24 Hours in Johannesburg

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woman in chair at hotel in Johannesburg

When I booked my flight there, I had never really heard too much about Johannesburg. I knew it was in South Africa, and that’s about it. My plan was to go on a safari (of course) and check out Cape Town. But since I was flying in and out of Joburg, I figured I might as well carve out some time to check it out. We actually ended up spending a little more than 24 hours in Johannesburg, but we were so exhausted from the bush that we slept and relaxed in our hotel room for half the time. Oops!

24-Hours In Johannesburg

After a lot of research, it became clear that crime is high in Joburg, especially in the city center. I read everywhere that the best place to stay in Johannesburg is the suburbs, specifically Rosebank and Melrose. But since I like to do things a little differently, I switched it up and stayed in Houghton – at the Houghton Hotel to be exact. It’s like a hidden oasis in the middle of the city. Since Houghton is right on the cusp of the rougher areas in Joburg, I was a little worried on our Uber ride from the airport (we used Uber a lot there by the way – totally safe!). But when I arrived, I was warmly welcomed by the staff in the beautiful lobby. There was plenty of security, so I felt totally safe. Inside the hotel there were lots of people doing business and on vacation. The restaurant was amazing and the pool was awesome!

Our room was gorgeously decorated and very spacious. We enjoyed it so much that for our first night, we just had a movie night and did absolutely nothing. Not usually my style when I’m on a trip, but I don’t feel like I missed too much – you really only need 24 hours in Johannesburg.

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On our day in the city, we decided to venture off to the famous neighborhood of Soweto. Nelson Mandela’s hometown is a popular tourist site for many reasons. Rich in history and culture, Soweto is actually very safe. Short for South Western Townships, Soweto was created when the white government pushed black people out of their homes in the city of Johannesburg–for no reason other than the color of their skin.

Our first stop was the Hector Pieterson Museum where I learned the appalling truth of racism and oppression in South Africa, which sadly still exists today. After a massacre of black children (including Hector Pieterson) in 1976 by white government authorities, an even bigger uprising began. The fight was a long one and it wasn’t until 2002 that Soweto was incorporated into the City of Johannesburg. The stories of the individuals who lived through apartheid were absolutely heartbreaking. I encourage anyone going to Johannesburg to visit the Hector Pieterson Museum.

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After that, we made our way down the famous Vilakazi Street to The Mandela House. There was a huge crowd outside, so we skipped it and walked around the local vendors and restaurants. We stopped for a beer and a show before heading back off to the hotel. I will say that Vilakazi Street did feel a little too commercialized for my taste. There were lots of typical tourist trinkets for sale (not locally made) and the dancers felt very…inauthentic. While I absolutely loved the Hector Pieterson Museum and seeing Soweto, I’d recommend just a short stroll through Vilakazi Street.

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Finally, our last stop was the Apartheid Museum. We got there just 45 minutes before closing, so we didn’t get to go through the whole museum, but it was absolutely incredible. I learned a lot, got to see a lot of history, and realized just how much impact apartheid still has today. You definitely need a few hours at this museum and I’d recommend stopping by if you have time!

It was a quick pit stop in Joburg, but I’m glad we got to do to Soweto – it’s definitely the right choice if you only have 24 hours in Johannesburg!

Have you ever been to Johannesburg?

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Photos by Ryan Carpenter.