Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Johannesburg, South Africa

  • Published 2022/04/06

As the South African hub of culture and economy, Johannesburg is one of the perfect cities to plan a vacation.

You’ll get to learn all about African heroes’ struggles, see the wildlife that Africa boasts of, and enjoy the local art and food scenes.

You can go on a local history trip or just enjoy a morning safari to see the kings of the jungle.

No matter what you do like to do, there are plenty of tourist attractions in the city.

Here are the best things to do in Johannesburg, South Africa:

Visit the Apartheid Museum

Exhibits at Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg

Finn stock /

See the graphical portrayal of all kinds of apartheid stories inside this museum in Johannesburg.

The Apartheid Museum is one of the most famous spots in South Africa.

There are newspaper clippings, artifacts, and even photos representing people’s stories and struggles.

Name board of Apartheid Museum

Nataly Reinch /

The entire depiction of the rise and fall and ups and downs of South Africa has been brought up so emotionally that it will be etched in your minds forever.

From the people being ruthlessly oppressed to the tremendous struggles of creating democracy, everything can be found here.

Interior view of the exhibition at Apartheid Museum

Ariadna22822 /

You can find decades’ worth of stories that will clearly describe how South Africa came to be this way and what struggles it had to face all along the journey.

Pay a Visit to Gold Reef City

Exterior view of the bright yellow building at the Gold Reef City with a fountain in front

Finn stock /

Everyone is aware of the American or the Klondike Gold Rush, but were you aware that Africa had its very own version of the gold rush?

Yes, during this gold rush, many foreign businesspeople and traders made their way to the continent, exploited the natives, and enslaved them.

Colorful rides at Gold Reef City

Burhan Ay Photography /

Of course, the gold rush is another sad part of South Africa’s oppression-filled history.

But in Johannesburg, Gold Reef City was the center of attention during the gold rush.

Now, it has been turned into something that will make new memories!

People having fun in a ride at Gold Reef City

Nataly Reinch /

Gold Reef City is a theme park filled with some of the best rides.

There is even a trampoline park along with several roller coasters!

Learn about the History at Constitution Hill

Aerial view of the Constitution Hill

Finn stock /

Johannesburg is a city of history.

Number Four, Women’s Gaol, and the Old Fort are the three museums found on this site.

Constitution Hill is located on the edge of the city of Johannesburg and gives you a beautiful view of the entire city.

Bird's eye view of the Constitution Hill with roads and cityscapes

Sopotnicki /

It was a prison with a fascinating, cruel history of almost torturing its prisoners to death.

A lot of political leaders and even criminals were kept inside.

Interior view of Constitution Hill

Angela N Perryman /

The amount of torture they had to endure during their stay was indeed an example of cruelty.

Did you know that personalities like the great Nelson Mandela and even Mahatma Gandhi have been imprisoned here?

Get to Know Modern Johannesburg at the Maboneng Precinct

Cafe with unbrella roof decor at Maboneng Precinct

Finn stock /

Maboneng happened to be one of the worst neighborhoods in Johannesburg.

Often a hiding space for criminals and thugs, everyone kept away.

Due to the initiatives of the locals and the authorities, the area has entirely changed its look and environment.

Sign board of Maboneng

Finn stock /

The place is vibrant now.

Filled with people and food joints, Maboneng is quite an enjoyable destination.

If you want to see what South African nightlife looks like, Maboneng is the best place to hang out.

Tables at a restaurant with a street view at Maboneng Precinct

Finn stock /

If you are looking for some fantastic continental food, Market on Main is your destination.

Revolution House is another tourist attraction here.

Plan Your Meals at the Neighbourgoods Market

Small staircase at Neighbourgoods Market

Anna K Mueller /

Previously known as Braamfontein, the Neighbourgoods Market is one of the best things that ever happened to Johannesburg.

You can get to the market in just an hour if you drive from downtown.

This area is the best during the weekends.

Mouth watering delicious food being prepared in large quantity at Neighbourgoods Market

David Buzzard /

People crowd around the marketplace, and live music is always going on.

The area is lively with lots of restaurants and eateries.

People crowd in a roof top bar at Neighbourgoods Market

David Buzzard /

You can find all types of cuisines here—street tacos, authentic sushi, and Thai cuisine are just some of the foods that can be found in the restaurants scattered around the area.

The gelato available during the warm summer months is the best of the lot.

Enjoy the Local Art Scene at the Market Theatre

Entrance to the Market Theatre

Ossewa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The best way to spend some of your leisure time in Johannesburg is to observe and enjoy the local art scene.

The Market Theatre is one of the best places to do this.

Learn more about the culture and the local Johannesburg traditions from this market.

Exterior of Market Theatre

Janek Szymanowski, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There are different galleries in this area filled with local talents.

There are even jazz places where you can hear the traditional music that the entire continent is famous for.

Museum Africa is also located here; you can drop by for a visit after appreciating the local scenes.

See the Struggles of the Past at the South African Museum of Military History

Military tanker kept in display at South African Museum of Military History

Felix Lipov /

Africa has seen a lot of military conflicts over the years.

All other continents or major colonial countries have tried to lay their hands on Africa at different points in history.

The history is vast, and the stories of the struggles of the African military are endless.

Display of Military bike with old military luggage bags at South African Museum of Military History

Artush /

In this famous museum, where the top priority is to show people the highlights of African military struggles, you can find many things that refer to the work during WWII and the Anglo-Zulu war.

There are even mentions of the strategies which were used during WWI.

You can even get a glimpse of the modern-day battle means and the weapons here.

Militiary vehicle with a bench in front kept for display at South African Museum of Military History

Felix Lipov /

See the Johannesburg Art Gallery

View of the majestic Johannesburg Art Gallery

Janek Szymanowski, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Johannesburg Art Gallery happens to be the largest one in South Africa.

The work here is too much to be entirely seen in just one visit.

There are more than 9,000 works that beautifully decorate the gallery’s walls.

Top half of Johannesburg Art Gallery

Christo757677, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There is no other gallery in South Africa that has done as good of a job storing and maintaining its pieces as this gallery.

Many local talents have been portrayed on its walls, but you can find a lot of international works, too.

Did you know you can find ancient works as well?

Yes, the gallery is said to have works that date back as early as the 15th century.

See the Lindfield Victorian House Museum

If you want to know what kind of life the British lived in Africa during the Victorian era, this is an excellent place to find out.

Apart from being a Provincial Heritage Site, this museum does live tours with its owner serving as the guide!

Yes, Katherine Love, who also happens to be the current owner of this house museum, has been here since 1967.

She still gets all dolled up before any tour.

She wears old Victorian clothes and personally takes visitors on a tour.

Being one of the most attractive spots in South Africa, the Lindfield Victorian House Museum is very well preserved.

You can still see the furniture that is at least a couple hundred years old.

Get a better grasp on the well-known Victorian culture from the traditions and the art that are well-maintained around the house.

Look Back On the Nelson Mandela’s Life at Mandela House

Entrance of Mandela House

Finn stock /

Soweto locals know 8115 Vilakazi Street, Orlando West as “Mandela House.”

Between 1946 and 1962, Nelson Mandela called it his home.

The home is a modest dwelling with four interconnected rooms that now hold a collection of Mandela family souvenirs, paintings, and photos.

Mandela’s old boots are on exhibit, giving a glimpse into the man the people of South Africa affectionately referred to as “Tata” (father).

Today, the home serves mainly as a museum for visitors.

Front view of the red bricked building of Mandela House

Gil.K /

When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, petrol bombs were hurled at the home, and bullet holes may still be seen in the red-brick walls.

Despite having constructed a new house a few miles away, he decided to return to this one since it was “the house of his memories.”

After his divorce from Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Mandela donated the home to the Soweto Heritage Trust.

She, on the other hand, refused to give it up.

Interior view of Mandela House

Sunshine Seeds /

Instead, she transformed her former home into the Mandela Family Museum and opened a restaurant and tavern nearby.

In 1999, the home was designated as a national historic site, and it was returned to the Soweto Heritage Trust.

It has now undergone a major renovation and features a visitors’ center and several displays for visitors to explore.

Tour the Liliesleaf Farm

Main house of Liliesleaf Farm

Martinvl, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

National heritage site Liliesleaf is among South Africa’s most important.

Liliesleaf functioned as the ANC, SACP, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and the Congress Alliance’s covert headquarters and nerve center from 1961 to 1963.

On the 11th of July 1963, the police invaded Liliesleaf based on a tip-off and detained the movement’s essential leadership.

Outbuildings of Liliesleaf Farm

Martinvl, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

There were 193 counts of sabotage against the state filed against 10 persons arrested after the operation.

Even though Nelson Mandela was already in jail at the raid, he became Accused Number 1.

After the assault on Liliesleaf and the subsequent arrest of the fight leaders, apartheid’s internal opposition suffered a devastating blow.

Learn about South Africa’s democratic transition at Liliesleaf as you explore several unique exhibitions.

Appreciate African Artistry at Wits Art Museum

Wits Art Museum has a staggering collection of 15,000 pieces exhibiting the breadth and depth of the continent’s artistic expression.

It features works by current South African artists and those from West and Central Africa.

The museum is one of Johannesburg’s most popular tourist destinations.

Located near Nelson Mandela Bridge, it is part of the Wits Cultural Precinct.

Many students, fascinating stores, and restaurants can be found within a few blocks of WAM in Braamfontein, undergoing a renaissance.

You may also take a break and indulge in fantastic food and coffee at the onsite café.

Donations are accepted but not required for admission.

Spark Your Kids’ Curiosity at Sci-Bono Discovery Centre

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education are essential pillars of the Gauteng Department of Education’s mission, and Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is a crucial element of that mission.

Sci-Bono employs the Gauteng Mathematics, Science and Technology Education Strategy.

The discovery center began as a collaboration between the Gauteng Department of Education and many commercial sector partners.

Each year, Sci-Bono attracts hundreds of thousands of people to its vast collection of interactive science and technology displays and exhibitions housed in the old Electric Workshop in Newtown, Johannesburg’s cultural district.

All of these events, activities, and programs are available to the general public and students at local schools.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Learn about the Struggles of the Natives at Soweto

Orlando towers in Soweto

Gil.K /

Soweto lies just 20 kilometers from Johannesburg, but it has got some of the most extraordinary tales to tell about the country’s freedom fighters.

In the old days, when tyranny still ruled over and oppressed the innocent natives of Africa, Soweto was a place where the laborers lived in the worst conditions.

This city was planned so that the natives could not come into contact with the rulers.

Aerial view of the Soweto

Gil.K /

It was as late as 1976 that the town inhabitants decided to take matters into their own hands, and the Soweto Uprisings came to be.

The city is entirely different now.

You can see the lavish mansions and the well-maintained infrastructure of the city.

A war memorial at Soweto

laranik /

When you are here, be sure to visit the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum.

It shows how many people were cruelly shot down during the city’s uprising.

See the Pride of Africa at the Lion & Safari Park

People in a tour van having a closer view of a lion and its cub at Lion and Safari Park

Jaden Mailich /

You can get your fill of the majestic wildlife of Africa right here in Johannesburg.

The Lion & Safari Park is near the downtown part of Johannesburg.

Filled with some of the most marvelous sights and animals that Africa offers, the safari is a must when you are on vacation to Johannesburg.

And do you know the best part about this safari?

A cheetah in Lion & Safari Park

Victorgrigas, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

You can interact with the animals here.

Yes, you can pet a tiny lion cub or even play with the cheetahs!

There are even zebras and ostriches roaming around, so you can take that perfect photo.

Lioness sitting under the scorching sun at Lion & Safari Park

Beat Glauser /

You can take part in a river rafting tour as well.

The best time to go on a safari is during feeding hours.

Spend a Day at Pretoria

Violet flowering tree lined up on the Streets at Pretoria

Vanessa Bentley /

If you are willing to roam around and see some more South Africa, there are some great places to check out just around Johannesburg.

Make a day trip to see the best of what South Africa has to offer.

Pretoria is situated the closest to Johannesburg.

Tourists strolling around the union building at Pretoria

Vanessa Bentley /

Lying at a distance of almost 50 kilometers, the city is breathtakingly beautiful.

Filled with some of the best parks and memorials, the city has many tales to tell and historical stories to offer.

Flowers at a garden in Pretoria

Sopotnicki /

The Pretoria National Botanical Garden is indeed a sight to see.

The native flora and fauna are remarkable.

The city is at its peak during the springtime when the delightful jacarandas are in full bloom, giving the city a gorgeous purple hue.

Take a Day Trip to Pilanesberg National Park

Elephants crossing the dusty roads at Pilanesberg National Park

kamira777 /

You cannot plan a trip to Africa and not visit its royal wildlife.

After all, safaris and forests are two of the most significant aspects of African tourism.

When you are here in Johannesburg, you are really in luck.

Tall Giraffe walking across a field at Pilanesberg National Park

bayazed /

The Pilanesberg National Park is one of the best African forests to experience all of Africa’s pride.

You can catch glimpses of lions, elephants, and even leopards in the same place.

You can even take a whole day trip here to get the very best of the forest.

Lake at Pilanesberg National Park

burak gultekin /

In addition to large animals, you can see hundreds of different types of birds.

The park offers both morning as well as afternoon safaris.

Enjoy the Beauty of Nature at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens

Natural waterfall at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens

Felix Lipov /

When you are in Johannesburg and want to get away from the chaos of the city for a while, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens offers one of the best escapes.

There are very few botanical gardens—nine to be exact—and the Walter Sisulu is one of the very best.

The South African National Biodiversity Institute takes care of this project.

Stone path with succulents on both the sides at Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens

Lian van den Heever /

Red rock cliffs surround the botanical gardens, making the scenes look even more beautiful.

The presence of the Witpoortjie Waterfall in the botanical gardens makes it a picturesque location.

Tortoise walking on a walkpath at Dylan Barnes

Dylan Barnes /

There are different types of gardens inside this botanical park.

With a ton of trekking trails around as well, you can even go for a hike.

See Where Everything Began at the Cradle of Humankind

Enterance of Cradle of Humankind

fivepointsix /

The Cradle of Humankind plays one of the most significant roles in South Africa’s tourism.

It’s said to be the birthplace of humans.

Yes, this is the spot where supposedly all of life began.

The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.

Young women walking towards the Cradle of Humankind

Helen Jobson Photographer /

The Australopithecus Africanus, estimated to be somewhat of a human-like creature’s skull, was found right in this spot by scientists.

Another skeleton that dates back almost 3.5 million years was also found here.

All these discoveries led to the scientists referring to this place as the beginning point of human life.

Seating area at Cradle of Humankind

Helen Jobson Photographer /

Final Thoughts

In Johannesburg, you’ll be able to enjoy a rich history and culture that’s truly South African.

Its wide range of activities will leave you with something to look forward to each time you visit.

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