Johannesburg, fondly known by locals as Jozi, Jo’burg or even the City of Gold, is South Africa’s largest and richest city with an abundance of art, culture and history just waiting to be explored. As South Africa’s most diverse, energetic and progressive city (which never sleeps), it really is the best place to experience the face of a modern South Africa – this should put a car hire Johannesburg adventure at the top of your bucket-list! In just a quick 7-minute read, learn more about why you should plan a trip to this high-intensity city, and how you can make the most of your car hire Johannesburg trip as a first-time explorer in the City of Gold!
Why Visit Johannesburg – A Brief History of Jozi
This urban, full of energy and diverse city is what makes Johannesburg the quintessential city to visit on any trip to South Africa. With a thriving economy, due to the area’s gold deposits, and home to communities which speak all of South Africa’s 11 languages, Jozi makes for a well-rounded and culturally enlightening holiday destination. Although Johannesburg was known as a political and often violent hotbed during South Africa’s historic apartheid era, today the city has a praiseworthy reputation as a cultural and historic landmark with its rich history embedded into every facet of its being.
Johannesburg boasts a plethora of museums, landmarks, and attractions that serve to educate and illustrate the atrocities of the country’s past as well as its continuous growth in all aspects of society, including the political sphere, the economy as well as in racial equality. In visiting this magnificent city on your next car hire Johannesburg trip, visitors can expect to learn all about prominent historical figures such as Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, and even Mohandas Gandhi. Popular attractions such as the Apartheid Museum, Gold Reef City and Constitution Hill offer snapshots into the important attributes of Johannesburg’s history while other prominent landmark’s like Mandela’s House serves to remind locals and visitors alike about the important impact Mandela had on not only the city, but the entire country.
However, despite Johannesburg’s reputation as a city rich with history and stories from the past, the City of Gold has in recent years also evolved into a vibrant urban centre with a buzzing art and fashion scene. Johannesburg is home to some of the best boutique fashion, bohemian art, hip music and international cuisine the country has to offer – it is a hotspot for international investment which makes it a fast-paced and ever-evolving city which shows a different side of itself with each and every visit! Keep reading to learn more about just how you can make the most of your first ever car hire Johannesburg visit, including the main attractions you don’t want to miss, a local’s guide on staying safe in a notoriously “dangerous” city, as well as how to adapt to the culture and customs of this vibrant oasis as an outsider in your car hire Johannesburg!
Jo’burg’s Unmissable Attractions
The infamous Jozi attracts every kind of person under the sun, from history and art lovers, to dancers, musicians and even tree huggers (since its home to the largest urban forest in the world!). There’s plenty to do and to see in a city with endless possibilities, from exploring the historical injustices embedded in South Africa’s history, to experiencing various South African cultures like never before, your car hire Johannesburg trip will be one to remember! Be sure to check out as many of these unmissable Jozi attractions as possible – with a set of wheels from your trusted Around About Cars rental agency, getting around the City of Gold has never been easier!
1. Cruise down Soweto’s Vilakazi Street
Up until 2002, Soweto was an entirely separate municipality from the City of Johannesburg, and during the apartheid era, which ended in 1994, Soweto was also the largest city in the country to have a population made up entirely of black South Africans. Today, as the country’s old township, Soweto has become the epicentre for many of the important turning pints in our country’s history – including producing some of not only the country’s, but the world’s most prominent leaders and influential citizens. The most famous place in Soweto however, happens to be Vilakazi Street – the only street in the world to have been home to two Nobel Peace Prize Winners: Nelson Mandela, as well as Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.
Take a day trip to the legendary Vilakazi Street and pay a visit to Nelson Mandela’s former home which has since been restored as a museum, or drive by Archbishop Tutu’s home in which he still resides. Vilakazi Street is also the location of the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, dedicated to and names after a schoolboy who was killed during the infamous Soweto uprising on the 16th of June 1976. Vilakazi Street not only offers its visitors a look into some of the key turning points in South African history, but also offers a unique perspective on the lives of the majority of South Africans who are so often excluded from the glamorous narrative of vacationing in South Africa.
2. Wander Around Sub-Saharan Africa’s Largest Art Gallery – The JAG in Joubert Park
If you haven’t got much time to spare during your car hire Johannesburg trip, the Johannesburg Art Gallery, located in the historic Joubert Park, should still be at the top of the list when it comes to cultural experiences in the City of Gold. The Johannesburg Art Gallery boasts over 9000 works of art which are displayed throughout the magnificent building’s halls and gardens, making it one of the largest public collections of art and sculpture in the whole of the African continent. Make the most of your next car hire Johannesburg adventure by taking a trip to the JAG, which displays work by both international and local artists, with some work dating as far back as the 17th century!
3. Maboneng: The City of Gold’s Creative Hub
Located in the city’s most innovative suburb, with a plethora of unique cafes and restaurants, surging nightlife and enviable shopping opportunities, the Maboneng Precinct has long been and remains a wildly popular urban development. Be sure to head down here on Sundays or the first Thursday of each month to see the hustle and bustle in action. We’d recommend popping by Arts on Main, a multi-use facility which hosts several shops, cafes and galleries, and which is also the host of the weekly Market on Main – a lively and culturally invigorating weekly marketplace.
You can also visit Maboneng to witness some incredible street art, produced by some of the world’s most talented individuals like South African artists Falko, which adorns the precinct walls! Though Maboneng is the best place to go to experience the best of South Africa’s local contemporary art, be sure to also make time for a refuel on your car hire Johannesburg adventure, by popping into one of the local restaurants in the area like The Blackanese of Pata Pata – our personal recommendations!
4. Visit the Home of our Ancestors: The Cradle of Humankind
Internationally recognised as the place where humankind began, the cradle of humankind naturally makes the short list of places to visit when you find yourself in the City of Gold. First discovered in 1924, the Australopithecus africanus – the first ever hominid fossil, is on display for the education and enjoyment of those who visit the Maorpeng Visitor Centre. Just a swift 40-minute drive in your trusty Around About Cars car hire Johannesburg rental form the city, the Cradle of Humankind, offers much to be explored; the UNESCO World Heritage site hosts 13 excavation sites as well as the Sterkfontein Caves which is home to the longest continuing paleoanthropological digs in the world.
Take note that though both sites, the Maropeng Visitor Centre and the UNESCO World Heritage site, are situated on the same road, they are located about 10km (6mi) apart, making the Cradle of Humankind and the whole anthropological and archaeological experience a full-day activity as there is lots to see and do! One of the most popular activities includes visiting the Lion and safari Park, an animal sanctuary which forms a part of the World Heritage site where visitors can sign up for a guided game drive or traverse the park in their very own car hire Johannesburg vehicle.
5. Recount South Africa’s Rich History at Constitution Hill
A living museum and the location of South Africa’s constitutional court, Constitution Hill serves as a symbol of transformation from the country’s past, to the country’s present and future. Originally operating as a prison and military fort, today Constitution Hill immortalises South Africa’s long road to democracy and all the power struggles that come with it. The landmark’s exhibitions take place across four locations within one compound, namely; the Old For (a once whites-only prison), the Number Four Jail (a once non-whites only jail), the Women’s Jail, as well as the Awaiting Trial Block which is now the constitutional court.
Constitution Hill offers a vast array of recounted experiences, untold stories and memorabilia from South Africa’s infamous apartheid era, in fact, many notable figures such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were all prisoners here at one point, along with thousands of others (most of whom were wrongfully incarcerated – including children). Besides its grim retelling of history, Constitution Hill is also famed for its art collection and celebration of contemporary South African storytelling through regular events and concerts on the museum grounds.
Staying Safe in The City of Gold
Many visitors to the City of Gold are concerned about their safety before and during their visit, and for good reason – Johannesburg has earned itself a bit of a bad rep over the last few decades as a hub for gang violence and petty crimes against tourists which mostly consist of muggings and other forms of theft. However, there is no need to be alarmed by this if your practice basic common sense and are aware of your surroundings. Like any big city in the world, Jozi has its fair share of petty criminals and malicious crime syndicates, but this should not put you off making the most of your car hire Johannesburg trip!
In short, is Jo’burg safe to visit? Yes, of course. The slightly longer answer is: also yes, but naturally some areas are safer than others. Areas like the northern suburbs are completely safe to wander around in, however if you find yourself in an area which is considered to be slightly less safe for tourists, just practice basic street safety by not carrying obscene amounts of cash on you, or valuable items (like DSLR cameras or expensive watches), around your neck or wrists. If you’re really sceptical and concerned for your safety, hire local tour guides to take you around the lesser safe districts and avoid opportunistic theft or petty crime traps that are usually targeted at tourists.
A Brief Introduction to the Culture & Customs
South Africa, being one of the most diverse populations in the world, and Johannesburg, hosting nearly all of South Africa’s 11 ethnic groups, naturally comes with a rich culture and customs to bear in mind when moving or interacting in and around the city. Although English is widely spoken among many of Jozi’s residents, other languages including Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa and Afrikaans are widely spoken as well, in fact you may witness many locals switching between two or more languages in conversation, but this should not cause any language barrier concerns. However, to minimize risk of confusion or appearing too much like a tourist, remembering a few key phrases may be useful:
• “Sawubona” is the Zulu word for “Hello”, this is also “Hallo” in Afrikaans, and “Molo” in Xhosa.
• “Dankie” is the Afrikaans word for “thank you, this is also “ngiyabonga” in Zulu, and “ndiyabulela” in Xosa.
• A useful phrase used throughout the region’s languages is “howzit”, which is slang for “how are you?” or “what’s up?” – use this to be friendly or demonstrate that you are familiar with a small portion of the region’s casual conversation customs!
Use this short and comprehensive guide to aid you on your upcoming car hire Johannesburg adventure, and rest assured that Around About Cars can get you around safe and sound whilst also providing you with everything you need to know to make the most of your next car hire Johannesburg trip!