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. Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre

    Nature Preserve/Wildlife Refuge

    The Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre (formerly the De Wildt Cheetah Centre, it has been renamed after its founder) is respected for its conservation...Read More

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  • 2. Apartheid Museum

    Ormonde | Museum/Gallery

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

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  • 3. Constitution Hill

    City Center | Historic District/Site

    Overlooking Jo'burg's inner city and suburbs, Constitution Hill houses the Constitutional Court, set up in 1994 with the birth of democracy...Read More

  • 4. Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

    Orlando West | Museum/Gallery

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

  • 5. Maropeng Visitor Centre

    Sterkfontein | Museum/Gallery

    Maropeng is the official visitor centre of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site and offers much more than information about the region...Read More

  • 6. 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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  • 7. Origins Centre

    City Center | Museum/Gallery

    This modern museum is dedicated to exploring human development over the past 100,000 years, and in particular the tradition of rock art—of which...Read More

  • 8. Sterkfontein Caves

    Sterkfontein | Ruins

    It was in the Sterkfontein Caves, in 1936, that Dr. Robert Broom discovered the now famous Mrs. Ples, as she is popularly known—a skull of an...Read More

  • 9. Church Square

    Plaza/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...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

    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 actual mine...Read More

  • 12. Diagonal Street

    City Center | Neighborhood/Street

    This street in the city center is lined with African herbalists' shops, where you can acquire a mind-boggling array of homeopathic and traditional...Read More

  • 13. Ditsong National Museum of Cultural History

    Museum/Gallery

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

  • 14. Ditsong National Museum of Natural History

    Museum/Gallery

    This massive natural-history museum has an extensive collection of land and marine animals from around the world, with an emphasis on African...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. Flying Pictures

    Tour–Sight

    Flying Pictures offers daily (though dependent on good conditions) hot-air balloon trips at sunrise over the Magaliesberg and Cradle of Humankind...Read More

  • 17. Freedom Park

    Memorial/Monument/Tomb

    Opened in 2013, the 129-acre Freedom Park is dedicated to the struggle for freedom and humanity, as well as other aspects of South African heritage...Read More

  • 18. Gold Reef City

    Ormonde | Amusement Park/Water Park

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

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  • 19. Harties Cableway

    Transportation Site (Airport, Bus, Ferry, Train)

    Take the longest mono-cableway in Africa to savour panoramic views of the Magaliesberg mountains and Hartbeespoort Dam. A circular pathway at...Read More

  • 20. Johannesburg Art Gallery

    City Center | Museum/Gallery

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

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