Johannesburg is a large and extensive city, in real progress. Despite its history, perhaps that is why it is a city with a constantly changing youthful atmosphere, whose modern fashion and arts scene is magnificent.
It is the economic engine of South Africa and an important African business and financial centre. It is a very green city: some 6 million trees were planted there to create one of the largest urban forests in the world.
Many monuments serve as reminders of the city’s troubled past, which is being left behind as Johannesburg continues to reinvent itself.
- Top 5 reasons to visit Johannesburg
- What to do in Johannesburg
- When to visit Johannesburg
- How to get to Johannesburg
- Where to stay in Johannesburg
- Getting around Johannesburg
- Cost of living in Johannesburg
- Where to eat in Johannesburg
Top 5 reasons to visit Johannesburg
Spectacular encounters with the animals
You can play with lion cubs or feed the giraffes at Lion & Safari Park, or attend a show at the Montecasino Bird Gardens. It’s a great place to discover South Africa’s unique wildlife. In the Pilanesberg National Park and Game Reserve you can book safaris to explore the wildlife.
The Suikerbosrand nature reserve is only a short drive away. There are 84 square kilometres of virgin meadows to walk through. In addition, the Walter Sisulu Botanical Garden is an escape located within the city, with exhibits and walking areas.
A hotbed for music and the arts
The Lesedi Cultural Village is just one of the many places where you can explore the cultural traditions of Johannesburg. It is also a hotbed of modern music, theatre and performing arts, with a famous jazz festival and numerous events.
From elegant cocktail lounges, dance clubs and trendy bars to huge outdoor patios. From the exclusive and sophisticated Sandton, the Melville district or the elegant Rosebank to the clubs of Newtown. Each neighborhood offers its own flavor of entertainment.
Johannesburg is a melting pot of African cuisine with Indian, Chinese and European influences. You can explore its thriving foodie culture at 4th Avenue in Parkhurst or at the youthful Illovo Junction. 7th Street in Melville is the traditional restaurant district, while in Fordsburg you can sample Indian cuisine.
What to do in Johannesburg
Facing the past in the Apartheid Museum
There is no better place to learn the complex history of Apartheid. It is a shadowy building, whose design evokes the feelings of oppression and inequality of decades of segregation. A stark reflection of the truth that inspires deep reflection.
Enjoy Gold Reef City
Developed on an old gold mine, this amusement park is dazzling. Go back to the 19th century, at the height of the gold rush, move among the staff dressed in period clothes and visit the museums detailing the mining and smelting processes – take an ingot in your hands! The roller coasters, the casino, the attractions… it’s all incredible.
Visit Constitution Hill
At the time it was the most notorious prison and military fortress in South Africa, strongly linked to the figure of Nelson Mandela. In a paradoxical turn of events, the hilltop now houses the South African Constitutional Court.
Discovering Nelson Mandela’s roots
The highlight of the Soweto neighbourhood, the former home of Nelson Mandela, is now a charming museum that attracts tourists from all over the world. Bullet holes and burn marks pepper the facade of the small brick building. Inside, it shows the life and intimacy of the former president of South African peace and freedom.
Visit the Johannesburg Zoo
This world zoo is full of majestic creatures. The rare white lions are the main protagonists, and they enjoy an advanced breeding program.
When to visit Johannesburg
Summer is the best time, between December and February: daytime temperatures can reach up to 35°C. In winter, from June to August, daytime temperatures are usually around 20 ºC, while nighttime temperatures sometimes drop to freezing point.
How to get to Johannesburg
O. R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) is about 13 kilometers from downtown. It is one of the busiest airports in Africa and offers international connections between Africa and Europe. It has a network of fast passenger trains called Gautrain, which connects the airport to Sandton station, where transfers to Johannesburg are available. The cost is about R165.
Taxis are also available, but use only those that are licensed and metered. Lanseria airport, about 40 kilometers from the city, is a private airport site.
Shosholoza Meyl trains offer both economy and luxury classes on the trains that connect Johannesburg to major centres in South Africa, such as Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London. Johannesburg Park Station receives most intercity routes.
The Metrorail suburban train line connects to Soweto, Pretoria, Springs and Krugersdorp. Gautrain is faster and safer, but also more expensive. The fares depend on the distance. As a reference, a trip from Johannesburg to Pretoria costs R 46 with Gautrain and R 9 with Metrorail.
Johannesburg is linked to most South African cities and includes a reliable road network. The N1 links to Cape Town and Bloemfontein, the N3 to Durban, the N4 to Botswana and the N14 to Namibia.
Intercity buses arrive and depart from Park Station and include companies such as Greyhound, Magic Bus and SA Roadlink. Park Station is overcrowded and can be chaotic, so expect extra time to get there.
Where to stay in Johannesburg
There are many stylish hotels in Johannesburg, such as the impressive African Pride Melrose Arch Hotel, as well as historic accommodations: the Monarch, in the exclusive Rosebank district, is excellent. Its rooms combine antique furniture and contemporary South African art.
Interesting neighborhoods in Johannesburg
The Central Business District, also called CBD, offers excellent shopping along Diagonal Street and Little Addis, Ethiopia’s district. It also has galleries and art centers.
Braamfontein, near the centre, welcomes a young and modern crowd, thanks to the presence of the University of the Witwatersrand. Many of Johannesburg’s museums and art venues are here, along with the Neighbourgoods Saturday Market, unique boutiques and good places to have a coffee or a bite to eat.
Maboneng is a neighbourhood that went from urban blight to hipster hangout, one of the most successful urban renewal projects in the world. It offers a lively restaurant scene and nightlife.
Getting around Johannesburg
Johannesburg is more driver-oriented than public transport. A bus network connects to the Gautrain lines, so most of the city is accessible by public transport. But the buses don’t run on Sundays. The Gautrain electronic card has a fixed tariff of R 15.
There is not an abundance of taxis in Johannesburg, except at the airport and in some central areas. So book them in advance. They cost about R 560.
If it is not absolutely necessary, avoid driving during the most congested rush hours. Renting a car costs approximately R 205 per day.
Cost of living in Johannesburg
For local crafts and manufactures, the large Rosebank Mall and Rosebank Rooftop Flea Market, which opens on Sundays at the mall, are unrivaled. Kwa Mai Mai is another market where you can find herbs, spices and crafts. Sandton City and Northgate are two of the city’s many shopping malls. The Oriental Plaza in Fordsburg, where you can bargain with the shopkeepers, supplies African products. Remember that many shops and attractions close early on Saturday afternoon and don’t reopen until Monday morning.
Groceries and others
Woolworths and Spar are national chains of food stores with high prices, although both have a good selection and quality of products. Food Lover’s Market specializes in fresh foods. A local beer costs R 17.7.
Where to eat in Johannesburg
The Cube Tasting Kitchen, in the Maboneng enclosure, is a popular place to try a high-end tasting menu. Its price? R 800 for the food alone and R 1300 for the food and wine pairing. Seafood is king in many restaurants, such as El Pescadero, with multiple locations. In general, seafood dishes start at R 100. Local Grill’s menu focuses on free-grain beef dishes and prices start at R 130.