If you are traveling to South Africa, chances are good that you will spend at least 24 hours in Johannesburg. If you are traveling from another country, you will likely fly into Joburg before traveling to your final destination. You could easily spend more if you wanted to, but most tourists travel to South Africa for the safaris and end up seeing Johannesburg as more of a jumping off point.
If you only have a day or so like we did, I hope our suggested itinerary is helpful to you!
Stay at the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg. We stayed in the Rosebank neighborhood at the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg and absolutely loved it. The Hyatt is a beautiful hotel with large rooms and spacious bathrooms filled with luxury bath products. We were greeted with smiles and a large plate of fruit in the room. We stayed on the executive floor and were treated to a full happy hour with heavy hors d’oeuvres and local wines. We also had a full breakfast with fruit, quiches, pastries, yogurt, cereal, and coffee machine. The grounds were beautiful and I wish we had more time to enjoy the amenities including the pool and downstairs bar. Rosebank is a very nice, safe, and modern neighborhood and it is easy to take an Uber, taxi, or train to another part of Joburg.
Visit the Lion Park. Even if you have done game drives in the national park, visiting the Lion Park in Johannesburg is well worth it as a supplemental experience. Also, if you are on business and unable to visit the national park, the Lion Park is a great way to see a lot of wildlife and learn about South Africa from the wonderful guides. Because we had already returned our rental car, we took a guided game drive led by a well-informed and humorous guide with about ten other visitors. Even though we had seen most of the animals in the wild, it was still a treat to see them up close, watch the guide feed the big cats, and learn a bit more about the area. We particularly enjoyed seeing the cheetahs and several prides of lions. One of the best parts of the visit is that we were able to pet and take pictures with lion cubs for a small additional fee. A professional photographer takes photos which are available for purchase, but will also take pictures with your camera, which I thought was so nice! The items available for sale are very reasonably priced and only take a few minutes to produce. Another high point was the opportunity to feed giraffes and ostriches. If you are only in Joburg for a layover and have enough time, the Lion Park also offers a transfer service from the airport, which was very convenient.
Have dinner in the Maboneng Precinct. The Maboneng Precinct is a creative area in downtown Joburg that has been revitalized and now features several art galleries, an independent cinema, retail shops, craft beer, and local food. We loved it and spent an entire evening in the neighborhood. There are several restaurants and bars, all with a young and lively atmosphere. The BBC has a great write-up here and below, I’ve featured our favorites:
Canteen is a great little spot hidden in the Maboneng Precinct (our uber driver had a hard time locating it) that is a fantastic venue for drinks. We had craft beer (Swagga and Aces Brewing) at a little table in the courtyard next to an art gallery under string lights. We only had a small appetizer and drinks, so I can’t really speak to the menu, but there was a good selection of local beer and the menu sounded modern and interesting. Inside seating (tables and lounge areas with couches) and outside seating (tables and picnic tables) is available.
Chalkboard Cafe features craft beer and delicious pizza. It is right next to an art gallery, playhouse, independent cinema, and boutique hotel so it is a fun place to sit and people watch. Pizza, beer, and coffee may be taken into a movie next door.
Pata Pata was my favorite restaurant in the area. The night we were there featured live African music alternated with covers of American artists like Pharrell & John Legend. The food was delicious (we had the fried haloumi cheese) and the atmosphere was lively and fun. The band was so energetic and didn’t stop playing for hours. It was a great experience in a fun neighborhood!
We also walked by Cocobel and Lenin’s Vodka Bar, which both looked intriguing. Cocobel features desserts served out of the back of a truck and Lenin’s seemed to cater to tourists, but had great drink menu and fun music.
General observations about Joburg that may be useful:
- Wi-fi is scarce. We had wi-fi at our hotel, but it was quite difficult to find it elsewhere, even at restaurants and cafes.
- Uber exists, but see above. We were able to take Uber from our hotel, but generally were not able to use it to return to our hotel because of the lack of wi-fi. However, if you are able to call an Uber, we found it to be consistently less expensive than a regular taxi.
- Friendly people. Everyone we met was so friendly! From the hotel staff to the servers at restaurants to the taxi drivers, everyone was pleasant and welcoming. We asked lots of questions about life in South Africa and learned so much about the culture! Definitely talk to locals during your visit.
- Traffic was heavy. Give yourself more time than you think you need to get from place to place. Traffic can be quite heavy. During our 24 hours in Joburg, we encountered heavy traffic due to roads being closed for a Color Run. Another time, we experienced heavy traffic due to a highway shooting that backed up traffic for hours.
- Sprawl. Joburg is a sprawling metropolis so even without traffic, it can take time to get around. Although we weren’t able to do it, I would recommend taking a Hop On-Hop Off Bus tour if you are planning to see many of the sites like Gandhi Square, the Apartheid Museum, and Constitution Hill. The tour departs only from Gautrain Station.
- Safety. We generally felt safe in Joburg, although there are some seedy areas. For example, we took a taxi to visit the Carlton Centre (the tallest building in Africa aptly dubbed the “Top of Africa”) and I felt uncomfortable at times on the drive. Whether it was justified, I’m not sure. That particular area of downtown, although just a few blocks from the Maboneng Precinct, was swarming with large crowds of people walking all over the streets next to our car and just made me feel nervous. Personally, I wouldn’t advise going there after dark.
- Water. Water is treated and is perfectly safe to drink in South Africa. Don’t worry about salads and fruit either!
Next up, safaris in South Africa and the Panorama Route! Thanks for reading!
Hyatt Regency Johannesburg, 191 Oxford Road, Johannesburg, 2132, South Africa
Lion Park, R114, Honeydew, 1747, South Africa
Maboneng Precinct (Canteen, Chalkboard Cafe, Pata Pata), 286 Fox St, Johannesburg, 0001, South Africa