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Johannesburg Gay Travel

wolfyy’s Johannesburg gay guide to hotels and where to stay, gay bars, things to do, & local safety.

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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.

Johannesburg gay travel experience
Johannesburg gay travel experience
experience in Johannesburg South Africa

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.

experience in Johannesburg South Africa

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.

Johannesburg LGBT
Johannesburg LGBT
gay couple holding hands in Rosebank

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.

gay couple holding hands in Rosebank

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.

Rosebank Johannesburg safe hotels

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.

Rosebank Johannesburg safe hotels
Johannesburg gay traveler
Johannesburg gay traveler

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.

safe areas of Johannesburg

The trendy Illovo neighborhood is just north of Rosebank. There are a ton of restaurants and cafés here as well.

I must stress that you shouldn’t take advice on where to stay from just anyone. Believe it or not, sites like The Culture Trip and AWOL Junkee are actually labeling some of the most dangerous places to stay as trendy!

Johannesburg crime map
Johannesburg crime map
safe areas of Johannesburg

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.

visiting Johannesburg

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.

central Johannesburg

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.

johannesburg airport
central Johannesburg

There are indeed dangerous parts of the city as mentioned earlier, and you should avoid these. Tourists should avoid the city center neighborhoods of Hillbrow, Yeoville, and Berea.

johannesburg airport

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

Mandela’s House

A visit to Mandela’s House is a no-brainer and you probably already have this on your list. I mention this heritage museum first for two reasons. Unequivocally, Nelson Mandela was a hero, and seeing the museum of his old residence is quite powerful.

gay traveler outside Mandela's House
gay traveler outside Mandela's House
Nelson Mandela Heritage Museum

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.

Nelson Mandela Heritage Museum

Vilakazi Street

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.

Vilakazi Street Johannesburg

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.

Vilakazi Street Johannesburg
Beefcakes Johannesburg

Beefcakes Johannesburg

Beefcakes is an LGBT mainstay in South Africa and one of the most famous Johannesburg gay establishments. I also visited the Beefcakes restaurant in Cape Town and had an absolute blast. They had some unique and hysterically funny drag queens.

Beefcakes Johannesburg

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.

Johannesburg gay bars
Johannesburg gay bars
visiting Johannesburg

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

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!

Babylon gay bar
Babylon gay bar
Babylon gay club Johannesburg

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.

Babylon gay club Johannesburg

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.

sunset
South African wine

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.

South African wine

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.

The Greenhouse Johannesburg
The Greenhouse Johannesburg
outside greenhouse gay bar

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.”

outside greenhouse gay bar

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.

Johannesburg’s Pride is typically held near the Illovo neighborhood. The pride march in 2019 began in the adjacent Sandton City complex. Thinking of attending? Show LGBTQ+ support with these fun pride-themed accessories!

Johannesburg gay pride

For official dates of the next Johannesburg pride event, visit the Pride of Africa website.

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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.


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