Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Johannesburg
Johannesburg (Jo'burg to the white population, E'Goli, the "city of gold", to the blacks), the third largest city in Africa, after Cairo and Alexandria, and the world's youngest city to pass the million mark, lies on the highveld, South Africa's central plateau, on the edge of the Witwatersrand, an 80km/50mi long range of hills, rich in minerals, which rises only 300m/1000ft above the surrounding country.
Johannesburg is steadily expanding to join up with Pretoria to the north and the industrial towns of Vanderbijlpark and Vereeniging to the south, together forming the province of Gauteng (until 1994 Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging, or PWV for short). The province, with only 2% of South Africa's total area, contains 25% of its population.It is difficult to establish the exact population of Johannesburg. The white population has remained fairly constant for some years at around 500,000; estimates of the black population range widely between 1 and 2 million (excluding the black ghetto of Soweto, which was separated from Johannesburg in 1983 and has a population of at least 2 million).Although many gold-mines in and around the city have been closed down, Johannesburg is still the financial and industrial metropolis of South Africa. Most of the country's leading industrial firms have their headquarters here, and 70% of South Africa's industrial production comes from the Witwatersrand area. The city's Stock Exchange is one of the busiest in the world.Johannesburg has three universities - the (English-language) University of the Witwatersrand, founded in 1922, the Rand Afrikaans University, founded in 1966, and the Vista University in Soweto, whose students are exclusively black - as well as a college of technology and a teachers' training college. In recent years there has been a great flowering of art and culture in Johannesburg, and the city's international cultural scene has sent fresh impulses throughout the country.For many visitors to South Africa, Johannesburg is their first port of call, and many of them stay no more than a day or two before escaping from the city with its grave social problems. Certainly Johannesburg is not a beautiful town, and its architecture has only limited appeal. It has a high crime rate. But it is the South African city with the most stimulating atmosphere. While elsewhere in South Africa white and black people lived separate lives (and still do), in Johannesburg a gradual process of getting together had begun. Here you will meet more blacks of higher social status than elsewhere; here beats the heart of the new South Africa. Against this background it is well worth spending several days in South Africa's largest city. Visitors should, however, bear in mind the high crime rate. It is inadvisable to walk about after dark, when Johannesburg becomes a ghost town. The best way of seeing the sights is by taxi or on an organized tour. And of course it is advisable to dress simply and avoid flaunting an expensive camera. But there is no need to panic: the newspapers may report unpleasant incidents but they have little to say about the 3 million people who survive the day in Johannesburg unscathed.Johannesburg International Airport (formerly Jan Smuts) the largest in southern Africa - is 25km/15 mi east of the city center. There are regular half-hourly bus services (5am-10pm) between the airport and the air terminal in the city center.Johannesburg has excellent road and rail connections with other South African cities.Thanks to its altitude, Johannesburg has a very agreeable climate. The winters are relatively cool and dry, with sunny days following ice-cold nights. In summer the temperatures are high, with occasional showers of rain in the afternoon. Average temperatures are 20.3°C/68.5°F in January and 10.2°C/50.4°F in July. Average annual rainfall is 847mm/331/3in. The number of hours of sunshine per day averages 8.7.In July 1886 an Australian prospector, George Harrison, discovered by chance the world's largest natural treasure chamber, the Witwatersrand gold-mines. The news of his discovery spread like wildfire, and thousands of hopeful treasure-seekers flocked to the area and pitched their tents round the find-spot. After the richness of the deposits of gold was established the miners dug ever deeper into the earth, steadily improving their mining techniques.Although the prospectors' camps continued for years to have a temporary aspect, the settlement's first public buildings were erected in 1888.Johannesburg acquired a school, a hospital, a theater and a music hall. In 1888 the famous Wanderers' Club, a sports and entertainment center for the miners, was opened, and towards the end of the century it had 1,500 members, who could practice six different forms of sport. The Turfontein racecourse was opened in 1887.By the end of the century the owners of the gold-mines - the "randlords", men like Barney Barnato, the Beit brothers, Cecil Rhodes and the Wernher family - had built up their financial empires.The population of Johannesburg increased at a fantastic rate. Barely six years after the discovery of gold the town had 40,000 white inhabitants, and by 1905 the figure had risen to 150,000. The black population rose from around 60,000 in 1904 to 112,000 in 1911 (plus another 300,000 or so living outside the town). Most of the blacks were employed only as seasonal workers, returning periodically to the agricultural areas from which they came.Turn-of-the-century Johannesburg still lacked an infrastructure adequate to its population. This was largely due to Paul Kruger, President of the Transvaal, who did not like the idea of an English-speaking town so close to Pretoria. He refused to grant Johannesburg the status of a town, in spite of the fact that within less than twenty years it had overtaken Pretoria both in population and in economic importance. The development of municipal services in Johannesburg began only after the Boer War (during which, on May 31st 1900, it was occupied by British forces). In 1904 it gained the right to elect its own town council, and in the following year it acquired a proper water and drainage system.In the course of the 20th C the gold workings went ever deeper (down to 3581m/11,750ft at Carletonville). Some uneconomic mines were closed down; but in the early 1990s there were still over 50 gold-mining companies, most of them with several small mines. In addition to gold the mines yield manganese, iron and asbestos, as well as uranium, a by-product of the gold-mining process.Johannesburg is a city of glaring disparities: here, more sharply than in other cities in the world, inconceivable wealth contrasts with extreme poverty. While over the last hundred years the black population has been relegated to the townships spreading ever farther to the south of Johannesburg, much of the white population lives very comfortably in the northern suburbs of the city. In these districts, concealed behind high walls protected by barbed wire, are attractive villas with beautiful gardens, swimming pools and other amenities, and their shops can stand comparison with boutiques in Rome, Paris or London.The city center, laid out on a regular grid, is relatively small, but its high-rise blocks give it a skyline reminiscent of American cities. On weekdays after business hours and at weekends the central area appears to be populated almost entirely by blacks.
Gold Reef City
No buildings of the early gold rush period have survived in Johannesburg, but visitors can get some idea of what the town was like in those days in Gold Reef City, with its reproductions of houses, public buildings and shops, the Royal Theatre, a hotel, a Chinese laundry, a tailor's workshop, a chemist's shop, a newspaper office and Johannesburg's first stock exchange.Visitors are also shown around a disused shaft of the Crown Mines, one of the richest gold-mines in the world, which gives a vivid impression of the work of the gold-miners.
Address: Shaft 14, Northern Parkway, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2159, South Africa
The Apartheid Museum, a vivid and powerful experience, sets out by means of enlarged photos, artifacts, newspaper clippings, and film footage, to graphically portray the apartheid story.As visitors, carrying their entry card which identifies them as either "white" or "non-white", move through the rooms they are assailed by the sights and sounds of the apartheid era. Paths follow the country through decades of oppression to the birth of democracy. The museum occupies approximately 6,000 sq m/65,000sq ft.
Address: Northern Parkway Road, Ormonde, Gauteng 2091, South Africa
Herman Eckstein Park
The Herman Eckstein Park is a cricket venue north of the city center and contains the Johannesburg Zoo and two museums.
The Johannesburg Zoo has more than 300 species of animals, including elephants, lions and many species of monkeys. Some of the animals live in open enclosures separated only by water-filled ditches.Within the Zoo is a lake on which boats can be hired.
Address: Jan Smuts Avenue, South Africa
Museum of Rock Art
The Museum of Rock Art is an open-air museum with reproductions of prehistoric rock paintings.
South African Museum of Military History
The South African Museum of Military History has a variety of material on the Boer War and the two world wars.
Hillbrow is the district of Johannesburg with the highest population density. Particularly in recent years many blacks have moved into Hillbrow and the neighboring Berea district. Here, in contrast to other parts of the city, black and white people live quite happily side by side, giving the area a lively and multicultural atmosphere. Many shops stay open until late at night, and there is a wide choice of restaurants and bars. (It is not advisable to walk about here after dark.)This part of the city is dominated by the 268m/880ft high J. G. Strijdom Tower, headquarters of the South African Post Office. This high-rise block - not an entirely satisfactory example of contemporary architecture - was completed in 1971.
The Windybrow Theatre occupies a building c 1896 in the Hillbrow district, a typical example of South African architecture of the gold rush period. The theater has three houses.
Address: Box 3410, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2000, South Africa
The Oriental Plaza, is a huge shopping center with more than 300 shops and two excellent Indian restaurants. In this exotic eastern bazaar bargaining over the price is normal.
Bensusan Museum of Photography
The Museum of Photography documents the history of photography with a collection of photographs, cameras and other equipment.
Melville Koppies Nature Reserve
On the western outskirts of Johannesburg, in the Melville district, is the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve (area 80 ha/200ac), which contains around 80% of the plant species found on the Witwatersrand. Of these 30 are edible, 113 have medicinal properties, 8 are poisonous, 2 are used in the manufacture of expensive perfumes and 35 are used in magical rituals. Within the reserve is an important bird-watching station, where more than 150 species of birds have been recorded.
This lively street to the northeast of the city center is the haunt of young people, artists and students of all social classes and colors.There are numerous shops selling African arts and crafts, way-out clothing and jewelry. The street really comes to life in the evening, when the "scene" heats up, with jazz, pop and folk music until late at night.
Adler Museum of the History of Medicine
The Adler Museum of the History of Medicine was installed within the South African Institute for Medical Research in 1967.As well as the large collection of medical and dental instruments displayed in the main building the museum includes a chemist's shop which originally stood in Beit Street and a medicine-man's herb shop.
Address: University of the Witwatersrand Medical School, 7 York Road, Parktown, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2193, South Africa
This spacious park in the Bezuidenhout district, east of the city center, occupies the site of Doornfontein Farm. The old farmhouse, dating from gold rush days, still survives. Children will be more interested in the miniature railroad which runs round the park.
Braamfontein Spruit Trail
The Braamfontein Spruit Trail is a walking tour which takes visitors around the main features of interest in the central area and the Randburg and Sandton districts. Information on the exact route can be obtained from the Johannesburg Tourism Association.
Jan Smuts's Study
In one of the university buildings is the room in which Jan Smuts (1870-1950) worked. The furniture came from Smuts's last home in Irene (near Pretoria). Smuts, soldier and statesman, withdrew from public life after the defeat of his United Party in the 1948 election.
Rhodes Park is centered on a reservoir in the Kensington District.
3km/2mi south of the city center is Pioneers' Park, through which flows a small stream, the Wemmer Pan, with rowboats for hire. In the south of the park are fountains, with musical accompaniment.
In the north of Pioneers' Park is Santarama Miniland with models of well-known buildings in South Africa on a scale of 1:25, miniature railroads, a miniature harbor and a cableway plus for children there are rides in miniature trains and boats.
Address: Rosettenville Road, Wemmer Pan, South Africa
James Hall Transport Museum
In Pioneers' Park is the James Hall Transport Museum, with an enormous collection of carriages, veteran cars, steam engines and trams.
Address: Box 80, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2130, South Africa
Witswatersrand University is an urban, comprehensive university spread over 100ha/247ac in the heart of Johannesburg. Since the 1920's it has seen more than 100,000 graduates.
Address: Private Bag 3, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2050, South Africa
The Planetarium, on the campus of Witwatersrand University, has presentations in English. Up to 9000 stars can be projected on to the 22m/72ft high dome.
Address: Box 31149, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2017, South Africa
Standard Bank Foundation Collection
On the University campus is the Standard Bank Foundation Collection of African Tribal Art including masks, headdresses, beadwork and Ndebele fertility dolls.
Bernberg Museum of Costume
The Bernberg Museum of Costume has a lovingly assembled collection of clothing and accessories of the 17th to 20th C.
In the Botanic Garden there is a summer display of over 4,000 roses. Exotic plants are grown in a hothouse.On the Emmarentia Dam, a small reservoir in the gardens, there are facilities for wind-surfing and sailing.
The Civic Centre c 1978 is headquarters of Johannesburg's municipal administration.
The Civic Theatre is one of Johannesburg's leading venues for ballet, opera and drama.
Address: Loveday Street, Box 31900, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, Gauteng 2017, South Africa
In this 17ha/42ac park, grow many species of protea and wild flowers from Namaqualand (at their best between September and December).There is also a pleasant tea garden.(It is advisable to visit this area only in groups.)
Melrose Bird Sanctuary
The Melrose Bird Sanctuary with its 10 ha/25ac of luxuriant vegetation, is an ideal nesting-place for many species of birds.
Gold Mine Tours
The Chamber of Mines organizes day-long tours of local gold mines.
Address: 5 Hollard Street, South Africa
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