Johannesburg's City Center is a vibrant juxtaposition of the first and the third world. The central part of Jo'burg (as it is known among locals), whose tall skyscrapers stand as a reminder of a previous era of commerce, has been returned to Africa. Most businesses have migrated to the northern suburbs, transforming downtown into a cacophony of African hawkers and traders who line the grids of streets in a colorful profusion. Vendors display shiny fruits and vegetables, young women scoop out pap (maize) and sauce, and Indian merchants sell brightly-colored clothing. The crime rate in this area is high, so visitors are encouraged to take sensible precautions: walk in a group, don't carry valuables, and don't walk around at night or on weekends in areas where there are no crowds.
The Standard Bank Collection of African Art provides some cultural relief in the City Centre with its display of art from across the continent. To gain perspective of the city, visit the
Newtown & Fordsburg
Lying just west of the Central Business District (CBD) is Newtown, an area dominated by the revamped Victorian-era
Continue along Bree Street to Fordsburg and find Jo'burg's Little India–the
Yeoville & Orangegrove
East of the City Centre is the multi-racial Yeoville neighborhood. This area is dominated by Rockey Street, a laid-back assortment of shops, cafés, restaurants and bars. Secondhand bookstores and tattoo parlors lie side by side, while bead shops rub shoulders with rock clubs in this cosmopolitan quarter.
Continue east through Orangegrove along Louis Botha Avenue and be sure to stop by the
South Africa's most famous township lies southwest of the city.
Leaving behind the CBD and venturing north, one travels towards Johannesburg's more affluent neighborhoods. The leafy suburb of Parktown is a perfect way to explore the colonial history of early Johannesburg. Many of the city's mining magnates of the late 19th Century lived in ornate mansions designed by the renowned architect, Sir Herbert Baker. These homes are now national monuments, that can be visited through the
While the suburbs just north of the city are older and more established, those further north are modern and dynamic, but possess less in the way of distinct character. Rosebank, Sandton and Houghton are some of the neighborhoods here that are replete with ultra-modern shopping malls and business districts, like the
Among the many fine restaurants is
The Sterkfontein Valley, situated just 29 kilometers/18 miles northwest of Johannesburg, has yielded some of the most startling archaeological treasures of our time. Scientists working the limestone caves there in 1998 discovered a lime-encrusted skeleton, which dates the presence of early human beings in the valley to 3.5 million years ago. This discovery places Gauteng at the forefront of international paleontology research.
Evidence of Iron Age smelters on the Melville Koppies and at Lone Hill just north of Sandton point to a more recent human occupation, while rock engravings in Magaliesberg mark the passage of these hunter-gatherers at 25,000 years ago.
It is not without reason that the province in which Johannesburg sits is called Gauteng—Sotho for "Place of Gold." The city was named after Johan Rissik, the Surveyor General sent to select a site for the village, and Johannes Joubert, the mining commissioner sent to investigate the claims.
With the discovery of gold in 1886—the world's most significant source of this precious mineral is located here—gold-diggers, speculators and fortune-hunters arrived in droves, and soon a tented town sprung up. This conglomerate of disparate people was to become what is today South Africa's main commercial center.
At the beginning of the 19th Century, the Witwatersrand gold mines attracted large numbers of African laborers who were housed in compounds on the mines. Company and municipal hostels housed migrant workers for other industries while some, such as domestic workers, resided at their places of work. But there were also many people who were uitlanders, or "foreigners". Their limited voting rights were among the reasons for the beginning of the Anglo-Boer War, an earth-shattering clash between British imperialism and Afrikaaner nationalism.
The Johannesburg Fort, a prison for a good part of the late 1900s, was surrendered to the English during the Anglo-Boer War. The Fort was the only major military structure built in Johannesburg by the Transvaal Republic. It was designed to control—not protect—the rebellious mining town. The battlements offered commanding views of the city and its gold-miners; it was surrendered without a shot being fired.
As social and political tensions increased between 1950 and 1980, a new kind of leader emerged: Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela equipped themselves with academic qualifications.
In 1955, at a conference in Kliptown near Johannesburg, the ANC's Freedom Charter was signed and ratified by the Congress of the People.
Milestones during this period are numerous. Most significant was the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Albert Luthuli, which brought international recognition and sympathy to the struggle against apartheid. The Rivonia Trial, the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, and finally the student uprising in Soweto in 1976, marked the beginning of the end of apartheid. Gauteng—both Johannesburg and Soweto—was at the very cutting edge of the revolution.
Soweto—originally an acronym for Southwestern Townships adjacent to Johannesburg—comprises a number of townships and developed into a city as a result of territorial and political segregation policies. It has now developed from a mere geographical concept into a vibrant city that attracts many visitors.
Johannesburg today reflects the new South African order and a society of which the people are justly proud.
A city packed full of things to see and do, there are endless tours one can embark upon in this most cosmopolitan of South African cities. As public transportation is limited and some areas are less safe than others, it is generally advisable to tour everything in Johannesburg by car.
Sun Suburban Tours also organizes suburban walking tours; the special one being the walk from the magnificent Botanical Gardens and the Emmarentia gardens and dam, through Parkhurst to Rosebank.
Travel via lush green suburbs into the heart of Egoli, "place of gold." This ever-changing city offers diverse history, architecture, culture and style. Visit the top of the Carlton Centre, where the Carlton Panorama, 50 floors up, offers spectacular views. Next, head 1 kilometer/0.6miles northwest through the Central Business District (CBD) to see City Hall, notable for its colonial architecture and one of the largest pipe organs in the southern hemisphere. While in the CBD, also visit the Museum Africa, home to many exhibits that educate visitors about South Africa's history and rich cultural heritage, and the SAB World of Beer, where you can take a tour of South African Breweries. When you're ready for a great meal, stop in at Gramadoela's African Restaurant, which specializes in Cape Malay cuisine, but features authentic cuisine from all over the continent. Having hosted such celebrities as Nelson Mandela, Elton John and Hillary Clinton, this is a sure bet for delicious and authentic cuisine.
Visit the site of the first gold discovery before entering a different world, Soweto, 62 square miles of cultural interaction. See "matchbox" houses next to squatters' huts and then mansions, a little further on. Visit the Mandela House Museum and the Hector Pieterson Museum to learn more about the history of the role that this area played in the unraveling of apartheid. Also be sure to pay a visit to the beautiful and historically significant Regina Mundi Church, home of the famous 'Black Madonna,' as well as a garden and art gallery. While in Soweto, also be sure to stop in for lunch or dinner at Sakhumzi Restaurant, which serves up authentic Sowetan cuisine, and is conveniently located on the same street as the Mandela House and Hector Pieterson Museum.
It is recommended that a trip to Soweto be taken with a guide or trusted person.
Cradle of Mankind And Rhino & Lion Park
Travel via the Western Suburbs to reach the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens in Roddeport. Stroll through this garden with cliffs and a waterfall. Continue further west to the Sterkfontein Caves, recently declared a World Heritage Site, renowned for the discovery of Mrs. Plea (Plesiantropus—now called Australopithicus Africanus) a collection of human bones that are 2.3-million years old. The cave and display area give fascinating insight into the scientific search that took place there.
Continue on to the Rhino and Lion Nature Preserve for a fulfilling game-viewing afternoon. Privately owned, it houses more than 20 species of animals including rhino, lion, cheetah, wild dog, buffalo, zebra, sable, impala, eland, and also has a bird of prey feeding area. Another cave, the Wondercave, can be visited in this area.
Highly recommended, with plenty of picnic opportunities, this tour will take a full day and can be a guided tour or done as a self drive.
Vhupho Tours (+27 82 633 9469/ http://www.vhupo-tours.com/)
Moratiwa Tours (+27 11 869 6629/ http://www.moratiwa.co.za/)
Miracle Tours & Transfers (+27 11 318 2794/ http://www.miracletours.co.za/)
Soweto Zantha Tours (+27 72 584 4673/ http://www.soweto.co.za/)
Mystery Ghost Bus Tours of South Africa (http://www.mysteryghostbus.co.za/ghost.htm)
Jimmy's Face to Face Tours (+27 11 331 6109/ http://www.face2face.co.za/)
The Soweto Rhubuluza (+27 11 608 2640/ http://www.simkile.co.za/)
Walk & Talk Tours (+27 11 444 1639/ http://www.walktours.co.za./)
African Timeout (+27 83 655 1997/ http://www.africantimeout.com/content/view/48/39/)
FlyJozi (+27 83 721 8393/ http://www.flyjozi.com/)
Divided into very distinct areas, each with its own character and idiosyncrasies, Johannesburg, the New York City of Africa, is a fast-paced, cosmopolitan metropolis that offers accommodation for every taste and budget. The movement out of the City Centre to the northern suburbs is the single largest development in recent years, altering the face of Jo'burg and adding more places to stay when visiting the city. Look for hotels in the City Centre, the eastern suburbs, Soweto, Parktown and Melville, and the northern suburbs.
The relocation of businesses from the City Centre to the northern suburbs has left the CBD unsafe and unattractive to tourists; however, taking sensible precautions, there are some sights worth seeing, like the Johannesburg Fort for history, and the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre for its view. The Hotel Parktonian is located in the City Centre and offers luxury accommodations at substantially lower prices than the flashy northern 'burbs hotels. Protea Hotel, Gold Reef City is located just south of the CBD and offers accommodation within a theme park that relives the turn-of-the-century gold mining era.
The eastern suburbs include Jo'burg's own Chinatown in Cyrildene. This is close to the established Observatory neighborhood, where you will find The Fountain Head Guest House, an Italian villa-style hotel dating back to the 1920s. Leave the city behind and head further east into tranquil suburbia. The Bedford View guesthouse in sleepy Bedford View is rather nice.
Bedford View is also centrally located for accommodation near O.R. Tambo International Airport, and The Africa Centre Backpacker Lodge offers affordable lodging in the vicinity. The Don Johannesburg International Airport offers more luxurious lodgings next to the airport, while Out of Africa is less expensive but also close to the airport.
Parktown & Melville
Just north of the CBD lies Parktown, an affluent suburb with homes dating back to the late-19th Century. Avondrus offers cozy cottage accommodations in this neighborhood, while Barbet Hill is a guesthouse set in an indigenous garden with prolific bird-life. Two other inexpensive options in Parkview are Highview Cottages and Trenwith Cottages, both of which offer relaxing garden settings at affordable rates.
Trendy Melville has a buzzing nightlife, with over 30 excellent restaurants and plenty of inexpensive guesthouses. Melville House is run by an artist and is comprised of colonial-style, en-suite bedrooms. A Room with a View comes recommended for its, well, view. From here, one has a vantage point over the Melville Koppies (hills), and on a clear day, the Magaliesburg hills.
Soweto, South Africa's most famous township, is safely reached with a tour group. It is worthwhile visiting this vast township to see how urbanized black South Africans live—from tin shacks to luxury mansions—and it's even possible to stay the night with a local family. Another option is Lolo's Guest House, winner of the AA Travel Guide Award. For a more traditional experience, travel to the Lesedi multi-cultural village, less than an hour's drive from Jo'burg. It is a unique experience to stay with a rural African family in Zulu beehive houses or Xhosa rondavels, or huts.
The northern suburbs are modern Jo'burg: a vast sprawl of shopping centers and business complexes. The Inter-Continental Sandton Sun & Towers offers five-star luxury within the Sandton City Shopping Centre. The equally opulent Michelangelo, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World Group, is located within the neighboring Tuscan-style Sandton Square. Sandton is also home to the Ten Bompas Hotel, a 10-room boutique hotel with a great restaurant. Both Sandton City and Sandton Square offer world-class shopping and dining. For more moderately priced accommodations, try Amaqele, located in rural Chartswell.
The Grace in Rosebank is another top-quality hotel, adjacent to the Mall of Rosebank with its cinemas, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. Ten Bompas Road is an exclusive boutique hotel, designed for the fastidious business traveler. The Park Hyatt Johannesburg and Protea Hotels are among the chain hotels that offer comfortable and affordable accommodations across the northern suburbs and the rest of Johannesburg. There are a number of budget accommodation options in the modern northern suburbs including the Backpackers' Ritz in Dunkeld West.