A super quick guide to Johannesburg

A super quick guide to Johannesburg

Everything you need to know to have a top time in this South African city


Part of the Nelson Mandela exhibition at the Apartheid Museum / Image: Apartheid Museum

Pierre de Villiers

A South African writer with over 20 years' experience, Pierre began his career in Cape Town. Words in The Times, Culture Trip, Vera, and more.

With its frenetic pace and no-nonsense attitude, it’s easy to dismiss Johannesburg as a place that’s all work and no play. Dig a bit deeper in the City of Gold, though, and you’ll find a fun, progressive, multi-cultural metropolis with hip bars, hidden-away hotels, world class museums and, if you need to catch your breath, lots of ways to get close to nature.

Stay in style at The Great Gatsby

Stay here: The Great Gatsby

More than living up to its name, the Great Gatsby was not only built during the Roaring Twenties but has taken its interior design inspiration from the age of flapper dresses and fedoras. Tiffany lamps, crystal chandeliers, velvet curtains and retro leather armchairs set the mood for whisky tastings in the cigar lounge or a glass of port in the drawing room, while a secluded outdoor pool is perfect to battle the summer heat in peace and quiet.

4a Munro Dr, Houghton Estate

Sowetan Brewing Company owner Ndumiso Madlala

Drink this: Township craft beer

South Africa has fallen hard for craft beer and few places do the amber liquid better than the Sowetan Brewing Company. Owner Ndumiso Madlala honed his brewing skills in the Netherlands before overseeing the creation of a range of local favourites including Orlando Stout, Sowetan Gold lager and Apple Ale. The best place to enjoy the fruits of the company’s labour is at the Ubuntu Kraal Brewery in Soweto where you can do tastings, tours and tuck into moreish grub served up by its gourmet grill.

11346 Senokoanyana St, Dube

Nice on 4th is known for these delicious egg baskets / Image: Rocking Chair Photography - Antoinette McDonald

Brunch here: Nice on 4th

If the container your food arrives in at this Sandton café looks good enough to eat, that’s because it is. The ‘egg baskets’ at Nice on 4th are made of toast which are then filled with poached eggs, spicy tomato relish and crispy bacon (or vegetables if you’re vegetarian). Kids have their own fun dish – egg in a bunny toast hole with melted mozzarella cheese and bacon – although, given the place’s popularity, you have to hop to it in the morning to make sure you get a table.

37 4th Ave, Parkhurst, Sandton

Nelson Mandela mural by Shepard Fairey / Image: Alamy

Instagram this: Mandela mural

Star street artist Shepard Fairey (remember him from the Barack Obama HOPE poster?) went through a mountain of paint (most of it purple) when honouring Nelson Mandela on the side of a building in Braamfontein. Paying tribute to the great man and the apartheid-era Purple Rain Protest (the artwork is emblazoned with the words ‘The Purple Shall Govern’) the 10-storey mural overlooks Nelson Mandela Bridge

Juta Street, Braamfontein


The Apartheid Museum educates visitors about South Africa's former segregation system / Image: Apartheid Museum

Smart up here: The Apartheid Museum

Chronicling the rise and fall of South Africa’s notorious system of racial segregation, the Apartheid Museum is an essential stop on any trip to Johannesburg. To illustrate what life under apartheid was like, visitors are arbitrarily classified as either white or non-white and are only permitted entry to the museum through the gate allocated to their race group. A Nelson Mandela exhibition – looking at his road from freedom fighter to president – further adds to what is a hard-hitting, inspirational experience.

Northern Park Way and Gold Reef Rd

Tang / Image: Graeme Wyllie

Have dinner here: Tang

This gourmet Asian restaurant only opened late last year but is already one of the hottest dining spots in town. It’s easy to see why. Each meal at Tang is a little work of art, prepared by black-clad chefs and served up with great ceremony. None more so than desert, which is accompanied by plumes of dried ice blowing across the table. A floor-to-ceiling wine cellar and Moët & Chandon Champagne bar ensure all the gourmet cuisine is washed down in style.

Shop No 120, Nelson Mandela Square, Sandton

This street food market has become a playground for hipsters / Image: The Playground

Meet locals here: The Playground Market

The Playground in Braamfontein has fast become the coolest place for locals to hang out on a Saturday morning. The multi-level complex is crammed with streetfood vendors serving everything from sushi and oysters to Korean BBQ Kimchee and shawarmas. Once you have a full belly, catch a set from a rising DJ or check out boutique-like stalls featuring clothing and other gifts made by local designers. The Playground is open on Saturdays from 10am-6pm.

73 Juta St, Braamfontein

Party here: Truth

If ever you were going to dust off ‘the snake’ dance in a club, this would be the place to do it. Formerly a snake park, Truth is now a maze-like venue where rooms that once housed reptile display cases are now used for slick home-grown and international DJs. Opening its doors in the late 1990s when acid house was really taking root in South Africa, the club has become the cornerstone of the local clubbing scene with parties at the multi-storey venue going on until the crack of dawn.

Old Pretoria Rd, Halfway House, Midrand


Get out in the wilderness at The Wilds Nature Reserve / Image: Jhbcityparks

Hike here: The Wilds Nature Reserve

A 16-hectare inner-city park in Houghton, the once rundown Wilds Nature Reserve has been given a new lease on life thanks to the efforts of local volunteer groups. Now a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of Joburg and suck in some fresh air, it has amazing views of the city skyline from its two koppies (hills) that stick out above a carpet of lush vegetation. As you stride along look out for the Technicolor animal statues that have been placed along the hiking trails.

Houghton Drive, Houghton

Experience this: Soweto Towers Bungee Jump

Don’t have a head for heights? Maybe give this a skip. Want a unique adrenaline rush? Then make your way to the spectacular Orlando Towers for a 100m bungee jump. The two cooling towers of the now defunct Orlando Power Station have become beacons of fun in the city, with the raucous Chaf Pozi restaurant at its base and daredevils hurling themselves into thin highveld air at the top. On the way down you’ll get a great (but blurry) view of the towers’ stunning murals.

Chris Hani Road, Soweto

Spot the Springboks at Ellis Park Stadium / Image: Getty Images

Watch a national obsession here: Ellis Park Stadium

Sport is king in South Africa and the country is particularly proud of its rugby team, the Springboks. The spiritual home of the current world champions is Ellis Park (now Emirates Airline Park) – sight of the famous 1995 Rugby World Cup final which saw Nelson Mandela wear the team’s green and gold colours to unite the nation. Catch the Boks there if you can (they play archrivals New Zealand in August) or local franchise The Lions. Whichever team you see, the beer and banter will be flowing.

S Park Lane, Doornfontein