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10 Must-See Attractions in Johannesburg

posted in: Africa  |  posted by: Ian Harrison on June 23, 2010  |  11 Comments

As we approach halftime of the FIFA World Cup in South Africa, we thought it would be entirely appropriate to look at ten must-see attractions in Johannesburg.

The vast metropolis of more than 7 million people is notable for many reasons. First, as the dominant city economy in South Africa and by extension, Sub-Saharan Africa.  Second – and this fact is important, if not unusual – as the most populous city in the world not on the shores of  a major body of water.  Built on the strength of mineral wealth, this “world class African city”, as Jo’burg’s motto proclaims, is indeed special. Whether you make it to “Jozi” for the historic final World Cup match on July 11 or visit another time, here are some places to keep in mind.

A word to the wise: be vigilant when you travel around Johannesburg and avoid ostentatious “tourist” displays of wealth. Certain areas do indeed require a guide to fully enjoy. Some reports on Jo’burg’s crime and safety problems however, are overblown. Just be careful, as you would in any huge metropolis with huge racial and class divides.

10. Johannesburg Zoo

If the 550 km trek to Kruger National Park from Johannesburg is too far for you, at least visit the city’s fine zoo. The century-old, 54 hectare facility has over 3,000 native animals and some very rare white lions.

Johannesburg Zoo
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9. Flea Markets

Johannesburg is full of remarkable flea markets that not only offer beautiful products but also serve as veritable windows into the city’s social and cultural fabric. Some of the best include the Rooftop Market, Mai Mai, Bryanston Organic & Natural Market, Market Theatre Flea Market and Bruma Flea Market.

Rooftop Market
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8. Johannesburg Art Gallery

Perhaps the most important museum of fine art in Africa, the Johannesburg Art Gallery contains some remarkable works by masters like Picasso, Pissarro, Rodin and Degas. Needless to say, native artists from South Africa are manifest in the museum as well.

Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
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7. Carlton Centre Observation Deck

The Top of Africa observation deck on the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre skyscraper provides unbelievable views of Johannesburg, Pretoria and the contiguous landscape. The tower was built by legendary architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and for years, was the dominant skyscraper on the southern hemisphere. The neighborhood around the landmark can be a little shady.

Top of Africa view of Johannesburg
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6. Constitution Hill

Hillbrow is an inner-city, primarily residential area of Johannesburg that despite poverty and hard times, is in the throes of a major urban regeneration push. One conspicuous symbol of gentrification here is Constitution Hill, a precinct and seat of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Site of the former Old Fort Prison, the hill now provides great photo-ops of downtown Johannesburg and more affluent suburbs to the north.

Constitution Hill
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5. Museum Africa

Built in the former Newtown market, the superb Museum Africa preserves the cultural history of South Africa and the continent.

Museum Africa exhibit
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4. The Market Theatre

Opposite Museum Africa is the historically significant Market Theatre. A paramount cultural institution in the city, the independent company ruffled feathers among South Africa’s apartheid establishment when it began staging integrated, political productions in the 1970s. Today, the Market complex contains three theaters, two galleries, restaurants, bars and a jazz club.

Johannesburg City Hall
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3. Nelson Mandela National Museum

Nelson Mandela’s former house in Soweto is now one of the most popular and worthwhile points of interest in South Africa.

House in Soweto
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2. Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum

While in Soweto, specifically the Orlando West neighborhood, make time for the remarkable Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum. The monument is a tribute to Pieterson, the 12-year-old shot dead by police in the course of the 1976 Soweto riots. The museum provides wonderful insight into the events that led to the famous insurrection and why Pieterson became a symbol for a movement.

Hector Pieterson Museum, Soweto
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1. Apartheid Museum

Johannesburg’s top must-see attraction chronicles one of humanity’s most shameful chapters in vivid detail. Great museums make you think and provoke discussion – in this regard, the Apartheid Museum is most successful.

Discover great hotel rates in Johannesburg.

Apartheid Museum
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