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Things To See in Johannesburg, South Africa

While the city may well serve as the main gateway to South Africa’s major tourist regions, Johannesburg itself also has plenty to offer tourists when it comes to attractions and activities.

One of the first places most people visiting Johannesburg wish to see are the South Western Townships or Soweto. Famous all over the world for the riots which took place there in 1976, Soweto contains some nice areas which are worth seeing. It is recommended that you take a professional tour there, however, rather than organise your own as you will not be familiar with the different areas of the region. Oh these tours usually lead to a shebeen or local pub for a drink too so you can really get to see what life there is like – or so the story goes.

The city is also home to a wide variety of recreational activities. You will find numerous musems and galleries throughout the city including the impressive Museum Africa, the South African National Museum of Military History, the Bensusan Museum of Photography, the South African Breweries Museum, the Johannesburg Art Gallery and the Nelson Mandela Museum.

The zoo and botanic gardens are the perfect escape for those of you who want to hit the outdoors without leaving the city itself. And, if it’s watersports you’re after, head to nearby Vaal Dam where you can sail, water ski, fish, swim etc. etc. Finally, for the animal lovers among you, there’s a cheetah farm, snake parks and a crocodile farm where you can even purchase an authentic crocodile handbag if you so wish. It may seem a little wrong but rest assured, they are really good value.

And on the subject of bargains, Johannesburg is also renowned as a shopper’s paradise and prices are somewhat cheaper compared to those outside Africa. If it’s conventional goods you’re on the look out for, head to Sandton City and Square, The Firs in Rosebank, the Carlton Centre or the Randburg Watefront. But, as we all know, backpackers are rarely after conventional goods so if you feel like haggling and searching for useless random items for hours on end, check out the flea market attached to the aforementioned Waterfront, the Rosebank Flea Market, the Trading Market in Yeoville or the Oriental Plaza on Bree Street. Each is home to hundreds of local traders selling authentic African goods and offers an excellent way to spend a couple of hours.

Attractions in Johannesburg

  • Soweto

    , Johannesburg, South Africa

    The township of Soweto lies about twenty kilometres from Johannesburg but numerous tour-operators travel between the two locations daily. This is the best way to visit the town as you are driven directly to all the major attractions instead of trying to make your own way there. Generally you will stop at the former residence of Nelson Mandela which now serves as a museum. You will get to see the Regina Mundi Catholic Church where so many protest meetings were held during the struggle for freedom. The Hector Peterson Memorial commemorating the first victim of the Soweto uprising is also on all tours as are Freedom Square and Avalon Cemetery. But, as well as these renowned land marks you will get to see the vast contrast between the rich and poor in Soweto. From huge mansions to shantytowns that don’t even have electricity, you will have an opportunity to see it all.

  • Lippizaner Show

    Kyalami, Johannesburg, South Africa

    Used as war horses in ancient times, the Lippizaners are a unique breed of horses which are born with black or dark grey coats but change to pure white or albino by the time they are between seven and ten years old. As well as this distinguishing feature, they are also trained to perform difficult movements that no other breed of horse would possibly be able to master. These movements include being able to dance to classical music which only takes place in Vienna, Austria and in Johannesburg and is a truly amazing show to watch.

  • Gold Reef City

    Xavier Road, Ormonde, Johannesburg, South Africa

    Built on the grounds of a former gold mine, entire streets have been reconstructed in the fashion of the originals dating from the gold-rush era to construct this theme park. There are numerous exhibits and museums but the highlight of the park is the 200 metre descent into the original mineshaft and then see how real gold is melted and poured into bars. There are also several live music and dance shows so call to ensure that you catch a show during your visit to the park as it really makes it worthwhile.

  • Johannesburg Zoo

    Upper Park Road, Forest Town, Johannesburg, South Africa

    While there are more parks and private reserves in South Africa than you begin to imagine, Johannesburg Zoo still demands a visit. The largest zoo in the world, it is really a huge grassy park offering the perfect place to get away from the sights and sounds of the city. As well as chilling out on the grass you can take a ferry tour around the zoo or rent a buggy and drive through the grounds spotting elephants, rhinos and the like. There are also night tours and behind the scenes tours which need to booked in advance, particularly during summer. And, for any of you with surplus cash, every single animal at the zoo can be adopted, some for as little as R120 per year.

  • Sterkfontein Caves

    , Johannesburg, South Africa

    Situated less than an hour’s drive outside the city centre, the caves are one of the few sites in the world where actual apeman fossils have been discovered. Over six hundred of the fossils have been discovered at the site and they have played a huge part in the proof of evolution. The first discovery was made back in 1947 when a 2.5million year old fossil was found and the most recent was in 1998 when a 3.5million year old skull was uncovered. So, you never know, you might even witness another discovery during your visit there.

  • Museum Africa

    21 Bree Street, Newton, Johannesburg, South Africa

    Since it first opened in 1935 as the Africana Museum, this establishment has been collecting a host of items which portray South Africa’s history from its beginnings right up to the present day. Geological findings, artwork, photographs and numerous other objects are used to give a geological, archaeological and historical insight into how the country has developed since the ‘apemen’ roamed the region. And, if all of this isn’t enough to entice you, perhaps the fact that admission is free on Sundays might.

  • Phumangena Zulu Kraal

    Heia Safari Ranch, DF Malan Drive, Johannesburg, South Africa

    For those of you wishing to experience some true African culture then this place is where you need to go. A completely authentic Zulu Kraal or neighbourhood, Phumangena offers an experience you will never forget. You can catch a tribal dancing display or enjoy an authentic Zulu meal (should be interesting!) while you immerse yourself in this alien culture. You should also avail of the services of the Sangoma or spirit priest who will look into your future by ‘throwing the bones’. This is an age-old tradition which involves the throwing of four tablets, usually made of ivory. And, the Sangoma will then tell your fortune by deciphering the different landing positions of the tablets. A fascinating experience, if somewhat strange too.

  • Crafter's Market Place

    , Johannesburg, South Africa

    If you’re looking for arts and crafts, then look no further. With over one hundred craftsmen displaying creations made from paper, fabric, wood, wrought iron, glass, bronze, wax, pottery and any other material which you care to mention, the Crafter’s Market Place should satisfy your needs. Open seven days a week, this is one of the biggest markets of its kind in the country and is a fascinating place to spend an afternoon collecting authentic souvenirs of your trip.

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