Visitors to South Africa are often surprised by how trendy and hip it is. Vibrant neighbourhoods in South Africa are not uncommon.
Contrary to perceptions of the country as a third world backwater, the major cities surprise with edgy neighbourhoods in South Africa that are at once trendy and innovative, pulling visitors with a mix of gentrification, authentic food experiences, markets, roof-top bars and sophisticated boutiques.
If inner-city vibe is an important part of your travel experience, then ….
head to these cool and spirited neighbourhoods in South Africa
Station Drive Precinct
Hard to believe that Durban’s Station Drive in Morningside was a no-go area only a few years ago. Now it hums with creativity and the city’s trendiest residents have set up ‘shop’ here. Regarded as Durban’s most hip and happening spot its fulcrum is a Sunday morning market – the Morning Trade Market.
The Design Factory is chock a block full of creatives, so much so that tenants are calling for more space, and the Foundry is serviced office and artisanal space (the space to create) that includes free coffee, a reception area, communal meeting spaces and outside balcony seating.
Highlights of Station Drive Precinct: craft beer brewery, coffee shops, restaurants, vintage clothing and boutiques, the Morning Trade market @ The Plant (artisanal, fresh and local).
Overnight:Lindsay Avenue Guesthouse because you’ll love the understated introduction of disparate furniture, scatter rugs, textiles and plants. Or choose from other Morningside accommodation options. There are lots of fabulous places to stay in Durban.
In Port Elizabeth
A bit like Melville (Johannesburg) crossed with Morningside (Durban) but smaller, cuter, and it makes our list of Richmond Hill makes the list of “coolest neighbourhoods in South Africa” for being perched up on a hill, with views out over the city. You’ll want to move there, and you’d be wise to for the Victorian-style homes (Richmond Hill claims it’s the largest historical residential area in the country) are soon going to be worth quite a bit more than were a couple of years ago as the neighbourhood slowly gentrifies (it’s been likened to Cape Town’s Sea Point for this reason). And that’s before you’ve begun to explore the restaurants and unique little shops on Stanley Street.
Highlights of Richmond Hill: the restaurants (most of which spill out onto the pavement), the coffee shops and the Richmond Hill Festival.
Overnight:Belvedere Cottage, because the attention to detail, the clever use of textiles and art, and the garden are too good an opportunity to pass over. Or choose from other Richmond Hill accommodation options. There are lots of fabulous places to stay in Port Elizabeth.
As much as Melville and the Parks are vibrant neighbourhoods, they don’t quite have the same edginess as Maboneng Precinct, which calls itself the ‘heart and essence’ of the city of Johannesburg. If you haven’t visited, then we insist that you do. Maboneng lies in a once abandoned neighbourhood on the eastern edge of the former CBD, a combination of retail stores, restaurants, residential, office and industrial spaces and entertainment venues.
Maboneng’s highlights: there is plenty to do here, including art walks on the streets, art galleries, Market on Main, the Bioscope (an independent movie cinema), umpteen restaurants, coffee shops and bars, an hotel or two, and a rooftop eco-cafe.
In Cape Town
Woodstock & the Biscuit Mill
The vibrant, multi-racial community of Woodstock has fast gentrified into a hipster suburb as designers and foodies moved their businesses into the area. Perfectly positioned on the lip of Cape Town’s inner city, lower Woodstock is a hive of activity at any time of the week, but particularly on Saturdays when the Neighbourgoods Market is on at the Biscuit Mill and you can’t find a parking space come hell or high water. The Old Biscuit Mill (literally a restored biscuit factory and surrounding buildings) considers itself a ‘village’. The collection of designer stores, workshops, office space, restaurants and weekly market is a major drawcard and has functioned as a fulcrum to change in the neighbourhood.
Highlights of Woodstock: The Test Kitchen Restaurant (book miles in advance), a graffiti tour (40+ works of art by local & industry artists), craft beer (at least 3 breweries are based in the area), vintage furniture galore, cosy tea & coffee shops, vegan food experiences…more
Overnight:Woodstock City Apartment – you’re going to love this bijou, calm and complete space right in the heart of lower Woodstock. Don’t like it, browse other Cape Town accommodation. There are literally hudreds of cool options.
It was a toss up whether to include Observatory or Kalk Bay, but we selected Kalk Bay because it’s a totally different experience right on the other side of the bay from Woodstock. Kalk Bay has a popular little tidal pool lined with colourful wooden changing huts, a main road that on weekends is virtually inaccessible it’s so inundated with traffic, and lined with antique, bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants and cobbled side roads that are at once mysterious and quaint.
Highlights of Kalk Bay: You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to eating here, but head to the harbour for fish & chips (Kalky’s) for an experience more authentic, the Brass Bell (because it’s like the thing to do), Olympia Cafe (because you haven’t tasted ciabatta until you’ve eaten theirs), Kalk Bay Modern Gallery (above Olympia) and Kalk Bay Books (because they’re independent and deserve a punt).