Let’s face it, Johannesburg doesn’t have a brilliant reputation when it comes to safety. Stories of crime, poverty, theft and murder are the main reasons visitors travel straight from OR Tambo Airport to safer and more secure places. And yes, you definitely have to keep your wits about you, but if you want a complete picture of South Africa, you simply can’t bypass Johannesburg!
I stayed 5 days in Jozi, paid the obligatory visit to the Apartheid museum, went on a cycling tour of Soweto, but most importantly witnessed the hope and revival of one of the regenerated and nowadays most trendy areas of Johannesburg: Maboneng!
Maboneng is unofficially known as “the place of light”. It was once a no-go zone full of dilapidated and rundown warehouses, until a local entrepreneur decided to transform and regenerate part of the city’s eastern edge into a residential neighbourhood. But not only that, it is now THE place to go to for culture, food and street art! Maboneng only consists of a couple of blocks and the surrounding streets are still mostly occupied by low-income families, but it does show you that Johannesburg is a lot more than crime and pure misery!
When visiting, don’t miss out on these 10 best things to do in Maboneng:
1/ Have a sundowner at “Living Room”
Make this your first port of call! “Living Room” is a rooftop bar that offers fantastic skyline views over central Joburg. The rooftop garden is beautifully decorated and offers reasonably priced drinks and finger food to accompany the views. “Living Room” is pretty quiet during the week, but transforms completely on a Sunday when it fills up for an afternoon DJ party. A mix of well-heeled youngsters and more casually dressed people sip on cocktails, wine or beer and simply enjoy this lively part of Joburg with great music and good vibes!
Address: 5th Floor, Main Change Building, 20 Kruger Street, Maboneng
2/ Go for local food and design in “Market on Main”
Another reason to visit Maboneng on a Sunday is “Market on Main”, a weekly market offering local food and design every Sunday at the “Arts on Main” venue. Between 10am-3pm locals and visitors flock down to browse the many food stalls and local designer shops. The venue isn’t big, but you’ll easily spend a few hours here soaking up the relaxed atmosphere and sampling anything from Ethiopian food to craft beers and desserts.
Address: 264 Fox Street & Berea Road, Maboneng
3/ Original souvenirs at Arts on Main
If you’re not around on a Sunday, it is still worth visiting the “Arts on Main” hub where a mix of eclectic shops and galleries will keep you busy for a while. My favourite place is called “I was shot in Joburg”. It’s a store set up to teach former street children photography skills. You can buy their work on notebooks, photo prints, T-shirts, … Really cool souvenirs to take home!
If that doesn’t take your fancy, have a browse through the art galleries and bookshops that surround the square.
Address: 264 Fox Street & Berea Road, Maboneng
4/ See a movie at “The Bioscope”
This independent movie theatre in Joburg is definitely worth a visit. No Hollywood blockbusters here, instead a single-screen cinema that displays alternative international films and locally made documentaries. I went to see “The Wound”, a South African movie that gave a good insight into parts of the Xhosa culture. The seats at “Bioscope” are made from old repurposed car seats and are surprisingly comfortable. You can even order a pizza which will get delivered to your seat during the movie!
Address: 286 Fox Street, Maboneng
5/ Have a foodgasm at “Che Argentine Grill”
You’ll be spoilt for choice in Maboneng when it comes to food: from Italian to Ethiopian and from Greek to South African, there’s something for every taste. But THE place to go to is “Che Argentine Grill”. An atmospheric old warehouse has been decorated with gaucho murals and leather items to create an intimate setting, ideal to tickle your taste buds. Steaks are the highlight here, but non-carnivores don’t need to panic. The ceviche is simply to die for, as are the veggie croquettes. I sampled a few good restaurants in Maboneng, but this one is head and shoulders above the rest!
Address: 303 Fox Street, Jeppestown
6/ Go on a pubcrawl
Maboneng really comes alive during the weekend when locals and visitors fill up the streets, hopping from one bar to another. Go for a laid-back vibe at The Hide Out (part of Curiocity Backpackers) or people-watch at the street terrace of The Bioscope. For rooftop bars check out The Living Room or Love Reno. From Monday to Friday, several pubs have Happy Hours offers, the perfect excuse for another drink!
The Hide Out: 302 Fox Street, Maboneng
The Bioscope: 286 Fox Street, Maboneng
Living Room: 5th Floor, Main Change Building, 20 Kruger Street, Maboneng
Love Reno: 297 Fox Street, Maboneng
7/ Check out the modern architecture
Propertuity, the property developer responsible for Maboneng’s transformation, nowadays owns more than 30 buildings in the area and has transformed some of them in true architectural wonders. How about the Craftmen’s Ship Building, the building my AirBnB was situated in? What was once an indoor racetrack for whippets, followed by a vehicle showroom, is now a residential unit with a central courtyard and small plunge pool!
Or the green and white building known as “Drivelines Studios”? Situated on Albertina Sisulu Road, this residential apartment block consists entirely of upcycled shipping containers.
Craftmen’s Ship Building: 262 Main Street, Maboneng
Drivelines Studios: corner Albertina Sisulu Road and Albrecht Street, Jeppestown
8/ Hunt for street art
Apart from the buildings, there are plenty of street art murals to be discovered in and around Maboneng. The best way to come across them is to simply wander along Main Street, Fox street and the little side streets in between.
9/ People watch
Maboneng is very hipster and an evening out in the area will definitely provide plenty of entertainment just by people watching. A great place to do so is at a sidewalk table of “The Bioscope”. Grab a beer and check how many “will.i.am” clones you can count 😉 Sunday afternoons at “Living Rooms” boasts an attractive multi-racial middle class, entranced by taking the best possible selfies. You could be in Los Angeles or New York for all you know!
10/ Check out Joburg from above
Technically not in Maboneng, but only 500m away from it, is the Carlton Centre. It’s a skyscraper and shopping centre in downtown Joburg and nicknamed “The Roof of Africa” for its viewing platform on the 50th floor. Although the views are behind glass, they are truly spectacular and worth the Uber ride. I wouldn’t recommend walking there, because of possible safety issues.
Address: 150 Commissioner Street, CBD, Johannesburg
Maboneng is not the only regenerated area in Johannesburg. Places like Braamfontein, Newtown and 44 Stanley are equally an example that Johannesburg is rising from its ashes. Some areas are still no-go zones but visiting Joburg has definitely been an eye-opener for me! It’s a place I can’t wait to get back to!
If you’re interested in other areas of South Africa: check out my one month road trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg.
Have you been to Johannesburg? Which area would you recommend?