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Visit Johannesburg

About Johannesburg

Johannesburg is the economic hub of South Africa, and increasingly for the rest of Africa. Although estimates vary, about 10% of sub-Saharan Africa's GDP is generated in Johannesburg. Johannesburg has a population of almost 1 million people in the city, and 4.4 million people in the urban area (2011), half of which live in Soweto and adjacent suburbs. The majority of the population is formed by South Africa's black residents who mostly live in Soweto, while white residents amount to 500,000 (although the number is likely to be higher). There are also around 300,000 residents of other descent, including Africa's largest ethnic Chinese community. The city is also home to two Chinatowns; the original one on Commissioner Street has shrunk dramatically since its heyday, but still has a few shops and business run by the small community of South African Chinese, while a newer Chinatown in the suburb of Cyrildene is largely populated by immigrants and expatriates from China.

 

Geography

Johannesburg is located in the eastern plateau area of South Africa known as the Highveld, at an elevation of 1,753 metres (5,751 ft). The former Central Business District is located on the southern side of the prominent ridge called the Witwatersrand (English: White Water's Ridge) and the terrain falls to the north and south. Johannesburg may not be built on a river or harbour, but its streams contribute to two of southern Africa's mightiest rivers; the Limpopo and the Orange. Most of the springs from which many of these streams emanate are now covered in concrete and canalised, accounting for the fact that the names of early farms in the area often end with "fontein", meaning "spring" in Afrikaans.

 

Climate

Johannesburg is situated on the highveld plateau, and has a subtropical highland climate. The city enjoys a sunny climate, with the summer months (October to April) characterised by hot days followed by afternoon thundershowers and cool evenings, and the winter months (May to September) by dry, sunny days followed by cold nights. Temperatures in Johannesburg are usually fairly mild due to the city's high elevation, with an average maximum daytime temperature in January of 25.6 °C (78.1 °F), dropping to an average maximum of around 16 °C (61 °F) in June. Winter is the sunniest time of the year, with mild days and cool nights, dropping to 4.1 °C (39.4 °F) in June and July. The temperature occasionally drops to below freezing at night, causing frost. Snow is a rare occurrence, with snowfall having been experienced in the twentieth century during May 1956, August 1962, June 1964 and September 1981.

 

History

The region surrounding Johannesburg was originally inhabited by San hunter-gatherers who used stone tools. There is evidence that they lived there up to ten centuries ago. Stone-walled ruins of Sotho–Tswana towns and villages are scattered around the parts of the former Transvaal in which Johannesburg is situated. By the mid-18th century, the broader region was largely settled by various Sotho–Tswana communities (one linguistic branch of Bantu-speakers), whose villages, towns, chiefdoms and kingdoms stretched from what is now Botswana in the west, to present day Lesotho in the south, to the present day Pedi areas of the Northern Province. In 1917, Johannesburg became the headquarters of the Anglo-American Corporation founded by Ernest Oppenheimer which ultimately became one of the world's largest corporations, dominating both gold-mining and diamond-mining in South Africa.

Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. It is the provincial capital and largest city of Gauteng, which is the wealthiest province in South Africa. The metropolis is an alpha global city as listed by the Globalization and World Cities Research Network.

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Skyline view of Johannesburg Business City, South Africa

Getting In

  1. By Car; A number of highways from everywhere in South Africa go to Johannesburg, the N1 from Cape Town and Bloemfontein or the N3 from Durban making it an easy to reach destination
  2. By Plane; O.R. Tambo International Airport, formerly Johannesburg International, these old names are still commonly used; The main airport for Johannesburg. It is the busiest airport in Africa and is the connecting hub for flights to other cities in Southern Africa. There are many flights to Johannesburg from international hubs, especially London. Most flights from Europe are overnight and arrive in the early morning. If you arrive on one of these flights be prepared for very long waits at immigration. Remember your yellow fever certificate if you are flying from a high risk area.
  3. By Train; Johannesburg is South Africa's hub for rail travel. While the national network is rather small, there are extensive rail services from nearby cities within the Gauteng region. Johannesburg Park Station, Rissik Street; The central station and is in the city centre between Rissik (west), Wolmarans (north), Wanderers (east) and De Villiers (south) streets, it occupies several blocks.
  4. By Bus; Long-distance buses arrive at Park Station. All major bus companies provide a service to and from Johannesburg.

 

Getting Around

Johannesburg was a city built for the car and so public transport is in the development process. The Gautrain (a speed train not part of the metro system) is a good, clean and safe way to jump fast between the airport, Malboro, Midrand, Rosebank, Pretoria and Centurion. There are buses and minicabs on the streets, but there tends to be no designated stops, so buses may be flagged down on main roads such as Oxford street and Jan Smuts.

  1. By Car Rental; Renting a car is your best option if you are a confident driver, as the city's public transport is very, very limited. It is worth buying a good road map of Johannesburg, using a GPS (available when you rent a car) and planning your trips carefully before setting out.
  2. By Taxi; Foreigners are advised to use only normal sedan taxis (metered or fixed-price taxes that transport only you and your travel partners), as minibus taxis have a reputation for being rather unsafe. The minibus taxis, however, are very cheap and are the quickest way between two points. It provides an authentic experience but if you are using these, you must understand the risks.
  3. By Bus; Public transport in Johannesburg is provided by city buses and informal minibus services. Bus (other than Gautrain buses and the City Sightseeing ones) is not a viable option if you are a foreign tourist/business visitor unfamiliar with South Africa and Johannesburg in particular.
Use road to access Johannesburg through the M1 Highway from the neighbouring Cities and towns
Johannesburg Gautrain Station at OR Tambo Airport
Attractions (What to See)
  1. City Sightseeing; with its red buses has arrived to Johannesburg as well. A perfect way to see the inner city in a very safe and convenient way.
  2. Top of Africa, Carlton Centre, 150 Commissioner St (Take the elevator from the second floor to the fiftieth). Get a panoramic view of the city from the top of Africa's tallest building
  3. Johannesburg Art Gallery, Corner of Klein and King George streets, The biggest gallery on the African continent with a good collection of local and international work on display.
  4. Standard Bank Gallery
  5. Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, Electric Workshop building, cnr Miriam Makeba and President street
  6. Origins Centre - The South African Museum of Rock Art, Yale Road, University of the Witwatersrand, Braamfontein. A museum in Africa for the people of the world. An excellent multimedia display of the rock art and the origins of humankind.
  7. South African National Museum of Military History, Erlswold Way, Saxonwold (Next to the Johannesburg),  A good collection of military hardware, including one of very few ME 262 jet fighters from WW2 still in existence. There is also a huge South African built G6 self-propelled, 155mm howitzer on show.
  8. James Hall Museum of Transport, Pioneers' Park, Rosettenville Road, La Rochelle, Largest museum dedicated to transport in South Africa.
  9. Chérie De Villiers Gallery, Lower Level, Rosebank Mall, Rosebank.
  10. The Apartheid Museum, A very moving and informative trip through South Africa's turbulent past and present. It takes at least a half day to go through and includes video, pictures and many artifacts that you can easily spend a day looking through. It is located alongside Gold Reef City and is a must-see.
  11. Johannesburg Planetarium, Yale Road, Entrance 10, University of the Witwatersrand

 

Things to Do

  1. Township Tour to Soweto, a tour that will take you around the densely populated but vibrant town of Soweto.
  2. Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens One of the last green areas remaining within Johannesburg. Lots of birds, including the endangered Black Eagle.
  3. Constitution Hill; Located downtown on the eastern edge of Braamfontein the site of the notorious Old Fort prison complex. In a similar vein to the Apartheid Museum the South African Constitutional Court set around the infamous Fort prison is a fascinating place well worth a visit - part courtroom, part museum and part art gallery.
  4. South African Lipizzaners, 1 Dahlia Road, Kyalami; Other than Vienna, this is the only place you will ever got to see performing Lipizzaners recognized by the Spanish Riding School.
  5. Lesedi Cultural Village; Traditional dances and food in authentic Zulu, Sotho, Pedi, Xhosa and Ndebele villages.
  6. Lion & Safari Park; The Lion Park can be very busy over weekends and public holidays. If you want some quality time with the lion cubs, it is better to go during the week when it is not so busy. If you are going to drive through the lion enclosures, make sure there are no loose objects on the outside of your vehicle and keep your windows closed.
  7. Suikerbosrand Nature Reserve; This reserve boasts a representative sample of the fauna and flora of the Rocky Highveld Grassland biome. With 134 km² of unspoiled natural environment and a mountain range characterised by meandering twists and turns of hiking trails, the reserve offers an unbelievably refreshing break from the bustling city life.
  8. Montecasino Bird Gardens; Many birds and other small wildlife. Also look out for the 2500 year old tree located near the parrots.
  9. Old Kromdraai Gold Mine; The Kromdraai Gold Mine was one of the first gold mines on the Witwatersrand (the Johannesburg area today) and is situated in an unspoilt rural setting about 60 minutes drive from Johannesburg International airport and 40 minutes from Johannesburg city.
  10. Gold Reef City; An amusement park with a casino. The visitor can also learn about gold mining and go into a mine here (about 200 deep, too clean).
  11. Ferreira's Mine; This bank literally sits on gold. An old abandoned gold mine from the late 19th century was rediscovered during construction of the Standard Bank head office in the 1980s. After taking the access tunnels of the mine into account, construction continued over it.
  12. Workers Museum; The Newtown Compound is one of the last surviving examples of municipal compounds for black male workers. The City Council built the compound in 1913 to house migrant workers who worked first for the Sanitary Department and then later at the nearby power station.; The Museum tells the story of Migrant Labourers who came to Johannesburg to find work. Having left their homes and families, black migrant workers faced slave-like conditions shown by the original dormitories, concrete bunks and punishment room at the old compound building. The museum reveals the hardships of workers under the migrant labour system, a cornerstone of apartheid, from the early 1900s through to the 1970s, when the system of job reservation began to breakdown. More positively it shows the vibrancy and creative resilience of migrant worker's culture. Oral history interviews and individual stories are combined with archival photographs and documents as well as a newly commissioned documentary on Migrant Labour.
  13. Sophiatown Heritage Tours; Sophiatown’s history makes it one of the most significant stories in South Africa’s recent past – a site of forced removal prior to those of Cato Manor, District 6 and others all over our nation. Sophiatown’s mix of political, literary, music, social, criminal and cultural “movers and shakers” provided a backdrop for perhaps the most immortalized period in Johannesburg’s history Walking tours start from the original 1930s former house of Dr AB Xuma and takes you back to those times – see where Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa and Stompie Manana’s talents came to light; encounter the stories of removal and rebirth, experience the heady talent of Don Mattera and Can Themba, listen to the street life tales immortalized in song and dance.
  14. Alexandra Bicycle Tour; Bike through Alexandra, one of the oldest townships in the Johannesburg area. Your guide will tell the story about Alexandra and you will be able to speak with the locals. Be aware that the altitude of Johannesburg makes biking a bit harder, although you don't need to be super-fit.
A beautiful view of the Johannesburg Bezuidenhout Valley, Johannesburg City, South Africa
A city wide view of the spectacular Johannesburg City, South Africa
Where to Stay (Accommodation)

Budget:

  • Rosebank Boarding House, 217 Jan Smuts Avenue
  • The Backpacker's Ritz, 1A North Rd, Dunkeld West, Excellent views of the city, reasonable prices and an extremely helpful travel desk with information about all aspects of travel in South Africa. Also have airport transfers
  • The Lodge and Backpacker Rosebank, 219 Jan Smuts Avenue., Dorm beds. You can walk here from the Gautrain which takes you to and from the Airport.
  • Johannesburg Backpackers, Umgwezi Rd, In the very safe area of Emmarentia this is the new place from the people at Cape Town Backpackers. Its fun, friendly and clean. They also have regular theme nights in the funky bar and have various options for sleeping from dorms to ensuites
  • Zoo Lodge, 233a Jan Smuts Ave, Parktown North, This backpacker lodge is in a good location; close to Johannesburg Zoo and Rosebank Mall and on a bus route.

 

Mid-Range;

  • Melville Manor Guest House, This guest-house has 7 seven different suites suiting different budgets. Swimming pool, outside patio, WiFi and breakfast served daily.
  • Blue Chip Accommodation; Provides various self catering apartments around the Sandton/Johannesburg area which enables the traveler to feel more at home. The apartments have fully equipped kitchens as well as a lounge with a television/prepaid telephone, bathrooms, bedroom/s and either private balconies or gardens.
  • Protea Hotel Wanderers, Cnr Corlett Dr & Rudd Rd, Illovo, Close to Rosebank and Sandton From R210
  • Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference Centre, Viewpoint Road, Bartlett, Boksburg, Hotel near OR Tambo Airport, offering three different accommodation options. Gym, Spa, WiFi and restaurants on site. Free airport transfer available for guests.
  • Orangerie Guest House, 4 Hillel Avenue, Nice guest-house near Randburg on a hill with a great view from each of the rooms (each having a shared balcony) and a nice host; WiFi; small indoor swimming pool.

 

Splurge;

  • Don Johannesburg Int'l Airport Hotel, Electron Ave, Isando, Kempton Park
  • Highland View Executive Guesthouse, 164 Highland Rd, Kensington, Offers double en-suites and self-contained apartments. All suites have their own private entrances which open onto the patio which is set in a lush, peaceful landscaped garden. There is a warm ambiance to the guest house as well as spacious interiors.
  • The Melrose Arch hotel, 1 Melrose Sq, Melrose Arch, Locked away in the Melrose Arch complex this is a great hotel, with all the facilities you would expect from a 5-star deluxe hotel.
  • Lesedi Cultural Village, Offers traditionally themed accommodation with modern conveniences.
  • Hyatt Regency Johannesburg, 191 Oxford Rd, Rosebank (adjacent to Firs Shopping Centre),  259 rooms & suites with African-inspired décor, black granite bath, work area with high-speed internet access, daily newspaper and evening turndown. Regency Club Lounge for free continental breakfast, evening cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.
  • The Westcliff,  Hotel with hillside setting and cascading sculpted gardens along with elegantly opulent accommodation. Great facilities and several restaurants and bars.
  • Mount Grace Country House & Spa. 5-star hotel and spa just outside of Johannesburg. (updated Jun 2017 | edit)
  • Decades Art Hotel, 286 Fox Str, Maboneng Precinct, Rooms are conceptualised to interpret each decade of Johannesburg's history.
  • African Rock Hotels, 48 de Villiers Ave, van Riebeeck Estate, Kempton Park. (10 km from OR Tambo International Airport), This boutique hotel is in the quiet suburb of Kempton Park, away from the flight path of arriving and departing planes. It has a lush tropical garden, a swimming pool and large patio. The interior “look and feel” boasts a successful fusion of African, Western and Oriental design trends and offers a warm, welcoming and relaxing atmosphere. The architecture is contemporary, includes all modern day technologies and is practical and comfortable. The conference room is equipped with a one of its kind suspended boardroom table and has all the facilities required to ensure a successful meeting.
  • 54 on Bath,54 Bath Ave, Rosebank, Johannesburg, A sophisticated boutique which features a terrace area used for entertainment and an outdoor swimming . The hotel as 75 uniquely designed rooms which offer a premium stay in Johannesburg.
Night Sky view of Johannesburg City, South Africa

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