Johannesburg, South Africa - Stein Travel
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Johannesburg

The capital of South Africa's smallest province, Gauteng, Johannesburg is the economic powerhouse of Africa with its ever-growing suburban sprawl creeping outwards from the central city skyscrapers and ring-road motorways.

The more than 10-million inhabitants live fast and have a restless spirit, which they have imparted into the fabric of the city, also known by its African name as Egoli, 'the place of gold'. The development of the city, which is just over a century old, has followed the fortunes of the Witwatersrand (White Water Reef), the rich gold-bearing rock reef that stretches across this area of central South Africa. The initial gold rush started in the 1880s, and barely ten years later Johannesburg had become South Africa's largest town and the site of frenzied development that has been ongoing ever since.

Johannesburg today is a city of contrasts, with glass-paned modern luxury high-rises towering beside a few remaining dilapidated Victorian buildings, and affluent northern suburbs with stunning private homes behind high fences giving way to the squalid streets and tiny shoebox houses of the massive Soweto township in the south. The chasm between rich and poor in the city has given rise to a high crime rate, evidenced by the fortress-like security that pervades the wealthier suburbs.

Most visitors to South Africa, particularly those intent on exploring the game reserves of Mpumalanga, arrive at Johannesburg's busy OR Tambo International Airport, which is the main point of entry for the country. There is little in Johannesburg itself to grab the attention of tourists, but a few days can be filled taking in some entertaining man-made attractions before heading off to the game parks of the northeast or the coastal regions. The most interesting diversion in Johannesburg is undoubtedly a 'Heritage Route' or 'Shebeen Crawl' tour of Soweto, but take care only to venture into the maze of the township with an organised tour or professional guide.

Information & Facts

Climate

Johannesburg enjoys a very favourable climate, dry and sunny all year round. Between October and April the city experiences heavy afternoon thunderstorms with downpours of rain that disappear as quickly as they arrive. Winter days are only slightly cooler than the pleasant summer average temperatures, but it can become frosty on winter nights.

Eating Out

Johannesburg's role as the economic hub of South Africa, if not the entire continent, has attracted businessmen and investors from all over the world and a wealth of restaurants to cater to them. Johannesburg restaurants offer a wide range of cuisine, with ethnic African fare and traditional Afrikaans dishes, as well as international options to satisfy every craving imaginable. Eating out in Johannesburg offers not only variety in cuisine ethnicity but price and quality too, with a range of up-market, casual, fast-food and street vendor options. Up-market Johannesburg restaurants, featuring both local and international menus, are located in areas like Rivonia, Sandton, Illovo and Melrose Arch. More casual eateries, such as cafés and steakhouses, can be found in Parktown North and Benoni. There are fast-food outlets throughout the city, as well as various local street vendors selling savoury pies, boerewors(sausage) rolls and flame-grilled mealie(maize) cobs. The more adventurous diners could venture out to Soweto to dine at one of its numerous shebeen(communal bar/canteen) venues. This huge variety of Johannesburg restaurants makes eating out in the 'City of Gold' a truly rewarding experience. Many restaurants are closed on Mondays, and reservations are recommended.

Getting Around

Johannesburg is a sprawling city and the lack of convenient and safe public transport is often an obstacle to visitors. City transport consists of an unreliable bus network and a series of minibus taxi routes, neither of which operate much after dark. The main bus terminus is at Ghandi Square in the city centre where there are timetables and route maps, but times are rarely accurate; and the Gautrain bus service only runs to stops around Sandton. Alternatively, a City Slicker sightseeing bus provides hop-on hop-off tours around the city in open-topped buses.

The quickest and cheapest way to get around is on a minibus 'taxi', an informal bus service that goes everywhere but has no schedule or formal stops and can be picked up at taxi ranks or hailed anywhere along its route. However, dangerous driving, overcrowding and high crime rates at taxi ranks have deterred many from using them as a means of transport. If necessary use them for short hops only and never with baggage.

Safer but far more expensive are metered taxis, which need to be booked in advance. The best way to get around is by private car and there is an excellent network of highways and well-maintained roads. There are a number of car rental agencies that require drivers to be over 23 years old and hold a full driving license. A passport and credit card are also necessary. Drivers should keep their windows up and doors locked at all times, never leave anything visible in a parked car, and never stop for hitchhikers. Be aware that there is a risk of car hijacking so remain alert, especially when leaving or returning to the car, and seek out secure parking.

Kids Attractions

Johannesburg does not have a reputation as a family-friendly destination but in reality there's no end to entertainment and attractions for kids in this bustling and busy city! A family holiday wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Johannesburg Zoo or the ever-enticing Gold Reef City. Other great Johannesburg attractions for kids include art cafés, fairy gardens, ice skating rinks, skate parks and adventure centres.

Language

South Africa has 11 official languages, including Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho. English is widely spoken.

Money

South Africa's currency is the Rand (ZAR), which is divided into 100 cents. Money can be exchanged at banks, bureaux de change and the larger hotels. ATMs are widely available (there is a daily limit for cash withdrawals) and major international credit cards are widely accepted, except in petrol stations where cash is required. Visitors should be vigilant when drawing cash from ATMs, as con artists are known to operate there. Travellers cheques and some foreign currencies are accepted at larger hotels and shops, but commission is charged, otherwise all commercial banks will exchange them.

Night Life

Africa's biggest and richest city has got the nightlife to match, from world-class theatre and live music to mega-hip lounge bars and epic nightclubs. Jazz fans should amble their way to legendary Kippies in Newtown, and to the nearby Bassline. The Civic Theatre hosts major live productions, while plenty of smaller venues have minor plays, cabaret shows and reviews. Nightclubs tend to open around 11pm and will charge an entrance fee. They stay open all night and drinks are expensive. Many top clubs are positioned in the lively city center of Johannesburg, or funky areas such as Orange Grove and Melville. The affluent suburbs of Sandton, Hyde Park and Melrose Arch are home to the more plush and modern clubs frequented by an unlikely collection of models, stock brokers, bikers and trust fund kids. If taking your chances on the dangerous roads is not enough for you, head for the many casinos on the outskirts of the city. Montecasino, near Fourways, and Caesars Palace, near the OR Tambo Airport, are the best. Apart from the various money-relieving gaming tables and slot machines, there are live shows aplenty. For local listings see www.jhblive.co.za, the Friday editions of the Mail & Guardian and The Star, or the Johannesburg edition of Timeout.

Shopping

As the financial hub of Africa and home to its highest proportion of wealthy individuals, it is no surprise that Johannesburg is a true 'shopper's paradise'. From designer boutiques and world-class specialist shops in the prestigious Sandton City to curios and bargain buys at local markets, Johannesburg has something for just about every kind of shopper. The northern suburbs are the place to start a day of shopping in this bustling city, and Mandela Square provides a wonderful location at Sandton City for shoppers to take a load off and eat at one of the many restaurants surrounding this square. In Johannesburg, the Bruma Flea Market specialises in African souvenirs and crafts such as wooden sculptures, paintings, beaded masks and jewellery, and is highly recommended to those looking for something authentically African. The Rosebank Rooftop Market , which is held on Sundays and public holidays on the roof of the Rosebank Mall, is an absolute must and just about anything can be scooped up here. There are also wonderful food stalls where shoppers can rest their legs and brace themselves for round two. Other popular shopping malls include Eastgate Mall, Northgate and Fourways Mall. Shopping hours in Johannesburg are generally from 9am to 6pm from Monday to Friday, and from 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Smaller stores usually close on Sunday afternoons. VAT is 14% and is levied on all goods sold, excluding flea market purchases, and visitors can reclaim this when departing at airports or land borders, provided they produce the goods and all necessary receipts.

Sightseeing

Johannesburg attractions range from both cultural and historic exhibitions to fun family outings and interesting displays of local innovation and productivity. With good weather throughout most of the year, sightseeing in Johannesburg is always a rewarding adventure. The first stop on any list of things to see in Johannesburg should be the Apartheid Museum, which showcases South Africa's history of black oppression and illustrates how far the nation has come in its move towards democracy. Visit the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which features the Sterkfontein Caves where the ancient fossil of Mrs. Ples was found in 1947. On a lighter note, a fantastic Johannesburg attraction is Gold Reef City, a 'gold-rush' fashioned theme park full of exciting thrill rides. While sightseeing in Johannesburg visitors can tour the SAB World of Beer, or take a scenic hike through the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens. Newtown Cultural Precinct's Market Theatre and Museum Africa are also Johannesburg attractions worth seeing.

Time

Local time is GMT +2.

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