Why you should spend one day in Johannesburg? Because it is the provincial capital and largest city of Gauteng, which is the wealthiest province in South Africa. Because Joburg has become a trendy destination nowadays, with plenty of things to do and places to visit. Another reason would be that tourists from different parts of the world spend one or two days in the capital city and then head to Kruger National Park or south to the ocean and drive the famous Garden Route. The metropolis has diverse historical attractions, modern shopping malls, lively nightlife, and fantastic cuisine. If you only have one day in Johannesburg, you can still glimpse the best places!

The capital of South Africa was the epic end of our two-week road trip through the country. We flew from Europe to Cape Town, rented a car, drove the famous Garden Route, and flew home from Johannesburg at a very reasonable price. Being on a tight schedule, we spent only one day in Johannesburg, but we managed to visit the best places in town. If you’re unsure whether to give it a chance, read the article to find out how to see the best of Johannesburg in one day!

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One day in Johannesburg

 

Useful Info for Your One Day in Johannesburg Itinerary

How to get to Johannesburg

Johannesburg seen from above

Johannesburg O.R.Tambo International Airport is the busiest airport in Africa, with international flights from all over the world. You can find amazing flight deals from Europe and the United States. However, Johannesburg is often overlooked, and most tourists only get to the capital on transit on their way to Kruger National Park or Cape Town.

Getting to Johannesburg from Cape Town, Port Elisabeth, Durban, or George is usually easy and cheap, with many flights at various times. Mango, South African Airways, FlySafair, and British Airways operate these routes. However, considering the long distances in South Africa, a domestic flight remains the best option to travel fast and efficiently.

Note. We paid for a domestic flight from Port Elisabeth to Johannesburg 50 EUR (55 USD)/per person/one way.

How to get to downtown Johannesburg 

O.R.Tambo International Airport lies 25 km east of the city center. Gautrain train takes you to downtown Johannesburg from 04:50 until 21:04, with stations at Sandton, Rosebank, and Park Station. Some say it is dangerous to travel by train; some tourists are pretty confident about it. We don’t know since we rented a car from the airport.

If you rent a car, you’ll reach Sandton in less than 30 minutes. If not, you can schedule an Uber for minimum stress.

Renting a Car in Johannesburg  

our rented car in the parking lot

The best way to visit Johannesburg is in a RENTED CAR from the airport. You get the freedom to make your plan, drive where you want, and spend as much time as you want, with no stress or other limitations. The traffic is more substantial than in Cape Town but manageable; simply avoid peak travel times.

We found Johannesburg to be a safe town for tourists traveling in rented cars, which we saw a lot. Finding a parking place is not a problem, although sometimes you will be approached by some guys offering their services to protect the car during your stay for a few bucks. It is up to you if you choose to pay them or not.

 

How do I get around in Johannesburg if I don’t rent a car?

An excellent idea to discover the city would be hopping on a Hop On Hop Off double-decker bus. With over 16 stops, you can see over 20 of Johannesburg’s top attractions. Hop On Hop Off Johannesburg has many options: one day ticket, one day bus+ Soweto ticket, one Sunday sizzler ticket, or a two-day ticket if you spend more than one day in Johannesburg.

There are two routes you can choose from.

Green Tour Route

Rosebank – Zoo Lake – Johannesburg Zoo – Military Museum – Constitution Hill

Red Tour Route: 

Constitution Hill – Mining District – Carlton Centre – James Hall Transport Museum – Gold Reef City Casino Hotel – Apartheid Museum – New Town – Braamfontein

BOOK YOUR HOP-ON HOP-OFF TICKETS 

Where to stay in Johannesburg 

ROSEBANK and MELROSE are considered the safest areas of the city, so many choose to stay here. The neighborhoods are always alive since there are plenty of vintage stores, restaurants, cafes, shops, and bars. It’s easy to walk around so you’ll see many tourists in the area.

SANDTON is the most important financial district in the country, making the area very safe. There are many restaurants, parks, shopping malls, and hotels. We chose to stay here for a short stay in Johannesburg at a hotel near Nelson Mandela Square.

MELVILLE is a university area frequented by students from all over the country. The neighborhood is fresh and lively due to the significant number of restaurants and nightclubs.

Is Johannesburg SAFE?

This question hit my mind for sure. Crime, street violence, and robbery are among the concerns for travelers coming to Johannesburg. Luckily, the city is much safer than it used to be in the past. Just be vigilant, don’t walk or drive at night, and keep your valuables safe. If you’re renting a car, don’t stop for hitchhikers.

We rented a car from the airport, so we visited many places and drove to different locations during our one day in Johannesburg; however, we never felt threatened or unsafe.

If you don’t want to drive, use Uber or the Hop On Hop Off buses for transportation or join organized group travels.

I chose for you some of the best tours of Johannesburg, with great reviews and value for money, so feel free to check them out:

#1. Tour Johannesburg at your own pace on a double-decker tourist bus and see the city’s best sights from a preferential point of view. BOOK YOUR TICKETS HERE

#2. One day in Johannesburg: Soweto, Apartheid Museum & City Tour. BOOK YOUR TICKETS HERE

#3. Johannesburg and Soweto: Half Day Tour. BOOK YOUR TICKETS HERE

One Day in Johannesburg Itinerary. What to Do in Johannesburg for a Day

Nelson Mandela Square

Nelson Mandel Statue at Nelson Mandela Square

Start your day with a coffee at Nelson Mandela Square. Situated in the Sandton neighborhood, it is a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike, with almost one million people visiting the place monthly.

In the heart of this open-air square, you will find the iconic symbol of freedom, a six-meter-high statue of Nelson Mandela.

Following the square is the Sandton City Shopping Center, packed with fine dining restaurants, luxury shops, modern offices, and a triple-story library.

Apartheid Museum

Whites and Non-whites entry at Apartheid Museum

Apartheid Museum should be high on your list if you want to learn more about South Africa’s history. To set the atmosphere of the place, you’ll get a glimpse of racial segregation right upon arrival when you receive an entry ticket to classify you and your companions as white or non-white.

The Apartheid Museum takes you through the history of South Africa from 1910, when Apartheid started, until 1994 when the country faced its first democratic elections. Opened in 2001, the gallery is a massive exhibition of documents, photos, films, and artifacts, so plan at least two to three hours for a visit.

Everyone visiting this place gets a vision of the struggles and discriminations South Africans endured for decades; therefore, the whole experience can be painful and emotional. Take it slow, and try to assimilate all the information.

Opening Hours: from 9:00 to 5:00 pm, Thursday to Sunday.

Optional. If you have more than one day in Johannesburg and are looking for some fun, stop at Gold Reef City. Situated next to the Apartheid Museum, the amusement park is a great way to raise the adrenalin for a few hours.

 

FNB Stadium 

FNB Stadium in Johannesburg

Also known as Soccer City or Calabash (an African pot), FNB Stadium is a football and rugby stadium near the Soweto area. The 60- to 90-minute guided tours cover the changing rooms, players’ tunnel, VIP, and the stadium’s mixed areas.

If you don’t intend to visit the stadium, you will still bump into it on your way to/from downtown Johannesburg.

Orlando Towers

Soweto Towers seen from the car

On your way from/ to downtown Johannesburg, you will discover another beautiful and bright landmark of the capital: the Orlando Towers.

The huge towers are painted in vibrant colors, reflecting the happy South African spirit. They are built on a coal-fired power station and came alive only in 2009. Now the place is famous for bungee and base jumping, rock climbing, zip-lining, and abseiling.

Soweto Neighbourhood  

driving through Soweto, Johannesburg

The next thing on your one day in Johannesburg’s list is driving to Soweto. Soweto’s short name for South Western Townships was established in 1904 to reside migrant workers operating in the gold mines. As time went by, many people of color were relocated to this area as the city center was reserved for whites only.

However, some things changed in 1994 due to Nelson Mandela, although it remained a separate municipality until 2002. Soweto has a rich history of fighting against the Apartheid regime.

Now, the people living here have a university and a mall. With a population of 1.4 million, many still live in corrugated houses. You will also bump into one-story houses and notice the red bricks almost everywhere.

BOOK YOUR GUIDED TOUR TO SOWETO 

HECTOR PIETERSON Memorial&Museum 

Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum in Soweto, Johannesburg

“I saw a child fall down. Under a shower of bullets, I rushed forward and went for the picture. It had been a peaceful march; the children were told to disperse, and they started singing Nkosi Sikelele. The police were ordered to shoot.” – the statement of Sam Nzima, talking about the events that took place on June 16, 1976, in Soweto.

The memorial and museum are a national heritage site named after Hector Pieterson, a young boy killed during a march through Soweto when students protested against Apartheid. You’ll walk along a series of photos taken on June 16, 1976, so you’ll get to learn more about this awful day in South Africa’s history.

Photo: Mbuyisa Makhubo picked up Hector Pieterson and, together with Hector’s sister, Antoinette, ran towards the only photographer in the area.

Souvenir Street

in search of souvenirs in Soweto, Johannesburg

Just across the Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum is a souvenir alley. The vendors are friendly and lovely, not too demanding, so if you are looking for some souvenirs to take back home, there is plenty to choose from. You will find souvenirs on Vilakazi Street, but the area is too crowded with too many vendors, so they tend to be quite aggressive.

Vilakazi Street in Soweto 

The street was named after Dr. Benedict Wallet Vilakazi, a scholar who first published poetry in the Zulu language. It’s also the street where you will find Nelson Mandela’s house and plenty of restaurants and souvenir stalls.

As we were trying to find a parking place, we bumped into numerous men seeking to stop our car by standing in front of the vehicle. They notified us to park at a specific location to protect the car during our visit. At some point, the police arrived, and suddenly everyone disappeared. I have to be honest; the street was a big disappointment as we felt like being hunted. As a tip, don’t get scared, be vigilant, and let them be.

If you get hungry, you will find numerous restaurants in the area, or you can stop for a cold drink. Before visiting Nelson Mandela House, take a quick look at Desmond Tutu’s former home.

NELSON MANDELA House

inside the Nelson Mandel Memorial House, Johannesburg

At number 8115 on Vilakazi Street, you will find the small red brick house where Nelson Mandela lived before his arrest: a lovely authentic home with many objects and information on display. The visit takes no more than 10 to 15 minutes, and you get a glimpse of how the Mandela family used to live.

Unfortunately, this area also tends to be crowded as they let too many people go inside. But I still feel that the Nelson Mandela House is one of the places you must visit if you only have one day in Johannesburg.

Constitution Hill 

touring the Constitution Hill in Johannesburg

The last stop of the day is Constitution Hill. The site is a former jail and military fort that imprisoned many known men and women fighting for freedom, like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Fatima Meer, and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

During its 100-year history, the site incarcerated men, women, and children of all ages and races. On a guided tour, you’ll get to understand and learn more about the place.

In 1994, when South Africa transited to democracy, the site became the country’s Constitutional Court. Entry to the Court is free; still, entrance fees are charged for the museums.

Note. You can leave your car in the secure underground parking, found on levels C and D coming from Joubert Street, for only a few rands.

Finish your one day in Johannesburg with a delicious Dinner 

our dinner at Ocean Basket Johannesburg

Depending on where you are staying, pamper yourself with a proper dinner at a restaurant near your hotel! We drove almost 75km in only one day and ended our journey at Nelson Mandela Square, as we stayed in the Sandton area. We’ve seen beautiful places and experienced contradictory feelings! The impact of what we saw was and still is enormous!

Although we are not big fans of restaurant chains, we bumped into the Ocean Basket Restaurant at Sandton Mall. We had only eaten fresh fish and seafood for the last two weeks, and since we were flying home back to Europe, we decided to end this epic journey with a seafood plate. Not a clever idea, you would say, since Johannesburg is so far from the ocean. But we had a pleasant surprise, as the dish was so delicious!

Interactive Map of the Best Places to Visit in Johannesburg in One Day

Underneath, you’ll find a customized map that includes all the locations mentioned in this article. Just open up this article on your phone and click on the frame in the upper right corner of this map. Google Maps app will open and you can check all the details. I hope it helps!

We drove almost 75km on our day in Johannesburg, from the Sandton area down south to the Apartheid Museum, the Soweto area, Constitution Hill, and then back to Sandton. But the distance will be shorter if you stay in Rosebank.

 

South Africa Travel Resources

Car rentals

We always use DISCOVER CARS when we want to rent a car as it compares local, national and international companies. Renting a car is the easiest way to see all the famous country has to offer. Almost all destinations are easy to access with a rental car, and having your own car is also the smoothest way to travel and discover new places. Check out the best rental deals HERE.

Secure your travel insurance

We never leave home without travel insurance designed to cover our expenses if something goes wrong. If you’re still on the lookout for travel insurance for your trip to South Africa, I highly recommend HEYMONDO, a trusted insurance provider for leisure and business trips, backpackers, long-term travelers, and digital nomads. Their travel insurance protects against theft, flight delays, injury, illness, cancellations, and much more.

Get an eSIM before the trip

Because phones have become our most important devices, it’s necessary to have a data connection as soon as you step foot in a different country. Your home data plan might only work if you paid for a much more expensive package, finding wifi connections in airports or train stations might be tricky, and seeking a local store to buy a SIM card might be exhausting. Forget all of that!

You just purchase an e-SIM, install it on your phone, and activate the plan when you’re ready to use it. Getting out of the plane and instantly connecting to data was a game changer for me. I didn’t have to waste time standing in line to get a local SIM card or finding a wifi connection to book a taxi to reach my hotel.

If you ask me, getting an e-SIM is a quintessential part of traveling. There is no physical installation and no long-term commitments. And the best part is that you can always top up or purchase a new plan through the app. Pretty convenient, right? You can get an e-sim card with AIRALO

South Africa-related articles

If you’re planning a trip to South Africa, you might want to read my other articles:

SELF-DRIVE SAFARI AT ADDO ELEPHANT PARK, SOUTH AFRICA

AMAZING THINGS TO DO IN PLETTENBERG BAY, SOUTH AFRICA

10 EPIC DAY TRIPS FROM CAPE TOWN YOU CAN’T MISS

ONE DAY IN CAPE AGULHAS ITINERARY

Save time and book a tour

For a local experience, I recommend checking out the guided tours on GET YOUR GUIDE. If you want to discover other things to do in Johannesburg and in the area, you can find a good selection below.

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