South Africa’s Johannesburg remains the top most visited city in the African continent, according to the latest survey. The Global Destination Cities Index indicates that for the fourth year in a row, the city is the number one tourist destination on the continent.
Affectionately known as Jo’burg, Jozi, and E’goli, the city of gold, Johannesburg has a lot to offer tourists. Apart from being the financial and industrial metropolis of the country, the city is a vibrant hub of arts and culture. From unique emotive museums to dazzling galleries and art studios, to tranquil parks, Jo’burg keeps its tourists entertained throughout the day. Night revelers can take pleasure in the funky nightclubs, awe-striking casinos, and more.
At the backdrop of the city’s lustrous skyscrapers, and the wealthy ambiance lies the shanty town of Soweto, the birthplace of the nation’s struggle for democracy. Rapid changes are enticing tourists to linger and explore the cultural regeneration programs displayed in the city.
Here are some of the top most art and cultural centers that you should visit when you land in Johannesburg.
South Africa has a rich history of the impact of apartheid on the country. Thus, your journey would be more enlightening if it included the sights and sounds of the apartheid era encapsulated in the Apartheid Museum.
Photos, newspaper clippings, and artifacts of the apartheid story, provoke thoughts of the visitors as they move through an emotional South Africa’s journey. As observed in many museums, strategic paths have been created to give tourists an aura of the oppression period to the birth of democracy.
Though thought-provoking, the permanent exhibits at the museum are a “beacon of hope showing the world how South Africa is coming to terms with its oppressive past and working towards a future that all South Africans can call their own.”
Set aside at least two hours, to get the most out of the experience. Historians and history lovers can devote even more time here or consider a visit to Liliesleaf Farm Museum, which hosts history on the leaders of the liberation movement.
Constitution Hill is as old as Jo’burg and epitomizes much of the trauma and joy of South Africans in their journey to democracy. The site is a former prison and military fort, where a number of renowned world leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, and Winnie Mandela were incarcerated.
Today, however, these walls host the country’s Constitutional Court, a symbol of freedom, which caters for the rights of all citizens.
The precinct encourages visitors to explore provocative exhibits at Women’s Jail, Number Four and Old Fort. Moreover, visitors can attend hearings and watch judicial proceedings.
Arts on Main
Arts on the Main is a space converted from old warehouses to create a mixed-use creative hub in Johannesburg’s Maboneng Precinct.
Originally built in 1911, Arts on the Main was once a liquor store that was later used by a construction company. The inner city development houses artists from many disciplines including film, music, contemporary art, literature, among others.
Although it was renovated to accommodate its current status, the hub maintained its original industrial (warehouse) features such as the concrete floors, over-sized windows, and the double volume ceilings. It is an art space that is about Johannesburg’s history and also a look into the future of the city and its vibrant artists.
Additionally, Arts on Main regularly hosts a number of art exhibitions and performances, film screenings, book readings and lectures.
Gold Reef City
Located in an old gold mine, Gold Reef City is an amusement park, eight kilometers from the city center. A visit to the site will whisk you to the gold rush days that started in 1886 in the Witwatersrand basin. To mimic the 19th-century gold mine period, staff wear costumes.
For an adrenaline fix, the theme park has more than 30 thrilling park rides including the most awe-inspiring, the Anaconda or the Jozi express. It is also a great site for family based outings, providing entertainment for all members- young and old.
A number of reproductions of buildings and businesses from the era are also hosted here. They include the Royal Theatre, a Chinese laundry, a newspaper office, Johannesburg’s first stock exchange and a tailor’s workshop, among others. Visitors can also experience the work of gold miners at the disused shaft of the Crown Mines- one of the richest gold-mines in the world.
The theme park also has a 96-seater 4-D theater with hydraulic seats that emit different scents and smells to complement what’s showing on the screen.
The Market Theatre is located in the vibrant inner city of Newtown in Jozi. The site, which is named after an Indian Fruit Market- built in 1913, was opened in 1976. The main theater of the Market Theatre was officially renamed John Kani in 2014 after the renowned South African actor John Kani.
At the time of opening up the theater, it was the first independent, non-racial theater during the country’s apartheid era. It challenged the apartheid regime by encouraging social change through culture.
The Market Theatre has grown to receive international (21) and South African (300) theater accolades. It provides a voice to the voiceless and over the years has evolved to a cultural complex for music, theater, dance and allied arts.
Soweto and Mandela Museum
Back in 1976, Soweto (an abbreviation for Southwestern Township) was the birthplace of the struggle for democracy, which later spread to the rest of the country. Today, mansions have sprouted where shanties inhabited years back. Visitors flock the area especially because of the Mandela House Museum, where Mandela lived with his wife Winnie before he was imprisoned for 27 years.
Other interesting sites include the Hector Pieterson Museum, and Freedom Square, where the Freedom Charter, the African National Congress's guiding document, was adopted.
Johannesburg Art Gallery
Commonly referred to as JAG (the Johannesburg Art Gallery) houses one of the biggest art collections in the country and possibly in Africa, with more than 9,000 works. Like so many other art venues in South Africa, this also offers a rich history and art experiences to its visitors.
It houses exhibits dating the 17th century to present-day luminaries. Some of the works displayed include those of Picasso, Rodin, Henry Moore, Monet, Gerald Sekoto and William Kentridge.
The gallery has also devoted space to the works of some of Africa’s best contemporary artists. JAG remains one of the major tourist attractions in the country, with visitors assured of new works of art each time they visit.
The Lindfield Victorian House Museum
If you are interested in life during the Victorian era, the Lindfield Victorian House Museum will provide just that. The current owner, Katherine Love, who has lived in the ‘living museum’ since 1967, dresses in Victorian clothing. She welcomes tourists in the house and takes them through a tour of the beautifully preserved middle-class Victorian home.
The house is furnished with notable collections of 19th and 20th art, furniture, and household items. The host will also narrate fascinating stories about the former residents and their influence on the current Johannesburg.
There are several interesting and informative sites in Johannesburg for all. New tourists should consider hiring a reputable taxi for safe trips around the city. The city also offers an exciting option for those who are looking to explore the city. Travelers can opt to board the new Gautrain trains and open-top City Sightseeing buses to explore or take a guided tour.
While the weather is generally fine and mild during the day, in winter (June to August) nights can be chilly and cold, so pack accordingly. September is freckled with thunderstorms; a raincoat would come in handy in this weather.
Have you been to Jo’burg? What was your experience? Share your thoughts with us.