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Johannesburg Travel Guide

Johannesburg Travel Guide

Affectionately dubbed Jozi, Johannesburg is a young, vibrant and exciting city which showcases the best that South Africa's urban culture has to offer:

Built on the wealth of the gold beneath its streets, the remarkable city of Johannesburg mushroomed from nothing to a modern metropolis in just over a century. There are wonderful restaurants, fascinating township tours, fantastic shopping opportunities, and the chance of exciting excursions to such diverse attractions as glitzy casinos, game parks and prehistoric fossil fields. The city illustrates the desperate inequality that characterises South African society, and the combination of palatial homes in glamorous suburbs and sprawling shanty towns is interesting and challenging for visitors. Crime is a serious problem, but Johannesburg is a proud city and some of the most exciting of the city's attractions can be found in the 'township' areas where creativity and innovation manage to triumph over poverty. Johannesburg is also a good place to learn about South Africa's Apartheid history, with some great museums and tours dedicated to the subject.

Johannesburg is the gateway to South Africa's top game parks, and many who enter the country here would be well-advised to spend a few days holiday in Johannesburg to experience this vibrant city before or after they hit the bush.

Best time to visit Johannesburg

Summer in Johannesburg is between December and February, and perhaps the best time to travel to the city is over the Festive season (December/January) when South African schools are on their summer break and the city tends to empty out as residents head to the coast for their holidays. This leaves Johannesburg's attractions uncrowded and accessible under a hot African sky, with late afternoon thunderstorms that cool things down. Winter days are also beautiful and sunny, but nights can be very cold. Read more on Johannesburg's Climate and Weather.

What to see in Johannesburg

-Take a tour of Constitution Hill for insight into South Africa's turbulent legal history.

-Explore the fascinating city within a city that is Soweto.

-Visit the Apartheid Museum, one of the city's most renowned attractions.

-Learn about South Africa's proud beer brewing history at the SAB World of Beer.

What to do in Johannesburg

-Enjoy the vibrant cultural and nightlife hub that is the Newtown Cultural Precinct.

-Picnic in the beautiful Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens.

-Treat the kids to a fun day out and explore a mine at Gold Reef City theme park.

-Take an excursion to Lost City, the famous casino, resort and waterpark just outside the city.

Beyond Johannesburg

Johannesburg is the most common entry point for foreign visitors to South Africa and is well-situated to be a travel hub, particularly to the country's biggest and most popular national parks which attract tourists wanting the safari experience. The Kruger National Park, undoubtedly one of the best game viewing destinations in the world, is a short flight or a five hour drive from the city. For those interested in the origins and history of the human species the Cradle of Humankind, just outside of Johannesburg, is a must.

Getting there

Johannesburg's O.R. Tambo International Airport, situated 14 miles (22km) east of the city, is the main gateway to South Africa, with connecting flights to most other tourist destinations in the country. The newly-built Gautrain provides fast and convenient transport into the city. Get more information on Airports in Johannesburg.

Did you know?

-Johannesburg is one of the youngest major cities in the world.

-About 40 percent of the planet's ancient human ancestor fossils have been found in the Johannesburg area.

-With more than 10 million trees, Johannesburg often tops lists of the most treed cities in the world.


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Place of Gold - sunset in Johannesburg © City of Johannesburg

The capital of South Africa's smallest province, Gauteng, Johannesburg is the economic powerhouse of Africa with its ever-growing suburban sprawl creeping outwards from the central city skyscrapers and ring-road motorways. The more than 10-million inhabitants live fast and have a restless spirit, which they have imparted into the fabric of the city, also known by its African name as Egoli, 'the place of gold'. The development of the city, which is just over a century old, has followed the fortunes of the Witwatersrand (White Water Reef), the rich gold-bearing rock reef that stretches across this area of central South Africa. The initial gold rush started in the 1880s, and barely ten years later Johannesburg had become South Africa's largest town and the site of frenzied development that has been ongoing ever since.

Johannesburg today is a city of contrasts, with glass-paned modern luxury high-rises towering beside a few remaining dilapidated Victorian buildings, and affluent northern suburbs with stunning private homes behind high fences giving way to the squalid streets and tiny shoebox houses of the massive Soweto township in the south. The chasm between rich and poor in the city has given rise to a high crime rate, evidenced by the fortress-like security that pervades the wealthier suburbs.

Most visitors to South Africa, particularly those intent on exploring the game reserves of Mpumalanga, arrive at Johannesburg's busy OR Tambo International Airport, which is the main point of entry for the country. Traditionally Johannesburg itself is not seen as a tourist destination but the fast-paced metropolis is increasing in popularity with foreign visitors and a few days can be filled taking in some entertaining man-made attractions before heading off to the game parks of the northeast or the coastal regions. Possibly the most interesting diversion in Johannesburg is a 'Heritage Route' or 'Shebeen Crawl' tour of Soweto, but take care only to venture into the maze of the township with an organised tour or professional guide.

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