Today, Johannesburg, Joburg, Jozi, Joeys, or Egoli (City of Gold), with one of the best climates of any city in the world, and a population of nearly 4.5-million people, is the largest city in South Africa, and the provincial capital of Gauteng, the wealthiest province in South Africa.
Johannesburg is a city with an incredible history and legacy. The settlement sprang up in 1886 when prospectors found gold in the area now known as the Witwatersrand. When the discovery became public, thousands flocked here in search of fortune and new opportunities. Today, Johannesburg still attracts those who want to realise their dreams and achieve success. The new city was named after two officials of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR); Johannes Meyer a and Johannes Rissik.
Johannesburg grew rapidly and quickly transformed from a small settlement into a full-fledged city. It seemed like nothing could stop its growth, not even the Anglo-Boer war. In those tumultuous times, and beyond, Johannesburg has always been recognised as the golden beating heart of South Africa.
Through the years, Johannesburg has been the site of many iconic events. It was where the Springboks beat the All Blacks to take the Rugby World Cup in 1995, and, most recently, it was where South Africa showed the world that we can host an event as large as the FIFA Soccer World Cup with style and grace.
When Australian digger George Harrison first struck gold on the Witwatersrand reef in 1886, he could little have imagined that he was in at the birth of what would become the financial, economic and industrial hub of Africa and a world-class African city. In 13 decades Johannesburg has gone from tents to towers, shanties to skyscrapers, muddy tracks to municipalities, almost treeless high-altitude grasslands to one of the biggest urban forests in the world.
Once brash and raw, like most frontier towns, Johannesburg has over the years transformed itself into a sleek, modern city without sacrificing any of its high energy or historic past. In 2015, it was rated as one of the best cities in Africa, economically, according to the rating agency, Fitch. Another rating agency, Moody’s, also increased their ratings of Johannesburg in the same year. South of Johannesburg lies Soweto, the most populous urban residential area in the country, with a population of more than a million.
Gracious old colonial buildings like the Rand Club, original post offices, old police stations, historical hotels, farmhouses and shops rub shoulders with the Carlton Centre (still Africa’s tallest building at 50 storeys), glitzy shopping malls, five-star hotels, major highways, classy restaurants, award-winning museums, art galleries, lovely parks and newer historical landmarks.
And because it’s such a diverse and cosmopolitan city – a magnet of opportunity for peoples from all over the world, especially other parts of Africa – as you go from one part to another, you’ll find yourself travelling from posh upmarket suburbs like Sandton and Rosebank, to mini villages like downtown Fordsburg that is a melting pot of different global cultures; and from Chinatown to traditionally Indian areas, from bustling local markets to a revitalised, culturally stimulating inner city.
Jozi is a young city, exhilarating, sometimes exhausting, but always exciting. Spend a few hours, a day, a week – you’ll never run out of things to see and do. The Gautrain from OR Tambo International Airport, Sandton, Rosebank or Pretoria will whisk you downtown to Park Station in no time, where you can board the double-decker red City Sightseeing bus. Hop on and hop off at any of about a dozen stops, or just stay aloft and watch this vibrant city roll past.
If you fancy some history, then take the add-on tour to Soweto and visit the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize laureates, Nelson Mandela and Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu, once lived. If you need a bit of physical exercise then tour Soweto on foot or by bike with registered guides, or if you’re an adrenalin junkie then bungee jump from Soweto’s iconic Orlando Towers.
Need something less adventurous? Then what about a stroll through the lovely Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, where black eagles nest; or a hike along a heritage trail through historic Westcliff.
If you’re a culture buff visit the Johannesburg Art Gallery, WAM (Wits Art Museum) in Braamfontein – which holds one of the world’s finest collections of African art, including African beadwork – or any one of the private art galleries along Jan Smuts Avenue in Rosebank. If you’re at all interested in our history as humans (and who isn’t?) spend time at the University of the Witwatersrand’s user-friendly and fascinating Origins Centre; or if you want to look beyond our universe, try the Johannesburg Planetarium.
If it’s relaxation you’re after, the city has plenty of lovely spas, and for entertainment, there are casinos, theatres, cinemas, and a Disney-like theme park, Gold Reef City, where you can take an underground mine tour, watch street performances, and hurtle along on roller coasters.
If you’ve no time to go to the Lion Park just outside the city, then a trip to the Johannesburg Zoo, one of the world’s finest small zoos set in 55ha of gardens and water features, is well worth a visit. If you don’t feel like walking, then take a golf cart.
Talking of golf, Joburg is home to dozens of excellent golf courses, where you can hire clubs and use facilities.
If you’re in town on a Sunday morning then take yourself off to Kyalami, where the only other school of performing Lipizzaner stallions in the world (other than Vienna) puts on a dazzling display of equine elegance with their all-female riders.
The city is also always event-full. Whether it’s a visiting pop superstar, a mega wedding show, a garden and home exhibition, an outdoor and travel expo, a retail or mining one, an African cities conference, a London or Broadway theatre hit, a food festival, or a big sports event (think soccer, rugby and cricket), there’s& always something happening.
But Johannesburg is not only about leisure, entertainment, events and sport – it’s also the business hub of Africa, its economic heart, and home to hundreds of international and local companies hosting regular conferences at superb venues with state-of-the-art facilities. All major hotels have business centres and you’ll find Wi-Fi access almost everywhere. There are also dozens of restaurants and cafés for that power lunch or breakfast.
All major gold and diamond mining houses have their headquarters in Johannesburg, the biggest being Anglo American and De Beers. The new Auckland Park-based Mining Precinct, in Johannesburg, was launched in November 2016. It aims to safeguard the future of South Africa’s mining industry by developing new people-centred technology and techniques to empower mines and prepare them for modern mining methods. The Johannesburg Fresh Produce Market remains the biggest outlet, followed by the Tshwane, Cape Town and Durban markets.
Cape Town may have the mountains and the wine farms, but there’s no doubt about it – Johannesburg has the edge for energy and excitement.
NEIGHBOURHOODS IN JOHANNESBURG
Johannesburg neighbourhoods listed in no particular order.
The township of Kliptown (which forms the southern part of the larger township of Soweto) was first laid out in 1891 on a portion of the Klipspruit farm and grew rapidly in its early years, with a multicultural community of Indian, black and coloured families all finding space on its streets.
Since its earliest days Kliptown was a hub for traders, its busy streets full of market stalls, hawkers and wholesalers, and today the streets around the centre of Kliptown near Walter Sisulu Square are still notable for their many streetside traders. The neo-classical architecture of early Kliptown can still be glimpsed in some of the neighbourhood’s older buildings and you’ll spot a number of blue plaques marking the former homes of prominent activists. While Kliptown is one of Soweto’s poorest neighbourhoods, it is also one of the most fascinating areas to visit because of its rich history.
Conveniently located between Johannesburg’s business hubs Rosebank and Sandton, the leafy suburb of Illovo boasts of loads of apartments blocks, cafes and trendy restaurants. Its attraction to young professionals and its nearby distance to upmarket Melrose Arch has quickly made Illovo one of the most lively and upcoming neighbourhoods Johannesburg.
Hidden between Delta Park and the Johannesburg Botanical Garden, you will find the quiet leafy suburb of Victory Park, regarded as one of the safest suburbs in Johannesburg where residents aren’t afraid to take long leisurely walks in one of the numerous parks around.
One of Jozi’s oldest suburbs, and bordering trendy areas like Greenside and Linden, Victory Park enjoys incredible birdlife with its majestic old trees and location close to the botanical garden. Houses are generally large and most renovated homes feature high ceilings and original parquet wooden floors.
Victory Park lies in the centre of what is arguably the green belt of the northern suburbs. Delta Environmental Centre, an educational centre that hosts workshops and demonstrations for school groups and other learners about different aspects of the natural environment and wildlife protection, lies on the one end. Green spaces include the Florence Bloom Bird Sanctuary, Emmarentia Dam and the Johannesburg Botanical Garden.
Take a few hours of peace and quiet on a walk through the rolling grasslands and woodlands. If you enjoy mountain biking this is the perfect place to start a loop around the Braamfontein Spruit trail, which skirts along the bottom of Delta Park. Don’t be surprised to find horse riders also following the same route. Birdwatchers should keep their binoculars handy as there are more than 180 species listed on the park’s birding list, including all kinds of waterfowl, warblers and sparrowhawks. And if you are lucky you might even spot one of the resident owls.
If you’re looking for a restaurant or a quick coffee, you are spoilt for choice either at nearby Linden or Greenside. Be sure to stop by The Whippet or The Fat Zebra, both known for their large breakfast selection and delicious cakes and coffees made with locally sourced ingredients.
Between Victory Park and Linden you will also come across the Saint Charles Catholic Church, a famous landmark known as the “Lemon Squeezer” for it’s resemblance to this object. The church’s stained-glass windows and its unusual architecture make it worth a visit.
The pretty suburb of Linden stretches along a hill that slopes down to the Braamfontein Spruit in Randburg, north-west Johannesburg. According to local councillor Tim Truluck, the area was originally farmland, named after farmer Johannes Jacobus Rabie van der Linde, whose family bought the land in 1898 and later divided it up and sold it off in portions as smallholdings.
It is estimated that by 1934 around 350 families lived in Linden, and many owned small fruit farms that benefited from the area’s particularly fertile soils. In the 1950s the area became a popular suburb with affluent Afrikaans families, and soon earned the nickname “Boere Houghton”.
While most of the fruit farms had by then already disappeared, the suburb of Linden is still remarkable today for its numerous peach trees.
In recent years Linden’s wide, tree-lined streets have become popular with young professionals who are attracted by the area’s friendly small-town feel and many trendy, independent cafes and restaurants. Linden’s distinctive main street, 4th Avenue, is a mix of old and new independent stores and cafés. Some of the oldest stores include the Arthur Bales haberdashery, which first opened in the 1960s and still does a roaring trade today in fabrics, wools and sewing equipment. Other must-visit local businesses include Rembrandt’s Butchery, which is a great place to buy meat for the braai, and the Cheese Cafe, a delicatessen with an enticing selection of South African farmhouse cheeses.
For cafe culture, there is plenty of choices. For breakfast try one of the trendy coffee shops such as The Whippet or The Fat Zebra, both known for their large breakfast selection made with locally sourced ingredients; or for something more traditional there’s the charming old-fashioned corner cafe, The Argentinian, which proudly boasts the “best croissants in Africa”.
For lunch or dinner take your pick from French, Indian, Mexican, sushi or Chinese food. Favourites include Emma Chen’s colourful and casual noodle restaurant PRON (People’s Republic of Noodles), known for its flavoursome, authentic northern Chinese cuisine; and for rustic French fare there’s Romuald Denesle’s laid-back bistro, A La Bouffe.
Adjacent to Norwood and Houghton, and divided neatly in half by the busy thoroughfare of Louis Botha Avenue, lies Orange Grove, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Johannesburg. Originally known as Lemoen Plaas, Afrikaans for Orange Farm, the suburb rose from humble beginnings to the busy hub it is today.
Fondly known as “Little Italy” from the 1950s to late 1980s, the majority of Orange Grove residents were primarily Italian immigrants. The suburb also attracted Portuguese, Jewish and Afrikaans cultures, adding a truly cosmopolitan flair to all restaurants, delis and cafes.
The centre of Orange Grove is Louis Botha Avenue, the main road that boasts many historical gems, and which initially served as the only single, direct road between the Johannesburg CBD and Pretoria.
In recent years, Louis Botha Avenue has been undergoing a major revival, with many of its old-fashioned restaurants getting a makeover while still paying tribute to their long histories.
The pretty suburbs of Greenside and Emmarentia are bordered on one side by the Emmarentia Dam and the adjoining Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, and on the other by the Parkview Golf Club. The area was once part of a large farm owned by the Geldenhuys family that was sold in the 1930s to residential property developers, who also planted hundreds of trees that line these peaceful suburban streets.
In this friendly neighbourhood, you’ll find an eclectic range of attractions to suit all kinds of visitors, from sports clubs to café culture, and family picnics at the Emmarentia Dam to late-night bar crawls at Greenside’s busy bars.
The Johannesburg Botanical Gardens are one of the most beautiful green spaces in the city with an estimated 10 000 trees and 4 500 rose bushes. Long lawns slope down towards the Emmarentia Dam, while in the opposite direction rolling parkland is framed by a view of the rocky Melville Koppies and lush wetlands.
The gardens include pretty, formal gardens such as the Shakespeare Garden and Herb Garden, as well as the lovely terraced Rose Gardens, which are complemented by cascading waterways, fountains and are a very popular venue for wedding photography. Pack a picnic and make a day of it.
Midway between Pretoria and Johannesburg, the steadily expanding area of Midrand (formerly known as Halfway House) is a relatively new addition to Gauteng’s landscape. The first office blocks and residential properties were only built here in 1981, although nowadays Midrand sprawls for miles, with flashy corporate headquarters, gated communities and conference centres rapidly filling the remaining green spaces that lie between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
While most people settle with simply speeding past Midrand on the road to some other city, there are a handful of hidden gems that are worth making a diversion for.
Fourways is a massive residential area stretching across a broad swathe of northern Johannesburg, bordered by Bryanston to the south and Lanseria to the north. The fastest-growing area in northern Johannesburg, here you’ll find outdoor lifestyle centres, plant nurseries, golfing estates, gated communities and shopping centres galore.
Named for the fourway stop at the two main thoroughfares, William Nicol Drive and Witkoppen Road, this entire area was originally part of a 605acre farm owned by the Eriksen family and only became the residential sprawl it is today during the last 30 to 40 years.
Most visitors come to Fourways to visit Montecasino, the biggest casino and entertainment centre in Gauteng, while little-known green areas such as the Lonehill Koppie are also a major attraction for residents of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs. If you are passing through Fourways, here are some places worth checking out …
Montecasino was modelled after a Tuscan village. Inside, the building is designed to resemble cobbled Italian streets, while outside you’ll find a grand piazza looked over by an Italianate campanile and upmarket hotels inspired by renaissance Italian palazzos. Gauteng’s biggest casino boasts more than 1 700 slot machines and 70 different tables, as well as a private high-roller’s lounge. Beyond the gambling, there is a wealth of entertainment options for the whole family, including more than 40 cafés, restaurants and bars, a cinema, bowling alley and amusement arcade, theatres and Parker’s Comedy & Jive Club.
You’ll find Broadway shows on the stage at the impressive Teatro at Montecasino, and local theatre and comedy at the smaller Pieter Toerien Theatre. Other attractions include the Montecasino Bird Gardens, where you can admire exotic birds and enjoy the extraordinary Flight of Fantasy bird show that takes place three times a day. To make the best of a highflying visit, stay overnight at the Palazzo hotel or at the Southern Sun Montecasino hotel.
The Lonehill Koppie, a rocky hill in the middle of the Lonehill suburbs, is a surprising reminder of what Fourways used to look like before the many sprawling residential estates and shopping malls that surround it was built.
Sitting between the M1 highway and Linksfield Ridge, Norwood is one of the city’s oldest suburbs with most homes dating back to the 1920s and 1930s.
During the early 1950s many immigrant Italian families moved into the area and up until the late 1980s the area was known as Johannesburg’s “Little Italy”. Although the Italian community is not so prominent today as it once was, you’ll still find a few old-fashioned Italian restaurants, as well as Jewish delis, African restaurants and Middle Eastern cafés in this area.
Norwood’s high street, Grant Avenue, is an attractive suburban street with plenty of shops and cafés. The street is known for its cosmopolitan mix of cafés and restaurants, including the popular Schwarma Company, which serves probably the biggest schwarmas this side of the Middle East; the Jewish delicatessen Alexander’s, with its famous bagel menu; and the traditional Ethiopian restaurant Queen Sheba.
For gigantic pizzas to share try the trendy Nonna Mia’s Kitchen or stop at Baha Taco for the best Mexican food.
Set over three floors around a central courtyard on the middle of Grant Avenue, the Factory on Grant sees itself as an “anti-mall” with small shops promoting locally made artisanal goods, such as the quirky Merkati gift store and Smelt Glassblowing Studio. While you are here stop for coffee and buy fresh bread or pastries at Vovo Telo bakery or have a drink at the rooftop bar.
From 1908 to 1909 Mahatma Gandhi lived in a simply decorated house in Orchards (bordering Norwood) where he devoted his time to promoting his philosophy of satyagraha (passive resistance and nonviolent civil disobedience). The historic home is now a peaceful guest house and museum dedicated to Gandhi’s principles and offers visitors a contemplative and spiritual experience. Overnight guests can book meditation and yoga classes and enjoy home-cooked vegetarian meals.
Johannesburg’s first Chinatown grew along Commissioner Street in the early 20th century when scores of Chinese settlers were brought to South Africa as cheap labour to work in the gold mines. Over the years the city’s Chinese community has grown considerably, particularly during the 1970s and 1980s when Taiwanese people sought sanctuary in South Africa as well as in the years following the end of apartheid.
During Johannesburg’s dramatic inner-city decline in the late 1990s, residents of the first Chinatown fled to the suburbs and soon enough a new, bigger and brasher Chinatown was born in Cyrildene, a formerly old-fashioned Jewish suburb straddling the ridges to the east of the city centre.
An impressive set of ornate Chinese arches now marks the entrance to Cyrildene’s main street, Derrick Avenue, which is chock full of Chinese restaurants and supermarkets, tea shops, acupuncturists, massage parlours and electronics stores. Here the cultural traditions and cuisines of the old country have been upheld, while storefronts hold Chinese language signage and the stores are packed with typical Chinese foodstuffs, making a visit to Cyrildene a colourful experience that is not to be missed.
Melrose is a stylish urban precinct in Johannesburg’s northern suburbs, conveniently situated between Rosebank and Sandton. Melrose is divided by the main thoroughfare Corlett Drive and is home to the upmarket shopping and lifestyle centre Melrose Arch. Melrose is full of apartment blocks built mostly in the 1950s and 1960s which boast high-ceilings and a low-maintenance lifestyle, this neighbourhood has become a popular place to live for young professionals, who have brought with them trendy cafes and a youthful ambience.
Lying directly between Johannesburg’s historic city centre and the newer Sandton business district, and with a Gautrain station right on its doorstep, the Rosebank precinct is one of the most popular places to be in Johannesburg for business and leisure. Sparkling new office buildings and luxurious high-rise apartment blocks are steadily filling the skyline, and its busy pedestrianised shopping precinct hums with a diverse crowd that comes to find the latest fashions and enjoy Rosebank’s many restaurants and cocktail bars. An easily walkable area with a wide choice of hotels, numerous art galleries and the Rosebank Art & Craft Market, this is also a very popular base for tourists staying over in Johannesburg.
The work of a single property development company, the inner-city district of Maboneng began life in 2008 when the local developer and entrepreneur Jonathan Liebmann bought up dozens of rundown industrial warehouses and factories on the eastern edge of the inner city and set about transforming them. He was inspired by his travels to other cities where he had enjoyed the vibrancy of 24/7 urban life.
The name Maboneng is a Sotho word meaning “place of light”, and the growing precinct aims to transform an area that was once blighted by urban decay and crime into a safe, happening and inspiring place to live, work and play.
Frequently compared with trendy, rejuvenated neighbourhoods such as London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Brooklyn, this pioneering precinct draws the inner-city public, as well as the chic, outgoing and partyloving crowds of the city’s northern suburbs.
Attractions in the vibrant city centre include Museum Africa, the Market Theatre and Bassline jazz club, all in the vibey revamped Newtown Cultural Precinct, which also features thriving arts and design centres.
Constitution Hill is the seat of South Africa’s revered Constitutional Court and also houses the Old Fort Prison Complex.
Jozi features some of the finest retail therapy opportunities under the African sun. The ever-expanding Sandton City is a great one-stop shopping venue, while prospective diners are spoilt for choice at the adjacent Nelson Mandela Square, after which they’re at liberty to take in a show at Theatre on the Square.
Meanwhile, Rosebank offers a more relaxed experience, where shoppers can browse through a range of African curios and relax in outdoor cafes … and that’s just for starters.
Johannesburg’s accommodation ranges from international and boutique hotels to a huge range of artistically unique guest houses and friendly B&Bs.
Many of those former residents have since relocated to the northern suburbs, and although their strong cultural influence still remains, Fordsburg today is also a melting pot of different immigrant cultures ranging from Nepalese to Syrian, Turkish to Iraqi, Emirati to Ethiopian.
Fordsburg has a dramatic history of turmoil and flux. In the 1920s, the oppressive apartheid regime attempted to secure it as a residential area for whites-only miners. But ironically, in 1922, those same white miners were shelled and came under fire from government troops when they went on strike to publicly protest against the employment of cheap black labour. Look out for the plaque in Fordsburg Square commemorating those who died.
Forced removals of the population in the 1950s to the Indian-only suburb of Lenasia, 35km south-west of Johannesburg, was another chapter in Fordsburg’s history of ebb and flow.
A walk through Fordsburg is a drenching of the senses. See bright clothes, fezzes and headscarves, glittering authentic and artificial jewellery, colourful religious icons, posters, and trinkets from India. Inhale delicious cooking smells from sizzling street food, and heady scents wafting from spice, incense and perfume shops.
Just 50 years ago Sandton’s Central Business District was little more than rolling farmland. Nowadays however it is the economic hub of South Africa, the location for the headquarters of many of the country’s biggest companies who are housed in striking modern skyscrapers that can be seen from miles around. While most visitors come to Sandton to do business, the area is also a shopping mecca with the country’s biggest shopping malls and a good selection of fine dining restaurants and upmarket hotels. With a direct 15-minute Gautrain link to O R Tambo International Airport, for many visitors to Johannesburg, central Sandton is their first port of call in the city.
Shop till you drop
The three interlinked shopping mega malls Sandton City, Nelson Mandela Square and Michelangelo Towers have enough shopping to keep you occupied for days with hundreds of local and international high street names. If you are a big spender then you won’t want to miss the Diamond Walk, a luxury shopping arcade containing the African flagship stores of designer brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada and Gucci. Don’t be surprised to spot a local celebrity or two sipping champagne at the Diamond Walk’s very own champagne bar. Also drop into Luminance, a designer department store with a special focus on South African designers.
Culture on the square
Sandton’s leading cultural institution is the Auto & General Theatre on the Square which hosts excellent theatre productions based on the works of local and international playwrights, as well as a lunch-hour classical concert every Friday that is worth looking out for. The theatre is located on Nelson Mandela Square a civic square lined with a flash selection of cafes and restaurants such as the chic cafe-restaurant Tashas which is much loved by the city’s socialites and The Big Mouth, a high-end sushi and seafood restaurant with eye-catching Art Deco-inspired interiors. At the top of the square is a large statue of the late Nelson Mandela, a popular place for photos.
Home to the main campus of the University of the Witwatersrand, Braamfontein is Johannesburg’s most youthful neighbourhood, populated by a cosmopolitan mix of students, academics and young professionals. The nightlife in this area is always buzzing and there are a great selection of hipster coffee shops, fashion boutiques and art galleries to explore as well as top museums and theatres. Conveniently linked to the Park Station Gautrain, easily walkable and with a vibrant cafe culture and lots of cool street art to admire, Braamfontein is an ideal place to explore on foot.
Visit a museum
Braamfontein has a number of great museums that are not to be missed. The jewel in the crown is Constitution Hill, a huge complex that sits on Braamfontein’s north-easterly edge. Once a colonial fort and then a prison, it is now the location for South Africa’s Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land. Its old prison blocks have been made into an outstanding museum detailing the terrible conditions suffered by those imprisoned here by the apartheid state. Another must-visit is the Origins Centre on the Wits University campus, a fascinating museum that explores and celebrates the history of our earliest ancestors.
Explore the arts scene
Buzzing Braamfontein is a magnet for artists and there are numerous interesting art galleries and exhibition spaces such as Kalashnikovv and Stevenson Gallery where you can see the latest works by some of South Africa’s most exciting young artists. The Wits Art Museum hosts a regularly changing series of exhibitions that focus on historic and contemporary South African art, while Braamfontein’s streets are also a canvas for impressive murals.
Although it’s one of Johannesburg’s older suburbs, registered in 1904 as Johannesburg’s 67th suburb, the landlords who made their fortunes from gold built their mansions elsewhere because Parkhurst was only a small area with tiny plots.
Today the 2 200 plots in the narrow streets are densely packed with little houses and quaint cottages often remodelled and lovingly restored by their present owners with bright coats of paint, quirky front doors and charming trim gardens. In the evenings you’ll find some of Parkhurst’s residents walking their dogs, catching up on news of the day or just relaxing in the suburb’s pretty little Verity Park.
Although Parkhurst isn’t a glitzy area like Sandton, it’s an upmarket suburb that has managed to retain a vibrant village atmosphere.
If you enjoy a European-style café culture, then head to its busy heart, 4th Avenue. Weave your way past people sipping coffee, drinking green tea or enjoying an alfresco meal, and browse in the antique, craft and book shops, funky clothing and gift boutiques, and some of Joburg’s best interior design and decor stores, or take a break in one of the numerous hair and beauty salons (there’s even one for pampered pooches).
You’ll also discover some of the city’s best restaurants offering everything from sushi, seafood, pizza, tapas, burgers and fine dining, to milkshakes, craft beer and fine wine.
Chic shops, sidewalk cafés, a fascinating variety of restaurants, fast-food outlets, pubs, bars, and Joburg’s great sunny climate – Parkhurst has them all. Come and see for yourself.
From theatres and jazz clubs, art galleries, craft and flea markets to museums and spectacular street art, Newtown is alive with possibilities for even the most jaded traveller.
Easily accessible over the Nelson Mandela Bridge that links Newtown to trendy Braamfontein, and via the M1 highway from upmarket the suburbs of Rosebank and Sandton, Newtown is also a stop on the red City Sightseeing bus.
Expect history, entertainment, informal shopping, all kinds of good food and great music.
Take a guided heritage tour to check out some of Newtown’s turbulent history, and look out for an eclectic mix of architectural styles, from Victorian, Edwardian, beaux arts and art deco, to modern, postmodern and contemporary.
Also, take note of the stunning public art commissioned from both famous artists and lesser-known ones, from the 560 carved wooden heads dotted all around the Newtown Precinct, to the Banner of Hope steel sculpture of the South African flag in front of the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre.
Mary Fitzgerald Square, Newtown’s core cultural precinct, is where you’ll find the world-famous Market Theatre, Museum Africa, and numerous music and dance venues.
In the dark days of apartheid, the Market Theatre converted out of an old fruit and vegetable market in 1976, was a beacon of light as it staged anti-apartheid plays and performances challenging the oppressive regime. One of South Africa’s first theatres to have black and white actors together on the same stage, its history is inexorably entwined with South Africa’s struggle for social, cultural and political freedom.
It was here, during the 1976 Soweto Uprising, that the fate of a nation was forever dramatically changed when black schoolchildren protesting oppressive laws that forced them to study in the Afrikaans language were shot by white police.
You can still see the bullet holes in the roof of the Regina Mundi Catholic Church, where some schoolchildren fled screaming. It was an event that shook the world and heralded the death throes of the tyrannical apartheid regime.
Soweto (from South West Township) came into existence in 1904 after pass laws were introduced that forcibly removed black, Indian and coloured people from Johannesburg’s city centre. Over the years it has grown into a huge city of well over a million people with upmarket suburbs, quiet neighbourhoods, shopping malls, theatres, sports stadiums, cinemas and entertainment complexes, surrounded by poverty-stricken informal settlements.
Expect millionaires and migrant workers, prison-like blocks of hostels, freedom struggle memorials, colourful street markets, noise and constant activity.
Discover the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, the world’s third-biggest hospital; the iconic brightly painted Orlando cooling towers from which you can bungee jump; the only street in the world where two Nobel Peace Prize winners once lived (Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu); plus several National Heritage Sites.
Since its inception more than a 100 years ago, the township has had a history of struggle and was the site of an early and pioneering street protest – a protest that would give birth to other, bigger and later game-changing protests – when in the 1940s Alex protested en masse about rising bus fares. For a month, refusing to take buses, its residents walked patiently to and from downtown Johannesburg to get to work, a distance of more than 20km.
Alex has also been the home and nursery of musicians, artists, politicians and notorious gangsters.
You can get an honest and authentic impression of Alex by taking a walking, cycling or minibus tour that can pick you up at the Marlboro Gautrain Station, or at your hotel.
As you walk through the streets you’ll gain insights into how Alex people entertain themselves by day and night.
Visit a house once lived in briefly by Nelson Mandela in the 1940s at the Mandela Yard Precinct; see where Samora Machel, the first president of independent Mozambique, stayed; and discover historical plaques at heritage sites.
It’s one of the few places in Johannesburg that has a restaurant and café street life, so if you want to escape the ubiquitous city mall culture, then Melville, with its terrific location close to town, is the place to be.
Long the haunt of students from two of Johannesburg’s top universities – the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand – as well as visitors and tourists, the area teems with life, especially at night when the bars are buzzing, the restaurants rocking and the clubs crowded.
Catz Pyjamas – open 24 hours, seven days a week, and with 24-hour delivery service – has been drawing people in for years, as has the laid-back Lucky Bean Restaurant, with its good food and live music.
The Leopard is the culinary home of author-chef Andrea Burgener, while a great family pizza place is Picobello Trattoria. Buzz 9 serves interesting cocktails in a vibrant atmosphere, as does Six Cocktail Bar, a Melville institution and one of its oldest bars.
Forget the big chain stores and upmarket labels when you come shopping in Melville. Instead, expect inviting little craft shops, quaint boutiques, second-hand vintage stores and antique shops, and the Bamboo lifestyle centre, where a contemporary South African theme rules.