Johannesburg is about money. It's a city built on dreams of great wealth - literally built on gold. And while the gold mines are now on the outskirts of the city itself, it is money that drives this vibrant city that is widely accepted to be the economic powerhouse of Africa. Not many visitors actually put Johannesburg on their itineraries but most end up spending a day or two here anyway, as it is the main air traffic hub of southern Africa - in fact, of Africa. And guess what? After initially whingeing to their travel agents about having to spend a whole day here, many want to stay longer. Johannesburg has had very bad press. Sure - it's not Utopia, and it's a city where you need to keep your wits about you and preferably not much else, but it's not the criminalised war zone that's been portrayed in the media. And it's a truly vibey place.
If you like cities, you'll love Johannesburg. It's been through a number of incarnations and - at the moment - it's poised on the brink of becoming a truly cosmopolitan African city. While most business moved to the leafy northern suburbs from the CBD (Central Business District) in the 80s and 90s, the inner city is slowly reviving and within a few years it's likely to be a thriving urban environment. The Newtown District, with the Market Theatre, Museum Afrika and the newly constructed Nelson Mandela Bridge, is the epicentre of the urban revival. There is a lot to do in Johannesburg - mainly of the urban and cultural bent but there are plenty of outdoor escapes. One of the most popular day trips in Johannesburg is a tour of Soweto, where you can visit struggle monuments, artists in their studios or a range of informal taverns and music venues.
A similar tour, but offering a glimpse into a totally different type of urban community is that of Alex - or Alexandria Township. While also a black township, Alex is on the fringes of the very fashionable and expensive northern suburbs and grew organically to become the place it is now, which is in stark contrast to the engineered Soweto with its rows and rows of identical houses.
There are loads of interesting museums, the most notable of which are Museum Africa and the Apartheid Museum at Gold Reef City, which is an otherwise rather kitsch, but fun, theme park centred on an old gold mine. Golf courses aplenty will keep even the most avid grass addict happy. You could watch the dancing Lipizzaner stallions at Kyalami - the only operation of its kind other than the Spanish Riding School in Vienna . It's a great outing on a Sunday morning.
Or you could go for a ride in a hot air balloon , take a scenic flight in a vintage aircraft, or even do a short paddle on the Crocodile River. You could try your hand at skydiving, sandboard down a mine dump (big artificial dune made of mine tailings) or rapp-jump a skyscraper. You see - adventure doesn't really need the great outdoors.
And - this is Johannesburg, after all - you could go shopping. Big Time! And if your credit card survives the many tantalising malls and you have money to throw away, you could have a flutter at one of a number of casinos. And Sun City , a world renowned gambling complex with one of the best golf courses in the country, is only about an hour's drive away.
But the best thing about Johannesburg is its central position. It's just a hop, skip and a jump to the marvellous game lodges of Mpumalanga, Pilanesburg or Madikwe, the fascinating Cradle of Humankind, where you can muse on your origins, or the lovely relaxing and scenic Magaliesberg. Pretoria, with its many museums and historical buildings, great restaurants and even more interesting peripheral destinations, is just a half hour's drive away.
Article courtesy of Avis South African Magazine.
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