How to Travel From Cape Town to Johannesburg by Plane, Train, Bus and Car

Aerial view of Johannesburg

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Cape Town and Johannesburg are two of South Africa’s premier tourist destinations. Cape Town is the country’s legislative capital, a coastal city known for its natural beauty, culinary scene, and eclectic culture. Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, and a cosmopolitan center for business and cultural discovery. About 870 miles separate the two cities, and there are four main methods of transport: plane, train, bus, and car. Flying is the fastest but also the most expensive way to travel from Cape Town to Johannesburg, while long-distance bus is the cheapest. If you plan on traveling during the festive period, remember that seats fill up quickly and are usually more expensive. Be sure to book well in advance to avoid disappointment. 

  Time Cost Best For
Plane 2 hours From $105 Getting there quickly
Bus 18 hours From $33 Keeping to a budget
Train 25 - 33 hours From $41 A unique experience
Car 14 hours 870 miles in fuel Traveling independently

What Is the Cheapest Way to Get From Cape Town to Johannesburg?

The cheapest way to travel between the two cities is by bus. There are three main long-distance bus operators to choose from: Citiliner, Greyhound ZA, and TransLux. All three depart from the bus station on Old Marine Drive in downtown Cape Town (near the V&A Waterfront) and arrive at Park Station in the Johannesburg CBD. The journey takes approximately 18 hours. Rates start from R550 ($33) per person and tickets can be reserved in advance via each company’s website. 

What Is the Fastest Way to Get From Cape Town to Johannesburg?

The fastest way by far to travel from Cape Town to Johannesburg is to fly. Several airlines fly this popular route, including South Africa’s national carrier (South African Airways) and domestic airlines like Kulula, Safair, and Mango. All flights depart from Cape Town International Airport (CPT) and arrive at either O.R. Tambo International Airport (JNB) or Lanseria International Airport (HLA), depending on the carrier and route you choose. Flights take approximately two hours, and although costs vary greatly depending on availability, season, and current specials, you can expect to pay around R1,700 ($105) per person on average. Tickets can be booked online. 

How Long Does It Take to Drive?

The most direct road route from Cape Town to Johannesburg takes approximately 14 hours without stops and covers 870 miles. It takes you inland on the N1, a national highway that passes through Bloemfontein on its way to Johannesburg. Once you arrive, your hotel should be able to direct you to the nearest secure public parking lot if they don’t have their own private facility. 

How Long Is the Train Ride?

Those that wish to travel to Johannesburg by train have two options: the Tourist Class or Premier Classe services operated by Shosholoza Meyl

Tourist Class trains take 33 hours, stopping frequently along the way. This is the economy option, with two departures per week and ticket prices starting at R690 ($41) per person. Tourist Class trains have two- and four-berth sleeper compartments, which you will share with other travelers unless you book the entire compartment. You will have access to shared washing facilities and an affordable restaurant service. 

Premier Classe trains are more direct and cut your travel time down to 25 hours. They depart once a week, and ticket prices start from R3,120 per person ($186). For your money, you will travel in a private, air-conditioned sleeper compartment with luxury toiletries and bedding provided. You’ll have access to a private lounge car and fares include a gourmet meal package. Both services depart from Cape Town Station and arrive at Park Station in Johannesburg. Tickets for both can be booked via the Shosholoza Meyl website. 

When Is the Best Time to Travel to Johannesburg?

According to industry research, if you plan on flying between Cape Town and Johannesburg, the cheapest days to fly are from Monday to Wednesday, while the most expensive are Friday and Sunday. In terms of season, the cheapest months to fly are February and August, since these months come just after peak travel times for South Africans. Conversely, December, January, and July are the most expensive months to fly due to the festive season and school vacations. 

Although day-to-day prices for train and bus fares remain constant, both modes of transport see price hikes during the December to January period. For example, Shosholoza Meyl states on their website that rates increase by approximately 9 percent for all train journeys during this time. Although the season doesn’t affect the price of traveling by car, you can expect roads to be significantly busier over holiday periods. December is synonymous with an increased rate of road traffic accidents in South Africa. 

Weather-wise, the best time to visit Johannesburg is from May to September when you can expect days of cool, dry sunshine. In the height of the South African summer, Johannesburg is hot, humid, and prone to afternoon thunderstorms. Travel outside peak season (December, January, July, and Easter) and you will get better rates on tours and accommodation as well. 

What’s the Most Scenic Route to Johannesburg?

If you’re traveling by car and don’t have any particular time restrictions, you could consider driving along the coastal N2 highway as far as East London and then turning inland onto the N6 to rejoin the N1 at Bloemfontein. This detour takes you along the Garden Route, one of the most scenic roads in South Africa. However, it will add at least another six hours to your journey and is best attempted over several days. 

Can I Use Public Transportation to Travel From the Airport?

O.R. Tambo International Airport is located in Kempton Park, approximately 14 miles northeast of the city center. Meanwhile, Lanseria International Airport is situated north of Randburg and Sandton, some 30 miles from the CBD. The only real method of public transport from either airport is the Gautrain, a high-speed railway service that connects various stations in Johannesburg with Pretoria. O.R. Tambo has its own Gautrain station, while Lanseria is connected to the Sandton station via an airport-operated shuttle. 

Otherwise, both airports have a network of licensed private taxi cabs that can take you anywhere you want to go. Uber also operates throughout the Johannesburg area. 

What Is There to Do in Johannesburg?

South Africa’s largest city has come a long way since its origins as a makeshift camp for gold prospectors in the 1880s. Today it’s the country’s commercial center and main port of entry, and it also has plenty to see and do for visitors. Discover Johannesburg’s complex history with a visit to Soweto, the informal settlement where former president Nelson Mandela once lived; or with a tour of the Apartheid Museum. Explore the lively modern culture of districts like Maboneng and Braamfontein, where contemporary art galleries rub shoulders with trendy bars and restaurants; ride the rollercoasters at Gold Reef City; or shop til you drop in upscale Sandton. 

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