A lot of foreign travelers assume that since South Africa is in Africa, it is a 2nd or 3rd world country. But that’s not the case! When you visit Johannesburg, it will quickly become evident that the country is very similar to western countries.
While Johannesburg is not as popular as Cape Town as a tourist destination, Johannesburg is a major force in the South African economy—it is South Africa’s chief industrial and financial metropolis.
But perhaps you have elected not to visit Johannesburg because of the high crime rates. This is true—there is a problem with crime but you can certainly avoid becoming a victim with a few easy, sensible tips for staying safe in South Africa.
Visit Johannesburg - it's not what you'd expect
1. It’s a worthy stopover before going on a safari
If you are planning to go on a Safari, chances are excellent that you will have to stopover in Johannesburg first because Johannesburg is home to Africa’s busiest airport—OR Tambo International.
Instead of simply moving on to your safari destination, consider recovering from your jetlag in Johannesburg. It’s a vibrant city with a lot to offer.
2. Johannesburg is a shopping mecca
Johannesburg has several malls. They’re all over the place. There’s Eastgate, Westgate, Northgate, and Southgate, plus the trendy malls like Sandton City, Monte Casino, Rosebank, Melrose Arch, and lots more. But it doesn’t end there—if you happen to be in Joburg on the weekend, do yourself a favor and visit the Johannesburg markets. They are fun, trendy, and a great place to mix with the locals and truly experience the Jozi culture.
When we visit Johannesburg, we make it a point to visit over weekends so that we can hit these neighborhood markets. The atmosphere is amazing and the food is always wonderful!
3. Appreciate the delectable cuisine
Joburg is a melting pot of cuisines. This is where you will find traditional, Indian, Asian, European, and African influences.
If you are a foodie, you’re going to love it! And you have options. You could:
- Explore the city’s thriving foodie culture, like the upscale 4th Avenue in Parkhurst, Illovo Junction, 7th Street in Melville, or Fordsburg for great Indian cuisine;
- Check the reviews online, then take your pick of tons of restaurants. One of our favorite restaurants (in the world) is The Fishmonger (Illovo);
- Check out the local restaurants and chain restaurants. If you’re an American who does not enjoy American chain restaurants, you’re probably cringing but seriously, try out a few of the South African chain restaurants. Or;
- Check out the Johannesburg markets if you’re in town over the weekends because the food is something to experience.
4. Experience actual wildlife
Yes, Johannesburg is a cosmopolitan urban area, but it’s also an amazing place to experience South Africa’s wildlife.
If you don’t have the budget for that fancy Safari at Kruger National Park, you can see wildlife in Jozi for a fraction of the cost!
Head out to the Lion Park. Here you can go on a secure Safari, you can drive your own car to see the Lions (and other wildlife), you could play with lion cubs, or feed the giraffes.
Also, consider the national parks and game reserves within driving distance. There are a few to choose from:
- The Rietvlei Nature Reserve is a 48min drive from Johannesburg;
- The Pilanesberg National Park and Game Reserve is a 2½ hour drive from Joburg;
- The Dinokeng Game Reserve is an hour, 15 minutes from Joburg.
But if birds are more your thing, you could also check out the Montecasino Bird Gardens.
5. Relish the pleasant weather
During the summers, days are warm with the occasional dramatic late afternoon thunderstorms. However, the sky normally clears up in time for sundowners.
Winter days are typically bright and sunny with colder nights.
6. Discover thought-provoking museums
There are several to choose from:
This offers a powerful and moving peek into life under apartheid. The museum takes a holistic look at South Africa’s road to democracy.
The Mandela House Museum and The Hector Pietersen Museum offers a view of institutionalized racial oppression in greater detail.
The Constitutional Court
The constitutional court is not a museum but you can do a self-guided tour. It was built on the site of a prison that included inmates like Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela.
The Cradle of Humankind is the place where humankind originated. The site is approximately 90 minutes from Johannesburg, but it’s worth the visit because it offers humankind’s evolutionary pathway, paleontology, and fossils.
7. Experience a thriving nightlife
Looking for huge outdoor patios, sleek cocktail lounges, hipster bars, dance clubs? Joburg has it all… and then some. Once again, you have options! You could go with the nightclub district in Melville or Newton, the chic, upscale city of Sandton, or the ultra-stylish Rosebank. Each neighborhood offers its own flavor of entertainment.
8. Explore the natural beauty
Once you get out of the cities, Johannesburg is beautiful. Check out:
- The Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve offers 52 square miles of unspoiled highveld grasslands. Here you can hike to altitudes over 5,000 feet above sea level.
- The Moreleta Kloof Nature Reserve offers 100 hectares of protected land, with various antelope, prolific birdlife, zebra, and ostrich.
- The Melville Koppies has 150 hectares of wild, rocky hills. Here you’ll find a treasure trove of highveld grasses during the winter, wild flowers during spring, and indigenous plants.
- The Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens offers 300 hectares of botanical escape. It also has a respectable waterfall and plenty of green lawn for picnics and summer concerts. If you are an avid birder, you’ll also appreciate a couple of nesting Verreaux’s eagles on the cliffside.
- Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve. This is home to 650 species of indigenous plants and trees. You may spot black wildebeest, zebra, red hartebeest, blesbok, porcupines, otters, duiker, springbok, and 170 bird species.
9. Respect Joburg as Africa’s leading entertainment and arts hub
Joburg is the hub for theater, modern music, indie music, comedy, and performing arts. Johannesburg hosts many art events and performances every year, and just like Cape Town, it also hosts a jazz festival.
Also, be sure to check out the local arts and crafts markets—you can usually find them at the neighborhood markets. You’ll find local artists showcasing their masks, ornaments, jewelry, furniture, fabrics, and more.
10. Recognize Jozi as a hip city
Joburg has a vibe to it that you may really appreciate.
It is perhaps not as laid back as Cape Town, but it’s relaxed nonetheless. If the weather is good, you’ll usually see people hanging out at outdoor restaurants and bars—during the week! In fact, go to a restaurant during lunch—chances are good they’ll bring you a drinks menu! That’s Jozi! (That’s South Africa!)
11. Appreciate the city’s diversity
You may already know that South Africa is a diverse country with different cultures and 11 official languages. True, but Joburg has all that, and more! That’s because if you’re looking for opportunity, this is where you go.
Expect to find a little bit of everyone!
How to get around in Johannesburg
Renting a car can be a good option for getting around Johannesburg. However:
- Avoid driving during the rush hours. Roads and highways will be highly congested.
- Johannesburg is relatively spread out. That along with traffic can mean significant delays.
There are plenty of taxis but it’s best to call in advance and pre-book any trips.
Public transport in Joburg is limited but it does exist. There are a network of buses that connects to the Gautrain lines. This makes most of the city accessible by public transportation. However, keep in mind that buses do not run on Sundays.