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You can keep the Cape! OutUK correspondent Adrian Gillan enjoys the buzzing cultural pulse and scene in Johannesburg, South Africa's biggest and most vibrant city.

Home to 3 million, urban Johannesburg - South Africa's largest city and its economic powerhouse - is often neglected by tourists and rather unjustly. 'Joburg' or just plain 'Jozi' is also nicknamed 'Egoli', meaning "place of gold", since 40% of Earth's gold comes from here. It's also a cultural goldmine too, brimming with top museums, theatres and restaurants - plus 'gay gold' and queer culture in its scene and prides.

SA has one of the most pro-LGBT constitutions in the world, allowing gay marriage and more. That said, attitudes can lag laws so, as ever, beware. More generally, dress down, like the locals, and avoid rough or isolated areas, especially at night. Johannesburg skyline
Johannesburg skyline. Courtesy: South Africa Tourism.
Moreover, HIV is still a widespread issue here, so play extra safe. Visas are not needed for Brits on trips of up to 90 days. 1 = 18 rand approx, and will stretch far. Time difference: GMT +2 hrs, so no jet lag! Best weather: November to March, known as the Southern Summer.

TO DO

CENTRAL
One of the best ways to see Johannesburg city centre is to use a guide company such as Past Experience Tours. Their local, knowledgeable, friendly and hyper-enthusiastic team offer a range of tours, on foot and using public transport, covering Newtown; plus the often hidden architectural gems in the high-rise CBD (Central Business District) in downtown. Neighbouring Gold Reef City is one of Africa's largest theme/fun parks, hubbed around a real 19th Century gold mine. Lunch at the luxury Four Seasons Hotel, with its fab lofty terraced poolside eatery, before touring Constitution Hill, site of a former jail that once housed Gandhi and Mandela - plus SA's Constitutional Court. Enjoy the Origin Centre, for insights into the biological and cultural evolution of humans, not least via ancient cave and rock art.
NORTH
Hang out in buzzing Nelson Mandela Square, in the northern Sandton district - lunching at The Butcher Shop, famed for steaks, including springbok. Visit the chic Gallery District in Parktown North; or hunt for unique furnishings in the Design Quarter. You can eat at the Kitchen Bar or people watch across the square.
Nelson Mandela Square
Nelson Mandela Square at night. Photo: homeh.
Check out the Montecasino leisure area too. At Liliesleaf Farm, anti-Apartheid leaders - including Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu - plotted strategy, many being subsequently tried for treason following a police raid. 200-hectare Lion and Safari Park is the drive-through home to prides of lions - you can even touch and pet some hand-reared cubs that have been rejected by their mums. Also visit the Lesedi African Lodge & Cultural Village - a cluster of typical traditional villages, showcasing tribal dance and customs, plus scrummy food at its excellent buffet restaurant. Home of our ancestors, the fascinating 47,000-hectare Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site tells its 4 million years old story via fossils found here. Don't miss its award-winning Visitor Interpretation Centre at Maropeng or its world-famous Sterkfontein Caves.

SOWETO (ie SOuth WEst TOwn)
Down Soweto way, Africa's largest stadium, Soccer City, hosted the last World Cup final and offers tours all-week-round. Lunch at thronging Sakhumzi - with its tasty, healthy buffet - on famous Vilakazi Street, right next to Bishop Tutu's house. Ascend Orlando Towers, former cooling vents, for fab views, or even a Bungee Jump! Visit the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication, where the historic 1955 Congress of the People took place, resulting in the signing of the Freedom Charter - precursor to SA's current constitution. The Mandela Family House is where Mandela and family lived in the 1960s, before he went to prison - ace tours; and brimming with memorabilia. The nearby Hector Pieterson Memorial & Museum graphically documents the history of the 1976 Soweto Uprisings. Take a preconception-shattering bicycle tour with Lebo's Soweto Backpackers around friendly Soweto, with a local guide - including some of the, thankfully now few, remaining 'informal' (shanty) settlements.

TO BOOZE 'N BOP

Joburg might not be quite as much a gay destination as its southern sister Cape Town. They do however have two pride festivals each year: Johannesburg Pride in mid-October and Soweto Pride in late September.
There are also fine gay venues are scattered around town, including: Liquid Blue in 7th Street, Melville which is a very friendly, stylish lounge and restaurant; Babylon Bar in the Oxford Centre, Oxford Road, Illovo which has some sexy dancer boys and is especially busy Fridays; and Babylon Club Southlake Mall, Heuwel Ave, Centurion which is a wee drive north but is totally brimming on Saturdays. Johannesburg by night Johannesburg by night. Courtesy: South Africa Tourism.

TO STAY

Ten Bompas Hotel is a secluded boutique affair in leafy Rosebank, NW of centre, full of understated luxury; with top-notch eatery. Faircity Quatermain Hotel is an Anglo-styled hotel in the exclusive North Sandton area, complete with pool, sedate old-world lounges and an ab fab French-focused bistro, Sel et Poivre.

GETTING THERE

Virgin Atlantic 747 Virgin Atlantic (08705 747 747) flies between London Heathrow and Johannesburg daily, with Economy fares from as low as around 590 return, including taxes, offering some excellent in-flight entertainment and service.
THE LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Babylon Bar (25 Rudd Rd, Illovo, Sandton, 2196)
Babylon Gay Night Club (Cnr Lenchen Ave N & South Road, Centurion, 0146; T: +27 82 222 1562)
Butcher Shop & Grill (Sandown, Sandton, 2031; T: +27 11 784 8676; Website)
Constitution Hill (11 Kotze St; T: +27 11 381 3100; Website)
Cradle of Humankind (Paleoanthropological site about 50 km northwest of Johannesburg, in the Gauteng province; T: +27 (0)14 577 9000; Website)
Design Quarter (William Nicol Dr & Leslie Ave, Magaliessig, Sandton; T: +27 11 467 5152; Website)
Faircity Quatermain Hotel (60 West Rd S, Morningside; T: +27 11 290 0900; Website)
Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff (67 Jan Smuts Ave, Westcliff; T: +27 11 481 6000; Website)
Gold Reef City (Northern Pkwy & Data Cres, Ormonde 99-Ir; T: +27 11 248 5000; Website)
Johannesburg Pride (Website)
Kitchen Bar (6, Design Quater, Leslie Ave & William Nicol Dr, Magaliessig; T: +27 11 465 5011; Website)
Lebo's Soweto Backpackers (10823A Pooe St, Orlando, Soweto, 1804; T: +27 11 936 3444; Website)
Lesedi African Lodge & Cultural Village (R512, Lanseria, Gauteng, 1739 SA; T: +27 82 523 4539 or +27 71 507 1447; Website)
Liliesleaf Farm (7 George Ave, Rivonia; T: +27 11 803 7882; Website)
Lion and Safari Park (R512, Lanseria Rd, Broederstroom, 0240 SA; T: +27 87 150 0100; Website)
Liquid Blue (8 7th St, Melville)
Mandela House (8115 Vilakazi St & Ngakane St, Orlando West; T: +27 11 936 7754; Website)
Montecasino (Montecasino Boulevard, Fourways; T: +27 11 510 7000; Website)
Origins Centre Museum (Yale Rd & Enoch Sontonga Avenue; T: +27 11 717 4700; Website)
Orlando Power Station (Chris Hani Rd, Klipspruit 318-Iq; T: +27 71 674 4343; Website)
Sakhumzi Restaurant (6980 Vilakazi St, Orlando West, Soweto, 1804; T: +27 11 536 1379; Website)
Soweto Pride (Facebook)
Ten Bompas Hotel (10 Bompas Rd, Dunkeld West; T: +27 11 325 2442; Website)

USEFUL SITES:
www.southafrica.net
www.joburg.org.za
www.joburgtourism.com
www.jmttours.co.za

Revised November 2017.

 

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