Johannesburg – why it´s worth it
When I considering going to Johannesburg, the majority of people would say, “are you insane? Johannesburg is dangerous!”. Even before I went to South Africa (particularly Cape Town) for the first time, a LOT of people (both local South Africans and those who've never been) advised me to be super cautious. However, I never understood how those who have not travelled to this place knew of its apparent danger. I mean, I have been in this 'dangerous' country for about 1.5 years and well, I am still alive. Well, as is with any country, you have to know the places to avoid, research how to travel around the place, and well, besides having fun, you have to always be aware of your surroundings. There are spots where you can go and there are some where you shouldn’t... and that’s also how it works in South Africa. Besides that, South Africa itself is a beautiful country that offers a diversity of culture, people, landscapes and languages that make exploring simply fascinating. I also have to admit that the two major cities in South Africa are completely different from each other; Cape Town is hugely influened by European countries and relatively safer in the city centre, however, Joburg's city centre is still going through some much needed urban renewel after years of decay. Due to the political history, these city's have been effected differently. But I won't delve into that in this blog.
Below I list my reasons as to why the City of Gold is worth a visit:
Braamfontein – Explore the bustling creative student hub of Johannesburg
Braamfontein is an energetic and vibrant neighbourhood of Johannesburg, named after a farm that used to be on that area before gold was found. It started as a space for corporate offices which you can see with the vast skyscrapers that line the sky. Many of these buildings are now being turned into affordable accommodation for students as the University of Wits is located in the same area.
The area comes alive mostly on weekends with students enjoying the party scenes by night. During this time, you will find students airing cool tunes in their cars, sitting and dancing on the sidewalks. In Melle Street you can find big flatscreens on the wall which broadcasts sport, makig it the perfect spot to meet friends, chill and spend your evenings. This area has its own vibe.
Don’t get me wrong, Braamfontein is even more than just a student area. One street up, Braamfontein offers a more serious side as it also hosts many of South Africa’s up and coming musicians and artists. It boasts some of the best public art in the city and is home to lots of galleries, as well as the famous Joburg Theatre. You can also find jazz clubs, coffee shops and good restaurants. You can explore all of that by going on a Guided Walking Tour. Nielson Tours offers 2 tours in Johannesburg – a City Centre Tour and a Braamfontein Tour.
Welcome to Maboneng – The first gentrified and beyond hip, downtown area.
In downtown Johannesburg on the far east side of the city, you will find a bustling, interesting suburb called Maboneng. Maboneng is an area that is still developing; however it has transformed from a no-go area into a hip, vibrant urban community. Just ten years ago, the east side of Joburg was crime-ridden and seedy. Nowadays, you walk through a trendy, well-maintained 24-hour security area.
You will find art galleries, trendy restaurants, as well as, coffee shops, cool bars, collaborative work spaces and cinemas. The buildings and walls are covered with murals and paintings. Thanks to a youngster, Jonathan Liebmann, Maboneng is a gallery of street art and sculptures. When he returned home to Joburg, he started to invest a lot of money, buying a lot of houses and bringing artists to the area.
Although the area is developing, it is continuously an area of contrast; just as you pass a trendy street, you will find abandoned houses in the same area too. Also located in Maboneng is “The Kwa Mai-Mai Traditional Healers Market”,which is known to be the oldest market in Johannesburg and used to be a horse stable. Now it houses over 176 market stall units, where you are guaranteed to find the best souvenirs to take back home. Amongst other things, you will find animal skins, traditional clothes and even strange things like parts of animals which are used as traditional medicine. The people working there are predominantly Zulu-speaking people. The Zulu’s are the largest ethnic group in Southern Africa and their language, is a Bantu language and one of the eleven official languages spoken in South Africa. Are you interested in a proper Maboneng tour? My recommendation: Go on a Inner City Walking Tour with Mainstreet Walks.
Besides the spots I was mentioning above one stop we did on that tour was at Carlton Centre, which I personally found to be impressive. Carlton Centre is a skyscraper and shopping centre in downtown Johannesburg and also, the tallest building in Africa. We took the elevator to a viewing deck on the 50th floor and enjoyed an insanely breathtaking view of Johannesburg.
What the Inner City Walking Tour also includes is a food tasting. We tried a specialty of the Zulu people: beef cheeks with pap. Pap? Hmm, how can I explain pap? Pap is also known as mieliepap (Afrikaans, which is also one of the 11 official languages in South Africa – for maize porridge). It looks mashed and doesn’t really have a taste, but if you mix it with the sauce and the meat – it’s delicious.
More of a city than a township. A stop in Soweto is a must.
On the must-do list of every tourist should be Soweto. Our parents probably know Soweto due to the horrible fights that used to take place there in times of Apartheid. Soweto (abbreviation for: South-Western Townships) is the largest township in South Africa and a result of the segregation policy starting in 1904. When gold was discovered in 1884, people from all over the country moved to Joburg to look for employment. Soweto was created to become home of mainly black mine workers to segregate them away from the city centre which was supposed to be home of white population. Soweto’s growth was unplanned and up to today it probably has more than 2 million inhabitants. Honestly, I was afraid of going to Soweto cause I did not know what to expect but basically Soweto is its own suburb like a big city. It has its unique infrastructure, vibe and sightseeing areas. As mentioned before, be sure to be careful when exploring the area. What you can also do is travel with a local who knows the area; I did a bicycle tour with a local and it was much better than exploring alone. How I experienced Soweto was a place of contrast. In the surroundings of even the poorest of homes, you can find beautiful villas – the homes of millionaires. Soweto even has its own adventure area – the Orlando Towers. For those who need their daily adrenaline rush, this is your spot for bungee jumping, abseiling and free-falling.
To understand more of the history of Soweto visit Hector Pieterson Memorial and Vilakazi Street, which is the only street in the world that used to house 2 Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Here are different ways of discovering the area:
buy a ticket for the Hop on Hop off City Sightseeing Bus and add a Soweto Tour:
get out of the bus and discover Soweto by bicycle, Tuc Tuc or Walking.
Learn about the Apartheid regime and how it has shaped South Africa today – visit the Apartheid Museum
A big part of the South African history is Apartheid. Find out why South Africa is the way it is as a result.
The Apartheid Museum consists of two exhibitions, the Apartheid exhibition and an exhibition about Nelson Mandela. My tip: go on a guided tour. It’s only R5 and you have to book it in advance. You can explore the museum by your self but be prepared to read a lot and all the information can be quite overwhelming. I had spend 4 hours in there and I almost collapsed by the amount of information I had to take in.
The museum is open every day from 9am to 5pm and the entrance fee is R85 for adults and students pay R40. If you don’t want to go by cab or your own car, take the Hop on Hop off City Sightseeing Bus as it stops right in front of the museum. Plan at least two hours at the museum even if you don’t read all the information signs.
How to get around in Johannesburg?
What is the best way to get around in Johannesburg if you don’t have an own car? I can recommend the following ways of Transportation:
The local and cheapest way (average rate R10) of getting around in Johannesburg are the mini-bus taxis. These taxis are a 12-seater and it goes through town in different directions.
This way of transportation was developed during the Apartheid era by black commuters, who had to travel long distances to and from work without easy access to transportation.
You can find different big taxi stations in the city center of Johannesburg – called taxi ranks. On your way to get there you will not find official taxi stops like there are for buses. The taxis stop where ever you want them to stop in order to pick you up and drop you off. Generally, if you are not in the city center every trip you start in the surrounding of Joburg requires a first trip to the city center. From there you catch another bus to get to your final destination.
When going around in Cape Town most of the taxis have signs indicating where they are going. With raising your hand you make them stop and they pick you up on their way. Getting around in Joburg instead requires a special knowledge – the sign language.
The handsign is indicating to stop the taxi and to show them where you want to go. You are best adviced to speak to a local or ask the driver in one of the taxi ranks directly in order to find out how to get to your destination.
This means “to town please”.
For your own safety:
Never take a mini-bus taxi when it is dark or if they are empty.
That you should know when you drive your own car and drive next to a mini bus taxi:
Be careful! Mini-bus drivers follow their own road rules; they stop wherever and whenever they choose, do not indicate and travel at whatever speed suits them.
Gautrain was launched in 2010 for the FIFA Soccer World Cup and is a super modern train. Gautrain comes along with three routes. Two routes within Johannesburg – from Santon to the Airport and from Santon to Rhodesfield. The third route connects Johannesburg and Pretoria – commuting between Park Station Joburg and Hatfield, Pretoria.
If you want to use Gautrain you need to get a card which you upload with money. It’s about R 160 to get from Johannesburg Airport to Park Station Johannesburg. For sure it’s more expensive but it’s worth it. If you are more than one person, rather take an uber as it is cheaper then. The spacious wagon offers air conditioning, comfortable seats – which are perfect for long legs – and security.
The quickest, safest and most convenient way of getting around in Johannesburg is Uber. Uber? What? For those who have never heard of Uber before – especially Germans as we don’t have Uber in Germany – you can compare it with a cab that you order with an app on your phone.
Lets get started:
Download the uber app.
Create an account.
If you have never used uber before add this promo code: p7smqp44ue under payment and you gonna get a discount up to R 50 for your first ride.
When choosing your pick-up location always make sure that you choose a location like a specific hotel, bar, restaurant or shopping centre. Especially when using the pin location most of the time it is inaccurate and the Uber drivers end up somewhere in the middle of nowhere and you are going to get charged R25 cancellation fee. If Uber charges you R 25 – make a complaint. Most of the time the customer service of uber appreciate your opinion and will reimburse you. There is no need to add a credit card, it works on cash as well.
As your driver is arriving please always double-check that it is the car, the number plate and the driver as it is shown on your phone.
Don´t forget about Joburg´s entertainment and nightlife sector.
Joburg´s nightlife has something to offer for every taste. These are the spots I discovered:
Neighbourgoods Market – Food Market
The Beach – Rooftop Beach Bar
Kitchener´s – Pub and Bar
The Orbit – Live Music and Bistro
The Great Dane
Jolly Rogers – Restaurant and Bar
Jolly Cools – Restaurant and Bar
The Rocket – Restaurant
Po Na Na
The Artisan -Restaurant and Bar
Katy’s on a Wednesday
Along Foxstreet there are a lot of nice bars and Restaurants:
Lenin’s Vodka Bar
Market on Main
Art´s on Main
The Living Room
check out the variety of nightclubs, bars and lounges
SAB World of Beer
Potato Shed – Restauarant