Soweto culture and history by bike

It is easy to enjoy life in South Africa. You can visit fantastic restaurants, stay in boutique hotels and go for adventures to see the incredible wildlife in the national parks. I appreciated all those experiences. Yet, what made the biggest impression on me was a guided bicycle tour in the township Soweto.

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Soweto - guided bicycle tour - daily life

If you want a feel of the history of South Africa, Soweto may be one of the areas you should visit. This guided tour showed me a side of South Africa that I wouldn´t see on my own. Going by bike do not just make it possible for you to see another side of the country. It gives you the chance to meet local people and learn more about their culture and history.
Soweto - guided bicycle tour - streetsOur guide Nkululeko was a young man who grew up in Soweto. He told us that Soweto is the largest township in Johannesburg, and more than 1 million people live here. During our guided tour, we learned about the struggle of black people in this area during apartheid, but also about the modern Soweto and the development of the area.
Soweto - guided bicycle tour - tour guideOur first stop was a viewpoint on top of a hill. From here, we could see large parts of Soweto, including the two large landmarks known as Orlando Towers.

After a short introduction of Soweto by our guide, we continued to a local Shebeen. This was originally unlicensed drinking spots, which arose because Apartheid laws prevented black people from owning or entering drinking establishments. Today they still play an important part of the local culture.  We were welcomed inside the shebeen to join the locals and taste their local corn brew, and a large bowl of beer was passed around to share.
Soweto - guided bicycle tour - local
Soweto - local beerAfter passing through some of the neighbourhoods and stopping at the old apartheid workers´ hostel (now transformed), we continued to the Vilakazi Street. This is the only street in the world who has been the home to two known Nobel Prize winners: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. It was also here the 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot dead, sparking the beginning of the student riots in 1976. More than 500 of 10 000 demonstrating teenagers were shot and killed in the riots.

Soweto has a heartbreaking history, but I was left with a good feeling after visiting the area and meeting the people. The welcome of people we meet in the tavern, the people greeting us on the street – and the wonderful children shouting “heeellllooooo” when they see us from their schoolyard. A large part of the area has already developed into modern suburbs, but the contrasts of the living conditions are still large, though.

Soweto - children

Soweto - guided bicycle tour - contrasts

Soweto - guided bicycle tour - contrasts2The tour does not include a visit to the giant Orlando Towers. After delivering the bikes and a stop for delicious lunch of authentic food in the restaurant Sakhumzi, we visited the towers. When you arrive, you can go to the top of the towers by elevator – and if you are crazy enough, you can bungee jump!

Soweto - guided bicycle tour - Sakhumzi restaurant

Soweto towers

Soweto towers top

Holding firmly onto the fence, looking down from the 100m tall tower, was more than enough adventure for me!

Are you tempted to explore Soweto by bike?


I visited Soweto when I joined the campaign #MeetSouthAfrica brought to you by the South African Tourism board, supported and managed by iambassador. As usual, Taste of Slow maintains the full editorial control of the content published on this site, and all opinions are my own.

About the Author Elin

I´m an Oslo based web publisher with passion for communication, travel and a green lifestyle. When I travel, I prefer to go slow, sustainable, and “live like a local”. Why slow? It is about challenging the cult of speed, and to enjoy the small things in life and to live in the present.

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