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How To Experience Johannesburg Like A Local


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Steffie Littlefield



When visiting a new city, it’s always exciting to delve into the local culture and experience the hidden gems that residents cherish. Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, is no exception. With a rich history, vibrant neighborhoods, and a diverse population, Johannesburg offers a unique blend of traditional and modern experiences that will make you feel like a local.


In this article, we will guide you on how to experience Johannesburg like a local, providing you with insider tips to explore the city’s neighborhoods, savor authentic cuisine, navigate through local markets, engage in cultural experiences, and immerse yourself in the vibrant nightlife. Whether you’re a history buff, a food lover, an outdoor enthusiast, or a culture seeker, Johannesburg has something to offer.


So, get ready to step off the beaten path and discover the hidden treasures of Johannesburg. From historic landmarks to bustling markets, this is your ultimate guide to experiencing the city like a true local.


Getting Around

One of the best ways to experience Johannesburg like a local is to navigate the city using various modes of transportation. While public transportation options are available, the most convenient way to get around is by renting a car. This allows you the freedom to explore the city at your own pace and venture into the surrounding areas.


Johannesburg has a well-connected network of highways and roads, making it easy to navigate the city by car. However, it’s important to note that driving in Johannesburg can be hectic, especially during peak hours. Be sure to familiarize yourself with the local traffic rules and always exercise caution when driving.


If you prefer not to drive, another popular option is to use ride-hailing services like Uber and Bolt. These apps are widely used in Johannesburg and provide a safe and reliable way to get around the city. Simply download the app, request a ride, and you’ll be on your way to your destination in no time.


Additionally, Johannesburg has a well-developed public transportation system, including buses and trains. Metrobus operates a network of buses that can take you to various parts of the city, while the Gautrain is a fast and efficient train system that connects Johannesburg with other major cities and the O.R. Tambo International Airport.


When using public transportation, it’s important to keep in mind that peak hours can be crowded, so plan your travel accordingly. Also, be vigilant with your belongings and keep them secure at all times.


For shorter distances within a neighborhood, consider exploring Johannesburg on foot or using a bicycle. Many neighborhoods have pedestrian-friendly streets and dedicated cycling lanes, allowing you to soak in the local atmosphere and discover hidden gems along the way.


Whether you choose to drive, use ride-hailing services, or explore public transportation options, getting around Johannesburg is an essential part of experiencing the city like a local. Embrace the diverse modes of transportation available and embark on your adventure in the most convenient and authentic way possible.


Exploring Neighborhoods

Johannesburg is a city that is made up of a tapestry of diverse neighborhoods, each with its own unique character and charm. To truly experience Johannesburg like a local, take the time to explore some of its vibrant neighborhoods, each offering a different glimpse into the city’s culture and history.


One of the must-visit neighborhoods in Johannesburg is Maboneng. Located in the eastern part of the city, Maboneng is a hip and trendy neighborhood known for its vibrant street art, bustling markets, and thriving arts scene. Take a stroll down Fox Street, the heart of Maboneng, to explore its art galleries, boutiques, and cafes. The neighborhood also hosts the popular Market on Main on Sundays, where you can sample local street food, browse through unique crafts, and soak in the lively atmosphere.


Another neighborhood worth exploring is Melville. Located west of the city center, Melville is known for its bohemian vibe and lively nightlife. As you wander through its tree-lined streets, you’ll find an array of quirky boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants. Don’t miss out on a visit to 7th Street, the main thoroughfare of Melville, where you can find an eclectic mix of cafes, bars, and live music venues.


If you’re interested in history and culture, head to Soweto, which stands for “South Western Township”. This township played a significant role in the struggle against apartheid and is famous for being the home of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Take a guided tour of Soweto to learn about its rich history, visit the iconic Vilakazi Street, and immerse yourself in the vibrant township culture.


For a taste of traditional South African life, visit the township of Alexandra. Located north of the city center, Alexandra offers a glimpse into the daily lives of its residents. Explore the bustling streets, visit local markets, and engage in community initiatives to truly experience the warmth and spirit of this vibrant township.


Other neighborhoods worth exploring include Braamfontein, with its thriving art and food scene, and Newtown, home to the vibrant Newtown Cultural Precinct and the Market Theatre.


By venturing beyond the tourist hotspots and experiencing the diverse neighborhoods of Johannesburg, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of the city’s history, culture, and people. From trendy districts to historic townships, Johannesburg’s neighborhoods offer a tapestry of experiences that will make you feel like a true local.


Enjoying Local Cuisine

No visit to Johannesburg would be complete without savoring the local cuisine. The city is a melting pot of cultures, and its culinary scene reflects this diversity, offering a wide array of flavors and dishes to satisfy every palate. To experience the city like a local, be sure to sample some of Johannesburg’s iconic dishes and visit popular dining spots.


One of the signature dishes of Johannesburg is the bunny chow. This unique street food originated from the Indian community in the city and consists of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry. Head to Fordsburg, also known as “Little India,” to try an authentic bunny chow from one of the local eateries.


For a taste of traditional South African cuisine, visit a “shisa nyama” or a barbecue joint. These lively establishments offer a variety of grilled meats, such as boerewors (South African sausage), lamb chops, and steaks. Choose your cuts of meat, have them grilled to perfection, and enjoy a hearty and flavorful meal with sides like pap (maize porridge) and chakalaka (spicy vegetable relish).


Johannesburg is also famous for its vibrant food markets. Neighbourgoods Market, located in Braamfontein, is one of the city’s popular spots to indulge in local and international street food. Here, you’ll find a wide range of cuisines, from gourmet burgers and artisanal cheeses to Ethiopian injera and Vietnamese banh mi.


If you’re a coffee lover, Johannesburg boasts a thriving coffee culture with numerous specialty coffee shops scattered throughout the city. Visit one of these trendy establishments to enjoy a delicious cup of locally roasted coffee and soak in the hip atmosphere of the city’s coffee scene.


Don’t miss out on trying some traditional South African desserts as well. Treat yourself to a slice of malva pudding, a sweet and sticky baked sponge cake, or indulge in a koeksister, a syrup-soaked twisted pastry. These delectable treats will satisfy your sweet tooth and give you a taste of the local dessert scene.


Whether you’re wandering through markets, dining at local restaurants, or grabbing street food, exploring Johannesburg’s culinary offerings is an essential part of experiencing the city like a local. Prepare your taste buds for a journey of flavors and indulge in the diverse and delicious cuisine that Johannesburg has to offer.


Exploring Local Markets

One of the best ways to immerse yourself in the local culture of Johannesburg is by exploring its vibrant markets. From bustling craft markets to lively food markets, these vibrant spaces offer a glimpse into the city’s unique atmosphere and give you the opportunity to interact with local artisans, taste authentic street food, and find unique souvenirs.


The Market on Main in Maboneng is a must-visit for any market enthusiast. Held every Sunday, this bustling market showcases a diverse range of crafts, fashion, and design items from local artisans and designers. Browse through the stalls, chat with the vendors, and discover one-of-a-kind handmade pieces to take home as a memento of your Johannesburg experience.


Another market that shouldn’t be missed is the Rosebank Sunday Market. Located in the heart of the eclectic Rosebank neighborhood, this market is a treasure trove of crafts, antiques, and collectibles. It also features a wide variety of food stalls where you can sample delicious local dishes and international cuisine.


For a taste of Africa, visit the African Craft Market in Sandton. This market offers a wide selection of traditional African art, crafts, and souvenirs, including intricate wood carvings, colorful textiles, and beaded jewelry. It’s the perfect place to find unique gifts and support local artisans.


If you’re a food lover, the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein is a must-visit. Held every Saturday, this vibrant food market showcases a wide array of gourmet food options, from fresh local produce and artisanal cheeses to international delights. Grab a seat at one of the communal tables, indulge in the delicious offerings, and soak in the lively atmosphere.


Lastly, don’t forget to explore the traditional street markets in Johannesburg. From the Faraday Market in the city center to the Brixton Market in the multicultural neighborhood of Brixton, these markets offer a glimpse into the daily life of locals. Wander through the stalls, taste street food specialties like boerewors rolls and samoosas, and experience the vibrant energy that fills these bustling markets.


Exploring the local markets of Johannesburg is not just about shopping and dining; it’s about immersing yourself in the vibrant atmosphere and connecting with the local community. So, be sure to set aside some time to wander through these lively spaces and discover the hidden gems that lie within.


Engaging in Cultural Experiences

Johannesburg is a city rich in culture and history, offering an array of experiences that allow visitors to immerse themselves in the local heritage. To truly experience Johannesburg like a local, engage in the city’s cultural offerings and gain a deeper understanding of its diverse communities.


One of the must-visit cultural sites in Johannesburg is the Apartheid Museum. This powerful museum provides insights into South Africa’s history of apartheid and the struggle for freedom. Explore the exhibits, including multimedia displays and personal narratives, to gain a deeper understanding of the country’s complex past and the journey towards democracy.


Another captivating cultural experience awaits at Constitution Hill. This heritage site was once a prison complex where political activists, including Nelson Mandela, were held. Visit the museum on-site to learn about the stories of those who fought for equality and justice. Take a guided tour of the former prison and walk through the Constitutional Court, which stands as a symbol of South Africa’s commitment to democracy and human rights.


For lovers of art and culture, a visit to the Johannesburg Art Gallery is a must. Housed in a beautiful neoclassical building, the gallery showcases a vast collection of South African and international art, including works by renowned artists such as Gerard Sekoto and Irma Stern. Explore the diverse exhibitions and immerse yourself in the vibrant art scene of the city.


To experience traditional African music, dance, and theater, catch a performance at the Joburg Theatre. This prominent performing arts venue hosts a variety of shows, including musicals, ballet, opera, and indigenous performances. From contemporary interpretations to traditional showcases, these performances offer a captivating glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of South Africa.


For a taste of township life and vibrant local culture, consider joining a township tour. These tours provide an opportunity to visit townships such as Soweto or Alexandra, where knowledgeable guides share stories about the history, culture, and daily life of these communities. Engage with locals, visit community projects, and support local businesses to gain a true appreciation for the resilient spirit and vibrant creativity found within the townships.


Engaging in cultural experiences in Johannesburg allows you to connect with the city on a deeper level and gain insights into the diverse tapestry of its communities. Whether it’s through museums, art galleries, performances, or township tours, embracing Johannesburg’s cultural offerings will enrich your visit and leave you with a greater appreciation for the city’s heritage.


Discovering Outdoor Activities

Johannesburg is not only a bustling city but also offers a wealth of outdoor activities that allow you to embrace the natural beauty of the surrounding areas. From exploring lush parks and gardens to embarking on adrenaline-pumping adventures, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors in and around Johannesburg.


One of the iconic outdoor attractions in Johannesburg is the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. Located in the picturesque suburb of Roodepoort, this botanical garden offers stunning landscapes, abundant birdlife, and a scenic waterfall. Take a leisurely stroll along the various trails, have a picnic amidst the lush surroundings, and immerse yourself in the tranquility of nature.


If you’re seeking adventure, head to the Magaliesberg Mountains, a short drive from Johannesburg. This mountain range is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts, offering activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and rock climbing. Explore the diverse trails that wind through the mountains, challenge yourself to conquer a rock face, or simply enjoy the breathtaking views from the summit.


Another outdoor activity that shouldn’t be missed is a hot air balloon ride over the Cradle of Humankind. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the Sterkfontein Caves, where significant fossil discoveries have been made. Soar above the picturesque landscapes in a hot air balloon and witness the beauty of the region from a unique perspective.


For wildlife enthusiasts, a visit to the Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve is a must. Located just outside the city, this reserve offers the opportunity to witness majestic African wildlife up close. Take a guided game drive and spot lions, rhinos, giraffes, and an array of other fascinating animals in their natural habitat.


For a more relaxed outdoor experience, visit Emmarentia Dam and Johannesburg Botanical Garden. Located in the suburb of Emmarentia, this tranquil oasis provides a picturesque setting for picnics, leisurely walks, and bird watching. Rent a rowboat and explore the tranquil waters of the dam or simply unwind amidst the beautiful gardens.


Whether you’re seeking adrenaline-pumping activities or serene natural settings, Johannesburg and its surroundings have something to offer outdoor enthusiasts of all kinds. Embrace the beautiful landscapes, breathe in the fresh air, and make the most of the fantastic outdoor activities available in this vibrant city.


Nightlife and Entertainment

Johannesburg comes alive at night, offering a dynamic and vibrant nightlife scene that caters to a variety of tastes. From trendy rooftop bars to live music venues, the city provides a wide range of options for those seeking a memorable night out. To experience the nightlife like a local, explore the following hotspots and entertainment venues.


Newtown, located in the city center, is known as the cultural precinct of Johannesburg. Here, you’ll find The Market Theatre, a renowned venue that showcases a variety of theatrical performances, from cutting-edge plays to thought-provoking dramas. After enjoying a show, head to one of the nearby bars or clubs for a night of dancing and socializing.


If you’re a fan of live music, 7th Street in Melville is the place to be. This vibrant street is filled with a variety of bars and clubs that feature live bands and DJs, offering a mix of genres and styles. Whether you’re in the mood for jazz, rock, or electronic music, you’ll find a venue that suits your taste.


Maboneng, a trendy neighborhood known for its arts and culture scene, also offers a vibrant nightlife. Start your evening with drinks at a rooftop bar like Living Room or The Living Artist, where you can enjoy stunning views of the city while sipping on creative cocktails. Then, head to one of the trendy clubs or lounges in the area to dance the night away.


In Rosebank, you’ll find an array of stylish bars and clubs that cater to a sophisticated crowd. From elegant cocktail lounges to trendy nightclubs, there’s something for everyone. Visit The Orbit Jazz Club for an intimate jazz experience or dance the night away at one of the popular clubs in the area.


Johannesburg also has a vibrant LGBTQ+ nightlife scene, with the Gay Village in Melville being a popular destination. Here, you’ll find a variety of LGBTQ+-friendly bars, clubs, and lounges that offer a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere for all. Enjoy a night of music, dancing, and celebration in a lively and accepting environment.


When exploring the nightlife in Johannesburg, it’s important to keep in mind safety precautions. Stick to well-populated areas, travel in groups, and use reputable transportation services. Also, be aware of the local laws and customs to ensure a fun and hassle-free night out.


From theatrical performances and live music to trendy bars and clubs, Johannesburg offers a vibrant and diverse nightlife scene that will leave you with unforgettable memories. So, put on your dancing shoes, embrace the energy of the city, and experience the vibrant nightlife like a true local.


Attending Local Events

Johannesburg is a city that thrives on creativity and cultural events. Attending local events is an excellent way to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere and experience the city’s diverse arts, music, and entertainment scenes. From music festivals to art exhibitions, there are numerous events throughout the year that offer a unique glimpse into Johannesburg’s dynamic culture.


One of the most anticipated events is the Joburg Arts Alive International Festival. Held annually, this festival showcases a wide range of artistic disciplines, including dance, theater, music, and visual arts. From thought-provoking performances to visually stunning installations, the festival offers a platform for local and international artists to engage with the audience and celebrate the arts.


The Soweto Wine and Lifestyle Festival is another event that shouldn’t be missed. Held in the historic township of Soweto, this festival celebrates South African wine culture with tastings from various wineries, food pairings, and live entertainment. It’s a unique opportunity to experience the vibrant spirit and hospitality of Soweto while indulging in the country’s finest wines.


Jazz enthusiasts should mark their calendars for the Joy of Jazz International Festival. This multi-day event brings together local and international jazz artists for electrifying performances across various venues in Johannesburg. Immerse yourself in the smooth melodies and rhythms of jazz and experience the soulful spirit of the city.


For art lovers, the FNB Art Joburg is a premier contemporary art fair that showcases the works of established and emerging artists from South Africa and beyond. This event offers a unique opportunity to engage with the art community, attend exhibitions, and purchase artwork directly from the artists.


Throughout the year, the city also hosts a variety of markets, food festivals, and cultural celebrations. From the Arts on Main market in Maboneng to the Delicious International Food and Music Festival, there’s always something happening in Johannesburg that caters to different interests and tastes.


When attending local events, be sure to check the schedules and book your tickets in advance, as some events may sell out quickly. Additionally, follow the local guidelines and regulations, especially regarding safety measures and crowd control.


By attending local events in Johannesburg, you’ll not only have a memorable experience but also gain a deeper appreciation for the city’s creative spirit and cultural diversity. So, whether you’re a music enthusiast, an art lover, or simply looking to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere, Johannesburg’s events calendar has something for everyone.


Shopping like a Local

When it comes to shopping, Johannesburg offers a diverse range of options that cater to a variety of tastes and budgets. From trendy boutiques and designer stores to vibrant markets and shopping malls, there’s something for everyone. To shop like a local, explore the following shopping hotspots and discover unique treasures.


The Mall of Africa, located in Waterfall City, is one of the largest shopping malls in South Africa. With over 300 shops, including both local and international brands, this mall offers a wide range of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle stores. Browse through the latest fashion trends, find unique accessories, or indulge in a shopping spree at the various department stores.


If you’re looking to support local designers and artisans, visit the 44 Stanley complex in Milpark. This converted industrial space is home to a collection of boutique stores, showcasing a range of locally made products, from fashion and accessories to home decor and artisanal crafts. Explore the vibrant mix of stores, grab a coffee at one of the trendy cafes, and discover unique pieces that reflect Johannesburg’s unique style.


Johannesburg is also known for its vibrant street markets, where you can find a variety of locally made crafts, clothing, and accessories. The Rosebank Sunday Market is a popular choice, offering a vast selection of arts, crafts, and antiques. Browse through the stalls, bargain with the vendors, and take home one-of-a-kind souvenirs to remember your time in Johannesburg.


In addition to markets, the neighborhood of Bryanston is renowned for its design and decor stores. You’ll find a range of local and international furniture and homeware stores, offering stylish and unique pieces to enhance your home decor. Whether you’re looking for contemporary or vintage items, the design district of Bryanston will satisfy your shopping needs.


For a shopping experience that combines food and fashion, visit the 27boxes complex in Melville. This innovative structure is made up of repurposed shipping containers, housing a variety of boutique stores and eateries. Explore the eclectic mix of fashion boutiques, vintage shops, and craft stores while enjoying a delicious meal or snack from one of the trendy food stalls.


When shopping like a local, don’t forget to bargain at markets and street vendors. Haggling is a common practice in Johannesburg and can often lead to scoring great deals. However, be respectful and negotiate with fairness.


By exploring the diverse shopping options in Johannesburg, you’ll not only find unique treasures but also support local businesses and artisans. Whether you’re seeking fashion, home decor, or unique souvenirs, Johannesburg offers a shopping experience that blends the modern with the traditional, ensuring a memorable and distinctive retail therapy adventure.


Tips for Safety and Etiquette

While visiting Johannesburg, it’s important to prioritize safety and adhere to local etiquette to ensure a pleasant and smooth experience. This vibrant city is generally safe, but like any other urban center, taking certain precautions and being aware of cultural norms can go a long way in ensuring a positive trip. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Stay vigilant: Although Johannesburg has improved in terms of safety, it’s always wise to be aware of your surroundings. Keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas, and avoid displaying expensive items to minimize the risk of theft.
  • Plan your transportation: Use reputable transportation services such as taxis, Uber, or hired cars, especially when traveling at night or to unfamiliar areas. Avoid using minibus taxis without a trusted local guide, as they can be unpredictable and have safety concerns.
  • Dress appropriately: Johannesburg is a cosmopolitan city, but it’s important to dress modestly and respectfully when visiting cultural or religious sites. Additionally, be mindful of the weather and dress comfortably when exploring the city’s attractions.
  • Engage in cultural sensitivity: Johannesburg is a diverse city with different cultural backgrounds. Be respectful of local customs, traditions, and beliefs. Greet locals with a friendly “hello” or “sawubona” (Zulu for hello) and use basic phrases like “thank you” (“siyabonga”) and “please” (“ngicela”).
  • Adhere to photography etiquette: Taking photos is a great way to capture memories, but always ask for permission before photographing individuals, especially in townships or culturally sensitive areas. Respect people’s privacy and their right to decline.
  • Use reputable tour operators: If you’re exploring townships or engaging in adventure activities, such as hiking or wildlife tours, choose reputable tour operators that prioritize safety and sustainability. It’s essential to support ethical and responsible tourism practices.
  • Respect wildlife: If you’re venturing into wildlife areas or game reserves, maintain a respectful distance from animals and follow the guidance of your guides. Avoid littering and do not feed or disturb the wildlife.
  • Follow health and hygiene practices: Like any other destination, it’s important to maintain good hygiene practices during your visit to Johannesburg. Wash your hands regularly, use hand sanitizer, and drink bottled water to stay hydrated.

By following these tips, you’ll ensure your safety and show respect to the local culture during your time in Johannesburg. Remember, a little awareness goes a long way in ensuring a smooth and enjoyable experience in this vibrant city.



Johannesburg, with its rich history, vibrant neighborhoods, and diverse culture, offers a truly immersive experience for those looking to explore the city like a local. From navigating the city’s transportation options to indulging in the local cuisine and engaging in cultural experiences, there are countless opportunities to delve deep into the essence of Johannesburg.


By venturing off the beaten path and delving into the city’s neighborhoods, you’ll discover hidden gems and experience the unique charm of each area. Whether it’s exploring the vibrant street art of Maboneng, immersing yourself in history in Soweto, or embracing the bohemian vibes of Melville, each neighborhood offers its own distinctive character and cultural richness.


Johannesburg’s culinary scene is a testament to the city’s diverse cultural heritage. From traditional South African dishes like bunny chow and shisa nyama to international flavors at vibrant food markets, you’ll embark on a sensory journey that will tantalize your taste buds and leave you craving for more.


The city’s markets, both traditional and contemporary, offer a unique shopping experience where you can find locally crafted souvenirs, trendy fashion, and authentic African art. Embracing the outdoor activities in and around Johannesburg allows you to appreciate the natural beauty and adventurous spirit of the region, from strolling through botanical gardens to conquering the mountains and game reserves.


As day turns into night, Johannesburg’s vibrant nightlife comes alive. From live music venues and theaters to trendy rooftop bars and clubs, you can dance the night away and embrace the city’s creative energy. Attending local events, such as music festivals and art exhibitions, allows you to engage with Johannesburg’s cultural scene and witness the incredible talent of local and international artists.


As you explore Johannesburg, it’s essential to prioritize safety and adhere to local etiquette. By being mindful of your surroundings, respecting cultural norms, and following basic safety precautions, you can enjoy a smooth and memorable experience in this dynamic city.


In conclusion, Johannesburg offers a plethora of experiences that will make you feel like a true local. So let go of your tourist hat, immerse yourself in the city’s vibrant culture, and create unforgettable memories as you explore the hidden treasures of Johannesburg.