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Johannesburg is a sprawling city. Although it does have a definable centre (the inner-city central business district or CBD), many think of the northern suburb of Sandton as the city’s new commercial centre. Still, urban life tends to spread across various suburbs, each with its own distinct identity and style. Johannesburg has a large public transport system, although it doesn’t reach nearly as many places as we would like and it is not always reliable. However, the city's transport network is currently (and constantly) being upgraded and services like the Gautrain have proven particularly popular. Depending on the length of your stay most visitors will find that renting a car makes life easier - outside the city centre there are entire neighbourhoods that can be difficult to reach with public transport, and the situation becomes even more trying if you want to head into the countryside.
Driving in JohannesburgTo really get around Johannesburg easily you need a car - it’s as simple as that. Shop around and book in advance, and it won’t break the bank. Buy a good map of the city and plan your route before you set off and be prepared to practice a lot of defensive driving! Google Maps provides detailed directions and route information on South Africa, handy if you are travelling with your smart phone/tablet. For conventional (i.e paperback) detailed road maps of South Africa and neighbouring countries Exclusive Books has a great range.
There are many car rental companies operating from the airports and all the major global brands such as Hertz, Europcar, Avis, Sixt etc are represented. There are also a number of car rental companies based outside the Gautrain station in Sandton.
Long distance buses and trains
Most destinations in South Africa, and indeed much of the African continent, can be reached by bus directly from Johannesburg. Most long distance buses and trains leave from Park Station.
- Baz Bus
- Blue Train
- City to City
- Park Station
- Premier Classe Train
- Rovos Rail
- Shosholoza Meyl train
Public TransportMuch of the city’s new public-transport infrastructure, such as the Gautrain rapid-rail and Rea Vaya bus service, is safe, efficient and relatively easy to navigate. The Gautrain is most useful for getting between Sandton, Rosebank and Park Station and its network of feeder buses puts some of the suburbs, and particularly Monetcasino, within easier reach for non-motorists. The other great selling point of the Gautrain is its quick link to O.R.Tambo airport - just 15 minutes flat from Sandton station. The Rea Vaya bus is a steadily developing network of buses which links the inner-city with Soweto and western suburbs such as Aukland Park. With a circular route through the city it is a particularly useful mode of transport for those who want to explore the City Centre without a car.
More adventurous visitors will find they can get almost anywhere if they are willing to brave the infamous minibus taxi network, although it helps to swot up on the confusing taxi hand signals beforehand. Metered taxis and tuk tuks provide additional transport options for those without their own wheels.
- e-Tuk Tuk
- Metered taxis
- Minibus taxi hand signs
- Minibus taxis
- Rea Vaya
- Shesha Tuks
Transfers, sightseeing bus and tour servicesIf you don't want to go it alone book a chauffeur or personalised tour and transfer service. Tour services can be arranged with cars, mini-buses or even tuk tuks and customised to suite your needs with interpreters, concierge and shopping and delivery services.
Metered TaxisMetered taxis in Johannesburg are expensive but essential if you plan a wild night out. Except for outside hotels, there are very few places where you can hail a taxi in the street. It is best to call and book in advance. Many taxis do not use meters, so arrange a price at the start of your trip. From Sandton City to Parkhurst or Greenside, expect to pay around R150.
For metered taxis try:
ORANGE CABS tel. 0861 700 222, www.orangecab.co.za
QUICK CAB tel. 0861 665 566, www.myquickcab.co.za
ZEBRA CABS tel. 0861 105 105, www.zebracabs.co.za
UBERSince its launch in late 2014 the smart phone taxi app Uber has revolutionised the local taxi industry by providing a safe, quick and reliable system that is much more competitively priced than most taxi companies in Johannesburg. If you have not already signed up to the app, use our discount count JHBINYOURPOCKET to get R200 off your first ride.
CyclingCycling is a hugely favoured pastime here, but with its relative lack of cycle lanes and attention to safety the city is not always safe for cyclists. The Johannesburg Urban Cyclists Association (JUCA) promotes and defends the use of a bicycle as a day-to-day transport solution and has been part of the campaign to make Joburg bike-friendly. Their efforts have already seen success with bike lanes installed in urban areas such as Braamfontein and parts of Soweto and more are on the way in the city's business hub Sandton. JUCA publishes a Joburg Bicycle map available at www.juca.org.za
Much of Johannesburg, especially the northern suburbs, is designed for cars rather than pedestrians and distances can be long and uninteresting. However, during the day the heavily built up areas of the City Centre - particularly the elegant Mining District and Braamfontein - are easily navigated, and arguably best enjoyed, on foot. Some of Joburg's prettier neighbourhoods such as Melville or Parkhurst are also nice to explore on two feet.
If you choose to walk do so in daylight hours, and don't flash your valuables. Try to avoid deserted streets. Do not attempt to walk through the central Joburg areas of Hillbrow, Berea, Joubert Park and Yeoville without a local guide and crossing the bridges over the rail tracks from the CBD to Braamfontein after dark is also highly discouraged.
Keep your wits about you and try to stay street smart and you may find this a surprisingly nice city to stroll in. Although Joburg has a reputation for crime, the biggest dangers to pedestrians in this city are often the cars. Many Joburgers become completely oblivious to the existence of the rest of humanity as soon as they get behind the wheel. Do not automatically expect drivers to stop to let you cross, even if they are at a red light, and be especially cautious near major roads.
Navigating the cityNavigating the city can sometime be tricky. Street signs are not always visible, and many addresses are given as the corner of two streets rather than as a numbered single-street address. Always check whether numbered street names, such as 1st or 2nd, are streets or avenues.
Street names, especially those of major thoroughfares, are easily changed and the installation of new street signs does not always keep pace with the renaming. Some streets, and even towns, have two names: the pre-democracy (generally Afrikaans) name and the post-apartheid moniker. Pretoria, the country’s capital and Joburg’s neighbour, is now in the municipality of Tshwane, and you will sometimes hear Pretoria referred to as Tshwane. The R24 highway that runs from the city centre all the way to O.R. Tambo International Airport was recently renamed Albertina Sisulu Road in honour of the anti-apartheid struggle hero.
Some days it seems as if the most aptly named street in the city is Error Street in the inner city.