Johannesburg

Johannesburg epitomizes South Africa's paradoxical makeup—it's rich, poor, innovative, and historic all rolled into one. And it seems at times as though no one actually comes from Johannesburg. The city is full of immigrants: Italians, Portuguese, Chinese, Hindus, Swazis, English, Zimbabweans, Nigerians, Zulus, Xhosas. The streets are full of merchants. Traders hawk skop (boiled sheep's head, split open and eaten off newspaper) in front of polished glass buildings as taxis jockey for position in rush hour. Sangomas (traditional healers) lay out herbs and roots next to roadside barbers' tents, and you never seem to be far from women selling vetkoek (dollops of deep-fried dough) beneath billboards advertising investment banks or cell phones.

The Greater Johannesburg metropolitan area is massive—more than 1,600 square km (618 square miles)—incorporating the large municipalities of Randburg and Sandton to the north. Most of the sights are just north of the city center, which degenerated badly in the 1990s but is now being revamped.

To the south, in Ormonde, are the Apartheid Museum and Gold Reef City; the sprawling township of Soweto is just a little farther to the southwest. Johannesburg's northern suburbs are its most affluent. On the way to the shopping meccas of Rosebank and Sandton, you can find the superb Johannesburg Zoo and the South African Museum of Military History, in the leafy suburb of Saxonwold.

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  • 1. Apartheid Museum

    Ormonde

    The Apartheid Museum, in Ormonde, takes you on a journey through South African apartheid history—from the entrance, where you pass through a turnstile according to...Read More

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  • 2. Constitution Hill

    Braamfontein

    Overlooking Jo'burg's inner city, Constitution Hill houses the Constitutional Court, which sits on the most important human rights cases, much like the United State’s Supreme...Read More

  • 3. Harties Aerial Cableway

    It will take you six minutes to get to the top of the longest mono-cableway in Africa to savor panoramic views of the Magaliesberg Mountains...Read More

  • 4. Maropeng Visitor Centre

    Sterkfontein

    Maropeng is the official visitor center of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and offers much more than information about the region: it's a...Read More

  • 5. National Zoological Gardens

    Zoo/Aquarium

    The city's zoo, covering nearly 200 acres, is considered one of the world's best, with about 9,000 animals from almost every continent (including...Read More

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  • 6. Ponte City

    Hillbrow

    If there's a symbol of Johannesburg, it's Ponte City, a massive, hollow 54-story cylinder of apartments that you might recall from watching District 9. Built...Read More

  • 7. Sterkfontein Caves

    Sterkfontein

    It was in the Sterkfontein Caves, in 1947, that Dr. Robert Broom discovered the now famous Mrs. Ples, as she is popularly known—a skull of...Read More

  • 8. Victoria Yards

    City Center

    Victoria Yards is an urban renewal project on the fringe of the inner city that has reimagined abandoned warehouses into a mixed-use lifestyle complex. It...Read More

  • 9. Church Square

    Anton van Wouw's statue of President Paul Kruger, surrounded by sentries, dominates this pleasant square, which is flanked by some of the city's most historic...Read More

  • 10. City Hall

    Government Building

    This imposing structure has an Italianate style that borrows freely from classical architecture. A tympanum on the front, by Coert Steynberg...Read More

  • 11. Cullinan Diamond Mine

    Anyone can go to a jewelry store and bring home South African diamonds, but how many people can say they got their sparkler from an...Read More

  • 12. Diagonal Street

    City Center

    On this street in the city center, among stores selling traditional African fabrics and household appliances, you'll find African herbalists' shops purveying a mind-boggling array...Read More

  • 13. Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History

    This museum offers an insightful look at the country's indigenous cultures. You can marvel at San rock art, African headdresses, clay sculptures, and several permanent...Read More

  • 14. Ditsong National Museum of Natural History

    This massive natural-history museum has an extensive collection of land and marine animals from around the world, with an emphasis on African wildlife. The beautiful...Read More

  • 15. Elephant Sanctuary

    Nature Preserve/Wildlife Refuge

    The Elephant Sanctuary is home to 5 of the big mammals and has elephant rides. Visits must be prearranged and include interactive educational...Read More

  • 16. Freedom Park

    Opened in 2013, the 129-acre Freedom Park is a cultural heritage site dedicated to the struggle for freedom and human rights, while chronicling Africa’s 3.6-billion-year-old...Read More

  • 17. Gold Reef City

    Ormonde

    This theme park lets you step back in time to 1880s Johannesburg to see why it became known as the City of Gold. One of...Read More

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  • 18. Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

    Orlando West

    Opposite Holy Cross Church, a stone's throw from the former homes of Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu on Vilakazi Street, the Hector Pieterson Memorial...Read More

  • 19. Johannesburg Art Gallery

    City Center

    This three-story museum hosts excellent local and international exhibitions in 15 halls and has collections of 17th-century Dutch art, 18th-century French art, and paintings by...Read More

  • 20. Johannesburg Botanical Gardens and Emmarentia Dam

    Roosevelt Park | Garden

    The large and beautiful botanical gardens here are five minutes from Greenside. This gigantic parkland, dotted with trees, statues, fountains...Read More

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