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Johannesburg—commonly known to locals at Joburg—is a rapidly evolving city and the vibrant heart of South Africa. After decades of apartheid, the country’s biggest city is undergoing an incredible rebirth, breaking free from the chains of its troubled past and emerging as a bustling metropolis with innovative restaurants, progressive museums, and cutting-edge music and art scenes. While historic stops such as Constitution Hill and the Apartheid Museum should be on the list for any first-time visitor, today Joburg represents the future—while still honoring the past.
More than 20 years after embracing democracy, Johannesburg is still trying to define what exactly it looks like, with affluent suburbs sitting side-by-side with townships—a reminder of how apartheid shaped the city and how that legacy still persists. Today, however, Joburg is more integrated than ever, and there are many bright spots on the city map. New neighborhoods have sprung up in formerly deserted districts, and development projects have breathed new life into once-failing areas.
Central Business District — The CBD, city center, or simply “town,” as many locals call it, the Central Business District has been on the rise after many years of neglect. In fact, the neighborhood is home to some of Joburg’s best-kept secrets, including a rich collection of public art, the Ethiopian district known as Little Addis, and the Fashion Kapitol shopping square, a hub for pan-African designs and creations from emerging local talent.
Braamfontein — Bordering the CBD to the north, Braamfontein is fast becoming a hipster capital, with plenty of trendy restaurants, cafes, museums, galleries, and theaters. Catering to the students at Wits University, the district has one of the most energetic nightlife scenes in the city, featuring bars and lounges with an emphasis on live music.
Fordsburg — To the west of the city center, Fordsburg is the heart of Joburg’s Indian, Pakistani, and Southeast Asian communities. Here, find vibrant night markets, aromatic spice shops, and Middle Eastern grill restaurants. Inside Oriental Plaza are hundreds of shops and stalls selling jewelry, fabrics, and household goods, as well as some of the best ethnic eats in the city.
Maboneng — Another hipster-friendly neighborhood, Maboneng is considered one of the most successful urban-renewal projects in the world. Located to the southeast of the CBD, the district has evolved into a collaborative hub of business, culture, and lifestyle, with eclectic stores, galleries, and restaurants mixed with residential and industrial spaces. Pay a visit on Sunday when the Arts of Main building transforms into a market selling regional food and local designs.
Melville — To the northwest of Braamfontein, Melville is a bohemian district frequented by the students at nearby University of Johannesburg, as well as many of the city’s writers, artists, and performers. Here, you won’t find chain stores or franchised restaurants, but rather a quirky mix of antique shops, bookstores, artist studios, and dive bars.
Newtown — Joburg’s original cultural precinct is a vast heritage site featuring the historic Market Theatre, Museum Africa, and Mary Fitzgerald Square, which hosts thousands of people for various cultural events throughout the year. The recently built Newtown Junction Mall has created space for an incredible collection of graffiti.
Rosebank — Halfway between CBD to the south and Sandton to the north, Rosebank is a cosmopolitan business district with hundreds of boutiques, as well as restaurants, cinemas, and an African craft market. Once the headquarters of a gas company, Keyes Avenue has recently been transformed into Keyes Art Mile, bringing art into the streets and life of the neighborhood.
Sandton — Once nothing but vast tracts of farmland, Sandton, on the north border of the city, is now Joburg’s richest district. It’s undoubtedly the shopping capital of the city—and Africa as a whole—with swanky Sandton City Mall, Nelson Mandela Square, and Hyde Park Corner providing destinations for the wealthy to find high-end fashions and chic eateries.
Soweto — To the southwest of the city center, Soweto is South Africa’s most recognized township, once home to Nobel Peace Prize winners Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. A local guide can help you delve into the township's tumultuous history, learn about its bright and burgeoning future, and visit the area's landmarks and attractions in a respectful manner.
Scope out all the city’s top sights aboard an open-air, double-decker bus. With your choice of 2 routes, cruise through colorful districts such as Newtown, Braamfontein, and Rosebank, hopping off at any of the stops along the way to explore on your own. If you choose, see Joburg from a whole new perspective—one from the height of 732 feet (223 m) above the city. Hop off the bus and head to the top floor of the Carlton Centre to soak in panoramic views of the dense cityscape and countryside in the distance.
Journey back in time into the dark yet significant history of South Africa with a guided tour of the Apartheid Museum. Step inside the eye-catching complex to further understand this era of racial oppression as you watch poignant film footage, read from primary sources, and study controversial artifacts. The museum provides a necessary overview for comprehending this period of struggle, while allowing you to reflect on the triumph of figures such as Nelson Mandela in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity.
Immerse yourself in Joburg’s thriving art scene with a morning spent exploring the hip Maboneng district. With a local guide leading the way, journey into the neighborhood to discover exciting street art and cool handicrafts at the market stalls and studios. For an even more immersive experience, join a private guide for a full day of celebrating the artist culture of the city. Stop to appreciate the murals, sculptures, and memorials that adorn the streets, and then check out contemporary work at galleries featuring up-and-coming African artists.
Step outside the city and suddenly you’re in the African desert, where animals such as cheetahs, giraffes, and zebras run free. On a guided safari through Pilanesberg National Park, get close to these majestic creatures as you explore the 221 square miles (572 sq km) of plains that were once part of a volcanic crater. From the safety of your Jeep, enjoy the chance to catch sight of Africa’s “Big 5:” buffalos, rhinos, elephants, leopards, and lions.