Being, as it has since the days of South Africa’s gold rush, the epicenter of the African economy, Johannesburg attracts people from all walks of life from around the continent and the world. With history, culture, and cuisine to uncover around every corner of this sprawling 635-square-mile (1,645-square-kilometer) city—that’s more than twice the size of New York City—Johannesburg has a cosmopolitan edge.
The adventure offered in Cape Town and the excitement of seeing animals in ‘the bush’ (as locals call the wild areas where you go on safari) might be novel, but experiencing life in a true African metropolis is special in its own way.
I’m a fan of fun in the sun, so I find Joburg at its best in late spring, around October/November. It’s just after the rains of September, so the city—which has more than 10 million trees—is verdant and warm.
Know Before You Go
Melville is my go-to for short stays in Jozi. It’s close to the University of Johannesburg and University of the Witwatersrand, so it’s a bit of a student suburb with a laid-back, eclectic feel. The airport is relatively close, plus there are loads of good-value-for-money restaurants that you can walk to during the day and an e-tuktuk service to shuttle you around the suburb at night.
Local tip: If you’re visiting Joburg around October or November, Jacarandas are in full bloom Melville’s streets will be shrouded in purple blooms.
Whether you hire a car when in Joburg is up to you. This itinerary stays relatively close to Melville, so e-hailing services will likely be cheaper. But if you’re planning on extending your stay with a getaway near Joburg, hiring a car will probably be best.
Johannesburg Travel Budget
To give you a better idea on what you should expect to spend on some standard items per day while visiting Joburg, the list below provides some estimates. All prices are quoted in rand, the local currency, for better accuracy.
|Private room in mid-range accommodation||R600|
|Dining out for lunch||R250|
|Entrance to a popular tourist attraction||R100|
A 48-hour Johannesburg Itinerary
- Friday afternoon: Arrive in Johannesburg
- Friday evening: Sundowners and dinner at Hallmark House
- Saturday morning: Breakfast at Pablo
- Saturday morning/afternoon: Learn about Joburg’s history
- Saturday afternoon/evening: The Playground market
- Sunday morning: Melville Koppies and breakfast in Parkview
- Sunday afternoon: Pechy at 44 Stanley
Friday Afternoon: Arrive in the City of Gold
Disembark your plane at OR Tambo, hail a ride to Melville and check in at your accommodation. Take a stroll through the suburb down 4th Avenue or 7th Street, have a nap and a shower, and get ready for your first night out in Joburg.
Local tip: Be sure that you dress to impress, but wear your dancing shoes.
Friday Evening: Sundowners and Dinner in Johannesburg CBD
Be ready to leave your accommodation about an hour before sunset to ensure you’re able to make the most of the views over Joburg’s central business district (CBD) with a cocktail in hand at The Rooftop at Hallmark House in Maboneng.
Local tip: It’s not safe to walk around the Joburg CBD. Most establishments have security and your driver can deliver you safely to the door.
The City of Gold is known for its sunsets and the views from the top of Hallmark House are incredible. While you’re up here, scan the skyline and look for the outlines of the famous Ponte Apartments (a circular apartment block in nearby Hillbrow) and Hillbrow Tower (a radio tower nearby) for a quintessential Joburg view.
Then head down to The Marabi Club, Hallmark’s underground Jazz club, for dinner. The venue harks back to the heady days of 1920s and 30s Johannesburg when the city was abuzz with its new-found riches and its residents used music and culture as a form of resistance to the oppressive racially based laws they lived under.
The interior of the club is decked out in opulent art deco design and all of the wait staff are dressed to match. Then there’s the food. If you’re lucky enough to be here around Restaurant Week—as I was—you can indulge in a sublime three-course menu inspired by South African favorites like Karoo lamb and Amarula. For any other time, the standard small plates menu is more than delicious enough to pair with the live jazz.
Local tip: Book a table at Marabi and ask to be seated to the side of the stage. You’ll have easy access to the dancefloor that forms later in the evening but you’ll be far enough out of the action to enjoy dessert.
When the evening is done, hail a ride and head back to your accommodation to rest up for a busy day tomorrow.
Saturday Morning: Breakfast at Pablo
Take a stroll to 4th Avenue and grab a seat at Pablo. The restaurant made its name in vibey, eclectic Melville for serving up the best brunch in Joburg. Everything on the menu is good, but their shakshuka is simply superb. It’s the perfect spicy, tomatoey mix to start your day out right.
Saturday Morning to Afternoon: Learn About Johannesburg’s History
As I’ve mentioned before, Jozi has an incredibly rich history. From Stone Age humans who occupied the area approximately 500,000 years ago to the Randlords who took over after the discovery of gold and the activists who led the battle against Apartheid, it all comes alive in the city. So it should be no surprise that you’ll be spoilt for choice as far as museums and history tours go. Fortunately, Melville is close to most of them.
Historical and cultural stops to choose from:
- Apartheid Museum (Johannesburg South)
- Constitution Hill (Braamfontein)
- Hector Pieterson Memorial (Soweto)
- Mandela House and Vilakazi Street (Soweto)
As a South African, I’ve visited many other museums that explore Apartheid and the life of Nelson Mandela in depth, so my choice would be Constitution Hill. It’s a living museum housed in a former prison and military base, plus it’s the seat of South Africa’s Constitutional Court. The historic buildings take you through some of the darkest years of South African history, while the courthouse itself showcases a brighter future entrenched in a constitutional democracy.
The other choices are all excellent for learning more about South Africa’s past, too. But if you’re going to the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Mandela House, I’d advise you to take along some tissues. The stories you will hear are heart wrenching and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house by the end of our tour.
Local tip: If you’re planning on going to Soweto, book a tour with a local service provider rather than driving yourself or using an e-hailing service.
Saturday Afternoon to Evening: The Playground
After a day thinking about South Africa’s dark history, The Playground will help you to enjoy it’s colorful present. Located at 73 Juta Street in Braamfontein, this inner-city market showcases the best of what Joburg has to offer.
The market can get pretty packed, but there’s a DJ, street food, and plenty of craft beer and cocktails to keep everybody in a good mood. Because seating can be hard to come by, I prefer to grab a shawarma from The Shawarma Guys and eat on the move as I peruse the design stalls. (Just be sure to keep your shawarma juices to yourself and not mess on any of the traders’ wares.)
The Playground shuts down at 6p.m., but I’d advise leaving a little early and hailing a ride to my personal favorite spot in Joburg: The Living Room. This rooftop oasis in Maboneng gives new meaning to the phrase ‘urban jungle’. The food, the views, and the music all make for the optimal Johannesburg experience.
Sunday Morning: Melville Koppies and Breakfast in Parkview
Depending on how late you got to bed, you might be up for a walk in Melville Koppies Nature Reserve on Sunday morning. Situated on the outskirts of Melville, the reserve is the last remaining section of Johannesburg’s ridges as they were before the gold rush. The geology dates back 3 billion years and the flora is a great representation of highveld vegetation.
Melville Koppies Central is open from 8–11a.m. on a Sunday and is monitored by security guards. There are free guided tours for small groups, but if you miss those, there are also plenty of information boards to highlight the natural and human history of the area.
While you’re on that side of the Koppies, you may as well pop into Parkview for breakfast.
A far more upmarket suburb than Melville, Parkview has an excellent selection of sleepy coffee shops on Tyrone Avenue that are perfect for a lazy Sunday morning bite. My favorite along this stretch is Croft & Co. The menu is simple and the food is good, plus the warm and welcoming service will have you feeling like part of the family.
If, like me, you have a sweet tooth, go for the crumpets with bacon and syrup. Otherwise, pick the scrambled eggs, which are somehow creamy and light at the same time.
Sunday Afternoon: 44 Stanley
Before you head back to OR Tambo International, stop at Peachy at 44 Stanley in Braamfontein. The menu is packed with scrumptious street food and the cocktails are just delicious. Plus, the pastel, “cute AF” decor and regular live music slots (bands and DJs—check what’s on before you go) are sure to put you in a good mood before you leave Joburg.
Local tip: Take a walk through 44 Stanley. The precinct has a selection of thoughtfully curated shops and restaurants that are all quintessentially Johannesburg.