Johannesburg has a rich, diverse and unique history, beginning with being founded in 1886 as a 19th-century gold-mining settlement during the Witwatersrand Gold Rush. And most of the city's well-known tourist attractions are centred around our eventful past and how our beloved Jozi came to be.
There are many must-visits you need to add to your to-do list when visiting the city of Johannesburg. Take a trip to the Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton and take pictures standing next to the 6m tall, bronze statue of former President and anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela. Go an a safari drive at a nearby game reserve merely minutes away from the city and have fun spotting the Big 5. Even visit Gold Reef City, not just for their thrilling theme park, but also for their insightful guided heritage tour that'll take you through the history of the Gold Rush and let you explore an actual gold mine!
One of the top highlights of visiting the city of Johannesburg is heading to the iconic Orlando Towers in Soweto. Not only are they a beautiful spectacle of street art, but this spot also offers thrilling activities that'll get your heart racing. Pluck up the courage, get strapped up and secured, and do a 100m bungee between the cooling towers. You can also brave a SCAD freefall or base jumping. Looking for something a little less terrifying? Spend your afternoon enjoy a few rounds of paintball, wall climbing, or taking in the stunning 360 degree views of the city from the top of one of the towers.
8115 Orlando West, corner of Vilakazi and Ngakane Streets, Soweto. An address that has been woven into South Africa's history. This is where former President Nelson Mandela lived from 1946 to 1962, and where you'll find the Nelson Mandela National Museum today. This world-class attraction preserves the historical heritage and legacy of the Mandela family and presents it with a collection of memorabilia, photographs, paintings and research within the four inter-leading rooms of the home.
Take a journey back into South Africa's turbulent history and travel through the transition into our democracy at Constitution Hill in Braamfontein. Also known as Con Hill, this space is a museum and is the site of the notorious Old Fort prison, Number 4 prison and the Women's Gaol. It's also home of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Apart from the exhibitions, the public can also get the opportunity to explore with guided tours. This venue has become an important platform in preserving and showcasing our heritage through education and tourism related programmes.
Being the largest gallery on the continent, the Johannesburg Art Gallery (JAG) located in the centre of Joubert Park boasts over 9 000 artworks, displayed across 15 exhibition halls and sculpture gardens. Here, you can expect to see everything from artefacts, sculptures, drawings, paintings, prints and lacework to 17th-century Dutch paintings, 18- and 19th-century British and European work, as well as contemporary South African art. Keen on exploring this space? Tours through the gallery are available, but ensure that you make your bookings in advance.
When travelling into Johannesburg Central, be sure to take a drive along the Nelson Mandela Bridge. Linking bustling Braamfontein to vibey Newtown, this is the largest cable-stayed bridge in the country, crossing over the 42 railway lines and carrying two lanes of traffic, two sidewalks, and a bicycle lane. It's a lovely sight by day, but come night, this bridge lights up the Johannesburg cityscape!
Get a little fresh air and stretch those legs at the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens at the Emmarentia Dam. It's a lovely space to explore, view and admire all the greenery, fauna and flora. It boasts one of the finest plant collections in the world, complete with over 30 000 trees, a large rose garden, indigenous variants and succulents, and herb garden. It's also a lovely spot where visitors can get their daily dose of exercise, enjoy a lovely picnic with the family, or even watch the Summer Sunset Concerts featuring a lineup of local and international acts that's sure to delight.
One of the most visited and prestigious shopping destinations on the continent, boasting world-class shopping, amazing restaurants and only the best in local and international brands, the ever-popular Sandton City Shopping Centre is an absolute must on your to-do list when visiting Johannesburg. This retail hub attracts visitors from across the country and the world, all within close proximity to busy business centres, top-notch accommodation and other nearby entertainment
Adjoined to the well-known Sandton City Shopping Centre is Nelson Mandela Square, which is home to a 6m tall bronze statue of former President and anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela. This statue attracts visitors from all over the world, just for the opportunity to get a picture standing next to this popular feature on the square. After taking photos of and admiring the statue, why not dine out at one of the lovely restaurants scattered around the square?
One of the best ways to explore Johannesburg and all of its unique points of interest is hopping on and off the red double decker City Sightseeing bus! There's a variety of ticket options for you to choose from, ranging from one day trips to combo deals, ensuring that you experience the exciting parts of the city with ease. with over 16 stops and over 20 of Johannesburg's top attractions to visit, City Sightseeing Johannesburg & Soweto is a safe, fun, educational and convenient way to venture into the city.
Other than the buzzing casino and thrilling theme park, Gold Reef City offers local and international visitors the opportunity to explore a Joburg's heyday. Joburg is known as being the hive of activity during the 1886 Gold Rush, and what better way to get insight into and explore this exciting period of our past than with Jozi's Story Of Gold heritage tour? Descend into an old gold mine and discover the riches of our country’s history. Plus, you'll also get the opportunity to experience the magnificent glow of a live gold pour.
Explore the famous Soweto township by bicycle with Cycle in Soweto. These private bike tours allows tourists and locals to experience the area in a whole different way, give the opportunity to have real personal interactions with the Soweto locals, enjoy some fresh air and sunshine, and even get a little bit of exercise while pedaling from one stop to the next. This is a unique township experience that you certainly need to add to your adventure bucket list.
The Apartheid Museum in Ormonde opened in 2001, and illustrates the rise and fall of Apartheid. Visitors will get the opportunity to experience the dark days of the Apartheid era through a variety of exhibitions that include provocative film footage, photographs, text panels and artefacts showcasing the events and stories that took place during this time.
For a unique history lesson, the Wits Origin Centre Museum explores and celebrates the history and evolution of modern humankind. Visitors will be able to explore and view collections of ancient stone tools, artefacts of symbolic and spiritual significance, and visually striking rock art.
The Lindfield House Victorian Museum in Auckland Park will take you back in time to the days of a bygone era, offering a unique and interesting tour you won't experience anywhere else in the city. This is one of Joburg’s best-kept secrets and an absolute must-visit if you’re looking to do a little time travelling! And as if the tour of this ‘time capsule’ isn’t amazing enough, you’ll get to enjoy delicious sausage rolls, fluffy scones with jam and cream, and scrumptious cake at the afternoon tea. Click here to find out what more to expect.
Explore the history of money in South Africa at the Absa Money Museum situated in the Johannesburg CBD. This is home to the most complete collection of South African numismatic items in the world. The museum’s history goes back to the beginnings of trade in the city. Displays include ranges of early money forms such as Cowrie Shells and Venetian glass beads, as well as golden coins retrieved from sunken ships.
The Ditsong National Museum of Military History is a treasure trove of military-related journals, weapons and photographs from a number of wars in South African history. There's also an impressive collection of fighter planes, tanks and even a submarine for you to view. The museum is also regarded as the spiritual and symbolic home and memorial for all the brave South African soldiers and veterans.
The James Hall Museum of Transport in La Rochelle is the largest and most comprehensive museum of land transport in South Africa. This museum offers motor enthusiasts and inquisitive children insight into what transportation in early Johannesburg was like. Once you have thoroughly explored the displays, head over to the museum’s gift shop. Here, you can find postcards and transport-related trinkets to take home.
Have an interest in medicine and its history? Then be sure to visit The Adler Museum of Medicine, housed at the University of the Witwatersrand's Medical School Campus in Parktown. This museum preserves the history of the health sciences in South Africa and showcases interesting and invaluable collections of medical items from the fields of medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.
The Cradle of Humankind offer visitors plenty of activities and exhibits to explore. Start off your visit at the world-class Maropeng Visitor Centre, that will take you on a journey through mankind's development over millions of years. This offers visitors the chance to view world famous fossils and interesting stone tools discovered in the Sterkfontein Caves. Famous fossils includes the discovery of Mrs Ples and Little Foot. You can also explore these caves for yourself!
One of the most popular tourist attractions in South Africa involves travelers and locals alike, heading out into the bushveld and enjoying safari drives, spotting the Big 5 and reconnecting with nature. For all of your outdoor and safari needs, take a look at our extensive destination lists below:
Join the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation for a guided tour of the newly opened Javett-UP Art Centre at the University of Pretoria. This world-class art centre houses a vast collection of ancient and modern African art, including the Javett Family collection of South African modern art, priceless pieces from the Mapungubwe Gold Collection and AngloGold’s Barbier-Mueller Collection of golden items from West Africa. Come and explore the art of Africa, past and present, guided by Wilhelm van Rensburg from Strauss & Co, author David Fleminger and Dawn Roland from the Javett-UP Centre.
Saturday, 21 March 2020 from 09:00 - 13:30.
The JHF bus will leave Joburg from the Sunnyside Park Hotel (Princess of Wales Terrace, Cnr Carse O Gowrie &, Sunnyside Drive, Parktown, Johannesburg).
Tickets cost R300 for members, and R350 for non-members. Book yours here.
Follow the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation on Facebook for more information.
Details: [email protected]
The Kensington suburb was established by Max Langermann in 1897 amongst the hilly slopes to the East of the city centre. Roads were laid in 1902, bringing an influx of families into the area. The streets were planted with broad Jacaranda shrubs and leafy oaks, which still line the streets today. Over the course of a century this large Joburg suburb has seen immense change. However, its many landmark monuments and historical sites give the area a feel of nostalgia.
Kensington is the perfect place to stay over for a night, as it borders the inner city and is only a 20-minute drive from OR Tambo International airport. The area boasts great artisan restaurants, antique stores deluxe and above all else a wonderful sense of community.
Kensington natives will be the first to tell you to head down to Queen street for a lekker bite to eat. This bustling street is home to a number of restaurants, cafes, antique stores and social hangouts.
One of our favourite Queen street watering holes is the Rusty Lady. She is a rustic, South African meets Mediterranean bistro with an indomitable spirit. Once a residential home, this restaurant is both perfect for a romantic night out and the place to watch weekend rugby with the boys on the big screen. Ask your waitron for an outdoor table to make the most of the experience.
Our favourite item on the menu is the droewors platter starter. This proudly South African snack is the best way to start a meal (you cannot convince us otherwise, so don't even try.) For mains we recommend one of the Rusty Lady's thin-crust wood-fired pizza's. If you have space for pudding, try out their variety of Belgian waffles.
Another Kensington favourite is Die Kneipe. This German pub and restaurant is a hive of activity, perched right at the top of Queen street. On Wednesdays they feature live music acts and often give patrons a delicious weekly menu special to feast on with their choice of ice cold beer. Don't expect gourmet dining here, just good old fashioned hearty food. We recommend the pork roast which comes with a variety of veg and roast potatoes.
If you are looking for something a little more Joburg authentic, pop into Jambo African Restaurant. This two-storey eatery come club serves up an array of traditional African dishes including, mogoudu (fried tripe), beef isiskopo (boiled cow head parts) and even Durban bunny chow. A section of the restaurant is reserved specifically for coffee lovers, too. They specialise in Kenyan coffee blends, perfect for when you have had a little too much to drink at the bar.
Lastly, for an upmarket, family friendly dining experience, visit Bennigan's on Langermann Drive. The Bennigan's family have been in the business of serving up American style steak strips since 1972. Their signature 400g fillet on the bone is a must-try. Otherwise, customise your steak dinner - once you have chosen your cut of premium quality beef, pick your basting sauce or spice crust option. From there, select your adds on such as onion straws, mash potato or straight cut fries. For an extra treat, add a decadent sauce to your meal. We would go for the classic Bearnaise or creamy peppercorn.
Bennigan's also serves up a range of in-house desserts. These American diner inspired puds are the ultimate way to end off a big meal. From the key lime pie to the Mississippi Mud pie, there is something for every kind of sweet tooth.
If you visit only one antique store along Queen street, Barter Buy is the place to go. This seemingly never-ending antique wonderland boats collections from the Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian eras, as well as fine reproduction furniture. Make sure to explore every nook and cranny of the store to find some of the most magnificent treasure troves. There is an upstairs too, which houses a coffee shop and a collection of retro mannequins adorned in the best of yesteryear's fashions.
We know that not everyone is into antiquing. For a more commercial shopping experience, head out to Eastgate Shopping Centre. As a world-class retail mall with over 300 stores, an IMAX cinema and a large outdoor food court, Eastgate is your one-stop shopping haven.
Kensington is a history buffs paradise. This suburb is home to a secluded castle (yes, a castle), a Scottish Horse war memorial, a spooky sanitarium and Johannesburg's oldest public school. There are also lots of fun community activities to take part in, such as open day social bowls at the Kensington Bowling Club and group walks through Rhodes Park.
Walk & Talk Tours offer a self-guided tour through Kensington and its neighbouring suburb Troyeville. You can book for a party of eight or more and Walk & Talk will provide you with a handy route map and electronic guidance. Visit the Scottish War Memorial, which commemorates officers, non-commissioned officers and men killed in action and died of wounds, disease and accident, who were members of the Scottish Horse Regiment, in the South African War (1899 - 1902). The view from the top of Calendonia Hill is worth the hike alone.
For those of you not inclined to hike, take the Mystery Ghost Bus Tour of Johannesburg. The tour passes right through Kensington, stopping off at the old women's sanitarium, the castle and the aptly named Poltergeist House. Passengers board the bus at sundown and travel through the spookiest spots in Joburg, ending the night off in the Braamfontein cemetery at the call of midnight. Are you brave enough?
Finally, for the rest of us easily spooked adventurists, there is an annual Spring walk that takes place along the purple blanket streets of Kensington. The event is organised around early October every year by fitandfunnow.com. Check out their Facebook events page for details on this year's walk.
Reefsteamers, Jozi's very own steam train, has recently introduced a new day tour - the Heidelberg Wanderer! For the first time since the late 1990s, Susan the Steam Train makes her way into the historic Heidelberg town.
Established in 1866, Heidelberg is one of Gauteng's oldest towns. It lies at the foot of the Suikerbosrand, which once acted as the country's capital during the South African War. Having seen this war come and go, as well as famous visitors such as Winston Churchill, Mahatma Ghandi and former president Nelson Mandela, Heidelberg is rich with stories of the past.
In an effort to bring in tourists and local visitors, Heidelberg residents have worked to spruce up the town's museum and attractions. This is one of the main reasons why Reefsteamers are headed back here, as their passengers now have a number of awesome activities to choose from once they have disembarked the train.
The 48km train journey to Heidelberg takes you through breathtaking farmlands and countryside to the border of Gauteng and Mpumalanga. Along the way, you can enjoy a few treats from the on board Food Truck on Rails. They offer tea, coffee, hot chocolate, cool drinks, water, chips, sweets, chocolates, homemade cupcakes and the famous Galaxy Fudge. Don't forget to take home a token from your day out. The Reefsteamers memorabilia table has t-shirts, books, DVD's, postcards and other goodies for you to remember your day forever.
The train arrives in Heidelberg at around 10:30. From the station you will take a pleasant 10-20 minute walk with water stops along the way. But, if you feel that you won't make the walk, Reefsteamers will ensure you get a personalized shuttle to the Heidelberg Heritage Museum, just be sure to mention it to them upon booking.
The Heidelberg Heritage Museum is a treasure trove of archival knowledge, photographs and historical objects. Take a look around to get a real feel for the history of the town and its people. From here, you can go on a variety of different tours, including the town walking tour, or an hour hike which passes a 'stone-age kraal' built by the Tswana people that resided here prior to the Voortrekkers. These tours are separate from the Reefsteamers Express tour, so be sure to make a booking beforehand.
Once you have visited the museum, enjoy an amazing lunch at The Culinary Express restaurant which is housed within vintage train coaches from days gone by. Or, quench your thirst at the incredible Heidelberg Brewhouse which offers you an array of local crafts to choose from. There is also a lot for the kids to do and enough shade for the whole family to relax under.
Remember to make a restaurant reservation and to book a tour of the town to secure your spot. The train departs Heidelberg at 15:30, and is expected to reach the Rhodesfield Gautrain Station by 17:00.
The next Heidelberg Express adventure takes place on Saturday, 26 October 2019.
Further booking dates can be viewed on the Reefsteamers website.
The train departs from Rhodesfield PRASA Station, Kempton Park, Johannesburg.
Tickets cost R330 for adults and R275 for children aged 4-12. Children under the age of 4 board for free.
Alternatively, book a family ticket - 2 Adults and 2 Children over 4 years for R 1045:00.
Details: [email protected] | +27 (0) 62 743 9200.
The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation will be taking history lovers on a walking tour of the Pines and Villa Arcadia houses in leafy Parktown. The tour will begin with an inside tour of The Pines, a lovely and rather stately home. With its galleried hall and the finest bathroom and shower in the city, this wonderful house, built in 1906 is a must-visit.
The tour then heads off uphill to the old Coach House and Stables designed by Herbert Baker as part of the Villa Arcadia estate. While these have been adapted for office use, there are interesting elements which you will enjoy spotting. Look out for the the cosy holes in the gable which are home to doves in the winter, the wooden ladder up to the hayloft and the tiny stairs serving the old staff quarters for coachman and stable hands.
Finally, you will enjoy a tour of the magnificent interiors of Villa Arcadia. Learn about the interesting lives and times of Sir Lionel and Lady Florence Phillips.
Sunday, 14 April 2019 at 14:00 - 17:00.
The Pines, 5 Gordon Hill, Parktown, Johannesburg.
Tickets are R100 for Johannesburg Heritage Foundation members and R170 for non-members. To book tickets contact the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation via email at [email protected]
What Is It?
Travel back in time and follow the tale of rags to riches, hard work and the comforts that were enjoyed by the privileged few in the ramshackle colonial outpost of Johannesburg. Thomas Cullinan arrived in the city in 1887, as a humble bricklayer, but by 1896 he was able to build The View, a fabulous statement of wealth on the Parktown Ridge. This spectacular has been beautifully restored and is definitely worth a visit! Mansion tourists will thoroughly enjoy the rich and breathtaking detail and ornamentation and the the interiors, which has been heightened by the regalia and history of the Transvaal Scottish.
Explore the house with your friendly guides, David Gurney and Monique Jefferson McDonald, and be enthralled by the story of the Cullinans and their history while also learning about domestic life in Victorian and Edwardian Johannesburg. Another highlight of this experience will be enjoying a spot of tea and some fluffy scones served in such grand surroundings.
When Is It?
Sunday, 10 March 2019 from 14:00 - 16:00.
Where Is It?
The View, 23 Ridge Road, Parktown, Johannesburg.
How Much Is It?
R170 per person for members of the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (click here to find out how to become a member) and R240 per person for non-members, both includes tea and scones.
Click here to get your tickets.
Please note: The tour is limited to 40 tourists max. To avoid disappointment, book in advance.
For More Information
Also, follow them on Facebook for upcoming tours.