Museum: Look into South Africa’s Past

The Apartheid Museum chronicles the history and impact of apartheid the system of racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 to 1994. Here are some of the things to do at the Apartheid Museum:

  • Explore the exhibits: The museum has a variety of exhibits that cover the history of apartheid in South Africa. Learn about the origins of apartheid, its impact on South African society, and the struggle against it.
  • Watch the films: The museum has several films that provide additional context and perspective on the apartheid era. These films include archival footage and interviews with people who lived through apartheid.
  • Walk through the township: The museum has a replica of a township street, which provides a glimpse into what life was like for black South Africans under apartheid. Walk through the street and see the small houses, shops, and other buildings.
  • Read the personal stories: Throughout the museum, there are personal stories from people who lived through apartheid. Reading these stories provides a deeper understanding of the human impact of apartheid.
  • Attend a guided tour: The museum offers guided tours that provide a more in-depth look at the exhibits and the history of apartheid. The tours are led by knowledgeable guides who can answer questions and provide additional context.
  • Visit the memorial garden: The museum has a memorial garden where you can reflect on the legacy of apartheid and its impact on South Africa. The garden includes a wall of remembrance with the names of people who died during the struggle against apartheid.

2. Visit Constitution Hill: Understand the Struggle and Triumphs of South Africa’s People

Constitution Hill is a historical site that served as a prison complex from the late 19th century until the early 21st century. The site includes the notorious Old Fort prison, where political activists such as Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela were held, as well as the Women’s Jail and the Awaiting Trial Block.

Since the prison’s closure, the site has been transformed into a museum and cultural precinct that showcases South Africa’s history and heritage. Here are some of the things to do at Constitution Hill:

  • Visit the Old Fort Prison: The Old Fort Prison was built in 1892 and served as a prison for white male prisoners until 1983. It was notorious for its harsh conditions and was used to imprison political activists during apartheid. Take a tour of the prison and see the cells and other areas where prisoners were held.
  • Explore the Women’s Jail: The Women’s Jail was built in the 1920s and served as a prison for black women. Many political activists, including Winnie Mandela, were held at the Women’s Jail during apartheid. Take a guided tour of the jail and learn about the experiences of the women who were imprisoned there.
  • Learn about the Constitutional Court: The Constitutional Court is located on Constitution Hill and is the highest court in South Africa. Take a tour of the court and learn about its role in upholding the country’s constitution and protecting human rights.
  • Visit the Reflecting Pool: The Reflecting Pool is a tranquil space located on Constitution Hill where visitors can reflect on the site’s history and the struggle for human rights in South Africa. The pool is surrounded by quotes from South African leaders and activists and serves as a reminder of the country’s ongoing journey toward justice and equality.

3. Soweto: Symbol of South Africa’s Diversity and Unity

Soweto, short for South Western Townships, is a vibrant neighborhood located in the southwest of Johannesburg. Originally established in the early 20th century as a segregated area for black residents, Soweto played an important role in the struggle against apartheid and became a center of political and cultural activism.

Today, Soweto is a bustling and diverse community with a rich cultural heritage giving you a glimpse into the everyday life and history of Johannesburg’s residents. Here are some of the things to do in Soweto:

  • Visit the Hector Pieterson Museum: The museum is named after Hector Pieterson, a young boy who was killed during the Soweto Uprising in 1976. The museum tells the story of the Uprising and its significance in the struggle against apartheid.
  • Go on a bicycle tour: Several companies offer bicycle tours of Soweto which provide an opportunity to explore the township and learn about its history and culture. The tours often include stops at important landmarks such as the Regina Mundi Church and Nelson Mandela’s former home.
  • Visit Nelson Mandela’s former home: Mandela’s former home located in the Orlando West neighborhood of Soweto has been turned into a museum that tells the story of Mandela’s life and his role in the struggle against apartheid.
  • Experience Soweto’s food and culture: Soweto has a vibrant food and culture scene, with many restaurants, cafes, and shops that offer traditional South African food and handmade crafts. You can also attend cultural events such as music and dance performances.
  • See the Orlando Towers: The Orlando Towers are two decommissioned cooling towers that have been transformed into popular tourist attractions. You can bungee jump, swing, or abseil off the towers, or simply enjoy the view from the top.
  • Explore the Kliptown Open-Air Museum: Kliptown is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Soweto and played an important role in the struggle against apartheid. The Kliptown Open-Air Museum tells the story of the neighborhood and its significance in South African history.
  • Visit the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital: The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is one of the largest hospitals in the world and serves the people of Soweto and the surrounding areas. Take a guided tour of the hospital and learn about its history and current operations.

4. Visit Johannesburg Zoo

Johannesburg Zoo is a popular tourist destination located in the Parkview suburb of Johannesburg. The zoo, founded in 1904, is one of the oldest and largest in South Africa, occupying over 55 hectares of land. It is home to more than 320 species of animals, including primates, big cats, elephants, giraffes, and reptiles, as well as over 2,000 plant species in its botanical garden.

Here are some of the things to do at Johannesburg Zoo:

  • Attend animal feedings and talks: The zoo offers scheduled animal feedings and talks throughout the day where you can learn more about the animals and their behaviors.
  • Visit the Zoo Lake: This is a man-made lake located within the zoo and is a popular spot for picnics and leisure activities. You can rent paddle boats or take a stroll around the lake.
  • Explore the Mandela Garden of Remembrance: The Mandela Garden of Remembrance is a peaceful garden located within the zoo that honors the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. The garden features a statue of Mandela and a wall with his famous quotes.
  • Visit the Reptile House: The Reptile House is home to a variety of reptiles including snakes, lizards, and turtles. Learn more about these fascinating creatures and their importance in the ecosystem.
  • Enjoy the Children’s Zoo: The Children’s Zoo is a dedicated area within the zoo that offers interactive experiences for children such as feeding and petting animals. It also has a playground and a miniature train ride.

5. Gold Reef City: Johannesburg’s Premier Theme Park

Gold Reef City is a popular amusement park and entertainment complex in Johannesburg. The park is built on the site of an old gold mine and offers visitors a unique combination of history, culture, and entertainment.  Here are some of the things to do at Gold Reef City:

  • Experience the rides: Gold Reef City has over 30 rides including roller coasters, water rides, and thrill rides. Some of the most popular rides include the Anaconda roller coaster, the Tower of Terror, and the Miner’s Revenge.
  • Explore the theme park: The theme park is designed to look like an old gold mining town, with a variety of shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues. Explore the town, watch live performances, and see historical exhibits.
  • Visit the Gold Reef City Casino: The casino is one of the largest in South Africa and features a variety of slot machines and table games. Try your luck at the casino or enjoy live entertainment at one of the venues.
  • Take a mine tour: Gold Reef City is located on the site of an old gold mine and you can take a tour of the mine to learn about the history of gold mining in South Africa. The tour includes an underground mine ride and a visit to a gold pouring room.
  • Attend a live show: Gold Reef City features a variety of live shows including music concerts, theater productions, and comedy shows. Check the schedule and book tickets for a show that interests them.

6. Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

The Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden is a beautiful nature reserve and botanical garden located in Roodepoort, a suburb of Johannesburg. The garden covers an area of over 300 hectares and is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including over 600 plant species, over 200 bird species, and several small mammals.

Here are some of the things to do at Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens:

  • See the waterfall: The garden is famous for its waterfall which is a popular spot for picnics and relaxation. Take a walk along the hiking trail that leads to the waterfall and take in the beautiful views.
  • Explore the gardens: The gardens cover over 300 hectares and are home to a variety of plants including rare and endangered species. Explore the gardens on foot taking in the different habitats and ecosystems.
  • Visit the bird hide: The bird hide is a secluded viewing platform that offers a perfect view of the birdlife in the gardens. See a variety of birds including African fish eagles, kingfishers, and guineafowl.
  • Attend a concert: The gardens host a variety of events such as concerts and outdoor performances. Enjoy live music and entertainment while taking in the beautiful surroundings.
  • Enjoy a picnic: There are several picnic areas within the gardens that offer a peaceful setting for a picnic. You can bring your own food or purchase snacks and drinks from the onsite cafe.
  • Visit the nursery: The nursery at Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens is home to a variety of plants and seeds you can purchase and it’s a great place to find unique plants to take home as souvenirs.

7. Johannesburg Art Gallery

Johannesburg Art Gallery is a prominent art museum located in the city center of Johannesburg. The museum houses a large collection of African and European art, including paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings from the 17th century to the present day.

Here are some of the things to do at the Johannesburg Art Gallery:

  • View the art collection: The museum has a collection of over 9,000 artworks, including pieces from South Africa and around the world. The collection includes paintings, sculptures, and mixed-media pieces.
  • Attend an exhibition: The museum hosts a variety of exhibitions throughout the year, featuring works from contemporary artists, as well as historical pieces.
  • Visit the sculpture garden: The museum has a beautiful sculpture garden that features works from local and international artists. Take a walk through the garden and enjoy the sculptures and the surrounding greenery.
  • Enjoy the architecture: The museum building itself is a work of art with a beautiful neoclassical design that dates back to the early 20th century. Admire the architecture and learn about the history of the building.

8. Nelson Mandela Square


Nelson Mandela Square is a popular public square located in the heart of Sandton, Johannesburg. The square is named after the famous anti-apartheid activist and former South African president, Nelson Mandela.

Here are some of the things to do at Nelson Mandela Square:

  • Take photos at the statue of Nelson Mandela: The square is named after South Africa’s former president and freedom fighter and features a large statue of Mandela that stands over 6 meters tall. Take photos with the statue and learn about Mandela’s legacy.
  • Go shopping: The square is surrounded by high-end stores and boutiques including international brands like Gucci, Armani, and Louis Vuitton. Browse through the stores and shop for designer clothing, jewelry, and accessories.
  • Attend a cultural event: The square hosts a variety of cultural events throughout the year including music concerts, art exhibitions, and festivals. 
  • Relax in the park: The square is surrounded by a park that offers a peaceful retreat from the busy city. Take a walk, have a picnic, or simply relax and enjoy the scenery.

9. Cradle of Humankind: The Origins of Humanity


The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located just outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. The site covers an area of over 47,000 hectares and is home to a complex of limestone caves and underground rivers that have preserved the fossils and remains of early human ancestors, dating back millions of years.

 Here are some of the things to do at the Cradle of Humankind:

  • Visit the Maropeng Visitor Centre: The Maropeng Visitor Centre is the gateway to the Cradle of Humankind and offers a variety of exhibits and interactive displays that explore the history of human evolution. Learn about the geological processes that formed the site and see fossils and artifacts that date back millions of years.
  • Explore the Sterkfontein Caves: The Sterkfontein Caves are a network of limestone caves that have been a rich source of fossils and artifacts related to human evolution. Take a guided tour of the caves and see the excavation sites where famous discoveries have been made including the famous fossil named “Mrs. Ples.”
  • Take a hot air balloon ride: Take a hot air balloon ride over the Cradle of Humankind and enjoy panoramic views of the site from above. The balloon rides offer a unique perspective on the landscape and are a popular activity for visitors.
  • Visit nearby attractions: The Cradle of Humankind is located near several other attractions, including the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve, the Wonder Cave, and the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. You can combine your trip to the Cradle of Humankind with a visit to these nearby sites.
  • Learn about the local culture: The Cradle of Humankind is located in an area that is rich in cultural heritage including the traditional cultures of the Tswana, Sotho, and Ndebele peoples. Learn about local culture and traditions through guided tours and visits to nearby communities.

10. Market on Main: Food and Arts Market

Market on Main is a vibrant weekly market located in the trendy Maboneng precinct in downtown Johannesburg, South Africa. The market takes place every Sunday and offers visitors a unique shopping and culinary experience.

Here are some of the things to do at Market on Main:

  • Shop for local crafts and products: The market features a variety of vendors selling handmade crafts, jewelry, clothing, and accessories. Browse through the stalls and shop for unique gifts and souvenirs.
  • Try local food and drink: The market is also known for its food and drink offerings, which include a variety of street food vendors and artisanal producers. Try local favorites like boerewors (a type of sausage) or biltong (dried meat) and sample craft beers and cocktails.
  • Attend a live music event: Market on Main hosts a variety of live music events throughout the year, featuring local musicians and DJs. Enjoy a drink and dance to the music in the vibrant atmosphere of the market.
  • Explore the surrounding area: The Maboneng Precinct is a vibrant and diverse neighborhood that is home to a variety of shops, restaurants, and cultural attractions. Explore the area on foot and discover its unique character and charm.
  • Attend a workshop or event: Market on Main hosts a variety of workshops and events, including cooking classes, yoga sessions, and art exhibitions.

Best Time to Visit Johannesburg

Here are some things to consider as you plan to visit Johannesburg:

  • Weather: Johannesburg has a mild climate with warm summers and cool winters. The best time to visit for outdoor activities is during the summer months (November to February) when temperatures are warmer and there is less chance of rain.
  • Festivals and Events: Johannesburg hosts a variety of festivals and events throughout the year such as the Joburg Art Fair in September, the Johannesburg International Film Festival in November, and the Johannesburg International Mozart Festival in January.
  • Peak Season: Johannesburg is a popular tourist destination and can be crowded during peak travel seasons. If you prefer fewer crowds you may want to consider visiting during the shoulder seasons of March to May or September to November.
  • Wildlife viewing: For those interested in wildlife viewing the winter months (June to August) are the best time to visit as the dry season makes it easier to spot animals in national parks and game reserves.
  • Budget: Prices for accommodations and flights may be lower during the off-season (December to February) however you should be prepared for higher temperatures and the possibility of rain.

The best time to visit Johannesburg will depend on your personal preferences and the activities planned but you can expect a warm welcome and a unique and engaging experience in this dynamic city.

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