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Johannesburg, South Africa | © Ariadna22822/Shutterstock
Johannesburg, South Africa | © Ariadna22822/Shutterstock
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I'm a Travel Editor and This Is the One Place You Need to Visit This Year

Picture of Alex Jordan
Travel Editor
Updated: 10 January 2018
Culture Trip travel editor Alex Jordan says Johannesburg is the place to visit in 2018. Here’s why you can’t afford to miss South Africa’s gritty urban metropolis.

If you only visit one destination in 2018, make it Johannesburg. South Africa’s largest city is brimming with culture and close to other awesome sights.

Stay in Maboneng, an area roughly 10 minutes from the city centre, that is being touted as Johannesburg’s answer to London’s Shoreditch and New York’s Dumbo neighbourhoods.

Take a walking street art tour through the graffiti-splattered streets and explore once-abandoned warehouses that have been converted into artist studios, restaurants and independent cinemas.

Check out the city’s cool Maboneng neighbourhood
Check out the city’s cool Maboneng neighbourhood | © Veebee Design/Shutterstock

Watch from rooftop bars as the sun sets over Johannesburg’s skyline, now joined by Ghanaian-British architect Sir David Adjaye’s iconic Hallmark House.

There’s no shortage of great places to eat, including Japanese-inspired tapas at The Pot Luck Club, Argentine grill CHE, the food stalls at Arts on Main and South African restaurant Sakhumzi.

Take a tuk-tuk tour of Soweto (South Western Townships) for a flavour of Johannesburg’s history. Visit Nelson Mandela’s house and the Hector Pieterson memorial, dedicated to those students who lost their lives fighting for equality.

Soweto township
Soweto township | © Gil.K/Shutterstock

Aside from year-round sunshine and a one-hour time difference (+1 GMT), there are plenty of other reasons to put Johannesburg at the top of your list.

Take a short drive north and visit Maropeng (which translates from Setswana as ‘returning to the place of origin’). Come face-to-face with your ancestors at the cradle of humankind, where 40% of all known hominid fossils have been found.

Venture, if you dare, into the pitch-black sinkholes of Sterkfontein caves. The eerie subterranean landscape looks awesome by torchlight and is still an active archaeological site.

Skulls found in Sterkfontein
Skulls found in Sterkfontein | © Vladislav Gajic/Shutterstock

Stay in the Maropeng Hotel overlooking the vast plains surrounding Sterkfontein, with gorgeous views of Africa’s unsurpassable sunrises and sunsets. It’s a place which feels special, serene and rooted in history.

Bakubung Bush Lodge and the Kwa Maritane Bush Lodge are two more unmissable destinations not far from Johannesburg.

Both are on the outskirts of Pilanesberg Game Reserve – 55,000 hectares of sprawling bush, mountains, lakes and forest in the crater of a long-extinct volcano.

Elephant encounter on a game drive in Pilanesberg Game Reserve
Elephant encounter on a game drive in Pilanesberg Game Reserve | © Irmelamela/Shutterstock

Go on a walking safari and track down rhino, elephant or giraffe (sometimes with unexpected encounters). Stalking through the long grass in the early morning sun is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the best way to learn about indigenous species like ibhubezi yomfazi (‘lioness’ in Zulu).

Johannesburg is in the middle of a rapid transformation. Who knows how long until it changes beyond recognition, so visit this African gem now while it’s still underrated.