June/July 2015

Johannesburg, South Africa

By Lindsay Seegmiller

In 1884 Jan Gerritse Bantjes found a gold reef on a farm in what would become South Africa. The discovery triggered a gold rush and the rapid development of the financial and commercial heart of the region: Johannesburg. Over the past century and a half, the “City of Gold” has reinvented itself politically and culturally countless times – and today is no different. A slew of innovative businesses, boutiques, restaurants and galleries are refilling the once-decrepit downtown core, drawing in the dozens of cultures and many customs that make up the utterly vibrant “Rainbow Nation.” Today the city, also known as Jo’burg or Jozi, attracts far more than mining industry professionals; it is rapidly establishing itself as the new “it city” in South Africa.

Where to stay

Johannesburh skyline at sunset
 Derek Keats

Major business activities tend to centralize around Sandton – the opulent financial district of the city that doubles as a tourism hub. Here, the Sandton Sun (R 1,800+) is a popular choice, given its quality business facilities and the fact that it directly adjoins the Sandton City Mall. The Michelangelo on Nelson Mandela Square (R 3,000-3,250) is among the more luxurious, and offers massive conference facilities, direct access to the Gautrain transit railway system, Mandela Square and Sandton City Mall, and a full fitness centre complete with an indoor swimming pool.

In addition, there are a number of recognized international hotels like the Radisson Blu Gautrain Hotel (R 1,200+), the InterContinental Sandton Towers (R 3,300+) and the Hilton Sandton (R 1,600+), all of which have the amenities common to these chains.

Tip: If business does not demand that you stay in Sandton, consider the leafy neighbourhood of Rosebank (try 54 on Bath).

Where to dine

Saxon Hotel

Restaurant options are overwhelming in Sandton – and virtually endless in the city as a whole. South Africa prides itself on an array of unconventional and expertly prepared meats. Snack on biltong – meat that has been dried and cured – when you arrive, before moving on to a traditional South African braii (barbeque) of kudu, impala and ostrich steaks, and plenty of boerewors (sausage) varieties. The Butcher Shop & Grill and Karoo Cattle & Land – both in Sandton – are two great spots to wrap your head and palate around meat, wine and other Afrikaner specialities.

South Africa’s reputation as the “Rainbow Nation” is reflected in its culinary scene. Authentic Italian bistros (Dino’s Trattoria and Pomodoro in Sandton) are tucked away between dim sum institutions like Koi (in Sandton and Rosebank). Little Addis Café in Maboneng draws in flavours from around the continent, while Five Hundred and Saxon Hotel – both in Sandton – compete for the title of the absolute best restaurant in the country. Prices at restaurants range alongside quality, with an average meal costing between R 200 and R 400.

Tip: How do you like your biltong? Snack on different flavours and preparation methods until you find your favourite – and use this as a conversation starter with locals. Often, it is a point of considerable passion!

Where to explore

Johannesburg was home to historically important events during the anti-Apartheid struggle and, as such, many local attractions revolve around this theme. The Apartheid Museum, adjacent to the Gold Reef City amusement park, provides an eloquent and moving account of the country’s history. Further, a tour through the township of Soweto brings it to life when you stand in front of the house of the late Nelson Mandela.

Of course, South Africa has propelled itself forward in the post-Apartheid world, and Johannesburg is about much more than just its history. Sporting events – soccer and rugby in particular – quicken the pulse of the country and catching a game at First National Bank Stadium or Ellis Park Stadium – both venues for the 2010 FIFA World Cup – is exhilarating.

Nelson Mandela display at museum
Martijn Munneke
Gold Reef City
Andrew Moore
Grant Peters
Bernard Dupont
Soweto sign
Fiona Henderson

Art and handicrafts also play a central role in the local culture. On Sundays, Rosebank Mall opens up a rooftop market rich with unique souvenirs, and the newly restored Maboneng Precinct provides a glimpse into the artistic and urban rebirth of Jo’burg.

Looking beyond the city, your options are endless. From the vineyards of Cape Town to the wilds of Kruger National Park, South Africa is quickly becoming a destination for adventure and indulgence.

Tip: Get out of the car and onto a bike to fully experience the vibrancy of Soweto. A half-day guided tour shows you major sites and quieter corners from a distinctly local perspective. Be sure to try the bunny chow!

How to pay

South Africa uses the rand (ZAR/R). The currency has been on a steady decline over the past five years and currently trades at around R 10 to one Canadian dollar. Credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted, and ATMs are located readily throughout the city.

Getting around


The newly constructed Gautrain rail system makes connections between Sandton and the airport effortless. When moving through the city more broadly, marked and metered taxis are best. Renting a car is also an option – especially if you welcome the challenge of finding your way around. But be warned: driving is generally hectic, and navigation is far from intuitive. No matter how you travel the city, brace yourself for heavy traffic in the morning and evening – especially if you are coming in or out of major business areas like Sandton. Should work or pleasure require you to leave Johannesburg, air travel is the best choice. Domestic flights tend to be inexpensive, frequent and reliable, connecting most major southern African cities and destinations.

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