Johannesburg as a tourist destination is too often being dismissed as dangerous, uninteresting and ‘best to leave ASAP’. This is really not fair on this super vibrant African city which is not only the economic hub of Southern Africa but offers amazing attractions and interesting spots as well. There a lot of fun things to do in Johannesburg. We will make sure to choose diverse attractions in Johannesburg ranging from nice food, good vibe to history, shopping and adventure.
How to get to Johannesburg and how to get around.
From Europe there are daily flights to Johannesburg. You will arrive at OR Tambo International Airport. From Amsterdam, Paris or London you can fly direct a couple of times a day. The flight is about 11 hours and there’s no time difference during the European summer time and only 1 hour of time difference during European winter time. From the airport you can take the Gautrain down to Sandton in case that is where you’re heading, otherwise we can highly recommend using the Uber app to get around. Jo’burg Uber drivers are amazing, super friendly and will get you anywhere safely. On the cover picture you see my daughter jet setting in an Uber around Johannesburg. There are also private transfer companies available but do check them out beforehand please.
Where to stay in Johannesburg
Johannesburg is a big city so there are many different areas where you could stay. Many people choose to stay in Sandton because of the easy access to the business district and the biggest shopping malls. We wanted to get to know the city so we choose to stay in one of the older neighborhoods, Melville which is a beautiful and vibrant part of the old Jozi. Accommodation in Johannesburg ranges from backpackers to deluxe 5 star accommodation so I’m sure there will be something that will suit your pocket, needs and wishes. Here are some of my recommendations:
City Lodge OR Tambo Airport, good, affordable hotel which I always book when clients arrive late at night or need to depart early in the morning. You don’t need to leave the airport and can simply walk to your hotel. Very convenient.
CurioCity Backpackers in Maboneng. This is a fantastic backpackers in a great area. I’ve booked it a few times for groups and they all had a wonderful time. It is not kidsfriendly so I can’t take Rosie there.
Ginnegaap Guesthouse in Melville. I stayed here on 2 occasions and this guesthouse is perfect for families on a friendly budget. My insider tip is that they have a fantastic baby sitter available (Zanele) so as parents you can be rest assured your kids are in good hands while you go out at night.
There are about 480 hotels and guesthouses in the Sandton area. You will find here all your international chain hotels like Radisson, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Marriott and many more. Find your best deals HERE
15 Fun Things to do in Johannesburg
- A guided cycling tour of Soweto
This has to be one of our favorite fun things to do in Johannesburg because you will just learn so much about the history of South Africa in a fun and interactive way. Your guides are residents of Soweto and will share stories, food and the streets with you. Visiting the site where Hector Pieterson was killed in the student uprisings will teach you how brave these young activists were but unfortunately paid for it with their lives and never got to live in the freedom they fought for. One of the high lights will be to visit the former house of Nelson Mandela. You will stop at a local restaurant and taste things like ‘pap & shakalaka’ and chicken livers. Your guide will take you through the ‘Beverly Hills of Soweto’ where you can see the house of Winnie Mandela as well as the former house of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
- The Apartheid Museum This must be the most complete museum that displays the Apartheid years of South Africa and is one of the most impressive, perhaps-not-so-fun things to do in Johannesburg. Here you can find all the stories of the freedom fighters, the laws that were put into place, see video material and experience how it feels to be excluded. When you enter the museum you will have to choose the ‘whites only’ entrance or the ‘non-whites’, entrance. This is definitely one of the most impressive museums you will ever visit. For those wanting to know more about history, this is a must-see.
- Drinking tea in the Maboneng Precinct, www.yswara.com
While walking around is this formerly no-go-zone east of the city center of Johannesburg, make sure to stop at Yswara Tea Room. L’atelier Yswara is located inside an architectural landmark for Maboneng: The Cosmopolitan building. This is where visitors can experience the most elegant tea experience. Teas are all grown on African Soil. You will find here beautiful tea accessories as well.
- Bungee jumping off the Orlando Towers, Soweto
Clearly an activity for the adventurous and adrenaline-seekers, this activity has to be on your fun things-to-do-in-Johannesburg-Bucket-List. The Orlando Towers are located in Soweto so you can easily combine it with the cycling tour in the morning and then head down to the towers in the afternoon.
- Take the Gautrain from Johannesburg International Airport and shop till you drop in Sandton.
The Gautrain is a fantastic way to dodge the crazy traffic in Johannesburg and get quickly to Sandton while enjoying the views from this great train ride. Sandton is not only the business district of Johannesburg, it also boasts many shopping malls. So for those eager to shop, this is the place to be. Once you’ve seen it all in Sandton, head down to Rosebank Shopping Mall where there’s a great rooftop market on a Sunday.
- Neighbourgoods Market
Each Saturday you can enjoy this market smack bam in the middle of the city centre. It spread out over 2 floors. Downstairs you can let your taste buds go wild at all the amazing food stalls and upstairs you can browse vintage clothes, interesting bric ‘n brac or any other 2nd hand gems. Get there early to secure a table and enjoy the city views!
When: Opening times: Every Saturday – 09:00 to 15:00 and the first Thursday of every month – 17:00 until late.
Where: 73 Juta Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg.
- The Red sightseeing bus
The red sightseeing bus is one of our favorites which we try to hop on to in each new city we explore. And that was no different in Johannesburg. You can listen to the narrative in many different languages and there’s even a kids channel to entertain the children. We were amazed how updated all the information was and enjoyed to sit at the top to see Johannesburg from above. The bus takes you to all the major highlights of the city and you can get off at most of them. We loved visiting the Sci Bono Discovery Centre which was a great break for the kids to run around and go crazy at all the fascinating. We almost couldn’t get them back onto the bus.
- The Orbit, jazz in Braamfontein
Feel like going back in time and just enjoy an elegant evening of beautiful jazz. The Orbit offers live music each night and reservations are recommended. We enjoyed an amazing salsa evening with a complete brass band and the 2nd time it was the likes of Feya Faku who brazed the stage. Absolutely wonderful night out for sure! (just a bit of insider information: In case you’re traveling with children, we stayed at a cute little guesthouse in Melville ‘Ginnegaap’ and they have a WONDERFUL babysitter Zanele, check them out and have a great kidsfree night while your kids are well looked after…)
- Arts on Main
Start your Sunday in a leisurely way at Arts on Main with a gourmet breakfast and explore the design that is on offer.
When: Every Sunday – 10:00 to 15:00 and the first Thursday of every month
- 27 Boxes Container Mall, Melville, www.27boxes.co.za
This is a fantastic shopping experience if you enjoy African design, art and fashion. I found the most beautiful dress by an Ethiopian designer. The avantgarde construction is completely made out of shipping containers and besides clothing shops you will find coffee shops, places to have lunch and a kids play area so you can shop, play and eat. There’s a Wednesday night market from 5 – 9pm. The 27 boxes container mall is in walking distance of Melville’s 7th Street where you can find many bars and restaurants to enjoy a good night out.
- Roof top drinks at the Living Room, call: +27 (0) 82 370 9284.
Another great find in the Maboneng Precincit, the Living Room is open to the public mostly from Thursday through to Sunday. You can swing in a hammock and sip delicious smoothies while taking in the views of the city. Do give them a call before you head out there to find out about special events that might be happening.
- Gold Reef City,
This is one of the stops of the Citysighseeing bus so to include a visit will be very easy to plan. Gold Reef City is Jo’burgs most famous theme park and one of the biggest them parks in Southern Africa. It is located on an old gold mine that closed down in 1972. The park is themed around the gold rush which was the reason why Johannesburg developed as a major city from 1886 onwards. Within 10 years the city had a train station, a stock market and soon became the economic center for Southern Africa. Gold Reef City offers many exciting and thrilling rides, a trampoline park, 12 restaurants, 7 retail stores and 15 other attractions. You can easily spend the day here as there’s something on offer for everyone. I’m definitely going to plan a visit once my daughter is tall enough to enjoy the rides because I certainly will enjoy them.
- Constitution Hill, www.constituionhill.org.za
If you’re interested in the turbulent past of South Africa, a visit to Constitution Hill should be your top priority of things to do in Johanensburg. The former prison complex is turned into a museum that tells the extraordinary South African journey to democracy after hundreds of years of Colonialism and Apartheid. It is the home of the Constitutional Court. Keep an eye out for events at the complex, tickets can be booked online and we highly suggest a guided tour because there’s SO much to see, learn and explore.
- Cradle of Humankind
The Cradle of Humankind is situated about 50 km northwest of Johannesburg so it will require renting a car or perhaps book a guided tour. We do recommend this site because it basically is the birthplace of humanity so it should be on everyone’s bucket list for Johannesburg to learn more about our species, our humanity. The first Australopithecus was found here by Dr Broom in 1936. And a second kind of ape-man in 1938 also by Dr Broom. This will be a highly educational experience.
- 44 Stanley, Braamfontein, www.44stanley.co.za
You like shopping but you don’t like malls, 22 Stanley might be the place for you to get your shopping fix while exploring this unique space in Johannesburg. It offers shops, food, drinks and shared office space. The perfect spot for the digital nomad who needs to connect with other nomads in a creative and stimulating space.
In short Johannesburg needs to be on your South African itinerary. You will enjoy this super vibrant and innovative African city with amazingly unique spaces, a diverse population and an incredible vibe.