Johannesburg is a city people either love or try to avoid. Its history is fascinating and tells the tale of a city formed on the fringes of gold mines — earning it the nickname “The City of Gold.” For this reason, I find the city to be one filled with stories of people that speak of formation, history, struggle, and the future. It’s vibrant, fast-paced, and has some very trendy, very cool neighbourhoods. The inner city has undergone a transformation over recent years in an attempt to draw people back into the urban hub of Jo’burg and offers many things to do and places to explore.
WHERE TO EAT
If you’re planning to be in Jo’burg on a Saturday, Neighbourgoods Market is a must-see. As part of a city rejuvenation project with the goal of drawing people back into the inner city, this market in the heart of Braamfontein offers a culinary delight for foodies. On the first floor a variety of food options await: delicious Mediterranean,spicy Indian with a typical South African flair offer Bunny Chows to oysters accompanied with wine, freshly steamed dim sum, flavoursome Thai curry, and gorgeous vegan African dishes. The options are limitless! Wine, craft beers, and a gin bar provide fantastic company for the local band that brings the entertainment. This part of Jo’burg is my favourite — it brings together a mix of cultures in a beautiful urban setting decorated with graffiti. While Braamfontein has much to offer, do not plan on spending a Sunday here as the city has spent itself on the Saturday and almost everything is closed on Sunday, save a coffee shop or restaurant or two.
On a Sunday, Market on Main in the Maboneng precinct, a short distance from Braamfontein, has a vibe similar to that of Neighbourgoods. Many of the same enticing food vendors sell their food goods, but Latin music and dance classes on a rooftop will have you sampling different drink options while dancing into the evening. Alternatively the surrounding district has many places to dine on offer.
If you’re planning on spending time in the City of Gold during the week, you’ll find Service Station just as you enter Melville. With a delightful breakfast menu sourced from seasonal ingredients and the best independent bookshop right next door, you can spend a lovely hour or two at this spot over a cup of coffee or two or three (as I would have it). Check out the store selling food products and unique kitchenware on your way out.
For lunch, I would recommend heading to Parkhurst. On Fourth Street, a variety of restaurants await to be sampled. My favourite is Wolfpack. Specialising in gourmet burgers and craft beers and sides such as sweet potato chips with hummus or polenta fries with strawberry preserve and crème fraiche you will find something for every palate from vegan to carnivore. Their special, the Big Bad Wolfe, stuffed with cheese and topped with wasabi onion rings and pineapple, can be ordered accompanied with a howl to add to the atmosphere. Small and intimate, you might consider booking ahead of time if you plan on taking a few friends with you.
Dinner options abound! In the Maboneng precinct, Pata Pata serves a variety of South African dishes, from traditional potjie kos (inspired by Afrikaans tradition and cooked in iron cast pots over an open fire) to Indian dishes and stews. By simply walking into the restaurant your senses tell your brain that you’re in for an immense treat! If you have a few more Rands to spare, you cannot go wrong with a dinner at Moyo restaurant. You’ll find one in the beautiful Melrose Arc or Zoo Lake. Offering a unique African dining experience accompanied with fun face paint suited to adults, their menu is inspired by the traditions and values of African ancestors. Delicious and enchanting, Moyo offers African elegance.
WHERE TO HANG
Monte Casino always has a selection of shows on offer in their two theatres, the bigger Teatro at Monte Casino which has produced shows such as Mama Mia, Dirty Dancing, and Phantom of the Opera, or the smaller Pieter Toerien theatre which is currently running a production of Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat as well as local comedic productions that always guarantee a good laugh. If theatre is not your cup of tea, the complex also offers a gambling floor and numerous restaurants. Currently a Coffee & Chocolate show offers a visual and sensory experience. On a nice day, wonder into the park where you can watch a show or just marvel and get up close with beautiful, multicoloured feathered creatures.
Emmerentia Dam is a wonderful idea for a day out in the sun. A canoe ride on the dam and basking in the sun offer a breath of fresh air just outside of the main city centre. If you time your stay right, you might be able to catch an international music act in the park ranging on the dam.
Tour guides always come with an endless list of museums to visit but the Apartheid Museum is a one-of-a-kind museum that tells the story of the rise and fall of the apartheid regime and is a definite must-see for anyone interested in the history of South Africa or in generally expanding their understanding of the current state of the country. It will provide insights into the current state of South African society and help you understand why the country has such a huge socio-economic inequality ratio especially in terms of race. Unique interactive displays will capture your attention and manage to inform the visitor in a creative manner through the use of different kinds of media. You may find it a challenging experience but it certainly is an enriching, eye-opening journey of self-exploration that will take you on an emotional rollercoaster of heartbreak and inspiration.
Soweto, a township in the city of Johannesburg with a population of about a million people, is infused with South Africa’s rich history and the struggle against apartheid. Its name is an acronym derived from South Western Townships and it is the most metropolitan and progressive township in South Africa. Soweto sets the trends in contemporary South African music, dance, fashion, and politics. You can easily spend an entire day in this township, so be sure to set aside enough time if this is a place you would like to see. Points of interest include the Orlando Towers where you can be daring and bungee jump as well as the Hector Pieterson Museum which speaks to the struggles of the youth during apartheid. Take a stroll down Vilakazi Street which is the only street in the world to have housed two Nobel Laureates, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. The Vilakazi street precinct is about a kilometre long has been transformed into a must-see street laced with art works. Nelson Mandela’s house on 8115 Vilakazi Street where he lived prior to being imprisoned has been transformed into a museum. A place of contrasts between rich and poor, and a monument to the past and present, Soweto has an exuberant, vibrant, racy energy that one finds only in Johannesburg. For a good time, drop by one of the many shebeens, another name for an illegal tavern during apartheid, in Soweto. Wandie’s Place is popular with both locals and tourists alike who are spoiled for choice from a buffet offering indigenous cuisine.
For a night out, The Orbit in Braamfontein is a live jazz venue and bistro. It offers a platform for jazz musicians to express their creativity and is one of the hot spots in the city with a constant line-up of fresh music. The Orbit is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m., and performances usually start at 8 p.m. from Tuesdays to Saturdays and at 6 p.m. on Sundays. For those without an affinity for the soulful sounds of jazz, Great Dane also situated in Braamfontein brings back memories of old Johannesburg. The floor alone is a site to behold, crafted out of coins. Open until the early hours of the morning, it’s one of the most popular venues in Johannesburg’s nightlife scene.
Bassline, originally opened in Melville but now located in Newtown, is a live music venue with a great atmosphere that hosts a variety of gigs, events, and comedy. Considered by some as the best weekly party, Bassline has two levels with a bar on each level. It’s hosted and launched a variety of big names in music. With a lineup throughout the week, surrounded by neighbourhoods inhabited by young souls, you’re in for a good night out.
WHERE TO SHOP
For some good old thrift shopping, Seventh Street in Melville has a few shops in which to browse for lost treasures from vinyl to clothes and bric-a-brac. Catch a cup of coffee at Bread and Roses on your way up the street and a refreshing beer at Hell’s Kitchen upon your return down the street. Keep an eye out for local vendors selling beautiful African fabrics and wooden serving platters.
Sandton Mall, a more commercial mall located in Africa’s richest square mile, hosts shops offering everything from clothing to souvenirs to homeware, and prides itself on African hospitality and international style. Be sure to snap a picture of the six metres tall Nelson Mandela statue in Nelson Mandela Square.
Rosebank Mall, also conveniently located on the Gautrain line along with Sandton, will provide for hours of shopping, from international brands to more local merchandise. For a more local market experience, wander onto the rooftop market where you can browse for African handicrafts.
WHERE TO STAY
For the businessperson or those in search of a splurge, the five star Michelangelo Hotel perches atop Nelson Mandela Square. Oozing luxury in every detail, the Renaissance-style architecture is the precipice of success and status. It offers 242 suites and rooms and world-class facilities and is conveniently located within close range of some of the best shops and restaurants in Sandton and its surrounds. Be warned, however, to come braced with a bank account to match the prestige and luxury.
The Bannister Hotel in Braamfontein offers a more affordable option. Located next to Great Dane, it’s a luxury budget hotel. The Bannister is a hot spot providing locals with live bands and entertainment in the bar area. The rooms have a fresh, young vibe and apart from the great location close to main Johannesburg sights and sounds, provide a comfortable and convenient stay.
Airbnb has burst onto the scene in Johannesburg. With a website that provides pictures, descriptions, and reviews, you can find accommodation in the area of your choice—sometimes quite luxurious but at a very affordable price close to what you would like to experience in Egoli, the place of gold.
Have you been to Johannesburg (or do you live there)? What else would you add? Email email@example.com if you’re interested in contributing to a “24 Hours” Guide!