Hillbrow tower rising high above the buildings in central Johannesburg.

Six reasons to visit Johannesburg, South Africa

Gina Marrs

Contributing writer

Planning a trip to Johannesburg? Here are our top picks...

Stay: 58 on Hume

History tour: Johannesburg/Soweto guided tour

Street art tour: Maboneng Precinct

Food tour: Day/night street food tour

Day trip: Cradle of Humankind and lion safari

Johannesburg, known by many as “Egoli” (a Zulu phrase meaning “place of Gold”) or the “City of Gold”, is the largest city in South Africa.

Founded in 1886 after the discovery of gold, Johannesburg started as a centre for mining. It then gained a reputation for being a bustling city of business people and not much more. But, these days, that simply couldn’t be further from the truth!

While Johannesburg certainly is a financial hub, it’s also a cultural hotspot, with a diverse population and a fascinating, layered history. Visiting Joburg (as the locals call it) is unlike a visit to any other city in South Africa – not only is there loads to see and do, but you’ll also be surrounded by friendly locals just waiting to invite you to join the fun!

One of the most cosmopolitan cities on the continent, Johannesburg is a great place to visit historical sites, learn about South Africa’s history, and enjoy the nation’s rich cultural diversity and artistic prowess.

And, not only is there loads to do in the city, but Johannesburg is also within close proximity to several other popular South African attractions, making it a great place to use as a base during your holiday. 

Here are just a few reasons why you should add Johannesburg to your South Africa itinerary.

Outside Nelson Mandela's house in Vilakazi Street in Soweto, Johannesburg.

1. Many significant historical events took place in Johannesburg

People of all races and ethnicities flocked to Joburg after the discovery of gold in the late 19th century, some seeking wealth, others merely looking for jobs., Nearly overnight, the area was transformed from a small mining camp into a bustling city.

Racial segregation enforced by law plagued South Africa from 1948 until 1994, leading to the city being divided into segregated areas. Soweto Township became a symbol of the resistance to and struggle against Apartheid, and today, you can learn a lot about this period by visiting specific landmarks in Soweto.

Below are some of the fascinating historical attractions which will give you an overview the city and the country’s history. Just be aware that some distressing events will be covered these sites.

  • Constitution Hill – The Home of the South African Constitutional Court, the Old Fort, and the Women’s Jail.

  • The Apartheid Museum – The most comprehensive museum of South Africa’s Apartheid era.

  • Hector Pieterson Museum – A Museum in Soweto commemorating the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

  • Mandela House – The former home of President Nelson Mandela.

You can visit these as part of an organised tour, otherwise if want to visit Soweto independently, make sure to work out where you're going ahead of time (and if you're looking for accommodation there, try Lebo's Soweto Backpackers).

Visiting Johannesburg, you can also learn more about the history of human origins at the University of the Witwatersrand’s Origins Centre, or learn about South African beer brewing history at the SAB World of Beer.

People looking at the food available at the Neighbourgoods Market in Johannesburg.

2. Johannesburg is known for its cultural diversity

Johannesburg's diverse population first appeared during the Gold Rush and the city’s role as a financial hub has continued to draw people in. Today, Johannesburg is home to people from a wide range of racial and ethnic backgrounds

These days, you’ll hear many of the country’s 11 official languages spoken in Jo’burg. In addition to English (the most common), you’ll also hear Zulu, Afrikaans, Sotho, and Tswana, among others.

Today, Joburg’s cultural diversity - evident just about wherever you go – exists as a testament to South Africa’s reconciliation and unity in the country’s post-Apartheid era.

The city celebrates its incredible cultural diversity with festivals and other artistic and cultural events throughout the year, as well as simply day by day.

A few must-visit attractions in the city that exemplify Johannesburg’s cultural diversity include the Maboneng Precinct, the Market Theatre, and the Playground Market.

Street art in central Johannesburg

3. Johannesburg has a vibrant arts scene

Johannesburg is a hub for all kinds of people from across the country, so it’s no wonder that it also has an incredible art scene! Art reflects life, and with such incredible diversity and uniqueness in the city, it’s no wonder Joburg’s art scene is so vibrant.

Newtown, Rosebank, and the Maboneng Precinct are neighbourhoods that have become particularly well known for having a variety of galleries and other arty attractions.

A few galleries and attractions in particular include Art on Main, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, the Goodman Gallery, the Standard Bank Gallery, and the Bag Factory.

Explore the “less traditional” art scene, too and make sure you wander through the open-air galleries in Newtown and Braamfontein for some urban art. Check out the local markets too – the Rosebank Art & Craft Market is a great place to start.

Joburg is also a top destination for arts and cultural fairs and festivals, so check out the calendar before planning your trip. The Jozi Film Festival, the FNB Joburg Art Fair, and the Joburg Fringe are just a few reasons to visit Johannesburg!

People in the park on a summer's day in Johannesburg.

4. Johannesburg has very pleasant weather

One thing (among many) that makes Joburg an incredibly popular holiday destination – and place to live – is that it offers moderate weather pretty much all year round. In comparison to the rest of the country, you’re bound to experience more consistency in temperatures and far more sunshine!

In Summer (December to February), the city can get really nice and warm – sometimes quite hot – with temperatures ranging from about 15 to 28 degrees Celsius.

One thing you may have heard is that Johannesburg is known for its glorious afternoon thunderstorms, which it is, but the city gets most of its rain in Summer, which actually provides some relief from the heat!

Both Autumn (March to May) and Spring (September to November) are pretty mild, making them really pleasant. Winter (June to August), although it’s the coldest time of year, is still fairly moderate.

Generally, the temperatures range from 8-19 degrees Celsius, which is very manageable – it’s also very dry in winter! Very occasionally, the temperatures drop quite drastically, but it’s not normally for very long.

All in all, Johannesburg’s weather is consistently pleasant, making it a great place to visit if you’re in need of some vitamin D.

5. There are wildlife parks near Johannesburg

Johannesburg may be a busy and bustling city, but something else it has to offer visitors is its proximity to several incredible wildlife parks.

All you have to do is hop in the car, go for a drive, and within a few hours, you can be in a park surrounded by the likes of zebra, giraffe, and in some cases, even the Big Five (lion, leopard, buffalo, elephant and rhinoceros)!

A few of the top options near Joburg include the Lion and Safari Park, Pilansberg National Park, Dinokeng Game Reserve, and Rietvlei Nature Reserve.

Some of them are home to big wild animals, while others are known more for their incredible birdlife. Whatever it is you’re looking for, you’re bound to find a wildlife park or game reserve that suits your needs.

Of course, the ultimate South African game reserve is the Kruger National Park, and while it’s a lot further than the others we’ve mentioned, it’s absolutely worth the drive (about five or six hours from Joburg) if you have the time.

The park is nearly 20,000 square kilometres in size, and it’s home to not only the Big Five but loads more diverse wildlife too.

A trip to the Kruger National Park, or any of these wildlife parks - in other words, going on a safari - is something you simply have to do, during your stay and is well worth the detour from Johannesburg.

Bunny Chow, a traditional bread-based street food at an outdoor festival in Soweto.

6. Joahnnesburg has a fantastic culinary scene

People often joke that the reason Johannesburg has such a rich culinary scene is because there’s nothing to do other than eat and drink. And, while they’re totally wrong about there being nothing to do in Johannesburg, they are right about the fact that the city’s food scene is pretty epic – and diverse!

Because of the cosmopolitan nature of Joburg itself, as well as the city’s rich cultural diversity, you can find a broad range of cuisine – that includes different types of South African dishes as well as international food too.

Many restaurants in Joburg have started experimenting with a fusion of African flavours with modern cooking techniques, making for a truly unique (and delicious) experience.

Fine dining has also become quite popular in the city, and there are plenty of really high-quality restaurants offering incredible meals at fairly affordable prices (especially for tourists). If you’re looking for a really special experience, try the Shortmarket Club!

If you’re looking for something more casual, you’ll find delicious food at local food markets (like the Playground Market in Braamfontein that we mentioned earlier).

And if you really want to get in with the locals, you can try street food – your best bet is to ask a local for a good recommendation, but things like samosas, boerewors rolls, shwarmas, and bunny chows are always a hit.

One of the best parts of Johannesburg’s culinary scene is that it provides visitors with a new and exciting way to experience the city’s diversity – by means of flavour!

The food combined with the city’s budding craft beer and local wine is reason enough to take a trip to the City of Gold.

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Gina Marrs

Author - Gina Marrs

Gina is a freelance copywriter and editor from South Africa. She is based in Cape Town, and loves all things outdoors - in her free time, she enjoys running, surfing and playing field hockey. She has a passion for travel and hopes to see as much of the world, and her own country, as she possibly can! 

Last Updated 14 November 2023

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