Joburg from A to Z

What to do in Johannesburg is a perennially popular topic which I’ve written about before. This time, I’ve put together a list for you in a slightly different format. I hope you enjoy the below Joburg A to Z guide just to get you started, with many links to more details. Enjoy!

A is for Apartheid Museum

South Africa is a country of nearly endless possibilities for your travel itinerary.  No matter how long you stay, you’ll never more than scratch at the surface of all there is to see. Wildlife, beautiful views, food and wine, outdoor adventures… the list is endless. But if you were only passing through and only had one day in Johannesburg, and if I had to pick one thing – ONE THING – I’d want you to do on that day, I’d choose the Apartheid Museum. You simply cannot visit and not come out affected by it, with a deep appreciation for history and the human spirit. It’s a great place to go all by yourself, or bring the entire family including kids. They may not like it, but they need to see it. Read More…

B is for Bird Gardens at Montecasino

Some may decry my choice as too touristy, tacky, and phony. And in many ways, those words exactly describe Montecasino as a whole. It’s hard to put into words exactly what Montecasino is.  It’s an indoor faux Tuscan village in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg, and as far as faux villages go, it’s actually quite authentic. You get cobblestone streets, a piazza, a teatro that hosts some of the best theater and ballet performances touring the African continent, a great many restaurants and shops, a faux hot air balloon that only goes up and down, and even a faux Tuscan sky. And you also get a real casino, movie theaters, a bowling alley, and the Bird Gardens, which are styled a little bit like SeaWorld, except with birds. It’s a great place for a family outing. It’s also a great place to let your preteens and teenagers safely hang out at. Read more…

Montecasino bird gardens in johannesburg

C is for Carlton Centre

Once (or still?) the tallest office building in Africa, the top floor, also called The Top of Africa (not to be confused with The Roof of Africa, which is Mount Kilimanjaro), offers a great panoramic view of Johannesburg in all directions.

view from Carlton Centre in johannesburg

D is for DeWildt

A little outside of Johannesburg in the beautiful Magaliesberg, the Ann Van Dyk Cheetah Centre at DeWildt makes for a great half-day trip. If you get there early, you can see cheetahs – the world’s fastest land animals – run. You also get a photo op where you can pet a cheetah. You get driven around the property to see the cheetahs being fed, and you learn a lot about all sorts of other endangered animals as well.  And if you’re not careful, you find yourself adopting a pet, like we did! Read more…

 

cheetah at the Ann van Dyk Cheetah Centre at de Wildt near johannesburg

E is for Elephant Sanctuary

Also located in the Magaliesberg, which in itself is a lovely area worth the visit, the elephant sanctuary is exactly what the name suggests: a sanctuary for elephants otherwise mistreated or maligned. It does a great job advocating for elephants by offering educational programs to learn about elephants, touch them, feed them, and be kissed by them, which was one of my highlights of my first year in South Africa, on my birthday no less! Read more…

riding on an elephant at the elephant sanctuary near johannesburg south africa

F is for Friendly

Most visitors to Joburg – once they’ve realized they can dare set foot outside the sanctuary of their home or hotel without immediately endangering their life – agree that it’s one of the friendliest cities in the world. Read more…

G is for Graffiti

If you have the opportunity, I strongly recommend one of Past Experiences’s Graffiti tours in the city. It’s a great – and very safe – way to explore the city in case you don’t want to go on your own, and you get to see parts you wouldn’t normally venture into. The ever-changing nature of the graffiti art makes this a new experience every time, and you’ll love the photos you take home from it, as they are a special piece of Joburg capturing that singular moment in time. Read more…

graffiti in johannesburg

H is for Hartebeesthoek Radio Astronomy Observatory

This has got to be one of the best kept secrets of Johannesburg. We only knew about it through friends. You can set up a tour once a month by booking ahead, and it’s great fun and very educational for the entire family. You get to learn about astronomy and the cosmos and physics, all of it in an entertaining fashion with lots of hands-on experiments. Read more…

antenna at sunset at hartebeesthoek radio astronomy observatory in south africa

I is for Ibis, as in Hadeda

I know I know, H should have been for Hadeda, but this way I get to cover two letters. And the hadeda is indeed part of the ibis family – the only one that “talks.” It absolutely belongs on this list, as it is such an icon for Johannesburg. You cannot imagine life there without the hadeda’s ever-present loud screech and these beautiful birds stalking around manicured lawns digging for their favorite food (see letter P). Read more… 

hadeda

J is for Joburg Photowalkers

Much like the graffiti tours, the Photowalkers can take you into areas you wouldn’t normally venture into, and you’ll be rewarded with great photo ops, whether it’s jacarandas in bloom, wonderful views from tall buildings, or crazy nightlife. Join their Facebook group to keep up-to-date on what’s happening, and go on at least one of their excursions, you won’t regret it! Read more…

K is for Kruger House Museum

If you go to Pretoria (which you should!), visit Kruger House Museum, it’s worth the visit but not that well-known, so easy to miss. It shows you another important side of South Africa’s history. And it is a nice change from the bombast of the Voortrekker Monument, which no doubt you’ll also be visiting when in Pretoria. Read more… (But also, K is a little bit for Kak. Simply because I think it’s one of the greatest words. For more, see letter L.)

L is for Liliesleaf Farm Museum

Liliesleaf Farm is also one of the less-visited sights in and around Joburg, but unfairly so. It’s well worth the visit to learn more about South Africa’s fascinating history and Nelson Mandela’s role in it. It’s also got a nice cafe. Read more… (But also, L is for Lekker. Which goes with Kak just like peanut butter goes with jelly. The second greatest word used in South Africa. I’ve written an entire ode to Lekker and Kak.)

building at liliesleaf farm

M is for Maropeng

It’s time for another outing to the North, this time into the Cradle of Humankind. There you can visit the Maropeng Visitor Centre with its futuristic Epcot-type ride through human history and hands-on displays of all sorts of prehistoric findings.

N is for Northcliff Hill

It’s only the second highest elevation in Joburg, as people will be quick to point out if you mention Northcliff Hill, but the view from there onto Johannesburg’s skyline is amazing. And you can follow the short footpath around the top for a 360 view. (I knew you’d ask: The highest elevation in Joburg is Observatory Hill.) Read more…

nature path on Northcliff hill

O is for O.R. Tambo

If you move to Johannesburg, you’ll see a lot of O.R. Tambo International Airport. That’s because you will hopefully take advantage of all the wonderful travel opportunities presenting themselves while you live there. Of all the airports I’ve seen over the years, it’s one of my favorite ones, second perhaps only to Singapore. It’s clean, it’s organized, and remarkably our entire family has never once had a lost bag in all our travel in and out of it. Read more…

P is for Parktown Prawn

Ok, I admit there are other contenders, like Pretoria and Pilanesberg, both within driving distance and great day trip destinations for anyone on an extended stay in the area. But I couldn’t help but mention the Parktown Prawn. In a place that has no real natural disasters (if you don’t count its bureaucracy or traffic) and isn’t quite as dangerous as it is often billed, this THING – not sure whether insect or crustacean or perhaps alien –  is definitely something to be afraid of. Read more…

Q is for Quests

What I love most about our life in Johannesburg is the never-ending supply of new quests we found ourselves on. I attribute it to the wonderfully adventurous friends we made, or perhaps the full-bodied glasses of wine we shared with those friends. In this manner I cycled the 94.7 Cycle Challenge without ever having ridden my bicycle any father than from home to school. I helped my kids sew hundreds of beanie hats for Mandela Day, also an epic quest. And of course I ended up climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I blame it all on Joburg.

R is for Rosebank Rooftop Market

A must-visit flea market type market on a Sunday. It is literally on the rooftop of the Rosebank mall, where you can spend hours strolling past all the stalls offering everything under the sun. My favorites were the food stalls where you can find ethnic foods from all over the world, and the African crafts from all over the continent. Read more…

african crafts at Rosebank rooftop market in johannesburg

S is for Sterkfontein Caves

When you go visit Maropeng (see M), you should also plan to go down into the Sterkfontein Caves. That’s where they found one of the oldest humanoid fossils, the so-called Mrs. Plez. The cool thing about this area is that there are still groundbreaking finds discovered to this day.

T is for Townships

As in Alexandra and Diepsloot and Soweto. Each of these are very different and you should visit all of them, even if you’re warned to “never set foot in Alexandra” like we were on our first day. The townships form an inextricable part of Johannesburg and you wouldn’t know the city if you hadn’t seen – and even appreciated – the integral part played by the people living in these townships.

U is for Unconventional

I could have gone with Ubuntu, the “we are all in it together” African philosophy I always found Joburg to be a poster child for, but I have to go with Unconventional instead. Johannesburg always reminds me of New York in that way – not afraid to go where other cities are too timid to go, modern, fun-loving, a little bit crazy. If it exists, you can find it in Joburg. Read more…

V is for Voortrekker Monument

This is in Pretoria, or rather its outskirts, and not in Joburg. But nevertheless you should see it. See K for at least one other thing you should do while there. The Voortrekker Monument is not beautiful. Nor is it really inspiring, because it symbolizes some of South Africa’s ugly past. But as is often the case with such monuments, they get you to think, and that is exactly why you should go. Plus climbing to the top is great exercise.

voortrekker monument pretoria

W is for  Weaver Birds

To me, weaver birds are also inextricably linked with life in Joburg. Perhaps because every year we had a weaver bird build (and destroy again!) its nest in the acacia tree in our yard. They adorn tree branches everywhere throughout the city, and they cheer up your day with their yellow plumage and incredibly crafty nest-building skills. Read more…

X is for JoziX

Great playground for kids and adults alike. Tightrope walking, trapeze acrobatics, lots of climbing onto and falling off of things, good place for birthday parties. Read more…

JoziX in Johannesburg

Y is for Yeoville

I admit I’ve never been there. But makes for a great letter Y. and it’s up- and coming again, after being one of those places you were warned to never set foot in. Read more…

 Z is for Zoo

I always found it slightly ridiculous to go to the zoo in a city that is surrounded by the most amazing places where you get to see exotic animals in the wild. And yet the Johannesburg zoo is quite renowned, and it also just a very pretty place for an outing. So perhaps if you get tired of the lions and want to see a polar bear instead, the Johannesburg Zoo makes for a welcome distraction.

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