Johannesburg and surrounds
South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg has benefitted from a vast regeneration programme in recent years and there’s a real sense of energy, creativity and drive here. Along with exploring a thriving arts scene, pavement cafes, buzzing restaurants, bars and shops, a stay in Jo’burg will deepen your understanding of the country’s past, while gaining an insight into its future.
Johannesburg initially developed during the Witwatersrand Gold Rush of 1886, when the gold-rich deposits of the area were first discovered. Since then, it has grown into South Africa’s largest city and an economic powerhouse, which today, is enjoying something of a renaissance. While many use the city to transit to other areas, a short stopover here offers an interesting insight into South Africa’s history and culture.
The vast regeneration programme was originally started in preparation for the football World Cup in 2010, but the work has continued ever since. Abandoned warehouses have been converted into urban lofts, a lively arts scene is emerging and music venues are springing up, along with stylish shopping malls, trendy restaurants, bars, hotels and cafes, all celebrating the city’s cosmopolitan culture. One of our favorite spots is the dynamic area of Melrose Arch, which has a vibrant bar and restaurant scene. For artistic wares from local designers, head to the Neighbourhoods Market in Braamfontein, which has undergone a transformation from dilapidated district, to cutting-edge creative hub. For those interested in Johannesburg’s arts and cultural scene, we can arrange a tour of Newtown and Maboneng, both areas having been recently revived by urban regeneration.
But our top recommendation for immersing yourself in local culture, would be to take a tour of a Soweto township. Nowhere highlights more explicitly the transformation from apartheid era atrocities, to modern-day African entrepreneurship. Also, not to be missed is a visit to the Apartheid Museum. Thought-provoking personal accounts, film footage and numerous artefacts, all help to tell the story of the country’s horrific historical regime and uplifting vision of the drive for freedom and equality.
For those with more time, we’d also suggest making the short journey to Pretoria, which is less than an hour away by car. The genteel feel of South Africa’s administrative capital, is in stark contrast to its brasher neighbour. We love the colonial architecture here, particularly around Church Square and think Pretoria is best seen during the spring, when its streets are draped in a mauve blanket of jacaranda blossom.
For those interested in ancient civilization, it’s also possible to visit the Cradle of Humankind, an UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Sterkfontein Valley, about a 90-minute drive northwest of Johannesburg. The caves here have produced some of the world’s earliest hominid fossils. There’s a new state-of-the-art visitor centre, where you can explore ancient stones and bones, along with taking a visit to the atmospheric Strekfontein Caves.