Video Source: Youtube
Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
Founded in 1886 after the discovery of gold by Australian prospector George Harrison, Johannesburg resides in the densely populated province of Gauteng (pronounced how-teng). Today, it is South Africa’s biggest city, as well as the economic center of the richest country in Africa. The city received plenty of attention during the 2010 World Cup, but even beyond soccer, Johannesburg has already established itself as a major destination for both business and tourism. The city is home to a variety of museums and other tourist attractions and is one of the most important urban areas on the entire continent.
The Top 10: What to Do in South Africa
While Johannesburg is best known as the financial center of South Africa, there’s plenty of rich history and landmarks for travelers to indulge in. In addition to famous sites such as the Apartheid Museum and the shopping area of Mandela Square in Sandton, here are our top 10 must-see sites that you need to visit in Johannesburg.
1. Constitution Hill:
Originally built as a prison in 1892, this landmark gained notoriety in 20th-century South Africa as anti-apartheid leaders, including Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, were banished here. Today, Constitution Hill serves as a memorial for those who struggled against apartheid. It’s also the home to the Constitutional Court, South Africa’s highest judicial court, which is devoted to the protection of human rights.
2. Johannesburg Art Gallery:
Founded in 1910, this gallery is the largest in the sub-continent and is home to a great number of Renaissance and Victorian artworks, as well as plenty of 20th-century pieces from South African artists like William Kentridge and Gerard Sekoto.
3. Johannesburg Zoo:
A home to lions, elephants, chimpanzees, polar bears, and over 2,000 other members of the animal kingdom, this is easily one of the most popular sites in all of Johannesburg. Though it was originally a public park in 1904, the zoo now consists of 133 acres with waterfalls, walking paths, and seating areas.
4. Joburg Theater Complex:
Originally known as the Joburg Civic Theater, this group of four theaters is best known for showcasing local talent in plays, musicals, dances, comedy shows, and concerts. Past notable performances have included A Streetcar Named Desire, Sleuth, Amadeus, and Les Miserables.
5. Gold Reef City:
Johannesburg was founded after the 1886 Witwatersrand Gold Rush: this might explain the nomenclature of this combination casino and theme park, which is a perfect spot for those traveling with children. While we love art and history, Gold Reef City is an excellent place to wind down (or wind up) while partaking in just a bit of gambling.
Though it’s only about six blocks long, the Melville area has an abundance of cool cafes, eclectic restaurants, chic bars, and live music venues. A great place to go for dinner or drinks on any night of the week, this is a perfect neighborhood in which to rub shoulders with both locals and tourists.
7. Carlton Centre:
Otherwise known as the “Top of Africa,” the Carlton Centre is the tallest building in Africa, standing at 730 feet (50 stories) and taking up four city blocks. Aside from being a desirable shopping area, visitors can go up to the 50th floor of the building, where a full observation deck allows visitors to check out an unbeatable view of Johannesburg and its neighboring cities.
8. Wits University:
Officially known as the University of the Witwatersrand, Wits U is not simply one of South Africa’s most prestigious institutions for higher education, but it is also the center for a number of interesting sites like the Johannesburg Planetarium, the Wits Arts Museum and the Adler Museum of Medicine. Their past Nobel Prize Laureates have included icon Nelson Mandela, writer Nadine Gordimer and chemist Aaron Klug.
9. Westcliff Hotel:
When we’re at home, we do love a cup of tea either to start the morning or to wind down after an afternoon of work. While you’re vacationing, there’s no need to break the habit, and this 5-star hotel offers both morning and afternoon tea, with views of the hotel’s pool deck.
10. Soweto and the Hector Pieterson Museum:
Located in Gauteng, the urban area of Soweto historically was, and still is, a predominantly black community, known most tragically as the site of the 1976 Soweto Uprising, during which protesters were killed while speaking against an educational policy to teach classes in Afrikaans, the language associated with apartheid, rather than in individual groups' own languages. On June 16th, the first day of the riots, a 12-year-old boy named Hector Pieterson was shot, and a photograph of his body being carried by an older teenager hit newspapers and magazines. In 2002, the Hector Pieterson Museum was established in Orlando West, honoring the passing and the work of the protestors and the Soweto community during those riots.
When to Go
Johannesburg is fortunate enough to have temperate and pleasant weather throughout the year: it’s not as humid as Durban in the summer or as cold as Cape Town in the winter. Keep in mind, though, that much of the city’s rain still falls during the summer months (October through March) and the temperature can drop dramatically on winter nights, so plan accordingly.
Festivals that are worth planning a trip around include HobbyX (March), the country’s largest crafts fair, the Joy of Jazz Festival (August), and the Good Food and Wine Show (September).