01 February 2011
Johannesburg: Top Ten Tips
Head off the beaten track and explore our top ten highlights of Johannesburg.
1. Animal Crackers
Get up close and personal to the 365-plus animal species that roam the vast, leafy parkland of the Johannesburg Zoo. A great educational excursion for families, and the perfect outdoor setting in which to relax and enjoy a spot of fresh air and sunshine – or an exciting night tour to meet nocturnal animals on the prowl.
Travel Tip:A mere five minutes away, The Westcliff overlooks the Johannesburg Zoo. On particularly still nights, hotel guests are advised to listen carefully for roars from the lion enclosure which are sometimes audible from guests' bedrooms.
2. Green Scene
A far cry from being a concrete jungle, Johannesburg is an urban forest, complete with over six million trees. The Johannesburg Botanical Gardens, including the tranquil Emmarentia Dam, is the place to picnic, canoe and sunbathe come summer.
The Zoo Lake, just five minutes' walk from The Westcliff, is one of the city's best-loved green lungs, popular for jogging, dog-walking and picnicking. Try the vibey outdoor restaurant Moyo for succulent Pan African cuisine, jazz, face-painting and dance, or visit one of the popular art, craft or organic food markets that take place around the lake.
Travel Tip:The Westcliff's team of specialist chefs create personalised gourmet picnic hampers - a delicious moveable feast.
3. Looking Back
Harrowing and absorbing, The Apartheid Museum tells the story of South Africa's displaced black people who lived under the apartheid government for more then 40 years, and the country's subsequent path to democracy. Here, history is powerfully presented without sentimentality - and visitors leave feeling amazed and inspired by how far the nation has come.
Another fascinating foray into the past can be experienced at Museum Africa in Newtown (pictured top left), where history springs into vibrant action through a wealth of what are often surprising and invariably illuminating displays.
Constitution Hill is the site of the prison where political activists such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi were held. It now houses the Constitutional Court, a museum and an art gallery featuring works by some of South Africa's most well-known artists (pictured below). Tour the old prisons to experience what it was like to be held here during the dark days of apartheid.
4. Go South
Soweto is a must-see, vibrant city-within-a-city made up of 21 different townships clustered together to the south-west of Johannesburg. The Orlando Towers, (pictured above, centre) is a prime spot for bungee jumping. Don't miss the area around Vilakazi Street in the suburb of Orlando where you'll find The Hector Pieterson Memorial Museum - named after the 13-year-old boy who was killed during the 1976 student uprisings, and contains artefacts from and testimonies to the apartheid struggle.
Also on Vilakazi Street is the famous Nambitha Eatery where you're likely to see high-profile politicians and business people tucking into traditional mutton stew or lip-smacking, peri-peri chicken wings, and sakumzis.
The recently revamped Mandela Family Museum (around the corner from Vilakazi Street) was the home of Nelson Mandela from 1946 until his arrest in 1964, and is an emotional homage to Madiba.
Forgo the well-known touristy shebeen (local township bar) eateries for Sochila (township slang for 'we're hanging out') - a new hotspot as popular for people-watching as it is for its rib-sticking hearty grills.
Travel Tip:The Westcliff offers a selection of tailor-made tours to places of interest in Soweto. Ask the concierge for details>
5. Play the Market
The Bryanston Organic Market is a favourite with the bohemian foodie set. Savour homemade breads, cheeses, preserves and indulgent cakes and pies - and shop for handmade décor and gifts to take home. A Moonlight Market is held in summer on the last Thursday of every month. Open Thursdays and Saturdays from 09h00 until 15h00.
The Rosebank Rooftop Market boasts over 600 stalls displaying wares including ceramics, arts and crafts, antiques and collectibles, and tasty deli and street food. Open Sundays and Public Holidays from 09h30 until 17h00.
Travel Tip:Ask The Westcliff's Executive Chef Nicky to direct you to some of her favourite foodie stalls at the abovementioned markets. Ask Chef Nicky >
6. Smart Art
Rosebank is home to four of Johannesburg's top art galleries. The Everard Read Gallery is the country's largest commercial gallery. It was established in 1913 and features works by the such local greats as Beezy Bailey and Gerard Sekoto.
Across the road, Circa on Jellicoe is a recent extension to the Everard Read gallery and houses small temporary contemporary collections by leading luminaries. The Goodman Gallery has specialised in local big name contemporary artists including William Kentridge and Norman Catherine since 1966.
David Krut Art Projects is another contemporary art mecca which features a specialist bookstore (below).
7. Walk on the Wild Side
Touch, feel, feed, ride and walk hand-in-trunk with some of Africa's gentlest giants at the Hartbeespoort Dam Elephant Sanctuary, just one hour's drive from The Westcliff.
Travel Tip:The Westcliff offers hotel guests a unique opportunity to walk with the King of the Jungle and cuddle up to lion cubs at De Tweede Spruit Valley Nature Reserve outside Johannesburg. After an exhilarating stroll around the reserve with the resident lions, feed the cubs and learn more about the reserve and its work.
8. Hot Tickets
Johannesburg nightlife features a range of eclectic options - local live jazz bars, grungy drinking holes, the club scene, electro dance parties and more. The Market Theatre in Newtown's Cultural Precinct opened in 1976 and is famous for hosting some of the most famous anti-apartheid plays. Gramadoelas Restaurant next door to the theatre serves best-loved local dishes like mopani worms and umngqushu (a dish of braised beef, beans and maize which is said to be Nelson Mandela's all-time favourite).
Get hit by the rhythm stick at Moloko in Rosebank's oh-so-cool Design District. The décor is as eclectic as the clientele here, complete with Persian carpets, chandeliers and music ranging from Latino and Afro-funk to jazz and house.
Travel Tip:Join the slick set and sip cocktails while perusing the breathtaking view over the city's suburbs at Polo Bar at The Westcliff as you watch the stars - of all kinds - come out. The Polo Bar at the Westcliff >
9. One Stop Shopping
Jozi shopping is divided into two types - in big malls and local precincts. For the former, opt for Hyde Park Corner (for exclusive fashion boutiques, cinemas and upmarket eateries), Melrose Arch (for sidewalk restaurants (and, pictured above right, The Pool Bar at the Melrose Arch Hotel), designer stores and salons) or Sandton City and the adjoining Sandton Square (one of the country's largest shopping centres complete with local department stores, designer brands, a food court and open-air square).
Quality neighbourhood shopping precincts complete with sidewalk cafes, browse-worthy local fashion, décor and foodie stores include: the Parktown Quarter in 7th Avenue Parktown North (don't miss Moema's bakery and patisserie); the BluBird centre in Atholl (stop by Helon Melon and ilovecupcake) and the Bamboo Centre in Melville (for Tinsel and Love Books). 44 Stanley in Milpark is a destination art and shopping development featuring some of the best local design and décor. Seek out artist Lulu Bailey's exotic homeware finds at Lucky Fish, and designer Karen Termorshuizen's flowing fashions at Lunar .
Travel Tip:The Westcliff offers regular shuttles to and from the most popular malls and precincts throughout the day. Enquire at the Hotel Travel Desk for further information. Ask the concierge for details >
Even if you're not a football fanatic, do explore the two refurbished World Cup stadiums - Soccer City in Soweto and Ellis Park in the city centre. Ellis Park is famous for hosting many epic sporting events including the final of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup between Brazil and the USA. It holds a special place in most South Africans' hearts as it is where the country won the 1995 Rugby World Cup Final (to which Clint Eastwood pays homage in Hollywood blockbuster Invictus). Ellis Park hosted the 2010 World Cup opening and closing ceremonies. With a seating capacity of 91,141, Soccer City is the largest stadium in Africa and is just one many interesting sights in this area.
By Benita Kursan, a writer based in Cape Town specialising in travel and culture