Arriving in Johannesburg

Johannesburg or Joburg is the main hub for flights into Southern Africa’s safari destinations. Major airlines fly from all the European & Arabian Gulf hubs, and there are direct flights to New York, DC and Atlanta.

But don’t just treat it as a transit point – it’s a fascinating city to explore, but not that easy to navigate – you need to do your homework first. I’m a passionate explorer of the city and use it a lot in my artworks. British GQ even now calls it “the new cool capital of the Southern Hemisphere”.

How long to stay? I recommend a minimum 2 night stay at the start of your trip – 3 nights is even better to experience both Soweto and downtown, and have some chill time to get over jetlag before your safari.

My favourite areas to stay

Rosebank ticks the most boxes – in the northern suburbs but not too far from  downtown, pedestrian-friendly, great shopping & art galleries, and a Gautrain metro station for quick links to the airport. Clico, 54 on Bath, Monarch, The Parkwood or Winston are all good choices.

In the suburbs but not too far from Rosebank are The Saxon, Athol Place, The Munro and The Peech. The Four Seasons Westcliff has a great location between Rosebank and the CBD, with awesome views.

If you’re an adventurer then urban Maboneng may be more your style – choose from lots of cool AirBnBs. But skip Sandton – lots of big hotels but it’s a business hub with shiny buildings and giant malls, and little soul.

What to do in 1-3 days, in order…

Hot tips:

  • Laurice gets to all the best places first
  • Heather is a fabulously adventurous American living in Joburg
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  • Looking for beautifully curated local craft? Call in at the gorgeous Piece studio near Maboneng.

1. Book a walking tour of downtown – it’s like a museum of great architecture with hidden food, art & coffee gems everywhere – but you’ll need a good guide to find them (drop me a line, i can recommend many). Some things to head for – Maboneng’s hip street culture; Braamfontein’s galleries including Wits Art Museum (WAM); the historic mining district; Newtown’s street art; great food at Urbanologi, Che or on the street at Soul Souvlaki; coffee at Craft, Origin, Father, Post or Doubleshot.

Insist on being taken to Victoria Yards, a contained complex of century-old industrial buildings now converted into hip artist and makers’ studios which is great to wander around (my studio is here). Vic Yards now has a coffee shop, craft brewery and casual places to eat.

Constitution Hill is a great museum complex to give you an understanding of Apartheid history – Mandela and Ghandi were both kept here, and you can walk inside the modern Constitutional Court which is full of art.

2. The magic of Soweto is in the interaction with residents, so organise a cycle or quad bike tour with a local guide and meet people, while catching some of the famous sites. The highly regarded Apartheid Museum is en route to Soweto, and takes at least 2 hours.

Afterwards, take some chill time on Keyes Art Mile in Rosebank with its galleries and and the chic bar at Marble for sundowners. Eat at café-style restaurants on the streets of the leafy suburbs of Parkhurst, Parktown North and Melville which are all close to here – Coobs, Local Grill, Salvation Cafe, Bellinis and DW 11-13 are places the locals enjoy.

3. A day out in the Cradle of Humankind will get you into the countryside, learn about our ancestral origins in the Maropeng interpretation centre or go down into the caves at Sterkfontein, and eat at Roots at Forum Homini.