For travellers heading to South Africa, the obvious backpacking route tends to include sightseeing in Cape Town and wine tasting in Stellenboch, before road tripping the Garden Route and sometimes a quick visit to Durban.
Johannesburg – which has historically had a negative reputation compared to South Africa’s other cities – isn’t top of many traveller’s lists but, with much work being done to rejuvenate the city in recent years, this is changing. There are now loads of things to do in Johannesburg and its surrounding areas.
So, whether you’re into food, art, adventure or wildlife, here are the top things to do in Johannesburg you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
1. The Apartheid Museum
The Apartheid Museum, which opened in 2001, provides comprehensive insight into the history of South Africa’s apartheid. Across the 22 exhibition areas are film, photography, artefacts and information explaining how apartheid came to be and how it was overthrown.
Visitors should allow at least a couple of hours to have sufficient time to see and digest the content. The museum is a must-see Johannesburg attraction, but be aware that guests may find some of the exhibits distressing.
2. Mandela’s Homestead
“It was the opposite of grand, but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A man is not a man until he has a house of his own.” Nelson Mandela, The Long Walk to Freedom.
Mandela House, 8115 Orlando West, Soweto, was Nelson Mandela’s home from 1946 to 1996, when it became a public heritage site and museum explaining Mandela’s story. This is one of the truly unmissable things to do in Johannesburg.
While in the area, it’s worth spending some time exploring Soweto – South Western Townships – which you can do on a leisurely bike ride with a knowledgeable guide through Cycle Soweto.
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Johannesburg has a great scene for food-lovers – from chic fusion restaurants like Urbanologi, which has its own craft brewery – to Maboneng’s independent coffee shops and bustling “Arts on Main” Sunday food market (open 10am to 3pm). Foodies, fill your boots with traditional South African cuisine!
If you’ve visited Maboneng to check out the food market or to chill in one of its boutique cafés, it’s worth hanging around to explore the area (which is now one of the safest in Johannesburg!). Its laid-back Brooklyn-esque vibe, murals from renowned international artists and friendly locals make it a great spot for backpackers to visit or stay.