I’ve been to Johannesburg 3 times and feel like I’m starting to get the lay of the land. Whether you’re visiting on business or passing through on the way to safari, I recommend spending some time in the city to learn more about South Africa’s history whilst getting a taste of Johannesburg’s future at the food and art markets.
Being randomly classified as white or ‘non-white’ upon entering the Apartheid Museum may be a confronting way to begin your sight-seeing in Johannesburg but it’s an important context from which to start your visit.
Beginning with the segregated entrances, the Apartheid Museum consists of 22 individual exhibitions that illustrate the rise and fall of apartheid in South Africa. If you want to at least begin to understand what living within this regime was like, as well as how it was perceived overseas at the time, then dedicate at least 2 hours to this museum.
Soweto is another important area of Johannesburg you should visit to learn more about South African history and culture.
The sprawling Township began life as a camp for miners and became a settlement for black people during Apartheid. The students of Soweto played a key role in the end of Apartheid after uprising against the government’s policy to enforce education in Afrikaans rather than their native languages.
The Hector Pieterson Museum explains more about this key uprising as well as honouring those that were killed during the protest, including Hector Pieterson himself who was just 13 years old.
Soweto is also famous for being home to 2 Nobel Peace Prize winners – Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – whose houses can be found on Vilakazi Street.
You could spend a whole day visiting the museums, homes and restaurants in Soweto and for an immersive and informative tour I recommend Cycle In Soweto.
Maboneng is the place to go to understand the future of Johannesburg.
This once dilapidated area of inner city Joburg is now a hub of creativity. Artists workshops sit alongside co-working spaces, cafes and residential developments.
The weekly Market On Main brings local artisans and hungry patrons together and there is trendy accommodation for travellers nearby at Curiocity Backpackers and the 12 Decades Hotel.
Aside from enjoying the food and shopping this is also a great place to come if you appreciate street art. Find out more here.
THE place to eat in Joburg is at the Neighbourgood’s Market in Braamfontein.
You must come here with an empty stomach as you’ll no doubt want to try the biltong, paella, crepes, churros, cheese, tarts and more that are made by talented local chefs.
It’s also a great place to grab a coffee (or something stronger) and chill on the terrace listening to live music.
To try the trendy new way to consume coffee head to The Grind Coffee Company in Melrose Arch and order Coffee In a Cone. Far from being a spillage danger, I found it was a delicious and eco-friendly way to consume coffee. Go try it and see for yourself!
Another great eatery to visit in Melrose Arch is Moyo who specialise in African cuisine set to live music and performances.
Melrose Arch is a great place for a first timer in Joburg to base themselves. The modern complex has a mixture of international and local eateries (including those mentioned above) and it’s easy to grab a taxi from here to any of the neighbourhoods or attractions mentioned above.
Fans of Audrey Hepburn (of which I am definitely one) will love the monochrome rooms at Protea Fire and Ice Melrose Arch, which are decorated with portraits of the film star. (Even the toilet gets its own Audrey!)
Another chic place to stay is 54 On Bath. This fashionable hotel is adjacent to the Rosebank Mall so perfect for shopaholics!
I flew direct from Sydney to Johannesburg with Qantas who kept us very well fed during the 14 hour journey! Taxis or Uber rides are a cheap and easy way to get around to the markets and malls. Speak to your hotel about arranging a day tour of the museums. You can book a cycle tour of Soweto directly with cycleinsoweto.com.
My recent trip was supported by South Africa Tourism.
2 thoughts on “The First-Timer’s Guide To Johannesburg”
Maboneng is such a great spot! That’s where I stayed on my first trip to Johannesburg. I loved all the different food options – there was a delicious Ethiopian restaurant just down from my hostel – and so much cool street art to check out. Can’t believe I missed coffee in a cone – that must be a new thing!
Jo’burg has been on my wanderlust wishlist for far too long!