It was here in Gauteng that Mandela first found his feet as an anti-apartheid activist and began the brave struggle against discrimination that eventually led to him spending 27 years in prison. Following his release from prison, Mandela again made Johannesburg his home and in the days following his death in 2013, the world's leaders converged on the city to pay their respects to this most inspirational man. To learn more about the incredible life and times of Nelson Mandela, follow this heritage trail through Johannesburg, Soweto and Pretoria.
Start your day at Sandton’s Nelson Mandela Square, an open piazza and shopping mall flanked by classy restaurants and glitzy shops. At the head of the square is an imposing bronze statue of a smiling Nelson Mandela doing his trademark "Madiba shuffle" dance. This is a popular spot at which to snap a selfie. Once you have ticked that off your list, enjoy breakfast at the stylish tashas cafe, renowned for its fresh and tasty food served in generous portions. After breakfast pop into the mall to check out the collection at Presidential Shirts, a small boutique that stocks the iconic colourful silk and cotton "Madiba shirts" that Mandela made world-famous during his presidency.
Take a drive north to Liliesleaf Farm in the suburb of Rivonia. In the early 1960s this farmhouse functioned as the secret hideout and meeting place for some of South Africa's most prominent anti-apartheid leaders. The interactive Liliesleaf museum brings to life the fascinating story of the 1963 Rivonia raid and trial, which ultimately led Mandela and his comrades to prison on Robben Island. You can eat at Cedric’s Cafe, which faces the old farmhouse and serves classic cafe fare such as salads and sandwiches.
After lunch drive back to Sandton and take a break at the peaceful Hyundai Mushroom Farm Park. While you’re there, take a ride on the tethered hot-air balloon that rises 120m above the park, offering panoramic views of northern Johannesburg.
Treat yourself to an unforgettable dining experience at the Saxon Hotel’s Five Hundred restaurant, one of the most famous fine-dining restaurants in South Africa. The extravagant tasting menus are innovative and unforgettable. Nelson Mandela is the Saxon’s most famous former guest, having lived here for several weeks in the early 1990s when it was still the private home of South African businessman Douw Steyn. During his stay Mandela put the finishing touches to his best-selling autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, and you’ll find various items of Mandela memorabilia on display across the hotel.
Begin your day in the Johannesburg suburb of Houghton. Book an appointment to visit the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory. The centre houses the headquarters of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and an exhibition about Mandela’s life. On a visit to the centre you can walk around Mandela’s old office and learn more about his political career and his philanthropic work while viewing personal items such as his letters from prison and his Nobel Peace Prize.
From here you are well placed to take the M1 highway into the Johannesburg city centre. For a mid-morning brunch stop at Love Food, a cute street-side eatery in Braamfontein with a sumptuous daily harvest table. Then drive over the Nelson Mandela Bridge into Newtown and stop at Chancellor House, a smart little open-air museum detailing the history of Mandela & Tambo attorneys, South Africa's first black law firm, which operated here in the mid 1950s. Opposite Chancellor House is the Shadow Boxer, a 6m-high metal sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli that was inspired by a famous photograph of a young Mandela shadow boxing on a rooftop in downtown Johannesburg.
Spend the afternoon at the Apartheid Museum, 15 minutes' drive south of the city centre. This extraordinary museum provides a comprehensive history of apartheid in South Africa, from the petty everyday cruelties inflicted on black South Africans to state repression and violence, as well as pivotal moments in the struggle for equality and democracy, such as the Sharpeville Massacre. Give yourself plenty of time to process this hard-hitting and compelling museum.
From the Apartheid Museum it’s another 15-minute drive south to Vilakazi Street in Soweto. The most famous street in Soweto, Mandela and his then wife Winnie lived here in the years before he was imprisoned on Robben Island, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a neighbour. Follow a visit to the small Mandela House museum with an early dinner and drinks at one of the many restaurants serving traditional township cuisine that line the street.
Spend your final day in Gauteng in Pretoria. Start by visiting the Union Buildings in Arcadia. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1910, they are the official offices of the South African Presidency. In 1994 Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as South Africa's first democratic president at this spot, and in December 2013 Mandela’s body lay in state here prior to his funeral. The 9m-tall statue of Nelson Mandela in front of the buildings is a popular place to pose for photos, and the views over the city of Pretoria are superb.
For authentic African cuisine stop for lunch at Savana Restaurant, also in Arcadia. At this humble pocket-sized cafe you can try traditional dishes from across the continent surrounded by the portraits of Africa’s greatest leaders and freedom fighters.
Spend the afternoon at Freedom Park, a 52ha memorial to South Africa’s history and heritage, themed around humanity, freedom and healing. Rich in symbolism, the park showcases the different struggles South Africa has faced along the path to democracy On a guided tour you’ll learn more about the country’s long history of racial discrimination and hear about the outstanding heroism of the thousands of South Africans memorialised on the park’s Wall of Names.
Drive back to Johannesburg and make your way to the trendy inner-city precinct of Maboneng. On the corner of Staib Street and Beacon Road you’ll find one of the most impressive murals in the city, a 40m-high artwork depicting a young Nelson Mandela in his now-iconic boxing stance.
Enjoy a last evening meal in Maboneng at the Che Argentine Grill, a vintage-chic grillhouse in an old warehouse showcasing the best in Argentine food and hospitality. For after-dinner drinks pop over the road to the Hideout bar at Curiocity Backpackers, named for the secret printing press once located here that produced anti-apartheid struggle pamphlets prior to democracy.