The second largest city in the whole of Africa, Johannesburg, fondly known as Jo’burg or Jozi, is home to more than 3 million people. But despite its size, the city is actually still quite young, having only been founded in 1886 as a settlement for gold prospectors. The discovery of gold and the promise of opportunity brought people flocking, and as a result, it rapidly grew into a fully-fledged city.
Although recent decades saw the city go into decline with the dramatic divide between rich and poor stirring up resentment and violence in many of the townships, things are now looking up for this bustling metropolis. There are thriving cultural districts such as Braamfontein and Newtown, hip urban-renewal projects like Maboneng, and an evolving inner city area.
The city is also home to the Apartheid Museum – a look at the country’s history of segregation – as well as 150 heritage sites, half of which are national monuments. Its historical appeal is further enhanced by the fact that around 40% of the world’s human ancestor fossils have been found in the city surrounds.
And nature lovers need not balk at the thought of the urban sprawl either. Johannesburg contains 17 nature reserves, 12 river systems, six million trees, as well as a number of bird sanctuaries, nature trails and botanical gardens.
Places to Visit in Johannesburg
- Cradle of Humankind
Unique Things to See and Do in Johannesburg
- Visit the Apartheid Museum to learn about the country’s recent history
- Take a tour of Soweto – South Africa’s best known township
- Explore the public artworks of vibrant cultural areas of Newtown and Braamfontein
- Meet early hominids such as Mrs Ples at the Cradle of Humankind
- Soak up the “trendy” vibes at Maboneng’s range of eateries and boutiques
A City’s Rebirth
After decades of decline, Johannesburg is resuming its place as a cosmopolitan world city thanks to a considerable urban renewal project.
The migration of businesses from the Central Business District in the 1980s following the withdrawal of foreign investment saw the inner city area left to crumble, fast succumbing to high levels of crime.
But, after years of neglect, a concerted clean-up effort and a wave of new housing developments have pulled it back from the brink, with a movement of young creatives abandoning life in the suburbs to reclaim the city. The subsequent burst of boutiques, hip restaurants, innovative art galleries and cool hotels has seen the city regain an energy that is luring tourists back once again.
Braamfontein and Newtown are examples of this renaissance, with a number of public artworks, museums and galleries, as well as cutting edge housing projects and trendy hotels. Maboneng in the east of the city has followed suit, becoming a hipster enclave also packed with restaurants and bars.
As this regeneration has been taking place, crime levels have been decreasing in these former no-go areas. Although, as with any major city, you should remain vigilant. However, most of the crime takes place in the townships which are generally off the tourist map.
Getting Around Johannesburg
Bus services operate throughout greater Johannesburg, with Metropolitan Bus Services’ main terminal located at Gandhi Square. Then there are the Rea Vaya services, introduced during the 2010 World Cup, which are reliable and comfortable, covering an expanding portion of the city. There is also a Metro service, but be vigilant as violent crime has been highlighted as an issue on some of the lines. Otherwise, taxis are an option, albeit a relatively expensive one.
If you’re simply keen to see the sights, take the tourist option of a hop-on hop-off red bus which calls at 11 touristic places of interest around the city.
Did you know…?
With around 6 million trees, Johannesburg is the largest man-made forest in the world.
Did you ALSO know…?
Greater Johannesburg covers an area of 2,300 square kms making it larger than Sydney, London or New York.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Johannesburg
Located on a high plateau with an average altitude of more than 1700m, Johannesburg’s climate is considered a drawcard by many travellers. Summer days during the months of October through to March are not too hot, while summer nights are cool. These months are also the wettest.
Winter temperatures can take a dive at night, but generally, the days are sunny and warm. Rains tend to fall in the summer months of October through to March.
However, August can be quite uncomfortable at times thanks to the mugginess of the pre-rain period combined with the strange yellow haze that fills the air – the result of mining particles blown in by the strong winds.
Ready to plan your visit to Johannesburg? Check out these popular guides and trips.