Johannesburg embodies the spirit of South Africa. Bright and bold, and typified by a divergent mix of modern skyscrapers, 19th-century architecture, ghettos and bazaars, the city paints a picture of a nation of huge contrasts and contradictions.
South Africa's largest city isn't well known as a tourist drawcard. Jo’burg, as it is affectionately called by locals, has a dark past of violence, poverty and crime and is often branded as a "big bad city". Recent improvements to policing and the creation social programs have seen the metropolis’s safety increase and its status as Africa’s economic powerhouse recognised.
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Johannesburg is one of Africa's most inventive cuisine capitals. From exotic game meat to Italian, Indian and vegetarian fares, Jo‘burg blends a vast diversity of cultures to offer an excellent variety of dining experiences. Fire grills, trendy urban cafe, tranquil country houses, and fast food takeaways – Johannesburg has it all, embodying South Africa’s moniker as the Rainbow Nation.
Likened to New York City’s SoHo by the New York Times, Braamfontein is a key cultural and dining quarter. Situated just north of the CBD within the city’s cultural arc, the suburb has a vibrant and alluring streetscape made up of design shops, restaurants and galleries. True to its cultural mix, Braamfontein’s dining scene boasts cuisines from all over the globe.
Linked to Braamfontein by the famous Nelson Mandela Bridge, the colourful suburb of Newtown hosts a lively dining scene and is regarded as a gateway into the city centre. Transformed into a safe and attractive place to work, live and visit Newtown boasts a buzzing jazz and music scene and is home to some of the South Africa’s best African cuisine restaurants and cafes.
During apartheid Johannesburg’s CBD turned into a no-go zone and a virtual ghost town. While the city centre fought heavy crime rates and disruption, many businesses shut up shop and moved to Sandton. Now considered to be Johannesburg’s upmarket business district and known as “Africa’s richest square mile”, Sandton is home to city’s most glamorous hotels, shops, restaurants and clubs. As Johannesburg’s five-star hotel capital, Sandton features a number of first-class restaurants.
Sandton is also home to Nelson Mandela Square, formerly known as Sandton Square. Hailed as one of South Africa’s best shopping destinations, the complex hosts some of the South Africa’s finest eateries. Flavours from all over the world – including spectacular French wines, heaped Greek platters, authentic African dishes and creamy Italian coffees – are showcased amid a cosmopolitan atmosphere.
The leafy suburb of Greenside is one of Johannesburg’s most frequented dining precincts – known for its wide variety of excellent restaurants, encompassing everything from traditional Indian and Italian, to pavement coffee shops. Its central hub, Green Square is a must visit for foodies, as is the dam – where local often indulge in South Africa's favourite outdoor pastime, the braai (more commonly called a BBQ).
Often overlooked in the past, South Africa’s most famous township, Soweto is a diverse feast of culture, history and community. A cosmopolitan melting pot with a troublesome but fascinating past, the south Johannesburg neighbourhood hosts some of South Africa’s most authentic eateries.
South Africans love to shop… and sell, and as a result Johannesburg has a wealth of retail opportunities. From the high-end malls to flea markets and roadside stalls Jo’burg has something to entice all shopping aficionados.
Due to convenience and safety, shopping malls are very popular in South Africa. The city’s south is home to one of Johannesburg’s biggest malls, The Southgate Mall, as well as the Dobsonville Shopping Centre, a symbol of economic development in Soweto. While the north is home to modern malls like Cresta Mall –a favourite haunt for Johannesburg's middle-class, Hyde Park Corner – home to international brands, Killarney Mall – one of Johannesburg's most established shopping centres; Sandton City – one of the largest shopping centres in Africa; and Nelson Mandela Square –one of the largest shopping centres in Southern Hemisphere.
For a more traditional South African shopping experience, Johannesburg’s buzzing marketplaces are a must-visit. The Bruma Lake Flea Market is Johannesburg's largest flea market, with a huge selection of crafts, clothing and accessories, electronics and fakes. Market Square Market is another huge flea market with a large selection of hand-made crafts. Bryanston Organic Market specialises in organic produce, and is filled with stalls brimming with meats, cheese and breads, and hand-made arts and crafts. Many markets have small arenas where local groups of dancers and musicians offer free entertainment.
Crossing worlds of malls and markets, Panorama Flea Market, located within the Rosebank Mall, is Jo’burgs best example of an African craft market, selling imported African crafts and fabrics. While Oriental Plaza fosters an Indian bazaar-type environment, operating as the city’s go-to for bargains on everything from hardware to electronics to toys, and particularly clothing and textiles.
Shopping in Johannesburg isn’t restricted to malls and markets; it’s common to see entrepreneurs selling their wares on the streets and by the road side. Hawkers peddle their wares – including everything from sweets to produce, and arts and crafts to furnishings – at taxi ranks and traffic intersections, as well as along major thoroughfares and on city pavements.