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Johannesburg is one of South Africa’s most thriving cities, offering visitors an array of opportunities to experience local flair, flavour and fun. While there is much on offer in and around this city, it is possible to get a sense of Johnnesburg’s identity during a quick weekend stopover.
Jozi – as Johannesburg is referred to by locals – might not be a new visitor’s first port of call for South Africa, especially with stunning scenery in cities like Cape Town, but it’s definitely a town that shouldn’t be missed. It’s a place enriched with history, and it’s buzzing with trendy neighbourhoods that offer so much to visiting tourists. Here’s how to spend a weekend there.
As a country with a chequered political past, there are lots of noteworthy historical sites to visit. To learn more about the laws that shaped and divided South Africa’s population for most of the 20th century, a trip to the Apartheid Museum is a must. The exhibitions are evocative and brilliantly executed, giving visitors an opportunity to witness and immerse themselves into what life was like for the local community during the separatist years of apartheid. A whole morning can be spent here, so allow enough time to get through the exhibitions.
Keep up with the history trail by either heading to Nelson Mandela’s house in Soweto or Mahatma Gandhi’s home in the leafy suburb of Orchards. Mandela’s House, where he spent time with Winnie Mandela and his family from 1946 until being imprisoned on Robben Island, has been converted into a museum on Vilakazi Street. After a tour, enjoy the sights and sounds of this bustling township street and enjoy some traditional South African fare shisa nyama (barbecue) style at the popular Sakhumzi.
Alternatively, Gandhi’s Satyagraha House has been redeveloped and offers a blissful sanctuary in the city as both a museum and a guest house and offers a unique way to immerse yourself in the private life of the man and the history of a country.
If you’re in need of a lighter attraction after the museum, take a 20-minute drive to Gold Reef City – a theme park with Johannesburg’s best thrill rides centred around the city’s mining history. There you can grab a bite to eat, enjoy the rides, see a show or even take a tour down into the mines.
After a busy day, head to the Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, which offers panoramic views over Jozi’s skyline. It’s the perfect place to watch the sunset, cocktail in hand, and enjoy scenic views over the city. There are two restaurants at the Four Seasons, one being fine dining, that you’ll need to book ahead, as they’re popular spots for travellers and locals. If you happen to find yourself in the city in November you’ll notice the jacaranda trees, which are in full bloom and blanket the city in purple.
Get up early and head out of the city to the Lion and Safari Park & Cradle of Humankind, about an hour’s drive from the city. If a visit to any of South Africa’s big-game farms hasn’t been possible, this is the best opportunity to get up close to some of Africa’s most beautiful animals. After spotting some lions, cheetahs, hyenas and other big predators, don’t forget to visit the giraffes; you’ll get a chance to feed them.
Spend the afternoon exploring the historical Cradle of Humankind, with highlights being the Maropeng Visitor Centre and Sterkfontein Caves, where Robert Broom and John T. Robinson discovered a 2.3-million-year-old fossil, known as ‘Mrs Ples’. In order to do both activities, don’t forget to purchase a combination ticket. The area has plenty on offer, so if exploring small, dark spaces is not your thing, head to one of the many award-winning restaurants for lunch (Roots at Forum Homini is outstanding).
If travelling out of the city is not an option, spend the day in Rosebank at the Keyes Art Mile, home to some of Johannesburg’s best art galleries – including Everard Read and CIRCA, which champion local artists. There are also some fantastic restaurants; Marble and Momo Kuro are utterly delicious and offer great views over the area. If art is still the flavour of the day, take a stroll up the road to the Goodman Gallery, which showcases both local and international contemporary artists whose work confronts entrenched power structures and inspires social change.
Head to the city’s vibrant Maboneng Precinct, where you can grab a bite at the Little Addis Café, which serves authentic Ethiopian cuisine. Afterward, head to The Market Theatre, where you can watch a performance. The theatre always has good shows and was monumental in the formation of ‘struggle theatre’ against the apartheid regime, supporting writers such as Athol Fugard and actors like John Kani.
If you’re too tired to venture into the city, Parkhurst is an excellent alternative, where 4th Avenue offers a variety of restaurants, cafés and bars spilling out onto the pavement for al fresco dining. It’s always full of activity, no matter what time of the day. Coobs is known for its authentic farm-to-table fare and will not disappoint.
Tip: Keep in mind, public transport is not often available in South Africa, so it’s best to either hire a car or use a reliable taxi or tour service. If using a taxi service, ask your accommodation to assist with booking a reputable company, or if you prefer Uber, make sure to always check the driver’s details.