Frenetic, electrifying JOHANNESBURG has had a reputation for striving, greed and violence ever since its first plot auction in December 1886. Despite its status as the largest and wealthiest city in the country, it has never been the seat of government or national political power, allowing it to concentrate fully on what it has always done best: make money and get ahead.
The bewildering size of Jo'burg can be daunting for all but the most determined traveller. Some visitors fall into the trap of being too intimidated by the city's reputation to explore, venturing out only to the bland, safe, covered shopping malls and restaurants of the northern suburbs while making hasty plans to move on. However, once you've found a convenient way of getting around, either by car or in the company of a tour guide, the history, diversity and crackling energy of the city can quickly become compelling. Johannesburg offers fascinating museums, most notably the Apartheid Museum in Gold Reef City and the Museum Africa in Newtown, as well as excellent art galleries. Several suburbs have a thriving café culture, which by the evening transforms into a lively restaurant scene.
Shopping is Jo'burg's biggest addiction, and the city offers an abundance of superb contemporary African art, fashion and design. And then there are the townships, most easily explored on a tour but, in some cases, possible to get to under your own steam.
Jo'burg is also a great place to watch sport, with soccer, rugby and cricket teams commanding feverish support. Attending a soccer match between any of the three giants – Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs and Pretoria's Mamelodi Sundowns – is an exhilarating experience. And of course, the 2010 Soccer World Cup will be headquartered in Johannesburg and the final held at the spectacularly refurbished Soccer City stadium, near Soweto, which will seat almost 95,000 fans.
Johannesburg's City Center is a vibrant juxtaposition of the first and the third world. The central part of Jo'burg (as it is known among locals), whose tall skyscrapers stand as a reminder of a previous era of commerce, has been returned to Africa. Most businesses have migrated to the northern suburbs, transforming downtown into a cacophony of African hawkers and traders who line the grids of streets in a colorful profusion. Vendors display shiny fruits and vegetables, young women scoop out pap (maize) and sauce, and Indian merchants sell brightly-colored clothing. The crime rate in this area is high, so visitors are encouraged to take sensible precautions: walk in a group, don't carry valuables, and don't walk around at night or on weekends in areas where there are no crowds.
The Standard Bank Collection of African Art provides some cultural relief in the City Centre with its display of art from across the continent. To gain perspective of the city, visit the Carlton Panorama at the top of the Carlton Centre on Commissioner Street, or head underground, where you can also find the Carlton Centre Shopping Mall . This is Africa's tallest office building; it gives visitors an excellent view of the city and its yellow mountains (which are actually mine-dump hills).
Newtown & Fordsburg
Lying just west of the Central Business District (CBD) is Newtown, an area dominated by the revamped Victorian-era Market Theatre Complex . Originally a market for Indian traders, today this is a fascinating collection of alternative shops, theaters, galleries, bars and coffeehouses. Highlights include Museum Africa , an excellent showcase of individual citizens' contributions to Johannesburg's development, and Gramadoela's African Restaurant , which cooks authentic local dishes. The French Institute of South Africa is also located here.
Continue along Bree Street to Fordsburg and find Jo'burg's Little India–the Oriental Plaza . This enormous bazaar consists of 275 stalls selling fabric, clothes, household goods, Indian spices and food.
Yeoville & Orangegrove
East of the City Centre is the multi-racial Yeoville neighborhood. This area is dominated by Rockey Street, a laid-back assortment of shops, cafes, restaurants and bars. Secondhand bookstores and tattoo parlors lie side by side, while bead shops rub shoulders with rock clubs in this cosmopolitan quarter.
Continue east through Orangegrove along Louis Botha Avenue and be sure to stop by the Victory Theatre , a playhouse built in 1933 on what was then farmland. Continue traveling along Louis Botha Avenue and arrive in Norwood. This district is well-known for its buzzing restaurants and cafes. Try the Faff, a restaurant featuring fusion food with European, Californian and Australian influences. This area is equally famous for communities that have cut off entire blocks in the face of escalating crime.
South Africa's most famous township lies southwest of the city. Soweto is a vast sprawl of houses, shacks, huts and dorms whose standards range from plush to woeful. Like other townships that exist on the fringes of South African cities, security is poor, but it is possible to visit with a tour group. Tours usually include stops at Nelson Mandela's former home, now a museum, and the Hector Pietersen Museum , dedicated to the young boy who was the first fatality of the June 1976 student uprising. Stop at the reputable Wandie's Place restaurant for an authentic taste of Africa. Soweto is also the home of the newly upgraded Soccer City Stadium , one of the venues for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Leaving behind the CBD and venturing north, one travels towards Johannesburg's more affluent neighborhoods. The leafy suburb of Parktown is a perfect way to explore the colonial history of early Johannesburg. Many of the city's mining magnates of the late 19th Century lived in ornate mansions designed by the renowned architect, Sir Herbert Baker. These homes are now national monuments, that can be visited through the Parktown-Westcliff Heritage Trust .
While the suburbs just north of the city are older and more established, those further north are modern and dynamic, but possess less in the way of distinct character. Rosebank, Sandton and Houghton are some of the neighborhoods here that are replete with ultra-modern shopping malls and business districts, like the shops at Nelson Mandela Square and the Rosebank African Flea Market —nirvana for shoppers and diners, and a major hive of commercial activity.
Among the many fine restaurants is Vilamoura Sandton , offering award winning Portuguese-style seafood. Drop by Nino's in the Rosebank shopping mall for a coffee and some people-watching, or the Liberty Life Theater on the Square in Sandton for cultural inspiration. In the northern 'burbs, tall, mirrored, futuristic office blocks reflect the city's vibrant life.
Walk up to most Johannesburg restaurants, and you'll see waiters scurrying around and hear the clinking of cutlery. The hubbub and laughter billowing out the door is almost tangible. Dining out is a special social occasion here; eating comprises only about a third of the time spent in the restaurant.
So, is the quality of the food not important to Johannesburg diners? Oh, it certainly is, but locals also demand the full, theatrical production. Johannesburg has become the city of the restaurant. From ethnic to international to fusion, there's a range of places just waiting to tantalize your taste buds.
City Center & Newton
One of the most bustling areas in Johannesburg, the city center has a wide variety of great dining options. If you're coming into the city by Metrorail, head straight to the mezzanine when you get to Park Station to get a drink and a variety of hearty American-style meals at Buffalo Bill's Pub & Grill . Or for tastes from all over Asia, especially India, check out the many food options at Oriental Plaza , one of the area's premier destinations for bargain hunters.
If some authentic tastes are what you're after, try the eccentrically decorated Pink Flamingo Restaurant at the Troyeville Hotel , which is well-known for its Portuguese and Mozambican cuisine. Ready for a drink? Look no further than the tap room at the SAB World of Beers , which more than delivers on the variety of brews that its name promises. Or if you want some music to compliment your cocktail, head over to Nikki's Oasis , which offers great food, colorful seating, and amazing live jazz.
One of Johannesburg's most historically significant areas, Soweto is a part of town that is a must-visit, but only with a trusted guide. Because there are so many attractions here, it's inevitable that there are also great places to eat and drink, such as Wandie's Place , where diners enjoy authentic South African cuisine at communal tables. Another option for those searching out the most authentic tastes is Nambitha . Here, photographs that represent the rich and vibrant Sowetan culture grace the walls, many taken by world-renowned photographers, while local delicacies like sticky wings and rump steak cover the plates. Sakhumzi Restaurant also offers Sowetan cuisine, and is conveniently located on the same street as major attractions like the Hector Pieterson Museum . Or for a more high-end dining experience that specializes in catering to local VIPs, try Kwa Thabeng Restaurant .
As the hub of Johannesburg's upper-class, it's to be expected that many of the finest restaurants in the city are located in the northern suburbs, such as Sandton and Parktown. Here, even the expensive establishments offer a range of choices. For French cuisine try the pricey and decadent Le Canard . Seafood is big in Jo'Burg and is often linked with Portuguese cuisine. From a humble suburban eatery to Beira Alta in the Colony Shopping Centre in Rivonia, there is a good range of excellent places to go to.
For something less formal, one of the most popular pastimes in Johannesburg is having coffee or lunch at a hip, modern restaurant like Cafe Sophia in Greenside. Or check out the options at one of the area's popular shopping destinations, like Steffanie's in the shopping center at Hyde Park. Steffanie's is a classy eatery with plenty of regulars. It's a good place to people-watch and have a quick lunch or brunch with friends on the weekend. There are also plenty of other specialties to be found around the northern suburbs. The lemon-herb chicken at The Butcher Shop and Grill in Sandton Square is one of the best in town.
A city packed full of things to see and do, there are endless tours one can embark upon in this most cosmopolitan of South African cities. As public transportation is limited and some areas are less safe than others, it is generally advisable to tour everything in Johannesburg by car.
Sun Suburban Tours also organizes suburban walking tours; the special one being the walk from the magnificent Botanical Gardens and the Emmarentia gardens and dam, through Parkhurst to Rosebank.
Travel via lush green suburbs into the heart of Egoli, "place of gold." This ever-changing city offers diverse history, architecture, culture and style. Visit the top of the Carlton Centre , where the Carlton Panorama , 50 floors up, offers spectacular views. Next, head 1 kilometer/0.6miles northwest through the Central Business District (CBD) to see City Hall , notable for its colonial architecture and one of the largest pipe organs in the southern hemisphere. While in the CBD, also visit the Museum Africa , home to many exhibits that educate visitors about South Africa's history and rich cultural heritage, and the SAB World of Beer , where you can take a tour of South African Breweries. When you're ready for a great meal, stop in at Gramadoela's African Restaurant , which specializes in Cape Malay cuisine, but features authentic cuisine from all over the continent. Having hosted such celebrities as Nelson Mandela, Elton John and Hillary Clinton, this is a sure bet for delicious and authentic cuisine.
Visit the site of the first gold discovery before entering a different world, Soweto , 62 square miles of cultural interaction. See "matchbox" houses next to squatters' huts and then mansions, a little further on. Visit the Mandela House Museum and the Hector Pieterson Museum to learn more about the history of the role that this area played in the unraveling of apartheid. Also be sure to pay a visit to the beautiful and historically significant Regina Mundi Church , home of the famous 'Black Madonna,' as well as a garden and art gallery. While in Soweto, also be sure to stop in for lunch or dinner at Sakhumzi Restaurant , which serves up authentic Sowetan cuisine, and is conveniently located on the same street as the Mandela House and Hector Pieterson Museum.
It is recommended that a trip to Soweto be taken with a guide or trusted person.
Cradle of Mankind And Rhino & Lion Park
Travel via the Western Suburbs to reach the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens in Roddeport. Stroll through this garden with cliffs and a waterfall. Continue further west to the Sterkfontein Caves , recently declared a World Heritage Site, renowned for the discovery of Mrs. Plea (Plesiantropus—now called Australopithicus Africanus) a collection of human bones that are 2.3-million years old. The cave and display area give fascinating insight into the scientific search that took place there.
Continue on to the Rhino and Lion Nature Preserve for a fulfilling game-viewing afternoon. Privately owned, it houses more than 20 species of animals including rhino, lion, cheetah, wild dog, buffalo, zebra, sable, impala, eland, and also has a bird of prey feeding area. Another cave, the Wondercave , can be visited in this area.
Highly recommended, with plenty of picnic opportunities, this tour will take a full day and can be a guided tour or done as a self drive.
Vhupho Tours (+27 82 633 9469/ http://www.vhupo-tours.com/)
Moratiwa Tours (+27 11 869 6629/ http://www.moratiwa.co.za/)
Miracle Tours & Transfers (+27 11 318 2794/ http://www.miracletours.co.za/)
Soweto Zantha Tours (+27 72 584 4673/ http://www.soweto.co.za/)
Mystery Ghost Bus Tours of South Africa (http://www.mysteryghostbus.co.za/ghost.htm)
Jimmy's Face to Face Tours (+27 11 331 6109/ http://www.face2face.co.za/)
The Soweto Rhubuluza (+27 11 608 2640/ http://www.simkile.co.za/)
Walk & Talk Tours (+27 11 444 1639/ http://www.walktours.co.za./)
African Timeout (+27 83 655 1997/ http://www.africantimeout.com/content/view/48/39/)
FlyJozi (+27 83 721 8393/ http://www.flyjozi.com/)