Visiting Johannesburg - What to See and Do

(Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport JNB, South Africa)

In 1886, Johannesburg was founded as a gold-mining boom town attracting fortune seekers from throughout the world. Although gold is no longer one of the city's main draws, South Africa's second-largest city still attracts visitors from all corners of the world for its vibrant multicultural background and thriving economy.

Only Cairo and Lagos boast larger populations than Johannesburg among African cities. Interestingly, few people know that this is also the world's largest city not located near a major body of water. Some visitors may be worried about the city's violent reputation, but most of the local crime actually takes place far from its major tourism attractions. Guided tours of Soweto, Johannesburg's most infamous township, have become popular.

The Hillbrow and Brixton telecommunications towers are the most reliable navigation points for first time visitors to this often chaotic, but never dull, city. These two towers rank among Africa's highest structures, but Johannesburg is also home to Africa's tallest building, the 222-metre / 728-foot Carlton Centre, as well as the continent's tallest free-standing structure, a 300-metre / 984-foot chimney. The six million trees growing around the city are a dramatic contrast to the surrounding savannah and remain one of the world's largest manmade forests.

Ten things you must do in Johannesburg

  • Experience Johannesburg life during the newly founded city's late 19th-century gold rush at Gold Reef City, which includes an abandoned mine shaft that once belonged to one of the world's richest mining companies. A newspaper office, hotel and Chinese laundry are among this living history museum's most unusual reconstructed buildings.
  • Experience close encounters with some of Africa's fiercest wildlife in the safe environment of Johannesburg Zoo. Guided tours are available of this more than 100-year-old facility, which now contains over 2,000 animals consisting of some 350 different species.
  • Savour both a tasty meal and an impressive view of Johannesburg's skyline from the rooftop restaurant at the Carlton Centre, the continent's tallest building. Visitors can see as far as Pretoria from the 50th floor during ideal weather conditions.
  • The Tour Fort Complex and Constitution Hill, where Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela served their jail sentences at the infamous Number Four prison. Today, this building houses cultural events and experimental performances instead of political prisoners.
  • Find a peaceful oasis in the heart of this bustling city at the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens and Emmarentia Dam. Visitors can relax amongst the 20,000 native trees or the Shakespearean garden, while canoeists and boaters sail along the dam. The surrounding grassland provides plenty of room for jogging, walking or enjoying picnics.
  • Spot the Iron Age furnace and other ancient attractions at the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve's Stone Age camp. Visitors can spend up to two or three hours on leisurely hikes through this scenic part of the city's green space.
  • Explore Johannesburg's most infamous township, Soweto, from the safety of one of the city's many guided tours. Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela both still have homes in this township, which once played such an important role in the fight against South African apartheid. Visitors can even partake in one of Soweto's lively 'shebeens' (private houses selling alcohol).
  • Examine the hand-carved walking sticks, traditional Zulu pots and almost 2,000 dried herbs for sale at the KwaZulu Muti Shop. This traditional medicine shop has been in business for over 60 years and is also frequently called the Museum of Man and Science.
  • Admire the masterpieces by South African, Dutch and Belgian artists at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, which also became the city's first museum upon its 1910 opening. Today, this museum and art gallery stands in the middle of the equally historic Joubert Park in the Hillbrow district.
  • Visit one of the city's most comprehensive museum attractions, MuseuMAfrica, inside a former vegetable and fruit market. The museum's seven permanent exhibits are fascinating displays of Johannesburg city life, especially the Sounds of the City Marabi music and dance display.

Johannesburg Airport JNB

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