There are so many places you can visit on day trips from Johannesburg that it’s actually difficult to decide where to go! From pristine landscapes to national parks and game reserves perfect for a safari; to nearby cities and archeological sites, the province of Gauteng, where the largest city in South Africa is located – won’t fail to provide you with entertainment options.
So, if Joburg gets too much for you (let’s face it: it’s a fun city but not exactly the easiest place to be), you can simply opt to get out for a day. Don’t know where to go? Don’t worry. I have been to South Africa many times and I am ready to share with you the best day trips from Johannesburg. Just continue reading!
Make sure to read my post The Best Things To Do In Johannesburg.
9 Best Day Trips From Johannesburg
Soweto stands for South Western Township. Located 20 km (12.4 miles) from Johannesburg, and a separate municipality until 2002, this is one of the most popular day trips from Johannesburg, where you can learn more about the history of South Africa, and especially about the fight against the Apartheid regime.
The township – the largest in the country with more than 1.3 million inhabitants – was created by the white government between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th to separate the black population from the white.
Today, Soweto continues to lack a lot of the infrastructure that is otherwise available in other places in South Africa. Nevertheless, I recommend visiting. The following are the places you should not miss:
VILAKAZI STREET – Named after the first black African to teach at the University of Witwatersrand (one of the best in Africa), this is the street is where Nobel Peace Prize winner Nelson Mandela lived with his family. Not far, there’s the former home of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
THE MEMORIAL SITE OF HECTOR PIETERSON – The memorial is dedicated to a 12-year-old buy that was shot dead during the 1976 student uprising against the use of Afrikaans as the only language of education. There is also a museum.
To make the most of Soweto, you are better off joining a guided tour. For more information, click here or here.
Make sure to read my post The Best Places To Visit In South Africa.
Pilanesberg National Park
For a fantastic safari experience within easy reach from Jo’burg, drive for just 2.5 hours to get to Pilanesberg National Park. Located in a volcano crater, it’s home to an incredible variety of animals, which include the Big Five, and zebras, giraffes, antelopes and wild dogs, not to mention some 300 species of birds – so make sure to bring your binoculars and a camera with a long lens.
Pilanesberg is easy to explore on self-drives and you don’t even need a 4WD as the main road is tarmac and the others easy to access. I still think that having a trained guide is a good idea – they know where to spot the animals. For guided day trips from Johannesburg to Pilanesberg, click here or here.
I have come across sites that recommend Kruger National Park as a place to visit on day trips from Johannesburg. I don’t think so! This is the second largest national park in the country, not to mention it’s at least a 5 hour drive from Johannesburg, meaning that if you only have a day you’d get to spend no more than 3 hours there, for a total of 10 hours driving.
Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa, is just 55 km (34 miles) from Johanneburg. That’s just than one hour by car, and in fact you can even get there easily on public transport.
The city is completely different from Jozi, with lovely gardens and a slower pace of life which make it truly a pleasant place – so if you want a change of scenery but still want to stay in a city, this may be a good choice for a day trip. Among the places you should not miss there are the Voortrekker Monument and Heritage Site and Freedom Park, and the National Botanic Garden.
You can get to Pretoria easily on the Gautrain. Another option is to join a guided tour such as this one.
Cradle of Humankind
One of the most popular day trips from Johannesburg, the Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is thought that this is where humankind begun 3.5 million years ago – or at least, this is where the first-ever hominid fossil – an Australopithecus Africanus – was found in 1924. The fossil is currently on display at Maropeng Visitor Center.
A great addition would be a visit to the Sterkfontein Caves, where Mrs Ples (a pre-human skull) and Little Foot (a complete hominid skeleton) were found. You will find them 10 km (6.2 miles) from the Cradle of Humankind. The six linked underground chambers and a lake are about 40 meters (131 feet) below ground level.
Sterkfontein Caves and the Maropeng Visitors Centre open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The last tour of the caves departs at 4:00 pm. Admission to the Maropeng Visitors Center and Sterkfontein Caves in total is 200 South African Rand (that’s $13 USD).
You will find the Cradle of Humankind 40 minutes drive from downtown Jozi. If you want to visit along with the caves and the visitors center you are probably better off joining a guided tour. You may want to consider this Cradle of Humankind shared half day tour.
Not far from the Cradle of Humankind, the Lion and Safari Park is often mentioned as another option for a day trip from Johannesburg. Portrayed as a sanctuary, visitors are actually encouraged to engage in activities with animals – something that it’s not necessarily responsible. Make sure to read my posts The Complete Guide To Becoming A More Responsible Traveler and A Guide To Ethical Animal Tourism before deciding to visit.
Nirox Foundation Sculpture Park, Krugersdorp
One of the most interesting places to visit at easy distance from Johannesburg, close to Maropeng, Nirox Sculpture Park is located within the Khatlhampi Private Reserve. It’s a great place to go for a walk or to have a picnic, with the added twist of being able to spot outdoor sculptures – which go from traditional stone ones to more contemporary forms of art – and installations.
The park is open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm. Admission is 120 South African Rand ($7.80 USD). You can combine your visit with that of the Cradle of Humankind visitors center as they are only 15 minutes away.
Hartbeespoort Dam, North West
About one hour drive from Jo’burg, the Hartbeespoort Dam is located in the gorgeous setting of the Magaliesberg Mountains. It’s a fun place to visit where you will find no shortage of activities. Make sure to ride the Harties Aerial Cableway to the top for views of the area; consider walking along Dassie loop; head to the Dam Wall – you can park close to it for impressive views of the 150 meters (492 feet) long and 60 (almost 197 feet) meters high wall.
Not far from Hartbeespoort Dam, you can also visit the lovely Skeerport, from where hot air balloon rides are offered.
To book your hot air balloon ride, click here. For a full day guided tour from Johannesburg, click here.
Lesedi Cultural Village
If you are interested to learn more about some of the traditional cultures of South Africa (where 11 languages are actually spoken!), you will want to visit Lesedi Cultural Village. It’s a great place to observe about the traditional of life of Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Ndebele and Basotho communities.
Keep in mind that the village was actually built as an attraction – so what you get to see is just a representation of the real life of tribes. But it is nevertheless interesting to see traditional attire and to take part int dance and music shows.
Given the nature of the place, you are definitely better off joining a guided tour. For a guided tour of Lesedi Cultural Village from Johannesburg click here. If you want a tour that also goes to the Cradle of Humankind, click here.
This was the first place I visited out of Johannesburg and while it’s hardly my style of travel, I must admit I had a lot of fun. If all you want is a day of fun and to relax, Sun City is the place. This massive resort is about 2 hours drive from Johannesburg. You will find water parks with immense pools (my favorite is the one with waves), a fantastic spa, amusement parks and a fabulous selection of restaurants, bars and what not. In other words, it’s really the opposite of cultural – but for a day, why not?
You really don’t need a guided tour to get to Sun City, but if you don’t want to drive you can opt for a transfer. Book it here. Alternatively, you may join a tour that also includes a safari in Pilanesberg National Park. For more information, click here.
Little over an hour drive from Johannesburg, Cullinan is a mining town with beautiful early 20th century buildings and the chance of learning about the diamond mining past of the country. This is actually where the largest diamond was ever found! It’s an overall pleasant place to visit, with lots of restaurants and sights. One nice thing to do is a guided tour of the former diamond mine.
If you don’t have your own car, you can get to Cullinan on guided tours from Jo’burg. For more information, click here.
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