Johannesburg travel guide

Johannesburg Tourism | Johannesburg Guide

You're Going to Love Johannesburg

Johannesburg is big and sprawling, a city that is a work in progress. Despite its history - or maybe because of it - it's a city with a youthful vibe that is constantly changing and has a hip fashion and arts scene to match.

Johannesburg is the economic engine of South Africa, and an important financial and business center for all of the African continent. Jo'burg, as it is affectionately called, is also a very green city; about six million trees were planted within the city to create one of the world's largest urban forests.

The Apartheid Museum, Liliesleaf Farm, the former secret HQ for the ANC or African National Congress, and many other monuments serve as reminders of the city's troubled past, a past that is receding more and more each day as Johannesburg continues to reinvent itself into a busy modern city.

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Johannesburg

1. Spectacular Wildlife Encounters

You can play with lion cubs or feed the giraffes at Lion and Safari Park, or take in a show at the Montecasino Bird Gardens. Despite its cosmopolitan urban area, Johannesburg is a great place to experience South Africa's unique and iconic wildlife. Pilanesberg National Park and Game Reserve is a large nature reserve, one of many in the area, and you can easily book wildlife safari day tours from the city.

2. Unspoiled Natural Beauty

The Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve is just a short drive away, with about 52 square miles of unspoiled highveld grasslands where you can hike to altitudes over 5,000 feet above sea level. The Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens is an escape located inside the city, with displays and areas to walk through.

3. A Hotbed for Music and the Arts

The Lesedi Cultural Village is just one of many venues in the city where you can explore the city's cultural traditions. Jo'burg is also a hotbed for modern music, theater, and performing arts, hosting a renowned jazz festival and many other arts events and performances throughout the year.

4. Sparkling Nightlife

With everything from sleek cocktail lounges and hipster bars to huge outdoor patios, dance clubs, and more, there's no excuse for staying in night after night in Johannesburg. From chic, upscale Sandton or the nightclub district in Melville, stylish Rosebank, to the dance clubs in Newtown, each neighborhood offers its own flavor when it comes to entertainment.

5. Delectable Cuisine

Johannesburg is a melting pot of African cuisines, and incorporates Indian, Chinese, and European influences. There are many areas in the city to explore its thriving foodie culture, including 4th Avenue in Parkhurst, an upscale district, or Illovo Junction with its youthful vibe. 7th Street in Melville is the traditional restaurant district, while Fordsburg is where to experience great Indian cuisine.

What to do in Johannesburg

1. Apartheid Museum: Confront the Past

There is no better place to learn about the complex history of Apartheid than at this comprehensive museum. Slabs of concrete form the gloomy building, an intentional design that evokes the feelings of oppression and inequality that marked the decades of segregation. Galleries go on to illustrate every detail of the saga, confronting visitors with the hard truth and inspiring reflection on the past while reminding of the reality of hope for the future.

2. Gold Reef City: The Rush Continues

Developed atop a retired gold mine, this amusement park is unique and dazzling. Visitors step back in time to the 19th century, at the height of the Gold Rush, with staff dressed in period clothing and museums that detail the mining and casting processes. Watch liquid gold being poured into barrels, and hold a precious, shimmering brick in your hands. And this is just the start of the fun - rides and roller-coasters galore fill the rest of the area! There's also a casino next door.

3. Constitution Hill: Layers of History

Once the country's most notorious prison and military fort, the cells here historically incarcerated the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi for their outspokenness about equality and peace. In a paradoxical turn of events, the hilltop is now home to South Africa's Constitutional Court - an emblem of the long road towards present day democracy. Tour the premises to trace every step along the path to national justice.

4. Nelson Mandela Museum: Leading the Revolution

The highlight of the Soweto neighborhood, Nelson Mandela's long-time home is now a charming museum that draws tourists from all over the world. Bullet holes and scorch marks riddle the facade of the tiny brick building, but inside, evidence of the former President's life-long dedication to peace and freedom fills the space - an inspiring collection of photographs, portraits and memorabilia. Atmospheric and authentic, the modest home offers intimate insights into the life of a remarkable man.

5. Johannesburg Zoo: The Animal Kingdom

This world-class zoo is full of majestic creatures from all over the world. Elephants, rhinos, leopards and more roam the expansive enclosures, each at home in a perfectly curated habitat. Rare white lions steal the show, a gorgeous species that is supported by the zoo's advanced breeding program. The thrill of seeing these beautiful animals is incomparable - stroll the pathways and see what you'll find next!

1. Apartheid Museum: Confront the Past

There is no better place to learn about the complex history of Apartheid than at this comprehensive museum. Slabs of concrete form the gloomy building, an intentional design that evokes the feelings of oppression and inequality that marked the decades of segregation. Galleries go on to illustrate every detail of the saga, confronting visitors with the hard truth and inspiring reflection on the past while reminding of the reality of hope for the future.

2. Gold Reef City: The Rush Continues

Developed atop a retired gold mine, this amusement park is unique and dazzling. Visitors step back in time to the 19th century, at the height of the Gold Rush, with staff dressed in period clothing and museums that detail the mining and casting processes. Watch liquid gold being poured into barrels, and hold a precious, shimmering brick in your hands. And this is just the start of the fun - rides and roller-coasters galore fill the rest of the area! There's also a casino next door.

3. Constitution Hill: Layers of History

Once the country's most notorious prison and military fort, the cells here historically incarcerated the likes of Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi for their outspokenness about equality and peace. In a paradoxical turn of events, the hilltop is now home to South Africa's Constitutional Court - an emblem of the long road towards present day democracy. Tour the premises to trace every step along the path to national justice.

4. Nelson Mandela Museum: Leading the Revolution

The highlight of the Soweto neighborhood, Nelson Mandela's long-time home is now a charming museum that draws tourists from all over the world. Bullet holes and scorch marks riddle the facade of the tiny brick building, but inside, evidence of the former President's life-long dedication to peace and freedom fills the space - an inspiring collection of photographs, portraits and memorabilia. Atmospheric and authentic, the modest home offers intimate insights into the life of a remarkable man.

5. Johannesburg Zoo: The Animal Kingdom

This world-class zoo is full of majestic creatures from all over the world. Elephants, rhinos, leopards and more roam the expansive enclosures, each at home in a perfectly curated habitat. Rare white lions steal the show, a gorgeous species that is supported by the zoo's advanced breeding program. The thrill of seeing these beautiful animals is incomparable - stroll the pathways and see what you'll find next!

Where to Eat in Johannesburg

The Cube Tasting Kitchen in the Maboneng precinct is a popular spot to sample from a high-end tasting menu that costs R800 for food only, and R1300 for a food and wine pairing. Seafood is king at many restaurants in town, like the Fishmonger, with multiple locations. Fresh seafood dishes from an international menu start at about R100. The Local Grill menu focuses on free range, grain-fed beef dishes that start at about R130.

When to visit Johannesburg

Johannesburg in August
Estimated hotel price
C$ 46
1 night at 3-star hotel
Johannesburg in August
Estimated hotel price
C$ 46
1 night at 3-star hotel

Johannesburg sees the most tourist visits during the summer, between the months of December to February, when daytime temperatures can reach as high as 95 degrees Fahrenheit. In winter, from June to August, daytime temperatures are typically in the mid-70s, and evening temperatures may drop close to freezing on occasion.

Data provided by weatherbase
Temperatures
Temperatures
Average
Celcius (°C)
Data provided by weatherbase

How to Get to Johannesburg

Plane

The O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) is about 13 miles from the city center. As one of the busiest airports in Africa, there are international connections throughout the continent and beyond to European destinations. There is a commuter rapid rail network called Gautrain available at the airport, with service from the airport to Sandton station, where transfers are available to Johannesburg. The cost should be around R165. Taxis are available, but be sure to take only a licensed taxi with a meter. Lanseria Airport, about 25 miles from the city, is a private airport, but does service some discount airlines along with domestic flights.

Train

Shosholoza Meyl trains offer both economy and deluxe classes on sleeper trains that connect Johannesburg to major centers in South Africa, including Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and East London. The Johannesburg Park Station handles most intercity routes. The Metrorail suburban train line connects the city with Soweto, Pretoria, Springs, and Krugersdorp. Gautrain is faster and very secure, but also more expensive. Fares depend on the distance. A trip from Johannesburg to Pretoria costs R46 with Gautrain and R9 with Metrorail.

Car

Johannesburg connects to most centers in South Africa and beyond through a network of highways. The N1 links to Cape Town or Bloemfontein, and the N3 connects to Durban. The N4 goes as far as Botswana, and the N14 connects to Namibia.

Bus

Intercity buses arrive and depart from Park Station, and include Greyhound, Magic Bus, and SA Roadlink. Park Station is busy and can be quite chaotic, so give yourself extra time to find your way.

Airports near Johannesburg

Airlines serving Johannesburg

United Airlines
Good (2,839 reviews)
Lufthansa
Good (2,151 reviews)
American Airlines
Good (4,377 reviews)
KLM
Good (348 reviews)
Air France
Good (399 reviews)
British Airways
Good (1,414 reviews)
Delta
Excellent (3,048 reviews)
Turkish Airlines
Good (1,324 reviews)
SWISS
Good (454 reviews)
Qatar Airways
Good (1,208 reviews)
Emirates
Excellent (958 reviews)
Iberia
Good (915 reviews)
Air Canada
Good (1,412 reviews)
Austrian Airlines
Good (278 reviews)
Etihad Airways
Good (308 reviews)
Singapore Airlines
Excellent (320 reviews)
Brussels Airlines
Good (100 reviews)
Finnair
Good (694 reviews)
LATAM Airlines
Good (777 reviews)
Ethiopian Air
Good (147 reviews)
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Where to stay in Johannesburg

Central Business District - aka CBD, this is where you'll find great shopping along Diagonal Street, as well as Little Addis, the Ethiopian district. It is also home to many art galleries and arts venues.

Popular Neighborhoods in Johannesburg

Braamfontein - near the city center, this is where you'll find a young, hip crowd due to the presence of the University of Witwatersrand. Many of the city's museums and arts venues are to be found here, along with the Neighbourgoods Saturday Market, unique boutiques, and places to stop for coffee or a bite to eat.

Maboneng - this is a neighborhood that went from urban blight to hipster hangout, one of the world's most successful urban renewal projects. Look for a lively scene of dining and nightlife.

Where to stay in popular areas of Johannesburg

Most booked hotels in Johannesburg

Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel, Sandton Johannesburg
Excellent (8.4, Excellent reviews)
C$ 122+
Davinci Hotel And Suites On Nelson Mandela Square
Excellent (8.4, Excellent reviews)
C$ 231+
Radisson Blu Hotel Sandton, Johannesburg
Excellent (8.3, Excellent reviews)
C$ 123+
Protea Hotel by Marriott Johannesburg Balalaika Sandton
Excellent (8.3, Excellent reviews)
C$ 82+
Premier Hotel O.R. Tambo
Excellent (8.2, Excellent reviews)
C$ 123+
Holiday Inn Express Sandton - Woodmead
Excellent (8.2, Excellent reviews)
C$ 70+
See all hotels

How to Get Around Johannesburg

Public Transportation

Johannesburg is largely geared to drivers and not so much to public transit. A network of buses connects to the Gautrain lines, making most of the city accessible by public transportation, but note that the buses do not run on Sundays. The Gautrain electronic card costs a flat fee of R15. Other public transportation can be somewhat haphazard, including privately operated buses and minivans.

Taxi

Taxis are not plentiful in Johannesburg, except at the airport or some areas of the city center. You should call in advance and pre-book any trips. A trip from the city center to Pretoria costs about R560.

Car

Unless it's absolutely necessary, it's best to avoid driving during the highly congested rush hours of morning and late afternoon. The layout of Johannesburg is relatively spread out, and together with traffic woes, it can mean significant delays getting across town. Despite that, a car rental can be a good option for getting around town, with compact rentals starting at about R205 per day. There are a number of Avis outlets in town.

Car rental agencies in Johannesburg

Hertz

Hertz

Sixt

Sixt

Budget

Budget
Find car rentals in Johannesburg

The Cost of Living in Johannesburg

Shopping Streets

For locally produced crafts and artisan work such as beadwork and wirework pieces, you'll find a large store at the Rosebank Mall and the Rosebank Rooftop Flea Market, open on Sundays on the top level of the mall's parkade. Kwa Mai Mai is another flea market where you'll find herbs and spices along with crafts. Sandton City or Northgate are two of the city's many shopping malls. The Oriental Plaza in Fordsburg features African goods, and here you can bargain with the shopkeepers. Be forewarned that many shops and attractions close in the early afternoon on Saturday, and don't reopen until Monday morning.

Groceries and Other

Woolworths and Spar are national grocery store chains, with prices on the higher side, but both feature a good selection and quality of goods. Food Lover's Market specializes in fresh foods. A gallon of milk costs about R50-55, and a dozen eggs about R25.

Cheap meal
C$ 9.82
A pair of jeans
C$ 72.63
Single public transport ticket
C$ 1.46
Cappuccino
C$ 2.07