What to do with One Day in Johannesburg

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There aren’t many big cities in the world that I would suggest stopping in for only one day, but Johannesburg would be one of them. In fact, most visitors to the city are on a long-haul layover or merely using Johannesburg as the gateway to their African adventure. That’s not to say it isn’t a great city with lots to offer – it is. But it can certainly be done in one day. So, here’s what to do with one day in Johannesburg…

Step One: Get out of the airport

So you’ve arrived in O. R. Tambo Airport, Johannesburg — now what? If you’ve got a long layover or have one night to stay in Johannesburg, the first step to enjoying this city is to get out of the airport itself. Many travellers choose to stay overnight in the JNB airport for many reasons, but you should certainly not let fear of your safety stop you. Typically Johannesburg is considered unsafe for travellers and even locals – but as soon as you get out there and see it for yourself, you will see that much of this stereotype/misperception is a result of mass media.

Yes, Johannesburg is safe to visit. But of course like anywhere in the world, it has exceptions and areas to avoid.

Step Two: Check-in to a hotel in Sandton

Sandton is without a doubt the safest area you can position yourself in the city (if that’s still your concern). It is also the wealthiest neighbourhood in Johannesburg and perhaps all of South Africa! Here you will also find “Sandton City” – home to all the comforts of home including international shops, supermarkets and a cinema.

I would highly recommend checking yourself into The Maslow as I did twice when in South Africa this month (I loved it so much that I returned for a second stay). The hotel have a team of drivers who can collect you from the airport for an extra fee, and there is a free shuttle every 15 minutes to Sandton City (which is also just a ten minute walk up the road).

Step Three: A Day Tour to Soweto

Now to see ‘the real’ Johannesburg. Or at least, the other side to the city.

Soweto is a township just a short drive outside of Johannesburg itself. Typically it is known for being a slum of sorts and made famous for being the home to the late Nelson Mandela. Soweto was the centre of the apartheid uprisings (whereby racial segregation was abolished in South Africa), and thus has a very important significance to those that live there, as well as all South Africans as a whole.

Whilst here, be sure to visit: The Apartheid Museum; Nelson Mandela’s Home; and the Hector Pieterson Memorial. There are also a number of companies offering day tours to Soweto and it is an extremely safe way to see the township for yourself – highly recommended!

Step Four: Dining in Mandela Square

Located in Sandton city, the Nelson Mandela Square is home to some of Joburg’s best restaurants. There’s a wide selection, but if you’re after something quintessentially South African to try during your stay, be sure to make your way to The Butcher Shop (yes, they even have some veggie options).


Get a taste for South Africa by visiting the weekend Neighbourgoods market (saturdays 9:00-15:00).

Experience the African wildlife at Johannesburg Zoo.

Splash out at Montecasino.

Get a (seriously one of the best) spa treatments at Africology Spa inside The Maslow Hotel.


World of Wanderlust stayed at The Maslow Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg and flew with South African Airways on a direct flight from Perth, Australia.Β 

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    Eunice Musuamba
    May 18, 2015 at 12:48 am

    You should do it now! I’ve been living here for almost 4 months now and I love it!

    May 17, 2015 at 3:48 am

    The Gautrain is very safe….

    May 16, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Most of the time when I travel I always feel like I don’t have enough time in a place so 24 hours anywhere feels like nothing. Greart post! I do want to do a safari in South Africa but I can’t imagine a better trip then seeing Nelson Madela’s home with my mom. I agree with you the perception of safety is such a thin line, obviously if your walking in dark alleys at midnight things might happen but if you stay in well lit places with crowds while being okay then I don’t consider the place unsafe.

    May 15, 2015 at 11:52 pm

    Hello Brooke Saward,

    That was really a wonderful little travelogue by you. Hats off to you! I ama recently planning to visit SA. Good pack of Info.


    The Gilded Lifestyle
    May 14, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    As a girl from South Africa, I advise you to stay safe by not using public transport. Ask your hotel to arrange transport for you. Do not open your car windows and keep your doors locked at all times. Keep an eye on your personal belongings and your pockets. Other than the safety issue, its a lovely country…
    With regards to restaurants, I suggest Tasha’s Cafes. The food is amazing there….Melrose Arch has some fantastic restaurants with great vibes and its quite close to Sandton.

    May 13, 2015 at 11:08 am

    We just got back from a 1-day trip to Joburg (more flight time to/from Atlanta than we actually spent in the city)! Neighborgoods was one of our favorite things about Capetown when we went a few years ago so we were thrilled to find it in Joburg. The hop-on, hop-off busses are also a great way to see the city in a day, and the narrative (in a billion languages) has great information that you may not otherwise know.

    There’s also a really great foodie market called Arts on Main on Sundays. I would not recommend walking through the surrounding part of town but it was definitely a cultural experience!

    May 12, 2015 at 6:26 pm

    I was staying in Johannesburg with family, we didn’t do any of this! Must go again soon…

    May 11, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    This has made me really want to go now! It sounds like a really interesting place to visit, and definitely sounds doable in a day!

    May 11, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    Love your tips! The Apartheidsmuseum is definitely one of the best musea that I have ever seen..
    I think is’s a town that is worth a visit but you have to be well informed..Reading this blog is a good start πŸ™‚

    Kozue @ Tokyo Direct Diary
    May 11, 2015 at 11:03 am

    I’ve heard of many stories about how unsafe Johannesburg is. I think that it is very important to collect information for a trip, but it is also true that any city has many different aspects. It was interesting to read your story!

    Mijn kleine geheimpjes
    May 11, 2015 at 7:00 am

    I’ve been in South Africa for 6 weeks a few years ago and as a independant dutch girl i was curious to Jozi City. I stayed at my nephew for the first week but he didn’t allow me to go! I was a bit sad but when a South African, who lives in Jozi his whole life, tells me to stay away, it should be a wise decision not to go. He lives in Sandton and i never felt unsafe there. It’s a great area with lovely people and a nice mall. And yeah.. Butcher Boys/Shop is the best! Great meat!