Is Johannesburg the most misunderstood city in Africa?
Before moving here for 3 months in 2023, I’ll admit I let everyone’s hysteria dictate my perceptions. It sounded like a crime-ridden hellhole, and the last place on Earth you’d want to visit – never mind live in – when beautiful, charming Cape Town is just down the road.
Well… I have news for you: Joburg is incredible. You’ll soon see why.
If you’re a digital nomad visiting Joburg for the first time, this quick guide has everything you need to experience the best of the city.
Read More >>> South Africa Digital Nomads Guide
Note: This guide is a first draft, written quickly to get feedback. So, if you see anything incorrect or confusing, or you need additional information, post in our Facebook community and I’ll amend it.
Table of Contents
|Main Languages||English (Official), Zulu, Afrikaans|
|Main Airport||OR Tambo International Airport (JNB)|
|Currency||South African rand (ZAR)|
|Time Zone||South African Standard Time (UTC+2)|
|Plug Socket Type||Type M|
|Best time(s) to Visit||September to November|
|Highlights||Culture; Nature; Food; Shopping|
Johannesburg (aka Joburg, aka Jozie, aka The City of Gold) is not called “the New York of Africa” for nothing.
It’s a diverse, exciting, packed metropolis where You’ll find artists, creatives, musicians, and entrepreneurs from every corner of the continent making things happen and building businesses or entire genres of music from scratch.
A little rough around the edges, yes.
But look beyond the city’s challenges, and Joburg will welcome you in and reward you with its incredible food and drink scene, emerging music and art movements, friendly residents, non-stop events and parties, and so much more.
- Diversity: Joburg is South Africa’s most populous city, and communities from across the continent have made a home here. While it’s the cause of much tension, it’s also one of its most charming characteristics.
- People: Joburg is maybe the friendliest city I’ve lived in. People are welcoming and curious, especially foreign visitors who leave the usual expat bubbles.
- Cultural Experiences: Johannesburg offers a diverse range of cultural experiences. You’ll have access to art galleries, museums, theaters, constant events, live music, walking tours, amazing restaurants, and more.
- Internet: Even with the disruptions from load shedding, internet in Joburg is usually fast and reliable. There’s quite a few excellent coworking spaces, too.
- Cost of Living: Johannesburg offers relatively affordable living compared to other metropolitan cities. It’s also much more affordable and better value for expats and nomads than most capital cities in Africa.
- Climate: Joburg experiences pleasant temperatures throughout most of the year. In Winter, it’s spared the storms and flooding common in Cape Town.
- Ideal Base for Exploring: Johannesburg is well-located within South Africa, making it an excellent base for exploring the rest of the country. It’s also well connected to the rest of Africa, Europe, and Asia.
- Entrepreneurial Spirit: As you’ll see later in this guide, Joburgers are constantly starting fantastic businesses and experiences, from innovative startups to unique tour companies.
- Queer-friendly: Okay, straight white guy typing this, so maybe a bit problematic! But it’s nice being in an African city with a thriving (and relatively safe) LGBTQ+ community.
- Safety: Crime in Johannesburg will be less of an issue than you think, but take basic precautions and avoid certain areas alone, like the Central Business District.
- Limited Walkability: Most of the city is organized around suburban living, with limited walkability in many areas. Pick your accommodation wisely, focusing on areas with more amenities nearby, and expect to use Uber a lot.
- Load shedding: South Africa’s energy crisis has hit Joburg particularly hard. Backup generators are becoming standard in businesses, but plan ahead regardless.
- No digital nomad community: If this is important to you, it will be an issue. All the digital nomads are in Cape Town.
- Mall culture: Middle-class Joburgers love malls and conspicuous consumerism. You can usually avoid the malls, but the culture around them permeates everywhere (selfies, flashy displays of wealth, etc.).
- Finding accommodation: It’s surprisingly difficult to find nice, affordable, conveniently located apartments in Joburg with backup power.
- Inequality: South Africa is considered by many as the most unequal society on Earth, and the contrast in Joburg can be quite unsettling. Expect to see Ferraris and Paganis one moment, scores of homeless people the next.
Coworking Spaces in Johannesburg
Johannesburg has plenty of excellent coworking spaces with flexible and affordable plans.
The highest concentration of space is in Rosebank, my favorite neighborhood for nomads (see below).
However, like all African cities, Joburg’s coworking spaces accommodate and appeal to startups and corporate clients. So, while you’ll find helpful staff and everything you need to work, don’t expect to find a strong community.
- Workshop17, Rosebank and Sandton – has three locations across the city. You can choose a place close to your preferred area while still enjoying the excellent membership benefits they offer.
- MESH Club, Rosebank – is a high end members club with a cocktail lounge, coworking spaces, private meeting rooms, and much more.
- WeWork, two locations – The global coworking chain has two locations in Rosebank Mall and Sandton. They’re huge, convenient, and surprisingly cheap.
- ArtistryJHB, Sandton – A beautiful space part of a new, sleek hub for creative, wealthy Joburgers. Includes a rooftop bar, cinema, and weekly events.
- Impact Hub, – Another reliable global coworking chain in a convenient location.
- Bad Manors, Parktown – A very hip event space in an old mansion recently opened for coworking. They have a pool, too.
- Spaces Atrium on 5th Sandton – Hidden in the bowels of Sandton City shopping mall, but worth seeking out if you need a central coworking space.
Coliving Spaces in Johannesburg
As of August 2023, I’m not aware of any dedicated coliving spaces in Johannesburg.
However, I’ve stayed at a few fantastic apartment buildings and hostels that feel like coliving spaces once you’ve spent time there and met your neighbors.
Hallmark House, Maboneng
A few blocks from Maboneng’s main street (with all the best bars, restaurants, galleries, etc.) Hallmark House is a distinctive, arty building with plenty of apartments for short-term rental.
The building also includes a rooftop nightclub, basement jazz bar, gym, barbershop, restaurant, and dance studio. And it has a generator.
Hallmark House is home to local artists, musicians, remote workers, and nomads who call it home for a few months a year. So, there’s always an electric vibe throughout the building.
The higher apartments also offer spectacular views of Joburg CBD’s skyline.
Curiocity Johannesburg, Maboneng
A fantastic backpacker hostel with a cozy bar that’s equally popular with guests and local residents.
While the hostel isn’t suitable for extended stays, it’s a great first base to get an introduction to Joburg. They run daily tours throughout the city and to Soweto, teaching you the history and providing some context for Joburg’s current challenges.
In the evenings, everyone gets together in the common areas for drinks. And on Sundays, they host an open mic jazz night.
Curiocity can also organize long-term apartments for you.
Black Brick Sandton One, Sandton
Blackbrick Sandton One apartments present the perfect base for digital nomads in Sandton.
The complex was designed for young professionals and families, with a seamless blend of work and leisure.
Aside from comfortable, well-equipped apartments, Black Brick Sandton One includes 40 coworking spaces, a rooftop bar, two gyms, a meditation garden, a cinema, and electric car rental.
Things to do in Johannesburg
Joburg is a massive metropolis packed with fascinating places to visit, eat, drink, party, relax, make friends, and explore.
If you visit South Africa on the typical 3-month visa and spend all your time in the city, you’ll only scratch the surface of everything happening here. I never left Joburg on my first trip, and I still have so much to see and do when I return.
So, to help you get started, here’s a few quick lists of my favorite things to do in the city. More coming very soon!
Also, check out OurJoburg and In Your Pocket for weekly events
Sightseeing, Tours, and Museums
Check out my favorite tours and sightseeing in Joburg below.
Outdoor Activities and Attractions
The Cradle of Humankind is a UNESCO World Heritage Site just outside Johannesburg. It’s home to some of the oldest and most important hominid fossil sites, making it a fascinating destination for history and science enthusiasts. While there, you can visit the Maropeng Visitor Centre and the Sterkfontein Caves to learn more about the history of human evolution.
Johannesburg offers numerous hiking trails to help you stay active and enjoy nature. Explore the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, Kloofendal Nature Reserve, or the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden.
Not only will you get a great workout, but you’ll also have the chance to take in the beautiful natural scenery and connect with the outdoors.
If you don’t fancy leaving the city, Wilds Nature Reserve is free to enter and has nice walking trails and gardens to relax. There’s usually a coffee truck in the car park, too.
These are the best places in Joburg to find reliable Wi-Fi, backup power, comfortable seating, plentiful power sockets, and – most importantly – good coffee!
- Casquette, Rosebank – A lovely little cafe and bike shop in the same building as Workshop17 Firestation coworking space. A short walk from Rosebank Mall. Excellent breakfasts.
- Abstract Coffee, Braammfontein – A newly opened cafe in 99Juta, a collective of independent design shops, studios, and events.
- Bean There Coffee Company, Braamfontein Werf – Part of the very boujee 44 Stanley shopping complex, and one of Joburg’s best specialty coffee shops. They have a dedicated table for laptops.
- Home of the Bean, Maboneng – My favorite spot in Maboneng to work, chat with expert baristas about coffee, eat tasty food, and soak up the neighborhood’s unique vibe.
- Joon’s Coffee Bar Gallery, Linden – A quirky, arty cafe with comfortable, cobbled-together furniture, plenty of desks, and occasional art classes.
- The Whippet, Linden – A very boujee restaurant that gets packed in the weekend and lunch hours, but you can find dedicated desks and sockets throughout the week.
- Motherland Coffee, multiple locations – The South African Starbucks, but so much better. You’ll find them located throughout the city.
- Starbucks, multiple locations – the real deal. You know what to expect. And you’ll find a Starbucks in most big shopping malls.
This list is incomplete. Whichever neighborhood you’re in, you’ll find plenty of places to work from.
And as I spend more time in Joburg, I’ll add more to the list.
The Best Neighborhoods for Digital Nomads
Johannesburg is the definition of urban sprawl.
The city is humongous, and choosing the right place to live isn’t just a matter of convenience – it can also impact your safety and social life.
While I wish I could recommend living downtown, you’ll struggle to find apartments in secure locations, with backup power, and modern amenities.
So, stick to the areas listed below.
Rosebank is a trendy area in the middle of greater Johannesburg.
You’ll find a mix of modern offices, coffee shops, high-end shopping malls, gyms, excellent restaurants, coworking spaces, art galleries, and great bars. There’s also a lively afro-latin social every Sunday afternoon that gets packed with lovers of salsa, bachata, and kizomba every week.
Rosebank is also incredibly convenient. It’s equally close to Sandton in the North and Johannesburg CBD to the south. Rosebank Mall has every shop you could need, including clothing stores like H&M if you need to rebuild your nomad wardrobe.
Walking around during the day is safe, and at night, the streets surrounding Rosebank Mall have plenty of security. Beyond the mall, use an Uber.
Apartments in Rosebank are a bit pricier, especially short-term. You can expect to pay $800-$1,200 for a nice 1BR with backup power.
- Keyes Art Mile – Fantastic contemporary art galleries and nice high-end restaurants.
- Park Corner – Motley collection of local bars packed with young Joburgers most nights of the week.
- Rosebank Mall – 100s of shops, restaurants, banks, services, gyms, entertainment and two cinemas.
- Parkhurst and Parktown North – Diverse suburbs close to Rosebank that’s a popular hangout and nightlife spot with fantastic restaurants.
- Casquette – Great little cafe for cyclists that serves expertly made coffees, nice breakfasts, and plenty of sockets for working.
- Virgin Active – Huge gym with a restaurant and plenty of workspaces for your laptop.
- The Nest Space – Yoga studio and vegan cafe in Parktown North, a short walk from Rosebank.
- Dough & Co. – Hole in the wall serving delicious coffees and pastries across the road from The Nest Space. Perfect post-yoga treat.
- Gbedu Nights – A monthly afrobeats party hosted by a female DJ collective in different bars around Rosebank.
- SBK social at Ethos – Weekly salsa, bachata, and kizomba social starting at 4pm on Sundays in a nice little Greek restaurant.
Maboneng is a vibrant and creative district in the heart of Johannesburg, known for its street art, galleries, and trendy cafes.
An interesting attempt at urban renewal, Maboneng was hit hard by Covid, and many independent businesses closed down. They’ve since been replaced by generic nightclubs.
However, some of the original businesses have survived, and the area is experiencing a resurgence. It’s a fantastic place to hang out, eat, drink, meet exciting artists and musicians, and soak up the vibe – especially on a warm Sunday afternoon.
Maboneng is full of “New York Style” loft apartments with trendy, artistic interior designs for less than $500 a month. However, they generally don’t have backup power, and they’re right next to the nightclubs. So, they get loud at night.
Hallmark House is a couple of blocks from Maboneng’s main strip. As detailed above, it’s a fantastic building with studio and 1BR apartments, a gym, jazz club, rooftop bar, and much more.
However, you’ll need to take an Uber between the building and Maboneng for safety.
- Pata Pata – Serving traditional South African dishes with a modern twist in a comfy setting.
- Fox St. – Maboneng’s main strip is home to plenty of bars, restaurants, galleries, street art, event spaces, shops, and memorable characters.
- Bertrand Cafe – A beautiful restaurant and live music venue with an incredible host (Bertrand) and regular events.
- Curiocity Johannesburg – The best backpacker hostel in Joburg, with excellent walking tours, a lively lounge, weekly events, and super-friendly staff.
- Hallmark House – Nice apartments, a backup generator, rooftop bar, basement jazz club, dance studio, restaurant, and many creative people hanging about.
- Home of the Bean – Home to maybe the most passionate baristas in Joburg, with hearty, cheap food, charming decor, and a relaxed vibe.
- Black Palm Gin Bar – A newly opened venue growing in popularity. It has a pool, too. But I’m not sure anyone swims in it!
- Wine Night Stand – A tiny bar with a friendly owner who started hosting wine tastings in his home, and expanded to a business.
- Collectors Treasury – A secondhand store that reportedly has 1 million books. I’ve not been inside yet, but I’ll report when I return.
Sandton is the financial hub of Johannesburg, Africa’s “Manhattan.”
It’s home to South Africa’s stock exchange, plenty of multinational corporations, and lots of rich people.
It’s all very flashy and soulless.
But it’s safe, quiet, and has everything you need: suitable accommodation, shopping, coworking spaces, restaurants, etc.
- Sandton City Mall – Everything you need, including an official Lego store! (okay, maybe that’s just me).
- ArtistryJHB – Event space, cinema, coworking, restaurant, but most importantly, a place to see and be seen by the hippest Joburgers.
- Alto234 – The highest rooftop bar in Africa, with spectacular views from the 57th floor. Just don’t come in Winter – they close it due to the cold.
Braamfontein is a popular neighborhood for students at the nearby Wits University (“Braam” for short). As you can imagine, it’s young, hip, edgy, and vibrant.
While there’s not a lot of suitable accommodation for digital nomads in the area, it’s definitely worth a visit to hang out and soak up the atmosphere.
- Playground Market – A weekly independent market held every Saturday afternoon, with food, live music, shopping, and lots of cool people just hanging out.
- Banditz Bicycle Club – Weekly bike tours through downtown Joburg, including an evening ride during the week, and a morning one every Sunday.
- 44 Stanley – A boujee shopping center in nearby Braamfontein Werf, with fantastic shops, nice restaurants, an indie cinema, and many events.
- Bean There Coffee – Within 44 Stnnaly, one of the best cafes in Joburg. It also has a dedicated shared work area.
- 99Juta – A newly opened creative space, home to shops, an event venue, great cafe with weekly remote work meetups, and cool businesses.
- Kitchener’s Bar – A historic venue in the heart of Braam, hosting regular DJ nights, and a hub for Jobirg’s queer community.
Weather and Climate
Johannesburg has a “subtropical highland climate” due to its elevation – approximately 1,753 meters above sea level. This means it experiences generally warm to hot temperatures year-round.
In the past, average high temperatures were around 26°C. However, it has reached ~32°C in the hottest months in recent years.
In “Winter,” temperatures can reach below freezing, but this is rare. Although, it did snow in July 2023.
Joburgers hate the cold, and hibernate much of June and July. However, it’s still usually crisp, sunny, and dry during the day. It’s nights that get really cold.
The city’s rainy season typically runs from October to April. During this period, you can expect less humidity and cooler temperatures. Pack an umbrella and suitable clothes for the occasional rain showers.
Johannesburg might be the most misunderstood city in Africa – and the bar is high!
First of all, it was never meant to be a city.
It started life in 1886 as an informal goldmine expected to last 60 years.
More than 130 years later, “The City of Gold” is the most populous in South Africa and keeps growing.
Many of the issues modern-day Joburg faces can be traced back to its origin and the legacy of Apartheid – including the staggering inequality, urban decay, and racial tensions.
We don’t have time to break everything down here. But one day, I’ll write a complete guide to understanding Johannesburg. In the meantime, come with an open mind, prepare to have your understanding of history challenged (especially regarding Nelson Mandela’s legacy!), and remember that South Africa is still overcoming many challenges from its complicated, troubled past.
Let’s talk about the biggest obstacle to working online in Johannesburg: load shedding.
Load shedding is the name for South Africa’s roiling energy crisis, in which large swathes of the country are without electricity for 6+ hours a day. The power outages happen on a schedule announced in advance, and different areas are affected at different times to minimize impact.
Johannesburg has been hit particularly hard by load shedding, but businesses and apartment owners are adapting.
In three months of living in Joburg, I can’t remember a single instance where my work was affected my work. With a bit of planning, I could avoid it throughout most days. So can you.
Here’s a few quick tips to avoid load shedding when working remotely in Johannesburg:
- Stay in accommodation with a backup generator. Ask your Airbnb host what backup power they’ve installed. If you stay in Hallmark House, the entire building has backup power, including every apartment.
- Work from coworking spaces – they all have installed backup power and are usually very affordable.
- Work from cafes in shopping malls – they’ll also most likely run on backup power.
- Download the EskomSePush app. You can check the daily load shedding schedule for your area.
- Keep your electronics charged, and use a power bank. This should help you avoid any last-minute crises due to a dead laptop or phone.
Using coworking spaces and planning around power outages, you can enjoy a productive, mostly stress-free experience as a digital nomad in Johannesburg.
For more information, I wrote a guide to load shedding in South Africa for a client.
Crime and Safety
Now, let’s get the biggest misconception about Johannesburg out of the way: that it’s a crime-ridden hellscape.
Most digital nomads seem to think the moment they step foot in Joburg, they will be robbed, raped, and murdered.
I’m not diminishing the city’s many challenges, especially post-pandemic, as cost of living increases, economic downtown, mismanagement, and ever-growing unemployment have worsened poverty and inequality significantly.
But here’s a not-so-fun fact: crime rates are higher in Cape Town than Joburg. But no one talks about that. I wonder why?
As a digital nomad visiting or living in Joburg, you can avoid most of the dangers by staying in safe neighborhoods (see below) and practicing basic common sense. I lived there for 3 months and never felt unsafe or experienced danger.
Also, many neighborhoods and businesses have invested in private security, effectively creating cordoned-off “safe zones” where you can walk freely between bars and shops throughout the day and evening.
If you’re concerned about safety in Johannesburg, follow these basic steps:
- Use Uber to get around. They’re cheap, safe, reliable, and the drivers are usually a delight to chat with. Avoid Bolt.
- Don’t leave your belongings lying around. Keep them hidden at all times, especially at night.
- Don’t walk with your phone out, as snatch-and-grab theft is common.
- When visiting nightlife spots like Maboneng, Braamfontein, Parkhurst, and Melville, stay within the security zones.
- Rent an apartment in a built-up area like Rosebank or Sandton, as the security is better than standalone homes.
- Make friends with your local homeless community; they’ll watch your back. Maybe give them a few Rand occasionally, too. Call it a tribute.*
- Listen to warnings about certain areas. Joburgers have the worst impression of their city and are pretty fearful. But they’re worth listening to.
- If visiting areas like Hillbrow, the CBD, and Yeoville, go with an experienced guide who knows the locals.
Most of these instructions will sound familiar to anyone who’s lived in a major city with lots of poverty. Joburg is no different.
And most importantly: relax.
Joburgers are incredibly conscious about security in the city and will go out of their way to help you stay safe. So, follow any tips you’re given about certain areas, and then go enjoy yourself!
In any African city, it pays to make friends with your local motorbike taxi stand, street vendors, and homeless community. You never know when you might need their help.
I once retrieved a stolen iPhone with the help of 20 Kenyan heroin addicts in Diani, partly because my friend and accomplice in this adventure lived nearby, knew some of them, and had always been kind, generous, and respectful.