Once known as the impoverished apartheid slum where Nelson Mandela lived, Soweto has evolved into a place of pride for many, the hot heart of the new democratic South Africa. On Vilakazi Street are the early homes of two Nobel prize laureates, Mandela and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Then there’s the Hector Pieterson Museum, commemorating Pieterson and other youngsters killed in the Soweto uprisings captured on screen in Sarafina!. Today there are numerous tours into the township, showcasing its taverns, B&Bs, a theatre and even a Soweto bungee jump from the Orlando cooling towers. Base yourself at our pick of the best hotels in Soweto to get to know its fascinating history and culture.
The Soweto Hotel & Conference Centre
3.7/5 (12 Reviews)
The Soweto Hotel & Conference Centre | Courtesy of The Soweto Hotel & Conference Centre / Expedia
Set in Kliptown, the oldest residential area of Soweto, this four-star hotel has 46 deluxe standard rooms and no fewer than two presidential suites. Decor is a sophisticated take on African traditional, with checked blankets, rich colours and quirky cushions printed as mealie sacks. The on-site Jazz Maniacs restaurant, named for the 1950s band, serves traditional continental and full English breakfasts, but don’t miss the township’s eateries to taste specialities like sautéed chicken livers and ujeqe (dumplings), and vetkoek (magwinya) with atchar, as well as local porridges – mdoko (mealie meal), ting (sour porridge) and sorghum (mabele).
This two-storey face-brick home in Dlamini Extension has seven guest rooms with all mod cons. Ask for a deluxe room with a balcony, and make use of the braai facilities. Regina Mundi Catholic Church, the largest Catholic church in Soweto known as ‘the people’s cathedral’ for the role it played as a gathering place for Sowetans during the anti-apartheid struggle, is a short walk away. Vilakazi Street and the Hector Pieterson Museum are within 8km (5mi).
The delightful Wilhelmina and Phineas Kutumela, former teachers with a passion for travel, offer six affordable, comfortable and colourful en suite rooms with ceiling fans for the summer heat and bar fridges. There are braai facilities, and the Kutumela’s tour operation will take you to popular and less-known attractions of the township.
Many swear this is the best way to see Soweto, with accommodation ranging from comfortable, impeccably clean single and double rooms (some en suite) to dorms and ready-pitched tents (or you can bring your own). Self-cater in a communal kitchen, braai, or take advantage of Lebo’s Outdoor Restaurant and Bar across the way in their Community Park. There’s free wifi throughout. By day, book a bicycle, tuk-tuk or walking tour of the township. Come back to a traditional feast under the lapa, around the boma or on a picnic blanket, with Lebo’s potjiekos (stew cooked in a three-legged cast-iron pot on the fire), braaied meat, curry and salads.
Bed and Breakfast
4.7/5 (3 Reviews)
Flossie’s Bed and Breakfast | Courtesy of Flossie’s Bed and Breakfast / Expedia
Sixty-something Flossie and her team have a reputation for hospitality. Her home in Pimville is within walking distance of Maponya Mall (one of the biggest in Joburg) and 3km (2mi) from Walter Sisulu Square, where in 1955 some 3000 people gathered to adopt the Freedom charter, the basis of the South African constitution. Choose between three simple but inviting rooms with African touches, air conditioning and wifi. Flossie runs day and night tours of Soweto, and for a quiet night in, there’s a mini reading library at reception.
This has sleek rooms with all mod cons overlooking a lake, and is well-positioned to visit Soweto. A 16-minute drive from Roodepoort takes you to Mandela’s House and the Hector Pieterson Memorial. You’re also just 15 minutes from the Constitution Hill human rights precinct, where the infamous century-old prison is now a centre housing the High Court and local history exhibitions, and from the Apartheid Museum, chronicling the recent history of South African in a striking setting. The Walter Sisulu National Garden is 17 minutes away, as is the Gold Reef City theme park for light relief.