Johannesburg with kids

Visiting Johannesburg with young kids

Is is safe to visit Johannesburg with kids?

Once considered a dangerous place, only explored by the foolhardy traveller, Johannesburg (commonly known as Jo’burg or Jozi) is now a changed city that is making huge strides to defy its bad reputation. It’s vibrant, edgy and buzzing, and no one seems more excited about this change than its inhabitants who are fervently proud of their city.

Like any big city, it still has its problems with crime, and Joburg has a more troubled and traumatic recent history than most. However, in spite of all this, it’s not a city to fear, but rather to be aware. And it is absolutely safe for young families to visit. Indeed, there is so much for the kids to do, museums are world-class, the weather is great, and you will receive the warmest of welcomes.

Getting around

If you haven’t got your own wheels, the easiest way to get around is using UBER. Or even better, hire a guide/driver though JMT Tours who can tailor-make your visit. We were very impressed by our knowledgeable guide from JMT Tours (arranged by Joburg Tourism). Traffic in Joburg can get awfully congested, so avoid peak hours and allow extra time for your journeys.

Things to do in Johannesburg with kids

Acrobranch

Johannesburg with kids

Climb, balance and zipline through the trees on this awesome aerial adventure course. Kids between the age of 3 and 6 will love the specially designed Acro-twigs course, which works between 2-3m above the ground. Everyone is rigged up with a harness and superb staff are on-hand to talk your little ones through the course; learning to clip on and off the different sections whilst testing their balance, strength and agility. My boys absolutely loved it and it was their favourite activity in Joburg! There’s also a more adventurous course for older kids (and adults). Although, parents be warned by someone who had to be rescued, it’s harder than it looks!

Check the Acrobranch website for pricing and opening times (note that it’s not open on a Monday and Tuesday). Allow 2 hours for this activity. There is small cafe on site. 

The Top of Africa

Johannesburg with kids

To appreciate the full scale of Joburg, take the inconspicuous lift from the foot of the Calton Centre up to the 50th floor. Despite being built in the 1970s, it remains Africa’s tallest skyscraper (223m) and the panoramic views are impressive. The onsite cafe is not anything special and there’s not much else up there, but there is loads of space for the kids to run around playing aeroplanes in between admiring the view.

The entrance kiosk and lifts are tricky to find. Head down the escalators in the Carlton Centre mall (in the Centre of the building) in the direction of the music store and look out for the Roof of Africa logo at the head of a corridor to your left.

Check the Carlton Centre website for pricing and opening time. 

Gold Reef City Theme Park

Johannesburg with kids

This is the most exhilarating theme park in Southern Africa and you really need a full day to do it justice. For little ones, head over to the Kiddies corner to choo choo through the jungle on the safari train, spin giddy in the tea cups and ride ferocious dragons. There is also an indoor soft play area, farmyard, 4D movie theatre and the Science Exploratory.

Note the that Theme Park is closed on a Monday and Tuesday. Check their website for up-to-date entry prices. 

Soweto

Johannesburg with kids

This infamous township is where Joburg most surprised me. The energy and welcome from this sprawling township is heartwarming. This is an area which has evolved from its harrowing past into a thriving destination in it’s own right. Trendy bars line streets of enormous historical significance, whilst tourists rub shoulders with locals dancing.

Elsewhere in Joburg, homes are protected with high walls and high-tech security. Here in Soweto, the low boundary walls and shared gardens celebrate a sense of community and we felt totally safe. Indeed, Vilakazi Street is buzzing with tourists and locals alike, enjoying the bars (we had a fantastic dinner at Vuyos, loved the ‘everything goes’ vibe) and visiting Nelson Mandela’s House.

Johannesburg with kids

Whilst it may be difficult to explain to young kids the significance of Nelson Mandela’s House, it is still worth a visit. As it’s only small, you don’t need much time, and there are no images that will shock children. However, seeing the bullet holes and black petrol-bomb marks on the walls certainly brings the reality home for parents.

Wander the artisan markets

Fresh tastes from around the world, local live music, quirky art work, craft beers and playgrounds with scooters and face-painting. A visit to one of Joburg’s world-class markets is a wonderful way to spend a morning. We attended the Fourways Farmers Market, which is open on a Sunday from 9am to 4pm. Ensure you get there early as it gets very busy.

Other markets that are family oriented in Johannesburg include the Bryanston Organic Market (Thursdays and Saturdays) and the Rosebank Sunday Market (Sunday evenings).

Sterkfontein Caves (Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site)

Just an hour’s drive from Joburg, step back in time to when man first walked the earth. Examine fossils and skulls of our ancestors and learn how we evolved from apes. Then don a builders hat and venture underground, deep into the limestone caves, to see where anthropologists discovered skeletons that are over 3-million years old. Be warned that if you are tall, you may need to crawl through tunnels to get through the cave. Tours last 1 hour.

Check the website for pricing and opening times.

Maropeng Visitors Centre (Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site)

Johannesburg with kids

Keep your ticket from Sterkfontein as it allows you entry to the Maropeng Visitors Centre. This is a world-class exhibition which explores the development of humans through interactive activities and displays. The highlight for our boys was the underground boat ride through the natural elements of fire, air, water and ice. A whirling black hole returns you to the present day. Allow a full day to experience both Sterkfontein Caves and the Maropeng Visitors Centre.

Check the website for pricing and opening times.

Other things to do in Johannesburg with kids:

The above are all activities that we enjoyed through Joburg Tourism during our stay. There are other suggested things to do, although we did not visit them:

Where we stayed

We were hosted by Joburg Tourism at Melrose Place Guest House. Set in lush gardens with a swimming pool (not heated), this is a quaint bed and breakfast with a sprinkling of old-English country charm, that caters to the up-market guest.

Johannesburg with kids

We stayed in a premium double bedroom with two mattresses on the floor for the boys. There is a flat screen TV, free WiFi and you can order in food from local restaurants from the take-away menu.

The staff were (on the whole) extremely friendly and accommodating although there is an expectation that children should be exceptionally well behaved, make no mess and be quiet at all times.

You may like to see the 10 best family hotels in Johannesburg by Trip Advisor

 

Disclaimer: TraveLynn Family were fully hosted in Johannesburg by Joburg Tourism in partnership with JMT Tours. This included accommodation, meals and activities. However, as always, these are all my own words and opinions. 

 

Johannesburg with kids

Pin for later


Where would we be without our trusted Lonely Planet?

You may also like to read:
Top 18 things to do in South Africa with kids
Namibia itinerary with kids
Zambia itinerary with kids

MummyTravels

Previous

Park Inn by Radisson Heathrow REVIEWED: taking a breather before the next chapter

Next

THE ASIA INTERVIEWS – Global Health Family chats about Ninh Binh with kids

19 Comments

  1. This was so interesting to read – I’ve been to South Africa a few times but only ever flown in/out of Johannesburg and driven out without exploring. I’d love to go back with my daughter, and I’ve got to admit that it hadn’t really figured in my fantasy itinerary either, not least because I hadn’t realised how much there was to do – and because the old reputation does stick.

    The Cradle of Humankind sites would be high on my list though, really fascinating to see those, and having done some township tours before, I’d love to see Soweto as well. Am definitely pinning this, some fantastic ideas.

  2. Oh wow – I must say I still had the rather old fashioned view that Johannesburg was still a bit of a risky place to travel but your photos and words have really changed my perception.

    • Lisa (Travel Loving Family)

      Yes for me too Jenny. I’ve visited Cape Town and Port Elizabeth during a cruise but always wanted to return to see more so now you’ve completely convinced me!

  3. Visited Johannesburg last fall, and had a good time! Many nice neighbourhoods to stop by. Local advice seemed to be key. #citytripping

  4. I visited South Africa over twenty years ago, and people warned me off going to Jo’burg. I do regret that now. It sounds like such a different place from the way it was described back then. Especially Soweto! I visited some townships in Capetown, and they were nothing like this. I wonder if they’re very different now, too?

  5. I’ve never been to South Africa but I have heard so much about it from other people;. Thanks for dispelling some myths for me and highlighting all the amazing places to visit with kids.

  6. My husband works for a South African company so travels there regularly but I have always been quite wary of going with him with the kids, but you have proved me so wrong! I love the look of the artisan markets and Melrose Place looks beautiful! My boys would love Acrobranch too.

  7. Really refreshing to read this – it has certainly opened my mind to Johannesburg as a destination – and with children too. I’m one of those who had been a little concerned by its past reputation and have only ever spent a night stop over in the city. Thanks for the tips and helping to dispel the scare stories. Thanks for linking #citytripping

  8. Love this – I have always heard such bad things about Johannesburg, but after going to Cape Town and hearing much the same, I do think there is a shift in perception and I would love to take the kids here – as we so want to do Kruger!

  9. What a great trip!! I’m amazed that Uber has made it to South Africa. What a globally connected world we seem to live in. One of my students studied abroad in South Africa, and the more I see and hear of it, the more I want to visit!! #Citytripping

  10. Johannesburg was the first stop on our trip through South Africa early last year – friends of ours had lived their for a number of years and highly recommended it as a place to stop. We enjoyed it and even took our older kids to the Apartheid Museum. It gave them an excellent historical context for the remainder of our travels through the country and although some of it was too old for them to understand I recommend a quick stop there. #fearlessfamtrav

  11. Never been to South Africa and I’ve always been quite put off going while Noah is still very young, but your descriptions lead me to think I have a lot of misconceptions! I didn’t realise there was such interesting museums. I’m sure Noah would love those. I think I would prefer wandering around the artisan markets. Would love to visit sometime. Maybe sooner than later. #fearlessfamtrav

  12. I’d love to do this one day with my boy #fearlessfamtrav

  13. Having followed along on your journey thorugh Africa, have to admit that there is plenty of places I would have been wary to take a youg kid. And Johannesburg, is one of these places. I have heard firsthand accounts of people being robbed and even know someone who travelled to Johannesburg and the trip gave him serious PTSD. So reading all of this and seeing how Johannesburg seems to have changed is very interesting. #fearlessfamtrav

  14. Oh wow I would love to go the house of Nelson Mandela! This is a great list, I had no idea that there were so many wonderful kid friendly options in Johannesburg, thanks. #fearlessfamtrav

  15. Kirsty - Worldforagirl

    Wow! Your African posts continue to inspire and impress me! It’s funny but I would probably have avoided Jo’burg with kids – until I read your post. I’ve been there before and was a bit unnerved by the “fear of crime” that seems to permeate the place. However, that was over a decade ago and it sounds like the place is really changing. I love the sound of the Cradle of Humankind sites. I would love to visit them and they seem very child-friendly. Now I just need to work out how and when to get back to Africa! #fearlessfamtrav

  16. Thanks for doing such a great job at dispelling myths!!! And providing such useful advice to any traveller that was considering Joburg with their kiddos. #fearlessfamtrav

  17. I’m glad you’ve said Jo’burg is getting better in terms of safety as I would love to return to South Africa. I grew up in Krugersdorp, north of Jo’burg but have always been reluctant to return because of the safety aspect. Knowing they are trying to change that, and that there is lots to do with kids, I might change my mind. #fearlessfamtrav

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén

%d bloggers like this: