Egoli – City of Gold


When Johannesburg, South Africa's largest city, has so much to offer why should Cape Town have all the tourist euros and pounds? KJ Elsdon, who called this loud, vibrant and exciting urban space home for more than a decade, explains why Johannesburg is the perfect place for a stopover.

Since South Africa's most popular game reserves are located in the Eastern Transvaal, it makes sense for Europeans on their way to their safari holiday to fly into Johannesburg International Airport. How many consider staying on for a few days to sample what Johannesburg has to offer? Very few, given Johannesburg's unenviable reputation for crime and danger. This has considerably improved and now it's time for perceptions to change because it would be a pity for holidaymakers to miss out on what is actually Culture Central. Last year in the global crime list published by Mexico's Citizens' Council for Public Security and Criminal Justice, Johannesburg was noted as being considerably safer than Cape Town, Durban and even New Orleans, which has remained a popular tourist magnet for years.

With urban regeneration schemes, fabulous markets and more colour, contrast and culture than you can shake a stick at, there has never been a better time to declare Egoli (its Zulu name, meaning Place of Gold), Jozi, Jo'burg or whichever moniker you like best, your Number One South African destination.

Certainly Cape Town has Table Mountain, Durban has a cracking seafront and Johannesburg is maybe not SA's most stunningly attractive city, but it is probably the most authentically African urban experience you are likely to find in this vast, eye-catching country. Its skyline a mind-bending mixture of history (mine dumps that resulted from its days as a gold mining town are dotted around the landscape) and ultra-modern glass and steel skyscrapers, Johannesburg is South Africa's city that never sleeps.

Where to stay

However, there's no reason that you shouldn't enjoy a good night's sleep. Jo'burg has always had more than its fair share of excellent international hotels and, over the years, has also witnessed the birth of some quirky boutique establishments.

Luxury International – Just north of the city centre is the The Westcliff Hotel, which is part of the Four Seasons Group. The Westcliff is situated on a ridge from which there are wonderful views of the city and the surrounding suburbs.  

Luxury Boutique – The Residence Boutique Hotel is located in the swanky suburb of Houghton, a place whose most famous resident used to be Nelson Mandela. In fact the Madiba Suite is named in his honour, which is only one of the memorable facts about this spectacular hotel. Go on, give yourself a treat!

Mid-Priced International – Protea Hotels, Fire & Ice! Situated in the popular location of Melrose Arch, this quirky establishment might be part of the Marriott chain but has a personality of its own.

Mid-Priced Self Catering – If you prefer to have a little more control over your environment, then the Genesis All-Suite Hotel could be just what you're looking for. You can book a one, two, three or four bedroom suite, all of which contain everything that you could need for your stay, from kitchen facilities to shops and even a post office, since the suites are contained within a shopping centre.

Budget International – The Stayeasy Eastgate, in Johannesburg's eastern suburb of Bedfordview used to be a Holiday Inn Express and has adhered to its principle of offering clean, comfortable rooms at a reasonable price. Johannesburg has a long history of providing its citizens with affordable and reliable transport. The Stayeasy is also only a couple of minutes away from the expansive Eastgate shopping centre.

Budget Boutique – If you fancy something really urban, The Bannister Hotel should provide the ultimate Jo'burg Central experience. Located in the student haven of Braamfontein (the University of the Witwatersrand is a short walk away), The Bannister Hotel provides an excellent and affordable base from which to explore some of the city's most interesting sights.

A Grand Day Out   

Once you have settled in to your hotel, you will soon find that there is no shortage of great places to visit in and around Johannesburg. Here are just a few suggestions of how you can while away a happy couple of days.

Get on the bus! - Everybody should experience Jo'burg for the first time on a bus – somehow this city lends itself perfectly to being viewed from the comfort of a double decker. You can buy a one or two day ticket and take advantage of two routes: Green and Red. These tours depart from The Zone @ Rosebank but you can hop on (and off) at any of the stops and buy a ticket. Highlights of the Green Route include Zoo Lake, Johannesburg Zoo, Ditsong National Museum of Military History and Constitution Hill. Red Route highlights include the Origins Centre, the Mining District and Newtown Precinct. It is also possible to sign up for a tour of Soweto, which is highly recommended.

Go downtown – There is plenty to see and do without leaving the city centre. On the corner of Fox and Kruger Street you will find the Maboneng Precinct which many claim to be the cradle of Johannesburg's renaissance. You could easily spend a day without leaving its environs, since it brings together a very wide range of things to enjoy, from an independent cinema and theatre productions to retail outlets and some great places to enjoy a snack or a meal.

There is plenty of history to enjoy in South Africa and some of it dates back to the dawn of civilisation. Make your way to Braamfontein and visit the Origins Centre Museum, which is located on the campus of the University of the Witwatersrand and takes visitors back to the earliest days of human life. Raymond Dart, who discovered the first Australopithecus africanus fossil, was Professor of Anatomy at the university, as was his much loved protégé, Professor Philip Tobias, so Wits, as it is affectionately known, has history in the most literal sense. Art lovers will also enjoy a stroll around the Wits Art Museum.   

You should also make sure that you visit The Market Theatre in Newtown. This has been the home of some of the best productions to emerge from South Africa and it always has a great buzz, especially at night when all of Johannesburg's theatre-goers are out and about.

Across the road from here is the Oriental Plaza, an interesting place to shop and sample some authentic Asian cuisine. The surrounding area of Fordsburg has long had a reputation as the home of some of the best Indian restaurants in the city, so if you enjoy a curry then you are in the right place.

Out and about – While you are in Johannesburg there are a few places that you really must consider visiting and the Apartheid Museum should probably occupy the number one slot on your 'to do' list. Located to the south of the city centre on Gold Reef Road, many tours include this as part of their itinerary and it can easily and affordably be combined with a tour of Soweto. Like Jerusalem's famous Yad Vashem, the Apartheid Museum offers a stark testimony of human behaviour.

On a slightly more cheerful note, Gold Reef City is practically adjacent to the Apartheid Museum and stands as a reminder of Johannesburg's gold mining past. This really is a day out in itself; the location is designed to seem exactly as Johannesburg was in the 19th century and, if you like the idea of time travelling, you can even stay in the hotel. This really is an excellent resort for all the family, with plenty to see and do, including a theme park and water park for the children and a casino for the adults.

If you are a keen shopper then have no fear because Johannesburg is home to some spectacular shopping malls. One of the best is Sandton City, which is north of the city but accessible via the Gautrain, if you don't want to spend money on a taxi. Note to shopaholics – you can easily lose yourself for a day here, so make sure that you pack some comfortable shoes! Sandton City also contains a huge range of eating places and a cinema complex, where you can catch up with the latest Hollywood blockbuster, most of which hit the screens in South Africa before they make it to Europe.

All you can eat – There's nothing that Jo'burgers like more than eating out and they especially love to hook onto a trend. For a time a new restaurant  will become THE place to go – until some other establishment springs up and steals all the thunder.

In short, whichever type of cuisine you wish to experience it's all here, from The Red Chamber and PRON (People's Republic Of Noodles) for Asian cooking through to all the fast food outlets you can shake a stick at. However, if you want to find out about African food you should make your way to Moyo, which has branches at Zoo Lake and Melrose Arch. Lucky Bean in Melville also has a solid reputation for providing Pan-African cuisine. If you want to sample some quality International food while enjoying a fabulous setting then make sure you find a table on the terrace of Marble in Rosebank. This is one of the best places to see and be seen in Johannesburg, so if you want to find yourself in the city's society pages this is the most direct route.

What more could you want from a holiday destination? 

Copyright 2016 Society Magazine, All Rights Reserved.