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When you read that a city is a ‘melting pot of cultures’, chances are you yawn, roll your eyes and wish that the writer hadn’t been given The Big Book of Clichés for Christmas.Thing is, though, in Johannesburg (Jo’burg or Jozi to the locals), it’s the perfect description.
South Africa has 11 official languages, and in Johannesburg you get to hear them all. This is a city that rumbles along in a whirling chaos, with each culture nursing its own scars and prejudices, its own pride and traditions.
Most visitors come into Johannesburg and go right out again – off to Kruger National Parkfor a safari. And why not? After all, a safari is one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences. But so, in its own way, is Johannesburg.
Johannesburg has its problems – with crime a serious concern. Yet it also has plenty of people trying to find the solutions and a sense of optimism that is apparent in places like Soweto, the once-infamous shantytown that is now transforming itself into a positive, modern suburb.
Despite the poverty and violence, there are pockets of real grace and beauty in Johannesburg – like in South Africa as a whole – that will leave you moved. So whether you’re gaping in wonder at the UNSESCO World Heritage Cradle of Humankind, kicking back in the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens or being inspired at the Mandela Museum or Museum Africa, Johannesburg will not fail to leave an impression.
Johannesburg’s Top 10
10. Wonder Cave 2.2 billion years old and counting. It’s located outside of Johannesburg, but well worth a day trip.
5. National Zoological Gardens One of the best in the world. It has over 9000 animals and even includes an aquarium.
9. Johannesburg Art Gallery 15 exhibition halls, sculpture gardens, international works, but also South African Art.
4. Mandela Family Museum Nelson Mandela’s former house is now a museum.
8. African Crafts Market Masses of crafts, ranging from African figures to drums and animal skins.
3. Top of Africa A tower that gives magnificent views of the city.
7. Soccer City Stadium The biggest stadium in Africa. It was called FNB (First National Bank) Stadium before the World Cup in 2010.
2. Apartheid Museum Trace the journey of South African apartheid history. It starts off with a turnstile that you pass through, which classifies you according to your skin colour.
6. Elephant Sanctuary Feed and groom the elephants or go on rides. Make a donation to beat the ivory poachers.
1. Lion Park Touch a lion cub, feed giraffes and have a look at the lion camps.
- Apartheid Museum – This thought-provoking museum offers insight into a dark period in South African history.
- Museum Africa – This old fruit market now contains historical exhibits on Johannesburg’s past and present.
- Regina Mundi Church – This bullet-ridden church was a central meeting place during the struggle against apartheid.
- Mandela Family Museum – This humble little house gives a peek into the life of one of the world’s most respected political leaders.
- Historical City Centre Walk – This walk includes several significant Anglo-Boer War sites.
Johannesburg Art & Culture
- Turbine Hall – This area shows off stunning historical architecture.
- Soweto – Tours of the biggest township in South Africa reveal a different pace of life.
- Johannesburg Art Gallery – This major public gallery in Johannesburg has an impressive collection.
- Market Theatre – On the cutting edge of South Africa’s dramatic performance scene.
- Standard Bank Art Gallery – This gallery showcases a permanent African art collection and regularly rotating South African artists.
- Mai Mai – The oldest market in Johannesburg is enjoyed by locals and tourists alike.
- Kwa Zulu Natal Museum of Muti & Man – A weird and wonderful retail experience, specialising in traditional herbal medicines.
- Kohinoor World of Music – This basement store is for the discerning music lover.
- Bryanston Organic Market – This market supports fair-trade and organic products.
- Rosebank Rooftop Market – One of the best places to find traditional carvings, beadwork, jewellery, books and curios.
Gay & Lesbian Johannesburg
- The Rec Room – The biggest gay steam bath in Johannesburg.
- Ramp Divas – The oldest gay club in the city and known for its gay pageants.
- Pandora’s Piano Bar – A dynamic hangout featuring a bar and restaurant.
- Kinx – Stocking an extensive range of the best and latest leather and fetish gear.
- The Factory – The ultimate in traditional underground venues.
- Lion Park – This park lets visitors self-drive through the game area before cuddling with a lion cub.
- Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens – The grounds feature a diversity of flora and fauna, including endangered bird species.
- Johannesburg Zoo – This zoo has over 2,000 species that can be viewed.
- Melville Koppies Nature Reserve – A spectacular reserve containing archaeological remains of Stone and Iron Age settlements.
- Paintball City – One of the best places to engage in this thrilling activity.
- Ride horses across 1,600 hectares with SA Horse Trails.
- Navigate a 450m off-road karting course with Xtracks.
- Challenge yourself with a game of golf at tge Roodeport Country Club.
- See league football games at Soccer City, host to the final game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
- Cheer on the Highveld Lions cricket team at the Wanderers Stadium.
Johannesburs LocalJohannesburg Central Business District
The Central Business District (CBD) of Johannesburg has Africa’s most jam-packed concentration of skyscrapers. The district also includes the Nelson Mandela Bridge, which was officially opened by the man himself. The 284-metre-long structure links to Constitutional Hill, where you can take a guided tour to understand how South Africa’s unjust past has ended in freedom. The bridge also leads to the Market Theatre, a complex of three theatres, two galleries, restaurants, bars, and a jazz club. There’s even a flea market held every Saturday morning.
Soweto was a separate city until the 1990s. Scene of the infamous 1976 ‘Soweto Massacre’, its streets became synonymous with resistance against the white regime and its apartheid-driven policies. Spend time here to really soak up the enormity of that struggle and the changes it eventually brought about. The Mandela Family Museum and Hector Pietersen Museum are also worth visiting. For an insight into traditional African culture, the Credo Mutwa Village has restored Zulu and Sotho villages.
As the business centre of Johannesburg, Sandton is urban and busy. It’s here you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars for nightlife fun and games. Whether you find the ever-present security guards comforting or off-putting is another matter. Also, get your picture taken with Nelson Mandela – or his Statue at least –at Nelson Mandela Square. The Gallery on the Square displays both international and South African art, while the 200-seater Theatre on the Square is the place to catch a show.
Johannesburg Eat & Drink
Johannesburg offers an array food from African to Asian food to fusion. Take care with what you try from road stalls, as hygiene standards vary greatly.
Moyo Make the most of modern pan-African fare at this tourist magnet. Music and dancing accompany the food.
Loft This restaurant has a New York feel to it, but offers modern South African cuisine.
Roots An award-winning fine-dining restaurant with fusion cuisine – influences from African, Asian and French flavours.
Karma Indian food with hints of contemporary flavours. Seriously hip place populated by seriously good-looking people.
Assaggi Perhaps the best Italian restaurant in the country. Not surprising because there’s an asparagus and brie lasagne.
Orient A trendy eatery that dishes up Asian food. The menu includes everything from sushi to dim sum.
Auberge Michel serves innovative and high-quality contemporary French food.
Gramadoelas Authentic African food that the celebs love!
Lekgotla A trendy restaurant whose name translates to ‘The Meeting Place’. Come here for African cuisine, if you can find a table amongst all the boozed-up businessmen.
Fino Bar and Restaurant Spanishand Mediterranean tapas best accompanied with a glass of wine or a cocktail.
Get the New Year going at the Jo’burg Carnival in January. Vibrant and colourful floats glide past. (Or perhaps they stand still and the alcohol makes the world move. Either way, it’s fun.)
In March, learn more about African art at the Jo’burg Art Fair at the Sandton Convention Centre.
The Women in Arts Festival in August showcases poetry, storytelling, dance, theatre and photography by women. The five-day festival is held in Newtown before Women’s Day.
September sees a whole month of music, dance and theatre at the Arts Alive Festival.
Also in September is Johannesburg Pride. It lasts a week and culminates in the Gay Pride March. A great excuse for a party.
Out in Africa is a South Africa Gay and Lesbian Film Festival held in October since 1995, offering film screenings and workshops.
In October, celebrate the Hindu Festival of Lights at Newtown Diwali Festival. Festivities include dance workshops, fashion shows and food stalls.
The Good Food and Wine Festival takes place in November in the Coca-Cola Dome. Unsurprisingly, there will be lots of food and wine! Ironically, though, there isn’t much Coca-Cola.
When To Go
In spring (September to November), temperatures reach 24°C (75°F).
Summer is from December to March, when temperatures stay around 13-26°C (55-79°F).
Autumn (April to May) sees temperatures in the 7-21°C (45-70°F) range.
Winter sees temperatures drop to 4-19°C (39-66°F) from June to August.
Renting a car is your best option in Johannesburg because public transport is limited. Only use the public bus if you truly know your way around. Take a taxi if you haven’t rented a car, but only take the normal sedan taxis (they’ll either be metered or, more likely, have a fixed price). Make sure you don’t take the minibus taxis where you’d be sharing with other passengers.
What To Miss
Marlboro Station next to Alexandra is extremely dangerous. Avoid completely if possible.
Since crime rates are very high in Johannesburg, always be careful no matter where you are. And be especially mindful when using ATMs.
Muggings can happen even in broad daylight. Always wear a money belt and keep valuables locked away.
Johannesburg, or Joburg if you want to blend with the locals, is a truly global city, with a big economy and a metro population in excess of 7 million that by all accounts, will experience a phenomenal rise over the next decade. As a result, Joburg will play a progressively vital role on the world stage in the years to come. If you are headed to the 2010 World Cup this year be sure to book a hotel close to the action, check out these hotels near Soccer City Stadium or if your Ellis Park, select one of these great hotels near Ellis Park Stadium.
As the traditional pitstop on the way to Kruger National Park, Joburg has done much to entice visitors to stay for more than a brief respite prior to safari. The result is a phenomenal collection of museums, from the Museum Africa and Johannesburg Art Gallery, to the Apartheid Museum and Mandela Museum.
Attractions & Activities
- Johannesburg Botanical Garden
- Apartheid Museum
- Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site
- Museum Africa
- Mandela Museum
Restaurant & Nightlife
Johannesburg has a relatively dry climate, with warm temperatures throughout most of the year.
- Winter (June to August) 4-19°C
- Spring (September to November) 9-24°C
- Summer (December to March) 13-26°C
- Fall (April to May) 7-21°C
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