Is Johannesburg Really The World’s Unfriendliest City?

Recently, I overheard a radio talk conversation on Highveld (local station in Joburg) talking about Conde Nast’s 2014 release of the friendliest and unfriendliest cities in the world. As the talk show host counted down the unfriendliest cities, France had a handful of cities (no surprise to me), Moscow, Beijing, etc. all which aren’t big surprises to me. Rounding up the top of the list with the unfriendliest city in the world was Johannesburg! The question for all foreigners reading this becomes, is this true??

From Conde Nast:
Though Johannesburg is “one of the most beautiful cities in the world,” safety still remains a serious concern. “It is not safe to travel in Johannesburg independently,” one reader warned, while others called it “dangerous” and “a city of crime and contrasts.” In one instance, a visitor was “pressured to give a tip for personal service, which was not received.” Despite its iffy reputation, South Africa’s largest city remains a burgeoning cultural capital with a stunning urban landscape, “excellent breweries,” and “great shopping.”

Living in Joburg for the past year and a half, I’ve stayed here long enough to really immerse myself in the day to day life and culture of the city. I’ve seen how the rich live (and they live damn well) and how the poor live (and they live extremely poor). Nevertheless, I’ve tried to interact with and learn as much about my new surroundings as possible. No matter who these interactions are with, I can come to one conclusion, people here are extremely friendly.

Is Johannesburg Safe To Visit?

Then there comes the eternal question of Is South Africa Safe which I have diligently answered here. If you’re planning on living in Johannesburg or just want to read about my experiences as an expat, make sure to read my Ultimate Guide to living in Johannesburg

South Africa is the most multi-racial and multi-lingual country in the world. America is these things but if you take out all first generation immigrants, English is primarily spoken. Having never been to any part of Africa, and having read about Apartheid, I was anxious to see what the people would be like. Were white people still racist and closed off? Were black people still angry from the generations of Apartheid? While I’m sure you can and will find these types of people in South Africa, my worries were almost instantly calmed. There’s a reason I have been planning people’s honeymoons to the Rainbow nation!

Joburg at night.
Joburg at night.

My experiences living in Johannesburg

Most conversations with people at bars, the gym, or anywhere really have resulted in people really curious and eager to know what I’m doing in Joburg. Questions about life in America always arise too as people here love the states. People always ask me how I’m liking the country, to which I reply, I’m loving it. People are genuinely happy when I tell them this because they feel like they’re doing right and shedding whatever negative stigma South Africa has attained over the years. Some are even concerned that I am not enjoying my time here and offer to show me around to which I reassure them that my experience has been nothing but positive.

Day to day life

My day to day interactions with people, whether it’s the doorman in my building, the security staff at work, or the guy taking my orders at Nandos, I’ve felt nothing but good hospitality. People here like to use the phrase “Shap Shap” which essentially is verbalizing a thumbs up. Being the foreigner that I am, I like this phrase and have picked it up myself so whenever someone says shap shap to me, I return the favor with my own “Shap Shap”. In fact, I say this phrase all the time now. “Howzit man? Shap”. Some people have perplexed looks at times thinking “did that asian guy just say shap to me?” but nonetheless, they smile and say shap back to me. Yep, I probably think I’m pretty cool.

I’ve made trips to the townships (slums), and people are even MORE friendly in these poorer parts of the country. I’ve been to Pretoria, the Afrikaans stronghold, to watch rugby games, and most people are excited to ask me what I think of rugby games vs football games (obviously football is the winner but I am nice and say how much I am enjoying the rugby game).

At times I’m almost at a lost for words at people’s kindness. Here is a country that only came out of arguably the worst racial segregation in modern history twenty years ago,  and the guys working as parking lot attendants earn next to nothing, but yet they still go about their days with smiles? It truly feels genuine too.

Conde Nast, Think again

So with that said, what the hell kind of studies were Conde Nast conducting when they released this? They claim that Joburg  is one of the most beautiful cities in the world but is crime ridden and tourists were pressured into giving tips for a service. First of all, I wouldn’t even consider Joburg to be a beautiful city. It’s not ugly but if you want a beautiful city in South Africa, Cape Town is your spot and then some (also ranked 8th friendliest on their list).

lion's head
Lion’s Head, Cape Town. What a view!

Second, crime is everywhere! Yes there is crime in Johannesburg, and I’ve been fortunate enough not to experience any of it but what city doesn’t have this? I lived in New York prior to moving here and there are many places I’d recommend a tourist to steer clear from. Third, what city does NOT have people that want tips for services from tourists?

table mountain with clouds
Table Mountain in Cape Town seen from Lions Head.

Perhaps Conde Nast should have rephrased their article for Joburg. If the list was “World’s most dangerous cities”, I can understand Joburg being on that list because statistically speaking, Joburg does not fare so well on that front. World’s unfriendliest? That I just don’t agree with.

Being a foreigner in Johannesburg

Being a foreigner may be the root cause, but this article from Conde Nast is tourists’ opinions on the cities so they must have had REALLY horrible experiences. I’ve experienced nothing but warm hospitality everywhere that I’ve been in Joburg. Perhaps it’s because I’m a foreigner living in a foreign land and striking up a conversation is easy. Perhaps, it’s because I’m just a friendly guy myself and like attracts like. Perhaps it’s something else, but regardless, one of the things I will miss most about living in South Africa when I leave is just how warm everyone is and the kindness I’ve been shown.

Joburg, however, is not a place I’d advise tourists to visit. This is not because it is unfriendly or dangerous or whatever. There’s simply not much to do here from a tourism perspective. For someone with limited time trying to make the most of their vacation, Joburg should be a one to two day (at most) stop over before heading to the Kruger or some other game reserve. On the other hand, Johannesburg IS a great place to live and work, which is precisely what I am doing. Anyone else planning to do the same, hopefully this post clears some things up!

Visiting Johannesburg and South Africa

With that said, now that all your questions have been answered about traveling in South Africa, read my perfect itinerary for planning a trip to the Rainbow Nation! Johannesburg is the a common first stop to fly into for many international travelers. I would highly recommend a night or even two when visiting South Africa as it showcases a totally different side than the Cape. I’d also recommend staying in the central area of Sandton.

Budget – Under $100

Midrange – $100 to $200

High end – $200+


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  1. It’s important to put Jo’burg’s problems into perspective.

    US soccer journalist for Sports Illustrated Grant Wahl lived in Johannesburg for a year and nothing happened to him.

    He’s in Tegucigalpa, Honduras for a few minutes and gets robbed at gunpoint.

    Look it up.

  2. I am a South African, who spent some time living in Johannesburg and Pretoria as well as Cape Town and Pietersburg (Polokwane). As an airline pilot I regularly fly to cities all over the world, including Johannesburg.

    First of all Johannesburg is not a safe city by any stretch – you need to be a bit street savvy to stay safe. Secondly, I would not rate Johannesburg as one of the “worlds most beautiful cities”. It has beautiful areas, but the CBD in particular has been decimated since the ANC government took over – it was a clean, safe attractive city in my youth, not anymore.

    However, I vehemently disagree with the statement that Johannesburg is the most unfriendly city in the world – on the contrary, you will find some of the warmest, most friendly people anywhere living there, black and white. Conde Nast is talking cr@p.

    • Hey Chris, very insightful comment! Also I agree that Joburg is not a safe city as a whole but I think from a tourism perspective people are not going to be staying or walking around cbd. Most people just fly in, stay a night or two in Sandton cbd and then continue on to their safaris. Maybe they take a day trip around soweto or something but I think most tourists will get a pretty sheltered view of the city so in that regards I don’t think it is as dangerous as if you lived here day to day. But yes, definitely some of the most warm and inviting people I’ve met!

    • No… SA is extremely dangerous. And the rape ratio is Johanesbourg is schocking!! The Europeans feel always uneasy in Johanesbourg. It us worse even than Mosul ot Erbil! Do not sweet the true.

  3. Today April 18 2019 South Africa Johannesburg is a very dangerous place for everyone. On May 8th South Africa have their General Elections to change being the Rainbow Nation to become the Black Nationalist Nation for Bantus, Zulus and Xhosas only. Following that on May 13 2019, the wild gangs will go out within the city and throughout the country to seek out foreign African Nationals from other black African countries to kill them for taking away South African jobs. Tourists will also be targets as well. Therefore South African Tourism ends May 13 2019 and will never recover again.

  4. I have a Saffa mate from Jo’burg who’s just celebrated becoming an English citizen. She told me that if her parents wanted to see her they’d have to come to London.

    When I asked her why she answered, “My parents live in a street where the householders pay for a company to have armed guards on the street, because the crime in the past was so bad”. The reason she was so upset was that she’d been mugged three times and raped once!

    She now lives in South London, where she can walk to the local shops and now go out without a door to door taxi…..

    • hi Tim, unfortunately South Africa does have crime problems I won’t lie. Loads of people told me their stories while I was living there which is unfortunate given the history of the country and how it’s developed since the Apartheid days. With that said, everyone has different experiences. Personaly, I lived there for 2 years and where I lived I experienced nothing negative at all. I just remember how friendly the people of the country were to me and how much I enjoyed my time there. There’s bad folks in every country (some parts of the UK I would DEFINITELY avoid) and shit can happen everywhere.

      • hi, I’m really curious about your comparison with the UK. is there a place in the UK where you feel you couldn’t go for a walk during daylight, let’s say a 20 minute walk to a shop or post office? Alternatively, where in Joburg would you feel comfortable having your 20-year old (white) daughter walk to the store that’s maybe 2 km away on her own, in daylight?

      • They exaggerate and tell a lot of lies Johnny, the far-right types. I’ve caught them out so many times (you can normally tell).

        The last person I would ask about safety in South Africa is a white South African. Unless you want to believe you’re in a country more violent than Syria and one that’s going through a genocide..

        They’re very, very strange.

  5. I visited many countries in the world and nowhere I did not feel so unsafe like in Johannesburg. I stayed in the district mainly populated by white people but still the feel of being white is strange there.

  6. Hi Johnny,
    I stumbled upon your blog and love it! I spent 6 months working on a project in Jozi a couple of years ago and still miss brunch at 44 Stanley and Market on Main on Sundays… There is so much to love about the city and I am sad that it has such a bad reputation.. Question for you – how did you go about finding a job in SA? I was looking on your site for a post about finding a job in SA but couldn’t find one. Really curious to hear what industry you were in and what your thoughts are on the job hunt there.
    Thanks again for all of this useful info!

    • Hi Mags, thanks for the kind words! I miss it a lot too! Especially Nandos for me as it’s only in DC in America :(.

      As for the job, I worked in a bank, and my company in America actually transferred me to the South African office. I actually tried looking for jobs elsewhere in South Africa, but it’s near impossible if you’re not South African. SA already has a huge unemployment problem, the last thing they will want to do is hire foreigners. Even with my visa, it was for a specific role within my firm, that I couldn’t even move to another job within the firm. I would have loved to stay in SA, but it was just too much work to find work 🙁

      • Thanks for the reply! Yeah that’s what I was thinking… that only finance or very niche fields like mining. Too bad!

        Anyways, love the blog so keep up the good work!

        • Thanks again! And I mean it’s not impossible to find a job in SA. I met plenty of people that got working visas after they moved to SA. I just think being a foreigner, it is a an uphill battle that may only be appealing for the absolute die hards.

  7. This is so helpful. Thank you for creating this blog. I am visiting SA in September this year for my birthday and if I end up loving it I might just move. Im from the Philippines and am looking forward to travelling more. You paint such a vivid picture of the life in Joburg.

    • Thanks Grace! Just doing what I can to hopefully spread the good word about South Africa. Make sure you spend some time in Cape Town though as you’ll be much more easily swayed afterwards 🙂

    • Thanks for a great article Johnny
      I lived in Johannesburg a few years ago and loved it. Back in Texas now and sure am missing that Johannesburg weather.
      Met some of the nicest people and made some good friends
      I lived near Zoo Lake and never once felt unsafe walking around, going to the stores up in Parkview and hanging out at the park etc.
      Looking forward to stopping by there on our trip next year on our way to Durban ( another amazing place!)

  8. I’ve recently been reading blogs written by people working in countries that I’m interested in going to….. this is the first time I’ve read one by a foreigner talking about my country, South Africa. Very interesting.

    • Thanks Tess. I think many South Africans might disagree with what I say but hey, this is all coming from my personal experience, which has just been overwhelmingly positive thus far!