9 unusual things to do on a Johannesburg layover

Posted on April 5, 2015 by in TOP Travel Destinations

Trip Index (what we have published so far):

Photo Review Lisbon, Portugal

15 awesome things to do in Stone Town, Zanzibar – or is this the best island in the Indian Ocean?

Top 10 things to do in Nairobi and how to survive one of Africa’s most dangerous cities with ease

Flight Review Ryanair Marrakech (RAK) to London-Stansted (STN)

Wizz Air Flight Review London Luton (LTN) to Prague (PRG)

Photo Review Jardin Majorelle Marrakech, Morrocco

TAP Premium Lounge at Lisbon Airport Review

Goree Island (Île de Gorée) Dakar Review

TAP Portugal Economy Class Review Dakar (DKR) to Lisbon (LIS) and on to Marrakech (RAK), TP1480 / TP1451

TOP 13 things to do and see in Dakar, Senegal

Courtesy of my ‘extended layover’ with South African Airways, I had the chance to spend a day exploring Johannesburg.


There is no other way to say this – Johannesburg is a dangerous city! Even to the not-so-well-informed visitor, it will be quickly apparent as to why.

However, I also believe that if you follow certain safety rules, you will be fine 99.9% of the time. Virtually perfect protection:

– Rent a car and always know 100% where you are – you can’t make a mistake here, especially at night.

– Make sure your phone is charged and has reception BEFORE you go.

– Lock your car doors and hide valuables in your car while you drive.

– If you are in a sketchy neighborhood, think twice about stopping too long at a red light at night – don’t make yourself (or your car) a target.

– When parking, make sure you can see what’s around you. Ensure that you have an ‘escape plan’ before you leave a building to walk to your car.


Exchanging money took me 30 minutes at a local bank – 25 minutes were spent on the paperwork of exchanging $20 into South African rand.

Price Level

With the South African rand at 1:12 to the US dollar, South Africa is incredibly cheap. Everything feels like half off. Artisan espresso for $1.50 and meals for $4. Everything at half price. Plus the quality of fresh food in South Africa is fantastic.

Now with these words, here is what I suggest as to do’s for a layover:

Uber-cool Maboneng Precinct

This ultra-trendy neighborhood shows what South Africa can do best – take a dangerous, beaten down inner city neighborhood and rejuvenate it. It’s just a couple of city blocks in total, but the new apartments (inside old industrial buildings), the cuisines and atmosphere offered are all fantastic.

It’s like an early stage Berlin Mitte, but in an area where you’d probably fear for your life after dark.

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I visited on a Monday morning, but I think on a late afternoon at the weekend, this place will fully shine. Don’t miss it.

Apartheid Museum

This modern museum details the history of apartheid and South Africa’s late peace champion Nelson Mandela. It is very well done and convincingly paints the picture of these dark times. There are tons of real-life exhibitions, videos and collections.

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It’s a great way to spend 1-2 hours to learn about South Africa’s history.

Downtown Johannesburg

Downtown Johannesburg is a rather dangerous affair. The western end has some cool government buildings that make it worth driving through or stopping by.

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44 Stanley

44 Stanley sounds just like an address, but it’s an old industrial warehouse complex in Johannesburg. It has been rejuvenated with vigor and now houses an artsy collection of coffee shops, restaurants and retail shops. Of course it comes with private security and once inside you won’t believe it is the same Johannesburg that you just walked or drove through.

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It is a cool oasis in a city that sometimes seems too scared to do anything.

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My favorites here include:

Bean There Coffee Company

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Vovo Telo

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Botanical Gardens

The Johannesburg Botanical Gardens are a peaceful retreat in a posh environment.

Fresh Earth Food Store in Gauteng

If you like organic food in a relaxed atmosphere, then come here (it’s close to the Botanical Gardens). Lots of vegetarian options will make your day!

Melville neighborhood, Gauteng

Stroll a little further inside this super-safe neighborhood to discover the beauty of Northern Johannesburg. On a sunny day, you will fall in love with this place.

If you are looking for even more inspiration for a day trip to Johannesburg, then check out my Foursquare list.

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