Johannesburg is known first and foremost as the largest city in South Africa. While not the country’s capital, it contributes major amounts of social, economic, and political influence. As a city, it is one of the most unique in the world. It is also one of the youngest major cities on Earth!
These interesting facts alone make it unique enough to want to visit, but there are also plenty of other reasons why you would want to travel to Johannesburg. It is a city that explodes with culture, as its citizens share any diverse backgrounds and languages. You’ll find beautiful landscapes, hand-crafted valuables, glass skyscrapers, historical museums, and nature walks during your stay.
There are many sights to see in Johannesburg, so if you are wondering what to do in this city, or if you are looking for cheap things to do on your next vacation, take a look at the 20 must-do things below!
1. Start with Sandton City Shopping in Nelson Mandela Square
Start your Johannesburg vacation off by visiting Nelson Mandela square, where you will find a tall statue of the man in question. This square is a great place to relax, sit back, and to enjoy getting a glimpse at daily South African life.
The square is also in the Sandton City Shopping Centre, where you will find tons of great shops offering everything from thrifty to luxurious. This shopping center is one of the biggest malls in all of Johannesburg, so make sure to bring your wallet!
2. Go to Groenkloof
Spending too much time in the middle of Johannesburg will make you forget about everything but concrete. Get away from the city for a while and visit Groenkloof near Pretoria. This is a wilderness trail where you can ride your bike, a horse, or a vehicle whilst being amongst zebras and giraffes!
3. Visit the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum
Known as one of the top sights to see in Johannesburg, the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum commemorates the twelve-year-old and his fellow 500 students who died during apartheid. The museum can be found in the Soweto area of Johannesburg and contains several resources and historical information.
4. See Arts on Main
In the middle of the city you’ll fin Arts on Main, a small district focused on the city’s artistic and creative life. Here you’ll find plenty of arthouse cinema, craft markets, small cafes, and many other creative outlets. If you want to see some local art or get a taste of the city’s creative culture, then this is the place for you! It’s also a great place to take a break while still being in the middle of the city.
5. Find Animals at the Rietvlei Game Reserve
Witness a gorgeous location filled with great animals and go on a safari with the whole family! This gorgeous reserve has all kinds of animals from zebras to lions, from antelopes to cheetahs. Go on a photography tour or explore on your own with your family and discover something new around every hill.
We recommend going around 11:00 in the morning when the lions are being fed; that is a sight to see!
6. Visit Vilakazi Street
There is a lot of Johannesburg history on this one street. In fact, there is a lot of South African history on this one street. Vilakazi Street is home to both Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela and is one of the most vibrant spots in the whole city.
If you truly want to experience a taste of Johannesburg culture, spend the afternoon traversing this street. You’ll meet plenty of friendly people, see lots of local art, and experience city life like never before.
7. Eat Some Biltongs
When traveling, a lot of people like to look for things to do in Johannesburg that have to do with eating. A lot of vacationers love trying new foods, and biltong is something delicious to try out.
But what is it, exactly? Biltong is dried meat, very similar to beef jerky. The dried meat is mixed with a blend of spices and marinades to give it a great flavor. Be careful, because it is very easy to become addicted to these things!
8. Jump from the Orlando Towers!
Do you have a little bit of a daredevil inside of you waiting to jump out? Or do you just want a Johannesburg free attraction? If so, then the Orlando Towers are a perfect opportunity for you! This is definitely one of the most popular things to do in Johannesburg for those who are interested in making their own fun.
The Orlando Towers were once two power stations that then became abandoned. Now, the exteriors are decorated with beautiful and cultural street art while the insides remain open for daredevils and parkour enthusiasts alike.
If you aren’t up for jumping from the tower or climbing its railings, but you still want to see the sights, you can visit the bar at the bottom of the towers and enjoy a nice drink in the view of the artwork.
9. Go to Walter Sisulu Square
Many people enjoy standing in spots where important historical events took place. You can do just that when you visit Walter Sisulu Square. This square is the site of many groundbreaking moments in South Africa’s history. For example, the freedom charter was drafted in this very square. Now, the site is home to a stone monument where the statements of the freedom charter have been carved into eternity. You’ll read demands such as, “The people shall govern!”, and “All shall enjoy equal human rights!”.
10. See the City from the Top of the Carlton Centre
One of the best sights to see in Johannesburg is Johannesburg itself! But you want to see it from a spectacular aril view. That’s what you get when your ascent to the top of the Carlton Centre in downtown Johannesburg. It’s one of the cheap things to do as well since getting to the top of the building is free.
You just have to enter the mall and find the elevator first. Once you do, go up 50 floors to the top and you’ll see a spectacular view of the city out of big glass windows. Get a 360-degree view of Johannesburg and see things in new ways.
11. Take a Tour of the Johannesburg Fort Prison and Constitutional Court of South Africa
If you know about the history of apartheid, you know that Nelson Mandela and many other black South Africans were unfairly held in prison for quite some time. You can visit that prison in the city on what is known as Constitutional Hill. The complex is next-door neighbors with the Constitutional Court, which is the highest court in the whole country of South Africa. The modern architecture is a contrast to the prison, but both places are worth viewing. You can take a self-guided tour if you are interested.
12. Visit Montecasino
As one of the most famous casinos in the world, Montecasino is a place worth visiting if you are into gambling and nightlife. Uniquely enough, this casino is themed after a small Italian village. You’ll be able to walk cobblestone paths, dip in and out of alleyways, and eat a decadent meal under the stars.
Not to mention the games stay open all night long, and there are plenty of opportunities to party, drink, and play.
13. Walk through Melrose Arch
If high-end shopping malls are your forte, you’ll easily fall in love with Melrose Arch. This place is certainly recommended as one of the things to do in Johannesburg whether you are by yourself or with family. Your travel to Johannesburg should include at least one day of visiting this high-end shopping center where you will find designer fashion stores, popular nightclubs, and unique places to eat.
14. Take a Bicycle Tour of Soweto
Soweto is a special district of Johannesburg that is rich in history and culture. Many of the famous places on this list are located in Soweto, such as the Orlando Towers and Walter Sisulu Square. You can tour the entire district as part of a bicycle tour as one of the cheap things to do in Johannesburg. See some of the beautiful country sides and visit local neighborhoods where you will get a more intimate taste of South African culture.
15. Get Creative in the Maboneng Precinct
The Maboneng Precinct is known as one of the most artistic districts of the city, and it is definitely worth a visit if you want to see something unique. It is a great place to chill and learn more about the youth culture in the city. There do tend to be lots of crowds here, though, so make sure to steer clear if you don’t want to be around people.
If you don’t mind the crowds, you’ll enjoy plenty of urban cafes with live music, quaint parks, and lots of places to relax and enjoy art.
16. Try Out Wine Tasting
If you like doing the more relaxing things in life, wine tasting might be what to do in Johannesburg for you and your family. There are a lot of pleasant wineries in and around the Johannesburg area where you can try local flavors and even purchase a bottle of something to commemorate your trip.
Not to mention many South Africans have noticed that wine is cheaper in Johannesburg than it is in other parts of the country, and even the continent!
17. Drive to the Mpumalanga Province
Popular Instagram artist Linda Matama has a series of breathtaking photos of the Mpumalanga Province that will convince even the most stubborn traveler that it is one of the must-see things to do in Johannesburg. Although it is a few hours away from Johannesburg, it is well worth the drive. You’ll see many scenic sights and witness beautiful landscapes that you won’t see anywhere else in the world.
If you are someone who plans to have your camera with you when you travel to Johannesburg, you must make time to visit this scenic destination.
18. Take a Hike at Melville Koppies
Want to learn about history and nature all at once? You can go on a hiking excursion at Melville Koppies, which is both a nature reserve and a Johannesburg City Heritage Site. During your hike, you can see the only conserved part of the mountain ridges which looked exactly as they did almost 500,000 years ago.
You’ll see ancient history with primitive tools and stone walls that show clear evidence of ancient peoples. This is a great way to witness the evolution of humanity while getting some great natural exercise!
19. Go to the Museum Africa
Museum Africa is one of the best things to do in Johannesburg with the whole family. The beautiful museum and education center offers copious amounts of history and riches of artifacts, documents, and artworks to mark historical time. If you are a museum buff, you must put this on your to-do list when you travel to Johannesburg.
20. Visit the Apartheid Museum
Apartheid is a sad and huge part of South Africa’s history. It’s important for history, as well as the sacrifices made to make South Africa a free nation, to be remembered. This museum was erected in honor of those who made that sacrifice and who were affected by the dark events that took place during apartheid.
You can visit this museum in downtown Johannesburg and learn an important historical lesson to commemorate your visit to Johannesburg.
Enjoy Your Johannesburg Travels!
There are many things to do and sights to see in Johannesburg. Plan your time so you can get the opportunity to see as many of these great locations as possible. Get a taste of nature, see wild animals, visit rich art districts, and learn about history while enjoying new cultures. In Johannesburg, there are always things to do!