Africa: Jo’burg jaunts

Africa: Jo’burg jaunts

Image credit: South Africa Tourism

Meera Dattani packs the sights into two days in South Africa’s biggest city

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48 hours in Johannesburg

It’s really not hard to like Johannesburg. In fact, some of us love Jozi. South Africa’s biggest city, and the continent’s richest, is a truly thrilling place, crammed with history, culture and nightlife, capturing the spirit of South Africa’s past, present and future.

Direct flights with South African Airways, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic – plus its position as a hub for southern Africa – make it easy to add a Johannesburg city break to itineraries. Two days is just a taster though. Jozi is big on interesting sights and lively suburbs, so don’t be surprised if they go back for more.

Clients often ask about safety in Johannesburg and a precautionary rather than paranoid approach is best. The majority of crime takes place in the townships, but the usual advice applies in the safer central areas.

Suggest they stick to busy streets, keep valuables secure and carry only what’s needed. If driving, advise locking car doors and parking on busy streets or in secure car parks.

Day One

10.00: Visit the Maboneng Precinct, an evolving neighbourhood of loft apartments, offices, hotels and Moad (Museum of African Design). A great example of new Johannesburg, explore Arts on Main, a creative hub of galleries, restaurants and bars.

At weekends, don’t miss Sunday’s Market on Main with farmers’ market-style food stalls and live DJ sets. Note many galleries and museums are closed across the city on Mondays.

11.30: A 10-minute drive away is Newtown Cultural Precinct, the original nucleus of Johannesburg’s urban revival.

It hosts events such as Chinese New Year, Gay Pride and the Newtown Jazz Festival, and the streets radiating from Mary Fitzgerald Square are home to SAB World of Beer, Sci-Bono Discovery Centre and Market Theatre, which started out as an independent theatre during the apartheid era.

Visit the brilliant MuseuMAfricA, inside the old Bree Street fruit market, which tells the story of South Africa and Africa from different historical and cultural perspectives.

For clients who prefer guided tours or are without transport, suggest DoSomethingDifferent’s or Urban Adventures’ Jozi by Foot tours, the City Sightseeing hop-on hop-off bus routes sold by Viator or the interesting history, shopping, public art and mining history tours from Past Experiences.

12.30: Have a light bite or South African-inspired cuisine such as Sophiatown-style curry or ostrich burgers at Sophiatown Bar & Lounge on the corners of Jeppe and Henry Nxumalo streets in Newtown. On Saturdays, suggest the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein for delicious fresh creative food stalls.

13.30: Ten minutes away is Constitution Hill in Braamfontein district. Nowhere shows South Africa’s transition towards democracy in a more dynamic way.

Once known as the Old Fort where inmates such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were held, buildings include the ‘Natives’ section’ prison blocks, Sections Four and Five isolation cells and the Women’s Prisons.

Constitution Hill - Image credit: South Africa Tourism
Image credit: South Africa Tourism

The guided tours are excellent and end inside South Africa’s new constitutional court, built on the site where rights were often flouted.

16.30: Ten minutes south is the Central Business District. See Africa’s richest city at work from the Carlton Centre’s Top of Africa experience, which offers panoramic city views.

Around the corner is Gandhi Square and interesting buildings such as the Rand Club, Standard Bank Art Gallery and the former City Hall, now Gauteng Legislature.

18.30: Suggest pre-dinner drinks back in Maboneng to see this lively neighbourhood by night. Choose from the likes of rooftop eco café Living Room, craft beers at Chalkboard, Lenin’s vodka bar or Blackanese wine and sushi bar.

Dinner options include African cuisine at Pata Pata, outdoor dining at Canteen or Mama Mexicana. An alternative is The Sheds@1Fox in Ferreirastown, west of the centre, where industrial warehouses have been transformed into a marketplace with bars, restaurants and craft stalls. Open until late Thursday to Saturday.

Day Two

09.00: The heart of the apartheid struggle, Soweto township has witnessed pivotal moments. Modern malls stand alongside shantytown housing, witness to both the progress and stagnancy that hit the country post-apartheid.

Visitors can see Vilakazi Street – once home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu – visit a shebeen/bar, and the Hector Pieterson Museum, tribute to the fatal 1976 student uprisings.

Township tourism is a sticky subject but ethical tours include the excellent bike or tuk-tuk tour from Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers, Urban Adventures’ Cycle Soweto and Phaphama’s tours.

Urban Adventures Cycle Soweto

12.00: Stop for lunch at Sakhumzi on Vilakazi Street for traditional African dishes, burgers and salads.

13.30: The Apartheid Museum deserves a good few hours, with its excellent displays showing the effects of the regime on citizens. It’s interactive, interesting and genuinely unmissable. There’s a good cafe-restaurant for an afternoon pick-me-up.

17.00: Stop by Rosebank Mall’s art and craft market, open daily, for its good selection of souvenirs and gifts. Goodman Gallery is also on Rosebank, renowned for its contemporary art collection and open until 7.30pm Tuesday to Thursday (4pm on Friday).

18.30: End the day at the Saxon Hotel in the suburb of Sandhurst, renowned for its African art collection and gardens. Owned by the same family who lived there before it became a hotel in 1992, Nelson Mandela chose to write his autobiography here.

Book ahead to eat at Five Hundred or Qunu Grill restaurants, or prop up the bar at Eighteen05, the first Johnnie Walker whisky bar outside Scotland. Alternatively, suggest Seventh Street in the suburb of Melville, a lively strip of bars and restaurants with a neighbourhood feel.

Sample Product

Somak offers three nights’ full board at Madikwe Hills Reserve with six game drives followed by three nights with breakfast at Melrose Arch African Pride Hotel, economy flights and transfers, from £2,944 for travel in September.

Carrier offers a six-night holiday from £3,155, including two nights at One&Only Cape Town, overnight on the Blue Train from Cape Town to Pretoria, guided tour of Pretoria, three nights at Four Seasons The Westcliff Johannesburg, private transfers and return flights from London, departing February 2.

Jacada Travel offers three nights with breakfast at The Saxon from £985 including transfers and flights from London.

Travel 2 includes three days in Johannesburg on its new six-day Kruger & Canyon Tour, which includes visits to Maboneng, Soweto and The Apartheid Museum. Priced at £1,299, it includes flights, half board accommodation, some meals and all transfers.

Where to stay


12 Decades Art Hotel
This design hotel in the revived Maboneng neighbourhood has 16 themed rooms, kitted out by South African artists and designers. Rooms are en-suite, with lounge, self-catering facilities and free Wi-Fi.

Apartments are also available. There’s secure underground parking, a Maboneng-savvy Neighbourhood Concierge and rooftop boxing gym, and the Cocoon Spa is next door.


African Pride Melrose Arch Hotel Pool

African Pride Melrose Arch Hotel
In the chic social space of the Melrose Arch Precinct, this stylish hotel hits the spot in upmarket, trendy Melrose. Guests love the on-site March Restaurant, daytime pool bar and people-watching from the veranda which overlooks the precinct.

Rooms are high-spec, with free Wi-Fi, great art and a soundtrack of tunes from top musicians.


Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff Johannesburg
Reopened in December 2014, the Four Seasons’ first property in South Africa is a five-star resort in the northern suburb of Saxonwold overlooking Johannesburg Zoo.

Designed as a hillside village with courtyards and gardens, it has 117 rooms and suites, a spa and two pools. Five bars and restaurants include signature restaurant View and the braai/BBQ experiences at Flame’s, both overlooking the hills.


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