When we first began planning our trip to South Africa, we were dead set on visiting Cape Town, the Garden Route and Kruger National Park. Everyone we spoke to told us to avoid the country's bustling, crime-ridden capitol of Johannesburg at all costs. However, Joburg is the commercial hub of the country and most international flight routes connect through the city's O.R. Tambo International Airport. We ultimately settled on a one night stop-over in the city at the tail-end of our trip before heading back to London.
Big mistake! Looking back, we now wish we had spent more time in Joburg! It's unfortunate that this vibrant, culturally rich metropolis hasn't quite outgrown its violent reputation. While Joburg may lack Cape Town's natural beauty, it more than makes up for it with its outstanding culinary, art and design scenes. The South African capitol is transforming once again by reconnecting with its roots and reclaiming its once downtrodden downtown. If you're strapped on time, we've shared a few ideas for maximizing your time. Ultimately, you need more than just one day to explore all that Johannesburg has to offer.
Start the morning off in Braamfontein. This once dilapidated neighborhood in central Joburg is a great example of the revitalization happening throughout the city. Thankfully, it's also home to one Joburg's best coffee roasters and espresso bars. Kick off the busy day with a flat white at Father Coffee, where you'll immediately find yourself surrounded by the city's "cool crowd".
Once you've gotten your caffeine fix, head on over to the bustling Neighbourgoods Market next door. Set inside a multi-floor building complex, this weekly market brings together an amazingly diverse array of local food and crafts vendors. Come hungry, because there is no shortage of farm fresh foods and inventive global cuisines here. A few of our favorites were the fried chicken and watermelon from Sumting Fresh and the delicious Balkan Burger. Make sure to grab some wine from Lazanou Organic Vineyards and head up to the rooftop for some live music. Keep in mind that the local market is only open on Saturdays from 9 to 5.
In case you haven't eaten enough, it's time to hop from one market to the next. Hidden behind forlorn brick walls and giant steel gates is an entire district of historic industrial warehouses called The Sheds @ 1Fox. On weekends the space comes alive with food stalls, pop-up art galleries, vintage finds and live music in a courtyard concert space. Future plans for a permanent restaurant, bar and event space should keep the crowds coming throughout the week.
After a bit of outdoor drinking and live music, hop in an Uber and cross into Maboneng, meaning "Place of Light". Visit the neighborhood's plethora of independent shops and wander the endless galleries and artist workshops of Arts on Main. If you have a bit more time, consider scheduling a Mabeoneng walking tour.
Hopefully you're finally full, because it's time to switch gears a bit. When you enter the Apartheid Museum, your ticket will read Blankes 'Whites' or Nie-Blankes 'Non-Whites' to designate which entrance you must walk through. The museum takes visitors from the beginnings of apartheid through to it's historic repeal in 1991, the right for non-whites to vote in 1993 and the cultural effects still felt today. You could easily spend multiple hours in the museum, reading, watching and listening to the devastating personal stories from this dark period in the country's history.
After visiting the museum, drive further west to Soweto. During apartheid, this township rose out of the eviction of black South Africans from the borders of Johannesburg and into gold mining land. Today the township has a population of over 1.3 million residents who speak up to 12 languages or dialects. Tourists who recognize the township for its dizzying maze of metal roofs and shanty towns may initially be reluctant to visit. However, upon arrival, you quickly realize how friendly, safe and diverse Soweto really is. Residents are proud to call this cultural melting pot home.
It's time to slow things down a bit after a hectic, productive and eye-opening day. Drive north to the suburban neighborhood of Parkhurst. For better or worst, this trendy, upscale neighborhood sits in stark contrast to downtown Johannesburg and Soweto. Its pedestrian-friendly streets are lined with boutiques, cafes and restaurants. Walk up 4th Avenue and enjoy a candle-lit al fresco dinner at Coobs, which serves up delicious, un-fussy contemporary cuisine. After dinner (and perhaps a few post-meal cocktails), it's time to call it a night. Your home for the evening is the The Winston Hotel in nearby Rosebank. This boutique hotel oozes character with its friendly hospitality and colonial ambiance.