Cost: ££ – flights and safe accommodation aren’t cheap but everything else is
Rating: 4/10 – glad we had the day there as part of a bigger trip but wouldn’t travel to Johannesburg otherwise
From London a direct flight to Johannesburg is about 11 hours long. We booked multi city tickets but just checked and flights from London to Joburg for this time next year are £750+ …always check SkyScanner for the best fares.
We stayed in Sandton, the business district and probably the nicest / safest area of Joburg. The Intercontinental is a lovely hotel, has great views and the staff are fantastic. A basic room costs ZAR 2,390 (£129) per night if you book in advance. I wouldn’t recommend booking an AirBnb… stay somewhere with security.
The SA currency is the ZAR / South African Rand – £1 = just less than 20 Rand / £100 = 1,860 Rand which seems like quite a scary number. Have the calculator on your phone ready to work things out.
Joburg isn’t the safest city in the world so we arranged an airport transfer with our hotel (and I recommend you do too)! We also arranged a tour with the taxi company at the hotel – all transport costs were charged to our room which was convenient. Our hotel advised against using any public transport and our taxi driver (Joburg born and bred) said he didn’t feel safe driving through some areas of the city.
Top tips to stay safe
You need to have your wits about you anywhere you travel. In SA, whilst some people are friendly and will not cause you harm, but that’s not the case all the time. To reduce your chances of running into trouble…
- Leave valuables in the UK / your hotel room
- Research before you go
If you’re unsure about a place, ask your hotel before you travel. We were advised against a couple of places on our ‘to see’ list in Joburg.
- Keep only a small amount of money on you
- Don’t walk around at night
- Avoid townships at all costs
- Be alert
- If driving:
– Have your route mapped out before you travel
– Keep doors locked and windows up
– Avoid driving through townships
– If driving at nighttime, don’t STOP at the STOP signs
– Put bags / valuables in the boot
– Make sure you have petrol for long journeys to avoid getting stranded
– Make sure car is running okay before you leave
– Have small change ready to give out
We regularly had men dressed in high vis half guide us into parking spaces and expect money to guard the car. Of course they aren’t employed by the car parks but you don’t want to risk your car / yourself when you come back.
If you are a victim of crime in SA then it will most likely be petty theft. Give them what they ask for… a wallet / phone isn’t worth your life.
Fortunately we never felt unsafe in SA but I think that’s mostly because we followed the advice above.
Here’s what we did! 24 hours in Joburg…
Soweto is a township which was created when the government began separating Blacks from Whites in the 1930s. It has a population of over 2 million and is the largest black urban settlement in SA. We took a tour in a taxi because we had limited time and needed to get around quickly, but there are many different ways of exploring the area (including a bike tour)!
Soweto is BIG and there are lots of different areas, from two storey houses to make-shift shacks and everything in between. It’s rich with history and is at the centre of the Apartheid movement, not only because Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu lived there for many years, but because of the Soweto Uprising in 1976 which spread to the rest of the country.
– Mandela House / The Nelson Mandela National Museum
This house is in Soweto and where Nelson Mandela actually lived from 1946-1962 (16 years!!) He also came back in 1990 for 11 days after he was released from prison. In 1997 Nelson donated it to the Soweto Heritage Trust and it was turned into a museum.
It’s a single story house with just 2 rooms. Humbling to see how the incredible man lived both before and after imprisonment. You can even see the bullet holes from where the house was shot at.
Tickets cost 60 Rand (£3.25) per person and can be bought when you arrive. There are lots of exhibits where furniture once was and you can have a quick guided tour included in the price of a ticket.
It’s amazing to get up close to items which, anywhere else in the world, would be locked in glass display cabinets. Whilst it’s not the best place to learn about the history of SA, by going here you are walking in the footsteps of a great man. You’ll only need 20 mins max.
– Apartheid Museum
I’ve been to many museums in my life and this was by far the most well done, informative and important one. You MUST go if you’re visiting the city. Tickets cost just ZAR 100 (£5.40) per person. We were also lucky enough to see the temporary Mandela exhibition which was on during our visit too.
We spent about 3 hours here and only left because it was closing. I honestly could’ve spent much longer if we’d had time. On your ticket you get assigned race and have to enter the museum accordingly. The museum continues to be confronting as you make your way around it.
It was a totally eye-opening experience, and whilst it’s hard to comprehend how bad it was, the museum guides you through SA history very comprehensively. I really liked how the exhibits included small / sometimes big TV screens showing footage from the time of Apartheid (Soweto Uprising, Mandela at the rugby World Cup, a young Mandela, etc.). It reminds you how recent it all was.
I certainly didn’t realise the extent of Apartheid and how unjust and oppressive it was until I visited the museum. Whilst the government is obviously far less oppressive now, after spending nearly 3 weeks in SA I think it’s still got a long way to go as racism is still rife and there’s still a massive disparity in terms of opportunities and wealth.
For the 5 hour taxi which dropped and waited for us at all the places above, it cost 1,600 ZAR (£87) / £43.50 per person. Well worth it for safety and convenience.
– Nelson Mandela Square
This square is in Sandton, super close to the Intercontinental and just outside the shopping centre (which is also connected to the hotel). It was named after Mandela in 2004 and has a large statue of him outside.
The Sandton shopping centre is massive and has a huge range of shops. We only walked through it to get some food, but if you’re keen to shop / buy diamonds (which SA is famous for) then this is the place to come. Ranging from high-end to high-street.
As we only had 1 day in Joburg we only got to try one restaurant… and what a restaurant!
– The Big Mouth
OH! MY! The BEST sushi I have EVER eaten. I only wish I’d been able to eat more. So cheap and unbelievably tasty. You must go if you’re staying in Sandton. It’s also in a great location on Mandela Square. You can sit outside to get a view of the statue!
If you’re in the city for longer than a day, see below recommendations researched before. As mentioned in the intro, do your own research and check safety with the hotel before you travel…
- 44 Stanley – 1930’s buildings now developed into food, fashion, furniture and showrooms… trendy!
- Rosebank – truly African marketplace
- Maboneng Market – hub of culture, business and lifestyle which a friend recommended but we were advised by our hotel against going there at that particular time because of a few cases of petty theft of tourists
- 27 Boxes – for one of a kind fashion, art, decor, gifts & food
- Chameleon Village – large African flea market in greater Gauteng
- Everard Read Gallery – oldest commercial art gallery
- Goodman Gallery – contemporary art museum
- Carlton Centre – for birds eye view of the city
- Joburg Theatre