Last Updated on by Talita
Heading to Johannesburg, South Africa…but wondering what the best day trips are? Then keep reading for all the details about Joburg’s best historical, animal & cultural day trips!
Everybody loves Cape Town. But although Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city and one of its three capitals, doesn’t get quite as much love…it still has lots to offer.
That said, Johannesburg does have some significant safety concerns. So I will be honest and admit that you likely won’t want to spend a ton of time in Joburg itself. (For example, you’ll likely want to stay away from the city center entirely.)
But thankfully, there are tons of unique, interesting day trips to keep you occupied during your stay.
So let’s get to it! But first….
Table of Contents
Where to stay in Johannesburg (AKA where can you find safe & affordable accommodation in Joburg)
Ever stayed in a castle-like mansion formerly owned by a notorious drug lord & mafia boss? No?
Well, coming to Joburg and staying at the Brown Sugar Backpackers guesthouse is your chance!
We personally stayed here and would highly recommend it. It felt safe and secure (it’s located in a quiet neighborhood just outside of the city and surrounded by a large gate that requires a code to enter). Prices were super reasonable, whether you chose a private room or a dorm. Plus, the property is charming and inviting – up on a hill overlooking a city and complete with peaceful patios, a swimming pool, plentiful common areas, and an on-site bar.
During our stay, things were very quiet (we were two of perhaps four guests there) and it seems a few services are no longer offered as tourism has remained slow since Covid.
That said, judging by the pictures we saw of the hostel’s glory days online, the place has a ton of potential and was once the most popular hostel in Johannesburg. So, here’s to hoping things bounce back!
You can check current prices and availability here or by clicking below.
How to get around in Johannesburg (and should you rent a car in Johannesburg?)
We personally chose to rent a car, as we believed it was safer than walking to or waiting for public transportation. Plus gave us a lot more freedom to go wherever we wanted.
Given that it’s Johannesburg, if you do choose to rent a car, you’ll have to take some precautions. Like making sure you avoid driving in certain areas, keeping your windows closed and doors locked, and never keeping anything visible (like a phone or a bag) in your hand or even on your lap while driving.
Other than that, the roads are very good. And, as a whole, we found South African drivers to be very patient and respectful, which is not something we’ve seen in every place we’ve rented a car. *Cough cough, Armenia, cough cough.*
Note: if you do choose to rent a car, just be aware that the power goes out regularly due to load shedding, so you will have to navigate traffic lights that have gone out. But as I said, drivers are very respectful and everyone patiently takes their turn, so it shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Just wanted you to be aware!
The 3 best day trips from Johannesburg
1. The best historical day trip from Johannesburg: Soweto Township
Soweto was established in the early 20th century as a residential area for black Africans who were forcibly removed from Johannesburg as part of the apartheid regime’s racial segregation policies. It later became the heart of much of South Africa’s struggle for civil rights and equality, including the 1976 Soweto Uprising.
As a historic township that Nelson Mandela called home for many years and which became a symbol of resistance during South Africa’s apartheid years, a day trip to Soweto is an essential part of any trip to Johannesburg.
What to see and visit in Soweto
- Vilakazi Street: the main drag of Soweto’s Orlando West neighborhood, famous for being the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners (Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmon Tutu) lived
- The Nelson Mandela Museum: a comprehensive museum located in Mandela’s former home on Vilakazi Street
- The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum: a memorial built to honor the first victim, a 12-year-old student, of the 1976 Soweto Uprising
- Soweto Towers: one of the township’s iconic landmarks, featuring an observation deck, a climbing wall, and bungee jumping
How to visit Soweto from Johannesburg (and is it safe to visit Soweto independently?)
As it’s just 30 minutes by car away from Johannesburg, Soweto is very easy to get to.
As mentioned above, we personally came by rental car, and then just walked around on our own.
We felt very safe driving to and walking around each of the bullets above independently, with the exception of Soweto Towers. The towers ended up being closed (meaning there was no one else around) and had somewhat of a questionable drive to get there, despite being just 10 minutes by car away from Vilakazi Street. So do check their hours on their website before you go.
Otherwise, if you’d like a guide, you can find one pretty easily on arrival in Soweto.
Not to mention, there are tons of tours that either bring you to Soweto from Joburg or start in Soweto, including a few “Soweto by Bike” tours that we had our eyes on. Many tours will also include a visit to The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, which we didn’t get the chance to go to, but have heard is highly recommended.
2. The best day trip from Johannesburg to learn something new & see African animals: the Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage site (or better described as a region, since it’s quite extensive!) famous for caves that have yielded some of the earliest evidence of human evolution.
And overall, there’s a ton to see in this area! That’s why it was, hands down, my favorite of all the day trips we took from Joburg as it had a bit of everything – history, science, animals, culture…
What to visit on a day trip to Cradle of Humankind from Joburg
- The Maropeng Visitor Centre: The Maropeng Visitor Centre should be the first stop for anyone visiting the Cradle of Humankind. This extensive, interactive exhibit offers up a fascinating look at the human “origin story” over the past million years. (Note: you can buy tickets for Maronpeng and the Sterkfontein Caves HERE.)
- Sterkfontein Caves: just down the road from the Maropeng Visitor Centre, you’ll find the cave where some of the oldest fossils of our human ancestors have been found. We didn’t get the chance to visit ourselves since the cave was closed due to flooding, but we’ve heard the cave and the exhibition are very impressive! (Note: you can buy tickets for Maronpeng and the Sterkfontein Caves HERE.)
- Bothongo Rhino & Lion Reserve: less than 20 minutes away from Sterkfontein and Maronpeng, you’ll find Bothongo – AKA, the best animal park and game drive I’ve ever been to! You can read more about our experience in Bothongo and why I loved it so much in our other article right here.
How to visit Cradle of Humankind from Johannesburg
The Cradle of Humankind region is roughly 1 hour away from Johannesburg, making it very easy to do by rental car. (As a bonus: if you have your own car, then you do a self-guided game drive at Bothongo!)
3. The best day trip from Johannesburg for monuments, gardens & politics: Pretoria
As South Africa’s executive capital, Pretoria is known for its rich history, cultural heritage, monuments, and iconic landmarks.
Personally, it didn’t feel like as much of a “must-visit” as the other two day trips we did. But we certainly enjoyed our visit here, and do think it’s worth spending a few hours if you have the time.
What to visit in Pretoria
- The Voortrekker Monument: a hilltop monument and museum that celebrates the country’s pioneer history (we skipped the museum, but the city views from the top are wonderful…though do make sure you drive all the way to Fort Schanskop at the end of the road!)
- The Union Buildings: an enormous, beautiful complex that serves as the seat of the South African government and the offices of the President of South Africa (includes stunning gardens and a 9-meter-tall Nelson Mandela statue)
- The Pretoria National Botanical Garden: a garden home to an extensive collection of indigenous plants and wildlife
- Freedom Park Heritage Site & Museum: a lovely park overlooking the city with great panoramic views and a memorial that captures the nation’s complex history
How to visit Pretoria on a day trip from Johannesburg
Pretoria is less than an hour by car from Johannesburg, making it easy enough to get to by bus or rental car.
We will be honest and say that some of the areas we drove through with our rental car felt pretty sketchy, and that we also attracted a bit more attention that we would have liked walking around. So do use appropriate caution if you head off on your own. But as with our other recommended day trips above, you can also find plenty of tours that’ll take you from Johannesburg to Pretoria through Viator and GetYourGuide.
Once again, the top 3 day trips from Johannesburg, South Africa are:
- Soweto Township (for history)
- Cradle of Humankind (for animals, science & culture)
- Pretoria (for monuments & politics)
As you can see from today’s article, Johannesburg is surrounded by an abundance of fascinating destinations that are perfect for a day trip. From the rich heritage (and amazing animal parks!) of the Cradle of Humankind region to the iconic landmarks of Pretoria, and to the sobering history of Soweto.
And so…have you taken any of these Joburg day trips yourself? Do you have any advice or other destinations you’d add in yourself?
Let us know in the comments area below!
Planning your next trip?
Planning your next trip?