On my recent South Africa trip it was easier to use our air miles on the direct flight to Johannesburg, rather than the more popular destination of Cape Town. So we decided to stay in Johannesburg, leaving us with a day to check out the city. I hope that you find this a useful guide for what to do if you have 24 hours in Johannesburg.
Johannesburg, aka Jo’burg, aka Joesy to the locals
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Great first day in South Africa – @manicsara and I managed to stay awake to tour around the CBD and Soweto township – we learnt a lot, but the history made me alternatively sad and angry…. . ❓what makes you feel like that❓ . #travellingsisterstakeonSA #johannesburg #southafrica??❤️ #southafricatrip @visitsouthafrica_uk @visitsouthafrica #visitsouthafrica #nelsonmandela #apartheidmusuem #historymakesmesadsometimes #segregationmakesmemad #travelsouthafrica #24hoursinJoburg
What to do with 24 hours in Johannesburg
Depending on the time and the day some of these places may not be open. We found out this the hard way – peering through the window of an art gallery! So remember to check out the opening times of the museums and galleries first!
Tour the city
As we arrived at 8am we had a whole day to spend in Jo’burg. We decided to hire a car from our hotel to take us on a tour of the city and a few places that we had researched in advance. However if we had been more organised we could have booked on a tour bus for less money – they do pick ups from the airport (where we were staying) and other areas in town.
Our driver and informal guide was Jeffrey, a Jo’burg resident who had been driving for the hotel for years. He delighted in telling us the history of the city and pointing out loads of landmarks during our drive around. He took us through different suburbs to show us how they differed in the style of the houses and also to show us the various places where Nelson Mandela had lived.
Visit a museum or art gallery
Now we had intended to visit some of the galleries in the CBD, however we had arrived on a Tuesday and a lot of the musuems and galleries are closed Monday and Tuesday. So we only ended up with a short walk around the bustling CBD area. We were trying to go to the Wits Art Museum and you can find more galleries and museums on Trip Advisor’s Best 10.
Soweto is short for South Western Townships and was one of the areas that was effectively a black ghetto under apartheid. It is also where Nelson and his wives (he had two in his life) lived and you can visit his house here – number 8115.
It costs 60 rand to get in and there are tour guides available to take you around and give more details and context. This doesn’t cost any more but you should tip them 20 rand before you leave.
We stopped in Soweto for an African buffet lunch at Sakhumzi restaurant (a short walk from Mandela House) and there was lots going on – music, traditional dancing and loads of arts and crafts.
The tourist dollars have made Soweto vibrant and more affluent, but it has a tragic past.
In 1976 local students held a march to oppose the introduction of lessons in Afrikaans, which lead to the student uprising and lots of deaths. Most of these kids did not understand how the white policemen would react and unfortunately when they responded to the march with violence, shooting into the crowd with live bullets, children died. The most notable was Hector Pieterson, aged 13, who had followed his older sister to the march. The photo of his body being rushed out of the area made international news, creating uproar against apartheid.
Not far from Soweto is the Apartheid Museum which is rated as the top attraction on Trip Advisor. It costs 85 rand to get in (with discounts for students, children, pensioners and school trips). Whilst they have a couple of different routes you can take around the museum with different suggested timings (1.5 or 3 hours), I would suggest you schedule a minimum of 3 hours here. We only had 2 hours and felt quite rushed, we could easily have stayed longer, but we were fading fast after not having slept on the overnight flight.
This museum is really well done. It’s very moving and does a great job of documenting what life was like under Apartheid, the history leading up to it and the end of Apartheid.
Whilst we were there they also had a temporary exhibition on Nelson Mandela’s life, but we didn’t get much chance to go around it.
I would totally recommend reading A Long Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela’s autobiography – to get additional context on this era in South Africa.
SAB World of Beer
Whilst we didn’t make it here due to laziness, it is open on a Monday and needless to say it involves a beer tasting!
Find out more online at SAB World of Beer (you must be of legal drinking age!)
Have dinner in Sandton
The suburb of Sandton is not far away from the airport area. Uber is in major cities in South Africa and really easy to use, so I would recommend using Uber to get to and from dinner. In Sandton you need to head to Nelson Mandela Square in the mall for the main restaurant area.
There were plenty of places serving meat (the South African’s love their meat!), Italian food and fish. We went for the sushi and tapas/sharing at The Big Mouth and enjoyed their South African wine list also.
Where to sleep
We stayed at the Intercontinental Hotel at Jo’burg airport. This is because a) we had an early flight the next morning, b) I had IHG points to use, so the stay was free and c) as a IHG member I could get early check in. Obviously the airport has a lot more hotel options to suit every budget; but if you want this view of the airport from the top floor swimming pool the Interconti is the way to go!
I hope I’ve given you some ideas on what to do with your 24 hours in Johannesburg. Let me know in the comments if you find any other great thing to do!