Johannesburg & surrounds
Johannesburg and Pretoria are cities at the forefront of modern South Africa yet with a deep connection to the country’s past displayed in the many museums.
The bicycle tour of Soweto (well actually I took a tuk-tuk and my friends took bikes!) was fascinating and great fun. I'd highly recommend it.
Many visitors spend only one night in Johannesburg yet there is much to do in and around the city. Museums range from man’s beginnings on earth to the struggles of apartheid, art galleries display old masters’ works and modern art and there are parks where you can escape the crowds. Nearby Pretoria, the executive capital, also has national museums and is the departure point for the luxury Blue Train.
- Soweto townships: South West Townships has long been known as Soweto, a symbol of the Apartheid regime. Created in the 1930s it was the focal point for racial clashes culminating in the student uprising of 1976 in which hundreds died. These included 12-year-old Hector Pieterson and you can learn more about these years in the museum named after him and at Mandela House nearby. The people of Soweto demonstrate enduring positivity and entrepreneurial spirit epitomised by the lively bars and restaurants of Vilakazi Street and the inspiring performances at Soweto Theatre, although much poverty is still evident here.
- History & museums: The Origins Centre Museum charts the history of humankind including finds from The Cradle of Humankind which can be visited on a day trip from the city. Constitution Hill, a former prison whose inmates included Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, and The Apartheid Museum offer chilling insights the turbulent years of 20th century South Africa. Art-lovers will enjoy the Lutyens-designed city art gallery and MOAD, the Museum of African Design.
- City life: For a diverse look at the Johannesburg, try a street art tour and don’t miss the many neighbourhood markets selling artisan foods and crafts. Plus there’s a huge range of bars and restaurants including rooftop spots with panoramic city views.
- Parks & gardens: Relax in the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens with its water gardens, wildflower walk and geological walk. There’s even a hide where you watch some of the 240 species of birds recorded in the park. You can stretch your legs even more at Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, to enjoy panoramic views of the city, explore stone and iron age sites and simply enjoy the outdoors.
- Pretoria: The executive capital of South Africa is also called the jacaranda city due to the preponderance of these purple-flowered trees in the streets and parks. Historical sites include the Voortrekker Monument which commemorates the city’s founders. Kruger House was the home of Paul Kruger who was president of the South African Republic from 1883 to 1900. For something completely different how about heading out to Tswaing where you can walk round a lake-filled meteorite crater. Pretoria is the departure point for the famous Blue Train to both Durban and Cape Town, for those lucky enough to enjoy this luxury service.