A lot of Australians might see Johannesburg in South Africa as too dangerous to visit, often choosing to stay overnight at the airport hotels before flying out on Safari. But what those so-called “adventurers” miss out on is a city full of thriving culture, flourishing entrepreneurialism, endless activity and important history. How do we know? Because we were just there, and we can say without hesitation that Johannesburg is a blast. We biked, we bungee jumped, we ate, we drank, we shopped, we explored, we learned, we lived. Should you find yourself in this historic South African city, you can do no wrong by scoping the activities and destinations listed in our handy little guide below.
Do – Quad Biking Through Soweto
Soweto (aka South Western Townships) began as a collection of gold-mining settlements on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and has since grown to become an essential component to the city at large. To say that this cluster of townships has been through it all would be an understatement, and history and culture is essentially everywhere as a result. Injecting you directly into Soweto’s bloodstream is Soweto Outdoor Adventures, which puts you on a quad bike and leads you through a range of encampments, back roads and historic streets. It’s no wonder that this made our list of top 10 must-try adventures in South Africa.
Do – Orlando Towers Bungee
Dominating the Soweto skyline are two tall, visually enticing cooling towers that go by the name the Orlando Towers. If you’re the adventurous type, you might look at the two towers and say to yourself, “Man, I’d love to bungee jump off the top of those things”. Well, as it turns out, you can (though technically you’re jumping off a bridge connecting the two towers, but you get the point). It’s all thanks to Orlando Towers Bungee (aka Soweto Towers Bungee).
Do – Nelson Mandela House
Johannesburg was home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, who both happened to live on the same street at different points in time. Mandela’s house (where he lived from 1946-1962) has been converted into a museum, which offers a striking glimpse into both the man and South African history alike.
Do – Neighbourgoods Market
Open on Saturdays, the Neighbourgoods Market is essentially everything you can ask of an outdoor food fair. Whether you want to shop for produce, munch on a variety of international cuisines, people watch or get your drink on, this is the place to do it.
Do – Market on Main
Still riding high on the marketplace experience? Then you owe it to yourself to check out Market on Main in the Maboneng District (in downtown Johannesburg). Here, you’ll find a seemingly endless range of tasty foods, creative designs and native goods. It’s open every Sunday from 10am-3pm.
Drink – Brian Lara Rum Eatery
Between its tropical atmosphere, flavourful cuisine and array of refreshing cocktails, the Brian Lara Rum Eatery in Linden is a mini-oasis where you can simply relax and have a great time. Call it paradise on earth if you will, or just call it a great place to get boozed up, Caribbean style.
Drink – The Royale
Wash down delectable cuisine with a range of classic, Cuban-inspired cocktails at this veritable hotspot in Craighall Park. While the Mojitos take centre stage, you’re just as well-off ordering a Daiquiri, Cuba Libre, Tormenta Negra, or any of the other tropical stunners suggested by your friendly server.
Drink – Sin + Tax
True to its multi-layered name, Sin + Tax whips up an addictive mixed drink that will unravel on your palate over time. Indeed, this Rosebank destination creates some of the best boozy beverages you’ll ever taste, let alone taste in Johannesburg. For gin lovers in particular, Sin + Tax is an absolute must-try.
Drink – Hell’s Kitchen
With a vibe that falls somewhere between speakeasy and punk rock venue, Hell’s Kitchen keeps the drinks flowing and music pumping to a wildly receptive crowd. Cementing this Melville spot’s hip status is live music on the weekends, and a secret poker room behind the bookcase.
Drink – Stanley Beer Yard
A quality selection of craft beers? Check. Elegantly rustic interior? Check. Incredible patio replete with picnic tables, olive trees and even a stage for live music? Check. Yep, Stanley Beer Yard in Milpark definitely has our name written all over it. Yours too, especially if you love good beer and a fun crowd.
Drink – The Great Dane
Permeating with positive energy, The Great Dane is located in the heart of Braamfontein, where young hipsters roam free. Order a hot dog and a craft beer, and see just how quickly time can fly by when you’re having fun.
Drink – Jolly Roger
If you like your food cheap and your beer ice cold, then head on over to Jolly Roger in Parkhurst. Here, the game is always on TV and the nearest strangers are always ready to become friends. Jolly, indeed.
Stay – Protea Hotel Parktonian
Brought to you by Marriott, Protea Hotel is located in the heart of the CBD, and thereby accessible to just about everything. Inside, you’ll find on-site dining, a fitness centre, clean rooms, cosy beds, complimentary WiFi and so much more. Head up the rooftop for some poolside lounging, weather permitting of course.
Stay – Saxon
If you prefer hotels of the 5-star variety, then, by all means, book a villa or suite at Saxon in Sandhurst. Surrounded by enchanting gardens, this luxury retreat hosts a premium spa, elegant restaurants and bars, and even a private game reserve. Come here to experience South African serenity that you won’t find anywhere else in Johannesburg.
Eat – Nelson Mandela Square
Home to a slew of both independently-owned and commercial restaurants, Nelson Mandela Square is a safe bet when you’re not exactly sure what you want. It’s also just a great place to shop, sightsee, meet people, and kill some time.
Eat – Pablo Eggs-Go-Bar
Craving something hearty and delicious for breakfast or lunch? Then head on over to Pablo Eggs-Go-Bar in Melville. It’s open as early as 6:30am, and always serving fresh, tasty and filling food that’s sure to ease your lingering hangover.
Eat – Melville Strip
If you’re hungry and undecided on what to eat, Melville Street won’t necessarily make your decision any easier, but it will give you plenty of options. Located in the heart of Melville–where people from all walks of life go to play–the main strip offers a dizzying array of tasty cuisines.
Eat – 4th Avenue Parkhurst
Putting some of your favourite activities (namely, shopping and eating) in one place, 4th Avenue Parkhurst is where you’ll find a range of nice stores and restaurants. If clean and classic is your thing, then this is your place.
Eat – The Shack
As one of Johannesburg’s last remaining shebeens (i.e. a privately owned residence selling alcoholic beverages), The Shack is the perfect place to drink like a local. Order some food from the stand in the yard, crack open a cold one, and get to know the city’s real people.