Fun things to do in Johannesburg

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Most Viewed Things to Do in Johannesburg

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    Retail therapy at the Rosebank Rooftop Market

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Sep 20, 2013

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    One of the parking levels at the Rosebank Mall (part of the Rosebank pedestrian precinct) is converted into a market every Sunday morning from about 09:00 on - much nicer than the setting might suggest! This has become somewhat of an institution for locals and tourists alike, and there are now a couple of hundred stalls selling food, crafts/curios and the usual flea market fare. I believe that the proof of a good flea market is whether locals frequent it, and in this case, the majority of customers are Johannesburgers looking for something slightly out of the ordinary.

    Bear in mind that there are craftsmen from all over sub-Saharan African represented at this market - this shouldn't deter you, but I suggest that you ask where it comes from just so that you understand its background and significance (most craftsmen will be delighted to explain the context to their work). Outstanding wood carving is likely to be Malawian, and the bulk of the better quality stone carving is Zimbabwean. Bronze sculptures and dark wood masks are likely to be from West Africa.

    The quality of goods is generally excellent (though, like any market, there is some imported crap from the far East), and the prices are negotiable. By all means bargain, but please just be reasonable, as I find it is offensive to see pennypinching tourists trying to batter vendors into submission over a couple of rand even though they've been offered a 'special price' well below the opening value (my personal take on the issue is that expecting a discount of more than 40-50% below the opening price is unrealistic). Usually you have a stronger bargaining position if you are buying more than one item (in which case, jocularly ask for a "discount on volume").

    Bear in mind that many countries (Australia being a particular case in point) are very strict about the import of animal-based goods: this includes food (including biltong - even if, in my very subjective opinion it looks and tastes like salty shoe leather, although my kids love it in their lunch boxes!) and curios made out of wood, animal hides, feathers, ostrich egg or horn/warthog ivory. The local beadwork is a particularly good buy for people concerned about their luggage allowance as it is very light - look for quirky items such as beaded Christmas tree decorations and beaded bracelets made of safety pins.

    In addition to the excellent specialist food section (which is ideal for snacking as you browse), there are many conventional shops in the Mall itself which are open on Sundays, as well a plethora of restaurants to which you can retire to with your loot once you've shopped until you drop (see my restaurant tips on Cranks and Anat)!

    Update (September 2013): Due to a ridiculously counterproductive tiff between the Rosebank Mall management and the company that coordinates the flea market, both sides have managed to settle on a lose/lose solution and have cut off their noses to spite their respective faces. As a result, the Flea Market is no longer held in Rosebank, and as of the beginning of September 2013, has relocated to the deeply suburban and rather unlovely Norwood Mall. A ridiculous outcome that isn't to anyone's benefit, and is a disservice to both local and out of town tourists. If you'd still like to go, then you'll need to arrange a taxi (ask to be taken to the Norwood Pick'n'Pay, which is only a 10 minute drive from Rosebank or Sandton).

    Polish sausage stall at the Rosebank Flea Market Shona (Zimbabwean) carvings, Rosebank Flea Market Wood carvings, Rosebank Flea Market Fast food stall, Rosebank Flea market
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    James Kitching museum of mammal-like reptiles

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 23, 2012

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    This tiny, obscure and dog-eared museum in the Bernard Price Institute (BPI) of Paeleontology on the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand ('Wits') is one that that most Johannesburgers - let alone tourists - don't know about! This is a crying shame, since it documents arguably South Africa's greatest claim to prehistoric fame.

    Whereas South and East Africa bicker about which has made the most significant contribution to the understanding our our early hominid ancestors - hence our northern neighbour's grumpiness at South Africa promoting itself as the 'Cradle of Humankind' - there is absolutely no dispute about the fact that South Africa boasts by far the most complete fossil record of mammal-like reptiles anywhere in the world. This is mostly because much of inland South Africa was a continent at a time when most of the rest of the current continents were submerged, and these Karoo-age rocks have been subsequently preserved and exposed to yield this rich and unique fossil record. Mammal-like reptiles are (often large) vertebrates who represent an evolutionary 'cul de sac', after which God backtracked and went on to experiment with other prototypes (such as dinosaurs, mammals and hominids). Of their time, they were hugely successful and influential life forms, but sadly, they have been largely forgotten and overshadowed by their more glamorous dinosaurian successors.

    Unsurprisingly, many of the more influential researchers in this field have been from Wits (including the monumentally influential James Kitching, after whom the museum is named, and the current head of the BPI, who is a third generation paleontologist), and it is this small band of dedicated eccentrics who have pulled this small but fascinating museum together with huge enthusiasm but next-to-no resources. So, forgive the amateurish posters, overlook the dingy decor, and instead concentrate on the amazing story that they have to tell. In addition to posters and fossils (some of which you can touch), there are about half a dozen life size fibreglass reconstructions of dicynodonts, listrosaurs and the like, and a couple of posters on some Southern African dinosaurs (such as Lesothosaurus).

    If you view travel as an opportunity to experience things that are unique to a place or culture, then visiting this museum and gaining even a passing understanding of an era of prehistory that is pretty well unknown elsewhere should appeal to you. Whilst you're on campus, it's probably also worth taking in the infinitely better resourced Origins Centre, which focuses on the last 200,000 years of hominid history, although personally I find the mammal-like reptiles a whole lot more interesting ...

    Don't even think of asking the security guards at the entrance to campus for directions to the museum, as it is so obscure that they won't have heard of it - rather ask for the BPI! You have to ring the bell for reception at the security gate to the BPI building and ask to be admitted to the museum. There is no entrance fee, and you wander around the museum (essentially two rooms) unaccompanied. Children are eagerly welcomed (my kids adore it - particularly the poor beast called Lunch who is being feasted on by a larger predator, nicknamed Fang), and visitors are so few and far between that any staff you encounter will probably be delighted to answer your questions. Since I wrote this tip, the BPI building has been renovated and I haven't visited since this work was completed - the museum is certainly still accessible, but I'm not sure whether it is still possible to visit the prep lab where the technicians are preparing fossils for research/display (still, it can do no harm asking).

    Hiding from the scary mammal like reptile! Small Daughter greets the listrosaur Just in case you ever wondered about Lesothosaurus
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    Ballooning over the suburb

    by junecorlett Written Apr 8, 2009

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    The ABSA balloon is placed outside of the Bird Park at Montecasino.
    This balloon does not move over the suburbs, it takes you 120 meters high for a great view over the suburbs.
    It operates every day as well as at night.
    Cost is R70 for adults and R45 for children. The balloon stays airborne for about 20 minutes.
    Very safe.

    Balloon
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    The Kruger National Park

    by cokes Written Nov 11, 2004

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    The Kruger National Park, in South Africa is best known for the 'Big Five' - Lion, Elephant, Leopard, Buffalo and Rhino - and is truly the flagship of Africa and South Africa's game reserves. With a range of accommodation and game drive safaris to suit all preferences and budgets, the Kruger National Park offers, you, the visitor, an exceptional experience in Africa at its best.

    Game viewing at Kruger National Park has been described as a 'spine-tingling experience'. Watch in absolute awe and wonder as the Lion stalks its prey, or at the Cheetah chasing fleeing antelope at breathtaking speed. You might come across the Park's big and tall, the gigantic and stately Elephant, and gaze at the dizzying height of Africa's tallest creature, the Giraffe.

    Kruger National Park is the place to go if you want to combine luxury with wildlife. Indulge in the sterling service and hospitality offered at the Park's luxurious lodges. There are few other places where you can enjoy a five-star meal while watching game from the comfort of your verandah.

    Be more in touch with nature, stay at one of the various bush camps, camping / caravan sites, cottages, furnished safari tents, thatched rondavels and bungalows available within the Park.

    The Kruger National Park is very big , well when I mean big , I mean as big as small countries. It borders Mozambique , Zambia & Zimbabwe .So there is absolutely lots to see.

    This is must see if you wanna get the true feeling of safari.

    Lions Feeding
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    Maropeng/Cradle of Humankind: good but not great

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Dec 19, 2011

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    The Maropeng Centre at the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (apologies for the genderless political correctness, but it's not my call!) was a very welcome development, as up until very recently, there was no decent interpretive centre to assist visitors in understanding one of the most significant hominid sites in the world.

    Maropeng aims to educate visitors on South Africa's astonishing hominid (ie. early human) heritage - most of the material relates to the amazing fossil record that has been excavated from caves across the Cradle of Humankind site, but reference is also made to other hominid sites of significance (for example, the Taung site).

    The Maropeng Centre is constructed partly underground, and the portion that is located on surface is covered by an earth-covered tumulus structure on one side - the other side (which links to the restaurant) is an unlovely stepped concrete structure reminscent of the sort of architecture that was abandoned by European urban planners after the 1970s. The design is certainly innovative, but it was apparently hugely expensive and very problematic to construct, and I don't really see the point as I am not aware of any Southern African tradition of tumulus construction. Personally if I'd been the assessment officer for the Environmental Impact Assessment, I'd have sent them back to the drawing board on the basis of unacceptable visual impact, but that's another story ...

    Maropeng was designed as a state-of-the-art interactive centre and aims to be family friendly, with lots of buttons to push and levers to jerk. This is a good thing: however, the original designer clearly underestimated the destructive power of the average visitor, as when I visited only a couple of years after it opened, several of the displays had already been damaged (not sure if these have been repaired yet, as I haven't felt the need to go back, but probably should do now that my kids are older).

    The exhibits are interesting and will certainly keep you happily occupied for a couple of hours - it is also a good place to retreat when the weather is either wet or extremely hot (this is significant as many of South Africa's tourist attractions are outdoors, and 'bad weather' fallback options are often rather limited). However, to my mind, the curators focus rather too generically on human evolution, and place too little emphasis on interpreting the huge significance of the Cradle of Humankind to our understanding of human evolution (which I believe is a missed opportunity).

    Be warned that Maropeng can get very busy over weekends and public/school holidays, so try and schedule your visit away from these times (or, failing that, visit early morning or late afternoon). Congestion is exacerbated by the fact that visitors have to enter the Centre by floating through a tunnel on a little boat. This passage is dark and cool and there are loud sound effects and some flashing lights (which can upset small children) and you will probably get splashed. I can only imagine that this rather bizarre experience is meant to mimic the creative forces (earth, wind, fire and water) that gave rise to the earth as we now know it: personally I think that it is pretentious and detracts - rather than adds - to the experience. Each boat only seats 4 or 5 people, which can create major delays if there are a lot of visitors (or you're unlucky enough to arrive at the same time as a large group).

    One highlight is a fake cave where children (and their parents) can dig in the sand for bones. This keeps them happily occupied for hours, and is also out of the sun - this is important, as the Cradle of Humankind is very exposed savanna with few trees, so it's very easy to get sunburned, even in winter. (The designers deserve credit for the fact that a lot of indigenous trees have been planted along the walkways between the car parks, restaurant/curio shop area and the Centre itself to provide welcome shade).

    There is a restaurant at Maropeng which is apparently quite acceptable, and there are also several fast food outlets. A better dining option might be to visit one of the many small hotels/guest houses that have sprung up in the surrounding area, many of which pride themselves on their cuisine, such as the wonderful Kloofzicht Lodge.

    There are several archeological sites in this area, and it is easy for visitors to get confused between them, as the signage isn't always great, and the tourist literature that I've seen does a poor job of describing how these attractions fit together. The Sterkfontein caves (at which many of the most significant fossil finds were made) also form part of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage area, but have a separate entrance. It is possible to visit these caves, but be warned that this is not advisable for the very young or those with limited mobility. I can also highly recommend the fossil picnic that takes place at Sterkfontein once a month - simply one of the best family outings that Johannesburg has to offer.

    If you are interested in the more recent evolution of hominids in Southern Africa, it's probably worth adding the Origins Centre at Wits to your itinerary.

    Small Daughter flees tumulus structure at Maropeng Kiddies
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    An outing for adults and little ones.

    by junecorlett Written Feb 6, 2009

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    So often families are wanting to get out with their children or grandchildren.
    Lifestyle Garden Center is one of my favourite places to take the little ones.
    The children have an amazing play park, including a toy train ride and pony rides.
    It is almost like a miniature fun fare. Staff are provided to watch over the children while the adults can relax with either a good hearty breakfast or lunch. The childrens menu is also available.
    You can stroll through the garden shop, or visit the various craft shops.

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    Monte Casino - not just a casino!

    by junecorlett Written Mar 31, 2009

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    Venetian architecture - copied, even the indoor trees are fake. It all looks stunning, as you have no daylight inside.

    Monte Casino - situated in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg has a variety of "things to do".
    Whether it be the movies, bird park, restaurants, the theatre or shopping.
    I have some tips for restaurants, theatre's and movies under "things to do" and "restaurants"

    The Palazzo Hotel is situated next door to Monte. 5 Star

    Monte Casino
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    One of many Safari Places

    by cokes Updated May 21, 2006

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    I recently went away on Safari to a place called the Heia Safari Lodge.

    In my opinion if you are looking for a relaxing weekend away , this is one of many places to go to. Its very close to JNB more or less about a half hours drive.

    The thing that I liked most about this place is that the Zebra`s , Giraffe`s ,Springboks and other animals roams free all around you. Everybody just minding there own business. They got a nice buffet section and the food is quiet nice offering a large variety.

    Well I happen to go here for a second time , in July 2005 a year after my last visit. Well the 1st time I did`nt get to see much of the big five but yet saw alot of other animals. This time around I really enjoyed my time there. The game drive was very nice as I got a real closeup to the White Rhino`s , Buffalo`s and many other animals. Honestly I really enjoy the 1h30 min game drive.

    This is one place that I definitely want to return to. They just completed building a Dam Wall which took 4 years to build and they getting ready to create the dam close to the lodge. They clearing some tree`s and so forth before they can flood the area. I`m looking forward to the new look in the future and defintely coming back.

    Be sure to checkout my Travelogue to get more insight on my trip here.

    Pool Area Me with Mr Giraffe Eating on my Roof Me with my Buddies the Zebra`s We here to join these guys for a drink This is the same guy who was eating on my roof....
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    The very adult Origins Centre

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Dec 19, 2011

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    The Origins Centre is a fairly new museum on the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand (more commonly known as 'Wits') in Braamfontein on the northern edge of the CBD.

    It is best viewed as a 'sister' museum to the Maropeng Centre at the Cradle of Humankind - taking up the story where Maropeng leaves off - and fills a long standing gap in addressing the prehistory of a region that plays a pivotal role in understanding the development of our recent ancestors (200,000ya onwards).

    It is a beautifully designed facility, and there has apparently been no expense spared in creating a world class exhibition space. There is excellent use of audio visual material and it's a very tranquil space despite its proximity to the bustling, chaotic CBD - there is also a reasonably good cafe.

    This is essentially an ethnographic museum, with an emphasis on rock art and other artifacts. It is a very 'grown up' museum, and my experience with a small child (3 at the time) was that she quickly got bored because many of the exhibits are fairly cryptic (eg. scratchings on rock fragments) and there is relatively little 'dramatic' material to hold a little one's attention. Many of the displays are quite 'wordy' and either the concepts being explained are extremely complex or too little effort has been made to translate the academic text into a form that is accessible to the interested 'layman'. I must confess that although I love museums and consider myself a moderately sophisticated and well informed 'museum goer', I found this one quite hard work.

    Sensitive visitors may find the video of San (Bushmen) hunting an eland to be disturbing.

    If you have a choice of visiting one museum to understand South Africa's stunning hominid history, I would suggest that Maropeng is a better choice. If you have a particular interest in things ethnographic, then this one is definitely for you, and you could happily spend a morning or an afternoon here!

    Whilst you are on campus, don't miss the small and virtually unknown James Kitching museum of mammal-like reptiles in the Bernard Price Institute of Paleontology (see my review elsewhere), which is motheaten but fascinating and documents an evolutionary cul de sac that is virtually overlooked.

    Although the Centre is on the university campus, access is not particularly problematic (though you will have to pass through security on Yale Road). However, be warned that parking on campus is horrendous during term time (check the website www.wits.ac.za to find out when this is), so over these periods, try to go in the afternoon when there are fewer lectures and parking is less problematic.

    Origins Centre
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    Main Theatre at Montecasino

    by junecorlett Written Mar 31, 2009

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    This theatre was built about 2 years ago, seating up to 1800 people.
    Shows like "The Lion King" ( a local production) with a true South African flavour, "Chicago", "Beauty and the Beast", "High School Musical" (currently running) and "Cats" which opens in September.

    Main Theatre Montecasino
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    Playground and Pizza

    by junecorlett Written Feb 6, 2009

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    Yet again, something to do with the smaller children.
    "Papachinos". Your little ones can decorate and watch their pizzas in the oven. Enjoy a DVD whilst the pizza is in the oven, or play in the playground.
    Lots of activities for the children, and a great menu for both adults and children.
    A full bar as well.

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    Lesedi Cultural Village

    by dejavu2gb Updated Jan 27, 2006

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    If you are visiting Johannesburg, and you feel like a very unique African experience, then you should put Lesedi Cultural Village in your "to do" list.
    As a South African living in the UK I went to SA with some of my UK friends, and this was recommended to us and I was not sure of it at first, but after visiting it I just realised what a fantastic experience it really is.
    Lesedi is located about an hours drive outside Johannesburg and set in the gorgeous bushveld in the hills.
    Its very much of a themed event as you get placed with a tribe on arrival, and you will live amongst then in huts that resemble their homes. You will experience the vibrant and very colourful traditions of the Basotho, Ndebele, Pedi, Xhosa and Zulu. You are guided by a local tribesman and are told on what the traditions of the tribes are that are represented at Lesedi, learning very instersing facts.
    Then after everyone has had their educational insight you will be treated to traditional dancing and singing, followed by a supper at the restaurant where you can sample the many different tastes on offer.
    Stay for the night and enjoy this truly unforgettable experience, you will not regret it.

    Lesedi Cultural Village Lesedi Cultural Village Some of the accommodation at Lesedi Traditional Huts at Lesedi
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    RSME model railway-fun for kids & not-so-grownups!

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Apr 12, 2011

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    The Rand Society of Model Engineers' model railway in Florida is a very unlikely tourist attraction, being located beyond the Boerewors Curtain on the edge of the predominantly Afrikaans West Rand - mention to a (usually English-speaking) Northern Suburbanite that you're going to that part of the world, and they will probably ask whether you need a passport!

    Nevertheless, the RSME is a wonderful low-key place that is immense fun for kids and not-so-grownups.

    It comprises a total running track of almost 1.6km, and is lovingly maintained by a team of enthusiasts. It is even possible to bring your own loco provided that it meets their specifications - but that's straying too far into deep nerd-dom for me!

    The railway is open for Club Day on the first Sunday of each month 09:00 to 18:00 (except during December when the trains do not operate) and for Family Day on the third Sunday of each month 09:00 to 18:00 (all year round) - check the website for more details.

    The surrounding grounds are pretty, so it's nice to take a picnic.

    The 'station' has basic catering facilities and the railway can also be hired for private functions (a favourite venue for birthday parties, and we hold our annual Easter egg hunt here every year).

    Full steam ahead!
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    People watching at Zoo Lake

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Dec 19, 2011

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    Zoo Lake is probably the safest and best used of Johannesburg's parks, and is a good place to 'people watch'. It is located next to the Johannesburg Zoo (not in it) and is used by residents from the surrounding wealthy suburbs of Saxonwold, Westcliff and Parktown to walk dogs and jog.

    It has a complete change of character on Sunday afternoons, when seemingly the entire population of Fordburg (a high density Indian enclave just to the west of the CBD) decamps en masse to Zoo Lake. Extended families share exotic looking picnics, and enjoy multigenerational games of cricket, and I daresay a fair few arranged marriages can trace their origins back to these Sunday afternoons. It's fun to watch, and heartening to see that there are at least some parks where the community has refused to be intimidated by crime.

    For families, there is also a wonderful jungle gym which was constructed during 2009 - this was part of an initiative sponsored by Simba Chips (the snack manufacturers) and is probably some of the best money they ever spent in terms of fostering goodwill among their consumer base!

    On the first weekend of the month, Zoo Lake hosts the Artists Under the Sun art exhibiton.

    Zoo Lake is pretty safe - during the day, probably the only real risk is the odd pickpocket. I would however suggest that you stay clear once night falls.

    If you're not organised enough to have brought your own picnic, then there are a couple of decent eating options. One is Moyo, offering Afro-cuisine - personally I think that it's overpriced and overrated, but the setting is wonderful, and it is also more family friendly than the Melrose Arch branch. The second is the fantastic High Tea at the nearby Westcliff Hotel (but make sure you book ahead, as space is extremely limited). The other option is the shabby but wonderful Zoo Lake Bowling Club - but be prepared for crowds and a wait (treat this as your excuse to just order a beer or two in the interim)!

    Zoo Lake View from Zoo Lake to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital Zoo Lake fountain on a freezing morning Indian family picnicking on Sunday, Zoo Lake Sunday afternoon at Zoo Lake
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    Open air concerts at Emmarentia Dam

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Apr 12, 2011

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    In summer, Old Mutual sponsors a series of open air concerts at Kirstenbosch in Cape Town and Emmarentia in Johannesburg. The Kirstenbosch programme seems to be better structured than the Emmarentia one, and it is not all that easy to get information on the latter, which is probably why it isn't better known - we often complain that there aren't such events in Jo'burg, but on this count, it seems that the publicity (except for major acts such as Elton John) is just too low key to make most people's radars. Nonetheless, it is worth persevering, as it's a lovely, relaxing thing thing to park off on the grass with a picnic on a summer afternoon and watch live music, and it's safe for the kids to run around and amuse themselves. I have included a link to the Old Mutual Encounters website below, and it's also worth checking the Computicket website (details also listed).

    Prices vary depending on who's playing. Elton John was here in March and tickets were R500 (about $80) - however, for local acts, the price seldom exceeds R100, and kids under 12 get in free. For local acts, it is possible to pay entry at the gate, although obviously this isn't possible for major international artists. The logistics have been well catered for, with good security and lots of portaloos and stalls where you can buy fast food and alcohol, but it seems as though the concert site has been selected on the basis of being at the maximum distance from all the car parks, so be prepared for a bit of a hike (and pack accordingly!)

    I and a group of friends took our kids to see Mango Groove at Emmarentia on their 20th anniversary tour in April 2010. It was an absolute blast, and our high spirits were not even dampened by the cloudburst that accompanied Mango Groove's appearance on stage (turning it into a very European open air concert experience!). I am happy to report that after all these years, Claire Johnston and Mango Groove are still superb performers, and their distinct brand of kwaito-inspired 'feel good' music is as happy and vibrant as it was all those years ago (when we were all young and beautiful!)

    Mango Groove at Emmarentia Open air concerts at Emmarentia are very relaxing! Mother and Small Son bopping to Mango Groove Claire Johnson's tast in headgear has not improved Threatening sky warns of the coming cloudburst!
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