Johannesburg Travel Guide

Johannesburg Travel Guide

David Durán

Often overlooked for its sister city, Cape Town, Johannesburg is actually a fascinating place to explore and get to know, if you know where to look. As with any developing metropolis, Jozi has its questionable neighbourhoods, but mostly, it’s a city longing for more attention. The distinct districts of the city are masterfully planned but spread apart from one another, mostly, so it’s always best to hire a car to truly get the most out of what the city has to offer. Most travellers to South Africa use Johannesburg, as a pit stop on their way to safari or Cape Town, but beyond the airport, there’s a beautiful, bustling city just waiting to be discovered.

Beyond the city, what travellers will also fall in love with are the people of South Africa, an endearing and welcoming people, and eager to show you their city and way of life. As developed as Johannesburg is, there’s still a deep rooted love for the culture of South Africa which shines through all throughout the city, and it’s reflected in the style, architecture and design seen all around. Wondering what to do in Johannesburg? Mr Hudson has got you covered.

Cradle Boutique Hotel | Photo: Berna Coetzee

Cradle Boutique Hotel | Photo: Berna Coetzee

The best hotels in Johannesburg

Johannesburg has its fair share of boutique hotels and depending on what you are looking for, there are plenty to choose from. Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa is set amongst lush acres of landscaped gardens and provides an intimate atmosphere. Each of the rooms is individually decorated in varying themes from Eastern influence to French provincial, all equipped with modern amenities. The Peech is the city’s eco-chic boutique hotel, set in the suburb of Melrose and offers guests just sixteen bedrooms to choose from, meaning privacy here is guaranteed. For a unique blend of rich cultural history and contemporary five-star service, Saxon Hotel, Villas & Spa is situated on ten acres of indigenous gardens, which provide a peaceful retreat within the city. Monarch Hotel, located in the city’s Rosebank area takes an interesting approach by combining antique furniture with modern South African art in its spacious suites – the property also has its own garden.

For something completely different Cradle Boutique Hotel, located in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, provides guests with unobstructed panoramic views of the Highveld and surrounding valleys. The luxury hotel is set on a 7000-hectare private game reserve where guests can book private safaris to 2 major fossil exploration sites. Mr Hudson also likes the city’s most iconic hotel, the newly reborn, Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, a truly urban resort, located on a hillside with panoramic views across the Johannesburg Zoo and prestigious neighbourhoods of The Parks. Here it’s possible to enjoy your morning coffee outdoors with views of lush greens that surround the area. The hotel also provides exclusive services and options for their guests, such as private helicopter experiences that can be set up through the concierge.

Photo: Berna Coetzee

Photo: Berna Coetzee

Where to eat in Johannesburg

Bistro Michel is the newest creation from owner Michel Morand, the former owner of Auberge Michel, a restaurant awarded the Five Star rating by the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa, and which was frequented by the likes of former President Mr Nelson Mandela, President Bill Clinton, and John Legend. The bistro has good food, good wine and exceptional service. Back at the Four Seasons is View, and with a name like that, you are guaranteed one of the best views in the city. The seasonal menu here offers refined contemporary cuisine in an urban chic interior. And at Hotel Ten Bompas, Winehouse isn’t a nod to wine, but instead to legendary singer, Amy Winehouse, and has beautiful artwork of Amy throughout the restaurant. The chef here provides a comfort food menu which uses fresh seasonal produce sourced from the hotel’s organically grown gardens.

For more casual dining, Trés Jolie is a country restaurant that also boasts a farmyard. It’s more rustic experience with animals surrounding the restaurant, something outside the box, for those looking for a different type of dining experience while in Johannesburg. If prime meats are what you are looking for, The Local Grill is the city’s premier destination for incredible cuts of beef. To taste a bit of Italy while in South Africa, Assaggi has a traditional Italian menu a pasta menu that will leave you craving for more. And for the more adventurous travellers, head to the township of Soweto and visit the first restaurant of Soweto, Wandie’s Place, for traditional South African food like mogodu, ting, pap and umqushu – you’ll have to head to Wandie’s for an explanation of what each is, or ask Richard Branson, a regular to the restaurant. The restaurant has a signature wall of fame, started by Pierre Cardin, and which now also boasts signatures from Barack Obama, Mohamed Ali, Richard Branson and Beyoncé.

Living Room

Living Room

Things to do in Johannesburg

Located in the city centre and joined to Newtown by the Nelson Mandela Bridge is Braamfontein. It’s home to hipsters and university students and is affectionately referred to as Braamies. Here you will find an array of museums, theatres, restaurants, galleries and design stores. If visiting over a weekend, head here to visit Neighbourgoods Saturday Market, where like-minded folks come together to eat, shop and hang. What once was industrial factories, the inner-city district of Maboneng is now the hangout for lovers of everything art. The small hood is continuously growing as warehouses continue to be transformed, like Arts on Main, where various well-known artists have their studios. It’s also home to the Museum of African Design, and a cinema that specialises in independent films. And for drinks in Maboneng, Living Room is an open-air rooftop with DJ and craft cocktails.

Two areas adjacent to Braamfontein are Melville and Auckland Park. The areas are saturated with university students, and at night, you will find the grungier crowds who prefer shots of coloured alcohol at the bar, but during the day, the areas are wonderful to see, and they highlight some of the young talent and creativity that surround it. And lastly is Newtown, the original cultural precinct in Johannesburg, which is now a vast heritage site, made up of the historic Market Theater, the Museum of Africa and the renovated Turbine Hall. Nearby is Newton Junction, famous for their street art. It’s possible to walk around the area and see all the street art, but visitors are encouraged to use a tour company such as Past Experiences, as they are both entertaining and educational.

Arts on Main | Photo: Berna Coetzee

Arts on Main | Photo: Berna Coetzee

Places to visit in Johannesburg

Johannesburg has a vast history, and there are many ways to learn about the past. Additionally, the city has an array of educational and cultural experiences that visitors can take advantage of. To directly learn about the history of South Africa, the Apartheid Museum is the country’s most poignant experience, authentically portrayed. Constitution Hill, the birthplace of South African democracy, which is newly renovated, is also worth a look. The Johannesburg Planetarium is the Southern Hemisphere’s second planetarium, founded in 1960, while the Johannesburg Zoo has more than 10,000 animals, including the “Big Five,” just in case you don’t have time to add a safari to your trip. For lovers of art, the Johannesburg Art Gallery is the largest gallery on the continent, and the Museum Africa is a cultural museum that’s been around since 1933.

Nearby Johannesburg, and worth the drive is Sterkfontein Caves/Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has an incredible visitors centre and tour. Here is where a 2.3-million-year-old fossil of what’s believed to be the first ape-man, was discovered.

For some shopping of locally handmade goods, 27 Boxes is a fantastic shopping centre that is made up of 27 shipping containers. Their goal is to enhance the lives of new entrepreneurs as well as support the local community. Creativity flows there and 27 Boxes not only is a place to shop, but it’s a place to eat and play too!

Take a jump

Orlando Power Station is a decommissioned coal-fired power station in Soweto, a township of Johannesburg. The power station was commissioned at the end of the Second World War and served the city for over 50 years. Today, Orlando Towers is somewhat of an adrenaline junkies dream come true. The world’s highest SCAD free fall takes place inside the Western Cooling Tower, and there is also climbing and paintball at the location. But the ultimate here is the suspension bridge between the two cooling towers, where visitors can do a 100m bungee jump! Down below is a collection of traditional BBQ restaurants with loads of beer, music and fellow jumpers or well-wishers to keep the party going.

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