Johannesburg or Joburg and Jozi as it is locally referred to, has become one of Africa’s most vibrant creative hubs and largest point of entries for newbies to the continent. While some may choose to bypass Joburg in favour of coastal holidays and undisturbed beach sand, I urge everyone passing through South Africa to take some time to explore Johannesburg. The city has a lot to offer, especially for those who wish to indulge in all that is trendy. So read ahead for my quick local guide to help you know the best neighborhoods to explore, where to eat, what to do, and how to get around. Take it from me - I live here!
South African-isms to Know
Eish: an exclamation that means “Oh gosh”, or “oh no”.
Shame: an all encompassing expression that can convey sympathies, used to compliment cute, or sweet things.
Izit? or Sho? : Is that so?
Howzit? How are you doing, or how are things going.
Now Now: South Africans have a very different way about speaking about time. Now now means that you will do something soon.
Just Now: This means that you will do something later.
Later: You will do something at an undefined period of time in the future, if at all.
Is it safe?
Yes - South Africans are friendly, jovial and generally helpful people. But like in all big cities, you must be conscious of your surroundings. Don’t be too flashy with your possessions when you’re walking in the streets.
Getting around without a car will be tricky. Some tips before you go:
- Use the Gautrain. This links Johannesburg and Pretoria, from the airport into Sandton, through to Braamfontein Park station all the way through to Hatfield.
- Definitely use Uber. Uber cuts out the middleman of haggling with a taxi driver. Download the app, request a vehicle, and you are on your way!
- Reavaya is a local option. The bus route services the inner city of Johannesburg, the routes are easily available online.
- Then there's the City Sightseeing Bus. This way to get around is incredibly convenient, and the most cost effective way of getting around the city quickly. While the audio guide may not be the most informative, the sites it stops at makes up for it.
Maboneng means city of light, and has been developed extensively in recent years. Once overlooked, this neighborhood now stands as a series of Art galleries, restaurants, stores, and even a niche movie theatre. It's Sunday food market, Market on Main, also boasts a host of homemade goods and eateries from around the world and is not to be missed.
To See: Main Street Market (the Sunday staple at Arts on Main), The Bioscope Independent Cinema, Museum of Modern Art
To Eat: PathaPatha Restaurant, Souvlaki, Blackenese
To Hang Out: Living Room, Poolside, The Cosmopolitan
Soweto is an abbreviation for South Western Township, one of the many areas to which non-white people were relocated to during the time of apartheid. During this time, Soweto was a hotbed of political activity, and resistance to the minority government. Soweto was home to a series of famous residences, and is also the location of the only street in the world to house two Nobel peace prize laureates – Nelson Mandela and Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu.
To See: Vilakazi Street, Nelson Mandela’s House, Hector Pieterson Museum
To Do: Walk the historic streets, Orlando Towers to bungee jump off the bridge between the towers.
Braamfontein has been student central for many years. Capitalizing on this, developers saw this area as prime for redevelopment. A select area of Braamfontein, around Juta Street is now home a collection of boutiques, nice bars and restaurants, and the home of Neighbourgoods – a weekly Saturday morning market.
Eat and Drink: Anything, and I mean anything from the Neighbourgoods market. 86 Public for some gourmet pizza or Kitchners Bar, the oldest bar in the city of Johannesburg.
APARTHEID MUSEUM & GOLD REEF CITY
To See: The Apartheid Museum is a must see, for anyone wishing to have an informed glimpse into the racially divided history of South Africa. Walk through exhibitions of the prisoners of apartheid, mock ups of political protests, solitary confinement cells, and hours of testaments from political prisoners, and affected people of the struggle alike.
To Do: Gold Reef City Casino and Theme Park. Funding for the museum came through this entertainment complex, and if you find yourself in the area, it definitely is worth a visit, for some lighthearted fun.
To Stay: While you can stay at Gold Reef City Hotel, it is situation a distance away from central Johannesburg, and is great for a day trip.
A classic Northern Suburb, 4th Avenue in Parkhurst is perfect for an afternoon of boutique shopping, sundowners, and a bite to eat.
To Shop: Parooz, Me and You
To Eat: Wolfpack, Salsa, Vovo Telo
To Stay: Numerous Airbnb Apartments for rent
HONORABLE MENTION: Sandton city
Johannesburg, to South Africans, is also known as mall city. Enter Sandton City, which is one of the best malls on the African continent. With a mix of high end designer labels, along side more affordable global chain store brands, this is the place to pick up just about anything you'd find in a typical Western mall. There's also a wide selection of restaurants, cafes, and a movie theater, so if mall shopping is your kind of thing, then I would recommend doing a few laps around Santon City. You'll definitely pick up some good items.
While Johannesburg is a dense city, venturing out for a day can reveal the epic natural landscape that South Africa is renowned for. These spots are no more than 2 hours outside of the city.
Magaliesburg - For a break away from the big city, and take in nature in it’s purest form, hiking. Check out Mountain Sanctuary for some short trails, which end in rock pools that you must use to cool down after a day of walking.
Hartebeesport Dam - Take in the weekend market, have a picnic by the dam, and take the cable car up the mountain to get a view of the surroundings.
Pilansburg Nature Reserve - For a hopeful sighting of the big 5 animals, take a drive to, and through this reserve. Like most reserves, stop off at the reserve’s restaurant, overlooking the river.
Photography by Lee Litumbe