Johannesburg is a thriving metropolis with a fascinating historical and cultural scene. The ‘City of Gold’ (as it’s affectionately known) is the country’s largest city and the economic hub of Africa. It is unsurprisingly the most visited city on the continent, home to most of South Africa’s cultural sites and a booming art and design scene. It’s here where you will also find some of the best restaurants and bars in the country, as well as a festive nightlife.
Johannesburg’s inner-city area is one of the liveliest parts of the city, offering a wealth of creative businesses and galleries. The regenerated urban area of Maboneng (meaning ‘place of light’ in Sotho) is a bustling, creative hub, which has an array of cultural things to see. Start your day at Arts on Main, a converted warehouse within Maboneng, which now serves as an innovative cultural centre. The space is home to prominent galleries, public artworks, shops and event spaces where book readings and film screenings are hosted – so be sure to find out if any special events are taking place while you’re in town. On Sundays, the centre comes to life with the Market on Main, a local market where you can pick up a selection of art, fashion, local produce and snacks from a range of food stalls. It’s a great place to buy souvenirs and meet locals artisans. Nearby in Braamfontein, the Neighbourgoods Market is a thriving local food and artisan market held every Saturday.
Further east, lies the stately Nelson Mandela bridge, which pays homage to South Africa’s former president. Drive over the bridge to get to your next destination: Newtown. In Newtown you’ll find Work Shop New Town – a new retail space and hub, which has over 30 local fashion, design and lifestyle brands – as well as the iconic Market Theatre.
As the sun begins to set over the city, wind down with an an artisanal gin cocktail from Workshop 55, before heading to Great Eastern Food Bazaar in Melville for dinner. As you’ve probably guessed, the cuisine features many Eastern flavours (the mussels are a highlight), in a contemporary, laid-back environment.
Go in search of history
If you’re hungry for some history and culture, make your way to Soweto, one of South Africa’s most prominent and vibrant townships. It’s here where you’ll find the Vilakazi Street precinct. This street is one of the most noteworthy in South Africa and has many important historic sites, including public art and murals as well as Nelson Mandela House, the former family home of Mandela, which now serves as a museum. In the same precinct, you’ll find the Hector Pieterson museum, another important historic location. The best way to see these sites is by bike or quad bikes. Soweto Bicycle Tours offers two or four hour bike tours, where you can explore the vibrant surrounding area and hang out with some locals.
For a quintessential South African experience, head to Chaf-Pozi, located at the base of the iconic and colourful Orlando Towers. Order a cold beer, kick back and listen to local township music. Hungry? You’re at the right place. This lively, low-key spot serves an authentic type of South African cuisine, called Shisa Nyama, which translates from Zulu to “burn meat”. The meat is flame-cooked over a braai (a South African type of barbecue) and served with a few local accompaniments such as pap (a type of maize porridge/polenta). On Sundays, Chaf-Pozi really comes to life with festive music and dancing. There’s no better place to end a weekend.
Where to stay
Located in the glitzy suburb of Rosebank, the stylish 54 on Bath is close to Nelson Mandela Square and some of Johannesburg’s best shops and restaurants. The outdoor pool on the fourth floor garden terrace is the perfect place for an afternoon cocktail. Rates start from R3200 (about A$300) per night for a Deluxe Room with views over the garden terrace or city skyline. tsogosun.com/54-on-bath
For a quirky hotel located in the heart of the Melrose Arch precinct, Protea Fire and Ice is conveniently placed within walking distance to shops and restaurants. Rates start from R1868 (about A$175) per night for a Standard King Room. marriott.com.au/hotels/travel/jnbmr-protea-hotel-fire-and-ice-johannesburg-melrose-arch