We would definitely recommend you explore this interesting city ONLY through a tour and if possible, use a private tour guide. We took this option and were delighted we did. It meant we could tailor the day to our personal interests, spending extra time in places we found super interesting and moving on from others a little quicker.
We decided only to have a short stopover in this city, a decision due to a few factors. When we mentioned Johannesburg to people during our planning stages, many told us to simple use it as a hub to the rest of the country, that there wasn’t much to see. We were also aware of the safest aspect of visiting a city that has seen so much turmoil, but knew we wanted to check it out for ourselves. We made sure we had at least one full day here, as well as a few hours on the day of our arrival.
In hindsight, this was of huge benefit to our entire trip. We had underestimated how badly we would be effected by the jet lag. Although we are very familiar with travelling between time zones and indeed hemispheres, the time difference and multi-flight aspect always gets you!
We arrived into Johannesburg on Saturday morning, thankfully to an early check-in (would highly recommend organising this in advance if you have an early morning arrival). We opted to pay for the buffet breakfast that morning and then had a few hours nap before exploring this amazing city.
NOTE:Having your wits about you in Johannesburg is a MUST so best not to jump in head first while hazy with jet-lag!
We stayed in the Sandton region of Johannesburg. This is considered the most affluent district of the city, and indeed safer than the centre of town. The hotel we stayed in, Garden Court Sandton City, was ideal for its location. Although the hotel itself was basic, it was clean, had all the necessary facilities and a great buffet breakfast with options for everyone.
The location was perfect due to the short distance to Nelson Mandela Square and the Sandton Shopping Centre where there were floors and floors of shopping (both high street and designer) as well as lots of tasty food options. On our first afternoon in the city, we wandered across to have lunch and were lucky enough to be entertained by a local African youth band in the centre of the Square. It made our alfresco dining experience one to remember and was the perfect start to our trip.
Top restaurant tip:
We were lucky enough to stumble across a gem of a restaurant in Nelson Mandela Square – I tend to leave the dining decisions up to the chef and he hasn’t disappointed yet!
Cilantrosrestaurant serves tapas style dishes as well as larger options for lunch and dinner. There was so may tempting options that we decided to try a number of tapas dishes – we were not disappointed. We also tried some local wine that we fell in love with and spent our entire trip seeking out!
Tip: If you enjoy a glass of red wine, particularly Pinot Noir, you must not leave Africa without trying their beautiful Pinotage!
We actually returned here and had dinner on our second night in Johannesburg…I would recommend trying the delicious cocktails!
Top things to see/do:
Tour of Soweto– This was certainly the highlight of our stay in Johannesburg. We had organised this tour in advance of our visit to ensure we made the most of our limited time frame. Our tour guide was a native of Soweto which made our trip very interesting and certainly authentic.
Soweto, a city developed as a township under the apartheid system, was where most of the struggle against discrimination was fought. The name Soweto is an acronym, made up from the first letters of the words “south western township”.
Interesting sights on the tour:
- Constitutional Hill
- Township homes
- Orlando Towers
- Mandala House
- Vilakazi Street
- Hector Pieterson memorial
This stop for me, was one of the most interesting in terms of the turbulent past of South Africa. This prison that once help Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi as well as tens of thousands of ordinary men and women, is now a living museum that sheds a very graphic light on how prisoners were treated in the time of the apartheid.
On the same site, is South Africa’s highest court – Constitutional Court. The symbolism and consideration put into each and every aspect of this building is astounding. The extremely knowledgeable and informative guide (part of our ticket price for Constitutional Hill), explained the relevance of several fascinating elements such as the floor to roof hand carved doors, the sculpture depicting the country’s struggle in the lobby and the thoroughly considered furnishings in the court room itself.
Our guide took us through some of the regions in Soweto where people were living in one-room block ‘houses’. The direction comparison of the richer people’s homes towering over these communities was a huge culture shock and a snap shot of African reality.
What an interesting and fascinating concept this was.
Two abandoned power station towers that had been repurposed to house an adventure park and local hangout. Between these two decorated towers, you will see a suspension bridge which accesses a bungy jump, one tower is furnished inside with a free-fall net and the area is soon to home an underground soccer pitch and paint ball alley.
For those wishing to observe the adrenaline junkies from the safety of the sidelines, you can grab a local beer at the bar Chaf Pozi while enjoying the screams of those brave enough to take the plunge.
As they say…’When in Rome…’
What would a trip to Africa be without a visit to Nelson Mandela’s home.
Our guide first took us to the house where Mandela’s third, and most recent wife Winnie, was living.
Interesting fact: Winnie Mandela sadly passed away the day after our trip to her house – 2ndApril 2018.
Later in the day, we went to the museum now dedicated to share the story of Mandela’s family and reflect on the time he was imprisoned on Robben Island.
Interesting titbit: the large tree to the back of the house, is where the umbilical cords of his children and grandchildren are planted!
A street most certainly worth the visit considering its prestigious claim to have once been home to two Nobel Prize winners – Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Due to its growing popularity, it was a hustling street on the day of our visit; restaurants heaving with diners and afternoon drinkers while the footpaths were lined with hawkers selling colourful, handmade wares. A buzzing atmosphere and perfect pit stop for our busy schedule.
Hector Pieterson memorial
Our last stop of the day certainly hit a cord. Our guide talked us through the day a group of school children participated in a peaceful protest against discrimination. As we drove down the streets, we were informed of how apartheid police shot at the students when they refused to abandon their protest. 12-year-old Hector Pieterson was the first casualty of the event. The brutality of that time resonates through this infamous photograph taken in the aftermath of that moment.
This memorial is both peaceful and haunting, representing the struggles of the apartheid time for the youth of South Africa.
We truly hope you find this information useful in planning a trip to the city or indeed, that it may inspire you to make the stopover.
Thank you for taking the time to read our post and we would love for you to check out our upcoming posts on the other stops we made on this trip – check out our Instagram page to see what’s up next! Our Instagram
But for now…happy dreaming and we hope to see you again soon.
Richard and Michelle.