Once a byword for the civil strife which came to define apartheid, South Africa’s biggest city now pulses with creativity and newfound confidence while never losing sight of its sometimes-troubled history.
Growing rapidly in the late 1800s after the discovery of major gold deposits on farmland, Johannesburg soon became South Africa’s most important city – although not one of the nation’s three official capitals.
Its heart is awash with tall office blocks, modern malls, and a swish mass transit system, vying for attention alongside elegant Victorian-era constructions and pockets of recently-renovated green space.
However, much of the interest from a traveler’s point of view can be found outside of downtown ‘Jozi,’ in spacious suburbs such as Sandton and Rosebank, where many of the city’s top hotels can also be found.
To discover the history and heritage of this complex city, head straight from your hotel to the Apartheid Museum, which alongside Constitution Hill Human Rights District and Liliesleaf Farm detail the horrors of the state sanctioned racial segregation which only ended with multiparty democratic elections in 1994.
A sharp contrast from the likes of Sandton and Rosebank is Soweto, once designated a black township but now a formal part of the wider city. Guided tours offer a fascinating insight into a world often hidden to visitors to Johannesburg, and tend to include a stop at Vilakazi Street, the only road in the world where two Nobel peace prize laureates once lived – Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Back in the center of Johannesburg, the Maboneng District has become the place to see and be seen, with a great mix of art, dining, and entertainment, making the city a destination discerning visitors won’t want to miss.