Johannesburg, the glittering city of gold, has become everybody’s darling in the past few months. Joburg is South Africa’s brashest, boldest city with a zing and vibrancy well worth exploring. It’s a hip and happening place with excellent theatres, live music venues and great markets too.
The city was founded in 1886 after a gold reef was discovered. Some attractive yellow mine dumps are still visible.
Revitalisation schemes have created great pockets of culture with cafes, museums, markets and inner city living. It’s also one of the greenest cities in the world, and the suburbs turn glorious purple in November when avenues of jacaranda trees bloom.
Getting around is best tackled by hiring a car, since public transport is erratic. Uber has made the city a lot more accessible, and the Gautrain is an excellent high-speed train that runs from the airport to several useful destinations.
Any time of year is good for visiting, but the weather is hottest from September until about May, when the temperatures dip. November and December can deliver spectacularly exciting thunderstorms.
Joburg has a reputation for crime, so treat it like any other big city, by taking care where you go and not brazenly displaying your wealth.
South Africa is on GMT +2 hours and has no Daylight Saving Time.
The currency is the South African rand and you’re going to get great value for money. ATMs are ubiquitous and credit and debit cards are widely accepted. Foreign currency can be exchanged at bureaux de change, hotels and banks.
The weather is pretty much perfect, most of the time. Winter brings chilly mornings and evenings and a few cold snaps, but often the sun keeps things warmer during the day. Summer gets hot, but never sweltering and evenings are a little cooler. The rains strike mostly in October and November, often bringing spectacular thunderstorms in the afternoons, but it’s usually all over an hour or so later.
South African plugs are a rare breed with three fat round pins, so buy an adaptor at the airport. Many hotels have installed European and UK-style sockets too and keep adaptors at reception.
Mobile networks have the city covered. Roaming calls and data are expensive, so buy a local sim card if you want to make local calls. Take some form of ID with you to do that. There are plenty of free wifi hotspots in cafes and in the hotels, but you’ll find the speeds sluggish if you’re from a first world country.
Johannesburg is a big place and you’ll need a car. You can’t exactly hail a cab in the street, but there are a number of reputable companies around – just ask your hotel to call you one. Uber is here too, and there are numerous car hire companies such as Europcar and Avis.
The bus service is best left to the locals. There are fast and furious communal minibuses (known in SA as “taxis”) and a few official full sized buses.