Approaching Johannesburg, even a hundred miles away, one can feel the electricity in the air. It is a city alive and throbbing with dynamic energy. The largest city in South Africa, it is situated on the Highveld plateau, in the wealthiest province, Gauteng. Now a major modern global city, it is the youngest, and certainly grew the fastest. It is the only city in the world not built on a waterway, port or river, but instead on a ream of gold, the Witwatersrand.
On a barren farm belonging to an Afrikaans farmer, the reef was discovered in 1886, and the gold rush started. Within a few years 100,000 people had flocked there. Johannesburg then grew from a modest mining town to an extensive metropolis, the economic industrial centre of South Africa. The city spreads over 130 square miles, more space per person than any other city.
Johannesburg is very cosmopolitan. Once the gold rush began, people travelled there not only from Cape Town and the rest of the country, but also from England, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Russia - the list goes on and on, and all brought a multitude of talents and skills. English is used in the workplace as the common language, and people speak Zulu, Sotho, Tswana, and Afrikaans, which are some of the local languages.
The most powerful commercial centre in Africa and financial capital of South Africa, Johannesburg is a business city. Efficiency and speed rule here and life is lived in the fast lane.
Things to Do
Everything money can buy is available in Johannesburg. It is a city of glitz and glamour, not surprising for a city built on diamonds and gold. The shopping centres are fabulously sophisticated, and full of designer shops. Anything one could want can be found here; it is unlike anywhere else in Africa.
The city is an art, dance and music centre with a talented multi-cultural population. The Johannesburg Art Gallery is certainly worth visiting, having many important international and local works of art. There are many museums to visit, covering a wide range of interests, including Museum Africa and the Apartheid Museum.
For those wanting to do a spot of high-end shopping, then a trip to Sandton City is on order. This glorious shopping centre is home to some of the most prestigious names in both the local and International fashion industries. And once you're done with your shopping you can easily break for delectable coffees and pastries from one of the many cafes surrounding the centre before easily hopping on the Gautrain to head off home. Before you load yourself down with purchases, pay a visit to Nelson Mandela Square, a plaza just outside the front of the mall. It pays homage to the late icon in the form of a 6m statue of the beloved man.
The city's biggest entertainment centre is Montecasino. For those over 18 years of age luck awaits in the slot machines or perhaps on the black jack table. For the "Bonds" out there, there is also a highly thrilling poker table for you to take your seat at. However, gambling is not the only activity offered here - families can enjoy the bird gardens, and catch the 'Flights of Fantasy' show; a favourite with children. If you're wanting more sophisticated productions make sure you book tickets to one of the many internationally acclaimed theatre productions performed at the theatre. From Mamma Mia to War Horse, you'll always enjoy a first class show. There is also a wide selection of restaurants and cafes scattered throughout the complex, as well as a movie house where you can just zone out and enjoy screenings of the latest films.
Pure unadulterated fun awaits kids and adults alike at the Gold Reef City amusement park. The park and its rides are based are themed to the gold rush that happened in 1886, and the park itself is situated on an old gold mine which closed in 1971. Here thrill seekers can find pure joy on the many rollercoasters, while families can enjoy the more relaxed kiddie rides.
Golfers consider the city a haven - with over 69 golf courses to choose from, several of which are award-winning championship courses. For a totally relaxed game, and inexpensive fees, visitors should swing by either the Gelnvista or Bryanston Country Club. If you're seeking more of a challenge then try your hand at the PGA standard course at the Ebotse Golf and Country Estate in Benoni.
You don't need to take to golf to enjoy the outdoors in this city. There are 17 Nature Reserves to visit in and around the city, and 80 hectares of lush indigenous flora and fauna to stroll through at the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens.
Ironically, considering its brief history, over 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils, some being 3 million years old, have been found around Johannesburg. The Sterkfontein Caves, about 50 kilometers out of town, became the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site in 1999, the richest hominid fossil site on earth. Excavations continue with international teams. At the Maropeng Centre there is a fascinating exhibition of fossils. One can stroll about for hours and there are some startling replicas of what the hominids looked like.
Whether you plan to visit one of the 150 heritage sites, nature reserves or entertainment and shopping complexes, you can be sure to find the experience you're craving in this vibrant, bustling city,
Where to Eat
As Johannesburg people love to eat out there are hundreds of restaurants, and superb places to eat. One can choose African, French, Italian, Portuguese, Indian, Mediterranean, Continental, Japanese, Fusion, Greek, Brazilian, Chinese, Lebanese or Thai. It is best to make reservations. Below is a short list of some of our favourites!
Coobs is a small modern hip French brasserie in Melville.
The CNR cafe in Craighall do deli dining with simple super fresh food.
The Kong Roast have Asian fusion, Thai and Japanese, in Fourways.
Moyo in Parkview has an African theme and food, with live music.
Rodizio is a Brazilian grill in Fourways.
So Yum in Hyde Park has Chinese, health and vegetarian food.
Koi Sushi in central Sandton serves contemporary Asian fusion.
The River Cafe is an excellent bistro in Parkmore.
Isabella’s Country Cuisine is a stylish bistro in Kyalami.
Fairlawns Boutique Hotel in Morningside is an elegant restaurant for contemporary fine dining.
Bombay Blues in Rosebank do Indian food.
One of the best Italian restaurants is the family run Tortellino D’oro in Melrose.
Where to Stay
People in Johannesburg have always been known for being friendly, hospitable and generous.
There are 3 main tourist zones - central, northern and southern, the more beautiful being the leafy northern. The business centre, previously in the inner city, decentralised and moved out to Sandown, a prestigious northern suburb, in the 80’s. Sandton City, a glamorous shopping centre, was developed then and is now surrounded with business parks, office blocks and dazzling hotels.
Accommodation ranges from modern luxury hotels and elegant guest houses, to budget hotels, and everything in between. Some places are astoundingly opulent and decorated in exquisite taste. Good airport hotels are available for visitors on business trips. There is something for all requirements.
Air: Johannesburg's O.R Tambo International airport is the main point of entry to South Africa and a gateway to the rest of the country. Visitors will be easily able to fly directly into the city, as well as onto any other South African locations. Visitors can also fly into the city's second airport - Lanseria.
Car/Taxis: There are excellent motorways and ring roads around the city, and travelling by car is by far the easiest option. For short trips around town, taxis are relatively inexpensive and easy to either book, or just flag down. If you plan on driving around quite a bit then it is best to either use your own car or rent one. There are plenty of online booking agencies as well as rental agencies at both O.R Tambo and Lanseria airports.
Uber: Uber is a cashless taxi service. Once you have signed up, and downloaded the Uber app you can order an Uber taxi to fetch you where ever you are in and around the CBD. You'll be able to track your Uber taxi to make sure it's on its way to you, and it'll know exactly where you are. The trip is then paid for from your credit card details on your Uber account. It's an easy and safe way to get around the city without paying ridiculous fees and having to have cash on you!
Buses/Trains: There is the rapid rail Gautrain from the airport, which is efficient and fast. It now connects Johannesburg to Sandton and Pretoria, and some underground stations have been built, quite an engineering feat. The Gautrain has modern new trains and is also developing a feeder bus service system.
Did You Know
Johannesburg city has been rebuilt 4 times. It began as a sea of tents below Bez Valley, then became a town of tin shanties. Thereafter it was Edwardian 4 story buildings, and is now modern skyscrapers.
A somewhat daunting attitude prevails; practical functionality takes precedence over sentiment or history. Beautiful old mansions and buildings are ruthlessly demolished for efficient new motorways, office parks and shopping malls. The upside is that things are modern, organised and very clean.
It has the tallest skyscrapers in Africa, including the 50 storey Carlton Centre.
The climate is perfect, one of the best in the world, never too hot or too cold. The winters are sunny and dry; summers pleasantly warm with short evening showers. There is year round sunshine with clear blue skies.
Johannesburg has several names, such as Joburg, Jozi, Jo’burg, Joeys or eGoli (meaning City of Gold in Zulu). Sometimes shortened to Jhb, It can also be misspelt as Johaanesburg, Who Johannes was is a mystery.
The economy, originally based on the diamond and gold trade, has moved away from mining now to industry, manufacturing and financial services. Johannesburg has an outstanding reputation for reliability, quality and affordability.
The many gigantic mine dumps dotted about the city from the early mines are at last being cleared away and the land reclaimed.