Downtown is not Johannesburg’s loveliest area so it’s worth driving out to some fascinating, diverse sights nearby, says Chris Pritchard
1. Lesedi cultural village
The best sights in Johannesburg are spread out since the city is a gigantic sprawl; a single activity in depth can fill four hours, so mix and match the ones most appealing to you. Lesedi Cultural Village is about 50 minutes’ drive north and consists of compounds with authentic-looking tribal huts giving visitors a taste of rural South Africa. In different sections devoted to Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, Pedi and Basotho, resident staff in tribal gear sing, dance and demonstrate craft-making. This introduction to local lifestyles can be followed by lunch at Nyama Choma, an on-site restaurant serving western dishes in addition to game meats such as impala and kudu with accompaniments including a local vegetable dish described as “beans that thunder the buttocks”. Tel +27 12 205 1394, lesedi.com. Guided tour R75 (£5.90).
2. Krugersdorp Game Reserve
Head for Krugersdorp Game Reserve, where visitors can see buffaloes, giraffes, hippos, hyenas, jackals, lions, white rhinos, wildebeest and zebras among others – plus leopards if you’re lucky. Ranger-accompanied game drives across the veld last about two hours. Tel +27 11 950 9900, afribush.co.za. Game drives cost from R650 (£50.75).
3. Cradle of Humankind
Making for a fascinating ramble – and also in the Krugersdorp area – is the Cradle of Humankind, South Africa’s newest major attraction. A Unesco World Heritage Site, it has been redeveloped with an interpretative centre, underground walkways and subterranean boat trip. Anchoring this attraction are Sterkfontein Caves which, along with the nearby locale, is globally renowned as an important archaeological site, where fossils of the world’s earliest humans (including the three million-year-old “Mrs Ples”) were discovered. Tel +27 11 668 3200, maropeng.co.ka. Entrance R65 (£5).
4. Melrose Arch
Johannesburg’s latest commercial enclave has bank headquarters and other major corporates, as well as restaurants and shops. Step from your cab onto cobbled Melrose Square at a statue of a bull elephant, and cross for a drink at Melrose Arch Hotel, Johannesburg’s hippest lodging. A good place for a meal here is Moyo (tel +27 11 684 1477, moyoafrica.co.za) with pan-African decor and live African music, day and night. Food ranges from North African, Ethiopian and West African stews to spicy Mozambican fish dishes and South African ostrich burgers or Cape Malay bobotie (a mildly curried minced meat dish). Traditional dancing, African buskers and henna face-painting provide an offbeat diversion.
Business activity has drifted northwards from downtown, with Sandton becoming a new hub. Offices and hotels punctuate a cluster of gigantic malls filled with shops and restaurants, in a dramatic reminder of the country’s thriving manufacturing sector. Each day, cheap goods bring shoppers from all over Africa and beyond. Canny shoppers will find Jo’burg as inexpensive as Bangkok for fashion (look for Edgars, Truworths and Mr Price chains, plus designer boutiques). Of numerous good bookshops, the Exclusive Books outlets are best. To eat, head to an outdoor meeting-of-the-malls at Nelson Mandela Square, dominated by a larger-than-life statue of the nation’s father figure and first post-apartheid president. Well-regarded restaurants line the square. A stroll through Sandton is a good way to spend a couple of hours.
6. Apartheid Museum
At the Apartheid Museum visitors are randomly assigned a race, denoting which entrance to use. Photos, exhibits, films and replicas of solitary confinement cells supply an insight into the cruelties of the apartheid era. The museum adjoins the 24-hour Gold Reef Casino complex, a theme park and an old gold mine where visitors descend below the earth. The museum is open 10am-5pm, closed Mon. Tel +27 11 309 4700, apartheidmuseum.org. Entrance R25 (£2).
Avoid taxi hustlers at Johannesburg airport; book a taxi in advance from a reliable company (eg Sandton Cabs, tel +27 11 789 4141). Cost for a half-day hire is about R700 (£55).