There is nothing quite like sipping a handcrafted cocktail or hot beverage while watching the sun go down on the largest and most fascinating city in Africa — Johannesburg.
Johannesburg is known for many things, but not many people will tell you that it has one of the most pleasant winter climates in the world. As the Northern Hemisphere is experiencing its hottest recorded summer, we suggest venturing out to cooler climes and experiencing the City of Gold in the Southern Hemisphere in South Africa until warmer weather sets in again around October.
Colloquially known as Egoli, Johannesburg is home to over 6 million people. There is much to experience in this vast city with its hidden gems and fabulous surprises during winter — between June and September.
1. The Westcliff Hotel And Spa
This hotel is a destination in its own right. This five-star grande dame sits high in the hills of the suburb of Randburg with sweeping vistas over the city. The hotel is especially stunning in winter since the entire place caters to warmth and comfort, and the winter sun casts a beautiful light over the city. The staff makes you feel like royalty the moment you arrive. The rooms and suites are beautifully elegant with no detail overlooked. The hotel’s nature-inspired spa boasts a haven of relaxation offering a sauna, a steam room, and a selection of treatments.
We highly recommend the heavenly 90-minute “Rejuvenation Journey” to melt away any stress or jet lag. All treatment rooms are of course heated. The Flames restaurant is an experience. It is located via an elevator on the highest point of the hotel. The service and food are superb with modern fire lanterns to keep you warm and delicious and homemade mulled wine to chase away the winter chill. The Johannesburg Zoo, Parkview Golf Club, Nelson Mandela Square, and the O.R. Tambo International Airport are all within driving distance.
2. Open-Air Markets
With an average daily temperature of 64–70 degrees Fahrenheit in Johannesburg and sunshine all the way, it isn’t hard to imagine many bustling open-air markets and food stalls in this vibrant city. Adjacent to Melrose is the quaint little suburb of Birdhaven. Here, you’ll find the Arbour Café with its fantastic courtyard ambience and bottomless mimosas on Saturdays and Sundays. Right next door is The Gourmet Grocer. This speciality, artisanal market/café will feel at home anywhere in New York, Paris, or Rome. It serves proper New York bagels and a hand-picked South African wine selection — not available at mass retailers. Outside, you’ll find hot barbeque-fired snacks.
The Tin Road Craft Farmer’s Market in the suburb of Bromhof is held on the first Saturday of each month and is just the place to scour for local, high-quality crafts, produce, and food. Products are fresh and seasonal so look out for wonderful winter fruits and veggies.
If you feel like live music and bespoke cocktails on a cool, lazy Saturday, head to The Playground on Juta Street in Braamfontein. They showcase local talent and you can get delicious street food to boot here. Prison Break Market in Midrand, halfway between Johannesburg and Pretoria, is the perfect place to enjoy the ultimate gourmet food experience. Markets are not nearly as crowded in winter, so the experience is much more laid-back than from October–February.
3. Constitution Hill
At Constitution Hill, located in Braamfontein, you will viscerally feel the ghosts of thousands of bound and incarcerated souls over the past century. Some of the guides have unique perspectives on erstwhile prisoners here. Boer military leaders were imprisoned here during the South African War, including Mahatma Gandhi. It is a true testament of South Africa’s resilience and character that this site was chosen as the site for the new Constitutional Court in the mid-1990s. The “Con Court” is the last stop on this tour and its design and symbolism is truly breath-taking.
The building has won numerous global design awards and houses the biggest law library in the Southern Hemisphere. The chamber itself is spellbinding. South Africa has 11 sitting Con Court judges to represent every culture in the country and the public gallery seats are situated either at eye level of the judges’ seats or higher — making the point that they ultimately serve the people. The glass panels reflect the transparency of the Con Court and the bricks in the walls are all exposed; bricks that used to enclose and enslave the prisoners next door. Again, the reason we recommend you go in winter is the personal touch and sense of exclusivity since this place can become crowded during summer.
4. Saigon Suzy
Johannesburg is a melting pot of different cultures and if it’s a taste of the East you’re after, Saigon Suzy in Parkwood is a must-do. You’ll be immediately struck by the double-volume mural artwork as you enter. The vibe is fun and relaxed, and the service is superb. There is a downstairs restaurant as well as an upper deck outside where the hip and happening people of the city and elsewhere gather. Saigon Suzy provides an amazing winter experience since the temperatures outside on the upper deck can become sweltering in summer.
The menu is Vietnamese-inspired street food and every course is more delectable than the last. Try the sweet corn “amaizeball” fritters; the Pok Pok chicken wings, grilled Vietnamese-style; the fried calamari with cucumber, mint, chili, lime, and coriander dressing; or the pork and prawn spring rolls — in fact, everything here is excellent.
Ask for Petros as your waiter; he will make you the most amazing cocktails. The venue also offers a unique style of karaoke. The “No Tell Motel” is their karaoke venue and your party will get lost in the beautifully designed karaoke booths, completely soundproof and private for just your group. They have three rooms for this purpose. Tokyo Tina can hold up to 15 guests and costs about $54 for the first hour with $11 off your second hour. They also have two smaller rooms, Hanoi Hannah and Katana Katy, that can hold up to eight guests.
Sandton is Africa’s richest square mile with the most USD millionaires in Africa. So, if it’s a spot of bling and shop-till-you drop you’re after, Sandton is the place for you. Book the fabulous five-star Sandton Towers Hotel, situated in the heart of the action. The hotel exudes elegance and the elevators face inward, shooting you to the top at a heady speed with its glass exterior. The entire hotel is heated so it makes for great accommodation during winter. Their menu also features winter-only specials like delicious curries. The staff is superb and will go beyond to ensure your comfort. The hotel shuttle service is free and will take you to any nearby tourist attraction as well.
From the 10th floor, the hotel offers direct access to Sandton City with over 300 global-brand stores. Some of the best reasons to visit Sandton in winter are the sales! Since all winter stock is probably on sale by this time, you might get up to a 50 percent discount on genuine luxury goods and clothes. Connected to the mall is the Nelson Mandela Square piazza (so no venturing outside in the cold to access the mall), watched over by an impressive statue of the man himself. There is a plethora of dining options, but the Atrium restaurant at the Towers — with its triple-volume windows, low lighting, and wonderful ambience, service, and food — is our recommendation.
6. Sky Bars
You would think sky bars in Johannesburg might be chilly in winter but, while temperatures do drop when the sun goes down, many sky bars provide cozy blankets and ample heating to experience the city lights of lovely sunsets from up top. Again, the sunsets during winter in Johannesburg provide spectacular showstoppers, considering the difference in lighting. Thaba Eco Hotel — nestled in the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve area — offers a rooftop bar and terrace called E|Bar. The space has great views of the natural environment, making you feel more part of the bush than the city. The Living Room is part of the Maboneng district and offers a vibey urban atmosphere with superb views of the Johannesburg skyline. They also have regular live music and great cocktails.
There are many more great rooftop bars in Johannesburg, but our personal recommendation is Alto234. It is Africa’s highest urban bar, offering a truly elevated Johannesburg experience. Perched 234 meters up on the 57th floor of The Leonardo in Sandton, the modern and minimalist rooftop comes with both interior and outdoor seating, surrounded by breathtaking 360-degree views over Johannesburgs. A luxury tapas menu, along with fun, trendy, and edgy signature cocktails, premium spirits, and a great selection of wines makes this a once-in- a-lifetime experience. They provide blankets and fire torches. It’s open daily, from the Afternoon Experience to the Night Light Experience.
7. Gold Reef City
From the moment you walk into the Tsogo Sun Gold Reef City Casino and Hotel, you are surrounded by the architecture, décor, and intricate detail of a Colonial Victorian mining hotel of yore. The entire concept of Gold Reef City is to recreate as authentically as possible the buildings and ambience of the gold rush in Johannesburg during the 1800s. The four-star casino/hotel fits into this theme perfectly and the bedrooms relay the ambience of the time very well. Steeped in the grandeur of a bygone era, we are almost transported back to a time when service and hospitality were paramount and elegance was the order of the day. The Gold Reef City Theme Park is fascinating and is located just 8 kilometers (about 5 miles) from the center of Johannesburg.