Cape Town vs Joburg. This seems to be the age old feud in South Africa- the battle of the cities. I’ve called Cape Town my home for the past 18 years (having lived in Gaborone, Botswana for the first 4 years of my life) and have always sat firmly on the ‘Cape Town is the best, we have the beach’ side of the argument. When I started studying at the University of Cape Town, I became fast friends with Chelsea who was also beginning her Bachelor of Science degree. We had so much in common and loved spending time together, the only glitch- Chels was from Joburg and tried her hardest to tell Luke and I that Joburg is in fact pretty cool. We weren’t convinced but decided that at the end of our degrees we’d road trip up to Jozi with Chels and see what the City of Gold has to offer.
On our way up we split our journey over two days spending a night in the Karoo under clear starry skies at Taaiboschfontein Guest Farm.
Matjiesfontein- road trip pit stop
On our first day of driving up we made a little stop in the town of Matjiesfontein. This dusty one-street town feels like its stuck in a time warp. As you walk down the road you’re met with an old post office, an ancient standard bank with a big gold safe outside, a red London bus and the Lord Milner Hotel where you’ll be waited on by men in red and black lobby-boy outfits and women wearing frilly white cotton caps. We enjoyed some scones with jam and cream feeling like we’d stepped back into another century.
While in Joburg we were so kindly hosted by the Davidson family. It was so wonderful to be able to explore Chels’ hometown while spending quality time with her and her parents, Debbie and Craig. We were so grateful for their hospitality!
Alrighty, down to the knitty-gritty: what to do in Joburg?? As Cape Townians we are so spoiled for choice with our vast array of beautiful beaches, incredible mountain hikes and a city pulsing with exciting events and weekend markets. We often wave Joburg aside as boring with nothing to do but watch movies at Ster Kinekor and browse the mega shopping centers. And while there are A LOT of shopping centers (like wowza!), there are plenty of other things to do in this vibrant and cosmopolitan city. I loved experiencing the wide variety of different cultures all in one place and seeing a much more successful step towards transformation than what we see in Cape Town, a city with much clearer racial divides.
So here are my recommendations for Joburg:
Where to Stay
What to do in Joburg
We absolutely LOVED this part of Joburg which reminded me so much of Woodstock. The Maboneng Precint is a part of Joburg ‘Town” and used to be pretty run down until the whole area was given a massive face-lift. Now the streets are lined with quirky restaurants and art galleries and the walls are covered in beautiful street art. It’s got an amazing vibe and is a real cultural hub.
On Sundays they host the Market on Main which brings in loads of incredible street vendors selling beautiful clothing, art and jewellery as well as a warehouse filled with food stalls. The food ranges from Lebanese, to Greek, to Chinese and Congolese. Everything looks so delicious and is very well priced.
I would recommend spending a full Sunday here giving yourself enough time to check out the street vendors, have a walk around to admire the street art and enjoy a yummy lunch at the market.
We didn’t end up getting to it but the Bioscope is located in Maboneng. This artsy movie cinema reminded me so much of the Labia with its offbeat screenplays and film festivals. We did have a look around during our visit to Maboneng and loved the decor.
There are plenty of beautiful restaurants, coffee shops and bars lining these lively streets. Another spot we had planned to visit but just didn’t quite get to was The Living Room. This rooftop bar is filled with plants and cute decor. You can go here for just a drink, or a bite to eat or otherwise join them for their Sunday Evening music sessions.
Maboneng was my favourite part of Joburg and I absolutely adored walking around photographing the beautiful street art.
We had initially budgeted for about two hours to explore the Apartheid museum but ended up spending five and a half hours utterly engrossed in the story being told. I have been to many a museum throughout my travels, but never have I come across such a well laid out, beautifully curated museum that gives such an immersive experience. I was thoroughly impressed to say the least and would highly recommend it as something every South African should do at least once, and every tourist visiting South Africa include as a part of their travels to fully understand the complicated history of our beautiful country.
As you purchase your tickets at the entrance each person is randomly allocated a pass saying either white or non-white. This dictates which entrance you go through and you’re immediately hit with the stark reality of South Africa’s past.
You’re taken on a walk through our Nation’s history from Colonisation (both by Europeans and North Africans), slavery, the Anglo-Boer War, the start of Apartheid, the Sharpville massacre, the rise of Black consciousness, learning the roles of characters such as Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, the Rivonia trials, detention without trial, the Soweto Uprisings, FW de Klerk becoming president, Mandela’s release, the bloodshed that occurred during the final four years after Mandela’s release and before democracy, to finally the TRC. I have read about each of these events and people in textbooks and learnt about aspects of it in history class. But never has it all made so much sense to me as it did after walking through that museum and seeing such a cohesive story.
Watch a play at the Market Theater
The theater scene in Joburg is rich and beating with life. There are many places you can go to watch both South Africa’s emerging, and established talent, including the Joburg Theatre and the Market Theater. During our stay we went to the Market Theater to watch Van Wyk, a play about the life of Chris Van Wyk, the author of the famous poem In Detention.
The Market Theater is a quaint theater that makes use of a building that used to an old market place. It’s located in New Town which is a vibey area filled with some lovely restaurants and bars.
Lexi’s Healthy Eatery
Lexi’s is a delightful restaurant focused on delicious and healthy plant-based food. There are three around Joburg, one in Sandton, one in Rosebank and one in Modderfontein. The decor is fun and bright with sunshine yellow doors and each store has a different colourful mural and vibe. We loved Lexi’s so much that we visited two of the restaurants during our stay. They have so many delicious meals on their menu from yummy mushroom and quinoa burgers, to pulled mushroom wraps, vanilla waffles with coconut cream, banana, cocoa nibs and vegan nutella to warming drinks like the Moon milk with blue matcha and a vegan superfood horlicks.
These were some of our highlights while in Joburg but we also did a lot of chilling and spending quality time with Chels and her family. We did these fun and exciting things and also did the stereotypical Joburg thing of checking out the mega shopping centres and going to the movies.
Other ideas for Joburg
- Go on a walking tour through Soweto. Lebo’s Backpackers has a highly recommended tour.
- Take a day trip to the Cradle of Humankind.
- If you’re around during Jacaranda season- end of October, beginning of November (we unfortunately missed it by about a week) – then go for a drive through Kensington (Highland Road) to see streets lined with trees heavy with purple blooms.
- Watch a movie at the Bioscope in Maboneng followed by a drink at the Living Room.
- Fourway’s Farmer’s market on Sundays 9:00-16:00.
While I’m still a strong Cape Town convert I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Jozi and don’t think it’s all that bad.