Not sure which neighborhoods to explore when visiting
Johannesburg? Whether you’re looking to experience, art, culture, history,
graffiti, delicious food or luxury shopping you’ll find it in this remarkable
city. To help you plan your itinerary, here is the traveler’s guide to the
neighborhoods of Johannesburg.
For visitors wanting to experience a Johannesburg township,
Soweto, which refers to the South Western Townships, is a must. Home to a
number of demographics, atmospheres and experiences, you can explore food,
culture and nightlife all in one place. Spend time browsing the produce and
wares at the Para Market, where you can also visit a traditional healer or sangoma.
For some history, visit Nelson Mandela’s old family home – which is now a
museum called the Mandela House – and see the family home of Bishop Tutu across
the street. Next door, Sakhumzi Restaurant serves up traditional township
dishes like spicy South African relish, lamb, farmers sausage, red beef
marinated in honey, fat cakes and mince, tripe, maize pudding and chakalaka.
Another not-to-miss experience is visiting the restored Credo Mutwa Village,
featuring buildings and sculptures representing African folklore crafted by
African artist and traditional healer Credo Mutwa. To explore the outdoors
there are a number of worthwhile parks like Mofolo Park, Thokoza Park and
Diepkloof Park, as well as interesting cycling excursions with Soweto Bicycle
Johannesburg’s hipster hub, walking around the
pedestrian-friendly Maboneng makes you feel more like you’re more in
Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Portland, Oregon than South Africa. It all started in
2009 with the creation of Arts on Main, a building and courtyard housing arts
spaces, artisan stalls, live music and local food. As the attraction grew, so
did the need to expand the arts offerings, and Maboneng -- a neighborhood
focused on creativity and innovation -- was born. First-time visitors should
opt for a walking tour with Mainstreetwalks to get some background on the area
and see interesting public art. If you’re staying overnight, 12 Decades
Johannesburg Art Hotel features rooms designed by South Africans, with each one
reflecting a different decade of history through art. Additionally, each floor
is home to a different themed gallery, while a POPArt Theatre (open to both
guests and non-guests) is on the first floor. Other must-have experiences in
Maboneng include visiting the Museum of African Design (Africa’s first design museum),
seeing a comedy show at The Box (at the POPArt Theatre) and sampling food from
around the world at Sunday’s Market on Main.
By 2040, Johannesburg hopes to be the largest public art
city in the world. They’re doing well, as Joburg is home to 460 official works
(although 1,000 is the unofficial number). While you’ll find graffiti and
outdoor art littered throughout the suburb, there are a few works and places to
keep a lookout for. First is under the M1 Highway on Henry Nxumalo Street, where
you’ll find Johannesburg’s unofficial graffiti gallery, with thought-provoking
works done by both up-and-coming and established artists. You’ll also see a
number of wooden busts throughout Newtown, which is part of a project called
the Newtown Heads that includes 560+ heads crafted from recycled sleeper
trains. When exploring Newtown’s al fresco art scene, I recommend taking a
walking tour with Past Experiences, as guides are knowledgeable and are artists
themselves, helping you to truly understand the local creativity going on in
Newtown. Other quintessential arts experiences in Newtown include learning
about African heritage (including onsite geology and photography museums) at
Museum Africa; learning how beer is made and sipping international brews at the
SAB World of Beer; and seeing a performance at the historic Market Theatre,
known for challenging Apartheid through anti-apartheid works.
For those who want to see how Johannesburg’s elite live,
head to Sandton. This affluent, tree-lined suburb is where you’ll find luxury
shopping, boutique stores and ambient restaurants. Start your visit in Nelson
Mandela Square to see the 6-meter (20-foot) bronze statue before exploring the
many stores in the Sandton City shopping complex. Some top retailers include
Hugo Boss, Guess, Lacoste, Louis Vuitton, Ed Hardy and Cartier, as well as
local retailers selling high-quality goods. Here you’ll also find a number of
delicious eateries catering to a variety of tastes and budgets. Next, head to
one of the other shopping centers in Sandton, like Benmore Gardens Shopping
Centre and the Village Walk Shopping Centre. End your day by relaxing in
Sandton Central Park, home to beautiful gardens and an amphitheater.
This lively Johannesburg suburb is home to trendy
restaurants, bars and vintage shopping. Walk along 7th Street and you’ll find
antique shops, cozy cafes and bookshops that remind you of the neighborhood’s
bohemian past. In terms of nightlife, check out Katzy’s home to live music and
an expansive drink list with over 100 whiskeys. Lucky Bean Restaurant is
another top choice, where you can sample authentic South African cuisine with
some top choices being ostrich bobotie spring rolls, springbok pies and a
chickpea patty in whole-wheat pita. And for a venue that’s African chic,
Jo’Anna Melt Bar is one of the city’s newest venues and offers farm-to-fork pub
fare in a social setting. One of the top attractions is the Melville Koppies
Nature Reserve home to lush flora, more than 200 species of birds and
archeological sites from the Stone and Iron Ages.
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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