Jessica Festa a RoamRight Blog Author

Traveler's Guide to the Neighborhoods of Johannesburg

Johannesburg also known as Jozi, Joburg, Joni, eGoli or Joeys, abbreviated as JHB, is the largest city in South Africa.

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 Tours 


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.

Where would you start your Johannesburg exploration?

Note: Available plans and coverages may have changed since this blog was published.


About the Author

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa, a RoamRight Blog Author 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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