Johannesburg Elephants Playing
Elephants playing at the Pilanesberg Game Reserve (Photo credit: Sharon Ang)

Johannesburg Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • The largest city in South Africa, with a metro population of 4.4 million.
  • The largest economy in Sub-Saharan Africa, with a large gold and diamond trade. The city was founded in 1886, during the Gold Rush.
  • Africa’s second largest city (after Cairo), Johannesburg is the world’s largest city that is not built on a coastline.
  • Nicknames: Jo’burg, Jozi, Joni, Place of Gold, City of Lights, Joeys, Gauteng, Egoli

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Rand (ZAR). 
  • Spoken languages: English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu. English is widely spoken in South Africa.
  • Best time to visit: from October to March (summer time).
  • Arriving via airport: taxis from the airport are about 300 rand. Many hotels will arrange pickup for you if you ask in advance. The Gautrain to Rosebank costs 125 rand.

WHERE TO STAY

While there is accommodation throughout the city, most visitors prefer to stay in the Sandton or Rosebank areas. While both hostels and higher end hotels can be found here, hostels are not as common as in other cities as the city is not as popular with backpackers.

GETTING AROUND

  • Johannesburg’s public transit is dominated by the minibus network. However, the routes are unpublished and foreign tourists/business visitors are not commonly seen riding on them. Minibuses are often unreliable, and are popular with thieves and pickpockets.
  • Taxis are a common method of travel for foreigners, though they can be hard to find outside of the airport and Sandton areas. Many taxis aren’t metered – you will have to negotiate with the driver to get to your destination.
  • Rental cars are easily available at the airport, and are the most common form of transportation used by foreigners. Rentals are relatively inexpensive and can be the easiest way for you to get around.

JOHANNESBURG NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 18.
  • Backpacker scene: bars in the Melville student district.
  • Rivonia and Sandton are the upmarket nightlife areas, replete with nice clubs and lounges.

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Soweto is becoming an increasingly popular place for tourists to visit. The South West Township is a birthplace of the resistance to the former Apartheid government in South Africa. Organized and informative tours are readily available.
  • Located close to the city, the Lion Park is a small version of a game preserve. Here you can play with baby lions, feed giraffes, drive through the small preserve and see antelope, zebras, and other animals indigenous to the continent. If you don’t have time to visit Kruger, or a comparable game park, this is an excellent stop to make.
  • Constitution Hill is located at the site of the Old Fort prison complex. A museum and an art gallery in one, this is an interesting place to explore.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Take some time to walk through Central Johannesburg. Take a stroll through Little India, the Ghanaian area of Yeoville, and the area around the Arts on Main.
  • Take a walk around the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. Make sure to bring a camera, as there is plenty of wildlife to see (including the endangered Black Eagle).
  • Go on a Township Tour to see how the locals live. Make sure you use an official tour operator and don’t attempt to go it alone, as safety can be a concern.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Take advantage of the shopping opportunities in the city. Johannesburg is a hub for tradecraft from the Southern African region – in addition to local crafts, there are great souvenirs from  Swaziland, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. Bazaar-like markets are common in Rosebank.
  • You will notice that at night, cars will drive right through red lights at intersections (after slowing down to make sure it is safe). This is a common practice in Johannesburg due to the high chance of violent car jackings. Do as the locals do – slow down, but don’t stop your car.
  • Dangerous areas: keep in mind that crime rates in Johannesburg are very high, especially when compared to any Western country. Always be aware of your surroundings and don’t go exploring areas that you haven’t researched already. At night, make sure you know how to get exactly where you’re going – getting lost could land you in trouble.

RECOMMENDED JOHANNESBURG GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days


See also:
Johannesburg Travel Guide was last modified: September 20th, 2016 by Nick
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