Travel Guide

Johannesburg Travel Guide

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Travel Guide

The biggest city as well as the provincial capital of Gauteng Province, Johannesburg’s reputation is more than its massive-scale diamond and gold production. The City of Gold is also an incredibly diverse and dynamic destination which is highly regarded for its intense history and strong multicultural influences.

Visit the Apartheid Museum for a look at the region’s bygone era. This will step you back in time, allowing you to glimpse into the brutalities and sufferings during the long Apartheid phase which prevailed here for over 50 years. With attractions such as Mandela House, Freedom Towers, and Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital (one of the world’s largest hospitals), be sure to visit the huge suburb of Soweto; it’s sure to enlighten you with a generous bout of the region’s disturbing past and culture.

Add to this a trip to Gold Reef Mine which provides a genuine insight into the region’s gold rush era. Located 220 meters down, this museum-turned-gold-mine was once the deepest of its kind, instrumental in producing more than 1.4 million kilograms of gold - starting from 1880s till its closure in 1971. Apart from these, the city hosts a multitude of theaters, art galleries, and festivals and events (Joburg Carnival, Arts Alive etc) – all of which honor the region’s extraordinary cultural diversity and heritage.

Johannesburg is the main economic center which is responsible for generating close to 18% of the country’s GDP. Bestowed with rich natural resources and known for its importance in gold mining, Johannesburg’s economy – however - is now seemingly diversified displaying major strengths in retail, service, manufacturing and tourism industries. The CBD (Central Business District) is the city’s main retail hub.

It also boasts of the country’s biggest stock exchange, Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), besides serving as the major base for many international companies. As a highly developed urban center, its infrastructure is strong, featuring remarkably modern transport and information and communication systems. Most of all, it is home to the world’s largest dry port which handles more than half of the cargoes which reach here via Cape Town and Durban ports.

Johannesburg’s currency is the South African Rand whose ISO code is ZAR. One ZAR equals to USD 0.082.

Johannesburg is a city fantastically built on its intriguing past that dates back to more than a hundred year. The region is believed to have been inhabited since pre-historic times and its first known settlers are the San people. But it became noticeable only in 1800s post the discovery of gold.

Gold Rush and Quick Development

As it attracted people from all over the world to make their fortune, the Gold Rush raised the status of Johannesburg from a small settlement to a prominent city by 1920s. Despite its tremendous development, this led many black Africans to work in mines while facing severely terrible conditions.

Anglo-Boer War

The city also played a pivotal role in the Anglo-Boer War or the Second War of Independence. Fought from 1899 to 1902 in three phases, this was between the British and Boer states including the South African Republic and the Orange Free State. Al though Boers managed to succeed initially, the British strengthened their troops in the second and third phases. The Anglo-Boer War Memorial, located adjacent to the South African National Museum of Military History, is dedicated to more than 100,000 people who lost their lives in one of the longest battles.

Apartheid Phase

Things grew worse in the region following the implementation of the Apartheid legislation by the National Party in 1948. This resulted in the forced eviction of black population, leading them to shift to townships quite away from the city. These regions are now collectively referred to as Soweto or South Western Townships. As a result of strong anti-apartheid fights involving such incidents as the Rivonia Trail (responsible for the long imprisonment of Nelson Mandela) and the tragic Soweto Uprising (1976), the Apartheid system was finally put to an end in 1994.

Johannesburg is now a thriving destination with a unique vigor and spirit. It’s proud of its eventful past and continues to progress in every facet.

  • Johannesburg is the second largest city in the whole of Africa, after Cairo in Egypt. 
  • The City of Gold was founded in 1886 during the Gold Rush phase. 
  • It is now among the world’s 50 biggest metropolitan areas.
  • It is credited to be the world’s largest city which is not directly developed on a coastline. This further makes it the largest of its kind dry port. 
  • Its richest archeological sites alone account for over 40% of the planet’s overall human fossils.  
  • Johannesburg boasts of a 100-year-old zoo which shelters the only set of polar bears in Africa. 
  • Johannesburg is also home to Africa’s largest as well as the busiest airport, O.R. Tambo International Airport. 
  • It has one of the world’s largest hospitals, Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital. Interestingly, it’s this vast city’s only public hospital, containing 3000 beds. 
  • Featuring a wide spectrum of towering structures including Carlton Centre and Sentec Tower, Johannesburg has some of Africa’s largest buildings. 

Due to its high altitude location on the Highveld Plateau, Johannesburg has a highland or maritime climate with pleasant summers and winters. In fact, summers (November to March) are satisfyingly warm without any humidity. As the daily average temperature does not exceed 26°C, you’ll experience cooler nights. Characterized by sunny days, cold nights, and occasional frosts and drizzle, May - August is the winter months. With temperature going below 0 °C, June is the coldest month. Spring and autumn seasons too are sunny and pleasant in Johannesburg. The average rainfall is close to 28 inches per year and it mainly occurs during summer months (between October and March).

You can reach Johannesburg via multiple ways, being the city one of South Africa’s major transportation hubs.

By Air: Johannesburg’s airport, O.R. Tambo International Airport, is also the busiest as well as the largest airport in Africa. It runs flights to and from almost all prominent cities in Asia, Europe, and Australia, making it easily accessible from international destinations. The airport is just 20 kilometers away from the city center.

By Rail: With several intercity trains operated by Spoornet, you can easily reach Johannesburg from almost all South African cities such as Pretoria, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town. Apart from Metrorail that connects the city to suburbs, there is Gautrain which allows for easy transfer between Sandton and the airport. Johannesburg Park Station is Africa’s biggest railway station.

By Road: Bus services are provided from the country’s major cities to enter Johannesburg. Among the major bus service operators are Greyhound, S.A. Roadlink, The Baz Bus, and Translux. To reach the city, there are also buses available from other destinations such as Zambia and Zimbabwe.

A visa is mostly required for your Johannesburg visit. But, the passport holders of visa-exempt countries can enter the country without a visa and also stay here for a certain period depending on their nationality.

For instance, the nationals of more than 45 countries are eligible for a visa-free 90-day stay in South Africa, such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Ireland, Japan, Spain, USA, and UK. Alternatively, the 30-day visa free entry can be enjoyed by citizens of 28 nations, from Antigua and Barbuda, Cyprus, and Cape Verde to Malaysia, Turkey, and Thailand. Also, the diplomatic or service passport holders of 30 plus countries do not require a visa for their stay in the country for up to 30, 90 or even 120 days.

All nationalities not included in the above main categories should mandatorily obtain a visa to enter South Africa. If you’re looking for a stress-free alternative to process your South African visa in minimal time frame, our specialist visa team guarantees you valuable visa assistance with a customized approach.

Fittingly acknowledged as the Gateway to Africa, Johannesburg serves as a great kick off point to explore some of South Africa’s most iconic as well as hidden gems. A few to mention are:

Sun City: Just 200 kilometers away, this luxury resort and casino in North West Province makes an amazing getaway for those seeking an action-packed day out infused with loads of fun and adventure. It offers four hotels plus a host of facilities like golf courses, waterpark, kid-centric attractions, and superb entertainment choices by way of Moviezone, Sun City Theater etc.

Pilansberg Game Reserve: A must-experience for an authentic African wildlife experience! Surrounded by untouched natural beauty, this vast 55000-hectare reserve within an ancient volcanic crater lets you explore its more than 7000 residents including the famous African Big Five. And the best thing is that it’s right next door of Sun City entertainment complex.

Cradle of Humankind: A short drive of around 50 kilometers will bring you to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. With over 200 limestone caves featuring the fossilized remnants of age-old plants, animals, and hominids, it’s a paleoanthropological site which spans for over 45,000 hectares.

Rietvlei Nature Reserve: Located about 40 kilometers from OR Tambo International Airport, Rietvlei Nature Reserve in Pretoria allows you to explore one of the world’s biggest urban nature reserves. It has close to 2000 animals and more than 200 bird species.

Johannesburg has one of Africa’s most exciting culinary scenes, thanks to its multi-ethnic background which comes with a wide spectrum of flavors and influences from all over the world. Overflowing with a wealth of possibilities, the city is surely a haven for connoisseur of tastes.

Whether you’re a first-timer or revisiting, make sure that you try some of its most scrumptious local specialties. This includes:
  • Boerewors: This traditional sausage is prepared using a blend of beef, lamb / pork, and a variety of spices.
  • Bunny Chow: This comes with hollowed bread filled with spicy curry which can be vegetarian or one containing meat.
  • Shisa Nyama: It’s actually a culinary experience which lets you relish the braaied or barbequed meat.Bobotie: A mix of minced meat, spices, and egg sauce makes this cuisine of Malay cuisine absolutely delicious.
  • Melkert: Made of milk and eggs, this South African dessert is more or less like an English custard tart.

From the most sophisticated and extraordinary to strikingly unusual eateries, there are plenty of options scattered all over the city to try your favorite gastronomic specialties. Want to dine in a classy ambience? Step into restaurants such as Marble, Mezepoli by Plaka or Doppio Zero. If you wish to bring a distinct twist to your dining experience, you can’t go wrong with restaurants like District Six Eatery, Baha Taco, Café Hemingways, and The Potato Shed.

No matter you plan to visit Johannesburg during summer or winter, you can look forward to participate in a variety of events any part of the year. This ranges from the prestigious Gauteng SANSUI Summer Cup and the Rand Show - the country’s largest consumer show to Gateway Show Johannesburg - the much-awaited travel and tourism event.

Music lovers will be excited to know that Johannesburg hosts Standard Bank Joy of Jazz - one of South Africa’s biggest jazz festivals. Held in September, this event is sure to take your breath away, with the performances by highly acclaimed international artists.

The events and festivals such as FNB Joburg Art Fair (September), Johannesburg Arts Alive Festival (August), and Your Family Creative Craft Expo are certain to please the art and craft aficionados. Likewise, if you’re an enthusiastic reader, you’ll be delighted to attend Jozi Book Fair (September) and Abantu Book Festival (December).

There are also some great events lined up for foodies, mainly Prawn and Food Festival (February), Soweto Wine and Lifestyle Festival (March), Good Food and Wine Show (August) and Whisky Live Festival (November).

Johannesburg’s widest array of bars, nightclubs, restaurants, theaters, and dance and music venues assures you of plenty of things to do once the sun goes down.

Majority of the city’s premium pubs, clubs and lounges are scattered across Melville, Newton, and Sandton areas. These range from Carfax, Hell’s Kitchen, and SIX Cocktail Bar to Copper Bar and Social on Main. For the liveliest night out in the town with endless food, drink and music, head over to venues like Movida, Madison Avenue Rivonia, Kong, Randlords, The Orbit – Jazz Bar, and The Manhattan Club.

To try something quirky and more eclectic, make your way to Milk Bar, The March Hare at Commissioner Street, or Ace + Pearl Wine Bar in Craighall Park. If you don’t want to get wild or prefer to ditch the packed or frantic clubbing scene, there are a variety of alternative ways to spend your nightlife in Johannesburg. You can choose to dine at one of its cozy restaurants or even choose to spend night at the prominent theaters like Windybrow Theater and Market Theater.

From the immensely sprawling malls and top-end designer boutiques to a great array of craft bazaars, flea markets, and factory outlets, Johannesburg is easily a shopaholic’s paradise.

For an all-inclusive, glamorous shopping experience, a must-visit is Sandton City mall. It’s not just favored for its overwhelming array of merchandises from both local and international brands, but equally outstanding for its finest dining options, making it one of the coolest spot to shop and hang out in the city. If you’re in search of more premier choices, go ahead and add Melrose Arch, Fourways Malls, Montecasino, and Southgate Mall on your Johannesburg shopping bucketlist.

If you’ve a penchant for astonishing one-off art pieces and gift items, then be sure to drop into highlights including Rosebank Art and Craft Market, Ardmore Design (Hyde Square), Firehouse (Dunkeld), and Yswara (Maboneng). For a high-end personalized jewelry shopping experience, don’t miss Bryllianta Diamonds & Tanzanite in Sandton, where prior appointment is required.

Furthermore, the city’s many markets comprising Panorama Market, Bryanston Organic Market, Neighbourgoods Market, and Bruma Market, which is the biggest of its kind in Southern Hemisphere, offer a wonderful respite for those looking for alternative shopping options with utmost fun, adventure, and bargain.

Apartheid Museum: A remarkable collection of photographs, film footages, artifacts, and distressing personal notes on display here will journey you through the country’s Apartheid era.

Nelson Mandela Square: With an enormous statue of the late Nelson Mandela - one of the most celebrated anti-apartheid activists, this stylish square enthralls you with its numerous shopping, dining and leisure options.

Gold Reef City: This park at the site of a 19th century gold mine not only allows you to glance into the region’s gold rush era but also have the utmost fun and thrill, thanks to its many themed rides and attractions.

South African National Museum of Military History: Featuring a rich repertoire of over 40,000 exhibits covering military aircraft, weapons, and uniforms, this museum provides you with a detailed account of the region’s major military wars, from the Anglo-Boer War and the Anglo-Zulu War to the First and Second World Wars.

Constitution Hill: Once a fort prison, it is a must-visit to experience the region’s disturbing past. It is now the site of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, and contains museums including Number Four Museum and Old Fort Museum.

Johannesburg Art Gallery: Over 9000 artworks covering 17th century European art make it one of Africa’s biggest art galleries.

Get an insider perspective of Johannesburg’s significant landmarks with our multitude of seamlessly hosted tours – all offering well-structured travel program.

Relive the region’s momentous past on a full day Soweto tour. See many distinguished sights on your way to Soweto or South Western Township, approximately 20 kilometers away from Johannesburg city center. Stop at the outstanding Apartheid Museum and further enter Mandela House, besides a drive through the house of Desmond Tutu.

This tour also takes you to the historic Gold Reef City. Dating back to 1880s, the gold-mine-turned-amusement park will enlighten you with some authentic facts on the region’s gold rush phase. So, as you reach here, get ready to go down 220-meter-deep gold mine which used to be one of the richest of its kind.

We also organize trips to the region’s ultimate entertainment complex of Sun City tour along with an entry to its Valley of Waves water park. If you wish to enrich your Sun City experience, add a visit to the iconic Pilansberg Game Reserve, which is just a few blocks away.

Whether you opt for our pre-arranged itinerary or a fully personalized tour experience, we assure you of the most relaxed experience of exploring Johannesburg.

This further allows you to enjoy great deals while enjoying milder climate and lesser crowd. Moreover, visiting during months like September are ideal for game viewing. Alternatively, for those looking for fantastic travel discounts, the recommended time for Johannesburg visit is during winter months, particularly July and August.  
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