Alan and I went up to Gauteng earlier this year, and found surprisingly few suggestions of things to do. While there’s plenty to do in Gauteng, a lot of it can’t be done on a student budget… With that in mind, I’ve put together ten of my favourite things that cost us R100 or less. Quite a few are even free! We spent most of our time in Joburg, so most of the things are there, but we did spend a day in Pretoria, so I’ve included spots from there too.
Take a walk through history at Constitution Hill
We visited Constitution Hill so Alan could see the Constitutional Court, not realising that the old Number Four prison is there. You can take a guided tour through the prison and court, or just walk around the hill and enjoy the architecture of the beautiful old fort. I highly recommend going for a walk around the ramparts, for a beautiful view of the city. When you’re ready to stop for lunch, there’s also a restaurant that has the most amazing arrabbiata pasta. And no, I have no shame that I remember this trip in relation to the food I ate.
Cost: the highlights tour is R65 for adults, R30 for children and students, and R45 for pensioners. Make sure to ask about the student prices! They didn’t have signage up. Entrance to the old fort is free
Meander around Zoo Lake
Zoo Lake is a beautiful, tranquil park, that’s perfect for a family day out. Entrance to the park is free, and it’s a lovely spot for a family picnic. If you don’t feel like preparing food, there’s a Moyo conveniently situated in the park. Mom and dad can relax on the grass while kids play on all the climbing equipment. If you’ve got the energy for it, you can rent a boat and go rowing on the lake. There are plenty of ducks around, and though I was deeply saddened to find out that we shouldn’t actually feed ducks (and definitely not bread!) if you can’t resist, pack some corn, seeds, oats, or shredded greens to throw to the little guys.
Cost: entrance to the park is free, boats are R10 per adult per hour, R7,50 per child per hour. There is a minimum charge of R15 per boat
See the animals at the Johannesburg Zoo
The Johannesburg Zoo is another great family activity, just across the road from Zoo Lake (wonder how they named that). So if you’re on a time crunch, you could knock both off in one day. It’s enormous – which means the animals have amazingly large enclosures – and nothing will bring a smile to your face quite like seeing tigers frolicking in their pond.
This can get pricey if you have a family, but considering it can keep you occupied pretty much the whole day, it is actually quite reasonable.
Cost: R80 per adult, R50 per child, pensioner, or student. They don’t have a price list outside so make sure to ask about student/pensioner tickets! Alan and I both had our student cards with us, but paid full price because there’s no signage outside the zoo that shows student prices – only inside
Ride in the Hyundai hot air balloon at Mushroom Park
One of the things that amazed us about Joburg is how many beautiful parks it has, and Mushroom Park is no exception. It’s situated in the Sandton CBD, and it felt slightly surreal to be watching little ducks play (did I mention there are ducks? SO MANY DUCKS) while there’s a traffic jam five metres away. Surreal, but nice. The park itself has plenty of winding paths, bridges going over streams, and play equipment for kids – or adults. Mushroom Park is so named because it’s home to the Hyundai hot air balloon, which apparently goes up every 15 minutes. I’d assume that’s weather and interest permitting though. We were in the park for about an hour and it didn’t budge.
Cost: entrance to the park is free. Balloon rides are R95 per adult, and R65 for children under 10
Visit the Top of Africa
The Top of Africa is a lookout on the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre, the tallest building in South Africa. It has a 360 degree view of the city, which is a little awe-inspiring. It’s also fun to find all the places you’ve been to and see how they look from 223m in the air. There is a restaurant on the floor, and it’s the top story of a mall, so there’s plenty of shopping around.
Cost: R20 entrance fee
Learn the history of the Gold Rush through the Mining District Walk
Johannesburg’s Main Street has been turned into an open-air museum that celebrates the history of mining. Walking down the street, you’ll find old pieces of mining equipment, and boards that tell the story of a bygone era. If you turn down Simmon’s Street, and enter the Standard Bank building, you can visit the Ferreira Mine Stope, which is an old mine tunnel entrance. You can stand in front of the rock face the early miner’s had to break through, and there’s an exhibition of old photographs and equipment, that shows how they used to extract gold. There are signs pointing to the stope, but if you can’t easily find it, just ask security.
The centre of Joburg isn’t considered the safest place to hang out, but the area around Main Street is surrounded by the offices or mining companies and banks, so there is security everywhere. It’s always a good idea to be vigilant – no matter where you are – but just try not to look too much like a vulnerable tourist and you should be safe.
Take a break at the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens and Emmarentia Dam
This was by far one of my favourite spots in Joburg. I’ve done a full post about it, which you can read here. It’s the sort of place you could take some books or games and a picnic basket and make a day of, because there’s so much to explore. If you’re only going to pop in for an hour or so – like we did – try going at around 4 or 5. The late afternoon sun filtering lazily through the trees is magical!
Empty your wallet at Bookdealers
This is a lovely shop we found in Greenside, but there are also branches in Menlyn, Birnam, Craighall Park, and Gallo Manor. It’s so packed with bookcases that you can hardly turn around in it. That’s basically all I want out of life. They have a lovely mix of regular used books, and collectible editions, and are very reasonably priced! I think we spent about R300 and got 7 or 8 books. They have the most beautiful collections of books too, like a set of 18 Charles Dickens books that they were selling for only R350! And a set of 22 French classics that was going for R750.
Cost: if you’re anything like me, you won’t be able to leave here having spent less than R100. It is technically possible though…
Bask in the beauty of the Union Buildings
The Union Buildings themselves are obviously sealed to the public, but it’s worth a trip just to appreciate the stunning architecture and the multi-level garden. I could feel all of my manor house dreams coming true… You can also get your photo taken with a giant Nelson Mandela, which is always fun. It becomes extra beautiful at night, when the whole thing is lit up like a Christmas tree.
Get a thigh workout at the Voortrekker Monument
The Voortrekker Monument offered a lot more than I expected. When you enter the monument, you find yourself in a huge room, the walls of which are covered in relief carvings that tell the story of the Great Trek. A hole in the middle of the floor looks down onto a cenotaph bearing the inscription, “Ons vir jou, Suid-Afrika”. We kind of thought that was it. Until we found the stairs…
There are two floors below ground level filled with artifacts, and a diorama-style exhibit that shows off ox-wagons and clothing from the time. If you go all the way to the top floor (don’t be a hero – use the lift) you can walk around the edge of the building. This gives you stunning views of the city. For the truly crazy among you, there is another staircase from this point that takes you further up into the building and allows you to look down on the museum, but. Just. No.
There are also lovely gardens surrounding the monument, a gift shop, and a restaurant.
Cost: R70 for adults, R35 for students. They actually did have a fees sign outside, and I saw the student price in the nick of time!
Let me know what places I should visit next time I’m in Gauteng!