48 hours in Joburg – my top picks

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Johannesburg does not feature as a travel destination in most holiday-makers’ plans. It’s not really a touristy city like Cape Town – with its amazing mountain, gorgeous peaks and pretty vineyards or Durban – with its sunny beaches, colorful Indian district and the famous ‘bunny chow‘.

Despite this, you may find yourself in jazzy Jozi either en-route to Kruger (its only a 5-hr drive) or due to a long layover if catching a connecting flight to another African city. Whatever your reasons, in case you happen to spend a day or two in this city, below is my small list of things to do in 48 hours.

1) African Crafts Market in Rosebank

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When I have to send a gift overseas or give something ‘African’ to a friend or family member, this is the place I go to. But even otherwise, the crafts market is one of my favourite hangouts. I go there every couple of months just to browse. Located in the Rosebank Mall, its easy to find and is safe a question foremost on the minds of tourists. It has been recently renovated and has moved to a much bigger & nicer space within the mall.

Crafts from all over Africa can be found here  – whether you are looking for masques, small trinkets, paintings, traditional beaded jewellery – this is THE place. And you can bargain here! Prices are NOT FIXED (unless stated in writing) and the vendors expect you to negotiate. People are very warm and friendly and be prepared to get invited into each and every kiosk you cross! Even if you don’t end up buying anything, they are happy you visited.

2) Nelson Mandela’s house/museum in Soweto

Nelson Mandela moved into this house in Orlando West in 1946 and lived here for short periods of time, owing to his role in South Africa’s freedom and his long incarceration in Robben Island. Winnie Mandela lived here with her daughters, while Mandela was away in prison. But after their divorce in 1996, the house was converted into a museum and opened to the public.

Located in Soweto, which originally stood for ‘South Western Townships’, this place is a must visit for people with an interest in Nelson Mandela & the history of South Africa. Soweto is a cluster of townships to the south-west of Joburg, which was created by the Apartheid regime to house black people.

3) The Apartheid Museum

Adjacent to the Gold Reef City, the Apartheid Museum, as the name suggests, showcases the rise and fall of apartheid in South Africa. The well chosen exhibits depict the racial discrimination faced by a majority of the country’s population and should be on your itinerary if you really want to see what happened in South Africa not so long ago.

4) The Lion Park

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I have been here several time already – and each time its been fun! I know seeing these lions is not the same as seeing them in the wild, but nevertheless, the close proximity to these magnificent creatures is quite thrilling. They have 4 separate enclosures for the lions where you can drive in and see them at an arm’s length. Besides the lions, one can see wild dogs, leopards, hyenas, lots of springboks & zebras…and ostrich and giraffes! The last time i went, the resident giraffes had a baby…ooh the little one was so cute! Another main attraction here is petting the baby cubs. Visitors are allowed to touch and pose with the cubs for a few minutes. Oh, and before i forget – on Sundays they feed the lions at 12pm. Its quite fascinating to see them wait for the food truck to come by. And they all know exactly when!

5) Grab a bite at a cafe in Melville

Tuks Tuks in Melville!

Tuks Tuks in Melville!

Melville is a quirky little suburb in Joburg and one of the places you can just stroll down the popular 7th street, checking out shops and restaurants. In the evenings its abuzz with people meeting for after work cocktails or a quick bite. Whether you visit in the day or night, the relaxed atmosphere and great restaurants in the area, make for a great time.

In July last year, Melville hosted a street music festival, Fête De La Musique, and different local bands came and played outside the many restaurants. The vibe was simply amazing.

These were my top 5 picks for a quick tour of Joburg. If you have more time to spare and are looking for a few more things to do and see, here are a few more of my favs.

6) Visit the hip and happening Maboneng Precinct

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Maboneng in Sotho means ‘a place of light’. It is one of the areas in east Joburg that were declared no-go given the proliferation of crime and the city’s general  degeneration. However, in 2008, a developer bought the old warehouses and converted the industrial buildings into artsy studios, making it a centre of creativity, attracting urban artists from all over Joburg and beyond.  The two main buildings house several art galleries, studios, a movie theatre –  Bioscope and several eateries offering food from all over the continent such as Little Addis, House of Baobab and Pata Pata among others.

There is also a market that is held here every Sunday – the Market on Mainand if around on a weekend, I would definitely recommend checking it out. You will be amazed!

7) Catch a show at the POPArt or a movie at Bioscope

These are also located in Maboneng and so you understand my obsession with Maboneng! There is just so much to do here. POPArt is a performing arts theatre that promotes upcoming artists as well as established ones. Bioscope on the other hand, is an independent movie theatre that screens movies that do not usually make it to the mainscreen theatres.

So if you have the time & enjoy off-beat things, check out some performances/shows here.

8) Monte Casino

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If looking for a late night place to hang out, head to Monte Casino. As the name suggests, it is a casino! But that’s not all. The place houses many great restaurants, shops, theatres, a cinema and several hotels, which are all open till late. Located in Fourways, near Sandton, this place is fun for the entire family.

9) Nelson Mandela Square

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Flowers & candles for Tata Madiba at Nelson Mandela Square

Flowers & candles for Tata Madiba at Nelson Mandela Square

When I say Nelson Mandela Square, I only mean the piazza in the centre and not the mall or the surrounding hotels. Located in the heart of Sandton, this square sports a gigantic statue of the greatest icon of all times, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, and the place became a sea of tributes, when Madiba passed away in December last year.

The square has a small fountain in the centre and is surrounded by cafes and restaurants all around. I like to chill here sometimes, with a hot cup of cappuccino and good company!

10) Walking tours of the inner city

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This is in no way my LAST choice! In fact it should feature way on top of all others. But since this involves walking the streets of the the inner city (CBD, Hillbrow, Yeoville, etc) and given the perception of visitors about Joburg, I have kept this at the end.

If you are adventurous enough to put aside all that you have read and heard about the CBD, and really want to experience the real Joburg, I would recommend that you go on a tour of this area. I have done two of these tours so far, a graffiti tour with Past Experiences and a Hillbrow one with Dlala Nje. Both were great in their own way. You can read more about the tours on the links above.

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