Have you ever loved someone or something before you’ve ever met it? For me, that something was Johannesburg. I knew that it would be a city that I would come to love, and the first time I stepped foot off the plane in 2013, it was as though my spirit had truly awakened.
I was home.
There’s something about Joburg that was just… different. Affectionately called Joburg or Jozi, Johannesburg is a bustling hub or arts and culture and the financial and industrial metropolis of South Africa. It’s diverse, to say the least. Dubbed the “city of gold,” Johannesburg is built on a rich and unique history of gold mining, which has come to shape the entire landscape and infrastructure of the city. And while I’ve loved many cities and countries throughout a my journeys to the continent, it’s safe to say that Johannesburg will forever hold a piece of my heart.
I’ll be the first to admit that the stories I've heard of the crime in Johannesburg had previously had me a bit hesitant about visiting, but that quickly changed once I landed. To, the city's vibrant arts and go-getter culure easlily outshines its negative reputation. As the city with the largest population in Africa, it’s safe to say Joburg has crept up on its rival city of Cape Town with its galleries, shops, museums and markets that rival any in the world. So much so, that it’s now on my annual "must-go” list.
And for those who may think the 15-plus hour trip may be daunting, getting there is easier than ever, with direct flights from New York and Atlanta on South African Airways.
It is necessary for your mind, body, spirit (and the ‘gram) to take a trip to South Africa at least once in your lifetime. So if you need some more convincing as to why Jozi is the answer, here are a few of my favorite reasons I’ll keep visiting year after year:
If you have a conversation with any South African, they’ll debate you for hours about the differences between living in Johannesburg, Cape Town or Durban. As different as New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, these three cities can’t even be compared, though they often are. But what I’ll say that stands out the most about Johannesburg from the others is the people. Maybe the reasons I love it is because I’m a native New Yorker and love the high energy. If you want a real cosmopolitan and hugely diverse mix of vibrant, sociable, honest and fun-loving individuals – head to Johannesburg.
The diverse neighborhoods
From the artsy and contemporary Maboneng precinct with with its funky restaurants, cafes, hostels and art studios, to bohemian Melville to the hip and happening Braamfontein, and the cultural precinct of Newtown with its trendy Market Theatre complex, there’s something for everyone in Johannesburg. For a taste of history, and to experience the glaring disparities that this metropolitan city faces, you must also incorporate a visit to Soweto, which is the heartbeat of Joburg. Locals looking for something “different” than the norm hang out in some of Johannesburg’s quirky neighbourhoods such as the historic Fordsburg, the leafy suburbs’ of The Parks (Parkview, Parkwood, Parktown North, Craighall Park and Parkhurst), Greenside, Rosebank, Illovo and Melrose. And if you have no clue where to start, and want to explore everything that the city has to offer, Willy Kalala of Mount Zion Tours and Travels is your best bet. Tell him I sent you!
In a city as large and diverse as Johannesburg, it’s no surprise that food is one of the things that draw people in. The restaurant scene continues to explode with up and coming chefs, concepts, flavors and variety. Its many districts and suburbs offer something for everyone. Chefs, both local and international, vie to produce the most unusual flavor combinations or the heartiest comfort food. If you're especially up for some casual local eats, be sure to check out the Neighbourhoods Market each weekend.
I’ve never been much of a party girl, but when in Johannesburg it’s a must. In fact, I thrive on the fact that in New York City you can have a fun evening out in the city and still be home and in bed by 11pm. But the nightlife in Joburg is much more diverse than most cities I’ve been to, and the people are much more intriguing. From upmarket nightclubs to hole-in-the-wall bars and shebeens, Joburg really has something to offer any type of traveler—whether you’re after a quiet night in a trendy bar or live jazz downtown.
No, not the views of men in Johannesburg (but, *ahem), but the city views. Joburg, which has skyline views reminiscent of Manhattan, is beautiful from every location in the city, but some places will leave you instantly in awe. The Four Seasons Johannesburg rooftop, for instance, is breathtaking.
So whether you are looking to take in the beauty of Joburg’s sunsets or the perfect spot for romance with the evening Jozi skyline setting the mood, take your pick of options on almost any rooftop within the city. It's sure to not disappoint.
There’s no getting bored in Johannesburg because the attractions are plentiful. The Apartheid Museum is popular with tourists who want to learn how South Africa’s long history of racial inequality plagued the country’s legacy. You can also head to the Nelson Mandela Bridge, which connects the Central Business District to the Newtown Cultural Precinct that houses all the museums and art galleries. Or, if you’re looking for a bit of leisure, enjoy a picnic at Zoo Lake, a park filled with oak and sycamore trees or go on a tour of Soweto which is the district with the largest population in the city, and features a really cool hangout where you can enjoy a beer, or go bungee jump (yes, you read that correctly).
Due to its proximity to Pretoria and other places, you can also schedule a day trip to one of the game reserves to see the ‘Big 5’.