Johannesburg – why it´s worth it to visit the vibrant heart of South Africa
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This is the view you have from Carlton Centre which is the highest sky scrapper in South Africa. You have an amazing view of Johannesburg

When I considered going to Johannesburg, majority of the people would say, “Are you insane? Johannesburg is dangerous!”.Even before I went to South Africa (or especially Cape Town) for the first time, a lot of people (both local and those who haven’t been to South Africa) advised me to be super careful as it is a dangerous place.However, I never understood how those who have not travelled to this place knew of its apparent danger. I mean, I have been in this “dangerous” country for about 1,5 years and well, I am still alive. Well, as is with any country, you have to know where to go, research how to travel around the place, and well, besides having fun, you have to always be aware and careful. There are spots where you can go and there are some where you shouldn’t go and that’s also how it works in South Africa. Besides that, South Africa itself is a beautiful country that offers a diversity of culture, people, landscapes and languages that make exploring simply fascinating. I also have to admit that the two major cities in South Africa are completely different from each other; Cape Town is much more European and relatively safer, however, Joburg is on his way and but, I still fell in love with the city.

Below I list my reasons as to why the City of Gold is worth a visit:

Welcome to Maboneng – the heart of culture, business and lifestyle

In downtown Johannesburg on the far east side of the city, you will find a bustling, interesting suburb called Maboneng. Maboneng is an area that is still developing; however it has transformed from a no-go area into a hip, vibrant urban community. Just ten years ago, the east side of Joburg was crime-ridden and seedy. Nowadays, you walk through a trendy, well-maintained 24-hour security area.

You will find art galleries, trendy restaurants, as well as, coffee shops, cool bars, collaborative work spaces and cinemas. The buildings and walls are covered with murals and paintings. Thanks to a youngster, Jonathan Liebmann, Maboneng is a gallery of street art and sculptures. When he returned home to Joburg, he started to invest a lot of money, buying a lot of houses and bringing artists to the area.

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Although the area is developing, it is continuously an area of contrast; just as you pass a trendy street, you will find abandoned houses in the same area too. Also located in Maboneng is “The Kwa Mai-Mai Traditional Healers Market”,which known to be the oldest market in Johannesburg and used to be a horse stable. Now it houses over 176 market stall units, where you are guaranteed to find the best souvenirs to take back home. Amongst other things, you will find animal skins, traditional clothes and even strange things like parts of animals which are used as traditional medicine. The people working there are predominantly Zulu-speaking people. The Zulu’s are the largest ethnic group in Southern Africa and their language, is a Bantu language and one of the eleven official languages spoken in South Africa. Are you interested in a proper Maboneng tour? My recommendation: Go on a Inner City Walking Tour with Mainstreet Walks.

Besides the spots I was mentioning above one stop we did on that tour was at Carlton Centre, which I personally found to be impressive. Carlton Centre is a skyscraper and shopping centre in downtown Johannesburg and also, the tallest building in Africa. We took the elevator to a viewing deck on the 50th floor and enjoyed an insanely breathtaking view of Johannesburg.

From Carlton Centre which is the higgest skyscrappers in South Africa you have an amazing view of Johannesburg

What the Inner City Walking Tour also includes is a food tasting. We tried a specialty of the Zulu people: beef cheeks with pap. Pap? Hmm, how can I explain pap? Pap is also known as mieliepap (Afrikaans, which is also one of the 11 official languages in South Africa – for maize porridge). It looks mashed and doesn’t really have a taste, but if you mix it with the sauce and the meat – it’s delicious.

[Disclaimer: This blog post contains some affiliate links. These are products I truly recommend. They are designed and handmade in Africa and by purchasing them you support my sisters and brothers in Africa. Purchasing them may earn me a small commission as well at no extra cost to you for the product. This tiny commission will help support my blog hosting and other maintenance costs. All my opinions are my own and were not influenced in any way. Thank you!]

Some of my favourite African Craft:

Braamfontein – Explore the bustling student suburb 

Braamfontein is another vibrant suburb of Johannesburg and it was named after a farm that used to be on that area before gold was found. It started as a space for corporate offices, hence you can see lots of skyscrapers which are currently being turned into accommodation for students. One of South Africa‘s most famous universities – The University of Witwatersrand – is located in Braamfontein, which explains why the area is commonly known as a student area.

The area comes alive mostly on weekends with students enjoying the party scenes by night. During this time, you will find students airing cool tunes in their cars, sitting and dancing on the sidewalks. In Melle Street you can find big flatscreens on the wall, which broadcasts sports games, which becomes the perfect spot to meet friends, chill and spend your evenings. This area has its own vibe.

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Don’t get me wrong, Braamfontein is even more than just a student area. One street up, Braamfontein offers a more serious side as it also hosts many of South Africa’s musicians and artists. It boasts some of the best public art in the city and is home to lots of galleries, as well as the famous Joburg Theatre. Also you can find jazz clubs, coffee shops and good restaurants and lots of street art. You can explore all of that by going on a Guided Walking Tour. Nielson Tours offers 2 tours in Johannesburg – a City Centre Tour and a Braamfontein Tour.

 

Where to stay in Johannesburg? 

Located in Braamfontein is my favorite hostel in Johannesburg called “Once in Joburg“. It is the sister brand of the hostel I work for in Cape Town, Once in Cape Town, and it is an all-star hostel with a fun and vibrant atmosphere.

Right in front of Once in Joburg, you will find a stop for the Hop-on Hop-off City Sightseeing Bus. The main central railway station, called Park station, is just five minutes away from the hostel. Breweries, bars, restaurants and clubs are also in walking distance.

I have stayed in many hostels before and it is really difficult to find a hostel like this. Also it is really tough to find such welcoming and heart-warming staff. By offering a free activity every day the hostel, ensures that travelers easily mingle with other guests.

reception area once in Joburg

Once in Joburg offers 4 bed sleepers and private rooms – each with an en-suite bathroom. Every private room comes with air conditioning, safe, flatscreen and a tea/coffee Station.

This is how a private room at Once in Joburg looks like.

private room

This is how a four bed sleeper at Once in Joburg looks like

4 bed sleeper

Breakfast is provided by the in-house restaurant and bar, “The Immigrant”, and is included in the rate, as well as, free underground parking. I went there for visiting my friends and checking out the place. We were cooking South African dishes, playing beer-pong and ended up going out almost every day with the Once in Joburg staff, thus making the hostel a definite place to stay.

More of a city than a township, a stop in Soweto is a must!

On the must-do list of every tourist should be Soweto. Our parents probably know Soweto due to the horrible fights that used to take place there in times of Apartheid. Soweto (abbreviation for: South-Western Townships) is the largest township in South Africa and a result of the segregation policy starting in 1904. When gold was discovered in 1884, people from all over the country moved to Joburg to look for employment. Soweto was created to become home of mainly black mine workers to segregate them away from the city centre which was supposed to be home of white population. Soweto’s growth was unplanned and up to today it probably has more than 2 million inhabitants. Honestly, I was afraid of going to Soweto cause I did not know what to expect but basically Soweto is its own suburb like a big city. It has its unique infrastructure, vibe and sightseeing areas. As mentioned before, be sure to be careful when exploring the area. What you can also do is travel with a local who knows the area; I did a bicycle tour with a local and it was much better than exploring alone. How I experienced Soweto was a place of contrast. In the surroundings of even the poorest of homes, you can find beautiful villas – the homes of millionaires. Soweto even has its own adventure area – the Orlando Towers. For those who need their daily adrenaline rush, this is your spot for bungee jumping, abseiling and free-falling.


To understand more of the history of Soweto visit Hector Pieterson Memorial and Vilakazi Street, which is the only street in the world that used to house 2 Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Here are different ways of discovering the area:

  • buy a ticket for the Hop on Hop off City Sightseeing Bus and add a Soweto Tour:
  • get out of the bus and discover Soweto by bicycle, Tuc Tuc or Walking.

More of amazing African Craft:

African Craft

 

Learn about Apartheid and South Africa’s history – visit the Apartheid Museum

A big part of the South African history is Apartheid. Getting to know why South Africa is the country that it is today you have to know about its history.

The Apartheid Museum consists of two exhibitions, the Apartheid exhibition and an exhibition about Nelson Mandela. My tip: go on a guided tour. It’s only R5 and you have to book it in advance. You can explore the museum by your self but be prepared to read a lot and all the information can be quite overwhelming. I had spend 4 hours in there and I almost collapsed by the amount of information I had to take in.

The museum is open every day from 9am to 5pm and the entrance fee is R85 for adults and students pay R40. If you don’t want to go by cab or your own car, take the Hop on Hop off City Sightseeing Bus as it stops right in front of the museum. Plan at least two hours at the museum even if you don’t read all the information signs.

 

How to get around in Johannesburg?

What is the best way to get around in Johannesburg if you don’t have an own car? I can recommend the following ways of Transportation:

1. Taxi
The local and cheapest way (average rate R10) of getting around in Johannesburg are the mini-bus taxis. These taxis are a 12-seater and it goes through town in different directions.

This way of transportation was developed during the Apartheid era by black commuters, who had to travel long distances to and from work without easy access to transportation.
You can find different big taxi stations in the city center of Johannesburg – called taxi ranks. On your way to get there you will not find official taxi stops like there are for buses. The taxis stop where ever you want them to stop in order to pick you up and drop you off. Generally, if you are not in the city center every trip you start in the surrounding of Joburg requires a first trip to the city center. From there you catch another bus to get to your final destination.
When going around in Cape Town most of the taxis have signs indicating where they are going. With raising your hand you make them stop and they pick you up on their way. Getting around in Joburg instead requires a special knowledge – the sign language.

The handsign is indicating to stop the taxi and to show them where you want to go. You are best adviced to speak to a local or ask the driver in one of the taxi ranks directly in order to find out how to get to your destination.

This means “to town please”.

For your own safety:
Never take a mini-bus taxi when it is dark or if they are empty.

That you should know when you drive your own car and drive next to a mini bus taxi:
Be careful! Mini-bus drivers follow their own road rules; they stop wherever and whenever they choose, do not indicate and travel at whatever speed suits them.

 

2. Gautrain
Gautrain was launched in 2010 for the FIFA Soccer World Cup and is a super modern train. Gautrain comes along with three routes. Two routes within Johannesburg – from Santon to the Airport and from Santon to Rhodesfield. The third route connects Johannesburg and Pretoria – commuting between Park Station Joburg and Hatfield, Pretoria.
If you want to use Gautrain you need to get a card which you upload with money. It’s about R 160 to get from Johannesburg Airport to Park Station Johannesburg. For sure it’s more expensive but it’s worth it. If you are more than one person, rather take an uber as it is cheaper then. The spacious wagon offers air conditioning, comfortable seats – which are perfect for long legs – and security.

 

3. Uber
The quickest, safest and most convenient way of getting around in Johannesburg is Uber. Uber? What? For those who have never heard of Uber before – especially Germans as we don’t have Uber in Germany – you can compare it with a cab that you order with an app on your phone.
Lets get started:
Download the uber app.
Create an account.
If you have never used uber before add this promo code: p7smqp44ue under payment and you gonna get a discount up to R 50 for your first ride.

My advices:

When choosing your pick-up location always make sure that you choose a location like a specific hotel, bar, restaurant or shopping centre. Especially when using the pin location most of the time it is inaccurate and the Uber drivers end up somewhere in the middle of nowhere and you are going to get charged R25 cancellation fee. If Uber charges you R 25 – make a complaint. Most of the time the customer service of uber appreciate your opinion and will reimburse you. There is no need to add a credit card, it works on cash as well.
As your driver is arriving please always double-check that it is the car, the number plate and the driver as it is shown on your phone.

 

What else to explore/ to do in Johannesburg?

  • watch a cricket game at Wanderers Stadium

  • visit Constitutinal Hill
  • visit Walther Sisulu Botanical Garden

Don´t forget about Joburg´s entertainment and nightlife sector

Joburg´s nightlife has something to offer for every taste. These are the spots I discovered:

Braamfontein:

Neighbourgoods Market – Food Market
The Beach – Rooftop Beach Bar
Kitchener´s – Pub and Bar
The Orbit – Live Music and Bistro

Parkhurst
Jolly Rogers – Restaurant and Bar
Jolly Cools – Restaurant and Bar
The Rocket – Restaurant

Greenside
Mish Mash
Po Na Na
The Artisan -Restaurant and Bar

Sandton
Katy’s on a Wednesday

Maboneng
Along Foxstreet there are a lot of nice bars and Restaurants:
Lenin’s Vodka Bar
Market on Main
Art´s on Main

FourWays Area
check out the variety of nightclubs, bars and lounges

Newtown
SAB World of Beer
Potato Shed – Restauarant

Melleville
7th street

CATEGORY: Africa, South Africa

Claudia Bartsch

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  • Thanks for such a detailed post. When I recently visited Cape Town, I fell in love. I wish I would have added Johannesburg to my trip. I definitely plan to visit in the future.

    • Hey Annika,

      you can still come back. Now you know what to do 🙂

  • Thanks so much for sharing this! I had lots of people telling me Johannesburg was dangerous, but I would love to go one day! I never knew there was so much to it, and everywhere can be dangerous if you don't look after yourself of course 🙂

    • Hi Anna,
      exactly it can be dangerous everywhere. I have also met lots of people that were telling me the same but those people have never been in Johannesburg. So this is one thing I have learned, I always make up my own mind. Glad you enjoyed reading my post and hope you going to check out Joburg one day.

  • This is a great post! I have been to Johannesburg twice and it's very interesting. Learning about the history of Apartheid in the museum and going to Soweto were memorable experiences for me. We stayed in Melrose Arch both times and enjoyed that area. Great hotels and restaurants!

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