Johannesburg Gay Travel
wolfyy’s Johannesburg gay guide to hotels and where to stay, gay bars, things to do, & local safety.
The Gay Travel Experience: Johannesburg, South Africa
Before my trip, everyone told me to skip visiting Johannesburg. Let me tell you, I’m really glad I didn’t! I would have missed out on some real fun.
Friends mentioned how dangerous Johannesburg is, how boring it would be, and that I would be better off staying in Cape Town the whole trip. While Johannesburg has its bad spots, I wouldn’t pass up the rich culture of this place, or the rowdy cocktail bars.
The Johannesburg Gay Scene
Johannesburg has a relatively small gay scene, especially in comparison to Cape Town. It’s also a bit different than other large international cities.
After talking with some locals, I learned that many gay guys do not go out to gay bars in Johannesburg. There are several possible reasons for why.
Some of the locals simply dislike the gay establishments or can’t find the vibe they’re looking for. Others just live too far away to make the trip to one of the bars worth it.
Nonetheless, being an LGBT traveler in Johannesburg is quite easy. I always remember the sight of a gay couple holding hands while out walking in the Rosebank mall area. It made me happy to see some pride out and about in Johannesburg.
Gay Johannesburg: Hotels & Where to Stay
One of the biggest factors to consider before booking a place to stay in Johannesburg is safety. As a tourist, you’ll understandably want to be reassured of your comfort and security before you even arrive at your hotel or rental.
Hotels in Rosebank will be safe and enjoyable for Johannesburg gay travelers. The area is full of modern buildings and some of the classiest bars and restaurants in the city. I highly recommend staying here.
I stayed a few minutes from the Rosebank Mall. I walked around the area both day and night and always felt safe. Also, all the nearby commercial complexes like the local mall and upscale dining restaurant compounds have secure entrances with guards.
The trendy Illovo neighborhood is just north of Rosebank. There are a ton of restaurants and cafés here as well.
Maboneng Precinct, Hillbrow, and other parts of the city center are not safe and you are best avoiding these areas. Want proof? Check out Magen Security’s Johannesburg crime heat map.
Stick with my recommendations above for the best experience. If you take advice from someone else, make sure they’ve been there themselves.
Safety in Johannesburg
Online discussions about Johannesburg’s safety will probably frighten you. Reading too much of this stuff will leave you believing you’re about to walk into a war zone and be left for dead.
First of all, lots of that information is around 10 years old. Secondly, you can’t judge the safety of the city as a whole. Just like other world cities, there are dangerous areas and safe areas. Here in Johannesburg, things are just a bit more pronounced.
In addition to traveler safety precautions you would typically follow, there are a few things to note regarding Johannesburg safety.
If you’re going anywhere that’s even slightly off the beaten path, be prepared to be stared at. I visited a couple of less-frequented attractions and can definitely attest to this.
Unless you’ve done thorough research about an area, always take an Uber. Be sure of where you’re headed after you exit the car, too.
Johannesburg Gay Travel Experiences
Plan some time to hang out along the street outside Mandela’s House for a bit afterward. While it might not be obvious, the street outside of the museum is lined with awesome local restaurants. I’ll mention more below.
An afternoon on Vilakazi Street was honestly the most memorable experience of my Johannesburg travels. It was a terrific way to get a slice of authentic South African culture.
I highly recommend visiting on a Sunday. Locals enjoy Sunday brunch cocktails and local cuisine through the late afternoon.
I ate at Sakhumzi Restaurant, an authentic South African restaurant. The mood here is so vibrant and the immediate area is safe.
Beefcakes is an LGBT mainstay in South Africa and one of the most famous Johannesburg gay establishments. I visited the Beefcakes restaurant in Cape Town and had an absolute blast. They had some unique and hysterically funny drag queens.
The premise of Beefcakes is “dinner and a drag show.” Make a reservation, choose from a few set meal options and chow down while being entertained by a wonderful drag performance!
Heading to Johannesburg? Make sure you have everything on this essential South Africa packing list for a fun and comfortable trip.
Johannesburg Gay Bars
Before mentioning any Johannesburg gay bars, you should note that they are not all clustered in one area of the city. A few of them are in Illovo and Rosebank while a couple of others are a 15-minute drive away, near Strydompark.
Most of the gay bars in Johannesburg are actually within commercial business centers. It will likely feel a bit strange walking into what appears to be a shopping mall. However, it doesn’t really change the experience once you’re inside the bar.
Babylon is one of Johannesburg’s popular gay bars where you’ll see this. The bar is inside of Illovo Muse Business Center. Babylon Bar was pleasant and I loved their summertime indoor-outdoor space. Overall, the bar is pretty big!
The crowd at Babylon tends to be around 50% women, although it may vary from weekend to weekend. When I visited, there was also a range of ages from people in their 20’s to probably about 40 years old. There wasn’t much of a 40+ crowd.
The Rec Room Bar & Gay Sauna
The Rec Room is one of the larger gay bars in the city. Although some locals mentioned they don’t like the bar so much, The Rec Room is popular for being one of the only Johannesburg gay cruising spots They have a separate towel-optional steam room and Jacuzzi.
Even though I stayed a bit too far away to visit the Rec Room, I do know that it can be difficult to find the bar. It’s inside of Phoenix Centre Union Tiles Complex, so their Google location may direct you to a side road along the outside of the business center.
Send The Rec Room a message and get exact directions to avoid any hassle before you make the trip.
The Greenhouse: Johannesburg’s Unofficial Gay Bar
Cocktails at The Greenhouse was by far the coolest nightlife experience of my trip. This place is chic, has amazing music (by resident DJs), and is highly recommended by many gay locals. They’re also a restaurant with large tables, great for groups.
Although it’s not an official gay bar, The Greenhouse is owned by the same management as Babylon gay bar. If you visit Babylon, you’ll see another one of their “green walls.”
Expect a mixed crowd, however, you’ll likely be among several LGBT locals here at the Greenhouse. It’s also worth noting that the vibe at The Greenhouse is much classier and people are more mature. I highly recommend making the visit!
Johannesburg Gay Pride
Johannesburg hosts a dazzling LGBT Pride festival each year. Thinking about attending a pride weekend in South Africa’s capital? Check out this clip of the 2019 Johannesburg Pride festival to get a feel for the vibe.
For official dates of the next Johannesburg pride event, visit the Pride of Africa website.
Planning a trip to South Africa? Don’t miss the LGBT paradise of Cape Town.
Before your trip, make sure you have these South Africa packing list essentials!
For more inspiration, explore wolfyy’s full collection of gay travel guides.