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Last updated : Nov 2009
 
Johannesburg Sightseeing
Johannesburg Sightseeing Guide - TravelPuppy.com
Unlike other South African cities (such as Cape Town, with its well known Table Mountain, and Durban, with its amazing beachfront parade of towering hotels) Johannesburg has no clear single feature to differentiate it from many other drab and sprawling inland cities. The 30 minute drive from the remarkable and efficiently managed Johannesburg International Airport serves as a great introduction to this city. From here, a 6 lane highway (the R24 and N12) carves a path 1st through a high tech industrial and commercial district, then through thriving, upper income suburbia, passing between Eastgate Shopping Centre (arguably Africa’s largest) and Bruma Lake Market World (self proclaimed Africa’s Biggest), before entering Hillbrow, a gangster and vagrant riddled high rise flatland, residence to 42 different nationalities from Africa alone.

This introduction might primarily suggest that Johannesburg is a threatening and risky place. However, it contradicts the fact that areas and sites (such as shaking Soweto, mellow Melville Village, grandiose Gold Reef City Theme Park and Casino, tranquil Johannesburg Zoological Gardens and Military History Museum, and the extraordinary Newtown Cultural Precinct, among others) reveal a side to the city’s multi faceted character that is tourist< friendly, fascinating and relatively safe.

Art Galleries

Johannesburg has a surprising number of brilliant art galleries, varying from the corporate to the private and the off-beat to the mainstream. 3 are advised for their commitment to African and South African works. The Johannesburg Art Gallery houses contemporary South African landscapes, traditional African art, and the particularly appealing William Kentridge collection. The Goodman Gallery displays contemporary South African artists, with works by William Kentridge, Penny Siopis, Kendell Geers, Willie Bester and Sue Williamson, among others. The Kim Sacks Gallery encourages customary South African artefacts and contemporary South African crafts.

A comprehensive listing of all of South Africa’s galleries (telephone, address, e-mail and websites) can be found at online. Other relevant websites are www.artslink.co.za. The Black Arts Collective’s website is also advised.

Johannesburg Art Gallery

This Edward Lutyens designed building houses remarkable collections of 19th century South African works, 18th and 19th century British and European art, 17th century Dutch paintings, a wide contemporary collection of 20th century local and international art and a print cabinet containing works from the 15th century to the present.

Address: King George Street (off Klein Street), Joubert Park
Telephone: (011) 725 3130/80.
Facsimile: (011) 720 6000.
Email address: rkeen@mj.org.za
Website address: www.joburg.org.za
Opening hours: Daily from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.

Alliance Française

The Alliance hosts contemporary South African and international art exhibitions, generally by solo artists, with recent shows by Clifford Charles, Rene Paul, Wayne Barker, Trevor Coleman, Pauline Mazibuku and others. Exhibitions are solicited through proposals.

Address: 17 Lower Park Drive, Parkview
Telephone: (011) 646 1169.
Facsimile: (011) 646 4521.
Admission: often free, some exhibitions are R 20 to R 50.
Admission: Free.

Goodman Gallery

Address: 163 Jan Smuts Avenue, Parkwood
Telephone: (011) 788 1113.
Facsimile: (011) 788 9887.
Website address: www.goodman-gallery.com
Opening hours: Daily from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.
Admission: Free.

Everard Read Gallery

Address: 6 Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank
Telephone: (011) 388 4805.
Facsimile: (011) 788 5914.
Admission: Free.

Bag Factory, aka Fordsburg Artists’ Studios

Johannesburg’s longest established communal artists’ studio complex houses some of South Africa’s most recognised names.

Address: 10 Minnaar Street, Fordsburg
Telephone: (011) 834 9181.
Facsimile: (011) 834 9181.
Admission: Free

JHB Civic Gallery

Address: Civic Theatre, Loveday Street, Braamfontein
Telephone: (011) 403 3408.
Facsimile: (011) 403 3412.
Email address: civic@theatrekom.co.za
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sat 12.00 pm to 8.00 pm or by appointment.
Admission: Free.

Brightwater Commons (formerly the Randburg Waterfront)

Johannesburg is a long way (550 kilometres / 344 miles) from the nearest beaches (Durban) and this cluster of restaurants, shops, bars, cinemas and amusements encircling a man made lake has been completely rebuilt and re opened as Brightwater Commons is a forced attempt at echoing the highly popular (and authentic) Cape Town Waterfront in Johannesburg’s rival city. This is perhaps the only after dark venue in Johannesburg where one can dine and stroll under the stars in a secure and pleasant park attractively surrounded by nightclubs, movie theatres and restaurants.

Address: Republic Road, Ferndale, Randburg
Telephone: (011) 789 5052 or (080) 000 1312.
Website address: www.brightwatercommons.co.za
Transport: Metro bus 80, 81, 82 or 83 to Randburg.
Opening hours: Daily 24 hours.
Admission: Free, some clubs have entrance charges ranging from R 20 to R 60.

Gold Reef City Theme Park and Casino

Initially conceived as a likeness of downtown Johannesburg circa 1890, during the gold rush, Gold Reef City’s museums and curiosity shops (housed in replicas of the original Victorian and Edwardian buildings) have now been eclipsed by the ‘largest rollercoaster in the Southern Hemisphere’ and a 60 table casino. This does not, however, detract from the fact that, for a fairly authentic glimpse into Johannesburg’s captivating past, Gold Reef City is still the best place to go.

Gold Reef City’s true charm is that (literally) underneath all the theme park veneer, there lies a labyrinth of tunnels, built around Number 14 Shaft of the original gold mine that operated from 1887 to 1971. Depending on bookings, there are usually many tours down a mine where workers from all over southern Africa quite recently sweated, toiled and died. Add to this, 14 museums, many craft and curio shops, daily displays of traditional gum boot and can - can dancing and the casino, which includes the 300 seat Globe Theatre and the result is an astonishing mix that simultaneously provides entertainment and insight. The minutely detailed and fascinating model of the surface and subterranean installations of a gold mine, which follows the process from shaft sinking to gold bar production, is 1 of the highlights. As is the daily pouring of a gold bar, popular legend has it that anyone who can pick it up with 1 hand can take it home with them.

Gold Reef City, 8 kilometres (5 miles) from city centre

Telephone: (011) 248 6800.
Email address: grcres@goldreefcity.co.za
Website address: www.goldreefcity.co.za
Transport: Metro bus 55 a, 55 b or 313 to Southgate from Ghandi Square, by car on the M1 South Freeway to the Booysens or Xavier Street exits.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9.30 am to 5.00 pm.
Admission: R 50 weekdays, R 70 weekends, concessions available.

Horror Café

Address: 15 Becker Street
Telephone: (011) 838 6734.
Opening hours: Fridays, 8.00 pm onwards.
Admission: R 20.

Johannesburg Botanic Gardens and Emmarentia Dam

Covering 365 acres (148 hectares) of highveld hillside rising up from the western shores of the Emmarentia Dam, this is 1 of the city’s most tranquil spots. The Dam has a yachting and canoeing club, while the gardens contain a magnificent terraced rose garden (allegedly the world’s largest) set among ponds and water features with a classical theme. Although a park ranger is on duty, it is not recommended to wander into remote areas unless with a group. Picnics and braais (barbecues) are permitted at the spots provided and the shady restaurant does brilliant tea and scones as well as light meals.

Address: Between Thomas Bowler, Olifants and Louw Geldenhuys Streets, Roosevelt Park
Telephone: (011) 782 0517.
Website address: www.jobot.co.za
Transport: Metro bus 71 to Fairland, 74 to Blairgowrie or 81 to Randburg via Blairgowrie.
Opening hours: Daily sunrise to sunset.
Admission: Free (however plans are afoot to start charging).

Johannesburg Zoological Gardens

Apart from offering a peaceful and secure relief from the city’s busy streets and garish shopping malls, the zoo provides a great opportunity for visitors to make sure they know the difference between leopards and cheetahs before going on safari – or just to ensure they do see the big 5. The facilities (both for human and beast) are highly rated internationally, children and the disabled (electric buggies are available for R 70 per hour) are predominantly well catered for. Guided day, night and behind the scenes tours can be arranged and the Zoo Ferry (pulled by a tractor) does standard rounds for a quick reconnoitre before exploring on foot. Highlights include the magnificent new lion enclosure and Max, the lowland gorilla (and his companion Lisa), who became a local crime fighting hero a few years ago when he wrestled to the ground a burglar who incorrectly scaled the wall of his pen while fleeing police.

Address: Upper Park Drive, Forest Town
Telephone: (011) 646 2000 or 486 0552, for organised tours.
Facsimile: (011) 486 2866.
Email address: info@jhbzoo.org.za
Website address: www.jhbzoo.org.za or www.gorillacam.co.za
Transport: The Metro bus 1 to Parktown North, 78 to Randburg Mall, 78a to Craighall or 79 to Parkhurst.
Opening hours: Daily from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm.
Admission: R 25, concessions are available.

Lesedi Cultural Experience

Lesedi is a Sotho word that means light, the nickname for King Moshoeshoe, the founder of the Basotho nation (Lesotho). The 2 and a half hour experience consists of displays of authentic indigenous dancing, recreated Sotho, Ndebele, Zulu, Xhosa and Pedi villages, a restaurant serving local (the famous ‘nyama Choma) and international cuisine, a fully equipped conference centre and en suite guest cottages.

Address: Broederstroom, on the R512
Telephone: (012) 205 1394 or (0800) 119 000, toll free.
Facsimile: (012) 205 1433.
Email address:marketing@lesedi.com
Website address: www.lesedi.com
Transport: By car, travel along the M1 north and then west (towards Roodepoort) onto the N1 at the Woodmead interchange. At the Lanseria off ramp, along the R512 north (Hans Strydom Drive), 50 kilometres (31 miles) along the scenic R512, Lesedi is clearly marked on the left hand side of the road.
Opening hours: Daily (11.30 am ) and evening (4.30 pm) shows, or by arrangement.
Admission: R 380.

Market Theatre

Address: 121 Bree Street
Telephone: (011) 832 1641.
Website address: www.markettheatre.co.za
Opening hours: They vary, depending on production.
Admission: The price varies, depending on production.

Melville Koppies Nature Reserve

The Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, just north of the suburb, protects an extensive area of typical highveld vegetation and consists of archaeological remains of both Stone and Iron Age settlements, including iron furnaces.

Address: Melville Koppies Nature Reserve North Melville
Telephone: (011) 782 7064.
Opening hours: Third Sun of every month (September to May).
Admission: Free.

Melville Village

Generally, the residents of Johannesburg’s upper income northern suburbs only walk if their car has just been stolen, although, Melville is a quirky, pleasant exception. Just a short distance from Park City, the suburb’s neighbourly atmosphere is largely due to its chaotic mix of residential and commercial properties, which sometimes mingle to a point where one may find oneself mistakenly settling down in a private home and wondering where the waitress has got to. The main streets, especially bohemian Seventh Street (the setting and title of a local TV drama), are worth wandering along, delving into the 2nd hand bookshops, antique dealers and body piercing salons, or sitting in the pavement cafés to watch people walk by. Many of Melville’s nicest homes, some of which date back to the 19th century, have been converted into charming bed and breakfasts and guest houses, which are increasingly popular with foreign travellers.

Address: Melville, northern suburbs
Telephone: (011) 726 5634.
Facsimile: (011) 482 4769.
Transport: Metro bus 67 to Melville, 66 to Sophiatown or 71 to Fairland.

Military History Museum

Situated on the same block as the Zoo, this small but comprehensive museum covers most periods and armaments of South Africa’s military history. Displays include tanks, uniforms, artillery pieces (including the South African built G-6), small arms, 12 aircraft and a military submarine. However, there are unfortunately small sections on the anti - draft (End Conscription Campaign) movements and the participation of black people in the Anglo-Boer War, although CASSPIRS, the armoured personnel carriers used by security forces in the townships during black uprisings against apartheid, are on display.

Address: 20 Erlswold Way, Saxonwold
Telephone: (011) 646 5513.
Website address: www.militarymuseum.co.za
Transport: Metro bus 1 to Parktown North, 78 to Randburg Mall, 78a to Craighall or 79 to Parkhurst.
Opening hours: Daily from 9.00 am to 4.30 pm.
Admission: R 10.

MuseumAfrica

Address: 121 Bree Street
Telephone: (011) 833 5624.
Website address: www.museums.org.za
Opening hours: Daily from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.
Admission: R2.

Newtown Cultural Precinct

A few years ago, this area was collapsing into a derelict slum land dominated by the brooding, crumbling cooling towers and the cavernous turbine hall of Johannesburg’s 1st coal fired power station. The general air of decay and neglect, symptomatic of several parts of the city’s Central Business District, is being addressed as part of the Johannesburg Metropolitan Council’s iGoli 2000 urban renewal strategy. The Newtown Precinct has undergone quite radical alterations, which consist of improvements and additions to long standing attractions (such as the Market Theatre and the Oriental Plaza) as well as relative newcomers (such as MuseumAfrica, the Horror Café (café / theatre opposite the Electric Workshop) and the South African Breweries World of Beer ).

The well known MuseumAfrica and Market Theatre are housed in a magnificent Victorian building, once the city’s major fresh produce market, which had stall holders who were largely of Indian origin who were moved to the nearby Oriental Plaza. The Plaza is a brilliant place to savour Indian food or buy clothing and fabric at discount prices. MuseumAfrica, which includes the Bensusan Museum and Library of Photography, the Museum of South Africa Rock Art and the Bernberg Museum of Fashion, was conceived as South Africa’s 1st post apartheid museum. It offers exhibits covering an assorted range of themes, ranging from early man to the struggle against apartheid.

This is possibly the best place in Johannesburg from which to consider the impact of colonialism. The Market Theatre Complex houses 3 theatres, Main Theatre, Laager Theatre and Barney Simon Theatre. The Market presented much protest theatre during the struggle years and was the birthplace for such seminal works as Athol Fugard’s Sizwe Banzi is Dead (1973) and Mbongeni Ngema’s Sarafina (1988). It was here where John Kani (now the theatre director) and Winston Shona were 1st seen in Fugard’s Master Harold and the Boys (1982). It was also here that political satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys (in the persona of his drag alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout) 1st performed anti-apartheid 1 man shows to packed houses. Long presumed to be Johannesburg’s best jazz venue, Kippies (a converted Victorian toilet) still belts it out every weekend, just a few steps away from the entrance to the theatre.

Address: Newtown Cultural Precinct
Transport: Metro bus 63 to Newlands or 66 to Sophiatown.

Oriental Plaza

Address: Sixth Avenue, Fordsburg
Telephone: (011) 838 6572.
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 500 pm, Saturday 8.30 am to 3.00 pm (Restaurants stay open late).
Admission: Free.

Sophiatown (‘Kofifi’)

Despite the tyranny of apartheid legislation (such as the Group Areas Act that, in 1948, banished black people to townships and homelands), some parts of Johannesburg continued to be gloriously mixed race until the early 1960's. One such suburb was Sophiatown, which was bulldozed by the authorities and cynically recalled Triomf (Afrikaans for ‘triumph’). Sophiatown, which newly received its name back, not only produced such singing legends as Dorothy Masuka, Sophie Mcina and Abigail Kubeka but also inspired a world famous musical (called Sophiatown) and is still remembered 40 years after its destruction with great passion.

The Toby Road home of Dr Alfred Bitini Xuma (who died in 1962), President General of the ANC in the 1940's, is now a National Monument. Christ the King, 47 Ray Street, the tiny, beloved church of late anti apartheid stalwart Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, and St Joseph’s Home for Children, corner of Gerty and Hermans Streets, a National Monument, are both outstanding Sophiatown buildings.

Transport: The Metro bus 66 to Sophiatown or 63 to Newlands.

SAB World of Beer

Address: 15 President Street
Telephone: (011) 836 4900.
Website address: www.worldofbeer.co.za
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sat 10.00 am to 6.00 pm.
Admission: R 10.

Soweto

For decades, in the forefront of a struggle against the tyrannical regime that endorsed white supremacy, Soweto’s 2 million residents made their home renowned as a living symbol of victory over oppression. Nelson Mandela, 1 of the icons of the late 20 th century, lived in Soweto (an acronym for South Western Townships) before he was sentenced to life imprisonment (he served 27 years) for treason, by the previous apartheid government.

Officially within the municipal boundaries of greater Johannesburg, an extensive mine waste dumping area and a hectic concrete highway separate Soweto from the city limits. An intimidating sprawl of 1000's of rows of tiny 2 roomed council houses, bleak looking dormitory style mine worker hostels and brazen mansions, this township was initially only intended to provide temporary shelter for contract mine workers toiling underground in the once fabulously rich Witwatersrand gold fields.

Visitors wishing to see where South Africa’s peaceful revolution was conceived, born and nurtured will be struck both by the amount of formal tourist facilities and the fact that the prominently barren surroundings are contrasted against such lively, friendly and characterful people.

Due the absence of street signs and dangerous public transport options, Soweto’s labyrinth is best discovered in the company of 1 of the several good tour operators that offer what have been called the Heritage Route or Shebeen Crawl tours.

The Heritage Route includes the Hector Peterson Memorial, former residences of Nobel Peace Prize-winners Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu, Regina Mundi Church, Avalon Cemetery, Freedom Square, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, Winnie Madikizela Mandela’s house, Morris Isaacson School (where the 1976 student uprising started) and Credo Mutwa Village. The 13 year old boy, Hector, was 1 of the 1st of 100's of people shot by police during the dramatic 16 June 1976 rebellion. His memorial includes a touching and powerful photograph taken by veteran journalist Peter Magubane of Hector’s body being carried through Soweto’s frenzied streets.

The Regina Mundi Catholic Church, a venue for 100's of protest meetings, still has the bullet holes left by police who often used violence to scatter gatherings. Ma Africa Galleries in a room off the hall presents paintings of township scenes. Situated in Kliptown and the oldest part of Soweto, Freedom Square is at the site where the Freedom Charter was offered to a mass gathering of the people.

South African Communist Party leader, Joe Slovo, who died of cancer in 1995, became the 1st white person to be buried in the Avalon Cemetery. At the time of his assassination in 1993, Hani’s stature was 2nd only to Mandela’s, so it is fitting that the world’s largest hospital has been renamed after him. Built by Nelson Mandela for his separated wife soon after his release from prison in 1990, Winnie Madikizela - Mandela’s mansion is still occupied by the former president’s ex wife, who continues to enjoy high stature in Soweto. A student and practitioner of customary African rites and religions, Credo Mutwa’s mysticism is reflected in his sculptures, paintings and writings on display at Credo Mutwa Village.

The Shebeen Crawl is geared more toward the entertainment feature of the township. Irish miners may have presented the word to South Africa but shebeens (also called taverns and formerly outlawed by the apartheid regime) have become equal with the rich and often harsh social life of Sowetans. They range from a few stools in front of a simple shack to stylish, flashy and entirely fledged nightclubs. While some of the Soweto shebeens may have accustomed their menus and prices in response to an influx of tourists, the same cannot be said of Wandi’s Place (Dube). It serves traditional dishes, such as morogo (wild spinach), umngqusho (stamped corn and bean stew) and the evergreen Soweto favourite, chakalaka (chilli and bean salad).

Former owner of the Blue Fountain Saloon Godfrey Moloi (self styled ‘Godfather of Soweto’) died recently however his generous, flamboyant spirit lives on in what he referred to as The warm heart of Soweto. African dishes, buffets and set menus are accessible. The famous wall of fame is a mural representing liberation struggle heroes, signed by famous visitors. Tebogo calls his trendy tavern, The Rock, ‘New York in Soweto’ and this is where the upwardly mobile young black professionals hang, food is traditional and contemporary African. People come to Vardo’s Place to watch soccer (South Africa’s favourite sport) on 1 of the several screens and listen to music with an African Beat. Early shebeens were all in 1 of the typical 2 room Soweto homes and at Pinky’s Place drinks are still served in the lounge and dining room. At DJ’s Place, one of Soweto’s oldest restaurant / shebeens, beer is still served by the quart, while Palazzo di Stella, currently Soweto’s only live jazz club, is also its 1st pizza restaurant.

Tours of Soweto can be arranged through Jimmy’s Face-to-Face Tours (telephone: (011) 331 6109, website: www.face2face.co.za) or Imbizo Tours (telephone: (011) 838 2667, email address: imbizo@iafrica.com) and cost from R 300 to R 600.

Soweto (South Western Townships), 15 minutes west of central Johannesburg

Email address: ken@soweto.co.za
Website address: www.soweto.co.za
Transport: Main Reef Road.

Tourist Information

Gauteng Tourism Authority (previously Tourism Johannesburg)

Address: Rosebank Mall, Upper Level, corner Baker and Cradock Streets
Telephone: (011) 327 7000.
Facsimile: (011) 327 7000.
Email address: tourism@gauteng.net
Website address: www.gauteng.net
Opening hours: Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 5.00 pm.

There are also tourist information kiosks in the main concourse at Park Station, and at Johannesburg International Airport (telephone: (011) 327 2000), which are open from 9.00 am to 6.00 pm.