Johannesburg, also known as Jozi, Jo’burg, or Egoli which means City of Gold, was founded in 1886 due to the discovery of gold.  It is currently the most visited city of the African continent, and for a reason. Johannesburg has a very rich history and a very diverse cultural scene. There are plenty of interesting things to do in Johannesburg to keep you busy for a while. Did you know that Johannesburg is home to the largest man-made “urban” forest and has the largest “dry port” in the world? I have spent a lot of time in Jo’burg and while writing a previous article about Interesting facts about Johannesburg, I was pleasantly surprised to still discover many fascinating things about this city.

city center joburg with text overlay things to do in johannesburg South Africa

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When you are visiting this metropolis they call Johannesburg, Jozi or Jo’Burg and you are not sure what to do in Johannesburg during your stay, I do recommend to book a day tour with a qualified guide in order to make the most of your visit.

Below I have listed a selection of activities to do and places to see in Johannesburg that are worthwhile and should not be missed when visiting or when choosing one or more of the possible day tours.

mandela bridge in johannesburg south africa
Nelson Mandela bridge in Johannesburg

Interesting things to do in Johannesburg

Visit the Apartheid museum

I must be honest, I will not often visit a museum when I only have very limited time to explore a large city.  However, I do recommend to visit the Apartheid museum in Johannesburg. Most people who visit South Africa will probably have heard of Apartheid as a part of the country’s turbulent history. The Apartheid museum is well laid out over various rooms, highly informative and everything is well explained by means of information panels, video footage, lots of photos and artefacts.

When I visited the museum there was a very interesting and educational separate exhibition about late ex-president Nelson Mandela. It is a temporary exhibition, but I believe it is still ongoing.

It’s important to take your time when visiting since there is a lot of information to absorb. More practical information can be found on the website of the museum itself.

Take a Soweto Township tour

If there is one township in South Africa you need to visit, it is Soweto (a must see Johannesburg), which is short for South Western Township. As the name already indicates, it is located in the south-western part of Johannesburg. And there are plenty of things to do in Soweto.

FNB Stadium in Soweto from outside in johannesburg
FNB Stadium in Soweto

Soweto came into existence after the discovery of gold in Johannesburg in 1886, which attracted a lot of people to settle there. However, Soweto became world news due to the mass protests in the ‘Soweto Uprising’ in 1976. A must visit is Vilakazi street. It is by far the most famous street in Soweto, as it is the only street in the world where once two Nobel peace prize winners lived (Archbishop Desmond Tutu and ex-president Nelson Mandela). Nelson Mandela’s house has now been turned into a small museum.

Most visitors will also be surprised to see that Soweto is not the typical shanty town, but actually a very vibrant and popular residential area of Johannesburg.

Vilikazi street in soweta with 3 people standing on a terrace
Vilikazi street in Soweto

Hector Pieterson Museum in Soweto

Hector Pieterson was only 13 years of age when he got shot and killed during the ‘Soweto Uprising’ in 1976. He became the symbol of youth resistance to Apartheid. This small museum, which opened in 2002, can easily be visited as part of a day tour to Soweto.

direction sign with tourist landmarks in soweto
Where to go in Soweto

Get an adrenaline rush at the Orlando Towers

The Orlando Towers were originally the site of a coal-fired power station. The power station is not in use anymore and the towers have been transformed into an adventure centre. There is a suspension bridge connecting the two towers from where it is possible to bungee jump, which is definitely one of the more exciting things to do in Johannesburg. Other activities you can do are paintball or climbing part of the towers via a climbing wall.

They are the most characteristic landmark of the Soweto suburb due to that they are completely covered with murals of different scenes of township culture and life.

orlando towers soweto johannesburg south africa
The Orlando Towers in Soweto are famous for bungee jumping

Relax at Zoo Lake in Parkview

Visiting Zoo Lake in Parkview, which is one of the oldest suburbs of Johannesburg, is like a fresh breath from the urban hustling and bustling of the city. The lovely open grass park surrounding the lake is very popular with local residents, especially during the weekends. Favourite activities are jogging, walking, having a picnic on the grass or rent a boat for a nice relaxing paddle on the lake.

colourful boats on zoolake in parkview johannesburg
Colourful boats on zoolake

The park is opposite of the Johannesburg Zoo. Most visitors to South Africa will do at least one safari in order to see animals in their natural environment, but the Joburg zoo could be a nice add-on, especially when travelling with children.

Have fun at Gold Reef City

Gold Reef City is a theme park entirely based around the gold rush and is one of the biggest parks in South Africa. It is one of the activities to do in Johannesburg that is great for a family attraction, especially when the weather is nice and warm. It is located close to the city centre of Johannesburg, opposite the Apartheid museum. The theme park has a nice selection of adrenaline thrilling roller coasters as well as a museum dedicated to gold mining. It is a great combination of exciting entertainment with some educational history and for sure one of the fun things to do in Joburg.

Go shopping in Sandton and Rosebank

If you love shopping, then Johannesburg will surely not disappoint you. There are a lot of malls, in various sizes to please everyone. One of my favourite malls to go to is the ‘Mall of Rosebank’. Most of the usual shops can be found here, but what makes this mall so interesting is the atmosphere. There are lots of nice eateries and coffee shops. Next door to the mall is the African art & craft market, with lots of little shops offering handicraft items from all over Africa.

dancers in rosebank mall johannesburg
Traditional dancers at Rosebank mall
People looking at traditional dancers in Rosebank malls in johannesburg
People looking at traditional dancers in Rosebank malls

Sandton City, on the contrary, is where apart from the usual shops, most of the high-end shops are found. Adjacent to the mall is Nelson Mandela square with lots of exclusive restaurants. There is a huge six metres statue of Nelson Mandela overlooking the whole square.

Most hotels in the city are located in Rosebank and Sandton, making both malls easy accessible, especially when going for dinner in the evening.

This was a selection of possible and interesting things to do in Joburg, especially when visiting for a short time. It shows that Johannesburg has a lot of history and culture to offer for any type of visitor.

Johannesburg Practical Tips

  • Johannesburg is a very large city and widely spread. The distances are long to get from one part of the city to the other. Public transport is not very extended, therefore the best way to travel around is by car. It might be difficult to know where to go in Johannesburg, so best will be to use a gps or a good city map to navigate.
  • Johannesburg has done a large clean up of its suburbs for the 2010 FIFA world cup and the upgrading is still ongoing. Some areas have become really nice and vibrant, like Newtown and Melville. Just keep in mind that in between those areas, you might have to be careful. Always ask your accommodation for current information about safety.
  • Visiting the city and its highlights is best done with a qualified guide. There are lot’s of day tours that can be booked, where a guide takes you for a half or full day to Joburg’s most interesting activities. The guide will explain all and transport is arranged. I really recommend this for making the most of your visit to Johannesburg.
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