Clifton Beach in Cape Town, a more relaxed, coastal city when comparing Cape Town vs Johannesburg

Cape Town vs Johannesburg: Which Is Best For Travel?

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Are you deciding between Cape Town vs Johannesburg for your trip to South Africa?

From incredible wildlife and stunning landscapes to vibrant city centers, unforgettable experiences await you in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa’s two main cities.

However, if you have a limited budget or limited time, you may have to make the difficult decision between visiting Johannesburg or Cape Town. Do you want to explore the bustling city life of Johannesburg or the laid-back atmosphere of Cape Town? 

Your decision will likely come down to what you’d like to do on your trip. It’s a tough decision so take your time to decide on the best fit for you! We’ve asked our friend, Deb of Introvert with Itchy Feet, to help you make this decision by sharing about her time in both cities.

Which Is Better To Visit: Cape Town or Johannesburg? 

When deciding which city is better to visit in South Africa – Johannesburg vs Cape Town – it depends on what you’d like to do while you’re there.

Johannesburg offers a vibrant nightlife, a lively restaurant and café scene, and plenty of shopping options. It also has a great selection of museums, art galleries and urban renewal projects where you’ll find plenty of both.

Skyline of Johannesburg at dusk

And, of course, if you’re dreaming of taking a safari and would love to see Africa’s epic wildlife in person, Johannesburg’s got you covered. “Joburg,” as it’s affectionately known, is within driving distance of two of the country’s best wildlife parks. 

On the other hand, coastal Cape Town, the “Mother City,” has beautiful beaches, a lively waterfront, and an abundance of outdoor and water activities. 

View of False Bay from Table Mountain National Park hiking trail, a top site in Cape Town

It’s also the center of several pretty spectacular road trips. The famous Garden Route along the southern coast, for example, is unforgettably beautiful.

And the Namaqualand Flower Route northward will take you through the most impressive displays of wildflowers you’ve ever seen. 

Wildflowers near Cape Town, South Africa

So if you’re looking for a more laid back, outdoorsy holiday, Cape Town is the answer for you. 

But if you’d prefer to experience the fast pace and urban delights of city life then Johannesburg is definitely the place to be. 

Another important consideration is the time of year you’ll be travelling to Cape Town or Johannesburg. Winter falls between May and August in the South Africa, and weather can be a bit wet and dismal at times during winter in Cape Town.

You should even pack for the possibility of snow!

View of Cape Town from Signal Hill
Skyline of Johannesburg and surrounding townships

However, Joburg and its surrounding area are dry, sunny, and cool. If you’d like to stay dry but avoid the heat, this is perfect for you.

When it comes to Joburg vs Cape Town to visit, both cities offer something unique, and there really isn’t a wrong choice! Read on for some facts to help you choose the best South African city for you.

Which city is safer? 

When it comes to Cape Town vs Johannesburg safety, Cape Town comes out on top. In fact, it’s considered the safest major city in South Africa.

Improvements have been made in the past several years, especially in inner city areas, to raise safety levels. 

Crime still exists – make no mistake – but it tends to be somewhat contained to specific neighborhoods these days. This makes it easier to steer clear of. You can read more about Cape Town safety in our deep-dive into whether Cape Town is dangerous.

Johannesburg, on the other hand, is still grappling with issues of crime. But the use of common sense precautions can go a long way in staying safe.

Downtown Johannesburg, including Gandhi Square and City Hall, some of the top landmarks in Johannesburg

Avoid travel at night, stay in well-lit areas, and avoid dangerous inner city neighborhoods. These steps can help level the playing field between Joburg and Cape Town in terms of safety.

However, common sense precautions should be taken in both cities. You never want to put your safety or your incredible vacation at risk.

Which city is more affordable: Cape Town or Johannesburg?

When it comes to affordability, Johannesburg tends to be the better option, but only by a narrow margin. 

The city has a wide variety of affordable accommodation options. There are also great restaurants where you can find delicious meals on a budget. 

The average visitor can expect to spend around US$255 dollars per day in Joburg in 2023. This estimate is for two people in a 4-star hotel plus food and entertainment. 

View of night life in Johannesburg

Of course, this will vary wildly from person to person. These numbers are strictly for comparison purposes between the two cities.

If you decide to rent a car for a week, it will cost roughly US$180 plus your insurance options and fees.

In Cape Town, on the other hand, prices can be steeper due to its popularity among tourists and higher cost of living. This also creates higher demand, and therefore higher prices,  for accommodations. 

A visit to Cape Town will cost in the neighborhood of US$265 per day for two people in nice accommodations, also factoring in food and entertainment. Car rental costs are similar to Joburg, plus or minus US$5 or $10. 

It may take a little more searching in Cape Town to find a reasonably-priced place to stay. There is still a large selection, though, so you should be able to find just what you want.

Be sure to browse through the different vacation rental options. These can offer some fun and inexpensive alternatives to the average hotel.

Houses in Muizenberg Beach, Cape Town

You may also find that flights to Johannesburg are cheaper than those to Cape Town. So if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly holiday, then Johannesburg could be the best choice.

Which city is bigger?

Johannesburg and Cape Town are two of South Africa’s biggest cities. But when it comes to size, they’re very different from each other.

Johannesburg is the larger of the two cities, both physically and population-wise. 

Covering an area of 1,645 km², or 635 miles², it’s almost twice the size of Cape Town. The Mother City is only 944 km², or 365 miles². 

Skyline of Johannesburg, the bigger city between Johannesburg vs Cape Town

Johannesburg is home to just over 6 million people, whereas Cape Town has only about 4.8 million residents.

Johannesburg is also a sprawling, widespread city with wide streets and tall buildings. It’s particularly well known for its modern skyline and high-rise business district. 

In contrast, Cape Town is more contained. It also has a more relaxed feel, with quaint coastal neighborhoods and beautiful natural surroundings. 

Incredible view of Table Mountain in Cape Town, one of the top reasons to visit Cape Town vs Johannesburg

Size is definitely not the only difference between these two cities. But it’s a difference that can be felt in their energy.

Which city should I go to if I want to go on a safari?

If you’re looking to go on safari, then Johannesburg is definitely the better option.

Joburg offers easy access to some of South Africa’s premier game reserves and national parks.

These include Pilanesberg National Park, about a 2.5 hour drive from the city, and Kruger National Park, 4.5 hours away. 

Lion in Pilanesberg National Park, one of the top things to do near Johannesburg

These parks are home to some of the world’s most epic wildlife, including the iconic Big 5. These are the elephant, lion, rhino, buffalo, and leopard.

Some safari tours are also offered near Cape Town, but they tend to be smaller and much less impressive than what you will find near Joburg. 

You will also be paying the same price or more for an experience that can be a bit disappointing.

So if you’re looking for a great safari experience, Johannesburg should definitely be your destination of choice. 

Which is better for living: Cape Town or Johannesburg?

The choice of which city is better to live in depends on the lifestyle you’re looking for. 

Cape Town has a beautiful and diverse natural landscape, making it an attractive place to live. It also boasts a higher quality of urban living. From its stunning beaches to its impressive mountains, there’s something special about the vibe of this scenic city. 

Clifton Beach in Cape Town, a more relaxed, coastal city when comparing Cape Town vs Johannesburg

If you enjoy an active lifestyle, the hiking and other outdoor activities throughout Table Mountain National Park are unmatched. Cape Town is also close to such natural wonders as Boulder’s Beach, with its own colony of wild African penguins. 

Plus, it offers many cultural attractions and activities, such as exploring its rich history. This can include visits to Robben Island or the Bo-Kaap Museum.

Johannesburg, on the other hand, is a busy metropolis. There are plenty of job opportunities here if you’re looking for work. Its dynamic nightlife and excellent dining options are also great attractions for people who enjoy being a part of the energy of city life. 

Sandton City Center in Johannesburg, South Africa

In addition, its location in the heart of South Africa makes it easy to travel throughout the country and explore its diverse culture. You will also find that Johannesburg has a lower cost of living, particularly where rent is concerned. 

Joburg is known more as a city to experience Africa. Cape Town, in contrast, has more of an international feel. It feels more European than strictly African.

So whether you’re looking for an easygoing lifestyle or a bustling city life, both Cape Town and Johannesburg have something unique to offer.

Reasons To Visit Cape Town

☑️ Visit the beaches: Cape Town is home to some of South Africa’s most beautiful beaches. Spend a day relaxing on one of the many stunning stretches of sand, such as the partying Camps Bay or swanky Clifton Beach.

☑️ Explore Table Mountain National Park: This world heritage site offers spectacular views of the Mother City and many hiking and biking trails. Head to the mountain’s summit for incredible lookouts over Cape Town and its coastline.

Camps Bay Beach in Cape Town, one of the reasons to visit Cape Town vs Johannesburg
Bo Kaap neighborhood in Cape Town

☑️ Take a tour of the city: Spend an afternoon exploring Cape Town’s many attractions, such as the brightly colored Bo-Kaap neighborhood and the iconic Table Bay Harbor. Or, embark on a vineyard tour to sample some of the region’s renowned wines.

Reasons To Visit Johannesburg 

☑️ Go on safari: Johannesburg offers easy access to many of South Africa’s premier game reserves and national parks, such as Pilanesberg National Park, Kruger National Park, and the Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Game Reserve. Enjoy seeing some of the world’s most incredible African wildlife.

☑️ Check out the city attractions: Johannesburg is home to many exciting points of interest, including the Apartheid Museum, Constitution Hill, and Gold Reef City Theme Park. Spend a day exploring these fantastic spots and learning about the city’s history.

Giraffes in Pilanesberg National Park, one of the reasons why visit Johannesburg
Soweto Township in Johannesburg, one of the top places of interest in Johannesburg

☑️ Explore Soweto: The largest township in the Johannesburg Municipality, Soweto offers a fascinating insight into the country’s past and present. It is home to many attractions, such as the Mandela House Museum, Hector Pieterson Memorial, and Vilakazi Street. A visit to Soweto will be unforgettable.

The Wrap-Up

So, which will it be: Johannesburg or Cape Town? Both cities offer exceptional sights and activities to make your trip memorable. 

Whether you’re looking for a beachy getaway or an urban experience in one of Africa’s iconic cities, these two South African cities each have something special to offer.

If you’re looking for a trip full of natural beauty, then Cape Town is for you. With its incredible beaches, world-class vineyards, and famous Table Mountain National Park, there’s no shortage of outdoor activities. 

Coastal view of Cape Town and Table Mountain

On the other hand, Johannesburg is the perfect destination if you’re looking to experience a vibrant metropolitan life with a look into the country’s brutal yet emancipative past. It’s also the closer of the two cities to the country’s best national parks for safaris.

It all comes down to your personal preference, as both cities have incredible things to offer. No matter which you choose, you’re sure to have an unforgettable time in South Africa. And if you’re an thrill seeker, make sure you check out the most adventurous things to do in South Africa!