72 Hours in Johannesburg

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Gorgeous, jacaranda-lined street somewhere in South Africa, just not Johannesburg

For someone who hasn’t so much as grabbed a Starbucks in South Africa’s largest city, I sure have spent a lot of time in its airport. This past November marked our third trip through OR Tambo and I anticipate many more transits there – Johannesburg is, for the North American traveler, the gateway to southern Africa, and if you happen to call JFK your home airport, the allure of a nonstop flight (even one on South African Airways) is significant.

But I’ve never ventured outside the airport and into the city. Sure, the first time we landed, we left the airport…to embark on a drive to Kruger National Park; on the return trip we made it to our hotel by 10pm and left the next day. The next time we were there was to connect to Mozambique, the following time to connect to Namibia.

So it is with great excitement that I am mere weeks from actually getting to see a little of Joburg. 3 days to be exact. But where to begin?

Ordinarily I’m not crazy about the New York Times’s “36 Hours In…” series – I feel like it promises a lot, and then suggests I spend most of my 36 hours having brunch somewhere. Or maybe that’s harsh – I feel like a lot of time is spent covering what I’m going to eat and the overly expensive place I should sleep, and not enough time is spent finding me actually interesting things to do (note to the many NYTimes editors reading this: that your Saturday itinerary for my hometown, Manhattan, involves 1 brunch, 1 insanely expensive dinner (show me the couple that got out of Le Coucou for $200 – I BEG OF YOU), 1 bar, 1 dance club, and oh yeah go to Ellis Island, is a travesty).

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Enjoying some time in the Blyde River Canyon which is also not Johannesburg

So I’m kind of delighted that 36 Hours in Johannesburg is giving me some good jumping-off points: yes, I fully intend to make the Apartheid Museum one of my first stops, and thanks for recommending a farmer’s market/Smorgasburg that locals go to on the weekends – that’s totally up my alley. Also, love that the hotel you recommend is exactly on my $100/night preferred budget. It’s almost like I don’t know you!

Now my spidey sense tingles when I see the word “tour,” but the things you are touring ARE things I want to see. Which means I now have to do some research into one-on-one guides for walking through Soweto and Joburg neighborhoods. I’m quite excited actually.

Now those of you who know me will know that “nightlife” is not really a thing I give a shit about. I don’t really like live music, I don’t dance, and my idea of a stellar evening is a dinner that starts at 8:30 and ends at 11, leaving me to crawl back home and go to bed. So I truly pass over the nightlife suggestions – if I need a drink, I feel certain it won’t be that difficult to find.

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Yep, still South Africa, still not Joburg.

So I have about 6 weeks to figure out what more to do with my time, where to eat, if I need to buy anything, and how I’m going to legitimately not check a bag (this would ordinarily not be a huge problem for me, but I’m lugging camera equipment so some strategy will need to be employed).

And that’s where YOU come in. Have you been to Johannesburg and do you have recommendations? It’s been ages since I’ve done any solo exploration, so I’m really looking forward to jam packing these 72 hours with as much as I possibly can and then hoping to pass out on the 15 hour flight home.

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