Johannesburg, Jozi or Jo’burg (as South Africans know it) is currently one of the most important cities in South Africa, the country’s true economic center. However, few people know the origins of Johannesburg. This great city was born when, by 1880, Boer explorers (descendants of the Dutch colonists) found a vein of gold about 400km from what is now Johannesburg. Later, around 1890, they found more gold veins in what today is the current financial district of the city. From that moment on, the city became a city full of miners who arrived there with the dream of finding gold and becoming wealthy. Its name comes from the inspector general of the area, Johannes Rissik.
In Johannesburg, even today you can witness the harsh conditions that people of color had to live in South Africa. Given the racial problems that South Africa had throughout the twentieth century, for tourists, it is a very strange city. People of color living on the outskirts of the city (townships), while white people live in downtown neighborhoods with fenced houses. They go to giant shopping centers where they can buy food, clothes, appliances and can also eat or drink coffee while having their cars parked in a private parking with surveillance.
What to see in Johannesburg
Carlton Center and Gandhi Square: If you are in downtown Johannesburg, you will not be able to see much more than Gandhi Square and the Carlton Center, also known as Top of Africa – one of the tallest towers in Africa. Near the Carlton Center there are popular markets where you can buy fruit, clothes and other things.
Football and rugby stadiums
After the world cup, there are a lot of football and rugby stadiums in Johannesburg, although it seems incredible. You can find the mythical Ellis Park Stadium where the locals won the rugby world cup in 1995 to New Zealand in a mythical match with Nelson Mandela as a star. Very close to Ellis Park there is Johannesburg football stadium. On the outskirts of the city in the direction of Soweto, you will find Soccer City (you can see it from the motorway) which was the main stadium of the world cup 2010. Very close, in Soweto is the Orlando Stadium, with a capacity for 24,000 people, which is where they play the Orlando Pirates FC Soweto.
Soweto (South Western Townships) is one of South Africa’s most famous townships. The townships were the places where people of color were forced to live during the apartheid under which South Africa lived in the last four decades until 1995.
Hector Pieterson Museum:The story is told of how Hector Pieterson was murdered by the police in 1976 during a demonstration in Soweto.
Museum Africa: it is one of the best museums that treats the whole history of Africa starting from Egypt, reviewing the history of all the peoples of Africa in history until the history of Nelson Mandela.
Apartheid Museum: The apartheid museum tells the story of the triumph of human overcoming in the face of adversity. Apartheid began in early 1948 when the National White Party was elected to govern South Africa and made more than 20 million people of the country into second-class inhabitants with fewer possibilities and resources than the other non-colored inhabitants.
Nelson Mandela, a political prisoner for more than 25 years, was finally released and immediately lead his people to freedom and the end of apartheid. This museum is quite close to Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport and the Sandton neighborhood.
Mandela House: This is the house where Nelson Mandela lived between 1946 and 1962. It is quite close to the Hector Pieterson Museum and the Desmond Tutu House.
The Nelson Mandela Bridge is one of the longest cable bridges in South Africa (285 meters). This bridge joins the Constitutional Hill with Newtown, Its simplicity and the colored lights used at night make it interesting to circulate through it at night.
Johannesburg Shopping Centers: Some of the most well-known malls in Jo’burg are the ones in Sandton, where there is Nelson Mandela square with a figure of more than five meters from Mandela in the central square of the mall. Honestly, there is nothing to visit if you are not going to eat or dine there.
Recommended restaurants in Johannesburg
Turn ‘n’ tender: It started as a small restaurant but recently opened this new establishment to accommodate more diners. Their specialties are grilled meats (delicious!) I ate a huge 16oz steak!
Where we sleep
Hotel Ashanti: It really was the best of the two hotels where we stayed for its location in the financial center of Johannesburg. Its location is the only one in the whole city that allows you to go out walking the city without having to need a taxi (they are expensive). It is a 10-minute walk to Gandhi Square and about 30 minutes from the airport by taxi. The hotel is very well equipped with a kitchen in every room, sofa, small table and a room with a very comfortable bed.
Soweto B & B: this is an alternative that we did not try but that surely is very interesting. Soweto is no longer the dangerous township it was a few years ago and there are tourist areas where there are no security problems, however they do suggest not to walk at night and obviously you will need transport to get you to the city or as far as you want to go.
Is Johannesburg dangerous?
Having stayed three nights and four days in Johannesburg. it’s certainly not. However, you should use common sense. Don’t go wandering out at night by yourself on the outskirts of the city. The streets are lined with walled houses so it does forebode a sense of danger. Although there is an area where all the people told us not to go and it is the neighborhood where is the telecommunication tower of Johannesburg. That being siad, its a wonderful city and you owe it to yourself to check it out.