There are many fine high-rise city hotels to choose from if you are looking for the best places to stay in Johannesburg. But far more rewarding for the leisure traveler will be the boutique hotels, country houses, lodges and guesthouses in the older, leafier suburbs, and those situated just beyond the city borders. I have chosen places that stand out – in terms of character, friendliness, service level, value for money – or all or some of these factors.
My list of the 10 best places to stay in Johannesburg, from the most to the least expensive, will help you get in the mood for a great holiday or safari.
1. The Westcliff
The Tuscan theme is more than faux at The Westcliff, with strong Italianate connections at this elegant low-rise, five-star hotel. Gracious in all ways, not least its elevated situation on a wooded ridge, grand views and terraced grounds and formal gardens. It is both the most child-friendly hotel in town and the best place for sundowners.
2. Cradle Cove
As the name suggests, this self-catering cabin-style lodge is located within the Cradle of Mankind World Heritage Site and also close to Lanseria airport (easier for internal travel than Oliver Tambo). It offers the most basic – but very atmospheric – accommodation in this listing. Set in a tranquil bushveld environment, it is designed for guests to sit on the timber decks and just ontspan (relax), or maybe go for an easy stroll in the bush (no dangerous animals). If it’s a simple nature vibe you’re craving, the Cove will massage your soul … just don’t forget the provisions.
3. De Hoek Country Hotel
This five-star country lodge on the sylvan banks of the Magalies River – an hour and a half from Joburg and close to Pretoriaand Rustenburg – is set in one of the few pristine valleys left in Gauteng province. The buildings were designed by relatives of one of the original settlers in the valley, in the old style: tin roof and stone walls and lots of timber inside. Classically trained Michael Holenstein oversees the kitchen with much finesse, serving French style cuisine. If are you there in winter you’ll want one of the slightly more expensive fireplace suites.
4. Mount Grace Country House and Spa
The description “house” is a little misleadng, but Mount Grace does have a human scale as well as bucolic views to the Magaliesburg Mountains. This rambling hotel is set 10 acres of lush gardens, and it exudes a natural elegance. Thatched roofs add a taste of South African rural living and the indoor-outdoor spa is a treat. It’s a place of quiet and peace and is centrally located between Joburg, Pretoria and Rustenburg (no children 12 or younger).
5. Teremok Riverside
On the principle that every place is special in its own way – something like all animals being equal – Teremok is a little more special than most. Its setting on the bank of the Jukskei River very close to the busy commerical Fourways area, is just one facet of its lustre. It starts with the story of a boy escaping the Russian revolution and ends at one of the most accomplished guesthouses on the Highveld; all very modern and very slick. In all respects this is one class place.
6. Afrique Boutique Hotel
Just because you need to connect with an early flight from Johannesburg’s Oliver Tambo Airport doesn’t mean you have to stay in a cattle-yard airport hotel. The Afrique Boutique Hotel, just 10 minutes from the airport, is a really fun and artful place, revealing the ebullient spirit of the young creators and owners. With all the ambiance and facilities of the best country hotels, it is wheelchair friendly and has a fine restaurant. The only sore point are the rip-off prices over soccer World Cup time.
7. The Hertford Country Hotel
The Hertford is one of Gauteng’s best loved small country hotels and get-aways and very popular as a wedding venue (there are two honeymoon suites), given its setting in 23 hectares on tended estate. All very English country, it offers warm hospitality and a dash of charm, friendly service and hearty meals. Stone façade, rose gardens and roaring fireplaces in winter add to The Hertford away from the Hertford feel. Guests are welcome to take meals in the restaurant, or outdoors on the airy terrace. Close to Lanseria airport and the Cradle of Mankind World Heritage Site.
8. Cotswold Garden
This four-star home-turned-guesthouse, situated in the gracious treed suburb of Saxonwold, is designed to provide a serene and secure stop-over for both leisure and business travellers. There are two self-catering suites and four spacious B&B rooms with en-suite bathrooms, A full English or Continental breakfast is available, and you can take it outdoors to enjoy the lush garden.
9. Heia Safari Ranch
If you want to get a little taste of Africa beofre setting off for the real wilds beyond, Heia is a pretty good place to start. It’s something a hybrid between a petting zoo and a game reserve (the animals do have bite) and even though within sight of the Johanneburg city skyline, it does have a sense of being in the bush. Accommodation is in cosy thatched bungalows, game reserve style. It’s a very spacious estate offering various outdoor activities (game and cultural) so there is certainly lots to see and to do at Heia. A restaurant is open for all meals.
10. Ginnagaap Guest House
Closest to the city centre is this old Melville house, also in walking distance to trendy 7th Street restaurant and nick-nack shopping precinct. All the rooms have wooden floors and show off reams of lovely, crisp linen and other fabrics. A hearty breakfast can be enjoyed on the stoep (typical Highveld covered veranda), or there is a garden cottage for self-catering. This is South African hospitality at its best. As for the name Ginnagaap, you’ll just have to ask.