Johannesburg's City Center is a vibrant juxtaposition of the first and the third world. The central part of Jo'burg (as it is known among locals), whose tall skyscrapers stand as a reminder of a previous era of commerce, has been returned to Africa. Most businesses have migrated to the northern suburbs, transforming downtown into a cacophony of African hawkers and traders who line the grids of streets in a colorful profusion. Vendors display shiny fruits and vegetables, young women scoop out pap (maize) and sauce, and Indian merchants sell brightly-colored clothing. The crime rate in this area is high, so visitors are encouraged to take sensible precautions: walk in a group, don't carry valuables, and don't walk around at night or on weekends in areas where there are no crowds.
The Standard Bank Collection of African Art provides some cultural relief in the City Centre with its display of art from across the continent. To gain perspective of the city, visit the
Newtown & Fordsburg
Lying just west of the Central Business District (CBD) is Newtown, an area dominated by the revamped Victorian-era
Continue along Bree Street to Fordsburg and find Jo'burg's Little India–the
Yeoville & Orangegrove
East of the City Centre is the multi-racial Yeoville neighborhood. This area is dominated by Rockey Street, a laid-back assortment of shops, cafés, restaurants and bars. Secondhand bookstores and tattoo parlors lie side by side, while bead shops rub shoulders with rock clubs in this cosmopolitan quarter.
Continue east through Orangegrove along Louis Botha Avenue and be sure to stop by the
South Africa's most famous township lies southwest of the city.
Leaving behind the CBD and venturing north, one travels towards Johannesburg's more affluent neighborhoods. The leafy suburb of Parktown is a perfect way to explore the colonial history of early Johannesburg. Many of the city's mining magnates of the late 19th Century lived in ornate mansions designed by the renowned architect, Sir Herbert Baker. These homes are now national monuments, that can be visited through the
While the suburbs just north of the city are older and more established, those further north are modern and dynamic, but possess less in the way of distinct character. Rosebank, Sandton and Houghton are some of the neighborhoods here that are replete with ultra-modern shopping malls and business districts, like the
Among the many fine restaurants is
Walk up to most Johannesburg restaurants, and you'll see waiters scurrying around and hear the clinking of cutlery. The hubbub and laughter billowing out the door is almost tangible. Dining out is a special social occasion here; eating comprises only about a third of the time spent in the restaurant.
So, is the quality of the food not important to Johannesburg diners? Oh, it certainly is, but locals also demand the full, theatrical production. Johannesburg has become the city of the restaurant. From ethnic to international to fusion, there's a range of places just waiting to tantalize your taste buds.
City Center & Newton
One of the most bustling areas in Johannesburg, the city center has a wide variety of great dining options. If you're coming into the city by Metrorail, head straight to the mezzanine when you get to Park Station to get a drink and a variety of hearty American-style meals at Buffalo Bill's Pub & Grill. Or for tastes from all over Asia, especially India, check out the many food options at Oriental Plaza, one of the area's premier destinations for bargain hunters.
If some authentic tastes are what you're after, try the eccentrically decorated Pink Flamingo Restaurant at the Troyeville Hotel, which is well-known for its Portuguese and Mozambican cuisine. Ready for a drink? Look no further than the tap room at the SAB World of Beers, which more than delivers on the variety of brews that its name promises. Or if you want some music to compliment your cocktail, head over to Nikki's Oasis, which offers great food, colorful seating, and amazing live jazz.
One of Johannesburg's most historically significant areas, Soweto is a part of town that is a must-visit, but only with a trusted guide. Because there are so many attractions here, it's inevitable that there are also great places to eat and drink, such as Wandie's Place, where diners enjoy authentic South African cuisine at communal tables. Another option for those searching out the most authentic tastes is Nambitha. Here, photographs that represent the rich and vibrant Sowetan culture grace the walls, many taken by world-renowned photographers, while local delicacies like sticky wings and rump steak cover the plates. Sakhumzi Restaurant also offers Sowetan cuisine, and is conveniently located on the same street as major attractions like the Hector Pieterson Museum. Or for a more high-end dining experience that specializes in catering to local VIPs, try Kwa Thabeng Restaurant.
As the hub of Johannesburg's upper-class, it's to be expected that many of the finest restaurants in the city are located in the northern suburbs, such as Sandton and Parktown. Here, even the expensive establishments offer a range of choices. For French cuisine try the pricey and decadent Le Canard. Seafood is big in Jo'Burg and is often linked with Portuguese cuisine. From a humble suburban eatery to Beira Alta in the Colony Shopping Centre in Rivonia, there is a good range of excellent places to go to.
For something less formal, one of the most popular pastimes in Johannesburg is having coffee or lunch at a hip, modern restaurant like Café Sophia in Greenside. Or check out the options at one of the area's popular shopping destinations, like Steffanie's in the shopping center at Hyde Park. Steffanie's is a classy eatery with plenty of regulars. It's a good place to people-watch and have a quick lunch or brunch with friends on the weekend. There are also plenty of other specialties to be found around the northern suburbs. The lemon-herb chicken at The Butcher Shop and Grill in Sandton Square is one of the best in town.
Divided into very distinct areas, each with its own character and idiosyncrasies, Johannesburg, the New York City of Africa, is a fast-paced, cosmopolitan metropolis that offers accommodation for every taste and budget. The movement out of the City Centre to the northern suburbs is the single largest development in recent years, altering the face of Jo'burg and adding more places to stay when visiting the city. Look for hotels in the City Centre, the eastern suburbs, Soweto, Parktown and Melville, and the northern suburbs.
The relocation of businesses from the City Centre to the northern suburbs has left the CBD unsafe and unattractive to tourists; however, taking sensible precautions, there are some sights worth seeing, like the Johannesburg Fort for history, and the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre for its view. The Hotel Parktonian is located in the City Centre and offers luxury accommodations at substantially lower prices than the flashy northern 'burbs hotels. Protea Hotel, Gold Reef City is located just south of the CBD and offers accommodation within a theme park that relives the turn-of-the-century gold mining era.
The eastern suburbs include Jo'burg's own Chinatown in Cyrildene. This is close to the established Observatory neighborhood, where you will find The Fountain Head Guest House, an Italian villa-style hotel dating back to the 1920s. Leave the city behind and head further east into tranquil suburbia. The Bedford View guesthouse in sleepy Bedford View is rather nice.
Bedford View is also centrally located for accommodation near O.R. Tambo International Airport, and The Africa Centre Backpacker Lodge offers affordable lodging in the vicinity. The Don Johannesburg International Airport offers more luxurious lodgings next to the airport, while Out of Africa is less expensive but also close to the airport.
Parktown & Melville
Just north of the CBD lies Parktown, an affluent suburb with homes dating back to the late-19th Century. Avondrus offers cozy cottage accommodations in this neighborhood, while Barbet Hill is a guesthouse set in an indigenous garden with prolific bird-life. Two other inexpensive options in Parkview are Highview Cottages and Trenwith Cottages, both of which offer relaxing garden settings at affordable rates.
Trendy Melville has a buzzing nightlife, with over 30 excellent restaurants and plenty of inexpensive guesthouses. Melville House is run by an artist and is comprised of colonial-style, en-suite bedrooms. A Room with a View comes recommended for its, well, view. From here, one has a vantage point over the Melville Koppies (hills), and on a clear day, the Magaliesburg hills.
Soweto, South Africa's most famous township, is safely reached with a tour group. It is worthwhile visiting this vast township to see how urbanized black South Africans live—from tin shacks to luxury mansions—and it's even possible to stay the night with a local family. Another option is Lolo's Guest House, winner of the AA Travel Guide Award. For a more traditional experience, travel to the Lesedi multi-cultural village, less than an hour's drive from Jo'burg. It is a unique experience to stay with a rural African family in Zulu beehive houses or Xhosa rondavels, or huts.
The northern suburbs are modern Jo'burg: a vast sprawl of shopping centers and business complexes. The Inter-Continental Sandton Sun & Towers offers five-star luxury within the Sandton City Shopping Centre. The equally opulent Michelangelo, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World Group, is located within the neighboring Tuscan-style Sandton Square. Sandton is also home to the Ten Bompas Hotel, a 10-room boutique hotel with a great restaurant. Both Sandton City and Sandton Square offer world-class shopping and dining. For more moderately priced accommodations, try Amaqele, located in rural Chartswell.
The Grace in Rosebank is another top-quality hotel, adjacent to the Mall of Rosebank with its cinemas, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. Ten Bompas Road is an exclusive boutique hotel, designed for the fastidious business traveler. The Park Hyatt Johannesburg and Protea Hotels are among the chain hotels that offer comfortable and affordable accommodations across the northern suburbs and the rest of Johannesburg. There are a number of budget accommodation options in the modern northern suburbs including the Backpackers' Ritz in Dunkeld West.
Johannesburg, the city of great diversity, is a place that celebrates and rejoices its different cultures. New genres are being created and cross-cultural projects are tearing down Old South African boundaries. These are exciting times to visit, as the vibrant arts scene sets off on a new course.
The city, which was built on gold and then manufacturing, offers cultural escapism for every taste. This is South Africa's entertainment center – where would-be actors get their first break; where singers are launched onto the international stage and successful artists are invited to exhibit at institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Look out for listings of mainstream entertainment as well as film festivals, unusual art exhibitions and the like. The daily Star newspaper's Tonight section is a good source of information, but the weekly Mail & Guardian's Friday section is probably the most comprehensive entertainment guide available.
There are a plethora of galleries and museums in and around Johannesburg, so many that a week could easily be filled just doing the art routes. The Johannesburg Art Gallery houses the definitive collection of South African art. The Witwatersrand (Wits) University houses the Gertrude Posel Gallery. The Karen McKerron Fine Art Gallery and the Goodman Gallery in Parkwood are among the oldest and most established galleries, always showing the crème de la crème of local talent.
There are cinema complexes all over the city in shopping centers. Mainstream films are on view from all over the world, mostly from the US. ‘Art films' are shown in the Rosebank Mall cinema complex Cinema Nouveau, and also at embassies and the French Institute of South Africa, in Parkview. They do say it's always better on the big screen, and they don't come any bigger than the IMAX cinema, found in the Hyde Park Shopping Center. Or if you're in central Johannesburg, catch a flick at Carlton Cinema.
Music is everywhere, and everything from the operatic to the sassy and silly can easily be found. There's get-down blues and jazz at The Blues Room in Village Walk and jazz at the Market Theatre Complex. For classical music lovers, Witwatersrand (Wits) University offers regular recitals. The Civic Theatre (in Braamfontein, not far from Wits University) and Linder Auditorium (about 20 minutes from there) also offer the classics. Larger arenas like the Johannesburg Stadium showcase big-name national and international artists. These visiting greats can also be found at some of the big casino complexes like Carnival City.
The Wits Theatre at the Witwatersrand (Wits) University in Braamfontein often shows contemporary drama. The Alhambra Theatre presents mostly humorous and comedic performances. Other venues include Peoples Theatre for children's entertainment, and New Wave Theatre for those who prefer the experimental.
The city offers numerous museums, and your first stop should be Museum Africa, founded in 1935 as the Africana Museum. Since then it has built up a collection of geological specimens, paintings, prints and photographs that represent life in southern Africa from the stone-age to the nuclear age, and beyond. In addition, the fascinating photographic collection at the Bensusan Museum in Newtown (near the Market theater complex) has a good historic art collection. For something completely different, try the SAB World of Beer (corner of Bezuidenhout and President Streets in Newtown), which depicts the history of brewing, going back to 1895. This is the date that South African Breweries (SAB) was officially registered on the London Stock Exchange. Come and sample some excellent South African beer. Or to learn more about South African history, the Anglo Boer War Museum and the Apartheid Museum can't be missed.
Clubs, Bars,Pubs & Lounges
Clubs in Jo'burg cater to every taste – from hip hop and drum ‘n bass to hard house and pop. Tanz Café, in Bryanston, combines the essence of European and Argentinean dance cafés where the music is passionate, the dance floor is large and the menu is unique. And, of course, the city's many bars, such as Siphuza Bar in the Indaba Hotel and Roxy's Rhythm Bar, one of the oldest nightclubs in the city, will keep you partying well into the night.