On our first full day in Johannesburg, we decided to repeat the Cape Town formula meaning that we decided to go on a Hop On Hop Off bus tour, which left from the Park Station. We booked Uber and when we got into the car, the driver asked us whether we were sure that we wanted to go to Park Station. We kind of laughed about it and said that we were pretty sure and why was he asking us that. The driver said that he didn’t like the neighborhood and it wasn’t really safe. We were really confused. How can the area be unsafe by local standards, but something like Hop On Hop Off bus had their office there? But we drove to the Park Station and we had to drive around a bit in order to find the spot from which the bus left. When driving around Park Station, you could see why it can be considered unsafe as some of the streets were dirty and had a lot of loitering people, but from another side it was just people hurrying about their business and it was ok to walk. When at first we couldn’t find the bus stop, we suggested that we just get out of the car and walk and look for it, the driver almost cried “No!”, so it seems that at least this Uber driver was really concerned with our safety. So we drove around a bit more and finally saw the bus parked on the street.
We got tickets and a small discount by presenting Hop On Hop Off bus tickets from Cape Town and got onboard. When I researched things to do in Johannesburg, I read that the city center is quite run down and Northern Suburbs are the place to stay and they have more restaurants. I can’t say from the point of view of a local person, but as a tourist I found it to be true. The city center seemed to be quite run down and empty-looking. By this I mean that for the first time in my life I really understood what urban decay means. There were a lot of abandoned buildings with broken windows and even some buildings that looked pretty nice had broken windows. The reason for there not being many people might have been that it was Sunday and people were at home with their families and not roaming the city center.
Also in some places there were a lot of hawking going on, but some streets looked almost deserted. So I wouldn’t call Johannesburg city center scary or run down per se, but it was far from being as welcoming as Cape Town city center.
On the bus tour the only area I found interesting and would’ve loved to stay in, was Braamfontein, which seemed to have some cool restaurants and buildings. Also there were cool buildings and murals around the city as well and I think that Johannesburg has a lot of potential to become a really cool city.
We decided to stop in Gold Reef City, because it was recommended to us by the flight attendant on the flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg. That place was crazy in a very Las Vegas type of way. It had a huge building with slot machines and card games Las Vegas style as in no windows and clocks, but also an amusement park right next to it. There were shows running (Shrek the Musical among others) and it had restaurants. It had a lot of families with children and some gamblers.
It was shiny and golden and had security before you could enter the premises.
The casino wasn’t what we looked for, so we headed to the amusement park, because there was an actual mine shaft in there. So among all the kitschy and fake golden stuff, there was something real! 🙂 You needed to buy tickets to get in and separate tickets to get into the mine, but we got a pretty good discount with Hop On Hop Off tickets. I think the mine tour was interesting and the guide told us a lot about the days where Johannesburg was the gold rush place to be. You can’t go very deep into the mine as the lower levels are filled with water, but it was still interesting.
Our next stop was the Apartheid Museum, which on the map was located quite close, but we didn’t really know what kind of road led there, so we decided to wait for the Hop On Hop Off bus. After we waited for the bus for 15 min, we found out that the ride to the Apartheid Museum took about 2 minutes! 😀 It was located right across the street from the Gold Reef City Casino, so yeah, time well spent waiting for the bus. 😉
Apartheid Museum was amazing! After a couple of museums in Cape Town, which were less than stellar, this was really well done and it had a lot of material. If you wanted to see and read everything in the museum, you need 4-5 hours. If you skip most of the videos and do some selective reading, you can manage in 2 hours.
But the museum was really good and once again thought-provoking. In South Africa it is impossible to escape the apartheid history and this museum illustrates it the best.
After the museum we once again got on the bus and continued the route back to the Park Station.
It was already getting “late”. The time was around 5 o’clock in the evening and the sun would set at six, so we headed back to the hotel and decided to take the Gautrain, which was apparently the only safe method of public transportation and had a stop close to our hotel. The getting around part was pretty annoying in Johannesburg (and Cape Town for that matter) as there isn’t really a lot of public transportation and almost none that is recommended for tourists. With minibuses you need to know where you are going, show correct hand signals to stop one, plus apparently they are not very safe. There are some local trains, but they are unsafe and then there are taxis/Uber and Gautrain. Also we were advised that we can’t just randomly choose a taxi because that can be unsafe too, so you needed to stick with certain companies. Our hotel suggested Orange Taxis, Quick Cab and Zebra Cabs, but recommended to use Uber instead of them. But as I said before safety is a huge concern in South Africa for locals and tourists, but I found it hard to evaluate how unsafe it really is because we stuck to the advice and rather spent money on taxi than risk it.
So we chose Gautrain, which leaves from Park Station, but has a different entrance than the local trains. Park Station itself is mostly like any busy train/bus station anywhere in the world. Not particularly unsafe, but not cosy and has a lot of people. Gautrain runs at different intervals. This was Sunday and the interval was about 30 min. We took the Gautrain on another day as well and it was much shorter, so there were more trains running on weekdays. For Gautrain, you need to buy a card and load it with the needed amount of money. We didn’t know how many time we would use it, so the first time we just bought two cards and asked for exact amount of money on both of them, so we could get to Rosebank. The trip itself was quite comfortable and fast, but the train is full.
When we got to Rosebank, we just wanted to grab a quick bite to eat and ended up again at the Mall of Rosebank in a hamburger place called RocoMamas. The hamburgers were pretty good, but I suggest you take small fries as medium fries were huge. 🙂