Sleeping in Airports

Johannesburg Airport Layover Sightseeing

This article includes links to our travel partners at Tripadvisor, where you can read traveller reviews, book tours and plan your visit to Johannesburg.

Johannesburg Airport Layover Sightseeing
Photo credit: Bank215 / iStock

Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) is big and relatively new, making it a comfortable spot to spend a few hours between flights. Suppose your layover is eight hours or longer. In that case, however, we highly recommend venturing out to experience this vibrant city’s rich history and culture, which the locals affectionately call Jo’burg or Jozi. While crime certainly exists in Johannesburg, much of it is localized in neighbourhoods where tourists wouldn’t usually go, and taking common-sense precautions—as you would in any large city—will go a long way toward making your visit safe and memorable.

Airport Overview

As the largest, busiest airport on the continent, O.R. Tambo has a wide array of shops and restaurants for those with shorter layovers. Travellers can browse in bookshops and clothing stores, pick up last-minute souvenirs, or shop for duty-free items—such as Amarula, a locally produced cream liqueur reminiscent of Baileys Irish Cream. For those with enough time to head into the city, the modern Gautrain (pronounced “How-train”) is a clean, safe, and efficient way to get from the airport to Johannesburg proper in under 15 minutes. You can buy a travel card and board the train at the airport, then take an Uber, a taxi, or the Hop-on Hop-off bus if there’s no train station within walking distance of your destination. For more information on the airport, check out our Johannesburg Airport Guide.

Johannesburg Sightseeing Attractions

Below are a few of the top things to do in Johannesburg:

Hop-On Hop-Off Tours

City Sightseeing’s Hop-on, Hop-off tours are perhaps the easiest and most efficient way to take in as many sights as possible within a limited timeframe. Their Johannesburg City Tour includes vital attractions like the Apartheid Museum and Constitution Hill, where you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like. If your layover allows, consider opting for the City Tour and Soweto Combo, which includes a fascinating tour of Soweto—short for South Western Township—and all the other regular stops. A rich introduction to Johannesburg’s largest township, this extension tour departs from Gold Reef City Casino Hotel (stop 13). It takes you to historically significant locations such as the Hector Pieterson Memorial and the Mandela House. You can buy tickets for the City Tour or the Combo online, at their tour office at The Zone @ Rosebank (accessible via the Gautrain), or on the bus.

  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about city tours, book a tour or read traveller reviews.


The Rosebank Art and Craft Market is the perfect place to check out stall after stall of handcrafted souvenirs, including wooden masks, jewelry, and traditional fabrics from South Africa and various other African countries. It’s adjacent to the Rosebank Mall, which is massive, modern, and much like any other big mall the world over— though on Sundays, it boasts a vast rooftop market featuring hundreds more stalls that sell not only crafts but also vintage items and a variety of food products. Easily accessible by Gautrain, Rosebank is an ideal choice if you’re on a tight schedule, though if you have time to spare, it also houses the ticket office and starting point for City Sightseeing’s Hop-on Hop-off tours.

  • Time Required: Budget two hours for a visit to the craft market and perhaps a quick bite at the mall or a nearby cafe. Allow another one to two hours if you’re lucky enough to visit on a Sunday and plan to check out the rooftop market. Note that this does not include travel time to and from the airport.
  • How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options and the required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting Rosebank, book a tour or read traveller reviews.

Apartheid Museum

Built in 2001, the Apartheid Museum is an informative and, at times, intense introduction to 20th-century South African history, including its former system of apartheid. Though this is included as a stop on the Hop-on Hop-off tour, it is also an excellent choice for those who may not have time to commit to more than one must-see museum. Offering exhibits from the beginnings of race classification through Nelson Mandela’s historic release from prison and the drafting of a new constitution, the journey through the museum ends on a note of hope in its mission to “encourage visitors to empower themselves with the knowledge to prevent such horrors from happening again.”

  • Time Required: Give yourself 2 hours to experience the museum’s exhibits without rushing. Note that this does not include travel time to and from the airport.
  • How to Get There: Check out this Google Map for details on public and private transit options and the required time.
  • Plan Your Visit: Visit Tripadvisor for more information about visiting the Apartheid Museum, book a tour or read traveller reviews.

Airport Transportation

The O.R. Tambo Airport is connected to downtown Johannesburg through public and private transport options. As outlined above, you can take the Gautrain to several points throughout the city, then switch to an Uber or a taxi if needed. Avoid informal minibus taxis and stick to official metered ones instead. Though the drive to or from the airport should take about 45-60 minutes, it is always wise to allow extra travel time in case of traffic.

Public transit options include:

  • Gautrain: service to Johannesburg and Pretoria

Private transit options include:

  • Taxis: Look for the authorized taxi queue just outside the arrivals hall; Uber is also very popular among locals and tourists.
  • Airport Shuttles: Many reputable shuttle services are available, but they usually have to be booked in advance.
  • Car Rental: Rental cars are available to licensed drivers of most nationalities.

Before You Go: Layover Tips

Now that you are motivated and excited about your mini layover vacation, check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.

  • Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost, and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
  • When is your next flight’s check-in time? Double-check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
  • What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for extended security wait times, so research in advance and factor that into your overall time budget.
  • What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights.

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