Museums, Galleries and Other Places to Visit
Johannesburg has a wealth of museums, galleries and other places to visit that will appeal to a wide range of interests.
The Museum Africa, the Art Gallery, and the excellent Apartheid Museum are included on most guided tour itineraries, or you can choose to visit them yourself independently.
Visitors deciding not to do a guided tour, or whose tour does not include the Apartheid Museum, could consider combining visits to Gold Reef City and the Apartheid Museum, as these attractions are right next to each other and share a car park. Visitors wanting to go to Johannesburg Zoo can combine this and the South African National Museum of Military History, as these are also right next door to each other.
The Museum Africa is housed in what used to be the old Fresh Produce Market, originally built in 1913. It is a must for anyone interested in the history and culture of South Africa. As well as the permanent exhibitions, there are occasional visiting exhibitions to see as well.
Johannesburg Art Gallery
The Johannesburg Art Gallery is an impressive looking building, right in the heart of the city. Whether you are an art connoisseur or not, it is an extremely pleasant way to spend an hour or 2. The collection includes paintings, photographs and sculptures.
The highly recommended Apartheid Museum tells the story of the rise and fall of apartheid.
It starts from its roots in the battles between the British, Boers and native inhabitants in the 19th and early 20th centuries, through to the struggle for freedom and first all-inclusive elections in 1994.
The museum successfully combines film, news reels and personal recollections to tell the story from a number of different perspectives, and the whole experience highlights just how far the country has come since the end of apartheid.
South African National Museum of Military History
The South African National Museum of Military History is one of Johannesburg's most popular museums, and from the quality and number of exhibits, it is easy to see why.
As the name suggests, the Museum is dedicated to the military history of South Africa throughout both World Wars.
You don't have to be a military fanatic to enjoy the exhibits and displays, which include fighter aircraft (the main attraction being an Me 262 2-seater jet fighter - the only one remaining in the world), tanks and guns, uniforms, medals, and a German one-man submarine.
Outside, there is a special area for children, where they are allowed to climb over a selection of the tanks and guns. Unfortunately, you have to be under a certain age to do this - and we are sure many fathers were watching their children enviously.
Top of Africa
The Carlton Centre, or Top of Africa as it is more commonly known, is the tallest building not only in South Africa, but in the entire Southern Hemisphere.
Standing 220m above street level, and 50 floors high, it is also the highest concrete structure in the world. Although not the most attractive of buildings, the view from the 50th floor is amazing.
A lift takes you up there in 40 seconds (hold onto your stomach on the way down), and an enclosed viewing area at the top affords 360 degree views around the city.
Mai Mai Medicine Market
The Mai Mai Centre is Johannesburg's oldest traditional medicine market. Upon first approaching the market, you may wonder where on earth your guide is taking you.
Vendors line each side of the road, with their traditional remedies set out on the floor. Medicines include tree barks, roots, seeds, herbs, animal skeletons and bones, and whole heads (snake and monkey seem very popular).
Whether the medicines work is up to the individual - if you believe in them, then they may work for you.
World of Beer
The World of Beer is an interesting place to spend a couple of hours, especially over the lunch-time period.
The extremely good value entrance fee includes 2 vouchers for any drink of your choice, and the bar offers a good selection of inexpensive lunches.
A 90 minute tour in a small group of up to 15 includes the history of beer, how hops are grown, walk-through models of a turn of the century Jo'burg pub and a Soweto shabeen, and a full-scale brew-house showing the different brewing processes.
Gold Reef City
For the adrenelin seekers, Gold Reef City is a must. There are around 30 rides in this amusement park, including some terrifying white-knuckle rides such as the Anaconda (the only inverted roller coaster in the world), the Jozi Express (a high-speed roller coaster) and the Tower of Terror (also known as the Shaft of Terror).
Gold Reef City is created around an authentic 19th Century gold mine, and an interesting half hour tour will take you 220 m (720 ft) below the surface, using the original mine lifts.
Situated right next door to the Military History Museum, Johannesburg Zoo may be something of a disappointment, especially if you have visited other leading international zoos such as London or Singapore.
Whilst you are guaranteed to see the animals (unlike in the wild), the zoo is not particularly well laid out or sign-posted, and the conditions range from excellent to depressing. The lion enclosure is the one exception, where cubs hone their hunting skills by chasing passing tourists up and down the mesh fence.
The Fort at Constitution Hill
Constitution Hill is the former fort and gaol where common criminals and murderers were held alongside political activists such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and the children who threw stones in the 1976 Soweto uprising.
Built in 1898 originally as a fortress, it was later converted to a gaol. It had 3 separate areas - the Fort for white men, the Native Gaol for black men, and the Women's Gaol for females. Today, it has been developed and is now a prime tourist attraction, housing the Constitutional Court. The old prison cells have been converted into an interactive museum, and a state-of-the-art audiovisual system shows footage of former prisoners recounting their experiences in the jails.
Photographic, audio and video material has been put together to capture the rich heritage of the site. Artefacts of prison life are also on display, including recreations of the blanket and soap sculptures made by the inmates. There are also tour guides on hand to tell visitors about the 80 years of brutality in the Old Fort prison complex, about the miracle that is the country's transition to democracy.
Lesedi Cultural Village
The Lesedi Cultural Village, about a 45 minute drive from Sandton, offers a great opportunity to see a wide range of different African dances, customs and dress, all in one place.Lesedi - a seSotho word meaning 'light - features 5 traditional homesteads, each representing a different culture: Pedi, Zulu, Xhosa, Basotho and Ndebele.
It is interesting and well-done, however be warned - it is a purpose-built tourist attraction. If you are the type of person who is embarrassed by 'gimmicks' and 'shows', then this really is not for you. There are 2 shows daily - midday and evening. The evening performance is particularly atmospheric, and best done as part of an organised tour.