Ranked the world’s top city by Rough Guides in 2015, Johannesburg is going places. It’s breaking free of its reputation problem, and emerging as a seriously good alternative to Cape Town with galleries, shops, museums and markets to rival any in the world.
Now it’s a hipster hangout, the ‘cool capital of the southern hemisphere’ (GQ magazine), transforming itself ‘from a no-go to gotta-go’ (BBC).
Here are 13 reasons to Visit Johannesburg at least once in your life…
The quirky neighbourhoods
The arty Maboneng quarter with its warehouse lifestyle playground, subversive and grungy Melville alongside its neighbour Auckland Park, hip and happening Braamfontein, the cultural precinct of Newtown with its trendy Market Theatre complex, and the renewed warehouses of 1 Fox Precinct have transformed the fringes of Johannesburg’s inner-city decay.
Johannesburg’s quirky neighbourhoods include historic Fordsburg, the leafy suburbs’ of The Parks (Parkview, Parkwood, Parktown North, Craighall Park and Parkhurst), Greenside, Soweto, Rosebank, Illovo and Melrose.
Corner your average South African and they’ll regale you for hours about the differences between living in Johannesburg and Cape Town, Durban and PE. If you want laidback, unfussed, friendly and hospitable – head to the coastal cities of Port Elizabeth and Durban.
If you want mellow, creative but incredibly cliquey – head to Cape Town, and if you want a real cosmopolitan and hugely diverse mix of vibrant, sociable, honest and fun-loving individuals – head to Johannesburg.
For all those vibrantly cosmopolitan people make great people watching – anywhere, any time. People in Jo’burg know how to dress. And even those who don’t, do so convincingly.
Johannesburg’s market scene provides a great alternative to shopping malls. For fresh food, coffee, locally-produced and designer trends, you can’t find better. You’ll need a string of weekends to do them justice.
Some of the best include: 1 Fox Market Shed for live music, craft drinks and great food, Market on Main the trendy Sunday Maboneng market that sells just about everything including great food, the Saturday Jozi Real Food Market in Greenside, the Saturday morning Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein, the Linden Market at Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens, 27 Boxes in Melville, the been-there-forever Bryanston Organic Market and the Sunday Fourways Farmers’ Market.
Johannesburg’s coffee culture, like that of Cape Town, is burgeoning. Freshly brewed is enjoyed as often as possible, preferably out of doors in beautiful spaces, and there’s a coffee shop for every corner in the city.
Coffee roasteries are fast emerging too – 4th Avenue Parkhurst’s Coffee Roasters and Cafe, Bean There at 44 Stanley Milpark, Newtown’s Craft Coffee, Braamfontein’s Doubleshot Coffee and Father Coffee, Maboneng’s Firebird Coffee, Soweto’s Kofi Shop (you’ll find them in the Box Shop) and Rosebank’s Motherland Coffee Company.
The museums & galleries
‘Forward-thinking’ museums, as Rough Guides describes them, make the discovery of Jo’burg’s history a journey worth taking. Attractions like Constitution Hill, the Apartheid Museum, Origins Centre Museum, Lindfield House and a string of art galleries are all worth a visit.
Its walking tours
From free tours on foot to inner city walks that explore street art, heritage or history, Soweto walking tours to exploring no-go inner-city suburbs with Dlala Nje, walking tours have mushroomed in Johannesburg in the last few years leaving you with plenty of choice.
Contact Past Experiences for inner-city tours that focus on graffiti, Main Street Walks for an underground pub crawl or east city cycle tour, Dlala Nje for tours of Hillbrow, or simply arrive at Johannesburg’s Park Station (the Wolmarans Street side) to join a twice-daily tour starting at 10.30am and 1pm.
Johannesburg does not do sedate. Its nightlife heaves. The biggest issue is selecting just which hipster suburb to go to, and how to get there and back (Uber makes a killing on weekends). Best places to head: Braamfontein, Sandton, Melville, Newtown, Maboneng, Rosebank, Illovo, Melrose, Greenside and the Parks.
The street art scene
Jo’burg’s street art culture is huge. Public places now serve as the canvas for artists who produce incredible graffiti and wall-size works of art. Much of it is so good there are walking tours designed around the tags, throw-ups and large scale murals that now dominate the city centre. They serve as tourist attractions.
The city now hosts two major street art festivals – Back to City, and City of Gold Festival.
An incredible skyline
Johannesburg’s skyline is the city’s answer to Cape Town’s Table Mountain – do a Google search for the city, and its vibrant skyline, awash with skyscrapers and a handful of prominent towers, is what many who live here think is the most beautiful city skyline in the world. It’s been photographed from just about every possible angle. The city’s signature.
Shop ’til you drop
Jo’burg is the capital of shopping and there are literally malls for Africa here (almost every suburb has a mall).
Sandton City is a malltropolis, as are the four gates (north, east, south, west), Fourways, Clearwater and Cresta, whilst the Rosebank precinct (Rosebank Mall, The Zone, The Firs) adds popular South African labels to the mix, if you’re prepared to shun the chain stores, and for local South African fashion the Work Shop Newtown is a must.
Almost endless sunshine
Johannesburg has some of the best weather in the country. Its winters are superb – icy in the mornings and evenings, particularly if your home isn’t heated – but by lunch time, your coat and gloves are tossed aside and outdoors is the place to head. Summers are virtually devoid of wind with spectacular afternoon electric storms, and balmy autumns and springs.