While many visitors to Soweto choose to limit their stay to a quick two- or three- hour tour, there’s so much more to see than can be covered in a few hours. To get to know this vibrant and colourful neighbourhood it’s worth planning a longer visit. Stay over at a local guesthouse, sample the nightlife and take time out to discover Soweto’s lesser-known heritage landmarks and cultural attractions.
The historic suburb of Orlando West is an ideal place to spend the night with plenty of guesthouses to choose from, and easy access to many of the neighbourhood’s most famous sights. After dropping off your bags at the guesthouse head to Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers to join one of Lebo’s famous bicycle tours. Tours are led by locals and routes include stops at all the major heritage sites, as well as visits to everyday places such as homes, street markets, traditional shops and shebeens.
Tours end at the park opposite the backpackers with a delicious homemade lunch of bunny chow – a hollowed out quarter-loaf of bread filled with curry. Afterwards head back towards the Vilakazi Street Precinct to visit the Hector Pieterson Museum. One of the best museums in Soweto, this is the place to learn about the events that led up to the Soweto riots of 1976.
Walk the two blocks from Hector Pieterson Museum to Vilakazi Street, following the same route of the 1976 protesting schoolchildren. Soweto’s most famous street is a happening spot every day of the week and for dinner and drinks you are spoiled for choice. For traditional food try Sakhumzi, for a varied menu Restaurant Vilakazi or for contemporary cuisine there is the chic Vuyo’s restaurant, where you can enjoy sundowners on the rooftop terrace. You’ll find a lively atmosphere everywhere. If you still have energy to burn, head down the street to Kwa Lichaba Chesa Nyama and Pub, where DJs spin African house tracks.
After enjoying a leisurely breakfast at your guesthouse (Sowetans are not big fans of eating breakfast out so most neighbourhood restaurants open after 11:00) head to Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication in Kliptown. Take a walking tour through the historic backstreets of Kliptown and meet the locals with Ntokozo Dube from TKD Tours. A visit to Kliptown is an opportunity to learn more about the historic 1956 Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter at the Kliptown Museum, and to explore the surrounding streets bustling with traders, general dealers and muti shops. For lunch and refreshments after the tour take time out at the Jazz Maniacs restaurant in the upmarket Soweto Hotel & Conference Centre that looks out over the square.
After lunch visit the impressive Regina Mundi Church in Rockville, a place that played a significant role in the struggle against apartheid. Explore the church and then take a drive to Oppenheimer Park in the nearby suburb of Jabavu. This is the location of the Credo Mutwa Cultural Village, a quirky sculpture park built in the 1970s that offers a unique representation of African mythology.
For early evening sundowners visit Chaf Pozi, a lively beer garden and shisa nyama restaurant with a delicious grill menu, and a view of the immense Orlando Cooling Towers, Soweto’s most prominent landmark. After an early dinner, spend your last evening in Soweto enjoying a show at the impressive Soweto Theatre, which showcases works by local playwrights and choreographers and also hosts regular jazz and gospel concerts.