Johannesburg as a tourist destination is ever-changing. The city a tourist explores today is different from that of five years ago. For first-time visitors, there are some staple neighbourhoods and venues that everyone recommends.

Evelyn Patrick, Operations Manager at Snappy Coach Hire says: “People love an inner-city tour exploring the area of Braamfontein, seeing some of the historic buildings like the Legislature Building, Gandhi Square and the courthouses. On weekends, Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein is still popular, the Mad Giant Brewery in Ferreirasdorp is popular for craft beer and Maboneng continues to draw visitors.”

Patrick adds that some areas are safer than others, and recommends that tourists make use of a guide to get the best out of the city while remaining as safe as possible. She adds that guides should take into account the interests of their groups: “For guides, it’s important to know your group.”

With development all around the city, unassuming neighbourhoods offer tourists pockets of culture, art, heritage, greenery, food and ambiance. Tourism Update looks at some new hot-spots around the city.

The Wilds

Situated on the city’s eastern side, The Wilds has existed for years but until very recently had a dangerous reputation. James Delaney, artist and Johannesburg resident, lives in an apartment block overlooking the park and began using it as a spot to walk his dog – much to the horror of his neighbours, who feared for his safety. After a few walks without incident, he took it upon himself to encourage people into the park. He began clearing some of the vegetation, opening up the overgrown pathways and creating better lines of sight to create a sense of safety. “There were a couple of City Parks workers doing a little bit of work, mowing the lawn and that sort of thing each week. I started working slowly, trimming dead branches, and removing fallen bushes. So over the last three or four years, I’ve removed about 40 or 50 truckloads. So I removed the fire risk and made it easier to see, whereas before it was so overgrown that it did feel dangerous. I opened up lines of sight.”

Delaney then realised he needed to do more: “People still didn’t believe me that it was nice.” So he began installing sculptures. On Mandela Day, 2017 Delaney installed 67 metal owls and has since introduced a number of other animal sculptures. “There are about 100 sculptures up now and people come specifically to see those,” he explained, adding that there are plans for more. “There will be a life-sized pink giraffe.”

The Wilds is open every day at no cost and Delaney recommends it as a spot to unwind. “Tourists should visit the park, firstly for the sculptures and secondly to walk through South African indigenous forest and plants. It is an amazing experience of our local plants. For example, there is a 100-year-old yellowwood forest. Where else can one see something like that in Johannesburg?” Delaney further suggests visitors use The Wilds as a spot before or after a downtown city tour: “This is a lovely combination to get a bit of greenery and calmness after the busyness of downtown.”

Victoria Yards

Located in the suburb of Lorentzville, newly developed Victoria Yards is an integrated urban complex offering art studios and galleries, a coffee shop and a craft brewery and pizza house. Delaney, whose studio is one of many at the centre, recommends Victoria Yards as a stop for a discerning tourist. “It has a cool feeling about it. The combination of those historic buildings and this new energy coming through with interesting people makes it very exciting,” he explains. With a growing interest in African art amongst tourists, a centre where they can browse various studios at one location is ideal. “If we’re all together, there’s a much better chance of attracting tourists to come walk around our studios and browse for art to buy. With a whole group of artists, and a coffee shop and a brewery it becomes a destination.”

One of the buildings at Victoria Yards, with a vegetable garden in front of it.

The Centre for the Less Good Idea

Deriving its name from a Tswana proverb, the Centre for the Less Good idea, located at popular Arts on Main in Maboneng is a space for collaboration, incubation and support for performing artists in the city. Founded by world-renowned artist, William Kentridge, the centre identifies and collaborates with local and international artists to create performance pieces, culminating in a five-day-long programme showcasing the products of six months of work. Bronwyn Lace, the centre’s co-ordinator says: “We are the only centre of its kind in the world.”

Lace says tourists will be able to experience high-quality, collaborative performances. “For tourists interested in the contemporary art scene in the city, this will be a really rewarding experience.”

The centre’s next performance season is set to take place from October 16-20 and features work curated by South African author and playwright, Jane Taylor, and performed by a mix of local and international artists. Lace says: “If you are in the city at the time of our programme, it is serendipity.”

Credit: Stella Olivier.

Zwipi Underground Bar

The Zwipi Underground Bar is part of the development at Somerset House on Gandhi Square being undertaken by Joburg Places. When complete, the complex will be called Thunder Walker and will comprise a restaurant and event space as well as the Balcony Gardens Boutique Hotel.

The Bar is located in the five underground vault rooms of the old United Building Society and contains over 1000 safety deposit boxes. It dates back to 1906.

Until its official opening, Joburg Places will be hosting secret underground dinners at Zwipi every Friday and Saturday. The dinners include a short night walk and tour of the city and a three-course meal. Starters and dessert are enjoyed at City Central, a licensed bar and restaurant. Thereafter, guests walk from City Central to Zwipi where the main course is served. Booking is essential. Find out more here.