Sleeping in Airports

Johannesburg Airport Layover Sightseeing

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 couple of hours between flights. If your layover is 8
hours or longer, however, we highly recommend venturing out to experience a bit of the rich history and culture of this vibrant city, which the locals affectionately call Jo’burg or
Jozi. While crime certainly exists in Johannesburg, much of it is localized in neighborhoods where tourists wouldn’t normally 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 biggest, busiest airport on the continent, O.R. Tambo has a wide array of shops and restaurants for those with shorter layovers. Travelers 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 into Johannesburg proper in under 15 minutes. You can buy a travel card and board the train right 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 itself, check out our Johannesburg Airport Guide.



Sightseeing Options

A few essential sights:

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 key 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—in addition to 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) and takes you to such historically significant locations as the Hector Pieterson Memorial and the Mandela House. You can buy tickets for either the City Tour or the Combo online, at their tour office at The Zone @ Rosebank (accessible via the Gautrain), or on the bus itself.

Rosebank

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 both South Africa and a range of 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 huge 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 2 hours for a visit to the craft market and perhaps a quick bite at the mall or a nearby cafe. Allow an additional 1-2 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 associated time required.

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 a great 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 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 associated time required.

Transportation

The O.R. Tambo Airport is connected to downtown Johannesburg through both public and private transport options. You can take the Gautrain to a number of points throughout the city, as outlined above, 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 for 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 queue of authorized taxis just outside the arrivals hall; Uber is
    also very popular among both locals and tourists
  • Airport Shuttles: plenty of reputable shuttle services are available but 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 for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to 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? Make sure you 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 long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of 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, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights.

Other Useful Resources

O.R. Tambo International Airport
Official Gautrain website
City Sightseeing South Africa
Tripadvisor’s Johannesburg Travel Forum – Check out past threads to see what other travellers have shared about sightseeing during long layovers at Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport or post your own questions.