Johannesburg Travel Guide
Introduction to Johannesburg
While Johannesburg’s reputation precedes it, you shouldn’t let negative impressions left by other visitors stop you from visiting. Sitting at the source of South Africa’s wealth, Johannesburg is the only major city on earth that is not built on a body of water, as there are no rivers, lakes, or oceans that can be found within eyeshot.
Founded in 1886 due to its location amidst some of the largest gold seams discovered in human history, its inconvenient location was overlooked.
A good portion of South Africa’s human history can be found here, as its government was headquartered in this area. From its historic museums to the colorful townships of Soweto, you’ll find much to make your stay here worthwhile.
Cultural Attractions in Johannesburg
The first cultural attraction you should see in Johannesburg is the Apartheid Museum. This institution chronicles the era when the white minority of South Africa imposed its will on the black majority.
Within, its exhibits will dictate how injustices ranging from segregation of public places to disenfranchisement from politics and land ownership were perpetuated on those who were not part of the white minority.
It also tells the story of Nelson Mandela, who overcame a generation of imprisonment to lead the nation into the current era of reconciliation, so be sure not to miss this key attraction.
Next, make your way over to Constitution Hill. Presently home to the Constitutional Court of South Africa, it is also home to a fort that defended South Africa against the British during the Boer War. It didn’t succeed in this goal, as the British took it, and then used it to imprison Boer leaders for the remainder of the conflict.
From that point on, it was used as a massive prison that held white, black, and women inmates over its life. One of them was Nelson Mandela, who was held here prior to being sentenced to a jail term on Robben Island.
Today, the fort and prison complex can be toured by visitors, which contains many reminders of the terrible old days.
The central part of Johannesburg is only home to about one and a half million people, despite the fact that metro Johannesburg is home to over eight and a half million people. The vast majority of the area’s population lives in the townships of Soweto.
While there are parts that you don’t want to wander into on your own, many neighborhoods can be safely visited through the assistance of a local or a guide.
Highlights that you shouldn’t miss include Walter Sisulu Square, where the Freedom Charter was signed in 1955; the Hector Pieterson memorial, where a 13 year old boy was shot and killed by police during the Soweto Uprising of 1976; and the Orlando Towers, which consist two brilliantly-painted former coal smoke stacks, which boast bungee jumping platforms at the top.
Other Attractions in Johannesburg
Those wanting to take a panoramic photo of the Johannesburg area will want to go to the Carlton Centre. Known as the tallest building in Africa, an observation deck known as the Top of Africa is situated on the highest floor (50th) of this skyscraper.
Though it may lack the lustre that it had in previous years (its five star hotel closed almost 20 years ago), the dramatic views available make a trip up here well worth your while.
Those looking to take a day trip out of the city will want to visit the Cradle of Humankind. It was here in 1947 that paleontologists came across one of the world’s oldest finds of hominid fossils. These specimens were the ancestors of present day humans, making this area the potential birthplace of our species.
A short drive away from the Cradle of Mankind, the Kromdraai Gold Mine give travelers a chance to experience what it was like to work underground in the 19th century. Dodge sleeping bats as you follow your guide through the mine, as they describe how worker’s pulled humankind’s most valued mineral from the earth more than a century ago.
An external museum also contains exhibits that include documents, rusty mining carts, and various other common objects from the Victorian era, so be sure to check it out as well.