What are the best things to see and do in Johannesburg?

Janelle Schroeder

Johannesburg has a big-city feel, and with that comes an endless amount of ways to spend your time. With more to keep your senses heightened than a normal vacation will allow, here’s a taste of what our Forbes Travel Guide editors consider the five best things to see and do in Joburg:
 
1. Apartheid Museum. It’s a time still fresh in the minds of many South Africans and others, and it won’t ever be forgotten. The Apartheid Museum opened in 2001, less than 10 years after the old-world system fell apart. Learn about the trials and tribulations of those who suffered under apartheid in a tour of film footage, photographs and first-person accounts.
 
2. Safari by hot air balloon. If it’s too difficult to travel the 260 miles to Kruger National Park, venture just about 30 minutes to the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as The Cradle of Humankind. From there you will lift off in time to watch the breathtaking South African sunrise while viewing animals like lions and jackals from a safe distance. It’s a memorable experience for everyone. 
 
3. Tour Soweto. Yes, it sounds like a tourist trap, but visiting South Africa’s most famous township is a necessity while visiting Joburg. Safety is key — hire a knowledgeable tour guide who can explain the ins and out of the community that houses more than two million people. While in the township, make it a point to see the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. 
 
4. Hang out on Constitution Hill. Composed of the Constitution Court and prison complex Number Four, whose walls seep with stories, spend a few hours meandering among some of the most significant cells in South African history, including the women’s jail and Nelson Mandela’s temporary home. 
 
5. Get cultured at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Not just for a rainy day, the gallery, known to locals as JAG, contains more than 9,000 pieces of art that include photography, paintings, sculptures and ceramics from Rembrandt, Picasso and Goya, to name a few. The best part about the collection is its price: free.

  • On August 16, 2012
    Janelle Schroeder answered the question: Janelle Schroeder

    What should I pack for a trip to Johannesburg?

    The best way to think about the necessities to pack for Johannesburg is to think of the trip as a buffet in your suitcase — a little bit of everything. While it all depends on your itinerary, the atmosphere is more New York than San Diego. To avoid any embarrassment at some of the nicer restaurants, clubs and hotels, men should bring a collared shirt and a pair of slacks, while women will feel comfortable with a nice dress and a pair of heels. During the day, comfortable shoes are a must for everyone, as is sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat, especially in the summer when temperatures are in the 90s. Leave the expensive jewelry and excess electronics at home; the trip will be less stressful without worrying about your belongings.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Janelle Schroeder answered the question: Janelle Schroeder

    What is the best thing to bring home from Johannesburg?

    There are plenty of opportunities to shop in Johannesburg, from European antiques to clothing to wood carvings, so each visitor’s version of the best thing to bring home will differ. Remember that South Africa is a very immigrant-heavy country, so our Forbes Travel Guide editors suggest double-checking to see if what you are buying is truly South African if that’s important to you.  
     
    One of the most interesting items to bring home is a photograph with wildlife. Head to one of the many wildlife parks, pet a lion cub or a cheetah and enjoy the memory for a lifetime. Not only will the experience resonate long after the vacation is over, but it will be a constant reminder of the amazing African wildlife.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Janelle Schroeder answered the question: Janelle Schroeder

    What are the five best Johannesburg food experiences?

    There are no foods you can’t try in Johannesburg, but there are a few food experiences its residents would be sad to leave behind. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors have picked the five best Johannesburg food experiences you must sample during your visit.
     
    1. High tea. With its European roots, it’s no surprise that tea plays an important role in any South African’s day. Join them and use high tea as a break from your sightseeing activities. Many of Johannesburg’s luxury hotels offer tea service, and there are also a number of tea houses that specialize in making the most of the afternoon.  
     
    2. Bobotie. Available everywhere, from the most posh restaurant to the supermarket, this South African staple is a European-based dish that most often involves a hearty stew with a baked egg top. There are vegetarian options with vegetables, but stay true to the country’s roots and try a meat-based variety. It’s a must.
     
    3. Beer. Yes, there is beer everywhere but a trip to Joburg’s oldest bar, The Guildhall, is an experience in itself. Easy to find, it’s located in the city center; it first opened in 1888 and has passed the test of time. The balcony is great for people-watching and soaking up the sun. 
     
    4. Organic markets. Take a field trip to one of the many markets that call Johannesburg home. There is an organic food market in almost every suburb of the city; just find one that fits your schedule and venture to a fresh-food haven. They are all-in-one spots for meats, cheeses, oils and pre-made goods like pizza and sweet rolls.
     
    5. Pap. Similar to polenta or grits, it’s a corn-based porridge, popular for breakfast. Eaten by the Bantu population, the rest of the culturally diverse inhabitants of Joburg enjoy the side dish during dinner or a Sunday barbeque known as a braai.
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  • On August 16, 2012
    Janelle Schroeder answered the question: Janelle Schroeder

    Where is the best nightlife in Johannesburg?

    Johannesburg residents love to spend a night on the town, which means every suburb has an eclectic mix of nightlife, including nightclubs, live music venues and casual neighborhood pubs. Use our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best nightlife in Johannesburg as an excuse to try more than one.
     
    Jazz clubs are one of the most popular venues in Joburg. The Blues Room in Sandton comes with a hint of New Orleans and features live music every night except Sunday, and Katzy’s in Rosebank features a brick wall interior, rich dark leather and a cigar bar.
     
    If the dance club scene is what you’re craving, head over to Rivonia and its stand-out spot, The Manhattan Club. Its sleek and sexy atmosphere has turned heads since it opened, and it’s a popular international celebrity hangout. With more than eight bars, including a ladies-only cocktail bar, it turns any evening into an event.
     
    Melville, with its casual yet hip atmosphere, is full of places to pop in and find the right place to rest your feet after dinner. It’s also one of the safest areas in Johannesburg for walking, so feel free to meander around, trying the latest trendy cocktail or just relaxing with a cold beer among the many university students who call this western suburb home.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Janelle Schroeder answered the question: Janelle Schroeder

    What is the best way to see Johannesburg in one day?

    Johannesburg is a big city, and to see the most in one day, either drive yourself or hire a driver. Considering that even Joburg residents get lost from time to time, the latter will calm your nerves and make for a less hectic day. Begin with a coffee and pastry from the local chain vita e caffè, located in many of the city’s suburbs. Drive over to the Lion Park, where you can view lions, hyenas, zebras and more. As a souvenir, don’t forget to take a photo with a cub or one of the cheetahs that call this place home.
     
    Stop for lunch at Moyo at Melrose Arch — it’s a lively South African spot to dine on authentic food and enjoy the welcoming local hospitality. Try the ox tail and the samosas for something truly delicious. From there move on to the Apartheid Museum. Nothing is more heartbreakingly educational than learning about the historic rise and fall of the South African movement through the films and photographs contained in the museum.
     
    Continue over to The Westcliff Hotel for an afternoon tea that includes sandwiches, scones and pastries, and also take in the view of this sprawling resort. If time allows, head to Constitution Hill to explore the old prison complex. Make a pit stop at your hotel to change your clothes and venture to one of the many restaurants that call Joburg home. Top off the night by dancing to the sound of jazz music.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Janelle Schroeder answered the question: Janelle Schroeder

    Where is the best shopping in Johannesburg?

    With more than 20 shopping complexes in and around the city, shopping is a huge part of life in Johannesburg, and people travel far and wide to spend their money here. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for some local treasures buried among the retail giants, try our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the best shopping in Joberg.
     
    1. Auckland Park. Visit the 44 Stanley Avenue shopping center, which offers clothes, toys and art from around the continent — or better yet, visit one of the top 50 unique bookstores in the world. Die Boekehuis, the Afrikaan word for bookstore, houses an immense collection of books as well as a fireplace, coffee shop and garden.
     
    2. Fleamarkets. Whether it’s the African Craft Market or the Rooftop Market, Rosebank is full of unique shopping markets. For African delights, try porcupine quill lamps and tribal chess sets. The rooftop market, open only on Sundays, has more than 600 stalls and its own international food court.
     
    3. Oriental Plaza. Near the city center sits this plaza that’s ripe for bargaining, something not normally acceptable in the big shopping complexes of Joburg. Each shop is individually owned, not rented, so prices are much lower and bartering is a welcomed activity. Shop here for cheap prices and a lively atmosphere.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Janelle Schroeder answered the question: Janelle Schroeder

    What are the best things to do with kids in Johannesburg?

    There’s no shortage of things to do with kids in Johannesburg, South African’s largest city. From a children’s theater to animal encounters to amusement parks, children will have just as much fun as their parents on a vacation to Jozi; start by checking out our Forbes Travel Guide editors’ picks for the five best activities for kids:   
     
    1. Bird Gardens at Montecasino. Yes, it’s a casino, but the bird exhibits are worth a trip with the kids. While the adults may want to hit the tables, make sure to explore the park with more than 60 species of birds, as well as a collection of reptiles and mammals. The walk-through aviary provides a close-up experience perfect for little safari seekers.
     
    2. Visit the tallest building in Africa. Kids will love seeing the views of Johannesburg. Visit the Carlton Centre’s observation deck on the 50th floor and play “I Spy” with the group before descending down from the 223-meter skyscraper to continue the day, or night.  
     
    3. Tour the Johannesburg Zoo. There is no such thing as too many animals when vacationing in Johannesburg. The zoo in Parkview offers tours and programs that rotate each month, and have included a tour of the zoo kitchen and an encounter with the culturally iconic honey badger. Make sure to call ahead for reservations.
     
    4. Sandboarding at Mount Mayhem. Joburg is hours from snow-capped mountains, but that doesn’t deter boarders who crave the thrills of an extreme sport. Trips are on the weekends or on weekdays for groups, and are designed for beginners of all ages with professional instruction.
     
    5. Tour a toyshop. A store unlike any other, The African Toyshop is full of treasures from neighboring countries like Angola, Congo, Kenya and Mozambique. Let the kids pick their own souvenirs, which will mean more to them than the run-of-the-mill T-shirt.
  • On August 16, 2012
    Janelle Schroeder answered the question: Janelle Schroeder

    What are the best things to see and do in Johannesburg?

    Johannesburg has a big-city feel, and with that comes an endless amount of ways to spend your time. With more to keep your senses heightened than a normal vacation will allow, here’s a taste of what our Forbes Travel Guide editors consider the five best things to see and do in Joburg:
     
    1. Apartheid Museum. It’s a time still fresh in the minds of many South Africans and others, and it won’t ever be forgotten. The Apartheid Museum opened in 2001, less than 10 years after the old-world system fell apart. Learn about the trials and tribulations of those who suffered under apartheid in a tour of film footage, photographs and first-person accounts.
     
    2. Safari by hot air balloon. If it’s too difficult to travel the 260 miles to Kruger National Park, venture just about 30 minutes to the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as The Cradle of Humankind. From there you will lift off in time to watch the breathtaking South African sunrise while viewing animals like lions and jackals from a safe distance. It’s a memorable experience for everyone. 
     
    3. Tour Soweto. Yes, it sounds like a tourist trap, but visiting South Africa’s most famous township is a necessity while visiting Joburg. Safety is key — hire a knowledgeable tour guide who can explain the ins and out of the community that houses more than two million people. While in the township, make it a point to see the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. 
     
    4. Hang out on Constitution Hill. Composed of the Constitution Court and prison complex Number Four, whose walls seep with stories, spend a few hours meandering among some of the most significant cells in South African history, including the women’s jail and Nelson Mandela’s temporary home. 
     
    5. Get cultured at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. Not just for a rainy day, the gallery, known to locals as JAG, contains more than 9,000 pieces of art that include photography, paintings, sculptures and ceramics from Rembrandt, Picasso and Goya, to name a few. The best part about the collection is its price: free.
  • On July 24, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to eat in Johannesburg?

    Places to eat in Johannesburg are endless, whether the cuisine you’re craving is European, African, Asian and more, and the class of food makes those in traditional food cities green with envy. Try out these restaurants chosen by our Forbes Travel Guide editors to understand what all the fuss is really about.
     
    1. Blubird Whole Food Market. In the suburb of Sandton, known for high-end shopping and upscale restaurants, stands this market, open every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. It’s known as “The United Flavors of Nations,” and carries everything from French to Serbian and Lebanese items. Come with an empty stomach and room in your bag for a few takeaway snacks.
     
    2. Catz Pyjamas. Popular with Joburg university students, the suburb of Melville is also home to this happening 24-hour establishment known for its brunch as well as its cocktail menu. Boasting a staff of 70, the menu stretches from omelets to marrow bones to squid salad. Even with picky eaters in tow, everyone will find something to dazzle their taste buds.
     
    3. Gramadoelas. It opened its doors in 1967 and was the first restaurant in South Africa that served patrons without regard to skin tone. With guests that have included Bill Clinton and the Queen of England, don’t miss the opportunity to dine at this historic establishment. The menu is a fusion of various South African cultures.
     
    4. Roots Restaurant. Roots is outside of the Johannesburg city center on a country road, and every kilometer is well worth it. With delectable wine pairings, this is the place to venture for that last meal before heading to the airport. Visitors and locals alike flock here for the gastronomy as well as the setting.
     
    5. Ami Restaurant and Champagne Bar. Oh, and did we mention tequila? It’s one of the most romantic spots in town, and offers a French-style menu, extensive wine list and more than 45 different tequilas. Known for the service as well as the food, diners are greeted with a top hat-wearing doorman as an added bonus.
  • On July 24, 2012
    Forbes Travel Guide Inspector answered the question: Forbes Travel Guide Inspector

    What are the best places to stay in Johannesburg?

    There are an overwhelming number of places to stay in Johannesburg, and that’s not a bad thing. Whether you want a boutique hotel with old-world charm or a resort complete with championship golf course, you can find it all at a competitive price. Our Forbes Travel Guide editors have narrowed it down to the five best places to stay in South Africa’s largest city.
     
    1. Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa. With the owners living onsite, the 40 uniquely decorated suites that make up the Fairlawns Boutique Hotel are well-kept and highly sought after. Located in Sandton, sit under one of the relaxing pool umbrellas and you’d never imagine you’re in the middle of Johannesburg.
     
    2. The Westcliff Hotel. Wake up to a sunrise unlike any other in a hotel that makes its home in the cliffs of Joburg. Chauffeurs in golf carts transport guests in this sprawling resort that’s tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the city. The only sounds you’ll hear are the lions roaring from the nearby zoo. 
     
    3. The Peech Hotel. This ecofriendly hotel holds the coveted Fair Trade in Tourism certificate, and the 16-room establishment is proud of its sustainability efforts.  Once a private residence, rooms include bright décor, private patios or balconies and views of the lush gardens.
     
    4. The Nicol Hotel & Apartments. The best self-catering option in Johannesburg, the modern apartments boast fully stocked kitchens, plasma TVs and Wi-Fi. There’s also an onsite pool and secure basement parking. This is the best option for those who want all the amenities of a hotel, but the ease and independence of a home.
     
    5. Protea Hotel Fire & Ice! Melrose Arch. Oozing Hollywood charm, complete with its Melrose neighborhood location, the Protea hotel chain got it right with this property. The late-night bar attracts both business travelers and tourists, and the proximity to many of Johannesburg’s hot spots makes this a popular destination.