Gauteng (pronounced how-teng) may be a small province but it also is the economic heart of the nation. Its epicentre is Johannesburg (Jo'burg or Jozi), the country's largest city. And what a city! Jo'burg's old downtown area is undergoing an astonishing rebirth. Once considered a place to avoid, Jo'burg is now one of the most inspiring and happening metropolises in the world.
For a change of scene, head to Pretoria. The country's administrative capital may not be quite as dynamic as Jo'burg, but it still offers stately buildings, good museums and beautiful jacaranda-lined streets. It's also a short drive from here to the attractive village of Cullinan, famous for its diamond mine.
Gauteng also has a unique geological history that's evident at the World Heritage–listed Cradle of Humankind. This vast valley full of caves and fossils is one of the African continent's most important archaeological sites.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Gauteng.
Do not leave Jo'burg without visiting Constitution Hill. One of South Africa's most important historical sites, the deeply moving and inspirational exhibitions here are split across four locations: the Old Fort, which dates from 1892 and was once a notorious prison for white males; the horrific Number Four Jail, reserved for nonwhite males; the Women's Jail; and the Awaiting Trial Block – now mostly demolished and replaced by the Constitutional Court. Tours depart on the hour and provide essential context.
The Apartheid Museum illustrates the rise and fall of South Africa’s era of segregation and oppression, and is an absolute must-see. It uses a broad variety of media to provide a chilling insight into the architecture and implementation of the apartheid system, as well as inspiring stories of the struggle towards democracy. It’s invaluable in understanding the inequalities and tensions that still exist today. Located 8km south of the city centre, just off the M1 freeway.
A highlight of Jo'burg's northern suburbs is Liliesleaf Farm. This was the secret headquarters of the ANC (African National Congress) from 1961 until a dramatic raid in 1963 that saw the capture of several of the organisation's leaders including Nelson Mandela. Free tours provide all the background, but you can also explore at your own pace, learning the story of South Africa’s liberation struggle through a series of high-tech, interactive exhibits.
Nothing sums up the changing fortunes of inner-city Jo'burg better than Ponte City, which can be visited on tours with Dlala Nje. This 54-storey cylindrical skyscraper was hijacked in the late 1980s by squatters and rapidly declined into a vertical urban slum. Flash forward a couple of decades – the building's owner, Kempston, has taken back control and refurbished the structure, which is now safe and home to an ethnically mixed community of working- and middle-class South Africans.
One of the most significant archaeological sites in the world, Sterkfontein Caves include a permanent hominid exhibit and a walkway down into the impressive caves and past the excavation site. Tours leave every 30 minutes (the last tour is at 4pm).
Partly housed in a building that looks like a giant grassy mound on one side and shiny modern steel on the other, Maropeng is an all-in-one information centre, visitor attraction and entertainment complex. The fascinating series of interactive exhibits here cover the history of the human race since its very beginnings. A new exhibition showcases the 2013 discovery of the Homo naledi species in the Rising Star caves.
Inaugurated in 2004, with its design based on the African concept of 'justice under a tree', the Constitutional Court is a very real symbol of modern South Africa. Incorporating some 150,000 bricks and the former stairwells of the Awaiting Trial Block that was demolished after the end of apartheid, the court houses a highly impressive contemporary art collection showcasing both local and international art. The court is open to the public: Lucky visitors may even hear a case being argued.
This stunning park and museum honours fallen South Africans in all major conflicts and adopts an integrated approach to African history. It is a place of architectural imagination and collective healing. Start at //hapo, the museum covering Southern African history at the bottom of the hill; then proceed up the hill to the main park, which provides wonderful views of the city.
Built as a replica of the Ottoman Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey, the Nizamiye Mosque is a real find in the far-northern Jo'burg suburb of Midrand. Looming beside the M1 Hwy, it was built by hundreds of Turkish artisans – with 100% Turkish materials – transported to South Africa by Turkish businessman Ali Katırcıoğlu. Inside the mosque, the hand-woven carpets and massive tiled dome are awe inspiring.