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Top 10 Things to do in Johannesburg

Our Top Ten things to do in Johannesburg - Don't leave until you've experienced the best Johannesburg has to offer

Not traditionally thought of as a tourist destination, Johannesburg does get many tourists as a result of its international airport status. Whilst essentially a commercial city, more for tourists to do during their stay has been created in recent years with the focus on museums and art galleries. Here is a selection of things to do in and around Johannesburg which should keep the itinerant tourist occupied!
1 Hyundai Balloon at MonteCasino
Hyundai Balloon at MonteCasino
By the Bird Gardens at MonteCasino you’ll find the Hyundai Balloon. At first sight it looks just like the advertising blimps you see everywhere and this one for a car dealership. Then as you get closer you’ll notice it goes up and down because it’s actually a tourist attraction. A 500m cable which retracts underground slowly allows the blimp to hoist passengers way above Johannesburg. From here you’ll get a great view out over the city, Sandton and the Magaliesburg Mountains. The trip lasts for 15 minutes and then the balloon is lowered.

2 George Harrison Discoveror of Gold
George Harrison Discoveror of Gold
Coming into Johannesburg from the airport you’ll see a huge statue holding a rock above his head. It’s a memorial to an Australian prospector called George Harrison who was the first person to find gold in the city. Gold had been discovered earlier but it was Harrison who found the source of the gold and opened the door for the riches that were to pour into the country. As is often the case in these stories, not knowing the significance of his find he sold the rights for £10 and set off to make his fortune elsewhere, never to be heard of again.

3 Blyde River Canyon
Blyde River Canyon
The Blyde River Canyon is one of the most spectacular views in South Africa with cliffs that soar 800m from the river bed below. I love visiting dramatic places and there are few that can match this place for drama. On the day I was there, the top of the cliffs were level with low cloud that had drifted in but from the top, peeks through them showed a world like the setting for ‘The Land That Time Forgot’. From the Three Rondavels viewpoint (also called The Three Sisters) there is an equally unforgettable view of three huge rock spirals rising out of the far wall of the Canyon.
Water erosion over the years created these great potholes which are called the Bourke’s Luck Potholes.

4 Sterkfontein Caves - Cradle of Humankind
Sterkfontein Caves - Cradle of Humankind
If you’re one that likes to trace your family history then one day you’ll end up here for Sterkfontein Caves, close to Johannesburg and the valley it’s in is known as the “Cradle of Humankind”, because the oldest known human remains were found here. There’s a visitor’s centre with a small museum is located at the caves. Here, you find out about the evolution of humankind from the apes and afterwards can visit the Sterkfontein Caves. The guided tours through this cave system take place every 30 minutes and have two main themes; the skeletons as well as the formation of caves.
You’ll also see that excavations are continuing at the site to find out more about our ancestors.

5 Randburg Waterfront
Randburg Waterfront
Johannesburg’s answer to Cape Town’s V & A waterfront, the new Randburg Waterfront is a great place to hang out with friends and family. Here, an artificial lake was created taking its water from the Jukskei River. There’s a huge entertainment complex offering attractions like theatres, multiplex cinemas and even a very unusual ‘swimming golf course’. The highlight here is the colourful fountains. Accompanied by music, water fountains up to 50 m high are forced out of more than 1000 jets for a spectacular display which is illuminated at night. For the peckish there are over 50 restaurants and a flea market with nearly 350 stalls.

6 De Wildt Cheetah Breeding Station
De Wildt Cheetah Breeding Station
South Africa is all about conservation and one of the best examples is the De Wildt Cheetah Breeding Station. It’s an hour's drive from Johannesburg but well worth the journey. De Wildt is a genuine conservation project rather than just a wildlife tourist attraction and has established a very successful captive breeding programme for cheetahs with the hope of reintroducing cheetah into the wild. Cheetah populations are usually in-bred, which makes them particularly vulnerable to diseases and deformations. The centre does much work on genetic data, adding to our knowledge of the big cats. The centre also do work with the South African wild dog too – not as attractive as the cheetah maybe but just as important ecologically.

7 Hector Pieterson Memorial/Museum
Hector Pieterson Memorial/Museum
The Hector Pieterson Memorial is a fascinating museum dedicated to a world recognised event: the Soweto Uprising of 16 June 1976. Here, on that day riot police opened fire on a peaceful demonstration of schoolchildren protesting at the introduction of compulsory Afrikaans to the curriculum. Hector Pieterson was the first casualty. There is a stunning photograph of his hysterical friend running with Hector's body in his arms and with his terrified sister running alongside – a picture that sums up the pointless suffering of the apartheid era. The museum is very sensitively laid out and relies on a range of media to shock, inform, silence and traumatise the visitor. Nowhere else will you get such a vivid account of that day.

8 Gold Reef City and Old Gold Mine
Gold Reef City and Old Gold Mine
Built on the site of a former gold mine, Gold Reef City is a huge entertainment complex that looks exactly like its name! With a range of casinos, hotels and restaurants it’s a little like an African Vegas. There’s a theme park with roller coasters and other less scary activities. I found the most fascinating parts of the area to be the Apartheid Museum and the tour of the gold mine with a very informative guide who will show you the conditions people worked in to extract the gold there.

9 Lion & Safari Park
Lion & Safari Park
The Lion & Safari Park, is found just outside the northern limits of the city and is home to around 80 lions including prides of rare white lions and Namibian lions which have dark manes. You can drive through the reserve and watch them or take a guided tour with a very knowledgeable guide. If you go on a weekend the lions are fed at noon and it is a very popular time to see them in action. I was amazed at how loud a lion’s roar is when I hear one let out a presumably appreciative one after finishing his meal. Also along the five mile drive through the park you’ll see herds of impala, blesbok, gemsbok, wildebeest, springbok (South Africa’s national animal) and zebra. If you get the chance to, you can also visit the park at night when the nocturnal animals come out to feed.

10 The Hillbrow Tower
The Hillbrow Tower
The Hillbrow Tower is the tallest structure on the African continent and home to Telkom, South Africa’s largest telecommunications company. It’s 883 feet high and is a good landmark for people travelling around the city. Due to security threats, it has been closed to tourists since 1981. Anyone wishing to get a bird’s eye view of the city now has to go the Carlton Towers where there is a 50th floor observation deck. Prior to the closure it was Johannesburg’s main tourist attraction but can now only be views from the ground or surrounding buildings.

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