Johannesburg is the commercial hub of sub-Saharan Africa, a cosmopolitan city also brimming with history, a Mecca for the arts, fashion and street culture. A city where dreams turn into reality.
This fast-paced city hosts a unique mix of cultures, music, art and design that recalls its turbulent past and celebrates its vibrant present. Many captivated by its beauty decided to make it their home and have since been telling both the joyful and heart-wrenching stories of living in this buzzing city.
Let’s dive in and see what you can experience in 72 hours in this city that never sleeps.
Day 1: An introduction to the iconic City of Gold
What better way to start this journey than delving into Johannesburg’s history by spending a day exploring the economic powerhouse of Africa in the safety and comfort of the Hop-On, Hop-Off bus tour. Learn about the history of gold mining, the jacaranda trees first planted in the 1800s dotted across the city, the first communities that existed, hear stories of apartheid history, and understand the triumph of modern Johannesburg by listening to the on-board audio commentary, available in 15 languages.
Get lost in this roller coaster ride of emotions as it takes you through tumultuous and triumphant times. The major highlight of the tour is the Constitution Hill, which houses an old female prison and the Constitutional Court of South Africa.
For an even better understanding, deep dive into the ultimate township tour. South African history is incomplete without a visit to Soweto, the biggest township in Africa. On this tour (as cliché as it may sound), you’ll immerse yourself in local highlights and top sites such as the Apartheid Museum, the Mandela House, Sisulu House, and Freedom Square, as you learn about South African history and culture.
This tour is better experienced by bike as you get to cover a lot of sites while enjoying the ride. On arrival, head to Lebo’s Backpackers and hire one of their knowledgeable guides to take you through this fascinating township.
Have your dinner in one of the oldest restaurants in the iconic Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world to have been home to two Nobel Prize winners. Sakhumzi Restaurant is where you indulge in South African dishes with their buffet or a-la-carte menu. While there, don’t forget to sample local beverages. South Africa is known for its vast selection of locally produced beers (including craft beers), wines and spirits.
But don’t go in too deep; tomorrow is another day.
Day 2: Experience the inner city’s hidden gems and more
Feel the city’s pulse by living and experiencing it through its most important characteristic – the people. Once you start exploring, you will quickly learn that Johannesburg’s story is still being written. Many new developments can be witnessed across this metropolis, such as the establishment of the Jewel City; this precinct is a melting pot of nationalities and cultures and creative local businesses.
Jewel City is an extension of the existing Maboneng Precinct located in Johannesburg CBD. These two precincts boast artsy accommodation, edgy businesses and creative spaces used by people from all walks of life. All creatives should visit these precincts in their lifetime, Fox Street being the name to remember as this is where all the action is. Fox Street houses the famed Arts on Main, one of Johannesburg’s creative hubs.
Hallmark House Hotel, with unique design and décor, which is best described as industrial meets chic, is the best place to stay in Maboneng and possibly all of Johannesburg; it is ideal for both business and leisure travellers. The hotel offers a range of curated shared spaces, including extensive recreational and business facilities serving guests and residents. These include Johannesburg’s finest jazz bar, the Marabi Club, which boasts fine dining, slick service and the immersive sounds of African rhythms.
If work beckons during your trip (even if it doesn’t), check out Thorn, Hallmark House’s popular inner-city remote workspace and restaurant, with its cool, modern, relaxed club ambience. Another restaurant at Hallmark House is The Rooftop; go to this restaurant not just for the fantastic food but also for the unrivalled 360-degree views over the city.
For more of Johannesburg’s culinary scene, book a seat at the Yeoville Dinner Club, where you can sample dishes from South Africa and other African countries. However, for the ultimate food experience, local markets are always the perfect destination. Arts on Main and Fourways Farmers Market are the two that come to mind; they boast more than 30 stalls and mini restaurants, selling different types of food for all budgets.
For great nightlife, head back to Hallmark House Hotel, pop in at the Jazz Club and Restaurant, and groove to the soundtrack of bygone eras of early Johannesburg’s jazz scene. Experience a magical blur of the finest food, the friendliest staff and live music.
If you are into hard-core clubbing, leave your rental at the hotel and request an Uber ride to Konka in Soweto or Taboo in Sandton, this is where local hip and happening DJs can are found. Break a leg!
Day 3: Go beyond the city – Adventure awaits
Take in aerial views of the Magaliesberg Mountains and the Cradle of Humankind on an early morning hot air balloon safari. A majestic formation of enchanting mountains characterises the town of Magaliesburg (the spelling of the town and mountain range is slightly different), and seeing it from the top will give you the most scenic perspective of the area. Spend the hour-long flight sipping champagne and enjoying the high-altitude breeze, snapping photos and listening to commentary from your guide before landing for a scrumptious breakfast before proceeding to The Cradle of Mankind that you would have seen from the air.
Thousands of fossils and artefacts have been discovered in the world-renowned Sterkfontein Caves, which helped shed light and piece together the complex story of evolution. To date, there has been no other place that tells this story better than Maropeng. Therefore, visiting the Cradle of Mankind is a must-do before returning to the city.
While slowly making your way back to the city, stop at the Harties Boat Company for a sunset cruise in Hartbeespoort Dam. It is one of the easiest ways for mostly Joburgers to unwind and escape the hustle and bustle of the city. If you are a person that thrives in a big group, then the party cruise is your best bet; alternately, book a speed boat for you and a couple of your friends. The trick is to book these well in advance as slots fill up quickly, especially in summer.
On your way out, as you drive back to Johannesburg, make time for a cultural emersion at Lesedi Cultural Village dedicated to showcasing and explaining the culture, art, music, and history of the various South African Tribes. Time permitting, try to visit every homestead. This is the best way to understand the different tribes and how they come together to form this Rainbow Nation of South Africa.
Unfortunately, all great adventures come to an end. However, at the end of this fun-packed 3-day escapade, you will be a walking encyclopaedia of many things Johannesburg-related, and you will be armed with beautiful memories of life in the city of Johannesburg. As you return home, I hope you convey a message of love, peace and fulfilment.