With many free museums, good-quality budget places to eat and drink, and a growing public transportation network, you don’t need to burn a lot of cash to have a good time in Gauteng. To see a lot while spending a little, base yourself at one of the boutique budget-priced hotels in the student hub of Braamfontein, and take advantage of Gauteng’s transport networks to explore all that’s around you.
Begin the day with a quick breakfast at Vélo Café on the colourful Grove square in Braamfontein before making your way to the Rea Vaya bus stop at Park Station, where you can sign up for a Rea Vaya bus pass (note you will you need your passport to do this).
Once hooked up with a bus card join the circular C-3 route and plot your way around the city. Get off at Constitution Hill, one of Johannesburg's most important historical landmarks. The old prison and fort buildings house one of the best museums in the city and you can visit the Constitutional Court building and the old fort ramparts for free.
Continue on the C-3 route through the crowded streets of Hillbrow until you reach the Fashion Square stop. Shop for vintage clothing and traditional fabrics at the Fashion Kapitol and enjoy a cheap and cheerful lunch at the Fashion Shack for under R50.
Just one stop away is the Carlton Centre, where for R15 you can ride the lift all the way up to the 50th floor viewing deck and enjoy the panoramic views across the entire city.
From the Carlton Centre walk along pedestrianized Main Street down into the heart of the historical mining district, an area filled with early gold-rush relics such as old mining headgear, mine carts and carriages, impressive statues and grand architecture. It's a free outdoor museum experience.
At the end of Main Street is Chancellor House, the old offices of the Mandela and Tambo legal practice, now a well-presented open-air museum. The eye-catching statue by sculptor Marco Cianfanelli of a young Mandela shadowboxing in front of the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court is the perfect place for a selfie.
From here walk to Beyers Naude Square via fascinating Diagonal Street, where life continues much as it did back in the city’s earliest days with hawkers, street vendors and shops selling blankets, household goods and traditional medicines (muti).
At Beyers Naude Square admire the impressive collection of historical buildings with a cold drink while you seat yourself on the wrought-iron balcony of the Guildhall Pub, which is located right next to the bus stop, from where you can complete your bus tour around the inner-city.
After a brief rest at your hotel, get your smartphone out and book an Uber taxi to 7th Street in the nearby suburb of Melville. The Ant is a quirky and atmospheric pizza restaurant and the perfect place for dinner before dropping into one (or many) of 7th Street’s friendly little bars for happy hour beers or cocktails.
After breakfast at your hotel, hop on the Gautrain, sit back, relax and enjoy the view on the 35-minute ride north to Pretoria. By travelling in the off-peak time of day you will be paying 25% less than if you travel during rush hour. At Pretoria station take the CBD Gautrain bus to the Struben Street/Paul Kruger Street stop, a short walk from Pretoria Zoo.
The huge Pretoria Zoo (entrance costs R85) is one of the largest in the country and you can easily spend two or three hours here learning about its incredible collection of rare and unusual animals. Have a typical South African lunch of braaied (barbecued) meat from one of the zoo's braai stands.
Rejoin the Gautrain bus route and get off at Burgers Park, a popular place for locals to relax and enjoy the sun.
Opposite Burgers Park is the magnificent Melrose House museum (entrance on Scheiding Street), which costs just R22 to enter. For an additional R15 you can also rent an audio guide that will give you added insight into the house's incredible history. From Melrose House it is an easy 15-minute walk back to Pretoria Station.
Get off the Gautrain at the Sandton stop and take one of the tuk-tuks from outside the station to 11th Street Benmore, a low-rise strip of restaurants just five minutes away where you can find a range of cheap and cheerful Chinese, Thai and Indian restaurants serving good value meals.
After dinner catch the Gautrain back to Park Station and spend the evening at Kitchener's, one of the city's most popular old pubs, known for its lively atmosphere and diverse crowd of students and creative types.
Start the day in Rosebank with breakfast at the busy Fournos bakery, where the extensive menu lists dozens of options starting from as little as R35.
For souvenirs visit the nearby Rosebank Art & Craft Market. There is a massive range of gifts, clothing and art to choose from and vendors love to barter so you can pick up some great bargains.
A few blocks away from the market are the Circa and Everard Read galleries, which are both free to visit and regularly host exhibitions by some of the country’s best contemporary artists. Further down Jan Smuts Avenue you can find even more contemporary art on so-called Art Gallery Row.
Book an e-tuktuk by phone and ride from Rosebank to Melville for a flat fee of just R50. In Melville visit 27Boxes, a shopping centre made from shipping containers. Check out the local fashions and gifts, browse the second-hand bookstore, and pick up a budget-friendly lunch from one of the many little container kitchens and then relax in the sunny 27 Boxes courtyard.
Order another e-tuktuk to take you back to Braamfontein so that you can drop off your souvenirs at the hotel and perk up with a quick coffee at the popular hipster coffee bar, Father Coffee.
4.30pm to 9.30pm
Spend your last evening in Gauteng with local tour company Dlala Nje on its African culinary adventure, the Taste of Yeoville Tour. It costs around R350 per person and includes food and drinks. The tour starts at the iconic 50-storey Ponte apartment building (take a taxi there) on Yeoville ridge. After sundowners the tour heads to pan-African Rockey Street to spend the evening exploring the many Congolese, Cameroonian and West African bars and cafes. It's a fun way to see a very different side to the city.