Erroneously considered to be one of South Africa’s capital cities, Johannesburg is nevertheless the most populous city in the country with a population of roughly 3.2 million. Moreover, thanks to its large-scale gold and diamond trade, Johannesburg can lay claim to being a city of global importance.

Although Johannesburg is a relatively young city, the region itself has been inhabited for millions years, as indicated by the un-earthing of the most complete hominid skeleton in the Sterkfontein Caves nearby (some 3.3 million years old). The home of both nomadic bush and Bantu peoples for tens of thousands of years, there was no major European settlement until the foundation of the city in 1886, preceded merely by a spattering of Boer farmers.

Unsurprisingly, the trigger for European involvement was the discovery of gold in Barbeton and the Witwatersand. Rapid expansion was fuelled thereafter by North American, British and European immigration. The concomitant tensions between the Afrikaners settlers and the British were only resolved by the Second Boer War between 1899 and 1902, with the British victory bringing a more organised system of mining, sadly through institutionalised racism.

Today, while Johannesburg is still reliant on the gold trade, the less savoury elements of the city’s history have been replaced by a modern mentality and complexion, including welcome developments in tourism. As such, Johannesburg has become one of the most intriguing and underrated locations in South Africa.


The Gold Reef City area is one of the entertainment centres of Johannesburg, with an amusement park and casino on offer. In addition to a history of the city’s gold mining trade, the Gold Reef City hosts The Apartheid Museum. Opened in 2001, the Museum recounts the history of apartheid South Africa and the post-apartheid period through the work of a mixture of filmmakers, designers and historians. Meticulously researched and thoroughly enlightening, it has to be seen.

An equally sobering look at the city’s apartheid past can be found by visiting the shanty-towns of Soweto and Alexandra, established by the government in the mid-20th century to segregate non-European peoples. Soweto hosts a museum to its most famous inhabitant, Nelson Mandela, in his former home. Soweto also contains the Hector Pieterson Museum in memory of the anti-Afrikaans Soweto Uprising and dedicated to Pieterson himself, who was shot and killed nearby.

Among the many other museums and galleries in the city, the Johannesburg Art Gallery stands out as the largest gallery in the African sub-continent, containing a fine collection of South African and European works. Alternatively, the Museum Africa provides an insight into African material culture.

Established in 1904, the Johannesburg Zoo is one of the largest and best in South Africa. Included among the roughly 3,000 animals are rare white lions and Siberian tigers, making the zoo a major attraction.

Some 25 km from the city you can find the Cradle of Humankind, as the Sterkfontein caves are known. The location where many early hominids and ape fossils were discovered, the Cradle is classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO and provides a fascinating insight into mankind’s origins.

Sport is an obsession in Johannesburg. Among the five football clubs in the city, the Kaizer Chiefs and the Orlando Pirates are the most successful in South Africa’s Premier Soccer League. The Johannesburg Stadium, home to the Chiefs, is also one of the locations for the forthcoming 2010 World Cup. The Cats and the Golden Lions, both playing their games at the Ellis Park Stadium, represent rugby union in Johannesburg. Home to the Highveld Lions Cricket Club, the Wanderers Stadium is chiefly renowned as a regular Test and one day international match venue.


The main shopping centres in Johannesburg are Hyde Park and Sandton City, with plans to build Zonk’lzizwe shopping resort in Midrand. However, there are plenty of other good spots like Cresta and Eastgate for shoppers.

The Mai Mai is the oldest market in Johannesburg and specialises in herbs and remedies. Alternatively, the Rosebank Rooftop Flea Market has a selection of African crafts, while the Oriental Plaza exhibits fine Asian goods.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Johannesburg enjoys a diverse selection of restaurants. For African cuisine, be sure to try out Moyo in Melrose Arch, while Italian, Chinese and Japanese outlets can be found in Sandton City. Melville also has a decent choice of places to eat, with Mezzaluna’s Mediterranean Flavours a treat.

The city is not known for its nightlife, but you can still finds bars and a few clubs in the Melville, Newtown and Rivona areas.

Tourist Information

Johannesburg Tourist OfficeVillage Walk Shopping CentreSandownJohannesburg4580Tel: +27 (0)11 784


Johannesburg is served by Johannesburg International Airport. Being the largest airport in South Africa, it is one of the few places to provide international as well as domestic connecting flights. British Airways (London-Heathrow) use JIA to and from British locations.

Buses and trains are available from the airport to the city proper.

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