Johannesburg: The City of Gold and Contrasts

Johannesburg: The City of Gold and Contrasts

Johannesburg is a city located in the Gauteng Province of South Africa. It is the largest city in the country and one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. Johannesburg is a financial, commercial, and industrial center with a rich history of gold mining.

Short History

Johannesburg city was founded in 1886 after the discovery of gold in the area, and its growth was fueled by the gold rush that followed. The city’s population grew rapidly, and it became a center for mining and finance. During the apartheid era, Johannesburg was the center of resistance against the oppressive government policies, and it played a key role in the eventual downfall of the apartheid regime. Today, Johannesburg is a vibrant and diverse city that is home to people from all over South Africa and the world. It is known for its business opportunities, cultural attractions, and lively nightlife.


Johannesburg, like many cities in South Africa, has a diverse range of architectural styles due to the different periods of development and influences from different cultures. Here are some notable examples:

  • Carlton Centre: At 50 stories, this skyscraper is one of the tallest buildings in Africa and is a recognizable landmark in the Johannesburg skyline.
  • Hillbrow Tower: This tower was built in the 1960s and stands at 269 meters tall. It was once the tallest structure in Africa and is still one of the tallest towers in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • Constitutional Court: The home of South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court building is a modern masterpiece with a unique design that incorporates the historic Old Fort prison.
  • Rand Club: Built in 1887, the Rand Club is a Victorian-era building that was once the social hub for the mining magnates who dominated Johannesburg’s early years.
  • Nelson Mandela Bridge: This iconic bridge spans over 280 meters across the Braamfontein railway yards and was built in 2003. It is named after the iconic South African leader and is a symbol of the country’s new era of democracy.
  • Ponte City Apartments: This cylindrical tower is one of Johannesburg’s most recognizable landmarks and was once the tallest residential building in Africa. It is currently undergoing a renovation to turn it into a mixed-use development.
  • Museum Africa: Housed in a 1913 Edwardian-style building, Museum Africa showcases the cultural heritage of Johannesburg and the surrounding area.
  • Johannesburg City Hall: Completed in 1915, the Johannesburg City Hall is a grand example of neo-baroque architecture and is home to the city’s council chambers.
  • FNB Stadium: Built for the 2010 World Cup, the FNB Stadium (also known as Soccer City) has become an iconic sporting venue and can host over 94,000 spectators.
  • Park Station: Johannesburg’s main railway station is a historic building that dates back to 1896 and is a fine example of Victorian architecture.

Museums and Galleries

Johannesburg has a rich cultural history and many museums and galleries to showcase it. Here are some of the most interesting ones:

  • Apartheid Museum – This museum is dedicated to preserving the history of apartheid in South Africa and the struggle to overcome it. It has exhibits that educate visitors about the policies and practices of apartheid and the heroes who fought against it.
  • Johannesburg Art Gallery – This gallery features an impressive collection of African and European art, including contemporary and modern pieces.
  • Museum of African Design – This museum is dedicated to showcasing African design and innovation, including fashion, furniture, and other creative works.
  • Hector Pieterson Museum – This museum is named after a 13-year-old boy who was killed during the Soweto Uprising in 1976. It is dedicated to preserving the history of this important event in South African history and the fight for freedom and equality.
  • Constitution Hill – This historic site was once a prison that held many of South Africa’s political prisoners during apartheid. Today, it is a museum and heritage site that tells the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy.
  • Sci-Bono Discovery Centre – This interactive science museum is great for families and children, with exhibits that explore everything from physics to biology and technology.
  • Lindfield Victorian House Museum – This museum is a well-preserved example of a Victorian-era home in Johannesburg, showcasing the lifestyle of the city’s wealthy residents in the late 1800s.
  • Workers Museum – This museum is dedicated to preserving the history of South Africa’s working class, including the lives and struggles of miners, domestic workers, and other laborers.
  • Market Theatre – This performing arts venue is one of the most important in Johannesburg, showcasing a range of theater, dance, and music performances.
  • FADA Gallery – This gallery is located on the University of Johannesburg’s Bunting Road Campus, and features works from students, staff, and visiting artists, as well as special exhibitions and events.

These museums and galleries showcase Johannesburg’s rich cultural heritage and are a must-visit for anyone interested in exploring the city’s history and artistic traditions.

Landmarks and Monuments

There are many interesting landmarks and monuments to see in Johannesburg. Here are some of them:

  • Apartheid Museum – This museum is dedicated to South Africa’s apartheid era and its effects on the country’s history and people.
  • Constitution Hill – A former prison complex that now serves as a museum and cultural precinct. The complex was used to imprison political activists during the apartheid era, including Nelson Mandela.
  • Mandela House – The former home of Nelson Mandela is now a museum dedicated to his life and legacy.
  • Carlton Centre – This skyscraper is one of the tallest buildings in Africa and offers panoramic views of Johannesburg from its observation deck.
  • Johannesburg City Hall – Built in the early 20th century, this historic building features beautiful architecture and houses the offices of the city’s mayor and council.
  • Union Buildings – Located in Pretoria, just outside Johannesburg, these impressive buildings house the offices of South Africa’s president and government.
  • Nelson Mandela Bridge – This iconic bridge spans the city’s railway lines and serves as a symbol of South Africa’s progress and unity.
  • Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum – Dedicated to the young schoolboy who was killed during the Soweto Uprising in 1976, this museum tells the story of the struggle against apartheid.
  • Newtown Cultural Precinct – This vibrant neighborhood is home to a number of art galleries, theaters, and restaurants, and is a great place to explore Johannesburg’s cultural scene.
  • Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens – This beautiful botanical garden is located just outside the city and features a variety of plant species, as well as hiking trails and picnic areas.

Parks and Green Spaces

Johannesburg, also known as Joburg or Jozi, has a number of beautiful parks and green spaces to explore. Here are some of the most interesting:

  • Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden: This beautiful garden is located in the suburb of Roodepoort and offers stunning views of the Witpoortjie Waterfall.
  • Johannesburg Botanical Garden: This garden is situated in the suburb of Emmarentia and offers a peaceful escape from the city. Visitors can explore the rose garden, herb garden, and succulent garden.
  • Zoo Lake: This popular park is located in the suburb of Parkview and features a lake where visitors can hire rowboats or enjoy a picnic on the grass.
  • Emmarentia Dam: Located in the suburb of Emmarentia, this dam offers a range of outdoor activities including fishing, kayaking, and picnicking.
  • Melville Koppies: This nature reserve is located in the suburb of Melville and offers hiking trails with stunning views of the city.
  • Delta Park: This large park is located in the suburb of Blairgowrie and offers a range of activities including birdwatching, jogging, and picnicking.
  • James and Ethel Gray Park: Located in the suburb of Birdhaven, this park features beautiful gardens and a large pond.
  • Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve: This reserve is located in the south of Johannesburg and offers hiking trails and picnic areas.
  • Modderfontein Reserve: This reserve is located in the suburb of Modderfontein and features a range of outdoor activities including hiking, mountain biking, and fishing.
  • Huddle Park: This large park is located in the suburb of Linksfield and offers a range of activities including golf, soccer, and cycling.

Shopping Districts

Johannesburg, as the largest city in South Africa, has numerous shopping districts catering to a wide range of budgets and tastes. Here are some of the most popular:

  • Sandton City: This is one of the largest and most upscale shopping centers in Johannesburg, offering high-end fashion boutiques, restaurants, and entertainment options.
  • Rosebank Mall: This shopping center has a vibrant and eclectic mix of shops, ranging from local crafts and art to high-end fashion, as well as a rooftop market on Sundays.
  • Nelson Mandela Square: Located in the heart of Sandton, this square is surrounded by upmarket shops and restaurants, and is dominated by a towering statue of Nelson Mandela.
  • Eastgate Shopping Centre: This is one of the oldest shopping centers in Johannesburg, featuring more than 250 shops, restaurants, and entertainment options.
  • The Mall of Africa: Opened in 2016, this is one of the largest malls in Africa, with over 300 shops and restaurants spread over 130,000 square meters.
  • Oriental Plaza: This is a popular shopping destination for locals and tourists looking for affordable clothing, textiles, and other goods, with over 360 stores in a multi-level shopping complex.
  • 44 Stanley: This shopping precinct is located in a converted industrial complex, with a mix of designer boutiques, vintage stores, and trendy restaurants and cafes.
  • Fourways Mall: This recently expanded mall features over 400 stores, a cinema complex, and an indoor amusement park.
  • Cresta Shopping Centre: Located in the suburb of Randburg, this mall features over 200 stores, restaurants, and entertainment options.
  • The Zone @ Rosebank: This is a popular lifestyle center, featuring a mix of shops, restaurants, and entertainment options, as well as an outdoor market on Sundays.

Food and Drink

Johannesburg has a diverse culinary scene, with influences from traditional South African, African, and international cuisines. Here are some popular dishes and drinks to try:

  • Braai: South Africa’s version of a barbecue, braai is a must-try when in Johannesburg. It typically includes meats like boerewors (a type of sausage), lamb chops, and steak, and is served with sides like pap (a type of porridge) and chakalaka (a spicy relish).
  • Bunny chow: A popular street food in Johannesburg, bunny chow is a half-loaf of bread filled with curry. It originated in the Indian community in Durban but is now enjoyed throughout South Africa.
  • Biltong: A type of dried and cured meat, biltong is a popular snack in South Africa. It’s made from beef, game, or ostrich and can be found in most supermarkets and butcheries in Johannesburg.
  • Amarula: A cream liqueur made from the fruit of the marula tree, which is native to Southern Africa. It has a smooth, sweet flavor and is often enjoyed as a dessert drink.
  • Rooibos tea: A caffeine-free herbal tea made from the leaves of the rooibos plant, which is indigenous to South Africa. It’s a popular beverage in Johannesburg and can be enjoyed hot or cold.
  • Craft beer: Johannesburg has a thriving craft beer scene, with several local breweries offering a range of unique and flavorful beers.
  • Milk tart: A traditional South African dessert, milk tart is a sweet pastry filled with a creamy, cinnamon-flavored custard.
  • Boerewors roll: Similar to a hot dog, a boerewors roll is a South African sausage served in a long roll with toppings like tomato sauce and onions.
  • Chardonnay: South Africa is known for its excellent wines, and Johannesburg is home to several world-class vineyards. Chardonnay is a popular varietal and pairs well with many of the local dishes.
  • Koeksisters: A sweet, syrupy pastry that’s crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. It’s typically made from braided dough that’s deep-fried and then soaked in a syrup made from sugar, cinnamon, and lemon juice.


Johannesburg is a large city with an extensive transport network. Here are some of the best ways to move around Johannesburg:

  • Metro: The city has a metro system called the Gautrain that connects Johannesburg with its suburbs and nearby cities. It’s a fast and reliable way to travel around the city.
  • Bus: There are several bus companies operating in Johannesburg, including the city’s official bus service, Rea Vaya. These buses cover most parts of the city and are a cheap and convenient way to get around.
  • Taxi: Taxis are plentiful in Johannesburg, and there are both metered and unmetered taxis available. However, it’s best to use reputable taxi companies or ride-hailing apps like Uber or Bolt.
  • Car rental: If you prefer to drive yourself around, you can rent a car from one of the many car rental companies in Johannesburg. However, driving in the city can be challenging due to traffic congestion and crime, so it’s best to be cautious.
  • Walking and cycling: Johannesburg has several walking and cycling trails, including the popular Braamfontein Spruit Trail. These are great options for exploring the city at a slower pace and getting some exercise.
  • Private car: There are also several private car-hire services like RentMyRide that offer affordable and convenient transportation services in Johannesburg.

City Safety

Johannesburg, like any major city, has its fair share of crime and safety concerns. While the city has made progress in reducing crime in recent years, visitors should still take precautions to stay safe. It is recommended to take taxis or use ride-sharing services instead of walking alone at night or using public transportation. Additionally, visitors should avoid carrying large amounts of cash or valuables and should be aware of their surroundings at all times. It is also advisable to check with local authorities or trusted sources for up-to-date information on safety concerns in specific areas of the city.

Expensive or Cheap

Johannesburg is considered to be an expensive city when compared to other cities in South Africa. However, it is still cheaper than many cities in Europe or North America. The cost of living in Johannesburg depends on various factors such as accommodation, transportation, food, and entertainment. Accommodation is generally the most expensive aspect of living in Johannesburg, with rental prices varying depending on the location and type of housing. Transportation costs can be managed by using public transportation or ride-sharing services. Food and entertainment expenses can also vary depending on one’s choices. Overall, Johannesburg is considered to be an expensive city to live in, but it also offers a wide range of opportunities and experiences that make it a popular destination for tourists and expats.

Best Time to Travel

The best time to travel to Johannesburg depends on personal preferences and what you hope to experience during your visit. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect during each season:

  • High season (December to February): This is the peak tourist season in Johannesburg, with warm weather and plenty of events and festivals. However, this is also the busiest time of year, and prices for accommodation and activities tend to be higher.
  • Shoulder season (April to May, September to November): This is a good time to visit Johannesburg if you want to avoid the crowds of high season but still enjoy relatively good weather. Temperatures are typically mild, and there may be occasional rain showers.
  • Low season (June to August): This is the low season in Johannesburg, with fewer tourists and lower prices on accommodation and activities. However, temperatures can be quite cool, and some outdoor attractions may be closed during the winter months.

Overall, the best time to travel to Johannesburg largely depends on your personal preferences and what you hope to experience during your visit. If you want to enjoy warm weather and plenty of events and festivals, high season is the best time to visit, but be prepared for crowds and higher prices. If you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy lower prices, low season may be a good option, but be prepared for cooler temperatures and some closed attractions. Shoulder season may offer a good balance between good weather and lower prices/crowds.

Date Ideas

There are plenty of great date ideas in Johannesburg. Here are a few options:

  • Visit the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens: Take a stroll through the beautiful gardens, admire the flowers, and have a picnic in a peaceful setting.
  • Go on a hot air balloon ride: Enjoy stunning views of the city and surrounding landscapes while floating through the sky in a hot air balloon.
  • Visit the Apartheid Museum: Learn about the history of apartheid in South Africa and explore the exhibits together.
  • Take a bike ride through Soweto: Explore the vibrant township of Soweto on two wheels and learn about its rich history and culture.
  • Have a romantic dinner at one of Johannesburg’s many fine dining restaurants: Johannesburg has a thriving culinary scene with plenty of high-end restaurants to choose from.
  • Attend a concert or show at the Joburg Theatre: See a live performance of music, theatre, or dance at one of Johannesburg’s premier venues.
  • Take a hike in the nearby Magaliesberg Mountains: Get some exercise and enjoy the natural beauty of the area on a hiking trail.
  • Visit the Lion Park: Get up close and personal with lions and other wildlife at the Lion Park.
  • Take a hot air balloon safari: Go on a hot air balloon ride over the African savannah and see wildlife from above.
  • Explore the Cradle of Humankind: Visit the site where some of the oldest known human fossils were found and learn about the evolution of humanity.

Fun and Interesting Facts

  • Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and the provincial capital of Gauteng.
  • It is also known as the “City of Gold” due to the gold rush that started in the 1880s and brought many prospectors to the area.
  • The city is home to the tallest building in Africa, the Carlton Centre, which stands at 50 stories high.
  • Johannesburg is known for its vibrant music scene and is often referred to as the “house music capital of the world”.
  • It is also the site of the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where some of the oldest hominid fossils have been found.
  • Johannesburg is home to the Apartheid Museum, which provides a look into the country’s history of racial segregation and the struggle against it.
  • The city has a thriving art scene, with numerous galleries and public art installations throughout the city.
  • Johannesburg is also a major hub for business and commerce, with many international companies having their African headquarters located in the city.
  • The city has a diverse population and is known for its street food, with vendors selling everything from bunny chow (a bread bowl filled with curry) to boerewors (a type of sausage).
  • Johannesburg can be a challenging city to navigate, but it is also full of energy and excitement, with plenty to see and do for visitors and locals alike.

In conclusion, Johannesburg is a vibrant and diverse city that has a rich history and culture. While it may have its challenges, it also has much to offer in terms of art, music, food, and business opportunities. Whether you are interested in exploring the city’s museums and landmarks, trying its street food, or simply soaking up its energy and atmosphere, Johannesburg is a city that is well worth a visit.