JOHANNESBURG (Reuters Life!) - Pairing a gold rush legacy with a metropolitan vibe, Joburg or Jozi, as South Africa’s economic hub is known to many of its residents, is rugged and chaotic yet strangely irresistible at the same time.
A city of migrants and a host for the 2010 soccer World Cup, Johannesburg boasts a mix of African and European cultures that tempt the senses and have led to the emergence of South Africa’s “Afropolitan” style.
Poor townships border grey skyscrapers and glitzy shopping malls. Streets are jammed with hectic taxi drivers ignoring all traffic signs and lanes. People are everywhere, bringing the rugged jewel to life.
Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help you to get the most out of a stay in this dangerous, daring yet fascinating city, a witness to South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, home to some of the country’s most diverse cultural life and some of its best restaurants and nightlife.
Most places are safe to walk around during the day. But you should rely on taxis when touring by dark and watch your wallet!
1 p.m. - Start with a late lunch at the small restaurant at Arts on Main (www.artsonmain.co.za), a unique blend of shops and galleries tucked away in a converted warehouse in the heart of the city. The century-old building is home to local bohemians and pays tribute to the city’s efforts to regenerate old historic sites and attract residents back to the center of the metropolis.
2:30 p.m. - Take a stroll through downtown Joburg. Start with the farmhouses of local Boer landowners, the Guildhall Pub (probably the city’s oldest drinking spot), then off to the Rissik Street Post Office, one of Joburg’s grand landmarks, and the old Park Station. Walk around the city’s original center in Ferreirasdorp and Marshalltown and take in its impressive mix of architecture, including art deco buildings and more modernist styles. Take a ride across the Nelson Mandela Bridge and tour Constitution Hill, a former prison and now home to the country’s Constitutional Court.
4 p.m. - If you are a bookworm or just looking for some info on the local culture, a visit to the Boekehuis bookshop in Auckland Park is a must. You can browse for books in the warm century-old house, with pressed ceiling and fireplaces, or enjoy a coffee and slice of homemade pastries in the garden coffee shop. Check out The Joburg Book — a fantastic guide to the city’s history, people and places.
6 p.m. Grab an early dinner at the Troyeville Hotel (www.troyevillehotel.co.za), known for its outstanding Portuguese fare including chicken livers, prawns and sardines.
8 p.m. Check out one of the shows at the Market Theater, (www.markettheatre.co.za) also known as South Africa’s “Theater of the Struggle”, which actively challenged the apartheid regime, convinced that culture could change society. Today the theater hosts both the country’s top and new artists in the drama, music and dance arena.
10 p.m. Head to the trendy suburb of Melville in the western part of town, known for its coffee shops, restaurants and lively nightlife. Strolling down the bohemian 7th Street, choose from a range of venues catering for all tastes and ages. Buzz 9 is one of the most popular restaurants/cocktail bars in Melville, while Mezzaluna restaurant serves delicious lamb, oxtail and salmon. Head to Soi if you are in the mood for oriental cuisine.
9 a.m. After breakfast at the City Bakery in Braamfontein (downtown), take a cab to the Apartheid Museum, (www.apartheidmuseum.org), which will take you on a powerful and inspiring journey through South Africa’s divided past and the rise and fall of apartheid.
Plan to spend a few hours at the museum and experience the provocative and often emotional exhibits compiled by a team of curators, film-makers, historians and designers. A temporary exhibition will also take you through the life of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first democratically elected president.
11 a.m. Head to Soweto, South Africa’s biggest township and home to 1 million blacks, where many of the country’s political battles were fought.
Stroll through the streets of the booming township: home to a growing number of millionaires but also some of the country’s most desperately poor. Visit Regina Mundi Catholic Church, used to house a number of political rallies and a former refuge for anti-apartheid protestors.
Check out Soweto’s Vilakazi Street, the only street in the world which is home to two Nobel Peace Prize winners: President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. You can have a peek at Mandela’s house — now a museum.
1 p.m. Grab lunch either at the Sakhumzi Restaurant, Nambitha Eatery or Wandies Place — all local favorites, where you can try out some specialties including mogudu (tripe), oxtail stew and dumplings.
2:30 p.m. Drive 40 km outside the city to the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site (www.cradleofhumankind.co.za). Part of the site are the Sterkfontein Caves where some of the world’s most important pre-human primate fossils have been discovered.
The Maropeng Visitors’ Center offers a series of family-friendly exhibits on the beginnings of life and the history of humanity. Nearby you can also visit the Old Kromdraai Gold Mine, one of oldest mines in the area.
If your visit to South Africa is short and there is little time left to see some of its famous game parks, try the nearby Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve (www.rhinolion.co.za), and you might spot some of the large mammals!
5 p.m. Head back to Joburg and make a stop at the stunning Westcliff Hotel (www.westcliff.co.za) for a relaxing cup of tea or a drink, and take in the splendid views across the urban forest while watching the sun go down.
8 p.m. Grab dinner and a drink at the Sophiatown restaurant (www.sophiatownbarlounge.co.za), inspired by the suburb of that same name. During the 1940s and 1950s, Sophiatown became the center of black culture in Johannesburg and the hub for arts, politics, religion and entertainment.
Sit back, enjoy quality food — the menu includes crocodile, kudu and ostrich — and a drink at the bar/restaurant decorated in Afro-chic and listen to Afropop or some live jazz, set in the heart of Joburg’s cultural precinct, Newtown.
10 p.m. Head to the Radium Beerhall (theradium.co.za), Johannesburg’s oldest surviving bar and grill and an authentic jazz venue. The Radium is popular with sports fans and jazz lovers alike. At the weekends you can watch rugby with some of Joburg’s biggest rugger die-hards or go along on a weekday evening for a glass of wine or a beer and some great live jazz. The largely Portuguese menu is extensive, offering everything from prawns in beer to the Radium specialty: chicken in hot piri-piri sauce.
Alternatively, head to Bassline (www.bassline.co.za), one of the city’s most legendary clubs and the place to experience some of South Africa’s finest jazz and Afro-beats.
9 a.m. Choose from a selection of coffees and Portuguese pastries at the Courtyard Cafe at 44 Stanley (www.44stanley.co.za), one of the city’s best kept secrets. Stroll through the series of industrial buildings in 1930 architecture style, converted to host boutiques, restaurants, and design studios.
11 a.m. Head to the rooftop market in Rosebank. Be ready to bargain heavily over curios from across the continent, ranging from masks, fabrics, sculptures to simple souvenirs. Make sure you browse through all the stalls and you are bound to find some treasures to take home. Spices, homemade food and local music will make your visit a memorable one.
2 p.m. Head to Zoo Lake for lunch at Moyo (www.moyo.co.za), a popular restaurant that serves delicacies from across the continent and throws in some traditional African face-painting and drumming for good measure.
You can take the kids out on the lake in paddle boats and get acquainted with the local birdlife, or spend all the cash in your wallet at a local market, offering fresh bread, spices, fruit, vegetables and fish as well as African memorabilia and even stylish decorative items.
Take a picnic and blanket and hit the expanse of shady grass surrounding the lake. The mood is laid back and family-oriented and you can spend the whole afternoon lazing in the sun.
5 p.m. Unwind at the nearby Bowls Club with a pint and a gab with the locals. (Additional reporting by Diana Neille, editing by Paul Casciato)