South Africa: Culture and Luxury in Johannesburg

Johannesburg might not be on the top of your list of places to visit when you come to South Africa, but the truth is that the outlying area of Sandton has become a corporate mecca, with a sparkling convention center, luxury hotels, including the brand new Da Vinci, excellent restaurants, and much to do in the area. If you’re coming to South Africa for business, you are probably coming through Johannesburg—so here are the best spots in town to stay and visit. 

The grand dame of the area is The Westcliff Hotel, an Orient Express property perched on a hillside. With 80 rooms, 35 suites, a conference center with space for up to 200, a full-service spa, both fine- and light-dining options, and afternoon tea service, The Westcliff is where you will find a mix of traditional South African hospitality and modern amenities. The salmon-hued hotel offers spectacular views of the city and the zoological gardens, making it a perfect lead in for safari excursions. 

For those who want complete privacy and the knowledge that they are staying in a favorite haunt of the likes of Oprah, look no further than The Saxon Boutique Hotel, Villas and Spa. The property, which is decorated in a mix of incredible opulence and traditional African handicrafts such as woven baskets and mudcloth textiles, caters to the needs of VIP business travelers, going to far as to assist with diplomatic clearance to avoid long lines at the airport. The Saxon is a part of The Leading Hotels of the World, but perhaps its greatest claim to fame is that following his release from prison, Nelson Mandela edited A Long Walk to Freedom here, while the property was a private residence.  

Groups interested in urban luxury should look to the brand new DaVinci Hotels and Suites. With a decidedly swanky feel, the 166 rooms, 50 suites, and four penthouses will appeal to guests in need of a cosmopolitan vibe. The hotel is situated very close to the Sandton Convention Center, making it easy for attendees to walk to meetings. 

And the Sandton Sun has perhaps the most convenient location in town. With skywalk access to the convention center, and the neighboring shopping mall, this is a one-stop shop indeed. The hotel has a rooftop restaurant and leisure space, which offers a perfect spot for an evening cocktail while you watch the spectacular pinks and purples of a Johannesburg sunset. It offers 334 rooms and suites, a full-service spa, a fitness center, a business center, and meeting and banqueting spaces for up to 1,200. 

The Sandton Convention Centre has more than 230,000 square feet of meeting and event space, ranging from a 10-seat room to a space for 4,500. Guests will be able to enjoy natural light from all floors, get some fresh air on terraces and balconies, and take in an extensive art collection featuring contemporary South African artists. 

While in town, take the time to learn a bit about South Africa’s checkered history. A visit to the Apartheid Museum is well worth your time—but be sure to allow enough time to slowly work your way through the exhibits. There is a lot to read and take in, and it’s a shame to be rushed through. 

The Hector Pieterson Museum memorializes the 13-year-old boy shot and killed by police during the June 16, 1976 Student Uprising. What began as a march to protest the requirement that schools use English and Afrikaans for lessons and exams, not the language spoken by students, quickly turned violent. Although Hector was not the first to die that day, he became a symbol of the uprising when a photograph was released, showing another boy carrying Hector’s body as Hector’s sister ran next to them. June 16 is now National Youth Day in South Africa, and the focus is on both the children who fought against apartheid, and on the struggles facing today’s young people. 

The Museum is located within Soweto (a syllabic abbreviation of South Western Township). It is home to an estimated 35-40 percent of Johannesburg’s population, and includes everything from affluent neighborhoods to shantytowns. Soweto has largely opened itself to tourism, and a variety of tour options are available to interested groups. Most tours will include a stop at Nelson Mandela’s former home here.