What to do in Johannesburg

South Africa — By on May 11, 2011 at 12:00 pm

By Ceri Houlbrook

JoBurg, Jozi, Egoli: Whatever you want to call it, the city of Johannesburg is place to go for anyone in search of culture, history, and natural beauty, all contained within a thriving, modern metropolis. However, despite its many charms, Johannesburg hasn’t always attracted a wealth of tourists, most travelers only using it as a transit point for the more popular destinations of Cape Town and Kruger National Park. Fortunately, over the last few years, the city has earned itself a place on the South African tourist ‘must-do-list’, offering visitors a wealth of activities and attractions. And here are a few of my favorites:

Absorbing the History
No trip to Johannesburg is complete without a visit to the Apartheid Museum, which will keep you absorbed for a good chunk of the day, but will only set you back a mere R50 (roughly £5). The museum gives a moving account of South Africa’s political history through a wide range of videos and interactive displays, as well as a special exposition on Nelson Mandela. A real effort has been made by the museum to give its visitors a sense of what it was really like for South Africans living under the oppression of the apartheid, which makes for an educational, compelling, and often harrowing experience.

Meeting the Locals
At the heart of any city lies its people, and you can’t hope to get a real sense of Johannesburg unless you venture out into some of the residential areas and rub shoulders with the locals. And there’s no better place to do this than in Kliptown, a vibrant suburb to the southwest of the city, where the Soweto Kliptown Youth (SKY) group offers the children of the neighbourhood a chance to participate in art and education programs. A team of young tour guides will be happy to show you around the community, and if you time your visit right, you’ll be lucky enough to catch one of the lively dance shows performed by the local children.

Sampling the Cuisine
Johannesburg offers restaurants galore, catering to all culinary tastes – and budgets – so much so that you’ll be spoilt for choice. I certainly was. But if I had to recommend only one restaurant, then I’d point you in the direction of Moyo Zoo Lake. This may not be the cheapest way to eat out in JoBurg – their lamb curry costs R120 (roughly £12) – but there are plenty of cheaper options on the menu. I went for the lentil boboti, a Cape Malay lentil bake, with flat bread seasoned with dukka spice, and for dessert I treated myself to the ‘moyo moja’, a baked apricot, ginger and cinnamon pudding with vanilla custard. Worth every calorie. However, it isn’t just the food that has locals and tourists alike flocking to its tables; it’s the ambience. With quirky pieces of artwork adorning every corner, and rather eccentric looking water sculptures in the restaurant’s lush gardens, Moyo Zoo Lakes come across as offbeat and a little kooky; certainly the place to try if you’re looking for somewhere a bit different.

Experiencing the Culture
Although this is an exciting, spirited city all year round, the best time to visit Johannesburg is Africa Day, and the people of Johannesburg know how to celebrate in style. Each year they hold a three-day festival, the Sanaa Africa, in Zoo Lake Park. As well as a carnival-like procession, with locals parading giant, brightly coloured puppets across the park, there are also exhibitions of local artwork, a contemporary African fashion show, craft stalls, poetry readings, film viewings, African dance performances, and – of course – a wealth of music and food.

Exploring the Wilderness
Want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a while? Then head for Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve. Just 11km south of the city centre, and covering 615 hectares of wild, open African grassland; this is the perfect place for a trip out into the wilderness – without having to travel too far from the city. You can drive into the reserve, but the best way to do it is by foot, so strap on your hiking boots and get walking! Enter the reserve at Frandaph Road, in Mondeor, and make your way up the gorge to Silent Pool. The trail is a little strenuous, but well worth it; once you reach the reserve’s highest point, you’re treated to splendid views across Klipriviersberg’s rugged veldt land, grazing area to the park’s many zebras and wildebeest.

So if you’re planning a trip to South Africa, don’t just use Johannesburg as a brief stop-off point. Make it a destination in itself, allowing at least a week to enjoy all that this diverse and vibrant city has to offer. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

Ceri Houlbrook is from Manchester, England – no, she doesn’t support United – and her passions include reading, writing, hiking and traveling the globe in search of some adventure!

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