If you’re heading to South Africa, chances are you’ll fly into Johannesburg. Modern Johannesburg is a sprawling, fast-paced city that’s beginning to shrug off its troubled past to emerge as a cultural hub. Rough Guides even ranked Johannesburg as the best city in the world to visit in 2015.
If you’re not planning a safari (or even if you are), the Johannesburg Zoo makes a pleasant day out for kids. More than 250 species can be found at the zoo, including a rare white lion. If the children become tired, you can rest your feet and take a ferry around the zoo, or have a picnic on the expansive lawn.
For a more safari-like experience, head to Lion Park. It’s not the same as seeing lions in their natural habitat, but this drive-through safari park offers some unique experiences, such as feeding giraffes or interacting with lion cubs. Tip: visit the park during the early evening when the lions are more active.
When the bustle and energy of the city becomes too much, the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens and Emmarentia Dam offer a welcome respite. The gardens are comprised of a massive parkland, including the dam and lake, a 10-hectare rose and herb garden, and kilometres of trails.
Johannesburg was originally a gold rush town, known in the 1880s as the City of Gold. Gold Reef City is an amusement park, loosely based on the city’s early history, and filled with thrilling rides and Victorian-style shops and cafes. After the kids have their fill of the rides, the adults can play across the road at the Gold Reef Village Casino.
For more kid-friendly animal fun, the Montecasino Bird Gardens are home to birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Kids will love feeding the rainbow lorikeets from their hands and watching the Flight of Fantasy bird show (included in your ticket).
Fun and learning combine at the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, the largest science centre in South Africa. Watch science come to life through live experiments and exhibits covering everything from the science of soccer to how electricity works.
Another fun, interactive museum is the Origins Centre which explores human evolution over the past 100,000 years. The focus is on rock art, the oldest of which is in southern Africa. This is a great museum for children, as it’s filled with interactive exhibits. After a visit, the museum cafe is a good place for a light meal.
The Apartheid Museum covers the history of the system of racial segregation under the Afrikaner government from 1948 to 1991. Apartheid was a brutal and upsetting period of South African history. While the museum doesn’t gloss over this, the exhibits end with the end of apartheid and the democratic elections in 1994, leaving visitors with an uplifting reminder of the power of fighting for what’s right.
If you have a military buff in your group, you won’t want to miss the South African National Museum of Military History. The museum focuses on South Africa’s role in 20th-century wars, particularly World War II, and is filled with fighter jets, tanks and artillery. It’s right next to the Johannesburg Zoo, so you can combine the two in one trip.
After a long day of exploring, escape the heat inside the Johannesburg Art Gallery, opened in 1915. The gold-fueled boom of the early 1900s is evident in the quality of the pieces, including works by Picasso, Monet and Rodin.
Try and spot some of Africa’s famous wildlife, learn about the local cultures and visit cities such as Johannesburg on a 15-day RACQ-escorted South Africa, Victoria Falls & Botswana Tour from $9969pp twin share. Visit RACQ Travel or contact one of our friendly travel consultants on 1300 096 166.
Image credits include: Alan Wilson.