Header Notice

Winter is here! Check out the winter wonderlands at these 5 amazing winter destinations in Montana

Johannesburg: I Guarantee It’s Not What You Think.


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Dorthea Glassman



Welcome to Johannesburg, the vibrant heartbeat of South Africa. Known as the City of Gold, Johannesburg is a captivating destination that offers a unique blend of history, culture, and urban excitement. Contrary to popular misconceptions, Johannesburg has evolved into a modern and cosmopolitan city, shedding its turbulent past and emerging as a thriving metropolis.


With a rich history rooted in the discovery of gold, Johannesburg has transformed from a small mining town into a bustling hub of economic and cultural significance. The city is a melting pot of diverse cultures, making it a fascinating destination for both locals and travelers.


The energy and vitality that radiate through Johannesburg are palpable. The city is brimming with a vibrant art scene, world-class shopping and dining experiences, and an array of thrilling activities for every taste. Add to that the breathtaking natural beauty that surrounds the city, and you have a destination that truly has it all.


In this article, we will uncover the hidden gems of Johannesburg, exploring its captivating history, vibrant city life, thriving art and culture scene, magnificent natural wonders, and the amazing shopping and dining experiences. We will also touch upon safety in Johannesburg, as the city has made significant strides to ensure the well-being of its residents and visitors.


So, get ready to uncover the true essence of Johannesburg, as we take you on a memorable journey through the City of Gold.


History of Johannesburg

The history of Johannesburg is intertwined with the discovery of gold in 1886. The city sprang up virtually overnight, attracting prospectors and fortune seekers from all corners of the globe. The gold rush brought about tremendous growth and development, transforming Johannesburg into the economic powerhouse it is today.


Originally, Johannesburg was a small settlement known as “Egoli,” meaning “place of gold” in the indigenous language. The discovery of gold in the nearby Witwatersrand Range led to a rapid influx of migrants, transforming the area into a vibrant mining town.


As the city grew, it faced numerous challenges, including racial tensions and labor disputes. Apartheid policies further exacerbated these tensions, segregating the population and leading to persistent inequalities. However, with the end of apartheid in 1994, Johannesburg underwent significant changes, embracing a new era of freedom and inclusivity.


Today, Johannesburg stands as a symbol of resilience, having overcome its tumultuous past. The city is proud of its multicultural heritage, celebrating the diversity that defines it. Visitors to Johannesburg can explore the Apartheid Museum, which provides a comprehensive understanding of the city’s history and the struggle for equality.


One iconic landmark that showcases the city’s history is the Constitution Hill. Once a notorious prison, it now houses the Constitutional Court, a symbol of justice and democracy. Guided tours offer a glimpse into the past, allowing visitors to understand the journey Johannesburg has taken to become the thriving city it is today.


As you stroll through the streets of Johannesburg, you’ll encounter architectural wonders that reflect the city’s rich past. The Victorian-style buildings in the suburb of Parktown and the bustling streets of Braamfontein are just a few examples of the architectural legacy left behind by the pioneers of Johannesburg.


From its humble beginnings as a gold mining town to its present-day status as a global economic center, the history of Johannesburg is as fascinating as it is complex. It is a city that has overcome adversity and embraced its heritage, standing as a testament to the resilience and spirit of its people.


A Melting Pot of Cultures

Johannesburg is a vibrant and diverse city, proudly embracing its multicultural identity. The city is home to an array of ethnicities, languages, and traditions, making it a true melting pot of cultures.


One cannot mention Johannesburg’s cultural diversity without acknowledging its rich African heritage. The city is a tapestry of African cultures, with tribal traditions and customs that have been passed down through generations. From the Zulu and Xhosa communities to the Sotho and Tswana people, Johannesburg is a place where African traditions thrive and are celebrated.


But Johannesburg’s cultural landscape goes beyond its African roots. The city boasts a significant Indian and Asian population, adding to its diverse fabric. Little India, located in the Fordsburg suburb, is a bustling neighborhood filled with vibrant colors, aromatic spices, and authentic cuisine that transports you to the streets of Mumbai or Delhi.


The influence of the European settlers is also evident in Johannesburg’s cultural landscape. Areas like Melville and Parkhurst are known for their European flair, with quaint cafes, bistros, and art galleries that evoke a sense of continental charm. The French, Italian, and Portuguese communities have made significant contributions to the city’s cultural tapestry.


Moreover, Johannesburg has become a hub for international communities, with expatriates from all corners of the globe calling the city home. This melting pot of diverse cultures nurtures a spirit of openness and acceptance, creating a unique atmosphere that is inclusive and welcoming to all.


Visitors to Johannesburg can experience this cultural richness by exploring the vibrant neighborhoods and engaging with the local communities. From the lively street markets that offer handicrafts and traditional foods to the cultural festivals and events that showcase the city’s diversity, there are countless opportunities to immerse yourself in the vibrant tapestry of Johannesburg’s multiculturalism.


Whether you’re strolling through the vibrant streets of Soweto, marveling at the beautiful mosques in Fordsburg, or indulging in a delicious Ethiopian meal in Yeoville, you’ll find that Johannesburg’s cultural diversity is the beating heart of the city, creating a vibrant and inclusive atmosphere that is undeniably captivating.


Vibrant City Life

Johannesburg pulsates with energy, offering a vibrant city life that is unmatched in South Africa. From the bustling streets to the lively nightlife, there is always something exciting happening in the City of Gold.


The city’s central business district, known as the CBD, is a thriving hub of activity. It is home to numerous businesses, shops, and restaurants, bustling with locals and visitors throughout the day. The streets are filled with the hustle and bustle of people going about their daily lives, creating a dynamic atmosphere that is both invigorating and inspiring.


Johannesburg is a city that never sleeps. As the sun sets, the city transitions into a nightlife destination like no other. From trendy rooftop bars to cozy jazz clubs, there is a diverse range of venues where you can unwind and enjoy the vibrant music and social scene.


Newtown, located in the heart of Johannesburg, is a cultural hub that comes alive at night. Home to various theaters, art galleries, and live music venues, Newtown is the place to experience the pulsating heartbeat of the city’s art and entertainment scene.


If you’re a fan of shopping, Johannesburg will not disappoint. The city is home to world-class shopping malls that cater to every taste and budget. Sandton City Mall and Mall of Africa are two popular destinations where you can find an array of international brands, designer boutiques, and local crafts. The excitement of browsing through the diverse array of shops is matched only by the thrill of discovering hidden gems and unique finds.


For those seeking outdoor activities, Johannesburg offers a wealth of options. The city is dotted with beautiful parks and green spaces where you can relax, exercise, and enjoy nature. The Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens and the Johannesburg Zoo are popular spots for families and nature enthusiasts. Emmarentia Dam is a favorite destination for picnics and leisurely walks, offering a serene escape from the urban hustle.


Johannesburg’s vibrant city life is not limited to its physical attractions. The city is also a hub for cultural events and festivals that showcase the talents of local artists and performers. From the annual Joburg Carnival to music festivals like Afropunk Johannesburg, there is always a lively event to attend and immerse yourself in the vibrant spirit of the city.


Whether you’re exploring the busy streets of the CBD, dancing the night away in Newtown, or enjoying a relaxing day in one of the city’s parks, Johannesburg’s vibrant city life is sure to captivate your senses and leave a lasting impression.


Art and Culture Scene

Johannesburg has emerged as a vibrant hub for art and culture, showcasing a diverse range of artistic expressions. The city is home to numerous galleries, museums, and cultural institutions that highlight both local and international talent.


The Johannesburg Art Gallery, located in Joubert Park, is one of the largest art museums on the African continent. With its extensive collection of paintings, sculptures, and contemporary art, the gallery provides a platform for artists to showcase their creativity and share their stories. From renowned South African artists like William Kentridge to emerging talents, the Johannesburg Art Gallery offers a captivating journey through the world of art.


Newtown, the cultural precinct of Johannesburg, is a treasure trove of creativity. The area is home to various art studios, graffiti murals, and performance spaces. The Market Theatre, a prominent theater in Newtown, showcases a diverse range of productions, from thought-provoking dramas to exhilarating musical performances. The vibrant and edgy atmosphere of Newtown is a testament to Johannesburg’s commitment to nurturing artistic expression.


For those interested in African art, the Wits Art Museum is a must-visit. Located in the University of the Witwatersrand, the museum houses an extensive collection of African art, ranging from traditional sculptures to contemporary installations. It serves as a platform for exploring the rich cultural heritage of the African continent and the diverse artistic practices that have shaped it.


Johannesburg’s art and culture scene also extends beyond traditional galleries. The city has a thriving street art scene, with vibrant murals adorning buildings and walls throughout the city. Walking tours are available, allowing visitors to explore the street art and gain insight into the stories behind the vibrant and thought-provoking pieces.


The cultural diversity of Johannesburg is further celebrated through music, dance, and theater. The Joburg Theatre hosts a variety of performances, including Broadway shows, ballets, and opera productions. The Market Square Music and Dance Theatre showcases the rich traditions of African music and dance, providing a captivating experience that immerses visitors in the rhythms and movements of the continent.


Whether you’re a lover of traditional art, contemporary expressions, or street art, Johannesburg offers a vibrant and thriving art and culture scene that is sure to inspire and captivate. With its diverse range of galleries, museums, and cultural events, the city truly embodies the spirit of artistic expression and cultural exploration.


The Natural Beauty

Contrary to popular belief, Johannesburg is not just a concrete jungle. Beyond the bustling city streets, there are breathtaking natural landscapes waiting to be discovered. From lush gardens to stunning wildlife encounters, the natural beauty of Johannesburg is a hidden gem that should not be missed.


One of the most iconic natural wonders in Johannesburg is the sprawling Johannesburg Botanical Gardens. Located in Emmarentia, the gardens offer a tranquil escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. With beautiful flower beds, serene ponds, and shady tree-lined paths, it is a perfect spot for picnics, leisurely walks, or simply enjoying the beauty of nature.


For nature lovers and bird enthusiasts, the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden is a must-visit. Home to over 220 bird species, including the majestic Verreaux’s Eagle, it is a paradise for birdwatching. The garden is also known for its impressive waterfall and stunning views of the surrounding mountains.


A short drive from Johannesburg will take you to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cradle of Humankind. This vast expanse of protected land is a treasure trove of paleontological and archaeological significance. Visitors can explore the Maropeng Visitor Centre, take guided tours of fossil sites, and gain a deeper understanding of humanity’s origins.


The natural beauty of Johannesburg extends beyond its parks and reserves. The nearby Magaliesberg Mountains offer a haven for outdoor enthusiasts. From hiking and rock climbing to hot air balloon rides and horseback safaris, there are endless opportunities to immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes and experience adrenaline-fueled adventures.


Johannesburg is also a gateway to exciting wildlife encounters. Just a short drive away, the famous Pilanesberg National Park beckons with its diverse wildlife population, including the Big Five. Visitors can embark on thrilling game drives, guided by experienced rangers, and witness the majesty of lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and buffalo in their natural habitat.


Additionally, Johannesburg is home to some exceptional nature reserves, such as the Lion Park and the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve. These reserves offer immersive experiences where visitors can get up close and personal with these magnificent creatures while learning about their conservation and the challenges they face.


With its stunning parks, majestic mountains, and unforgettable wildlife encounters, the natural beauty that surrounds Johannesburg is a testament to the incredible biodiversity of South Africa. Whether you’re seeking tranquility in a botanical garden, embarking on an adrenaline-fueled adventure in the mountains, or encountering wildlife in its natural habitat, Johannesburg offers a natural beauty that will leave you in awe.


Shopping and Dining Experiences

Johannesburg is a shopper’s paradise, offering a combination of world-class shopping malls, vibrant markets, and unique boutique stores. Whether you’re looking for high-end fashion, local crafts, or delicious culinary experiences, Johannesburg has something to delight every shopper and food enthusiast.


Sandton City Mall, located in the upscale suburb of Sandton, is a premier shopping destination. With its impressive selection of international brands, designer boutiques, and luxury retailers, it caters to even the most discerning fashionistas. The mall also boasts an array of fine dining restaurants, offering a culinary feast after a day of shopping.


Mall of Africa, one of the largest malls on the continent, is a shopper’s haven. With over 300 stores, including flagship stores of renowned international brands, it offers a diverse range of shopping experiences. From fashion and beauty to electronics and home decor, Mall of Africa has it all.


For a more eclectic shopping experience, Johannesburg’s vibrant markets are a must-visit. Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein is a hip and trendy market where you can find unique artisanal products, local crafts, and delicious street food. Rosebank Sunday Market is another popular spot, offering a wide selection of handmade crafts, clothing, and African artworks.


Johannesburg’s dining scene is equally impressive, with a mix of international cuisine, fusion flavors, and local delights. The city is home to numerous award-winning restaurants that showcase the culinary talents of renowned chefs.


If you’re craving a taste of Africa, be sure to visit Maboneng Precinct, a vibrant neighborhood filled with restaurants that infuse African flavors into their dishes. From Mozambican peri-peri chicken to Ethiopian injera, you can embark on a gastronomic journey through the continent’s diverse culinary heritage.


Johannesburg is also known for its thriving street food scene. From bunny chows and boerewors rolls to vetkoek and shisa nyama (traditional barbecued meat), the city’s street food offers a delicious and affordable way to indulge in local flavors.


For those seeking a fine dining experience, Johannesburg has an abundance of upscale restaurants that offer a fusion of international and South African cuisine. From contemporary African-inspired dishes to classic French cuisine, you can embark on a culinary adventure that tantalizes your taste buds and leaves you craving for more.


Johannesburg’s vibrant shopping and dining experiences showcase the city’s cosmopolitan nature and diverse cultural influences. Whether you’re indulging in retail therapy at world-class malls, exploring the vibrant markets for unique finds, or savoring the flavors of South African and international cuisine, Johannesburg offers a shopping and dining scene that is sure to satisfy every appetite.


Safety in Johannesburg

When it comes to safety, Johannesburg has made significant progress in recent years. The city has implemented various measures to ensure the well-being of its residents and visitors, making it a safe and enjoyable destination to explore.


Like any other major city, it’s important to exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings while in Johannesburg. It is advisable to avoid displaying valuable items or carrying large sums of cash in crowded areas. Keeping your belongings secure and using reliable transportation options such as metered taxis or ride-sharing services can also contribute to personal safety.


Johannesburg has a dedicated police force and enhanced security measures in key areas, providing a visible presence that helps deter crime and ensures the safety of the community. Authorities continuously work to improve safety and have implemented various strategies to combat crime.


Tourist areas and popular attractions in Johannesburg are usually well-patrolled and have additional security measures in place. It’s still important to take precautions and follow any guidelines provided by authorities or establishments to ensure a safe and enjoyable visit.


While the city has made significant progress in terms of safety, it is advisable to be cautious when venturing into unfamiliar areas, especially at night. It’s recommended to stick to well-lit and populated areas and to avoid walking alone in secluded areas.


Like many cities, Johannesburg has its fair share of traffic congestion. It’s important to plan your routes and allow extra time for travel, especially during peak hours. Utilizing reputable taxi services or public transportation can help alleviate traffic-related stress and ensure a smoother and safer journey.


For additional peace of mind, it is advisable to have travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and personal belongings. It’s always better to be prepared and have the necessary support in case of any unforeseen circumstances.


It’s worth noting that safety is a shared responsibility between individuals, the community, and the authorities. By being vigilant, following local advice, and respecting the local culture and customs, visitors can contribute to their own safety while enjoying all that Johannesburg has to offer.


Overall, with the proper precautions and awareness, Johannesburg can be a safe and enjoyable destination to explore. The city’s commitment to improving safety, combined with individual responsibility, ensures that residents and visitors can experience the vibrant and diverse offerings of Johannesburg with peace of mind.



Johannesburg, the vibrant and dynamic City of Gold, has evolved into a captivating destination that offers a wealth of experiences for visitors. From its rich history rooted in the discovery of gold to its multicultural identity and thriving art scene, the city has something to offer every traveler.


Despite its turbulent past, Johannesburg has emerged as a cosmopolitan hub that embraces diversity and celebrates its cultural heritage. The city’s vibrant city life, with its bustling streets, lively nightlife, and world-class shopping, creates an energy that is palpable and invigorating.


Johannesburg’s art and culture scene is a testament to the city’s creative spirit, with galleries, museums, and cultural institutions showcasing a diverse range of artistic expressions. The natural beauty surrounding the city, from stunning parks and gardens to wildlife encounters, offers a chance to immerse oneself in the breathtaking landscapes of South Africa.


As with any major city, it’s important to exercise caution and be aware of personal safety in Johannesburg. However, significant measures have been put in place to ensure the well-being of residents and visitors, making the city a safer destination to explore.


In conclusion, Johannesburg is a city that defies expectations. It has transcended its tumultuous history, embracing its multiculturalism and celebrating its vibrant and diverse offerings. From its captivating history to its vibrant city life, thriving art scene, natural beauty, and unique shopping and dining experiences, Johannesburg has truly become a destination that guarantees an unforgettable and enriching experience for travelers.