Save, Spring, Splurge: Johannesburg, South Africa

by  Charu Suri | Updated on Jun 14, 2019

The image of Johannesburg, South Africa, has changed a lot over the years. For decades, visitors avoided spending time in the country’s largest city because of its crime statistics—but that perception has taken a sharp turn for the better in recent years. Today, the “City of Gold” (a moniker from the city's gold rush years) features vibrant neighborhoods, a thriving arts scene, and a growing number of luxury hotels that offer world-class service, style, and amenities. Some properties, like Hallmark House, are set in neighborhoods that would have been considered unfashionable or unsafe just a few years ago.

Today, the options for visitors to Johannesburg are vast: You can explore once-derelict areas like Maboneng (Sotho for “place of light”), which has transformed into a collaborative cultural hub with homes that have been converted into art galleries. For those into archaeology, don't miss a visit to the ancient Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site northwest of the city. And, there's no shortage of great food and drink, here too.

Here's a guide to this hip, up-and-coming destination for every budget.


Hallmark House, located in the artsy precinct of Maboneng, is a 16-story residential hotel designed by Ghanian-British architect David Adjaye, and is complete with a jazz bar and coffee shop. Rooms are inexpensive (around $50 per night), and residents have the option to purchase apartment units and sublease them.  

Just steps away from the hotel is the Museum of African Design (MOAD), considered Africa’s first design museum, housed in a 1930s industrial building that was once used for mining equipment. Exhibits here rotate every four months, on pace with the changing scenery throughout the city.

If you’re here over the weekend, visit the Market on Main, which is stocked with an array of global foods, from Ethiopian to Jamaican.

One of the best ways to see the city is to book a two-hour walking tour with Jo Beytenbach, who leads Past ExperiencesBeytenbach has vast knowledge of the city and its transformation over the years. She'll show you everything from vibrant murals (the imposing 10-story mural of Nelson Mandela done by Shepard Fairey is a standout) to textile shops where you can purchase local Shweshwe-printed dyed cotton fabric.


In the ritzy Rosebank area near Gautrain Rosebank Station, 54 on Bath lies on a leafy street flanked by purple Jacaranda blooms (if you visit in spring, you'll see these flowers throughout the city). Each of the guest rooms exude Old-World glamour, and the sparkling swimming pool is a stunner in and of itself. Rates from $138 per night

The hotel’s upscale Level Four restaurant, helmed by chef Matthew Foxon, is known for views as breathtaking as the culinary experience alone (the high tea is particularly noteworthy). For the best steak in town, head to the nearby Grillhouse Rosebank, which features beautiful brick walls. 

If you want to take in the nearby attractions of Rosebank, you can walk or take a cab to Nelson Mandela Square, a lively shopping center. The crowds thin out during the weekend, but weekdays are particularly busy.

A terrific place to indulge in an afternoon meal and craft beer is at the hip Urbanologi in the 1 Fox Precinct (considered the oldest part of the city). Dining here is a particularly delightful experience for vegetarians. The cuisine is an upscale version of global street eats, and the everything is served in a high-ceiling industrial building with a nature-meets-steel inspired décor. 


The Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff, Johannesburg is an enchanting property that's worth the splurge. The resort resembles a hillside village and is complete with fountains, courtyards and gardens, and even views of the Johannesburg Zoo. Rates from $290 per night. 

To continue taking in the city's natural beauty, the hotel can coordinate a visit to the nearby Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, which is home Verreaux's eagles nests, as well as antelope and jackals.

End your trip to Johannesburg on a high culinary note with a reservation at Est Est Alea. Here, you can enjoy delectable dishes from around the world, including quail breast, dumplings, and nearly everything in between. Full-menu dinner (with wine pairing) is available from $67 per person, excluding gratuity. 

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