Johannesburg in 2 Days

Experience Vibrant Johannesburg in 2 Days

Johannesburg, affectionately called “Jozi” or “Joburg” by locals, often flies under the radar compared to the scenic splendor of Cape Town, the beautiful Garden Route along the coast and famous wildlife safaris of Kruger National Park.

However, South Africa’s largest metropolis has far more to offer visitors than many realize. As the economic capital and cultural hotbed of the nation, Johannesburg delivers an electrifying urban experience paired with abundant nature right within city limits. Here we delve into how to experience Johannesburg in 2 days.

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Don’t have time to read the whole article? Check out these day tours that will cover the best of the top sites listed below:

Founded following the 1886 gold rush, Johannesburg swiftly grew into a major commercial hub as headquarters for many of Africa’s biggest companies across sectors like banking, media, mining and telecommunications. 

The city also has an equally rich history as home base for the anti-apartheid movement and as the birthplace of democratic South Africa. Visitors can trace these momentous events by exploring diverse neighborhoods and poignant sites — from the stall-lined streets of Soweto to the cells of Constitution Hill to the vibrant food and art scenes flourishing today.

Beyond the concrete jungle of inner city skyscrapers and highways lies the unexpected presence of nature escapes and wide open green spaces right in Johannesburg’s own backyard.

Day 1: Morning

Discover Poignant History and Culture

Start downtown at the Apartheid Museum (open 9am-5pm daily, admission R90-R180), a highly impactful look at South Africa’s apartheid history through multimedia exhibits and artifacts. Sobering yet essential to understand this pivotal time period.

Apartheid Museum

Then see the Hector Pieterson Memorial (free entry, open 7am-7pm), commemorating the tragic 1976 protests. Heartbreaking yet important memorial photos depict the violence against student activists.

Hector Pieterson Memorial

Afterwards, explore the massive Soweto township on a guided tour (most tours 3-6 hours, average cost R450-R650 per person). Drive past overwhelming residential areas, visit bustling neighborhood markets selling household wares and street food, and experience lively local shebeens and reggae clubs. Also admire colorful street art with political themes. Provides context of day-to-day life.

Soweto Township
Source: Hanit

End the morning at Constitution Hill (open 9am-5pm, admission R100). Tour the old Number Four prison where anti-apartheid activists like Nelson Mandela were held in harsh conditions. 

An excellent look at the long struggle for equality and social justice. Also explore the architecture and symbolism of South Africa’s Constitutional Court located onsite.

Day 1: Afternoon

Experience Vibrant Urban Exploration

Discover Joburg’s vibrant and trendy side starting in the Maboneng Precinct – one of the top things to do in Johannesburg (accessible via Uber/taxi). Wander pedestrian-friendly streets popping with boutiques like Arts on Main gallery, cozy coffee shops, and eateries with outdoor seating for a leisurely lunch. Relaxed, artsy vibe.

Johannesburg in 2 Days - Visit Maboneng District

Stroll through Nelson Mandela Square, anchored by a huge bronze Nelson Mandela statue and lined with upscale shops and dining. Then head a few blocks north to wander Rosebank, another chic area with cute independent stores and restaurants centered around The Firs mall.

Nelson Mandela Square

Finish by enjoying sunset city views and cocktails in hand from a lively rooftop bar like Sin+Tax in Rosebank or Living Room in nearby Sandton. Toast to your first day!

Day 2: Morning

Enjoy Abundant Urban Green Spaces

Escape the concrete jungle without leaving city limits! Start the morning wandering sculpted gardens, lily ponds and cycad collections at the beautiful Johannesburg Botanical Gardens (open 8am daily, free admission).

Johannesburg Botanical Gardens

Relax along the water at Emmarentia Dam (access is open and free), popular for morning walks and picnics. Nearby Delta Park offers rolling lawns, tree-lined paths and rocky outcrops. Great for spreading a blanket and enjoying some sandwiches after working up an appetite!

Emmarentia Dam

End with a moderate hike through the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve (entrances on Judith Rd or Warick Ave, open 6am-5pm, free entry). A hidden gem with valley trails leading to stone ridges with panoramic city views. Likely to spot diverse vegetation, birds, small antelope and more.

Melville Koppies Nature Reserve

Day 2: Afternoon

Savor Eclectic Food, Drinks and Shopping

Experience Joburg’s eclectic food, bar and shopping scene along 44 Stanley Avenue in Milpark. An afternoon delight to linger over wine and tapas on the pedestrianized strip of boutiques and patio cafes.

44 Stanley Ave - Johannesburg in 2 Days

Work off lunch shopping the chain stores and luxury brands of Rosebank Mall and along Oxford Road (easy parking garages abound). Hunt for chic home decor at Monsieur or Missibaba, or update your wardrobe at Zara and Cape Union Mart.

As evening kicks off, head to trendy Braamfontein near Wits University. Browse quirky fashions, art and records at the Neighbourgoods Market (Saturdays 9am-3pm) then check out streetwear shops and stalls along Juta Street.

Neighbour Goods Market

Cap off your stay back in Maboneng for live music, performance art, and dinner along Fox Street. Experience Joburg’s dynamic creativity!

Extend Your Stay

While 2 days provides a solid taste of Joburg’s must-see highlights, visitors with 3-5 days can dive deeper into experiences unique to the city.

A worthy (and entertaining!) pick is Gold Reef City theme park (open 10am-5pm weekdays, 9am-5pm weekends, admission around R260). Ride historical mine shafts down a reproduction 1886s gold mine, take indoor rides like the Runaway Train roller coaster, catch theater shows depicting early prospecting days, and browse extensive museums documenting gold mining heritage. Fascinating for history buffs and kids alike with ample interactive exhibits.

Nature lovers shouldn’t miss the Cradle of Humankind protected area and Maropeng Visitor Center (open 9am-5pm daily, tickets from R100). Less than an hour’s drive from Jozi, explore underground caves and fossil sites containing some of humanity’s earliest ancestral remains dating back over 3 million years. An incredible opportunity to walk where some of the first hominids walked.

Top off an extended holiday with a full day hiking amongst the breathtaking quartzite peaks of the Magaliesberg Mountain Range (most trails located inside Magaliesberg Nature Area). Follow winding cliffside paths to marvel at dramatic rock formations and panoramas stretching over primordial valleys that have remained unchanged for eons. A protected refuge of nature less than 2 hours from the city hub.

Magaliesberg Nature Area

Johannesburg Travel Tips

  • Use Uber or other reputable taxi apps for safe and convenient transportation around the city. Avoid unmarked taxis on the street.
  • Be extra alert in crowded areas like public transport hubs, markets, and malls. Keep valuables secure and don’t carry large amounts of cash when out and about.
  • Many attractions and neighborhoods are very spread out, so plan ample transit time when creating your daily itinerary. Leave buffers to account for traffic.
  • Purchase an eSIM card for your mobile phone to access maps, internet, transport and food delivery apps when exploring. Public WiFi is not widely available. I recommend Airalo as it works great and is relatively inexpensive
  • Only drink sealed bottled water and be cautious with raw fruits, vegetables and street food. Best to stick to hot cooked dishes at restaurants.
  • Stay in safer neighborhoods like Sandton, Rosebank, or Maboneng Precinct with restaurants and attractions in close proximity. Avoid walking alone at night.
  • Bring or buy layers of clothing – temperatures drop sharply in the early morning and evenings due to Johannesburg’s high elevation.
  • Carry small denomination bills and coins for paying bus/taxi fares, parking attendants, and food vendors at markets.
  • Book tickets for the Apartheid Museum online in advance to skip the ticket line when you arrive.
  • Try traditional South African cuisine like biltong dried meat, boerewors sausage, and sweet melktert custard when dining out around the city.
  • Join guided full-day tours to SowetoCradle of Humankind and Lion Park rather than navigating solo for security and efficiency.
  • Pack sun protection items in your South Africa packing list like hats, sunglasses and high SPF sunscreen. Johannesburg’s high elevation means the UV rays are very strong.

Johannesburg FAQs

The Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill, Soweto township, and Nelson Mandela Square are absolute must-sees to understand the history and culture in just 2 days.

Use Uber for safe and convenient transportation between neighborhoods and attractions in Joburg. Avoid unmarked taxis on the street.

Stay in centrally located neighborhoods like Sandton, Rosebank or Melville to be near most highlights and have plenty of dining options.

Johannesburg is generally safe if you use basic urban precautions: avoid walking alone at night, only take registered taxis, and be alert in crowded areas.

English is widely spoken in Johannesburg, though many locals also speak native African languages like Zulu, Xhosa, and Sotho. Learning a few words of the local languages can be appreciated.

Don’t miss trying South African specialties like bunny chow curry, boerewors sausage, biltong dried meat, and malva pudding.

Johannesburg enjoys a mild, sunny climate year-round. Pack layers for cool mornings and evenings. October-April are the warmest months.

Final Thoughts

An extended 3-5 day visit allows for even more sights like Gold Reef City, Lion Park, Pan Africa Market, and the lively Melville neighborhood. Venture just beyond the city on day trips to the fossil sites of Cradle of Humankind or magnificent Magaliesberg Mountains. 

While this itinerary just scratches the surface, it provides a memorable taste of Joburg’s storied history and culture, urban buzz, nature escapes, and vibrant dining scene. Visiting Johannesburg in 2 days will provide a great introduction to the city and culture.

However long you stay, vibrant Johannesburg offers plenty to experience.

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2 Comments

  1. This looks like a great way to hit so many of the key sites in 2 days. I’d enjoy having a bit more time in Johannesburg to explore your other suggestions as well.

  2. I’ve always been really intrigued by South Africa, and would love to visit someday! I love visiting big cities that also have accessible nature, and Johannesburg seems like the perfect place for that. Thanks for such an informative post 🙂

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