One day in Johannesburg is just enough time to hit some of its highlights. Johannesburg is home to about 5.6 million people and is a thriving city in South Africa. Most people tend to skip over Johannesburg for the more scenic Cape Town, but, Johannesburg is full of 20th century South African history and is worth visiting. This post covers what to see and do with only one day in Johannesburg.
One Day in Johannesburg
Start your day at the Apartheid Museum. This museum tells the story of the rise and fall of apartheid and the history of 20th-century South Africa. Opened in 2001, it holds a massive collection of documents, photos, films, and artifacts.
You can probably spend a long time at the Apartheid Museum, but, with only one day in Johannesburg, you may have to limit yourself to about 2-3 hours here. The museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Soweto stands for South West Township. This area was first noted for housing migrant workers operating in the gold mines. However, Soweto was created in the 1930s when the white government started separating people of color from whites. There is a lot of history in Soweto and it has been home to many of the people who fought selflessly to end racial discrimination and apartheid in South Africa.
Perhaps the most famous street in all of Soweto is Vilakazi street. This street was named after Dr. Benedict Vilakazi, a scholar who first published poetry in the Zulu language. It is famous today for the houses of 2 Nobel Peach Prize winners, Mandela and Archbishop Tutu.
Nelson Mandela lived in this house from 1946 to 1962. Today, the house is a little museum, filled with many artifacts from/on/about Mandela. You can visit the house on a guided tour. Your entry ticket comes with a guide. The tour is relatively short (as the house is small), but gives you good insight into how Mandel’s family lived.
You can book your tickets online HERE but we walked in and had no wait whatsoever.
Archbishop Tutus House
As I mentioned, Vilakazi Street in Soweto is the only street in the world that contains the homes of 2 Nobel Prize winners. You cannot go inside Archbishop Tutu’s house but can see it from the outside on your way to Mandela’s house.
Hector Pieterson Memorial
This museum and memorial honors Hector Pieterson, a school boy who was shot and killed by the police during The Soweto uprising. The Soweto uprising was a series of demonstrations and protests led by black school children in South Africa under apartheid. The protests started in response to the introduction of Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in black schools.
It is said that 20,000 students took part in the protests with an estimated 176 killed by the police, although that number is said to be much higher.
The Orlando Towers are also called the Soweto Towers and are a prominent landmark in the area. You will not drive through or around Soweto and its surroundings without seeing these towers. These were the cooling towers of a now decommissioned coal-fired power station. Today, the towers are used as a base for bungee jumping.
After leaving Soweto, head over to the Constitution Hill. This site is a former prison and military fort and is a huge part of South Africa’s history. There were many famous people who were imprisoned here, including Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. It also houses the Flame of Democracy. The Flame was lit on 10 December 2011 when South Africa celebrated the 15th anniversary of the signing of the constitution.
Constitutional Court of South Africa
The Constitutional Court of South Africa is one of the most prominent buildings within Constitution Hill. This court is the highest court in the country and deals only with matters relating to the constitution or in other words cases that raise questions about the application or interpretation of the Constitution.
It was cool to visit the building and be inside the court room! Once inside also check out the paintings on the right hand side wall passing the main entrance to the court room. These paintings depict a lot of historical events in South Africa.
Munro Drive Viewpoint
Munro Drive Viewpoint as the name indicates is an area with a great view point. It’s also a place to see a free sunset!
Getting Around Johannesburg
You have a few options when it comes to getting around Johannesburg! With just one day in the city, you probably want to spend your time touring the city than trying to figure out public transport. With this in mind, you can either:
Uber is a safe and easy way to get around Johannesburg. Prices are very reasonable!
There is also a hop-on-hop-off bus option. My only hesitance with this option is that you may waste time waiting for the bus to come around. With just one day in the city, this may not be a good use of your time. However, HERE is the link if you want to check it out. They have 2 routes.
Organized Tour Options
An organized tour like the one below is a great way to see the city in one day. It’s efficient and also safe.
Rent a Car
Renting a car gives you a lot of flexibility. Which is great to have with only one day in Johannesburg. If you are parking on the street, note that some public parking spaces are attended to by persons who may look after your car for a few rand. My advice is to pay the rand. At least you know your car will be safe. This is a common practice in South Africa. I always told them, I would give them something when I get back. This way, you know they will definitely look after your car.
From all the options listed here, I personally would pick renting a car last. I rented a car and drove in Cape Town but Johannesburg drivers are a lot more aggressive and I probably wouldn’t have survived! ha!
Private Tour Guide
I hired a private tour guide and cannot recommend him enough. Dries is very knowledgeable and a wonderful person. He was recommended to me by my aunt and cousin who had hired him previously. Dries also joined us at Kruger National Park and he had a great time thanks to him.
You can contact him at email@example.com. Tell him you got his contact details from Malisha.
Hiring a private tour guide gives you the flexibility of having your own wheels with the added advantage of local knowledge and safety.
Let’s address the question that is probably on most people’s mind when they hear Johannesburg. Yes, the city was known for a lot of crime back in the day but has gotten a lot better in the recent past. Not to say it’s void of all crime today. Don’t drive at night, keep your valuables on you and don’t leave anything in your car if you are driving.
I never felt unsafe thanks to our guide! He knew exactly where to go and how to navigate even complex areas like Soweto. So many people around the attractions in Soweto knew him too!
Where to go from Johannesburg
Kruger National Park is around 6 hours from Johannesburg and is a must visit if you love wildlife! More on Kruger soon!
You could also continue onwards to Durban (also 6 hours away) or take an easy and relatively cheap 2 hour flight to Cape Town.
Did you find this post useful? Please let me know by liking/commenting below or sharing this post on social media! Thank you!!
Pin this post for later!
Note: This post contains affiliate links. When you make a purchase using one of these affiliate links, I get paid a small commission at no extra cost to you.
Check out my other posts on Africa HERE