Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city and its financial hub, is a city of contrasts with plenty of things to see and do. This is the hot heart of South Africa, a thriving cosmopolitan city where the past and present meet to create an unforgettable destination, where innovation, creativity, and enterprise flourish.
From glittering skyscrapers to beautiful boutique hotels, there’s something for all accommodation tastes in this town. While it may be tempting to book with one of those huge, well-known, international chains, there are so many other great — and in my opinion much better — options to choose from.
Already planning your trip to Johannesburg? Read on for my top suggestions.
1. The Residence
Attention to detail and a warm atmosphere are central to this fantastique boutique hotel. With three swimming pools (one heated), a tennis court, a gym, and a spa, as well as fireplaces in most suites, The Residence is a stunning spot where all the rooms are elegantly decorated with antique French-crystal chandeliers, dramatic velvet drapes, and Persian rugs. Every aspect of the hotel’s décor has been thoughtfully curated, with each piece hand-selected by the owners. Located in the upscale neighborhood of Houghton, the surrounding streets are full of grand suburban residences lined with charming jacaranda trees.
The Residence has something for every sensibility, from fragrant gardens to log fires for chilly days and a long, cool veranda for sunny ones. Guests start their day with a delicious breakfast buffet, including freshly squeezed fruit juices and delicacies prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients. The Residence Spa offers traditional spa treatments, a sauna, and a steam room. Sandton City — Africa’s most iconic shopping center home to over 300 of the world’s leading retail brands — is only 4 miles away and the hotel provides free private parking and a car rental service. For golf enthusiasts, the hotel is positioned within walking distance of two prestigious Johannesburg golf courses: Houghton Golf Club and Killarney Country Club. O.R. Tambo International Airport is only 30 minutes away and an airport shuttle is available, as are luxury transfers and private tours with the hotel’s in-house accredited tour guide.
The Residence has eight luxury rooms, five luxury suites (with fireplaces and hot tubs), one penthouse suite (with a Jacuzzi, outdoor shower, and outdoor spa tub), two one-bedroom suites (one with its own sauna), a pool villa, and the lavish Madiba Suite with its very own hot tub, outdoor shower, relaxation area, small library, and outdoor dining and lounge area. This is definitely a luxurious boutique hotel experience in the “City Of Gold.”
2. Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa
Once one of the great family homes in Joburg, Fairlawns Boutique Hotel & Spa was originally a 10-acre manor house, which formed part of the Oppenheimer estate. Opulent design and personalized service abound at this award-winning boutique hotel located in the affluent suburb of Sandton. Fairlawns features 41 sumptuous suites, including the two-bedroom Tree House Studio, the two-bedroom Maison Spa Suite, and Villa Moji, a self-contained two-bedroom private residence. This is a place where old-world elegance meets new-world sophistication.
Wake up to stunning views of Fairlawns’s landscaped garden and start your day with breakfast — an extensive buffet served along with à la carte options such as eggs Benedict Milanese. Afterward, enjoy a massage or treatment at the spa, or explore the beautiful gardens, where you’ll find a pretty, foliage-fringed pool surrounded by sun lounges. Alternatively, go shopping at the nearby upmarket shopping hub of Sandton. As the day draws to a close, relax in front of the fireplace in the sitting room, read a book or newspaper in the library, or watch the sunset from the terrace while sipping a sundowner. The Fairlawns’s restaurant serves an array of seasonal dishes, all prepared with local ingredients. Dine next to the pool or opt for the imposing dining room. An award-winning wine list is available to complement your meal.
The rooms are a mix of 40 suites and one exclusive-use villa. Lavish designs and luxurious furnishings make each of the spacious suites unique, with seating areas, large windows, and deluxe bathrooms.
3. Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff
Luxury, elegance, and great views. Despite being in the middle of South Africa’s largest city, the Westcliff feels like a chic hillside village. The Westcliff was originally conceived as a residential estate with nine hillside villas built into terraces on a steep, 8-acre ridge with courtyards, fountains, and gardens. And as such, it feels more like an urban resort than a city hotel — unusually spread out and linked via a winding cobbled street. This contemporary, classy, and large hotel offers panoramic views of Johannesburg and is within easy distance of some of the city’s most interesting neighborhoods.
As it was developed as a residential estate, the 117 rooms vary a great deal but have been divided into five categories. Size determines the category, but frankly, the view is more important. Try to book one of the Superior Rooms with a city view. For guaranteed views, book a room that specifies “panoramic view.”
The terraced, elevated location, with its panoramic views, is something special. The city’s hippest and most interesting neighborhoods — Maboneng, Braamfontein, Melville, and Parkhurst — are all a 15-minute drive away. The hotel facilities include an excellent spa and lap pool, two main restaurants, and an outdoor bar located near the top of the property to make the most of the views. The Parkview Golf Club is 1 mile away, Nelson Mandela Square 7 miles, and O.R. Tambo International Airport 20 miles.
4. Pablo House
If you are looking for somewhere hip to stay in Johannesburg, then this funky little guesthouse, located in one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods, is the spot for you. Melville, one of Johannesburg’s oldest residential suburbs, has always appealed to the more bohemian types. Situated on the highest point in Melville with well-appointed rooms and a great atmosphere, Pablo House offers expansive views and a central location at affordable prices.
With a great eye for contemporary art, the owners have filled the interior spaces with eye-catching paintings and bold-colored furniture. The eight rooms vary in size and vantage, but all are designed for comfort. The facilities are impressive for such a small residential-style guesthouse: a cool lounge bar, a restaurant (open to the public), and a staircase leading to a swimming pool (residents only). Service is good and they can arrange tours and transfers that are outsourced to a reputable company.
Nearby 7th Street is lined with bars that spill onto the pavement and great restaurant choices. Pablo’s is also close to important spots like Constitution Hill and the Apartheid Museum. It’s a 25-minute ride to hip and happening Maboneng. And the Rosebank Mall, if you’re into shopping, is only 15 minutes away. The airport is 40 minutes away.
5. Hallmark House Hotel
Housed in a former diamond-polishing center, the Hallmark House Hotel is a stylish and artsy place to stay in Johannesburg. Maboneng Precinct, just a few 100 meters from the hotel, is unique in South Africa: a down-at-heel industrial area that’s been regenerated and reinvented as a dynamic cultural and creative hub and one of the most exciting quarters of Johannesburg. Hallmark House is Maboneng Precinct’s first high-end accommodation and is surrounded by vibrant street art, buzzy bars, and fabulous restaurants, making it an ideal place from which to explore Johannesburg. It’s also safer than much of Jo’burg, having its own security service.
Sleek and sophisticated with a dash of urban cool, the walls are hung with contemporary abstract art and the 46 rooms, each with views of the bustling city, are billed as “industrial edge meets modern chic,” decorated with brightly printed African textiles. Breakfast is a bountiful array of homemade dishes. There’s a restaurant serving an African-inspired menu and a vibrant bar where you can mingle with like-minded travelers. The rooftop bar is the ultimate venue for glamor and style with 360-degree views over the city.
6. Vivari Hotel & Spa
Situated in a leafy valley 40 minutes from Johannesburg city center, Vivari Hotel & Spa is something a little different. Nominated for Best Luxury Small Hotel and Best Luxury Wellness Hotel at the World Travel Luxury Hotel Awards 2023, this is a place that offers tranquillity in what can be a frenetic city. A healthy lifestyle is the priority of Vivari and the hotel grounds are home to over 300 species of trees and 150 artworks from local artists. The 48 luxury rooms blend into the natural surroundings while sustainability and holistic wellness are at the heart of their ethos.
Dining at Vivari combines homely flavors, spices, organic ingredients, and authentic techniques. At their signature restaurant, Brambles, a farm-to-fork philosophy rules with ethically sourced fresh produce. You can enjoy the seasonal menus either indoors or out on the terrace under a canopy of pecan trees or perhaps indulge in rooftop cocktails while watching a mesmerizing sunset.
The Vivari Spa won the prestigious World Spa Awards for 2 years running and has a hydrotherapy suite with a steam room, an ice fountain, a heated vitality pool, and an infrared sauna cabin.
If you are looking for something really different from your trip to Johannesburg, Vivari Aesthetics, set within the grounds of the hotel, is a specialized cosmetic surgery clinic and day hospital. This is one of the only hotels in South Africa that has an accredited day hospital with state-of-the-art facilities catering specifically to cosmetic and weight-loss surgery. Vivari Aesthetics works closely with Vivari Aftercare for patients who wish to have post-surgical aftercare. Medi-Sculpt, a specialized minimally invasive cosmetic and anti-aging clinic, is also located here.
A lot of visitors leave Johannesburg off their itineraries, but I think this is a mistake. Johannesburg is probably the best place to learn about South Africa’s past and to look to its future. There’s really no better place if you want to see the modern face of South Africa and get a sense of how far the country’s come and where it’s headed.
You need to be a little strategic when choosing where to stay in Johannesburg because getting around can take a while; it’s a big, sprawling city with what can be crazy traffic. But there’s a lot of choice and hopefully I’ve given you a few suggestions to get you started.