Johannesburg Travel Guide

Johannesburg Overview

The booming and energetic city of Johannesburg is the largest in South Africa, situated in the northern province of Gauteng. The driving force behind the country’s economy, it is often symbolised as a land of contradictions, cultural differences and shocking social contrasts. Nevertheless, follow your intrigue and step inside to discover a warm-hearted place like no other.

 
Commonly known as Jo’burg, its popularity began during the 1880’s when a wealth of gold was discovered beneath the high open grasslands. Since then the focus has been on making money, both on and off the streets, and Jo’burgs residents are famed for their entrepreneurship, offering everything from food to haircuts on each street corner. It is this individuality and ability to improvise that adds to the unique atmosphere.
 
The city centre, deserted by most businesses in favour of nearby Sandton, although undergoing a revamp, is somewhat of a ghost town and often left alone by tourists. This said, for the hard core, there are a number of places of interest, counting City Hall and Market Theatre. The main visitor action takes place in and around the vibrant northern suburbs, including Parkton, Sandton and Melville. Lining the, perhaps surprisingly, green and leafy streets are a feast of restaurants, bars and shopping malls, catering for all needs. The south of the city tells a different story, with a number of large townships and communities. Soweto is the main and most well known, although large developments are in existence at Tokoza and Daveyton, amongst others.
 
Today, Johannesburg is accessible from almost any destination, both domestically and internationally. A great deal of airlines serve O.R. Tambo International Airport, located about 25km from the city centre. Buses run at all times of the day, from Park Station transit centre, to Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, Kimberley, Mossel Bay and Pretoria. It is also a good place from where to catch a bus into Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. Interstate trains leave from Park Station, in the city centre, to a host of South African destinations as well as internationally to Mozambique. A city built for cars, public transport is minimal and walking is certainly not advisable. If renting a car is not an option then taxis and minibus taxis are on hand for short trips around the city.
 
With a lot of bad press and media publicity, it is no wonder that many travelling within South Africa tend to avoid Johannesburg, or stay no more than a day. However, and although there are obvious social issues and related crime, it is worth spending some time to discover the real Johannesburg. With a history to rival any, classy urban suburbs and fascinating game reserves on its doorstep, times are fast changing for this captivating city.

Things to do in Johannesburg

Soweto - Starting life as a township for black people during the times of apartheid, Soweto is now a sprawling urban city and popular tourist destination. With a population of over 2 million, residing in homes ranging from shacks to mansions, it provides an intriguing insight into the varying lifestyles and cultural interaction. Max Maximum Tours (Tel (27) (11) 9388703) run commendable tours, or failing that ask at any hostel or hotel.

 
Johannesburg Museums - With so much history to take in, weeks could be spent explore the cities museums. The following are highly recommended; Apartheid Museum, educating visitors on the pre and post apartheid era, and Mandela House, the great man’s first home containing a fascinating array of photographs and memorabilia.
 
Nelson Mandela Bridge - One of Johannesburg’s most prominent structures towers magnificently over Newton and is the longest bridge of its kind in South Africa. Opened by Nelson Mandela himself it is recognised more as a symbol for reconnecting parts of the city than its aesthetics.
 
Kruger National Park - South Africa’s finest wildlife sanctuary, where one can gain first hand experience of the unpredictability of African wildness. Covering almost 2 million hectares of land, spread along the border of Mozambique, the park is home to more species of animal that can possibly be imagined, including, of course, the Big Five. Almost all hostels in Johannesburg promote their own tours, but worth asking around for price comparison, or, for an unforgettable experience, rent a car a self-drive the park. The park is located around 5 hours north of the city.
  
Sun City - This luxury casino and resort is a prime holiday destination, situated 2 hours from Johannesburg, close to Rustenberg. Set in an extended wildlife park, the resort boasts 2 golf courses and the enchanting water-park, Lost City, The Valley of Waves. Although quite a drive, it makes for a comfortable day trip.
 
Top of Africa - Take the elevator to the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre, Commissioner Street, for spectacular panoramic views of the city.
 
Montecasino - Vegas comes to Johannesburg in this fun, yet slightly tacky, entertainment centre. Built around a casino, there is an indoor Tuscan village, complete with a painted mock sky, fading from morning to night, abundance of cafés/restaurants and cinema. Outside is the surprisingly impressive Montecasino Bird Gardens, counting over 200 bird species. Definitely worth spending a relaxing day.
 
Johannesburg Nightlife - By night, the city comes alive with a vibrant nightlife and entertainment to suit all desires. The best spot for drinkers is the Melville district, throbbing with bars and restaurants. Buzz 9, Xai Xai and Ratz, all on 7th Avenue, regularly pull in a hip and trendy crowd. Cool Runnings is a reggae favourite across the country and Roxy’s is a clubbing mainstay and renown across the city as a top hard rock venue.  

Hotels in Johannesburg

Budget Hotels Johannesburg

Africa’s Zoo Lodge - Cheap, cheerful and friendly hostel with swimming pool. Tel (27) (11) 8805108.
Backpackers Ritz - Budget rooms set in an attractive mansion, with garden and swimming pool. Tel (27) (11) 3257125.
Diamond Diggers - Laid back hostel in the Kensington suburb. Tel (27) (11) 6181477.
Rockey’s of Fourways - Range of sleeping options in a hostel with friendly management. Tel (27) (11) 4654219.
 
Midrange Hotels Johannesburg
The Melville House - Elegant rooms in the artist’s district, close to bars, cafés and galleries. Tel (27) (11) 7263503.
Blue Chip Accommodation - Bed & breakfast and self-catering accommodation situated around the Sandton suburb. Tel (27) (11) 3266772.
 
Luxury Hotels Johannesburg
African Pride Melrose Arch - 5 star luxury, with everything imaginable. Tel (27) (11) 2146666.
Protea Hotel Parktonian - Slick, centrally located hotel catering for tourist and business folk. Tel (27) (11) 4035740.
The Westcliff - Stunning hotel perched on a hill and with fantastic city views. Tel (27) (11) 4816074.

Johannesburg Weather

Johannesburg Travel Resources

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