Visiting the Rooftop of The Leonardo in Sandton

by - July 29, 2022

How to put the “high” in “high tea” on the rooftop of South Africa’s tallest building


If you’re a big fan of a view or you enjoy visiting national landmarks, The Leonardo,  South Africa’s tallest building and Africa’s second tallest, is probably on your list. I recently visited Alto 234, the rooftop bar at the top of this Sandton hotel and here is my review of the experience (and some tips on how to plan a visit as their website is not as straightforward as one may hope).

Tea cup against backdrop of view point

Alto 234

Alto 234 boasts the title of Africa’s highest urban bar. Considering that the tallest building on the continent is the minaret of the Djamaa el Djazaïr mosque, I reckon this title is safe for now. (Although, it does make me wonder if there is a higher rural bar?) 

To explain the name, “Alto” means “height” and 234 is its height in meters. It claims to offer the finest drinks and tapas with panoramic views of Johannesburg. 

Sign for Alto 234, Africa's highest urban bar

The low point of my high tea

We (my frequent travel buddy Bronwyn and I — not Rodrigo and I) went for high tea. 
Fun fact: Tea is not actually included in the high tea package. Champagne is though, which is good because the booking system may drive you to drink! 

The booking process:

What the website said:
The website is a bit confusing. There seem to be different sessions throughout the day: 

  • High tea is from 10:30am - 12:30pm 
  • The afternoon experience is from 12:30pm - 4:00pm
  • And the sunset experience is from 4:00pm - 7:00pm
Regardless of when you go, you pay the same entrance fee. 

What the booking system said:
While one might presume that you book for one of these three sessions, arrive at the beginning (i.e. 10:30am if you’re going for high tea) and stay until the end (i.e. 12:30pm in this case).  However, when you go to book, you can book for any start time at 30-minute increments throughout the day, e.g.: 10:30, 11:00am, 11:30, etc.

The website also said that children get in for half price but then it doesn’t give you the option of booking for a child. (Bronwyn brought her kid.)

According to the website, there seemed to be lots of space available so we decided to wing it.
 
What the guy at reception said:
We got there at 11:30 and the receptionist told us that the afternoon experience (starting at 12:30) was fully booked, so if we wanted to go, we had to go then and we could only stay until 12:30. I was quite a bit unimpressed. 

Girl with unimpressed face and complimentary mimosa

But then this teetotaller actually drank the complimentary mimosa that came with the experience and I calmed the eff down! 

(Somewhat sponsored by the famous champagne brand, you can have straight-up Moët & Chandon if you prefer.)

The actual experience:

By the time we got on the elevator (or one of the two that you need to take to get up to the 57th floor), we were determined to have an hour — well, by this stage, about 48 minutes — of fun! 

Sign indicating The Leonardo hotel


When we got to the top, we took our seats ....AND our time! 

Chairs against the backdrop of Sandton from the top of the Leonardo


We ordered and ate amazing petit fours and macarons,

Alto 234's Chocolate hazelnut tart


 ordered a few more,

Alto 234's macron


 took in the views

View from the top of The Leonardo, Sandton


 and enjoyed an actual cup of tea. (Again, not included in the ‘high tea’ package.)

High tea at Alto 234, Sandton


We had a great time!

Posing at the top of The Leonardo, Sandton


At 12:30 there was no sudden influx of guests into the supposedly “fully-booked” space. No one rushed us, no one pressured us to leave at the end of our session. We just enjoyed ourselves, explored the space and influenced all over their bright orange couches:



What I wish I had known in advance:

I’m guessing that as they have limited kitchen space on the rooftop, they close all bookings on the day. They are prepared to cater for the guests that have pre-booked but not last-minute bookings. So, while you may not be forced to leave at the end of your time, the menu only lasts for the session. 

If you go during the morning session (which would be a much less confusing but also a less punny name than ‘high tea’), you can’t order from the menu for the afternoon experience session. It is unlikely, though, that they are going to run out of space or that anyone is going to make you leave when your session supposedly ends. (In the middle of winter anyway. Maybe it gets busier in the summer? 

None of this was clear on the website. 
There, it’s a pleasure!

Orange couches at Alto 234, The Leonardo, Sandton


Reasons to visit Alto 234:

  • The views
You can see the Johannesburg CBD, supposedly the Voortrekker Monument (I forgot to look for that one but I always manage to spot the Dome in Northriding) and obviously Sandton at your feet. 

  • The food 
It is provided by the award-winning AURUM Restaurant several floors below.  

  • The pictures 
Even the elevator makes for a photo op. 

  • The people-watching 
Alto 234 is a magnet for influencers. (Pro tip: The serious ones do their research and wear orange, not pink.) 

  • The cocktails 
I didn’t actually have one (unless a mimosa counts?) but I would like to go back for one (minus the motivation to drink this time) and a sunset. 

The decor at Alto 234, The Leonardo, Sandton


How The Leonardo rooftop compares to other viewpoints: 

Hotel Sky, Cape Town

Having visited the Hotel Sky rooftop earlier this year, I have to say that Cape Town is just a prettier city. Johannesburg is pretty ugly, especially in winter when it’s the dry season and everything goes a little bit brown. 

Though the Hotel Sky is not anywhere near as high, Cape Town has got the ocean, the mountains and the cityscape which makes the view a lot more pleasing to the eye. However, it is not a bar. If adrenaline-inducing experiences (like the Sky-HI ride) are not your thing and you just want to sip on a cocktail while watching the sunset, The Leonardo makes for a better experience. 

Hotel Sky's rooftop, Cape Town
Hotel Sky, Cape Town

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Related post: 

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The Top of Africa, Johannesburg CBD

The city of Johannesburg has two city centres, the old Johannesburg CBD which is often associated with crime and poverty and considered, for the most part, to be an unsafe place to go with the exception of a couple of pockets of gentrification at the hands of hipsters.
 
Sandton is the richest square mile in Africa where you can find all the head offices of our country’s investment banks and a very over-the-top shopping mall that features most well-known international designer brands in a way that makes it almost indecipherable from any shopping mall in Europe (except for maybe the clientele). 

The Top of Africa is a viewpoint at the top of the Carlton Centre in the Johannesburg CBD, South Africa’s second tallest building. It is located on the 51st floor, making it not that much lower down than Alto 234 on the 57th floor of the Leonardo. If you go to the Top of Africa, you would probably either get there by Uber or by the Hop-on-hop-off bus (so that your car doesn’t get stolen). If you take the Hop-on-hop-off bus, someone from the City Sightseeing company will literally escort you from the bus to the ticket office and then to the elevator to reach the Top of Africa. 

The price is significantly cheaper, champagne is definitely not included and we can’t promise that you won't see any bullet holes in the glass when you get up there b
ut the views of the old city centre of Johannesburg are spectacular! (Yes, even better than those of The Leonardo.)

Having said that, The top of Africa has been closed since the COVID lockdown of 2020 and it is unclear when or if it will open again.

View from the Top of Africa, Johannesburg
View from the Top of Africa

Why you should visit the rooftop of The Leonardo hotel in Sandton now:

The Leonardo is currently Africa’s tallest commercial building (at 234 meters high), however, with the completion of Egypt’s Iconic Tower and the Mohammed VI Tower in Morocco, both scheduled for 2023, it is expected to slide down the list. So, if you are located in South Africa and you want to visit the rooftop of Africa’s tallest commercial building, better go now.

Orange chairs at Alto 234, The Leonardo, Sandton


Alto 234 entrance fee: 

R300 for adults 
R150 for children
(Correct at time of posting, subject to change)

How to get to The Leonardo hotel:

If you are a visitor to South Africa, ride-share services like Uber are available. 
You can find The Leonardo's location here.

Where to park at The Leonardo:

Parking is available in the building for an additional fee. 


How to make a booking for Alto 234: 

If you have no children in your party (or if the system has been updated since my visit), you can book your spot at Alto 234 here

Child asleep at restaurant

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