Johannesburg – or Joburg as it’s known to locals – is usually not on the top of travellers’ wish lists for a South African safari trip. The city doesn’t have the beauty of Cape Town or the beaches of Durban and so it’s often just used as a quick stop over on the way to travels to the rest of South Africa.
Africa’s most exciting, dynamic and cosmopolitan city has an energy that is palpable after you step off the plane. While it doesn’t wear its charms on its sleeve, Joburg does have a lot to offer to travellers who stay for a few more days. If you’re planning to start or end your overlanding tour in Joburg, here are the reasons why you should add a few days on to your trip to experience the city.
1. Explore art galleries and museums
Joburg has a vibrant arts scene, and a wealth of art galleries to see the best in contemporary South African art. The Goodman Gallery, David Krut Projects, Everard Read, Stevenson Gallery and Circa Gallery all have changing exhibitions of interesting local artists, while the award-winning Wits Art Museum in the downtown area is the one gallery you shouldn’t miss. The city also offers excellent museums that give you a glimpse into South Africa’s past. The powerful Apartheid Museum is worth spending several hours in, while Constitution Hill, the site of Apartheid-era prisons that once incarcerated Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, is a must-see.
2. Go walking through the inner city
Joburg’s inner city saw a massive decline in the 1990s, but in the past few years, there has been a lot of regeneration projects and students, artists and creative businesses are moving back in. The best way to see the inner city is to walk its streets on a guided tour, so you learn as you walk. Gerald Garner runs walking tours and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city, and his stories really bring its history to life.
3. Hang out in hip Maboneng
An area of regeneration in the inner city, Maboneng Precinct (“place of light” in Sotho), is one of Joburg’s hippest neighbourhoods, with artists’ studios, an independent cinema, fashion and design shops, a yoga centre, art galleries, a design museum, a hotel, buzzing bars and restaurants serving up everything from Afro-Asian food to Ethiopian fare in the space of a few blocks. Try and visit on a Sunday, when Market on Main takes place – a neighbourhood market where you can buy everything from food to vintage clothing, prints, art, books and indigenous plants.
4. Have historical fun
To engage with Joburg’s past and have fun at the same time, visit Gold Reef City, a theme park with a gold rush town theme, complete with a main street built to look like a street in the city at the end of the 19th century, when Johannesburg was founded. Rides like “The Miner’s Revenge” give you an adrenaline infused history injection, while you can also do a tour of the actual old gold mine the theme park is built on top of.
5. Visit Soweto
Soweto, South Africa’s most famous township, is a popular place for travellers to visit to learn more about the city’s past. Tours take in sights such as the church that provided a safe haven for freedom fighters, as well as the Hector Pieterson Museum, which documents the student uprisings of 1976.
6. Go back in time at the Cradle of Humankind
Travel back in time to the very beginning of human civilisation at the Cradle of Humankind, which lies just northwest of Joburg. It’s a World Heritage Site where some of the world’s oldest hominid fossils were excavated in the dark chambers of the Sterkfontein Caves. Explore the caves yourself, and then don’t miss a visit to the Maropeng Centre for replicas of the fossils.
7. Take time out in green spaces
Joburg has one of the world’s largest man-made urban forests, with over 10 million trees, spread throughout the city and in its green spaces, which range from the Botanical Gardens, where thousands of rose bushes and indigenous trees grow, to the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, a wild pocket in the heart of the city. If you want real wilderness, head to the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, which is only 10 kilometres away from the city centre. This 680-hectare reserve offers 20 kilometres of hiking trails through hills and valleys that are home to zebra, wildebeest, red hartebeest and over 200 species of birds – a safari right in the city!
Only a few hours away from Kruger National Park, Durban and the border of Mozambique, Johannesburg makes an ideal place to begin and end a South African or southern African safari tour. Many of our overlanding tours start and end in the city, ranging from a four-day trip to Kruger to a 46-day trip to Nairobi. Have a look at all of our Johannesburg tours here.