The township of Soweto to the south-west of Johannesburg has transformed from a legacy of the apartheid era to a vibrant, energetic hub which will ignite your senses and immerse you in true South African culture. Soweto is significant for its role in the struggle against apartheid, so you can expect to find lots of historical sights. The easiest way to see it all is on an official township tour.

Did you know?

The present-day Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto was originally built for convalescing British and Commonwealth soldiers.

A tour of Soweto (short for South-Western Townships) is a must for any visitor keen to get a taste of the vibrant street life this township is famous for.

More of a city than a township, Soweto has its roots in the gold mines that drew workers to Johannesburg in the beginning. However, after the National Party was voted into power in 1948, Soweto grew rapidly as apartheid tightened its grip on the country and forced black people out of “white areas”.

Today, a tour of this sprawling area will show you the many milestones of South Africa’s turbulent political history.

First, you’ll see Walter Sisulu Square in Kliptown, where South Africa's Freedom Charter (a document used to help draft the country's Constitution) was signed in 1955.

Another important stop is the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, where the famous Soweto uprising of 16 June 1976 took place. This event saw school pupils take to the streets to protest against the use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction in schools. The iconic news photograph of a dying 13-year-old Pieterson, cradled in the arms of a fellow school pupil after being shot by the police, drew attention to South Africa’s oppressive racial policies. When you see it, it’ll hit you hard, but it does put everything into perspective.

Then there’s the famous Vilakazi Street, once home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, namely former president Nelson Mandela and Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Here you can put your feet up for a bit, while you savour a delicious meal in one of the several taverns or restaurants.

Other must-sees include the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, listed by the Guinness World Records in 1997 as the largest hospital in the world, as well as the vibrant Orlando Towers, where the more adventurous can get their adrenaline pumping with an urban bungee jump.

The easiest way to experience Soweto is to go on a township tour where knowledgeable guides will educate you on the significance of so many places in our history. It could be anything from a whistle-stop two hours to a whole day or even an overnight stay. It’s up to you. 

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

City Sightseeing Jo'burg Taxi to Soweto Tour
Tel: 0861 733 287

Soweto Outdoor Adventures
Tel: +27 (0)72 692 8159

Soweto Hotel & Conference Centre
Corner Union Avenue and Main Road, Kliptown
Tel: +27 (0)11 527 7300

Best time to visit

All year.

Tours to do

Sign up with an official tour for ease of access.

What will it cost

The quickest and most affordable way is with Jo'burg's City Sightseeing Bus. For R400 you get a full city tour and a two-hour Soweto tour in a traditional township taxi.

Length of stay

Spend a morning, a day, or arrange an overnight visit.

What to pack

Walking shoes, camera, cash for tips.

Where to stay

The Soweto Hotel on the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown is the first four-star hotel to have been opened in Soweto.

What to eat

Try some traditional township food like umngqusho (samp and beans) with ujeqe (steamed bread).

What's happening

Vilakazi Street is a popular gathering point for its numerous eateries and activity outside former president Nelson Mandela's old house.

Best buys

Buy traditional crafts from a street stallholder at the market adjacent to the Hector Pieterson memorial and museum.

Related articles