Review: Top of Africa in Johannesburg
P erched 50 stories above the ground on the Carlton Centre building — now the Transnet building, which is still the tallest building in Africa — is Top of Africa, an observation deck which overlooks downtown Johannesburg; and I had some time earlier this year while I was in South Africa, so I thought I would explore it.
At approximately 732 feet in height, the Transnet building has been the tallest building in Africa since 1973; but it will not hold that title much longer, as there are other buildings on the continent which are either proposed or under construction that will usurp bragging rights for the tallest building in Africa.
I parked the rental car in the subterranean garage of the building at a cost so minimal that I forgot exactly what it was; but it may as well have been free of charge. I learned from personal experience that it is substantially easier to negotiate traffic in downtown Johannesburg during the day than at evening “rush hour” where traffic can grind to a standstill and more automobile accidents seem to occur.
I took the elevator to the level of the multilevel mall within the building, as the ticket office for Top of Africa is located in that mall; and from the looks of that mall, I felt like I was transported back to the 1990s — and I am being generous, as the mall seemed to be in a dire need of being updated and refreshed. Regardless, it was buzzing with activity, as there were plenty of shoppers seeking to find deals and enjoying a day at the mall — and there were plenty of stores and dining establishments awaiting patronage from customers.
Although it was not exactly easy to find, I eventually found the small ticket booth for Top of Africa on the upper shopping level. The mall is not nearly the size of Dubai Mall or Mall of America, so it is unlikely that you will get lost in it. Just look for the logo shown in the photograph below, which supposedly commemorates the 50th anniversary of Top of Africa; and please do not ask how it could be celebrating 50 years when the observation deck supposedly opened in 1973 — which is 42 years ago — as I currently have no idea. Maybe it is simply acknowledging the number of floors in Carlton Centre.
I purchased my ticket and went to the elevator bank for my ascent to Top of Africa.
The photographs immediately above and below were from my descent in the elevator back down to the shopping mall from Top of Africa — but the trip was identical on the ascent.
Little did I know that I was going through a time warp — and not like the virtual one in the elevator of One World Observatory in New York.
An empty dark nondescript hallway awaited my exit from the elevator. I headed through the opened doors towards the bright daylight shining in the windows beyond.
I found myself back in 1973. Other than the obvious patchwork repairs, the walls — painted a pale olive green — suggest that little has changed since then.
There was an exhibit of framed information on the walls; and no color — just black and white. No digital interactivity can be found here — and that was simultaneously depressing and refreshing.
I personally believe this building has more challenges which will be difficult to overcome, as evidenced throughout the observation deck.
There was one lone security guard who appeared to be lonely and bored. I almost felt sorry for him.
The good news is that space is available for rent on the observation deck if you have always wanted to be in the retail industry catering to tourists. I have no idea how much money that rent will set you back.
There is a café where you can grab something to eat — Café@50 is its name — but be forewarned that credit cards are not accepted; and the ambiance is not exactly inviting.
I passed on that one, as I opted to eat my meals at steakhouses and other places in the Johannesburg metropolitan area.
At the corners of the observation deck were platforms with benches on them where people can sit. I actually found two visitors other than myself. Telescopes are also available to zoom in on the views. I did not use them.
As with other observation decks of that bygone era, the windows have the name of the direction you are viewing affixed on them…
…and there are panels above the windows with diagrams which point out the landmarks and places of interest in the area.
In the photograph shown below, you can see a portion of one of the panels above the windows, which seem like they had not been cleaned in years — as well as graffiti scrawled and carved into the sill below the windows.
Transnet is the name of the company whose name appears on the building.
It did not take me very long to enjoy the views and explore the entire observation deck — definitely fewer than 60 minutes. I decided to use the toilet before I left.
When I walked in, the light automatically turned on; and a roach scurried across the sink shown in the photograph above and slipped into a small crevice. I was not surprised.
After I was done, I left the observation deck; went back to the car park garage to pay the parking fee and collect my rental car; and I was on my way to a restaurant called The Bull Run. I intend to post a review of my dining experience there in a future article.
If you are looking for a modern experience with interactive displays and digital features such as at One World Obsevatory in New York and At The Top, Burj Khalifa in Dubai, forget it if you are visiting Top of Africa; and if you are seeking to visit one of the 100 tallest buildings in the world, Carlton Centre is not your ideal destination, as it failed to even place on that ever-growing list.
The observation deck at Top of Africa is completely enclosed, as there is no observation deck located outside.
There is a certain charm to Top of Africa, though. Despite losing its glory and its five-star hotel property which once hosted celebrities and glamorous events, I could not help but feel like I was in on a secret. There I was with few other people in what is arguably the best place to view the greater Johannesburg metropolitan area — and I was fortunate to be there on a relatively clear day. The views were great.
The cost of admission cannot be beat: 15 South African rand translates to approximately $1.21 in United States dollars; and 10 South African rand for children 12 years of age and younger. This means that you can take a family of four to Top of Africa for as few as approximately four dollars. Thankfully, Top of Africa did not hop on the escalating admission price bandwagon — an epidemic which sadly seems to have infected many other observation decks around the world.
I recommend taking an hour out of your schedule to visit Top of Africa. If you can get past the feeling that you landed back in 1973 and the signs of neglect, you will be treated to great views — which is the main point of visiting Top of Africa in the first place. It is untainted by the plethora of useless and unnecessary ancillary features which tend to propel ticket prices into the stratosphere. It is your old-fashioned basic observation deck experience — the way it used to be; the way it was meant to be. Feel free to allot extra time if you want to experience views of Johannesburg during the day, into sunset and after dark — but be aware that your parking costs will increase and possibly bankrupt you at a couple of dollars or so, so plan accordingly.
As for the views itself from Top of Africa, I took plenty of photographs which I intend to post in a future article.
Photographs ©2015 by Brian Cohen.
Top of Africa
150 Commissioner Street
Johannesburg 2107, South Africa
+27(0) 11 308 1331
Parking is available for a nominal fee per hour in the subterranean car park garage within the building itself. I do not remember exactly how much the parking cost me for an hour; but I believe that it cost me eight South African rand — or the equivalent of 64 cents in United States dollars. There is a machine in the small lobby of the garage where you can pay for your parking.
Carlton Centre is one of the 12 stops of the Johannesburg City Sightseeing Bus tour, if you prefer not to drive.
There are reports that the area of Johannesburg in which Carlton Centre is located is not exactly safe. I drove right into the car park garage and felt safe throughout my time there. There are also a plethora of security cameras and security guards in the area.
There is no check room to store baggage at Top of Africa — although I know of no restrictions which do not permit you from bringing your belongings with you to the observation deck. To be safe, ensure that you have prior arrangements to store your belongings — such as in a hotel room, for example.
All ticket prices are in South African rand.
- Admission for adults and children 13 years of age and older is 15
- Admission for children 12 years of age and younger is 10
Hours of Operation
- Monday to Friday: 9:00 in the morning to 6:00 in the evening
- Saturday: 9:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon
- Sunday: 9:00 in the morning to 2:00 in the afternoon