South Africa’s largest city, and also nicknamed Joburg, Johannesburg provides a variety of activities for tourists to enjoy. While it can be the departing point for a safari into the wild, the city has many of the same types of animals on show at the Johannesburg Zoo. The zoo has more than two thousand animals, with elephants, lions, tigers and gorillas as well as other animals that are not from the area like polar bears. Krugersdorp Nature Reserve and Lion Park Nature Reserve are other locations to visit to view animals. The Johannesburg Art Gallery and Museum Africa have many interesting exhibits.
Famed for the enormity of its urban sprawl (one of the most geographically spread out cities in the world even surpassing London), Johannesburg with its neighbouring twin city of Pretoria are the heart of South Africa’s economy. The two are responsible for about 40% of the nation’s annual GDP. But Jo’burg (as the locals call it) is not just about business. There is more to see than you can cover during a week’s visit. If you must choose, the following ought to be on your list:
1. Gold Reef City –A fun park in downtown Johannesburg built atop a former gold mine. There is even a presentation on how gold is refined. If you have never held a real gold bar in your hands, this will be the place to do it. Right next to Gold Reef City is the Apartheid Museum – a sombre walk through looping videos replaying events from the country’s less dignified past.
2. Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum – Another commemoration to the country’s less glorious history but a must see if you want to appreciate just how far South Africa has come. 12 year old Hector Pieterson became the face of the 1976 Soweto Uprising when he was shot dead by a police officer. The museum takes visitors through the events leading to, during and after the Uprising.
3. Soweto – The suburb of South Africa that became the most synonymous with the anti-apartheid struggle. Contrary to popular perception among foreigners, Soweto is not a slum. Most of it has decent homes (not tin or carton shacks) and relatively good road and street lighting infrastructure.
4. Nelson Mandela’s former home in Soweto – Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first post-segregation president, needs no introduction. He no longer lives in Soweto but his former home is today a museum that attracts hundreds of tourists each week. For keeps, take a photo next to the life size portrait of the ex-president.
5. Sandton – The most affluent suburb in Johannesburg and home of ‘Africa’s Golden Mile’ – an area with a high concentration of large corporate office blocks and world class shopping centres. Sandton City Shopping Mall is the largest in the country and one of the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere.
6. Montecasino Leisure Complex –One of the city’s most popular attractions for tourists and Johannesburg’s middle-to-upper class alike. It features everything from gambling, cinema halls and night clubs, to high end retail stores, restaurants and a 5 star hotel. The architecture of the complex is itself a masterpiece with cobblestone-paved walkways reminiscent of ancient Rome.
7. Melrose Arch – Another popular hangout for affluent South Africans and the expatriate crowd, Melrose Arch is the venue of up market nightclubs and restaurants. Most restaurants have a veranda section for those who prefer to have their meals under the Johannesburg night sky (of course safely covered by a canopy just in case the elements unexpectedly let loose).
8. Carlton Centre – You want a bird’s eye view of greater Johannesburg? The 50-floor Carlton Centre has held on to the title of Africa’s tallest building for close to 40 years. Good thing is that it is rarely (if ever) crowded so you can be certain you will have a hassle free, unobstructed view.
9. African Craft Market at Rosebank Mall -This is the place to buy souvenirs as proof of your South African sojourn. Listen to the pulsating beat of African drums to get you in a buying mood – or at least that is what the stall owners would hope.
10. Lion Park – It is difficult to separate a true African safari from an encounter with wildlife. Lion Park is your opportunity to have close up views of the king of the African jungle – lions – right in the heart of the city. The park is also home to numerous other species including cheetahs, hyenas and jackals.
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