24 hours in Johannesburg: Where to go, what to see

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No visit to South Africa is complete without exploring Johannesburg, a vibrant metropolis with a gripping history, trendy hotspots, world-class art galleries and enchanting restaurants. Whether you’re searching for a quick adrenaline fix, striking African fashion or a spot of people-watching over quality coffee, you’ll find it in Johannesburg. The city is cosmopolitan, energetic and abuzz with activity at any given time.

With so much to experience and see, a day in Jozi – as it’s nicknamed by locals – is a day to remember. Here’s how to make the most of your time in South Africa’s City of Gold. If you have more than a day, be sure to check out places to stay in Johannesburg.

A walk in the park

Any proud Jo’burger will be quick to point out that Johannesburg is the world’s largest manmade urban forest. The city’s lush parks and Botanical Garden are popular destinations for morning walks and afternoon strolls.

You can start your day with a long walk or jog through Delta Park, a centrally located green lung popular with dog walkers, mountain bikers, runners and hikers.

Quirky coffee shops and bakeries abound in Johannesburg, so why not pack a picnic basket and enjoy breakfast in the park? The Whippet and Elemental Café are both perfect for stocking up on fresh croissants and coffee-to-go before securing your spot next to Delta Park’s picturesque lake.

Art, fashion and food in Melville

Johannesburg has its share of shopping malls, but none as unexpected and inspiring as 27 Boxes, a contemporary lifestyle centre in the bohemian neighbourhood of Melville. Created entirely out of shipping containers, 27 Boxes offers an array of independent design and decor stores, specialist restaurants and chic art galleries in an edgy and industrial yet family-friendly environment. The centre also offers safe underground parking, a rare find in Melville.

If you’re traveling with children, cross the street to Bambanani, a stylish restaurant with a scrumptious South African menu and play spaces for little ones.

Constitution Hill and the buzz of Maboneng

After lunch, it’s time to explore Johannesburg’s inner city. Hop in an Uber car (the best way to travel between suburbs) and zip over to Constitution Hill in Braamfontein. This historical gem used to be a fort in the Anglo-Boer War and later, a prison. Today, it’s home to the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Join one of the 30-minute tours and learn about South Africa’s remarkable transition from the Apartheid days to a free, democratic society. Next, marvel at the Nelson Mandela Bridge as you drive through the central business district to The Maboneng Precinct, an arresting downtown gem at the end of Fox Street.

Maboneng, which means “place of light”, is where Johannesburg’s trendsetters gather to see and be seen. Here you’ll find anything from an exquisite African-inspired fashion boutique and an artisanal brewery to an Ethiopian restaurant and other eclectic eateries. Look out for Uncle Merv’s on the main road, a laid-back smoothie shop where you can buy a sandwich, grab a seat to relax and even rent a bicycle to explore the area on two wheels.

Raise a glass to Jozi

With surreal hues illuminating a dramatic landscape, Johannesburg’s sunsets are legendary. They’re best observed from a rooftop or ‘koppie’ (hill). Northcliff Ridge, one of the highest viewing points in Johannesburg, is an excellent place to enjoy this dramatic sight. After the sun goes down, grab an icy beer and some scrumptious pizza at The Jolly Roger in the leafy suburb of Parkhurst. This laid-back drinking hole is the perfect spot to rub shoulders with Jo’burgers from all walks of life and raise a glass to the day’s adventures.

Staying safe in Johannesburg

Crime is prevalent in Johannesburg, but you needn’t let that scare you away from visiting. Here are some tips for staying out of harm’s way:

  • Always stay in well-populated places, and if you’re not sure about the relative safety of an area you plan to visit, ask your hotel staff. Do not explore isolated areas, as criminals are known to target quiet streets and parks.
  • Do not walk alone, especially after dark – explore the city with others. Keep phones, cameras and other expensive items out of sight.
  • Do not ask or accept advice or assistance from strangers at cash withdrawal machines.
  • Thieves can use remote devices to interfere with the locking systems of some cars, leaving them unlocked and vulnerable to theft. Do not leave any valuable items in your rental car and always ensure doors are locked before walking away.

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