For our first outing in Joburg we decided to take the Hop-on, Hop-off City Sightseeing Red Bus tour to get a peek into some of the neighborhoods of downtown Johannesburg. The bus has only been in operation since February this year in Joburg but we have always enjoyed this tour in Cape Town (in fact we have set aside a day for this on each of our trips there) and this ended up being a great intro to the city for us.
There are a total of 12 possible stops, not including the optional Soweto tour. It is impossible to hop on/off at every stop in one day so I suggest you study the route in advance and plan your day carefully to get to see your top spots. It would likely take the better part of 3 days to really see everything on the route.
As we are totally Joburg newbies, we didn’t feel comfortable yet (still don’t) driving in the CBD (Central Business District) , so we drove to Sandton to park and took the Gautrain to Park Station, the first stop of the tour (you can however start wherever you like).
Waiting for the Gautrain at Sandton Station
After a quick 8 minute ride, we arrived at Park Station (the main bus station for Joburg). I had read the station and surrounding area can be a bit dodgy at times but we easily made our way out of the station and found the meeting place across the street.
Just outside of Park Station
We got a bit of a late start and didn’t get on the bus until noon. It was a beautiful sunny Saturday and soon after we took our seats on the open top deck, we regretted leaving the sunscreen and hats behind.
The CBD, a bit quiet on a Saturday
“Real” fish anyone ?
CDB, a bit more going on here
Lots of taxi-vans and shopping
The CBD is an interesting mix; some very beautiful buildings mixed in with some sadly deplapitated ones.
A bank in lovely condition (of course)
And a not so lovely building…
Johannesburg Post Office – built in 1897 it is the city’s oldest public building
City Hall, across the street from the Post Office
The first stop after Park Station is Gandhi Square. Mahatma Gandhi lived 21 years in South Africa, including the years 1903-1914 in Johannesburg. As we were limited on time, and there are many more sights dedicated to Gandhi, we decided to only do a drive by and save this for another time.
The South Gauteng High Court with more modern buildings looming above
A very busy shopping area near the Carlton Centre
The next stop on the route is the Carlton Centre, a former 5 star hotel where many VIPs used to stay and is also the tallest building in Africa. The building is now mostly vacant save for a shopping center at the lower level and the Top Of Africa viewing deck 50 stories up. This was my favorite stop, and I highly recommend you don’t miss this. One of the tour guides led us through the throngs of people in the lower level mall to purchase our tickets and lead us up to the top. The view is an amazing 360 degree panorama of the whole of Joburg. If you want to catch the next bus, you will only have about 10-15 minutes at the top so you may need to move fast to see it all. There was also a bit of confusion about the return to the bustop as we thought the guide was going to wait for us to escort us back but he was in fact already at the bustop.
Carlton Centre from below
And the view from above
Top of Africa
Hillbrow Tower in the background
Next we headed to the southern neighborhoods of Johannesburg. During the next 4 stops we stayed on the bus (while I am quite sure the Apartheid Museum is well worth a visit, we just didn’t have enough time to make this stop and we will surely return when we can visit properly).
Headed towards the Mining District
Stop number 8 is the Mining District Walk. While planning our day, I had read this is a not-to-miss stop. This is likely true, however as we were there on a weekend, the area was completely deserted and we felt somewhat unsafe here (the only time during the trip).
Pretty much the only people around…
Mining District – Leaping Impala Sculpture
After back safely aboard the bus, we headed towards Newtown, a neighborhood known for its Arts and Culture, as well as the World of Beer (beer is culture, right ?).
Street art in Newtown
Heading towards Braamfontein
We had to forgo the Newtown stop in favor of making it to stop number 11, Braamfontein. According to the Red Bus Brochure, this neighborhood is for the young, trendy and hip. We are none of those but since it is also home to the Saturday Neighbourgoods Market, off we hopped (I am quite sure hopping is not hip either) and made our way to the market.
The market runs from 9am until 3pm every Saturday and is a great place to sample many tasty treats from the various vendors setup at the market. We arrived rather late and a lot of stuff was already sold out, but we snatched up some remaining lentil rolls, sweet samoosas and craft beer and squeezed onto a table to chow down. We were so hungry that I didn’t even get any food porn photos which is unheard of for me. I guess we will have to go back…
Large outdoor patio at closing time, earlier it was completely packed
Anything Zebra is hip in my book
Across from the market, another happening place
With happy tummies we caught the bus for the final leg of our tour past Constitution Hill (another place to get back to) and back to Park Station.
The iconic Hillbrow Tower, you often see this in skyline photos of Joburg
Finally arriving back to our car in Sandton we were exhausted and more than a little bit sunburned but we had a fantastic day exploring our new city. I highly recommend the Big Red bus tour for both tourists and locals alike, we will definitely do this again sometime soon.