Johannesburg is fast becoming one of the hip and happening cities of South Africa, with a cultural uprising that coaxes even the most timid travellers to the streets.
The largest city in South Africa and the main gateway to fly into, it is where most travellers will begin their journey in the Rainbow Nation. However, it is often overlooked as just a transit en-route to the more popular Cape Town or the game reserves.
Although the city is the seat of the Constitutional Court, it is not one of the country’s three capitals, a common mistake made. It is also known as the City of Gold as Johannesburg was quite literally built on gold and saw a gold rush in 1886 that led to the establishment of the city.
Johannesburg has busily redefined itself over the past decade, breathing new life into old warehouses and derelict buildings, while slowly reclaiming sidewalk spaces for markets, cafes, and art galleries.
This resurgence has created unique opportunities for all types of travellers. Mornings can begin with a bike ride through the streets, lunches can be enjoyed at the hip neighbourhood markets and evenings can be spent on building rooftops sipping away at cocktails while listening to afro-funk.
It is well worth taking the time out to explore this city, affectionately known as Jozi or Joburg. Here are just a few reasons why:
Soweto City Tour
Begin with a drive through the township of Soweto to the famous Vilakazi Street, home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. In fact, you don’t even have to drive, with options like bike and walking tours taking a slower more personal approach. At Vilakazi Street you will find Mandela’s house, where he returned after his release from prison, is now a small museum holding intimate mementos of his family life. Local students can give an in-depth tour of his residence. Tutu’s is still a private residence and you can only view it from the roadside. Other homes along the famous road have been transformed into restaurants, from homestyle buffets to a swanky wine bar.
Visit The Apartheid Museum
The Apartheid Museum is a good place to start learning about the history of the city and South Africa as a whole. The non-profit museum was opened in 2001 and relies on donations, contributions and sponsorship to keep functioning and growing. The Apartheid Museum is the first of its kind and documents the rise and fall of the apartheid system. Here you’ll be able to learn through film footage, photographs, text panels and a variety of artifacts that bear witness to the events and human stories that were part of the apartheid.
Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein
Every Saturday in a parking garage in Braamfontein, foodies gather around giant paellas, raw oysters, and lots of craft beers while listening to funky African tunes pumped out by a local DJ. Located at 73 Juta Street, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, the Neighbourgoods Market fills two floors with innovative foods from across the city, drawing in students from nearby universities and urban explorers from farther afield. The market has helped drive the redevelopment in Braamfontein, a neighborhood with a long history as a bohemian and student enclave.
Arts on Main / Maboneng precinct
A decade ago, when a Sunday morning market opened in an old liquor warehouse, it was an urban oasis surrounded by car repair shops, light industrial complexes, and derelict buildings. Today, Arts on Main has grown into a massive urban renewal project that has lured top artists like William Kentridge, an art house cinema, young fashion designers and ambitious new chefs. The neighborhoods new name, Maboneng, means “place of light.” It’s perhaps more accurately a place of exploring, as one of the few neighborhoods in Johannesburg that’s easily travelled by foot along sidewalks that connect an ever-growing range of shops, restaurants and apartments. Go at the right time and you will be able to enjoy drinks and Salsa on the rooftop.
Where to stay
At the heart of the City of Gold in the tree-lined suburb of Sandhurst, lies the enchanting Saxon Hotel. The all-suite boutique hotel is located in the tranquil ambassadorial suburb of Sandhurst about 20 miles from the Johannesburg International Airport. Oozing luxury, sophistication and style, this property is a uniquely perfect blend of rich cultural history and contemporary five-star service. It is situated on ten acres of magnificent indigenous gardens, providing a private and peaceful retreat like no other. The award-winning hotel is set amongst Johannesburg’s most prestigious residences and was the writing retreat during Nelson Mandela’s memoir “A Long Walk to Freedom”