From rich cultural heritage to hipster hangouts and verdant parkland – Johannesburg has it all, says local resident Caroline Hurry

Johannesburg is a large city covering 1,645 sq km, about the size of greater London. Linked by looping highways, it can be difficult for first-time visitors to get a handle on. Nevertheless, it’s a fascinating place, from its historic buildings to new galleries and the regeneration of various downtown areas.

In a weekend you want to make the most of your time, and since it’s not easy to use public transport to explore, you should ask your concierge to hire you a taxi for short trips, use a red city bus (see below), or the Gautrain (, which runs from the airport to the affluent suburbs of Sandton and Rosebank. The central business district is reasonably safe, although keep your wits about you. The area of Hillbrow, Berea and Joubert Park are best avoided.

A good place to get your bearings is from the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre, the continent’s tallest building, on downtown Commissioner Street (open 9am-6pm, 9am-5pm Sat, 9am-2pm Sun; R15/£0.70). Known as the “Top of Africa”, its wraparound deck offers 360-degree views of the suburbs, which fan out from the centre all the way to Pretoria. It’s a far cry from Johannesburg’s early days as a 19th-century gold-mining settlement, when it was only grasslands and hopeful prospectors with rusty pans. Today, six million trees make it one of the world’s biggest urban forests.

Jumping on a red sightseeing bus ( allows you to take in a number of the museums. Among them is the Origin Centre in Braamfontein (daily 10am-5pm; R80/£3.80;, which brings the history of humankind to life. Exhibits include Stone Age tools and 15 skull casts that depict man’s development over millions of years. Particularly captivating is the art and objects of the San, an ancient hunter-gatherer people whose practices included trance dancing and the shamanic use of hallucinogens.

The Wits Art Museum offers similarly intriguing exhibits (Wed-Sun 10am-4pm; free entry; An airy, glass-walled space about a five-minutes’ walk away on Jorissen Street, its permanent collection comprises more than 10,000 historical and contemporary African works. One of the first things you’ll spot is an asen from Benin. The West African Fon people used these 19th- and early 20th-century metal sculptures to commemorate and connect a dead person with the living. Other artefacts include Nelson Mandela’s notes on the Rivonia trial, a 1578 bible, and the fossil of a southern ape called Sediba.

Photographs and letters, including one from former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, bring to life the rich history of Constitution Hill, home of the court where cases concerning human rights are decided (Kotze Street; open daily; free entry; The magnificent architecture is movingly contrasted with the old dank, solitary confinement cells.

Prefer a pint? Then you’ll enjoy a guided tour of the SAB (South African Breweries) World of Beer in the revamped Newtown district (daily 10am-6pm; R160/£7.60; Opened by Mandela in 1995 to mark its centenary, it explores the history of beer, from the brewing techniques of the Sumerians in Mesopotamia more than 6,000 years ago, through its European and African heritage, to the present day. Expect an Egyptian chamber, shebeen (illicit bar) and two free lagers. It’s busiest on Saturdays, so it’s best to book.

Also easily reached by bus is the Maboneng precinct (, the city’s hipster quarter, home to jazzy restaurants and clothing shops, an independent cinema (, a theatre ( and, on Sundays, a foodie market (see “Walk this way”,, for a full tour of this district).

Heading north out of town, the business and residential suburbs of Sandton and Rosebank offer high-quality shops. You’ll find an ethnic vibe at Rosebank’s daily African Craft Market, browsing at Pankhurst’s Fourth Avenue ( and crafts, curios and fresh produce at the Bryanston Organic Market (Thurs and Sat 9am-3pm;

There are also lots of options if you’re craving the great outdoors. Bounded by the suburbs of Parkhurst, Craighall Park, Blairgowrie, and Victory Park, Delta Park is one of the city’s biggest, at 104 hectares, with three dams and a bird sanctuary. Melville Koppies Central nature reserve offers hikes and tours on Sundays (R50/£2.40;

Only 6km from the CBD, you can canoe on Emmarentia Dam on the Braamfontein river, soak up the sun in the gardens, or visit the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens ( and see if you can spot the nesting Verreaux’s black eagles in the cliffs by the Witpoortjie Waterfall.


  • One of the finest places to head in the city, and not just for food, is the Orbit jazz venue in Braamfontein (Tues-Sun 5.30pm-1.30am; Offering hearty fare ranging from Tandoori chicken wings to Karoo lamb rib, plus tempting puds, it plays host to world-class acts such as South African trumpeter Marcus Wyatt and salsa Afro-Cuban ensemble En Fuego.
  • Coobs in Parkhurst (Tues-Sat 12pm-9.30pm, Sun 12pm-4pm; sources most of its produce from an organic farm in Magaliesburg. Its meat – pork, lamb, beef, and wild boar – is free-range. Likewise, the Che Argentine Grill in Maboneng (Fox Street; Tues-Sun 11am-11pm), run by two South Americans, uses free-range meat to make its amazing chorizo.
  • For something different, head out of town to the Lethabo Estate (, set in the wild surrounds of Rhenosterspruit Conservancy, close to the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage site (it’s a 45-minute drive from Sandton). It’s home to free-range horses, Nguni cows, and Delilah – the resident Nyala. Herbs and veggies are grown on the premises and eggs are sourced from the estate’s hens. Chef Kelly Laurence creates delicious meals while owner Lise Essberger teaches poi and horse whispering. Enjoy a picnic on the banks of the Crocodile River, eat on the deck overlooking the water and bush, or dine in a hammock under a tree.