Johannesburg: the economic centre of South Africa, a sprawling metropolis, full of Johannesburg accommodation and a world of hidden gems. Given South Africa’s dearth of large, engaging cities, competition between Cape Town and Johannesburg has always been particularly fierce. Joburg, or Jozi as its affectionately known, often comes off second best in the tourism stakes when compared to Cape Town’s spectacular mountain, beaches and proximity to the Winelands. However while Joburg may not share Cape Town’s jaw-dropping scenery, that’s not to say it has nothing to offer. Here is a sample of what to try if you have 48 hours to kill in Joburg.
The Apartheid Museum
Pretty much the whole world is aware of South Africa’s ugly history under the Apartheid regime and while many feel they know what went down, a visit to Johannesburg’s Apartheid Museum is an absolute must. It is at once educational, riveting and tear-inducing, bringing the Apartheid days to life through a series of video footage, sound clips, photographs and documents.
Learn about the Gold Rush
For those who don’t know, Johannesburg was established as a result of the gold rush which took place in the 1880’s. To this day it is known as the City of Gold, and remains South Africa’s commercial hub. Its citizens are fast-paced and work-driven, but throw a good party on the weekends, just a minor reason to give Jozi accommodation a shot.
Given its reason for existence, a visit to Gold Reef City and a tour of the old Shaft 14 is a fitting endeavour in the city. A trip down the old mine shaft exposes visitors to what life in the mines was like – feel the heat, experience the darkness and hear the powerful (and loud!) drill. On the tour you will also be introduced to Fanagalo, the lingua franca of the diverse group of miners and have the opportunity to pop a beer at the subterranean pub, housed in the old donkey stable.
Sterkfontein Caves & the Cradle of Humankind
Going way, way back, the Sterkfontein Caves, while not strictly in Johannesburg, are an internationally significant archaeological site. Forty per cent of the world’s human ancestors’ fossils have been found there – 500 hominid fossils as well as 9000 stone tools. If you’re staying in Johannesburg, you can’t miss this site!
While Joburg does not have the laid back vibe so inherent in Cape Town, the thrill of urbanity is at its best here. Throughout the city there are creative projects popping up and many of the central city suburbs are being gentrified, creating new, trendy inner-city haunts. There is also a myriad of dining options across styles and nationalities.
The Maboneng Precinct is the latest example of this gentrifying trend in Joburg. Central to the area is the Arts on Main building, the pioneer in commercial cum residential spaces. Maboneng is super trendy with a variety of ethnic boutique shops and interesting eateries offering top class meals. The area is also mushrooming with art galleries and the accompanying hipster crowds. It also happens to be home to The Bioscope, Jozi’s only independent cinema as well as a really cool market.
If you are looking for a truly ‘cultural’ experience, a visit to Soweto is imperative. Home to over a million people, it is the largest township in the country and incidentally, the childhood stomping ground of SA’s beloved Nelson Mandela. Given its massive population, not all parts of Soweto are easy on the eye but while poverty is rife, there are certainly areas where the informal economy is intriguing and the small entrepreneurial projects inspiring. You can contribute to Soweto’s economy by checking into one of the township’s BnB’s, where you’ll get to meet the locals and eat traditional food.
Johannesburg Art Gallery
Finally, a trip to JAG (Johannesburg Art Gallery) is a telling look at contemporary South African and international culture. This large gallery in the business district of Johannesburg has 15 exhibition halls exhibiting work from the 17th century to the present. It has one of the largest collections in Southern Africa and a huge variety within that collection. A trip to Joburg for an art addict or culture vulture would not be complete without a visit to JAG.
If you manage to get through all of this, you will be exhausted but satisfied by the end of 48 hours and no doubt sending out recommendations to friends and relatives encouraging them to try accommodation in Gauteng and more specifically, Johannesburg accommodation.