Words: Georgina Guedes

Having a “staycation” in Joburg this December? That doesn’t mean you have to stay home with Netflix. There are loads of historical, culturally significant and fun excursions you can do within (or just outside of) your city. Here are some of the leading attractions you can visit over the holidays.

Museums

The Apartheid Museum is a thought-provoking record of the horrors of apartheid and an important destination for any South African – particularly the younger generations who might not fully understand the legacy of our dark past. But it’s a gruelling experience – right from the point of entry where people of different races are required to enter through separate doorways. Allow for about two hours, and then some time off for reflection.

Once a brutal prison for liberation fighters such as Nelson Mandela, Joe Slovo and Mahatma Gandhi, now the highest court in our nation, Constitution Hill is a physical representation of the rebirth of South Africa as a better, fairer country for all who live here. The site is made up of the Number Four museum, the Women’s Gaol museum, and the Old Fort museum, and the old Awaiting Trial building is now the Constitutional Court of South Africa – with beautiful architecture and artworks commemorating the struggle and road to democracy.

Complete the trio of apartheid museums with a visit to the Hector Pieterson Museum, just off Vilakazi Street in Soweto. The museum honours the young students who rose up against their oppressive government and many of whom lost their lives for their protest. The museum is erected near the actual spot where Pieterson was shot. At the same time, the location is one of hope and rebirth. Vilakazi Street is the only street in the world where two Nobel Prize winners – Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – lived, and it remains a vibrant centre of Sowetan lifestyle (with the unavoidable focus on tourism). Grab a traditional meal at the famous Sakhumzi restaurant and spend some time walking around and absorbing the ambiance.

The Hector Pieterson Museum and Vilakazi Street are stops on most Soweto tours – so make a day of it and respectfully experience more of this vibrant township.

Family fun

Gold Reef City is about so much more than just the rides (although those are fun too). The historical exhibits and mining town offer a rare glimpse into Joburg’s gold rush past. Don’t miss the gold pour, the trip down the mine shaft and, of course, the rides, the putt-putt, the petting zoo, the trampoline hall and the ten-pin bowling.

Here’s a secret – if you stay overnight in the Gold Reef City Theme Park Hotel, you can enjoy the historical town early the next morning before the crowds arrive.

Nature

Delve deep into the history of South Africa, which also happens to be the history of all humanity, at the Cradle of Humankind. Set aside a whole day to visit the full Unesco World Heritage Site, which incorporates the Sterkfontein caves and the Maropeng Visitors’ Centre, where you can enjoy a boat ride back through time to learn how the planet was formed, then ultimately witness the birth of humankind through its fossil record. If you want, you can add on a visit to the Lion & Safari Park as well. You can also stay overnight in the Maropeng Boutique Hotel for a fully immersive experience.

The beautifully maintained Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens offers visitors a safe walk through a green and craggy landscape to a gorgeous plummeting waterfall. Along the route are tasteful sculptures, a restaurant and an educational play area. The cliffs at the waterfall are home to a nesting pair of Verreaux’s eagles, and a winding pathway will take you to the top of the falls to get a better chance of seeing these fine birds.

Arts and culture

Don your cultural cap and head to the Wits Art Museum or WAM, which hosts an extensive exhibit of contemporary and historical African art, along with frequent exciting temporary exhibits. During December, The Art of Lithography: A Collaborative Expression of LL Editions, will be on display. While the museum is worthy of a visit in its own right, it’s worth walking around the buzzing suburb of Braamfontein and stopping in at the bars, restaurants and shops that cater to the vibrant student scene – although during December, the area should be far quieter than it is during university time.

See for yourself: