Travel guide to Johannesburg

South Africa is home to countless towns and cities with their own unique stories to tell, but few have the heart and hustle of Johannesburg. Also known as Egoli, the City of Gold, Joburg, and Jozi, Johannesburg is an incredibly diverse city.

It may not be one of South Africa's three capital cities, but Johannesburg is the beating heart of a thriving nation. It is home to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and is the economic hub of South Africa, particularly the Sandton area considered to be the richest square mile in Africa.

Street vendors and billionaires walk shoulder-to-shoulder on its busy streets, while much of the city is painted and graffitied in vibrant colours that reflect the array of cultures that call Jozi home.

Ready to visit the famous city skyline with its vibrant colours and cultural diversity? So is Hippo – let's go!

Here are a few must-know facts about Johannesburg:
Currency: South African rand (ZAR)
Official language: Among South Africa's 11 official languages, the most spoken in Joburg are English, Zulu, Afrikaans, and Xhosa.


Nelson Mandela statue at Nelson Mandela Square

A historical point of view

The famous Witwatersrand Gold Rush occurred here after the discovery of gold in the region by Jan Gerritse Bantjies in 1884, which resulted in the founding of Johannesburg in 1886. News of the rich gold deposits in the area spread rapidly and within 10 years, the city was populated by over 100,000 people.

Today, Joburg has an eclectic mix of cultures and is home to numerous historical and political landmarks that attract thousands of visitors each year.

Landmarks in Johannesburg

Constitution Hill is a must-see for anyone interested in the historical development of South Africa, as it showcases the hardships people endured during apartheid. Visit the Old Fort, erected in 1892, and go back in time to see how prisoners lived and struggled.
If you want to go even deeper into the country's political struggles, visit the Apartheid Museum, where you can learn about its beginnings to the liberation of millions of South Africans.

Liliesleaf Farm was the secret headquarters of political freedom fighters and the African National Congress (ANC) during apartheid. Today, it is a modern heritage site honouring those who fought hard for the country's freedoms, with exhibitions and guided tours on offer.

The Newtown graffiti walk is an artsy locale and has become a symbol of the city's liberation and creative expression. The pillars and surrounding buildings are canvasses for graffiti art that changes regularly.

Zoo Lake is home to arching trees and a scenic lake. Put on your hiking boots or pack a picnic basket and spend a wonderful day relaxing in its natural surroundings away from the concrete jungle.

Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg
Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg

Where to stay in Johannesburg

Johannesburg offers accommodation on every scale imaginable, from humble and budget-friendly rooms to lavish and luxurious hotels that spare nothing in the pursuit of excellence. Airbnb and other alternative accommodation services are also common throughout the city.

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For the adventurous

The Soweto Towers is the site of an old coal power station, revamped to be a thrill-seeker's paradise. Bungee jump from the top of the towers, test your limits with a steep wall climbing challenge, or freefall inside the Western Cooling Tower.

Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is a great day out for adults and kids alike. It houses a well-organised science museum with interactive displays and facilities.

The SAB World of Beer is holy ground for beer lovers as it is home to some of our best locally brewed beers. Take a tour to see how the beer is made and enjoy a refreshing drink or two.

Maboneng Precinct is a newly redeveloped area which offers a trendy, urban lifestyle. Restaurants, rooftop bars, live music, and street vendors turn this concrete jungle into a bustling arena of smiling faces and fun experiences.

Johannesburg is also home to FNB Stadium, affectionately known as Soccer City or the Calabash. Located in Soweto, its shape resembles that of a calabash, a container used to hold water or tobacco. It famously hosted the 2010 FIFA World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands. Visit the stadium and take a tour to relive this historical moment when Spain claimed their first World Cup trophy.

A red Johannesburg tour bus
Heavy rain over Johannesburg skyscrapers

Weather in Johannesburg

Johannesburg has a subtropical, highland climate. Summer occurs between October and April and winter is between May and September. The average daytime temperature is a beautiful 25.6 degrees Celsius.

Sunny and clear skies are common in the region, with late afternoon thunderstorms in the warmer months. In winter, rain is infrequent and, even though it can be freezing at night, the daytime sun can be harsh, so wear sun protection if you're going to be outside.

Food in Johannesburg

The city offers a plethora of amazing food. African, Chinese, Indian, and European cuisines can be found all over, so there's something for everyone.

Local dishes include pap, a thick maize meal porridge, traditionally covered in a tomato sauce and accompanied by a side of meat and vegetables.

Another tradition is preparing an array of meats on an open-fire grill, called a braai or shisa nyama.

International fast-food chains are highly popular in the region too, with McDonalds, KFC, and Burger King being among the most common. South Africa is also home to the multinational Nando's franchise.

Waiter holding up dishes of grilled beef and sausages
Traffic police officers stopping vehicles on the road

Crime and safety

While it is considered a high crime city, it still falls behind Cape Town and other cities globally, not appearing on the World Atlas list of top 50 most dangerous cities in the world.

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Travelling to and within Johannesburg

Johannesburg is arguably the business capital of the country, with a bustling economy and millions of working-class people commuting each day. This has led to a busy network of roads and railways.

Driving in Johannesburg

You can rent a car in Johannesburg from any of the numerous car rental agencies available. Expect heavy traffic delays during peak traffic times between 6am and 9am, and 4pm and 6pm.

Uber, Bolt and other taxi services are available in the city, along with private cab rentals if you're willing to spend a little more money. Local taxis also operate using their own lingo and terminology and navigating it could prove difficult for tourists. Using the Gautrain is a great alternative when travelling between OR Tambo International Airport, Sandton, Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Tip: The taxi industry, cab drivers, and peer-to-peer ridesharing platforms are currently negotiating rules and regulations for doing business in the city. Tensions can temporarily flare while these issues are still being resolved.

Flying to Johannesburg

The Oliver Reginald Kaizana (OR) Tambo International Airport is the sole international airport in Joburg and the largest in the country. Various smaller airports surround the city, flying to local destinations. South African Airways is the national airline and flies internationally and domestically.

Planes at OR Tambo International airport
A street in Maboneng, Johannesburg

Tips for visiting Johannesburg

Language

Johannesburg is a diverse city with millions of residents speaking many more languages than the official 11. English, however, is the most widely understood.

Protests

Tensions can rise during labour and political strikes. Keep an eye on recent developments before planning your trip but be aware that protests can sometimes happen without forewarning.

Public transport

The public transport can be complicated to figure out if you're not accustomed to using it, and Johannesburg is a big city, so walking is not always a safe or practical option. Uber, cabs, and car hire are generally the best ways to get around Joburg.

Winter

If you're traveling during winter, it can get cold, but don't let that fool you; the days can still be sunny and warm, so ensure you have water on you at all times to stay hydrated.

Crime rate

Due to the high crime rate, many officials advise tourists to travel as lightly as possible. Only take what you need when you're venturing out into the city and hide valuables such as cash and phones.

Prices quoted are correct at the time of publishing this article. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal, or medical advice.


Sources: LonelyPlanet, World Atlas; CrimseStatsSA