10 unusual things to do in Joburg that won’t cost a fortune

Posted on 20 February 2016

Stuck on something to do in Joburg this weekend, but don’t want to break the bank? Then you’re exactly like me and I’m taking a stand. I’ve compiled a to-do list and found there’s plenty to do in the Big Smoke. Cheers to the weekend.

Also read: 10 (more) unusual things to do around Joburg


1. City Sightseeing Joburg

Cost: R170 adults, R90 for kids.
Place: Start at the Rosebank Gautrain Station
Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

    • Climb to the top of Africa at the Carlton Centre for R15.
    • Go beer tasting at SAB World of Beer for R105.
    • Check out the James Hall Transport Museum and look out for the extremely rare collection of steam vehicles for free.
    • Go back in time with archaeology and rock art at the Origins Centre at Wits for only R37 when you show your red bus ticket.
    • Learn about South Africa’s history at the Apartheid museum for only R65 when you show your red bus ticket.
    • Walk around Constitution Hill and take in the great art next to the justice court, visit jail cells that held South African heroes and see the Old Fort built by Paul Kruger. The red bus ticket gets you a 25% discount. They also have a great new restaurant because as you’ll probably be hungry by now.

If you want to splash out, go on a hair-raising ride at Gold Reef City for R190.

Also Read:Best Go-Karting in Johannesburg: Top 10 Spots

2. Montecasino Bird Garden

Cost: R70
Place: Montecasino
Photo by Melanie van Zyl.

I don’t know why more people don’t visit these incredible bird gardens. There are beautiful walkways past countless exotic birds, an impressive cycad garden, a frog room and the longest snake in the world, plus other unusual mammals like the sloth and lemurs. My favourite though is the walk-through aviary filled with dozens of bright pink scarlet ibises and over 60 other bird species.

The bird show is really interesting too and you can feed the lorikeets on your way out which is always a scream. Literally, when they land on your head and walk up the back of your neck.

TIP: If you want to save cash, join the Montecasino Rewards Programme. You just sign up for a card in the casino section (I’m guessing they’re hoping you’ll drop some dollar while you’re at it) and use it for the cinema too because then movies are just R35.


3. Zoo Lake Swimming Pool

Cost: From R12
Place: Zoo Lake, Lower Park Drive


Original picture from Grazia blog

I haven’t visited this pool yet but I’ve had various friends take picnics there and used it as a base to celebrate birthdays. I know we’re not really in the age of using public pools anymore, but I’ve heard it’s beautifully maintained and kept looking fresh. We’ve still got some summer left, why not pay a visit and let us know?

You can five five more awesome public pools here.


4. Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

Cost: R45
Place: Roodepoort
Photo by Melanie van Zyl.
Founded in 1982 this nature reserve is perfect for your next picnic. One of South Africa’s eight botanical gardens, you can snack on sarmies beneath the waterfall, watching the Verreaux’s Eagles perched at the top with binocs, walk through the succulent rocket and fern garden or look down on the sprawling lawns from the top of the waterfall. It’s a great time to go with all the recent rains too.

If you’re that way inclined (like me, I love rocks) the self-guided JCI Geological Trail offers the opportunity to learn about the interesting geology of the area, or you can arrange a guided tour of the gardens.


5. Past Experiences Walking Tour

Cost: Budget public tours from R160
Place: Mostly Jozi Inner City
Fox Street. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.
I put this on my list of 15 incredible Southern African experiences to try in 2015 because walking through inner city Johannesburg is fascinating. Past Experiences run a variety of themed tours – from shopping to graffiti to a spicy Fordsburg tour – and I went on the Ka’Ching Tour concerned with the birth of Johannesburg as a mining and wealth-oriented town. A walk through the dawning of the City of Gold, so to speak.
Led by our incredibly knowledgeable guide, Jo Buitendach, we were taken through the old banking district past a number of public art sites, restaurants and gorgeous old buildings. I’m looking to try Jozi’s Chinatown tour next.

TIP: Pop them an email and ask about their budget tours which change from month to month.


6. The Living Room

Cost: An entrance fee of R60 is charged on Saturdays and Sundays. After 4pm on Sunday the fee increases to R80. On Monday to Friday entrance is free.
Place: Maboneng
The Living Room. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.
This awesome rooftop venue in Maboneng overlooks the gorgeous city skyline and feels like you’re sitting in a nursery – hence its name, The Living Room. Eat tapas surrounded by an abundance of plants and sip on cocktails as the sun goes down.

The Living Room - Melanie van Zyl-2
Keep an eye on The Living Room Facebook page for events like the hosted DJs on some Sundays.


7. Melville Koppies

Cost: R50
Place: Melville. Only open on Sundays.

Original photo from Suds344

Original photo from Suds344.

I’m ashamed to say I’ve lived in Johannesburg my whole life and never been to Meville Koppies. A 58-year old Nature Reserve and Joburg Heritage site right on our doorstep, the last of Johannesburg’s remaining ridges according to Gauteng Tourism and I’ve been too lazy to investigate. Well, enough is enough.

Over 200 bird species have been recorded in the reserve and a variety of small mammals such as slender  mongooses, civets, genets and hedgehogs. Hedgehogs have to be the sweetest animals and we have them right here in Joburg. Melville Koppies Central has controlled access only, so you can either go on a Sunday group guided tour or Sunday group hike of the Reserve  for R50 per adult and R30 per child who must be over six. Details of these tours and hikes can be found on calendar/map of www.mk.org.za or phone for special booked groups 011 482 4797.


Author’s aside: I’ve yet to visit Melville Koppies to make up my own mind about the place, but I am definitely still going to go. After reading some of the comments below it’ll more than likely be with a group. Everyone seems to have their own experience of the koppies, ranging from hiker’s paradise to absolute no-go and I had a scroll through TripAdvisor which confirms this. Although he probably didn’t have a funny experience, I loved this tongue in cheek review titled ’Test your street survival skills‘. The best characteristic a traveller can have is a sense of humour.


8. Mountain Sanctuary Park

Cost: R115 an adult and R45 a car
Place: Mountain Sanctuary Park
Photo by Melanie van Zyl.
One of the best ways to while away a day is swimming in the natural rock pools at Mountain Sanctuary Park in the mountainous Magaliesberg area. The 1000-hectare property, which has been open to the public for 37 years, is renowned for its hiking trails and is a popular day visit destination for nature-hungry Gautengers needing fresh air. The closest set of natural pools is just a 20-minute walk and the waters flow generously after summer rains.


Early morning walks overlooking the valley at Mountain Sanctuary Park. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

Early morning walks overlooking the valley at Mountain Sanctuary Park. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.


View from the Slide pools. Image by Teagan Cunniffe

View from the Slide pools. Photo by Teagan Cunniffe.

There’s also a well-kept pool and grassy picnic area with a viewing deck if you want to braai. Book in advance because the park limits the number of day visitors.

If you’d like to stay for the weekend it’ll set you back about R80 bucks a person a night to camp and you can check out our feature on the best weekend breaks around Joburg.


9. Maboneng Precinct

Cost: Free
Place: Maboneng
A Sunday visit to Maboneng. Photo by Melanie van Zyl.
I specify Sunday because this is when the Market on Main comes alive, but there’s plenty to do in this renewed inner city area that’s brimming with the trendy on any other day.

Visit Africa’s first design museum MOAD, take in a movie (that you won’t find screening at Ster Kinekor) at The Bioscope or sip a cocktail at The Living Room (see number 6). There are plenty of restaurants to check out if the market is a bit full and a number of coffee stands to get your fix. You can even swim at the newly opened Poolside Cafe.

Walk around this vibrant part of town and take it all in. It’s quite something.


10. Hennops Hiking Trail

Cost: R60
Place: Hennops River (approx. 45-minutes from Sandton)
Photo by Melanie van Zyl.
I’ve already ticked this one off the list and absolutely loved spending a day walking in nature on the Hennops Hiking Trail.

There are two main hikes, plus a shorter trail suitable for kids with plenty of scenery to soak up and a swimming pool to splash in post-hike. The range of landscapes is enough to get the soul stirring – from lush river-side gorges to rocky plateaus, giant aloes the size of small trees and easygoing grassland strolls it’s a beautiful day out and not too difficult. You can read the original Hennops Hiking Trail blog and find more photographs there.
As Getaway’s gear editor I’m always on the look out for new travel gadgets to test and review. If there’s anything you think I should check out, please let me know. I’m also blogging at melanievanzyl.com where you can follow my travels, photography and updates on all things Joburg.

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