From sweeping views from Africa's tallest building to the many excellent restaurants and bars in the area, plus shopping aplenty and contemporary African art worth your while, Sandton is surprisingly well-rounded for such a business-centric district.
Keep reading for our comprehensive guide to the top attractions within walking distance from the Sandton Gautrain station. See our Gautrain guide to Rosebank here.
AFRICA'S RICHEST SQUARE MILEYou’ll know Sandton Central by its gleaming high-rise buildings that tower above the suburb. Just over 50 years ago the Sandton business district was little more than rolling farmland dotted with tea houses and a polo club. Today it's still thought of as the economic hub of South Africa because it is home to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) and the location for the headquarters of many of Africa’s biggest companies, who've over the years transformed the skyline with ever-taller glass and concrete skyscrapers.
Sandton is not all business though. It's a shopping mecca flocked to by many of the city's fashion-forward, and there's a massive selection of trendy restaurants and bars to choose from too. The huge, interlinked malls of Sandton City, Nelson Mandela Square, Legacy Corner and Michelangelo Towers together make up one of the biggest shopping precincts on the continent, while in recent years Sandton's outdoor space has much improved with plenty more spaces for al fresco dining. The district's green belt, the Mushroom Farm Park, has seen a bit of a dip with maintenance lately, but it is a secure green space if you need a breather from buildings.
GETTING AROUNDThe Sandton Gautrain station sits right in the heart of the Sandton Central business district, at the corner of West Street and Rivonia Road, and all of central Sandton's biggest attractions lie within an easy 10-minute walk.
Turn left out of the station and the entrance to Nelson Mandela Square will be one block away on the left. One more block down West Street is Maude Street where you'll find The Marc complex with its restaurants, bars and shops, and the impressive skyscraper The Leonardo, Africa's tallest building. For some respite from the concrete sprawl, cross over West Street when you come out of the station and follow Rivonia Road down to Mushroom Farm Park.
The Gautrain's handy midi-bus network will get you even further afield to Fourways, Gallo Manor, Randburg and Rivonia. See the routes here.
CONTEMPORARY ART STOPS
Africa's tallest building, The Leonardo was designed with art in mind: over 100 artists were commissioned to create works especially for the building, which contains almost 1,500 unique artworks by African contemporary artists. You can join a guided art tour to see the interesting collection first-hand, including work by local artists Mbongeni Buthelezi, Marcus Neustetter and Bronwyn Lace. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make a booking, tickets cost R200 p.p.
For more contemporary art by both emerging and mid-career artists, visit Artyli Gallery at Nelson Mandela Square – a mere five-minute walk from Gautrain's Sandton station – while the Sanlam Art Lounge shows works from the celebrated Sanlam art collection as well as pieces belonging to private collectors. In and around the piazza that surrounds Rand Merchant Bank's headquarters on Fredman Drive is the RMB Think Precinct, a small-scale, open-air sculpture garden that has been designed as a place where harried Sandton office workers can come take a seat outside, admire some art, and let their minds wander.
DRINK IN THE VIEW
Art is not all that makes the versatile The Leonardo special. At 234 metres tall, it's replaced the iconic Carlton Centre in the Joburg City Centre as Africa's tallest building. Make no mistake, the views from fine-dining restaurant Aurum and the more casual Octo Bar, both on the seventh floor, are wonderful, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a lookout more spectacular than the sky bar, Alto234 – Africa's highest urban bar. Prior booking for Alto234 is essential.
Just down the hill from Sandton City at the corner of Alice Lane and 5th Street is the Alice Lane Precinct, a neatly contained walkable precinct that combines soaring office blocks with a well-designed and shady piazza. The main reason to head there is to admire one of the best sunset views to be found anywhere in Sandton from the terrace at the acclaimed The Grillhouse restaurant. A perfectly seared steak from this Joburg institution won't hurt. Just across the road is the Sandton Sun Hotel, whose rooftop bar and restaurant San Deck is another sundowner favourite.
SERIOUSLY FINE DINING AT THE MARC
Down the road from The Leonardo on Maude Street is The Marc, a popular place for al fresco dining with loads of enticing options including the fun and friendly Wok n Roll with its modern Asian fare and Ribs & Burgers for a casual, lip-smacking lunch.
If you favour Champagne with your pizza, on the other hand, David Higgs's knockout restaurant Saint draws a fashionable crowd and serves fantastic Italian food, to boot. Bring an appetite and a budget to match. The pizza here, fresh from the gold mosaic pizza ovens, takes inspiration from Milan’s pizza masters. Also on offer are gnocchi and risotto and plenty of dishes prepared from Higgs’s favourite kitchen equipment, a live fire grill, that gives a smokey flavour and crispness to everything from vegetables to meats.
Higgs's other swanky spot for the in-crowd, Zioux (pronounced “Zoo”) was given a 1-star in the 2023 Eat Out Awards, and we agree it's well worth your visit (although we suggest you read our We Eat Out article; a snapshot of our team’s favourite restaurants to eat out in Joburg – and all of them have 5 In Your Pocket stars). The menu is distinctly Latin American in flavour, mixing Mexican and Peruvian influences that are not often found in Joburg. Ceviche and other raw and marinated dishes are a major feature, listed alongside dainty tacos and other delectable bites designed for sharing.
UNWIND THIS WAY
A green hideaway in the heart of Sandton Central, the small Mushroom Farm Park with its playground, hilly landscaped lawns and an outdoor gym is popular with families for weekend picnics. Making it even more attractive is the restaurant-bar Truffles on the Park which looks out over this lovely green space. Set over two levels, Truffles on the Park has an upper terrace and below, opening directly into the park, a beach-style beer garden. A fun place for lunch and afternoon drinks on a sunny afternoon.
Around a 10-minute Uber or Bolt ride from Santon City, the Sandton Field and Study Centre is another of Sandton's rare green spaces, and a total gem. This is where the delightful Field Market is held with its food trucks, live music and local handmade gift stalls that pop up in the park. A shorter drive from here, you'll find Milk Bar at George Lea Park (Sandton Sports Club), a great spot for watching sports on TV with a crowd, or for sundowners.
And if your idea of unwinding equals luxury spoils, the Legacy Balance Spa at The Leonardo is a welcome respite within the bustling central Sandton. Seven Villa Hotel & Spa is another sanctuary from the busy city with its secluded outdoor heated pool and deluxe spa.
Sandton is a shopping capital, with the biggest and glitziest shopping malls where you can pick up everything from chic, local designer handbags to quirky South African souvenirs.
Sandton City and Nelson Mandela Square are where you'll find a range of popular and high-street fashion outlets like Zara and Country Road. For fantastic local flair, Africa Rise on the second floor is a must-visit for contemporary African design. Edgy Joburg denim brand AFRIKANSWISS, knitwear designer Mille Collines and The Bam Collective's striking silhouettes are all stocked here. There's also a Ster-Kinekor cinema and an Exclusive Books outlet at these malls, plus plenty of the usual suspects, and look out for Hamleys if you've got kids in tow – easily Gauteng's most fun toy shop.
Connecting Sandton City to the Sandton Sun Hotel, The Diamond Walk is aptly named for the international designer brands that congregate there, from Gucci and Louis Vuitton to Jimmy Choo, Dolce & Gabbana and more. Keeping you in similar high fashion, the Legacy Corner and Michelangelo Towers shopping complexes (adjoining Nelson Mandela Square) also offer a high concentration of luxury brands, local and international alike.
HAVE (ANOTHER) BITE
Once you've shopped to your heart's content, settle in for a meal at one of the many restaurants on Nelson Mandela Square and watch as locals and visitors line up to take a picture with the huge statue of Madiba. Sushi restaurant The Big Mouth, the plush pink tashas café, the Butcher Shop & Grill (for the hungrier sort) and long-running Greek restaurant Pappas on the Square are all firm favourites.
Elevated above the mall, Tang restaurant's excellent Asian-style cuisine is a taste of Joburg's high life. This isn't a quick lunch stop, mind you, so make sure you're truly shopped out before you arrive. Then, prepare for a culinary celebration. If something of the baked variety (with less commitment required) is what you're after, you can do no better than fine pâtisserie and boulangerie Just Teddy. Their buttery brioche buns are particularly good, and their ‘lobster royale’ truly decadent. The upmarket Pigalle is an urban Baroque hideout at Michelangelo Towers serving up peri-peri Mozambican-style chicken and exceptional seafood.
A five-minute drive from Sandton City, just off Parkmore's 11th Street, Banchan is a petite, unassuming and authentically family-run Korean restaurant. It's ideal for groups of four or more so you can sample most of the items on the menu.
Naturally, Sandton suffers no lack when it comes to places to stay. The old-worldly charm of Sandton Towers has hosted kings, presidents and the CEO set, and a luxe experience awaits you at this legendary hotel where you'll be nothing if not superbly looked after. Next door the Sandton Sun attracts a younger crowd in search of fun. A chic business hotel with art-adorned walls, we recommend booking a terrace room at DaVinci Hotel & Suites to enjoy the skyline view and observe the pool deck goings-on. The sophisticated Radisson Blu Sandton sits in the heart of the district and is a great option for shorter stays, with its signature restaurant Vivace (unusually popular for a business hotel, which should tell you something) on site.
Back to the old world, Sandton’s oldest hotel is the Protea Hotel Balalaika Sandton – older than the business district itself – and, while large, retains its original countryside feel. For longer visits, the enormous @Sandton Hotel is built around an enclosed precinct complete with stylish rooms, a private gym, clubhouse, whisky and cigar lounge, and the well-stocked wonderland that is @Deli and the hotel's own restaurant on site – everything you need to feel perfectly at home, and then some.
Sandton's nightlife is a real mixed bag, with unique restaurants seamlessly transforming into vibrant party spots. Recent years witnessed changes in the club scene, bidding farewell to stalwarts like Black Door and the beloved Taboo after an impressive 19-year run. But fear not, the pulse of Sandton's nightlife still beats strong.
One place to start is 24 Central. The Greenhouse, a restaurant and bar adorned with plush green velvet seating and suspended leaves, may sound like a dining spot, but after hours, it metamorphoses into a hotspot for deep house enthusiasts. Catch top-notch DJs like Lelowhatsgood, 5fm's Miss Bee, and even Grammy award-winner Black Coffee. Next door, a restaurant flaunts an Insta-worthy archway of wines – a must-see for the curious. The cuisine at Solo Sandton leans towards upmarket contemporary dining (excellent for date nights and special events) and with the setting upping the ante, it's a place you won't regret visiting. For a glimpse of Joburg's elite, Monarch is the place to be – whether it's a boozy brunch or a night out dressed to the nines and to the dress code, capturing the essence of Sandton perfectly.
Still on the prowl for a memorable night out? Head to ONYX at Michaelangelo Towers – the epitome of exclusivity and opulence. For a more laid-back but musically charged experience, check out Maracanã where house music enthusiasts can revel in the beats while Booth serves up sparklers and top-shelf Champagne and cognac.
HOW TO USE THE GAUTRAINPay for your Gautrain and midi-bus trips using a contactless bank card by simply swiping in and out of the turnstiles at stations and tapping the touchpoint on the midi-bus when you enter. Alternatively, buy a Swift card at the station and top it up with credit to pay for your trips.
The Sandton Gautrain Station opens at 05:06 and closes at 21:20. The first northbound train departs the station at 05:37 (05:38 on weekends) and the last at 20:38, while the first southbound train leaves at 05:59 (06:00 on weekends) and the last at 21:10 (21:04 on weekends). Trains leave every 10 minutes during weekday peak rush hours and every 20 minutes during off-peak hours. On weekends trains depart every 20-30 minutes.
Download the Gautrain app for real-time updates on when the next Gautrain and midi-bus is due or find the schedule online at gautrain.co.za. For a helpful overview, check out our guide to using the Gautrain here.