Johannesburg walking tours are the perfect introduction to the city for first-time visitors, who may otherwise find stepping out alone a little intimidating. After all, despite significant improvements over the last decade, public transport is lacking and crime can still be an issue in some areas. And as a tourist, in can be difficult to figure out where to go and how to get there.

There are many walking tour guides eager to show off the city’s hidden charms to visitors and locals alike, with each tour company offering different areas of expertise. It’s easily possible to take a different tour every weekend for months without visiting the same place twice.

Ready to start exploring Jo’burg on foot? Here are eight companies offering fun tours across the city.

Two adults and three children stand in front of a wall covered in street art. The man holds a small cloud-shaped sign that covers his face and reads 'I heart graffiti'. The woman holds a similar sign that reads 'Art is not a crime'. The children hold similar sings, including ones that say 'Wow' and 'Cool'. They are on one of Past Experiences' Johannesburg walking tours © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet
Past Experiences graffiti tours are often co-hosted by local street artists  © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet

Past Experiences

Past Experiences offers a host of tours in downtown Jo'burg, including its popular graffiti tours. The company's founder Jo Buitendach, a trained archeologist, has a special passion for street art and often invites local graffiti artists to co-host her tours. Past Experiences also hosts an inner city shopping tour – guiding customers through Jo'burg’s maze of blanket shops, second-hand clothing shops, and traditional medicine markets – and a 'Naming Jozi' tour focused on Jo’burg’s ever-changing street and place names.

Dlala Nje

Dlala Nje, a community centre as well as a tour company, is based at Ponte City – Africa’s tallest and most infamous residential building. Ponte, a cylindrical skyscraper with a hollow centre, is itself one of Jo’burg’s top tourist attractions. Standing at the base of the building’s core, looking up through 52 storeys toward a small circle of sky at the top, is a dizzying yet thrilling experience.

Most of Dlala Nje’s Johannesburg walking tours include a trip both down to Ponte’s core and up to its 51st floor, in addition to exploring one of the surrounding neighborhoods of Hillbrow, Yeoville, and/or Berea. Most Jo’burg locals consider these areas dangerous, so a guided tour with Dlala Nje is the best way to visit them. Don’t miss the Yeoville food tour, which introduces participants to pan-African cuisine from countries including Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Congo.

A black South African guide stands in downtown with a group of visitors on one of JoburgPlaces' Johannesburg walking tours © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet
Walking tours by JoburgPlaces focus on a variety of topics, from history and finance to pubs and urban gardens  © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet

JoburgPlaces

Focusing on Johannesburg’s tumultuous political and cultural history, JoburgPlaces is best known for its four- to five-hour walks through the inner city. That said, its tours often include short hops on the city’s Rea Vaya BRT bus system. The classic 'Marshalltown' tour is a great introduction to the inner city, and the 'Pubs, Bars & Rooftops' walk is a solid favorite too.

JoburgPlaces has recently introduced some innovative new Johannesburg walking tours. The 'Money, Banks & Vaults' tour tells the city’s financial story while visiting previously inaccessible bank vaults (including the abandoned safety deposit boxes in the basement of historic Somerset House) and the old Johannesburg Stock Exchange. The 'Urban Farming & Green Rooftops' tour showcases Joburg’s hidden urban gardens.

A elderly guide walks towards the golden doors of a towering art deco block of flats on one of the Johannesburg walking tours put on by the Heritage Foundation © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet
Run by volunteers, walking tours by the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation often visit far-flung parts of the city with novel sights  © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet

Johannesburg Heritage Foundation

The Johannesburg Heritage Foundation (JHF) is a non-profit organisation committed to preserving Jo’burg’s architectural heritage. JHF’s tours are volunteer-run and take place both in downtown Jo'burg and across the city’s far-flung suburbs and townships. Most of its tours are walks, but the foundation also offers occasional bus tours.

While JHF’s tours occasionally repeat, many are once-off events and introduce participants to hidden historical gems not easily accessible to the public. Visit the JHF website to see the current quarterly programme. Each year in September JHF also hosts a 'Heritage Weekend', with a bonanza of tours at discounted prices.

A few people stand drinking on a dark rooftop and overlook a distant skyline of Joburg © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet
Friday night 'Underground Pub Crawls' by Mainstreetwalks visit bars in the neighbourhood of Maboneng  © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet

Mainstreetwalks

Mainstreetwalks, based out of Curiocity Backpackers, provides great opportunities for visitors to get to know the rejuvenated neighbourhood of Maboneng and its surrounds. Mainstreetwalks’ guides lead regular walks around Maboneng as well as Friday night 'Underground Pub Crawls', visiting nearby bars and shebeens (informal drinking holes). The 'East City Cycle' rides, which take place on Saturdays and Sundays, introduce visitors to the nearby suburbs of Troyeville and New Doornfontein.

Mainstreetwalks is also known for its 'Picnics in the Sky', during which tour groups travel to Carlton Centre (Africa's tallest building) and enjoy a meal on the top-floor viewing deck.

A smiling woman stands on a skateboard with one foot while her guide holds her hand and offers direction © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet
Whether you've skated before or not, City Skate Tours will ensure you have a memorable (and educational) tour of Johannesburg on four little wheels  © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet

City Skate Tours

Also based in Maboneng, City Skate Tours is not a walking tour company per se. Founder Ayanda Mnyandu has turned his skateboarding hobby into a career, introducing clients to downtown Jo’burg on four tiny wheels. Never ridden a skateboard before? Not to worry. Ayanda and his team are patient teachers, helping beginning skaters get comfortable on the board, speed up, slow down, and even make turns. (Nervous guests are also welcome to walk while others ride their boards.)

City Skate Tours stop at several interesting spots in the inner city, including places like Beyers Naude Square that are historically popular with skateboarders.

Sifiso Ntuli, stands in front of his restaurant which is covered in a street art mural. He wears a T-shirt that says, 'I all myself Afrikan, but it's more than just my location!' © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet
Sifiso Ntuli, the founder of Roving Bantu Kitchen & Treks  © Heather Mason / Lonely Planet

Roving Bantu Kitchen & Treks

Sifiso Ntuli fled South Africa under the apartheid regime and lived many years in political exile, 'roving' across Africa, Europe and North America. Upon his return to South Africa in the 1990s, Sifiso nicknamed himself 'the Roving Bantu'. Today, Sifiso and his wife Ashley run a quirky restaurant/music venue called the Roving Bantu Kitchen, as well as monthly 'treks' across the suburbs of Brixton and Fietas. Sifiso doesn’t sugarcoat his opinions: expect honest commentary on the horrors of apartheid and its after-effects in current-day South Africa.

The best part of every Roving Bantu Trek is the meal at the end; Sifiso and his team cook up delicious traditional South African dishes including beef stew, vegetarian curry, and the occasional 'smiley' (sheep’s head).

Lebo’s Soweto Bicycle Tours

Lebo Malepa founded Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers – the first black-owned backpackers in South Africa – in the 2000s, when he noticed busloads of tourists pouring into Soweto and began inviting them to stay at his family home. Lebo eventually expanded his offerings from accommodation to tours, and the Soweto cycling tours became especially popular.

Soweto is a huge, sprawling collection of townships, so bicycling allows visitors to see more of the area than walking does. Half- and full-day cycling tours explore the historic Soweto suburb of Orlando West (including the memorials to the 1976 Soweto Uprisings), as well as Meadowlands and more far-flung parts of Soweto. Participants have ample opportunity to interact with Soweto residents and sample local food and drink. For those who can’t cycle, Lebo’s does offer walking and tuk-tuk tours.

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