With a sprawling urban area that stretches for miles, Johannesburg is the most populated city in South Africa, despite not being one of the country’s three capital cities.
Johannesburg is often avoided by tourists visiting South Africa because of its notorious association with crime, but this is often very much overstated, and no worse than anywhere else in the country.
Because of this though, Johannesburg then has often been overlooked as a travel destination, when the reality is that this is the cultural heart of modern South Africa.
Johannesburg is found in the northeast of South Africa, and unusually for such a large city, once the extensive suburbs end, there is nothing but open plains and beautiful countryside.
It’s the perfect base from which to explore the many national parks and animal reserves that are found in the area, and the ideal place to see the best of Africa’s most iconic animals in their natural habitats.
Down the road is the historic city of Pretoria, where you can learn more about the divided history of this country, while not far away, Sun City offers amusement and water parks for those looking for a different kind of escape from Johannesburg.
There are many great day trips to be done from Johannesburg, and here are the best.
1. Kruger National Park
Kruger National Park is perhaps South Africa’s most famous national park.
It’s also one of South Africa’s largest, covering an enormous area of almost 8000 square miles, in the northeast of South Africa.
It’s an extensive area, but from Johannesburg, many companies offer day tours to the fringes of the park where you can get a taste for the wild nature of the land and see the many animals that are protected here, before returning to the city at night.
At Kruger National Park it’s possible to see all the Big Five game animals.
Within the boundaries can be found lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalo and leopards, and with an experienced guide, you may be lucky enough to see all five in one day.
You may also find yourself wanting to return for more than just one day trip to this magnificent expanse of African landscape and wildlife because there are simply so many opportunities to be left in awe at Kruger National Park.
Recommended tour: Full-Day Kruger National Park Safari from Johannesburg
Soweto is found on the outskirts of Johannesburg’s city centre, and although these days it has been incorporated into the city itself, for a long time this area was very, very separate.
It makes for an incredibly interesting day trip, as Soweto was the largest township in South Africa during the dark days of Apartheid.
The name of the area means simply South Western Townships, and a tour here will give you a glimpse into the other side of Johannesburg.
You can learn about the turbulent history of the township but also experience the vibrant lifestyles that are lived here.
Visit the Apartheid Museum to learn more about South Africa’s policies of racial division, pay a visit to the Nelson Mandela Home to be inspired and to see how change was brought about in the country, and finally, pay your respects at the site of the Soweto Uprising.
It’s an intriguing place, and one of the best day trips to make from Johannesburg.
Available tour: Johannesburg and Soweto Apartheid Full Day Tour
3. Sun City
After a heavy dose of history and politics in Soweto, you may be looking for something a little bit more light-hearted and relaxing when it comes to taking your next day trip from Johannesburg.
Sun City is essentially one big holiday resort, and South Africa’s most famous getaway is an excellent place to visit if you are looking for relaxation, fun and amusement parks.
Sun City is found a two-hour drive away, and while there are plenty of hotels here where you could stay the night, it makes for a great day trip too.
Here you can find everything from spas and water parks to bars and even a casino.
There’s not much to do apart from to have fun and enjoy the delights of Sun City.
Available tour: Pilanesberg, Sun City and Valley of the Waves Waterpark
4. Pilanesberg National Park
Pilanesberg National Park is located right next to Sun City, but it’s an entirely different world to explore.
Being so close to Johannesburg, Pilanesberg makes for an excellent place to visit to experience the wild nature of South Africa.
The park takes its name from an enormous mountain, formed from a now extinct volcano, but most people will visit here for the chance to see the huge variety of wildlife that lives within the boundaries.
You can spot all of the Big Five animals here, as well as much, much more, including antelope and wild dogs.
The volcanic landscape is simply breathtaking, and to get a real overview of the scenery, many people will even choose to ascend to the skies in a hot air balloon for magnificent vistas over Pilanesberg National Park.
Pretoria is found just an hour to the north of Johannesburg’s city centre and forms one of South Africa’s three capital cities, being home to many of the country’s administrative offices.
There are many beautiful pieces of architecture to see in the city, and a history very much connected not only to the Afrikaaners who founded the city, but also the nomadic tribes who roamed the plains of the area before them.
Visit the impressive Voortrekker Monument, a grand legacy built in remembrance of the hardships faced by Afrikaaners forced to move north to escape British colonisation, or visit the Union Building, the Nelson Mandela statue and many of the interesting national museums.
Magaliesberg is a formidable mountain range found to the north of Johannesburg and an area that makes for a wild escape from the confines of the city.
The scenery is absolutely beautiful.
It’s rugged, mountainous and full of wildlife, and there are plenty of opportunities to explore the nature, to hike to waterfalls and to climb peaks.
In the area too, can be found many farms and wildlife reserves, giving visitors the opportunity to explore local life in this secluded part of South Africa.
Rustenburg is a city located two hours away from Johannesburg, and it’s found in beautiful surroundings in the foothills of the Magaliesberg mountains.
It’s really the gateway to exploring the entire region, but the city itself offers visitors a look at Afrikaaner history in the area.
There is a great museum explaining the city’s importance, and there are many battlefields nearby which were the scene of fighting during the Boer War.
Also found in the foothills of the Magaliesburg mountain range is the town of Hartbeespoort.
This lakeside community is a charming place to visit and is the site of the Hartbeespoort Dam.
It’s an excellent place to wind down and to enjoy boating trips or cruises across the scenic lake.
9. Maropeng Visitor Centre
The Maropeng Visitor Centre, found within the Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an incredible learning centre and exhibition that’s located close to Magaliesburg.
The centre showcases the rich discoveries that have been made in the area by archaeologists uncovering human fossils and remains and piecing together the early years of humanity.
It’s a great insight into the importance of Southern Africa to the evolution of humankind as a whole.
10. Sterkfontein Caves
The Sterkfontein Caves are located close to the Maropeng Visitor Centre and can be visited on the same day trip from Johannesburg.
The caves are part of the broader Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site because it was within these caves that many of the most profound discoveries have been made, including the unearthing of many, very early human species.
Krugersdorp is predominantly a mining town, built to take advantage of the huge deposits of gold and minerals that were discovered in the Witwatersrand area close to Johannesburg.
The town itself may not have much to offer to a tourist, but the surrounding area is rich in beautiful scenery and many underground cave systems that can be explored.
A favourite place to visit is the aptly named Wonder Cave, as well as the local Lion and Rhino Reserve, which helps to protect the local wildlife.
Cullinan is another mining town found close to Johannesburg, and this town is very much of interest to those wanting to learn more about the history of the region, and the mining opportunities that brought many settlers here.
Many of the buildings here date back to the early 20th century, when the town was first established, and walking through the streets is almost like taking a step back in time.
13. Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve
The Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve is an unusual nature reserve, in that it is located just a few miles away from the Johannesburg city centre.
Being so close to the city, it’s surprising to find so much wildlife and beautiful scenery right on the doorstep, and it makes for an easy escape, and a great look at the nature of the region.
Skeerport is a quaint little town that’s found close to the Hartebeesport Dam, not far from Johannesburg.
This small town is set in glorious surroundings and is known as one of the area’s best hot air ballooning spots.
Take to the skies and enjoy the incredible scenery from the air.
Bloemfontein makes for a long day trip from Johannesburg, but it’s worth the drive to see South Africa’s Judicial Capital in all its glory.
There are a great many interesting museums to discover, including a detailed Boer War Museum, while the city’s waterfront is a charming and colourful place to enjoy during the day.