Johannesburg is known as “The City of Gold”, and as a major economic hub it offers up unique luxury experiences, a rich student culture and world-class museums. Politics and history run through every street, where visitors can dive into the past at the Mandela Museum and the Apartheid Museum.
Here are the 16 best road trips within reach of Johannesburg, from small city escapes to mountainous retreats and cosmopolitan getaways. You can enjoy the delights of Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth, or soak up the scenic drives along Waterberg Meander or the Panorama Route.
If you're ready to hit the road, check out this list of routes and choose one that's right for you.
Best road trips from Johannesburg: a quick overview
|Trip type||Some of our favorite road trips|
|Day trips||Stroll among the beautiful blooms of Pretoria ; or take a hike through the majestic Kgaswane Mountain Reserve.|
|Weekend trips||Experience a once-in-a-lifetime safari at Pilanesberg National Park; or visit the “City of Roses”, Bloemfontein.|
|Long-weekend trips||Take the iconic Panorama Route Panorama Route for a scenic road trip to remember; or get up close to the Big Five at Kruger National Park.|
|Longer trips||Dip your toes in the Indian Ocean at Durban; or take the famous Garden Route to culture-filled Cape Town Cape Town.|
Day trips (under 3 hours each way)
Just a short drive from Johannesburg, you can find yourself in another world - including ancient cave networks, blooming streets or luxurious spas.
1. Sterkfontein Caves and Cradle of Humankind
1 hour from Johannesburg (50 kilometres)
Why you should visit: Located just an hour from Johannesburg, the Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is also the closest road trip on our list, easily completed in a day or even half-day!
Discover Sterkfontein Caves, an archaeological site within the Cradle of Humankind that's celebrated for its significant contribution to the fields of palaeontology and anthropology, due to the many ancient fossils (some dating back more than 4 million years) which were found there.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the N1 Western Bypass, then take Hendrik Potgieter Road and follow N14 towards Sterkfontein Grotte Weg. You'll reach the caves within minutes.
Our highlights: The number one thing to do at the Cradle of Humankind is visiting the Sterkfontein Caves, where you can take a tour and explore the archaeological site. Tours typically last about 45-minutes and must be booked in advance, as tickets are not available at the entrance.
You can take a hot air balloon over the entire site to get a unique perspective over the whole Cradle of Humankind, which is surprisingly vast and covers a significant amount of territory.
Bonus: There are endless cool facts about the Cradle of Humankind, one of the most interesting being that an estimated 40% of all the human ancestor fossils in the world were found in this region.
Our travel tips: Make sure to book tour tickets in advance, as they aren't available at the entrance. The tour website notes that tours can be physically strenuous and should only be undertaken by visitors with the ability to climb, crawl and hike.
1 hour 10 minutes from Johannesburg (70 kilometres)
Why you should visit: This wonderful city is celebrated for its abundance of jacaranda trees, which display beautiful blooms – Pretoria is home to more than 70,000 of these natural beauties!
Pretoria offers a dose of metropolitan cultural attractions while still maintaining an intimate feel. There are stunning architectural monuments to discover, as well as a rich gastronomic scene.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the M1 and follow this road almost exclusively to exit 145, which you'll take to get into Pretoria.
Our highlights: Recently declared a National Heritage Site, the Voortrekker Monument is an imposing granite structure built to commemorate the Voortrekkers, who left the Cape Colony during the mid-19th-century.
Take in the beauty of the Pretoria National Botanical Gardens, home to some of South Africa's most stunning flowers and plant species. These expansive gardens are perfect for a walk, and you can also grab a bite at their on-site restaurant.
It doesn't get more “wow” than the Union Buildings, which form the official seat of the South African Government and house the offices of the South African President - set aside a few hours to explore the impressive historic architecture.
Feeling hungry? Stop by the Hazel Food Market, open Saturday mornings and offering tons of fresh and local produce, as well as delicious treats and artisan-made goods.
Bonus: Pretoria's main street, Stanza Bopape, is the longest urban street in South Africa and one of the longest straight streets in the world!
Our travel tips: Make sure to check the updates on closures of the Union Buildings, which are sometimes open for tours while still operating as office spaces for public servants.
1 hour 40 minutes from Johannesburg (80 kilometres)
Why you should visit: Soweto played a huge role in abolishing apartheid in South Africa during the 1950s, becoming a centre for the main political campaigns that led this movement! It's a unique location and pretty unique among this list.
This road trip takes you to the beautiful town of Magaliesburg, nestled in the Witwatersrand Mountain range and offering tons of opportunities for outdoor activities.
How to get there: Drive through central Johannesburg to head north on the M1 N and M2 until you've reached Soweto. From there, you can easily navigate to Magaliesburg via the R24 and R41.
Our highlights: Magaliesburg is chock-full of reserves and sanctuaries for a variety of exotic animals; check out the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve or spot wild cats in at the Lion and Safari Park.
Take a walk-through the beautiful Nelson Mandela Square, located in the town's centre.
Hop in the car and explore the nearby Cradle of Humankind, a celebrated archaeological and paleontological site that boasts some of the most significant fossil discoveries in the world.
Visit the celebrated Mount Grace Hotel and Spa, which boasts stunning architecture and relaxing spa treatments that are perfect for reaching your zen.
Bonus: South Africa's Constitution was based on the Freedom Charter, a document created in Soweto in 1955.
Our travel tips: Make sure to pack sunscreen and hats if you plan enjoy any of the outdoor activities in this area.
1 hour 20 minutes from Johannesburg (100 kilometres)
Why you should visit: Parys is a unique location on this list as it is situated within the Vredefort Dome Area, the oldest and largest meteorite impact site in the world.
Visit Parys to discover a small town that's known for its rich farming bounty, its proximity to the Vaal River, and its must-see French Quarter.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the Francois Oberholzer Freeway, then merge onto the N1. Take exit 498, then continue along the R59 until you reached Parys.
Our highlights: Take a walk along the shoreline of the Vaal River, which is popular amongst locals and tourists for water sports. Rent a canoe or paddle boat to get the most out of this attraction!
The Vredefort Crater is the largest verified impact structure on Earth and the best view is found from one of the crater peaks. Explore this UNESCO World Heritage site via a guided tour on land or water, or in a hot air balloon.
Pay a visit to the Bon-Af Berry Farm, where you can stroll around the orchard and pick berries to enjoy, set amongst the beautiful South African nature.
Bonus: Parys is also known for being host to several luxurious spas - we highly recommend stopping by one of these facilities and enjoying a relaxing treatment!
Our travel tips: Make sure to call in advance before visiting a spa in this wonderful town, as many of the facilities enjoy lots of traffic from locals and visitors alike!
5. Hartbeespoort Dam and Skeerpoort
1 hour 20 minutes from Johannesburg (100 kilometres)
Why you should visit: Located just under ninety minutes from Johannesburg, Hartbeespoort is a unique collection of small resort towns that are situated near the Hartbeespoort Dam.
Visit Hartbeespoort and nearby Skeerpoort for incredibly photogenic sights and panoramic vistas of the gorgeous South African landscape.
How to get there: Take the M1 out of Johannesburg. Stay on this highway for an hour, then take the N1 Western Bypass towards Hartbeespoort. Once you've reached the dam, Skeerport is about 20 minutes west via Agnes Avenue.
Our highlights: A must-see on this road trip is the Hartbeespoort Dam, surrounded by the stunning Magaliesberg mountain range. It's a favourite amongst locals and visitors alike for its many outdoor activities.
Take an Aerial Cableway ride over the entire Hartbeespoort region. This is the longest mono cableway in all of South Africa and offers the best view of the Dam and surrounding areas.
Take in the beauty of Skeerpoort, which boasts plenty of open space and gorgeous towering mountains. This area is known for its quaint farmland and hot air balloon safaris.
Bonus: There is a (miniature) replica of the Eiffel Tower at the French Toast Coffee Café, built for a film shoot in 2015 but now operating as a restaurant that serves delicious Parisian pastries.
Our travel tips: If interested in visiting the French Toast Coffee Café, make sure to get there early on weekends as it can get quite busy!
Make sure to pack a lunch if visiting the more remote parts of Skeerpoort, as dining options are somewhat slim.
6. Rustenburg and Kgaswane Mountain Reserve
2 hours 20 minutes from Johannesburg (140 kilometres)
Why you should visit: The Kgaswane Mountain Reserve is a unique park consisting of over 5,300 hectares of mountains and valleys, offering some of the coolest hiking trails on this list and celebrated for its breeding of sable antelopes.
Take this road trip to discover Rustenburg, also known as “Platinum City” due to its thriving metals industry and the many mines in the area!
How to get there: Hop on the M2 from Johannesburg, then merge onto the N1 Western Bypass. From there take the R563, then follow the R24 until you've reached Rustenburg. From Rustenburg, you can reach the Kgaswane Mountain Reserve by car in around 15 minutes.
Our highlights: The ultimate way to discover the city is via the Rustenburg Ramble, which will guide you through its many craft markets, galleries and farm stalls.
Visit the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, named after the Bafokeng people indigenous to this area and one of the host venues for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
You can swim or sail in the waters of the Buffelspoort Dam, which is somewhat less famous than its larger brother the Hartbeespoort Dam. However, it still boasts crystal clear waters perfect for outdoor water sports.
Take a hike through the beautiful Kgaswane Mountain Reserve, which boasts 10 stunning trails that are the perfect way to discover this immense park.
Bonus: Did you know that the platinum mines in Rustenburg make up about 70% of the world's platinum?
Our travel tips: Make sure to pack tons of water and plenty of snacks if you're planning to visit the Kgaswane Mountain Reserve.
The Rustenburg Ramble will take you through many of this area's main attractions, including the reserve and the World Cup Stadium.
Weekend trips (3-5 hours each way)If you've made it to the weekend, you deserve to treat yourself to some time off. Take one of these rewarding trips and spend the night, without having to drive back too far the next day.
7. Pilanesberg National Park
3 hours 20 minutes from Johannesburg (210 kilometres)
Why you should visit: This road trip offers the ultimate safari experience, with the chance to discover one of the most beautiful parks in South Africa while staying in high-end accommodation.
Visit Pilanesberg National Park to experience a once-in-a-lifetime safari, taking in tons of exotic animals in their native habitats.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the M1, then take the N1 Western Bypass. Continue along the N1 Western Bypass, then merge onto the R512 and R565. Take the Ntshwe Drive all the way to Pilanesberg National Park.
Our highlights: There are tons of activities to get up to in this National Park. Discover traditional music via an African Music Experience including interactive African drumming, a percussion band, a marimba band and African tribal dancing.
Take a tour of Moruleng Village, where you can learn about the local Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela tribe, the original habitants of this land. You'll get to discover local cuisine and explore the museum and heritage sights.
Take a game drive through this park with guidance from professional rangers; this is the ultimate way to discover the beautiful wildlife that call Pilanesberg home.
Stop by the Sun City Resort, a celebrated and highly rated hotel complex featuring a gorgeous spa and beautiful pool. This resort is right by the park, and is a great spot to stay for making the most out of this stay.
Bonus: Pilanesberg National Park actually lies on the site of an extinct volcano.
Our travel tips: Check out the Pilanesberg National Parks website for further details of all the wonderful things you can get up to during your visit.
8. Clarens and Golden Gate Highlands National Park
3 hours 50 minutes from Johannesburg (330 kilometres)
Why you should visit: Clarens is the ultimate small-town experience on this list, boasting tons of wonderful accommodation options and relaxing activities.
Visit Clarens and the nearby Golden Gate Highlands National Park to combine tranquil relaxation with a chance to explore the stunning South African outdoors.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the N17 and continue onto the N3. Stay on this route, then take the R26 until you've reached Clarens. From Clarens, you can get to the Golden Gate Highlands National Park via the R712.
Our highlights: Golden Gate Highlands National Park is a must-visit. You can explore this park's signature grassland biome as well as its signature golden and orange-hued sandstone cliffs.
Take in some culture by visiting the Blou Donki Art Gallery, boasting contemporary photography and paintings from local artists.
Stop by the Falcon Ridge Bird of Prey Centre, offering the opportunity to see majestic rehabilitated birds and raptors. This centre offers daily shows and informative talks to learn all about these stunning creatures.
Bonus: You can even go white water rafting on the Ash River, located just outside of Clarens!
Our travel tips: Make sure to check the Golden Gate Highlands National Park website for closures or any other pertinent information you may need to know before your visit.
9. Waterberg Meander
5 hours from Johannesburg (350 kilometres)
Why you should visit: This road trip presents a variety of fascinating places and attractions, including villages, craft shops and ancient archaeological sites.
Take yourself on this route to get well acquainted with the Waterberg Region, including its towering mountain peaks, dense forests and clear river valleys.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the N1, then follow this route until you've reached the Waterberg area. Your first stop will be Bela-Bela, and from there continue on to explore nearby towns including Thabazimbi, Lephalale, Marken, Molopane, Mookgophong, and Modimolle.
Our highlights: Discover the 37,000-hectare Welgevonden Game Reserve, a conservation area boasting some of the most stunning wildlife in the Waterberg District and offering a range of luxurious accommodation.
The Mabula Game Lodge is a private game reserve that offers 12,000 hectares full of stunning animal, bird and plant life - it's known as one of the finest in South Africa.
Located in the heart of the Waterberg mountains, Marakele National Park is a must-see on this route, situated on the banks of the Sabie River and offering a combination of dry and wetlands.
Bonus: Located in the Limpopo province, Bela-Bela is a small town well-known for the hot springs from which it derives its name. Pack your swimmers and take a dip!
Our travel tips: This route isn't a strict “X to Y” road trip but rather a collection of attractions that you can explore based on what interests you!
4 hours 10 minutes from Johannesburg (400 kilometres)
Why you should visit: Bloemfontein is known as the “City of Roses” due to its abundance of roses and the annual rose festival held here.
Visit Bloemfontein if you're looking for a great urban experience, as this city boasts tons of unique cultural attractions and a rich food scene.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg on the M2, then hop onto the N1 which goes all the way to Bloemfontein.
Our highlights: Discover the natural history, cultural history and art history of South Africa at the wonderful National Museum, established in 1877.
Explore the beautiful plants native to South Africa at the Free State National Botanical Garden, including this city's signature beautiful roses.
Discover the Anglo-Boer War Museum, the only museum in the world dedicated solely to the Anglo-Boer Wars and offering a unique art collection and exhibits. You'll also find the National Women's Monument nearby!
Visit the Cheetah Experience Conservation Centre, a wonderful education centre that offers the amazing opportunity to interact with these majestic animals.
Bonus: Bloemfontein is a Dutch word that means “fountains of flowers”, owed to this city's many gorgeous blooms!
Our travel tips: The annual Bloemfontein Rose Festival (also known as the Mangaung Rose Festival) is in late fall every year; make sure to check the dates if you're looking to catch it in bloom.
11. Drakensberg Mountain Retreat
3 hours 30 minutes from Johannesburg (405 kilometres)
Why you should visit: The Drakensberg Mountain Retreat is a unique location on this list, offering unsurpassed views from the magnificent Drakensberg and Maluti Mountains! You might also spot herds of wild horses running through the valleys in this park.
Visit this retreat if you're looking for a perfect blend of relaxation and the outdoors, combining beautiful wildlife experiences with luxurious accommodation.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the N17, then get on the N5 in Harrismith from the N3. Follow this road until you reach the R74, then continue all the way to the Drakensberg Mountain Retreat.
Our highlights: Located near the Drakensberg Mountain Resort, Tugela Falls is the world's highest waterfall. Discover these stunning falls via a hike up to the summit, where you'll discover gorgeous panoramic vistas of the surrounding area.
Visit Royal Natal National Park for the opportunity to take in some of the best mountain scenery in Africa, including this park's celebrated rock cliff amphitheatre.
A unique way to discover the Dragon Peaks Trail Rides is via guided horseback tour. Book a tour by phone, and you'll be able to choose from a variety of levels that best suit your riding experience.
Take a hot air balloon ride over the Drakensberg Mountains and the Sterkfontein Dam Nature Reserve, a bucket-list way to discover this beautiful natural area.
Bonus: Tugela Falls was once considered to be the second tallest waterfall in the world after the Angel Falls in Venezuela, however just last year these falls were remeasured, and Tugela Falls claimed first place!
Our travel tips: There are tons of additional activities that you can enjoy at the Drakensberg Mountain Retreat. Make sure to check their website for specifics on what else you can get up to and how to book.
Long weekend trips (5-8 hours each way)Leave the working week behind and head out on one of these longer trips. These routes head through diverse terrain - from waterfalls and mountains to wildlife-packed safari parks.
12. Panorama Route
6 hours from Johannesburg (470 kilometres)
Why you should visit: Rather than taking you from Johannesburg to a specific destination, this road trip takes you along the Panorama Route, a celebrated scenic road that passes through several South African provinces.
Take the Panorama Route if you're interested in seeing a variety of cultural and natural attractions as opposed to heading somewhere directly.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the N12 and take the N4 until you've reached the R539. Stop at Lone Creek Falls, then continue along the R532 until you've reached God's Window. From there, continue to nearby Bourke's Luck Potholes, then use the R532 to get to Three Rondavels.
Our highlights: Take in the beauty of the Mac Mac Falls, located just outside of Sabie and along the Panorama Route. It takes about 20 minutes to complete the hike up to these falls and is well worth it for the view.
Bourke's Luck Potholes are a must-see on the Panorama Route, a natural wonder formed by erosion over time and a favourite amongst tourists and locals.
A small town along this route, Sabie is known for its wonderful waterfalls and is the perfect spot to stop for a bite and exploratory trek on the Panorama Route.
Bonus: There are the three peaks that make up the Three Rondavels, which are each domed-shaped.
Our travel tips: The Panorama Route features tons of attractions along its route - check your map to decide where to stop.
13. Kruger National Park
7 hours from Johannesburg (520 kilometres)
Why you should visit: This is the ultimate National Park to visit on this list, home to the Big Five!
Take this road trip if you're looking to get up close to dozens of exotic and rare animal species, including the Big Five: lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the N12, then take the N4 until you reach the R539. Hop back onto the N4, then turn left onto the R570 and continue until you've reached the park.
Our highlights: Enjoy luxurious accommodation at one of the many lodges within this park, offering everything from romantic rooms overlooking the forests to family-friendly suites.
The main draw for visiting Kruger National Park is to go on safari! Hop into a jeep and take a guided tour through the forest, discovering unique and majestic species in their native habitat.
Take a hike through one of the many trails snaking through this National Park. You can either enjoy a guided walk or simply follow the mapped-out hiking trails, which will take you to some incredible viewpoints.
Bonus: Did you know that Kruger National Park was the very first National Park in South Africa?
Our travel tips: Book your accommodations for this park in advance, as it's one of the more popular spots in South Africa to go on safari.
Longer trips (Over 8 hours each way)It's much more fun to discover a new place when you're not in a rush. Take some proper time out to explore one of these fantastic trips in the further reaches of South Africa, taking you all the way to the shores of the turquoise Indian Ocean.
14. Durban (via Midlands Meander)
8 hours from Johannesburg (600 kilometres)
Why you should visit: This road trip is the first one to take you out of inland South Africa and to the glorious shores of the Indian Ocean in Durban.
Part of this route winds along the Midlands Meander, which boasts natural wonders, historic landmarks and great places to eat.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the N3, then follow this road past Pietermaritzburg and all the way to Durban.
Our highlights: One of the main features of this trip is a chance to visit the place where Nelson Mandela was arrested, and learn about the life of South Africa's first president.
Visit uShaka Marine World, a 16-hectare theme park that boasts 10,000 animal species including some impressive marine animals.
Stop by the Durban Botanic Gardens, a gorgeous open space that puts a focus on the beautiful indigenous flowers and plants native to this area.
Visit the celebrated Moses Mabhida Stadium, a prominent feature of the Durban skyline!
Bonus: Did you know that the uShaka Marine World is actually the world's 5th largest aquarium?
Our travel tips: Durban is very well known for its culinary offerings, especially when it comes to curries. Don't hesitate to visit one of the many lovely restaurants in this city.
15. Port Elizabeth (Gqeberha)
11 hours 20 minutes from Johannesburg (1,050 kilometres)
Why you should visit: This city boasts incredible nightlife and stunning beaches, earning it the nickname the “water sports capital” of South Africa.
Visit Port Elizabeth if you're looking for a cosmopolitan escape to enjoy exciting nightlife and a blossoming culinary and arts scene.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the N1 and then take the R58. Continue along this route until you've reached the N10, then hop onto the N2 and soon you'll be in Port Elizabeth.
Our highlights: Stop by Kragga Kamma Game Park to get up close with a whole host of South African animals, including giraffes and cheetahs.
Addo Elephant National Park is home to more than just elephants - it's the only national park in the world that can claim to house all of Africa's Big Seven - leopards, lions, buffalo, rhinos, whales, great white sharks and of course, elephants.
Try your luck at the Boardwalk Hotel, Casino, and Convention Centre, a great spot for accommodation and equally good for a flutter on the poker tables!
Enjoy the gorgeous waters of the Indian Ocean at Sardinia Bay Beach, offering some of the most stunning beachfront scenes in all of South Africa.
Bonus: While Port Elizabeth is this city's original name, nowadays it is also frequently referred to as Gqeberha.
Our travel tips: Make sure to pack a sweater; despite its warm weather, this port city is known to get quite windy.
16. Cape Town
15 hours 20 minutes from Johannesburg (1,400 kilometres)
Why you should visit: Cape Town is the ultimate city to visit in South Africa, boasting a rich history, an incredible arts and culture scene and gorgeous surrounding nature.
Visit Cape Town if you're looking for a modern and cosmopolitan city that also offers impressive beaches.
How to get there: Exit Johannesburg via the M2. Take the N1, and follow this highway almost exclusively to reach Cape Town. Alternatively, take the iconic "Garden Route" for a scenic South African trip to remember!
Our highlights: Visit the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens nestled in the eastern of Table Mountain, the imposing and majestic mountain in the centre of this city.
Discover magnificent Boulders Beach, a sheltered beach located on the Cape Peninsula and known best for being home to a colony of adorable African Penguins.
Visit the Iziko Bo-Kaap Museum, located in the bright and multicultural Malay Quarter and featuring stunning displays of local Islamic culture and art.
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a stunning complex that boasts residential properties, commercial real estate (including a shopping centre) and gorgeous harbour views. A must-see during your visit!
Looking for a place to stay on your way to Cape Town? Stop by Stellenbosch, which is known for its extensive vineyards.
Bonus: Did you know that Cape Town was once home to the South African icon, Nelson Mandela?
Our travel tips: You can either take the direct route from Johannesburg to Cape Town, or detour via Bloemfontein, East London, and Port Elizabeth. This route is about double the time as the direct route.READ MORE - Road Trip from Johannesburg to Cape Town