On a typical visit to South Africa, many people spend just one night in Johannesburg. While you can fill up many days seeing the sights of this city of 8+ million, here’s what we enjoyed on our family’s recent 24-hour stop.
1. Breakfast at the MelroseArch Hotel: This hotel is a modern, sleek 5-star 104-room boutique property in the upscale Melrose Arch development. Numerous shops and restaurants sit right outside the hotel’s front door. The outdoor pool is a bit cold in winter, but with enough sunshine and warmth, it’s a great place to while away an afternoon. We particularly enjoyed the delicious breakfast, including lots of fresh fruits, deli meats and cheeses, fresh muffins and hot choices such as eggs benedict, flapjacks and streaky bacon. Add to these some fresh coffee and you have a great way to start a busy day.
2. Soweto Tour: Many people have heard of Soweto, possibly remembering it as the place where blacks were forced to live during the Apartheid era, possibly even remembering the riots, protests and crackdowns of the 70s and 80s. But far fewer have a clue as to what Soweto is today–a vibrant, pulsing community of approximately 3 million South Africans. In just a few hours, visitors can get a sense of this place–from the tin shack slums, to the original “matchbox” houses, including the one where Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president Nelson Mandela lived (down the street from the former residence of another Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu), to modern day houses where millionaires live. It’s not all pretty but it’s a great place to get a sense of the modern South African experience.
3. Apartheid Museum: This creative and moving museum is home to a permanent exhibit tracing the origins, development and eventual demise of the Apartheid system, and also covers the early history and modern challenges of South Africa. A temporary exhibit also provided great background and insight into Nelson Mandela’s life and the people around him. I found the early history particularly interesting while 7-year-old Tate gravitated toward the video presentations such as life in prison on Robben Island and the historic rugby championship win by South Africa over New Zealand, made famous in the U.S. in the movie, Invictus, starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon.
4. Dinner in Melrose Arch: Sometimes when visiting Jo’burg, I feel a little trapped at my hotel. Certainly, we don’t recommend that our clients walk around at night in the city. But in Melrose Arch, the pedestrian friendly lanes, well-lit streets and squares and busy shopping areas allow even newbie visitors the chance to stretch their legs. We enjoyed sitting in the plaza having a glass of sauvignon blanc, while Grady (8) and Tate played tag, burning off some energy. There are many restaurants to choose from including a pizza place, seafood, Indian, steak and more.