In association with Emirates

The city is shaking off its fearsome reputation - don't be scared to enjoy its charms, says Francisca Kellett

WHY GO NOW?

Johannesburg is dusting itself off and drawing back visitors. Crime-busting regeneration schemes have seen areas like run-down Newtown filled with restaurants and theatres, while recent additions include the Apartheid Museum.

TOUCH DOWN

You can fly non-stop from Heathrow to Johannesburg on British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com), South African Airways (0870 747 1111; www.flysaa.com) or Virgin Atlantic (0870 380 2007; www.virgin-atlantic.com). Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) flies from Gatwick, Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow via Dubai.

There is a taxi rank outside the terminal; driving to the northern suburbs takes about 15 minutes and costs about R180 (£16.50). Magic Bus runs shuttles to the suburbs, from R75 (£7). Tickets can be bought from the desk in the Parkade Centre. Public transport is sparse; taxis or a hire car are the best way of getting around.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Johannesburg is situated on the Highveld, a broad plateau stretching over a series of ridges. The city grew up because of the gold deposits found here in the 19th century. It is vast and sprawling, although the excellent highway system makes navigation easy. The centre is a glittering grid of high-rises and central suburbs, including the notorious Hillbrow and Newtown. The northern suburbs comprise an enclave of posh boutiques, good restaurants and the country's most sophisticated nightlife; the most attractive is Melville, giving way to an arc of smart suburbs, including Rosebank and Sandton. Outside the ring of highways marking Greater Johannesburg lie the African townships, including Soweto, which now attracts more tourists than Kruger National Park.

The regional Gauteng Tourism Authority (1) is at 1 Central Place, Henry Nxumalo Street in Newtown (00 27 11 327 2000; www.gauteng.net).

CHECK IN

The five-star Melrose Arch Hotel (2) (00 27 11 214 6666; www.africanpridehotels.com) is a trendy addition to the northern suburbs, with stylish rooms and a smart bar and restaurant. The location is slightly odd, within a gated development, but shops and restaurants are a safe stroll away. Doubles cost R2,360 (£215). A Room With A View (3) at 1 Tolip Street (00 27 11 482 5435; www.aroomwithaview.co.za) has Italian-villa-styled rooms with views over the fashionable suburb of Melville. Rooms cost from R800 (£73). Johannesburg's longest-running budget hostel is the Backpackers Ritz (4), on North Road, Dunkeld West (00 27 11 325 2520; www.backpackinafrica.com), a sprawling house with a garden, swimming pool, café and bar. Doubles are R260 (£23).

TAKE A HIKE

Newtown was the first pocket of downtown Johannesburg to receive a facelift, and it's once again thriving. Always the heart of the city's cultural scene - it's home to the well-known Market Theatre (5) - the area is now filled with restaurants, shops and market traders. Start on the large square in front of the Market Theatre, once a dodgy car park but now smartened up and host to stalls and buskers at weekends. A stroll along the palm-lined pavement takes you to Bree Street, where weekending families browse among the market stalls. Head back to the square to Museum Africa (6), housed in the city's former fruit and vegetable market, which focuses on Johannesburg's black population, with displays on the struggle for democracy and life in the townships. It's open from 9am-5pm, daily except Monday, and is free.

OUT TO BRUNCH

The Grace (7), 54 Bath Avenue, Rosebank (00 27 11 280 7200; www.thegrace.co.za), a smart hotel close to Rosebank Mall (8), has a popular brunch buffet on Saturdays and Sundays from 12noon to 2.30pm, for R145 (£13).

WINDOW SHOPPING

Much of the city's social life revolves around the restaurants and bars in the malls. Rosebank Mall (8) has an attractive piazza lined with restaurants. Its highlight is the African Craft Market. Former street traders now peddle their wares here, selling good-quality curios and art from all over Africa. More upmarket boutiques and restaurants can be found at Sandton Square (9).

AN APERITIF

Joburg's young and hip flock to Melville, where cafés and bars spill out on to the pavements along 7th Street (10) - the location for the Xai Xai Lounge (00 27 11 482 6990), which has a Mozambique theme and serves great cocktails, and the very cool Trance Sky (00 27 11 726 2241).

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Yum (11) at 26 Gleneagles Road, in Greenside (00 27 11 486 1645), has a loyal following, serving modern versions of traditional South African cuisine in a minimalist interior. For a pan-African meal, head to Gramadoelas (12) on Bree Street in Newtown (00 27 11 838 6960), which covers everything from fried mopani worms to sweet and spicy bobotie, an Afrikaans cottage pie. Carnivore (13) on Drift Boulevard in Muldersdrift (00 27 11 950 6061), as the name suggests, serves up grilled hunks of game including warthog, crocodile, kudu and zebra. The springbok is especially good.

TAKE A RIDE

Soweto, stretching to the south-west (Soweto stands for South West Township), started out as a settlement for black miners forcibly removed from the centre, but today it is a city in its own right, with some 3.5 million inhabitants and its own suburbs, shopping centres and infrastructure.

It still has unsafe areas, so don't walk around alone - go on a guided tour that takes in the major sights, such as the Hector Pierterson Museum, dedicated to the student riots in the 1970s, and Vilakazi Street, home once to both Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, where you can take a tour of Mandela's old house. Face to Face Tours is the longest-running operator to Soweto and specialises in helping visitors meet local Sowetans (00 27 11 331 6109; www.face2face.co.za). A half-day tour costs R295 (£27).

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Johannesburg's most notable church is Regina Mundi in Soweto, the scene of protests and clashes between police and demonstrators during the Apartheid era. You can still see bullet holes in the ceiling from shots fired by police. Today, in more peaceful times, services are rousing and the congregation welcomes visitors.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Still in Soweto, join the tourists and well-heeled locals at Sakhumzi Restaurant (00 27 11 939 4427) on Vilakazi Street, right next door to Tutu's house. Shady trestle tables crowd on the lawn, and the food is " traditional" African - pap, a stiff maize porridge, served with meat stew and beans.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Although it is surprisingly leafy, Johannesburg is bereft of decent parks. Head out of town to tranquil Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, a 30-minute drive away on Malcolm Road, Poortview, Roodepoort (00 27 11 958 1750; www.nbi.ac.za). The park is criss-crossed with walking paths and backed by the impressive Witpoortjie waterfall.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The Apartheid Museum (14), next to Gold Reef City in Ormonde (00 27 11 309 4700; www.apartheidmuseum.org), offers an excellent account of South Africa's harrowing history. Multimedia displays, news footage and personal accounts outline the birth of Apartheid, Pass Laws (whereby black South Africans were forced to carry passes at all times), forced relocations, uprisings and the release of Mandela. It's disturbing stuff, but illustrated in a sensitive and intelligent way. Open 10am-5pm daily except Monday, admission R25 (£2.30).

WRITE A POSTCARD

To get a feel for why locals call it the Manhattan of Africa, head to the "Top of Africa" in the Carlton Centre (15). Open daily from 9am-5pm, it costs R7 (£0.60) to take the lift to the 50th-storey lookout deck, which offers dizzying views. There a little curio shop selling postcards, and a café perfect for gazing out over the skyline.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Pretoria makes a perfect day trip from Johannesburg, just 50 kilometres to the north, with a neat jacaranda-lined centre, good museums and the imposing Voortrekker Monument.

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