I’ll be traveling to Johannesburg this month so I’m gathering as much data as possible about the city and South Africa to make my trip the most fruitful.
Here are some of the tidbits I’ve gathered so far from a plethora of resources like Wanderlust and Culture Trip who I’m grateful to for.
You can pick and choose to your heart’s content:
Duration: 2-7 days
Good for: City life, museums, prehistorical sites, wildlife
Route: Johannesburg – Soweto – Cradle of Humankind (Maropeng) – Pilanesberg Game Reserve – Madikwe Game Reserve
When to visit: Year-round, though April to September are best for game viewing
Johannesburg has a formal population of 3.8 million inhabitants and is the most powerful commercial centre on the African continent. It is fondly called Joburg.
If you’re coming from Cape Town, take the Garden route.
The city generates 16 percent of South Africa’s GDP and employs 12 percent of the national workforce.
The Northern Suburbs range from middle class to very affluent, with suburbs like Greenside, Houghton, Parktown North to Parkhurst to Killarney to Rosebank to Illovo to Melrose North, Atholl, Sandown, to Sandton to Morningside, Fourways, and Randburg being green, leafy and pleasant – and safe and comforting to first-world visitors, most have a shopping mall of some description, and some have a main street with cafes, boutiques and grocery shops.
Curiocity Backpackers in Maboneng is great for those visiting Johannesburg for the first time. It offers private as well as shared rooms and guests are guaranteed to get to know both locals and other travellers. Accommodation starts at only R180 ($13.50) per person per night.
Johannesburg boasts a plethora of museums, galleries, and historical sites, all of them affordable to visit. For R420 ($30) visitors can book a one-day tour through City Sightseeing South Africa. The hop-on-hop-off bus tour includes, to name only a few, a visit to Constitution Hill, The Apartheid Museum, The Carlton Centre, Origins Centre at Wits, and a tour of Soweto, South Africa’s largest township.
Sandton and Rosebank are its two upscale districts similar to DHA and Clifton in Karachi where you can roam about on foot with relative ease without getting mugged.
One stop beyond Sandton on the Gautrain from the airport, this northern suburb is a cultural middle ground of the city. It’s both urban and suburban, quiet but arty, gentrified just enough to feel secure but close enough to the real city to get your feet wet. A walk down Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank will include coffee bars, flower shops, vintage stores, and art galleries, like the avant-garde Goodman Gallery.
Soweto is an increasingly popular destination for travellers from around the world. Take a tour or just drive in yourself using GPS set to Vilakazi Street… the road infrastructure and signage are excellent. You can stop off at Maponya Mall and join the Sowetan middle classes as they entertain themselves with retail and movies!
Explore the beautiful Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens, Emmarentia Dam or Melville Koppies.
The Lion Park in Honeydew is an hour’s drive from Sandton. Chosen by Newsweek as one of the top 100 tourist destinations in the world, The Lion Park is home to over 80 lions including the rare white lions.
There’s no need for a bushveld safari when you can experience the pride of Africa in the middle of Johannesburg. Self-drives and guided game drives through the park are available. Entrance fee is R200.
c/o Malibongwe Drive and the R114, Honeydew | Tel: +2711 691 9905 -11 | www.lion-park.com
The Lion & Rhino Nature Reserve is great if you can’t get to the Kruger National Park but would love to get that bushveld feeling. Then there’s The Cradle of Humankind, a spot where many groundbreaking archaeological discoveries have been made.
Curiocity Backpackers is an incredible boutique hostel in Maboneng. It used to be the premises of Pacific Press, which published a rebel publication, Black Sash, during the apartheid era. It’s rumoured that Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu sought refuge in the building on a number of occasions so, as you can imagine, it has an amazing atmosphere. It’s operated by a young, talented photographer called Bheki Dube and his influence is everywhere – the hostel decor is fantastic – think industrial-chic warehouse apartment with lots of quirky touches. The hostel organises regular events including walking tours, bike excursions and community volunteering projects to encourage guests to get under the skin of this city.
There’s pretty much a market for every day of the week in Johannesburg. From farmer’s and organic markets to trendy industrial spaces stocking everything from food to clothing and artisanal crafts, you’ll find it in Jozi. Check out 1Fox at The Sheds, Neighbourgoods Market on Saturday mornings (get there early) and the Fourways Farmer’s Market for fresh produce.
Tyrone Avenue in Parkview is one of the few spaces not in the inner city where people walk around, and there is a small shop there called Art Africa that sells objects from all over the African continent: Ethiopian Coptic crosses, masks, prints, beadwork, upcycled chandeliers … It’s a great, quirky space and perfect for gifts.
The Collectors’ Treasury, at 244 Commissioner Street, in the weather-beaten central business district (CBD), is a secondhand bookstore spread across several floors and comprised of many thousands of books you’d have difficulty finding anywhere else on this continent. You truly can lose yourself in this haven of books. At first blush, utterly chaotic, the collection of book are actually carefully curated, with most topics edging happily into esoteria.
Soweto cycle tour
A cycle tour round Soweto was a “fun” way to hear of that part of the apartheid history and see the people there, without feeling intrusive or like it is “poverty tourism” – it’s not, people want you to visit. Guided from a little backpackers’ hostel in the heart of the town, you cover all areas, from the poorest “suburb” of Soweto up to Mandela’s house, and Tutu’s. Eat local food and listen to local musicians in the shebeens. Even better is the bar crawl with local historians, who take you right in to town to dance and eat and chat with the locals until the early hours.
Top of Africa, Carlton Centre, 150 Commissioner St (Take the elevator from the second floor to the fiftieth), ☎ +27 (0)11 308-1331. 8AM to 7PM daily. Get a panoramic view of the city from the top of Africa’s tallest building. Definitely worth a trip. Upstairs there are toilets and also a little kiosk/cafe (cold drinks etc, nothing exciting though). Rand 30,00.
On the west side, Fordsburg is the formerly-Indian part of central Joburg and has some Indian and Pakistani restaurants, shops and markets. Good food is to be found in this neighborhood, which, by Johannesburg’s standards, shows signs of street life in the evenings, and moreso on Friday and Saturday. Most places are halaal so no liquor served.
Buy silk and samosas at the Oriental Plaza. Fietas is one of the famous old Johannesburg neighborhoods where many races lived and mixed joyfully until they were segregated under apartheid. Indian families and shops were moved to Lenasia and Fordsburg, where many remain today.
The Oriental Plaza shopping mall is here and has good bargains.
The Oriental Plaza, where you can still buy absolutely anything, from hot samosas to knitting needles and leather goods to Kashmiri furniture and, of course, lots and lots of gold. This place is also known for its endless variety of textiles, and skilled tailors.
Go to Fordsburg for Turkish shawarma at Istanbul café and South Indian fried fish, crab curry, and masala dosa from Dosa Hut. Walk a few blocks up to Little Mogadishu and have tea and samosas at Kisimayo.
If you want to know the epitome of comfort food, chow down on one of the specials at the iconic Solly’s Corner, an institution run by a sublime dynasty whose sons have spent generation after generation serving hot vinegar-sodden chips (known as slaap chips), sausages, steak, salad, and kebabs known as frikkadels, all stuffed generously into a sandwich that will always taste the same.
King Arabic Sandwiches in Mayfair is owned by a Palestinian family from Gaza. It is like the food you can find in Ottolenghi’s cookery books, but from the other side. It’s best to call ahead and place a special order, like maqlubah (an upside-down rice dish), or one of its eggplant dishes. King Arabic also makes beautiful flatbreads, and baklava and date biscuits.
A few blocks away is a Somali restaurant, Kismayo, which makes the best biryani-style dish I have ever had in my life. It also makes spaghetti – a legacy of Italian colonisation – and introduces it to guests as if they’ve never seen pasta before. Visitors should try the Doolshe sponge cake, which has the added flavour of cardamom.
There are many wonderful places to eat in Fordsburg and Mayfair, but they are predominantly Indian and Muslim neighbourhoods.
Mohideen’s – Marabastad
The African Craft Market, Sandton, is a celebration of the African entrepreneurial spirit. From African masks and jewellery to interior decor items, you will find whatever you need from the more than 70 skilled African artisans.
Cnr West and Sandton Streets | Tel: +2711 442 4481 | www.craft.co.za/our-markets/sandton-craft-market
What’s the local currency?
The South African currency is the Rand (ZAR). One Rand translates to 100 cents. Due to foreign exchange regulations, the use of foreign currency in South Africa is illegal. Bureaux de Change are abundant at the airport and city centres.
The Gautrain is preferred by many international business executives as a fast and efficient way to get to and from O.R. Tambo International Airport to the Sandton (R135) or Rosebank station (R145) safely and quickly. Gautrain affiliated buses run set routes from the Gautrain station (R6) or taxis can be taken to your hotel. Sandton houses the flagship station of the Gautrain rapid rail link. The station is located on the corner of West Street and Rivonia Road. The system has direct connections to O.R. Tambo International Airport and an inter-city commuter service from Pretoria through Rosebank to Park Station, Johannesburg.
join.gautrain.co.za | Tel: +27 800 428 87246
The full range of car rental companies have offices within the airport. GPS gear can be hired with the rental vehicle and GPS is well developed in Johannesburg and surrounds. Roads are well labelled, making driving relatively easy.
www.rentalcars.com | Tel: +27 800 981 448
The red sightseeing bus is a good way to get around Johannesburg. What you should do though is see which other places you want to visit that are within 5km of the stops, to make the most of the ride as a form of transport because the city doesn’t have proper public transportation. Apart from that, make sure you stop at the Apartheid Museum, and Neighbourgoods Market – great food, and cheap
The POPArt Theatre in Maboneng’s Fox Street features an array of quirky (and equally quirkily titled) plays and theatrical events. It’s small, intimate and relaxed. Don’t expect plush velvet seats; do expect provocative mise en scène and action.
Johannesburg is recognized as the financial capital of South Africa and the primary economic hub of the country. It is home to 75 percent of corporate headquarters.
The city of Johannesburg is well over 120 years old. It was founded on 4 October 1886 during the Gold Rush period and ballooned in size as tens of thousands of immigrants descended on the town seeking work at the gold mines.
It is one of the youngest major cities in the world. Cairo in Egypt is the only other city in Africa that competes with it on size and scale, making Johannesburg the second largest city in Africa.
It is regarded as the largest man-made forest in the world with 10 million trees gracing its landscape at last count.
Johannesburg is regarded as having the best climate in the world. The summers are warm and dry, and the winters are moderate. The summer months are between October and April, and the colder winter season is late April to September.
The temperature in winter can drop quite low in the evenings and warm clothes and shoes are needed. Compared to winters in the northern hemisphere, Johannesburg’s winters are still considered to be relatively mild. The days are usually sunny but crisp; the evenings are cold and early morning can be very nippy. Winters are very dry and tourists visiting South Africa take some time to acclimatise to the dryness.
Taxis are also a viable option for airport transfers. Airport transfers by car or minivan can easily be arranged by your hotel. If you land without arrangements, the information kiosk in the airport will assist you in getting licensed transportation. The default fare from the airport to Sandton central is approximately R330. It is advised not to accept offers from touts at the airport. Taxis are available at most hotels, but would need to be called from other locations. If you travel by taxi, be sure to have a local mobile number for communication with the dispatcher/driver.
www.airportlink.co.za | Tel: +27 11 794 8300
Johannesburg Taxi Cabs (Sandton Taxi Cabs), 1 Sandton Dr, Sandton, 2196 (Directly opposite Sandton City Mall), ☎ +27110394402, . 4am to 11pm. Professional Chauffeur Services, Airport Transfers & Shuttles, Corporate & Staff Transport Solutions, 24hrs R12/km.
- Sandton Taxi Cabs, ☎ +27 (0)11 039 4402, . They offer pre-booked taxi services, airport transfers and shuttle services.
- Airport Link, ☎ +27 (0)11) 792 2017, . Fixed price airport transfer service.
- Elias, ☎ +27 (0)76 834 0670. Friendly taxi driver based in the CBD.
- Magicbus, ☎ +27 (0)11 548-0822, . Offers shuttle services between OR Tambo Airport and Sandton. They also offer door-to-door transfers. A bit expensive for the single traveller but reasonable when traveling in groups.
- Maxi Taxi, ☎ +27 (0)11 648 1212, . Reputable taxi firm based in Yeoville.
- Roses Taxi, ☎ +27 (0)11 403 9625. Operates throughout the city.
- MyRide, . Book Taxi Services.
- Snappy Cabs (Pty) Ltd, ☎ +27 (0)79 722 8110. For booking enquiries firstname.lastname@example.org For reliable 24/7 taxi services.
- Lesedi Cultural Village, (Just past the Lanseria Airport on the R512), ☎ +27 (0)12 205-1394, . Traditional dances and food in authentic Zulu, Sotho, Pedi, Xhosa and Ndebele villages.
- Lion Park, R114 near the corner with Malibongwe (old Hans Strijdom Drive) (R512), Honeydew (From the N1, take exit 90, Randburg/R512 Malibongwe (old Hans Strydom Dr.) and follow this north for 12 kilometers past Kya Sands. At the Traffic Light for R114, take a right turn. The Lion Park is six hundred meters down the road on the right.), ☎ +27 (0)11 691-9905 (email@example.com, fax: +27 (0)11 691-9904), . The entrance ticket gives you a visit with the lion cubs (yes, you get to touch them), feed the giraffe (R20 for giraffe food) and a self drive game viewing through the lion camps and game area (antelope, zebra, giraffe and others live here). The Lion Park can be very busy over weekends and public holidays. If you want some quality time with the lion cubs, it is better to go during the week when it is not so busy. If you are going to drive through the lion enclosures, make sure there are no loose objects on the outside of your vehicle and keep your windows closed. The lions are especially fond of 4×4 spare wheel covers, so remove these before you enter. R130 per person.
Americano coffee: From R14-R30
Bottle of beer at a bar: From R22-R135 depending on the origin of the brewery and whether it is a local or imported beer.
Taxi from CBD to airport: Around R330
500ml bottled water at a cafe: From R16-R35 depending on the brand.
- Visit Fordsburg for shopping souvenirs and halal food.
I’m indebted to the following publications and writers/bloggers for helping me out with understanding Joburg and how to make the most of my visit.