Johannesburg

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This guide introduces a city in hopes of helping potential visitors navigate through it. In this edition, we dabble on the profound charms of Johannesburg travel in South Africa.

Tourist Attractions

  • Maboneng, an up-and-coming tourist-central and locals’ hippie-central, is always happening. Market on Main every Sunday, film-watching at the Bioscope, or Art on Main – as boutique stores, vibey graffiti or makeshift crafts stands – showcase Joburg’s booming creativity. Photographers/photoshoots both local and global are a common sight. You can even join the posse of Maboneng City Riders for a group cycling excursion.

Maboneng rooftop lounge with greenery

The Living Room, a rooftop bar and lounge in Maboneng for enjoying the Jozi cityscape.

Photo courtesy: Jane Kim

  • Indeed, markets are spread all over the city nowadays. (The link contains a list of other neighborhoods’ markets, as well.)

Halloumi at Market on Main

Greek food (spanakopita, hallmoui and talmades) at the Market on Main 

Photo courtesy: Jane Kim

Lost on how to get started? Personal, interactive feedback always beats scripted guides or brochures; so seek help from an expert who knows Jozi inside and out – via Talk Travel App!

Authentic local eateries

  • The Roving Bantu (in Brixton, near Melville and WITS Univ.): Afro-soul full-course dinner is served to you upon booking. Hosted on weekends, the occasion may turn into more than just dinner. Featuring live music and even livelier discussions among the usual tourist + local mix, this cozy venue can turn into parties. Also, the interior holds a fascinating collection to walk you through South Africa’s painful history.
  • The Milk Bar on Keyes Ave. in Rosebank (in a plaza teeming with artworks): Serves an eclectic variety of African snacks and drinks. Since it provides an apt environment to work, it is well worth digital nomads’ attention. 

Interior of The Milk Bar in Rosebank

Interior of The Milk Bar

Photo courtesy: Jane Kim

  • Yeoville Dinner Club for A Pan Afrikan Plate by Sanza Sandile: As an incredibly respected and proud Joburger, Sanza carries a ton of insight about his city and its issues. He’s a food curator who introduces and grants you a truly profound experience in the world of African cuisine, spiced up with his own twists and inventions. Sanza, who grew up on Rockey St., boasts of Yeoville that “all of Africa comes here.” Once there, you’ll easily affirm his words. Sanza leads you onto an experience that is extraordinarily authentically South African plus even more, letting your senses (eyes + palette) believe that Johannesburg is the capital of the entire African continent. 

Food curator in Yeoville

Sanza pours his specialty Zulu ginger beer, with the dishes lined up on the table.

 Photo courtesy: Jane Kim

Local experiences

Placing what constitutes ‘local’ is rather tricky. Considering Joburg’s extreme bipolarization, ‘local’ encapsulates a wide spectrum of wealth. Go to Sandton, Rosebank or similar suburbs to see locals immersed in the fanciest of lifestyles. Meanwhile, ‘town’ or Central Business District (commonly referred to as CBD) is a rather rough survival ground, as are townships.

As dangerous as such poverty-ridden places may be, Soweto is one that garners historical weight and thus a fairly recognized presence. As tourists have struck up a fair amount of interest in such villages, organized tours – that provide a vivid glimpse into South Africa’s rich and often brutal history – are available.

Moving away from the two extremes of wealth, here are some in-betweeners where the South African culture plays itself out – rather crudely, but in a positive sense of the word. In neighborhoods such as Melville, Braamfontein and Yeoville (listed in order of well-kempt to borderline ‘ghetto’), a healthy clash of cultures display a true integration that hasn’t permeated the rest of SA. Without further ado, here are some highlights from each region:

  • Melville: 27 Boxes is a popping collection of cobalt blue shipping container boxes, each of which is a store showcasing local artworks, clothing or jewelry. Eateries also line up the food court on top floor.
    Neighboring suburbs,
  • In Braamfontein: The Orbit – Home of Jazz: a cool venue and bar that host super talented musicians. Oftentimes, they perform jazzy music anyone can casually enjoy and dance to, with a distinct African flavor that makes the experience all the more enchanting. They also host non-music related events or gatherings, alongside the taste of awesome music.
  • In Newtown: a cool marketplace-like food court (1Fox) attached to a large concert venue (Fox Junction), plus more.

In addition, other hip spots leaning more towards upscale are: 44 Stanley, Greenside, Parkhurst (4th Avenue is absolutely buzzing), Illovo and Melrose Arch.

Parkhurst in the evening

Parkhurst 4th Ave. restaurants in the evening

Photo courtesy: Jane Kim

Expectations vs. Realities

Even by the rest of South Africa, Joburg is rammed by stereotypes of being dangerous. Due to its segregation, the crime-infested areas aren’t necessarily conspicuous. The reality is that visitors who prefer their fancy ways can enjoy all the means for such a lifestyle; meanwhile, more grim settlements house more of the city’s population than people are typically aware. On a brighter note, another oft-overlooked aspect of Joburg is the amount of creativity weaved into the city, expressed in multitudinous ways.

No one Joburger can speak for all of Joburg – which is precisely why conversations in Jozi are bound to unfold in intriguing, unexpected ways. For starters, download Talk Travel App to hear from a uniquely Jozi perspective (plus gain tips for trip planning!).

Settling down long-term

If a tourist hasn’t picked up on Jozi’s fast-paced nature, residents will definitely have to get used to it. Both personal mentality and work ethic-wise, Joburgers have a go-getter attitude not unlike New Yorkers, Londoners, and so forth.

Transportation

While Joburg’s train (Gautrain) runs to Pretoria, Soweto, and the Tambo Int’l Airport among other stops, it doesn’t do much for bustling about within the city itself. Contrary to the minibus taxis (that only locals are able to grab, unless you try this) and unreliable buses, the Gautrain is efficient in terms of cost, ease of use and cleanliness. To get around between suburbs within the city, Uber/Taxify (SA’s local and cheaper version) is the best bet.

Destinations worth venturing out to

  • Groot Marico, in the North West Province approx. 2.5 hours’ drive from Gauteng province. It is a quaint rural village with a museum, guest farm, and river running through the valleys – where you can canoe up and down, go fishing, or birdwatch. Hiking and other activities are available seasonally.
  • Sun City is a luxurious holiday resort filled with entertainment, approx. 2 hours’ drive away from Joburg. 
  • Groenkloof Nature Reserve is a nice hiking trail nestled in urban Pretoria, SA’s administrative capital about an hour’s drive from Joburg.
  • Mmakuba Lodge for a Safari experience and traditional lodging, only 2 hours’ drive away from Joburg’s (Tambo) Int’l Airport.

Extra concerns

Traveling as a woman

As per Joburg’s drastically different neighborhoods, it’s important to know what to expect from each region and crowd, the street people and their behavior, and so on. In some rougher areas, having even just one person, especially a male comrade, often makes the world of a difference from wandering alone.

Because the city recognizes this, organized walking group tours abound (i.e., #JoziWalks – with more listed at the bottom of this hyperlink. More here, too). These are great alternatives for those curious about places not conventionally considered nice enough to walk. Hangout Jozi also hosts inner-city group excursions.

Traveling with a child

  • Cradle of Humankind, a paleoanthropological World Heritage site lies slightly less than an hour away. Nearby areas offer recreational activities i.e. golf courses, hot-air balloon rides, and farms.
  • If visiting between January and April, the season will be ripe for raspberry picking. In The Field Berry Farm (southern Joburg), pick, shop and enjoy delicious berry products!
  • Joburg has many city parks. In the Zoo lake area, Emmarentia Dam, Delta Park and Zoo Lake are popular for family outings and picnics in the Zoo lake area. Just be mindful of these guidelines. 
  • Note these travel laws on children visitors initiated two years ago (DHA). Not a huge deal, but better be safe than sorry and ensure that you’ve got the necessary documents at hand.

Accessibility

Here’s a good place to begin searching for accessible accommodation. The website also offers wheelchair-friendly road tours to provide guidance and put you in good hands. This support group is another resource for the mobility-impaired.   

Planning to travel to Johannesburg? You can use the Talk Travel App and directly talk to a local to help you with your travel planning and have  a much more enjoyable experience during your Johannesburg travel.

Let us know if you have any other suggestions to be added to this guide.

Happy travelling:)

Read about other destination and travel guides from the Talk Travel App team.

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