Johannesburg is not great for tourists because there aren’t many notable attractions or worthy museums. Plus, it has a terrible reputation for crime. However, Jo ’Burg is home to very welcoming and warm people who’ll gladly open their lives (and even homes!) to you. If you go to Johannesburg, we recommend you find some locals and live like them for a week (that’s what we did and it was fantastic). Also, there are three notable attractions that would be a shame to miss.
The Apertheid Museum- An absolute must-see. The museum tickets randomly divide patrons into non-white and white and then each "race" uses a different entrance. For the first stage of the museum, non-whites and whites are split by a chain fence and must proceed alone. Ryan and I were given different races and therefore separated which drove home the reality that many families were abruptly estranged when the government classified everyone by race. The museum proceeds to use video, photography, antiques, and letters from Nelson Mandela to educate its patrons on South Africa’s long history of racial unrest. And beneath the heartbreaking tales, the museum somehow teaches a lesson of overcoming evil and forgiveness. The layout is a bit jumbled, but the content is superb.
Neighborhood Goods Market- Every Saturday, food stalls of all cuisines imaginable and fun local musicians crowd into a multifloor warehouse to make a market of delight. Be warned: the market is full of locals and you’ll feel decidedly uncool. It’s as authentic as it gets for real Jo ‘Burg life.
Soweto- Townships are urban areas that, from the late 19th century until the end of Apartheid, were reserved for non-whites (Black Africans and all “Coloreds”). They’re usually located just outside cities where they could ensure a cheap workforce for the whites. Now, many of the townships offer tours and show firsthand what life was like.
Soweto is the largest and most famous of all of the townships and is located just outside Johannesburg. Most of the resistance to Apertheid started here and today many cultural trends begin here. As our tour guide put it, “When Soweto sneezes, the whole country catches a cold!” Plus, the name Soweto stands for SOuth WEstern TOwnship and, as New Yorkers, we love geographically informative names.
We took a bike tour through Soweto Bicycle Tours and thoroughly recommend it. The city that was once was a demonstration of racial division and oppression now has prospered and and is proud of it’s place in history.