Explore Johannesburg's Amazing Skyline

The Hillbrow Tower is an iconic part of the Johannesburg skyline
The Hillbrow Tower is an iconic part of the Johannesburg skyline | © RooM the Agency / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Heather Mason
27 March 2020

Johannesburg isn’t your conventional travel destination. The city is landlocked, lacking the sea as a drawcard, and doesn’t have a prominent natural wonder like Cape Town’s Table Mountain. What the city does have though is its stunning skyline.

Jo’burg sits atop one of the world’s largest gold deposits, and the city above the ground was built to match the riches below it. At the height of the gold boom, in the mid-to-late 20th century, skyscrapers sprouted like weeds across the city. To this day, all of Africa’s tallest buildings stand in Jo’burg.

And since the city is surrounded by ridges, the skyline takes on different configurations depending on which part of the city you’re standing in. Here’s a quick tour of Joburg’s most prominent skyscrapers.

Ponte City Apartments

Map View
The tall building is a hollow cylinder on the inside surrounded by spiralling hallways
© Spach Los / Flickr
Ponte City – which many people refer to as “the Vodacom building” due to the massive billboard at the top – is Joburg’s most unusual skyscraper, with a cylindrical shape and a round, hollow core. Built in 1975, the 55-storey, 173-metre-tall (568ft) apartment building was once Joburg’s most fashionable address, before falling into neglect in the 1990s and becoming the domain of gangsters and drug dealers. It’s rumoured that rubbish once filled Ponte’s core up to the 14th floor. Today, Ponte is fully occupied by legal tenants. The Dlala Nje Foundation, a social enterprise based on Ponte’s ground floor, offers tours during which visitors can walk down into the core of the building and also visit a penthouse apartment on the 51st floor. Views from both the top and bottom are jaw-dropping.

Hillbrow Tower

Building, Architectural Landmark
Map View
Hillbrow Tower in Johannesburg
© Johannes M Vos / Alamy Stock Photo

Undoubtedly the most recognisable tower in Joburg, the Hillbrow Tower, also known as the Telkom Tower, has been closed to the public for the past 40 years. Although not technically a building, this telephone tower is the tallest structure in Africa at 269 metres (883ft). The Hillbrow Tower once had a revolving restaurant at the top, but the restaurant was closed in 1981 due to safety concerns and has never re-opened. Today, the Hillbrow Tower can only be admired from the outside as part of the iconic Joburg skyline.

The Leonardo

Building, Architectural Landmark
Map View

The brand-new Leonardo – a skyscraper consisting of hotel rooms, offices, apartments, shops and a posh restaurant called Aurum – surpassed the Carlton Centre as Africa’s tallest building in 2019. At 55 storeys and 234 metres (768ft) tall, the Leonardo looms far above all the other surrounding buildings in Sandton – a northern suburb that has become the centre of Joburg’s financial and high-end retail industries. While the view from the top of the Leonardo is impressive, it doesn’t have the same drama as the views from the Carlton and Ponte City, which are surrounded by a sea of other tall buildings. Nonetheless, if you score an invitation to one of the Leonardo’s ridiculously luxurious penthouse apartments, you should absolutely accept.

These recommendations were updated on March 27, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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