An Insider’s Guide To Johannesburg’s Coolest Neighbourhoods
The South African city is in the midst of a revival.
Your first trip to Johannesburg (or Joburg, or even Jozi, depending on how local you’re feeling) is generally accompanied by some nerves. It’s a city that’s known for its crime rate, despite the wealth of art and music, food, and friendly faces that also call it home.
And while crime is a concern, it won’t be the thing you remember when you leave this happening African metropolis.
Joburg is in the midst of a revival. Once-abandoned parts of the city have been embraced by a whole new generation that’s working to shed its tumultuous past while still being proud of its history (hello, hometown of Nelson Mandela).
Johannesburg’s multiculturalism, innovation and creativity deserve your travel miles and attention, as do the neighbourhoods doing the coolest things this side of the hemisphere.
Smack-bang in the middle of the CBD, the inner-city neighbourhood of Maboneng has gone from a no-go zone of industrial warehouses to a bona fide arts hub packed with creative spaces and eye-catching street murals.
Maboneng (also known as City and Suburban) is your perfect weekend destination – you can spend your Sunday getting lost in the maze of food stalls and homemade treasures at Market on Main before seeing a local documentary at the independent Bioscope Cinema.
Must see: Arts On Main
You can’t go to Maboneng and not visit the pioneering Arts on Main development space. It’s a collaborative mixed art venue in a converted industrial building where contemporary artists show their work. Head here for your dose of local creativity.
Must Eat: Little Addis
Ethiopian food in South Africa? Why not. Little Addis has become something of a Maboneng institution, thanks to the culinary prowess of Chef Kassa. Go to Little Addis to sample the spongy injera bread and succulent curries, and eat with your right hand like a real local.
Must Drink: The Living Room
The Living Room is rooftop heaven with its incredible views of downtown Joburg making it the perfect spot for a sundowner. Open Thursday through Saturday, grab your new travel friends and join the locals for a drink and a little hammock time.
“Braam’”, as the cool kids call it, is part of the Joburg Urban Regeneration Program and is known for its hipster streets and energetic nightlife. Droves of millennials (especially students) have crossed Nelson Mandela Bridge and decided to make Braam their home, which has led to a boom in art galleries and innovative restaurants.
Must See: Constitution Hill
Constitution Hill is an important site in apartheid history. A former military venue-turned-political prison (Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Joe Slovo and Fatima Meer all served time here) and, now, home to the Constitutional Court, it’s known as a “living museum”, telling the story of South Africa’s journey to democracy.
Must Eat: Neighbourgoods Market
Head down to Neighbourgoods Market on Saturday, pull up a communal pew, and eat your way through this famous farmer’s market. Held in a converted warehouse, this market couldn’t be anymore Braam’.
Must Drink: Father Coffee
In good news for caffeine addicts, Joburg’s coffee scene is on the rise, with Father Coffee at the forefront. For some serious bean and brew action, head right for the roaster, where staff are doing all sorts of things right.
Melville is Joburg’s bohemian corner. A celebrated nightspot with small town vibes, this neighbourhood is chock-a-block full of leafy, tree-lined streets and excellent music venues.
With the Johannesburg Botanical Gardens just a hop, skip and a jump away, it’s easy to feel like you’ve escaped the city.
Must See: 27 Boxes
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Fancy strolling a shopping district made entirely of former shipping containers? In Melville, you can do just that at 27 Boxes. If you’re in town on a Wednesday, make sure you visit for the live music and night market.
Must Eat: The Leopard
Asian meets bistro at one of Melville’s most renowned eateries. Sure, one of the most popular dishes at The Leopard is spaghetti with Marmite, but don’t let that put you off – everything on the menu is delicious, sustainable and well worth the effort.
Must Drink: Six Cocktail Bar
At Six Cocktail Bar, you’ll find artisanal cocktails made by some of the best bartenders in the world. This is a classy establishment and one of the oldest bars on Melville’s famous 7th Street.
Find a bartender, pull up a a velvet couch, and treat yourself to a drink. We recommend the Snoop Dogg – a kiwi and mint-kissed gin and juice.
Probably Johannesburg’s most famous district, Soweto was once home to not one, but two Nobel Peace Prize winners – Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Soweto is a living and breathing slice of history.
With over a million residents, visiting the area can be intimidating, but you’ll be rewarded for your effort with a wealth of experiences. Learn its history, visit the anti-apartheid landmarks, and soak up the culture of a very important part of Johannesburg.
Must See: Soweto Theatre
Arts and music culture plays an incredibly important role across South Africa, but it’s especially important in Soweto. Established in 2012, the Soweto Theatre was the first in the area and has made huge waves in the community.
Must Eat: Wandies Place
Wandies Place is a Soweto favourite, and one of the best places to taste genuine Sowetan cuisine such as ting (soft porridge) and mogodu (stew of tripe). Or, you can play it safe and chew your way through the barbecue buffet.
Must Drink: Soweto Wine Festival
If you’re in town in early September, the Soweto Wine Festival (start planning for next year) is a highlight on the beverages calendar. Take a seat at the tasting bench and taste your way through the best drops from South Africa’s winelands.
Today, Johannesburg is a vibrant city packed with friendly locals who are happy to help a traveller get to know their city. But, of course, as is the way with many of the world’s major cities, a few tips and tricks can make your journey a lot smoother:
Joburg is massive and, sometimes (namely, late at night), public transport isn’t your best bet. Uber is cashless, cheap and a great way to get the inside word from trustworthy locals. Skip the unregulated taxis as Uber will even track your journey for added caution.
Grab A SIM Card
Joburg isn’t the best place to go digi-free. In fact, access to the web is going to make your trip a lot more efficient and fun. Just grab a local SIM card for your time in the city and enjoy having access to Google Maps, restaurant reviews, and a connection in case of emergency.
Don’t Be Flashy
You can be confident in Joburg, just don’t be too cocky. Like anywhere, flashing your valuables can make you a target. Keep your ATM withdrawals discreet and, if you’re driving around town, don’t leave precious cargo in clear view, lest your car be broken into.
Use Your Voice
Joburg locals are incredibly welcoming. Whatever your query, feel free to ask a local. You’ll get real talk back and advice that might save you time, money, stress, or all of the above.
Best of all, there’s no real language barrier, because the majority of people in the city speak some English.
Be A SmartTraveller
If you’re still concerned about your safety in Joburg, register with SmartTraveller. You’ll receive up-to-date news and information about South Africa, get alerts if something happens on the ground, and can travel happily knowing someone has your back.
(Lead image: South African Tourism)