A Budget Traveller's Guide to Johannesburg

Constitution Hill is one of the most visited historical sites in Johannesburg | Courtesy of Constitution Hill
Constitution Hill is one of the most visited historical sites in Johannesburg | Courtesy of Constitution Hill
Photo of Carina Claassens
12 October 2017

Johannesburg is considered to be one of South Africa’s most expensive cities but can be a very affordable destination if you plan accordingly. From accommodation to food and everything in between, here’s our ultimate guide to visiting Johannesburg on a budget.

Don’t spend all your money on getting around

There’s no need to brave the city’s intimidating traffic if you don’t have to travel long distances. Parking can also be a nightmare (especially in the inner city) so your best bet is Uber, or make use of other modes of public transport. The Gautrain, a rapid railway system that connects major points in and around the city, is your best way to travel to and from the airport. A Gautrain card costs R16 ($1.20) while a trip from the airport to Sandton will cost an additional R151 ($11.50). From there you can get an Uber or ride the Gautrain or Rea Vaya bus services to your next destination. Rea Vaya fares start at R7 ($0.50) while a smartcard costs R28 ($2) and needs to be topped up to travel.

As an alternative, there’s the option of renting a car, but chances are you won’t be using it that often and you’ll no doubt end up spending more than you bargained for on petrol, parking and rental fees. Car rental is a fantastic option if touring the country, but when it comes to experiencing the inner city you won’t have much use for a personal vehicle.

Maboneng is one of the trendiest neighbourhoods in the city and once there you'll have endless options of things to see and do | ©Mathurin Le Goff/Flickr

Skip the luxury accommodation and get to know the city

Travellers are able to stay at very reasonable rates in pretty much every part of the city and if you’re travelling on a budget, give the five-star hotels a skip. Opt for Airbnb rentals, guest houses or backpackers instead, as they’re affordable and will give you a much better sense of the city and its residents.

Curiocity Backpackers in Maboneng is great for those visiting Johannesburg for the first time. It offers private as well as shared rooms and guests are guaranteed to get to know both locals and other travellers. Accommodation starts at only R180 ($13.50) per person per night and the backpackers is the perfect base from which to explore the city. Curiocity offers tours catered to every visitor’s needs, from cycle tours to Soweto tours and underground pub crawls. Essentially, you can plan your whole trip from the backpackers and they’ll help you organise it all.

Curiocity Backpackers will be your gateway to the inner city | ©Adamina/Flickr

Local cuisine shouldn’t break your budget

When visiting the City of Gold you have to indulge in traditional cuisine. Sure, the city boasts some of the best restaurants in the country, but a seat comes with a price tag that’ll definitely blow your budget. Having said this, many of the city’s amazing restaurants are very affordable and will allow you to taste some of the amazing food on offer. If you’d like a more traditional culinary experience, venture just out of the city and into the townships. The food is cheap and the ambiance friendly, guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve experienced anywhere else. Book a township tour to ensure you get the best out of your visit and, if visiting Soweto, make sure to stop by Vuyo’s for a true South African meal.

Johannesburg is unlike most European tourist destinations, where sitting down at a trendy café results in an unthinkable bill. Whether you sit down or grab a take-away, it all costs the same. In Johannesburg you’ll find everything from Indian, Mexican, Italian and Greek cuisine, to restaurants that focus on more traditional dishes. The Shadow Boxer Brasserie in Greenside serves delicious meals, from steamed buns and hearty breakfasts, all at moreish prices, while Mama Mexicana in Maboneng will cure any spice craving you might have. The options really are endless and one thing is guaranteed when visiting Johannesburg: you won’t leave hungry!

Johannesburg boasts amazing markets where delicious food can be enjoyed at low prices | Courtesy of Neighbourgoods Market

Book packages and tours for the ultimate sightseeing experiences

Johannesburg boasts a plethora of museums, galleries, and historical sites, all of them affordable to visit. For R420 ($30) visitors can book a one-day tour through City Sightseeing South Africa. The hop-on-hop-off bus tour includes, to name only a few, a visit to Constitution Hill, The Apartheid Museum, The Carlton Centre, Origins Centre at Wits, and a tour of Soweto, South Africa’s largest township. By booking a tour, you’ll be spending less time trying to navigate the city and more time seeing all of its amazing sights.

Constitution Hill is one of the most visited historical sites in Johannesburg | Courtesy of Constitution Hill

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