JOHANNESBURG has long suffered a bad press. The economic capital of South Africa, which began life as a gold mining town in the 1890s, has more often made the headlines for its violent crime than its culture. But times are changing, and the combination of a series of major regeneration projects and a crackdown on crime has breathed new life into the city.

Whereas visitors to South Africa used to spend as little time as possible in Johannesburg – rushing to the Kruger National Park or heading to Cape Town – the city is now the happening place to spend a couple of days.

Clients should be advised to take reasonable precautions – as in any major city. A two-day itinerary could take in fascinating historic sites, great restaurants, and the thriving bar and club scene.

Day one

A good start
9:00: Clients should delve into Jo’burg life with breakfast on the terrace at Deluxe, on Stanley Avenue. What used to be a block of empty warehouses is now a lively centre with restaurants, bars, trendy shops and art galleries.

A grip on apartheid
11:00: One of Johannesburg’s must-sees, the Apartheid Museum, is a place to get a grip on South Africa’s not-so-distant past. To do it justice clients need two or three hours. Visitors are given random ‘black’ or ‘non-black’ tokens and proceed to separate entrances. The madness of apartheid is brought to life on an interactive journey through the years of segregation and oppression, right up to the release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison.

Slumming it
For an insight into post-apartheid South Africa, clients should visit Soweto, the city’s largest township and home
to an estimated 3.5 million people. They should have a guide and check out Baragwanath market, where healers tout remedies.

Soweto is vast with shanty huts sprawling in all directions, but there are posh parts, too. The likes of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Nelson’s ex wife, live in leafy Orlando West.

Explore the area
Tell clients to stop for a late lunch at one of Soweto’s traditional shebeens (bars). Wandie’s is popular. After lunch, clients should explore some of the history of the township, which was at the centre of the apartheid struggle.

Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lived on Vilakazi Street. Mandela’s former home is now a museum. Close by is the Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum, named after the 13-year-old whose murder by police led to an uprising in 1976.

Yum yum
Back in Johannesburg it’s time for dinner at the restaurant of the moment – Yum. Created by culinary trendsetter Dario De Angeli, the emphasis is on contemporary South African cuisine. It’s sophisticated but relaxed, with the menu featuring dishes such as rabbit with foie gras. The desserts are works of art.

The exchange rate makes dining out in South Africa a steal at the moment, with main courses here costing about £8.

south africa feature 240206 - johannesburg 10pmLet’s go crazy
Johannesburg loves to party and there is a great choice of bars and clubs. For a taste of the action, the southwest district of Melville’s 7th Avenue is party central. One bar after another lines the street and it’s buzzing until the early hours.

Clients can take their pick: the Trancesky Beat Bar attracts a youngish crowd, Xai Xai is a magnet for media types, while Jo’burg’s arty set hang out in the Berlin bar.

For clubbing, Cool Runnings would suit reggae fans, Color Bar at 44 Stanley Avenue has a lounge vibe, and Carfax in Newtown is the place for house and drum ’n’ bass music.

If clients have an early start in the morning, tell them to head to the hip Melrose Arch hotel when it’s time for bed –
or stay up all night and worry about it tomorrow.

Day two

A lot of hot air
Clients may have to drag themselves out of bed, but the day in store will be worth it. In the Magalies River Valley, 28 miles outside Jo’burg, English ex-pat Bill Harrop runs hot-air balloon rides.

The views over the countryside are stunning and you can see for miles on a clear day. The ride finishes with a champagne breakfast.

The dawn of life
It’s not far to the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important archeological sites in the world.

Hominid fossils found in the Sterkfontein Caves include an almost perfectly preserved 2.5 million-year-old skull. If clients descend into the caves they can learn about our most distant past.

A new attraction, Maropeng, opened in December, with a four-storey visitor centre which takes visitors on a four-billion year journey through evolution.

south africa feautre 240206 - saxon hotelA touch of class
Back in town, clients can relax in the elegant surrounds of the Saxon hotel, a beautiful property in the leafy Sandton suburb. It was here that Nelson Mandela stayed while editing his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom.

Tell clients to have lunch here and if there is time, enjoy a drink on the terrace by the pool. The hotel’s contemporary cuisine is complemented by a huge wine list.

Fine constitution
It’s time to explore another landmark in Johannesburg, Constitution Hill – a multi-million pound development opened last year. At its heart is the new Constitutional Court, where Mandela’s letters and diaries from his time in prison on Robben Island are on display. It’s also the site of the notorious Old Fort prison complex, with the isolation cell, black man’s jail and women’s jail open to visitors.

Both Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were held here. Inside you discover the brutal conditions and treatment inflicted on  thousands of people up to 1994.

south africa feature 240206 - newtownCultural hub
Now it’s time for some fun, so head to Newtown at the centre of Johannesburg’s huge downtown renewal programme. Formerly an area in decline, it’s being reborn as the city’s cultural hub. The square here hosted Jo’burg’s Live8 concert last July.

The focal point is the Market Theatre, with three theatres, a bar, art gallery and restaurant. Advise clients to check out what’s showing and perhaps grab a snack and catch a play; or relax with a drink and then head next door to the famed Gramadoelas restaurant. Previous guests who have enjoyed the African cuisine include Queen Elizabeth II.

Face the music
The night is still young so it’s time to take in some live music. Bassline and the Horror Café both host local and international artists. Clients might stumble across jazz or some of South Africa’s up-and-coming talent. It’s a great way to round-off a busy few days.