Johannesburg is a city full of charms and we explore them all in this guide.
- 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.
- The Living Room, a rooftop bar and lounge in Maboneng for enjoying the Jozi cityscape. Photo courtesy: Jane Kim
Markets are spread all over the city nowadays.
- Greek food (spanakopita, hallmoui and talmades) at the Market on Main. Photo courtesy: Jane Kim
- Another artsy spot is a wealthy suburb Rosebank, housing contemporary art galleries (Circa Gallery on Jellicoe Ave., Goodman Gallery on Jan Smuts Ave. and more) plus a bazaar-style Sunday market.
- Apartheid Museum: On top of letting visitors in on SA’s painful past, guided tours are offered for a small group at a time.
- SAB World of Beer: A museum plus conference venue operated by breweries. Tours, guides and events including beer pairing and tasting are available upon booking.
- Turffontein Race Course: One of SA’s largest racehorse venues. Near the fascinating, quirky James Hall Museum of Transport.
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. 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. First of all, 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. He leads you onto an experience that is extraordinarily authentically South African in addition to letting your senses (eyes + palate) believe that Johannesburg is the capital of the entire African continent.
While placing what constitutes ‘local’ is rather tricky you can definitely try local experiences. Considering Joburg’s extreme polarization, ‘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 maybe, Soweto is one that garners historical weight and thus a fairly recognized presence. Since 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:
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 the top floor.
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 addition, other hip spots leaning more towards upscale are: 44 Stanley, Greenside, Parkhurst (4th Avenue is absolutely buzzing), Illovo and Melrose Arch.
- 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 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.
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. You can also use Uber or Taxify (SA’s local and cheaper version) to move around suburbs.
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.
Traveling as a woman
As per Joburg’s drastically different neighborhoods, it’s important to know what to expect from each region and crowd. In some rougher areas, having a companion, especially a man, often makes the difference.
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.
For more tips on female solo travel, visit our guides here.
Traveling with a child
You can read a list of the best 10 things to do in Johannesburg with kids. Also, these tips will also be useful:
- Cradle of Humankind, a paleoanthropological World Heritage site lies slightly less than an hour away. Nearby areas offer recreational activities like 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.
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.
If you have more suggestions, hit the comment section! We’ll happily add them to our guide!
Happy traveling 🙂