To the west lie the historic districts of Newtown and Ferreirasdorp which over the years have housed everything from slums, taverns and tanneries to Joburg’s main fruit and vegetable market (now Museum Africa, the Market Theatre and the Newtown Junction Precinct). Here you'll find plenty of museums, such as the Workers's Museum, SAB World of Beer and Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, as well as the revitalised 1 Fox Precinct home to a fantastic craft brewery, weekend food hall-style market and the Good Luck Bar live music venue, and Joburg's original Chinatown. 2km further west beyond the highway is the colourful Indian neighbourhood of Fordsburg full of restaurants serving typical Indian food and at its centre the vast Oriental Plaza, where hundreds of stores sell fabrics, sari silks, homeware, spices and jewellery, not to mention the most delicious samoosas, at bargain prices.
To the north across the railway tracks and linked to Newtown by the landmark Nelson Mandela Bridge is hipster Braamfontein, a bustling student district that is flanked by the national heritage landmark Constitution Hill and Wits University. Come here for cool cafes, plenty of nightlife, art galleries and to visit the excellent museums at Constitution Hill (see our Braamfontein district guide for more).
The heart of Joburg's city centre is found along the middle of the east-west arteries Main Street and Commissioner Street. The pedestrianised section of Main Street (between Ntemi Piliso St and Gandhi Square), has been home to the country’s mining headquarters ever since the city's founding and is the perfect place to explore Joburg's early mining history with Gold Rush relics such as mining headgear, stamp presses and carts lining the way. There’s also a decent
scattering of pavement cafés to rest at and watch the world pass by. One block east of Gandhi Square is the Carlton Centre, Africa's tallest building (visit the Roof Africa viewing deck on the 50th floor for phenomenal views of the city), and a few blocks south is the impressive One Eloff building which has a great rooftop events venue.
2km east from the Carlton Centre, also straddling Main and Commissioner Streets, is the trendy Maboneng precinct. This area sprang to life in 2008 when a local entrepreneur bought several rundown industrial properties and transformed them into a fashionable residential neighbourhood. This is another great place to explore on foot with plenty of cafes, bars, intersting boutiques and gift shops, plus an independent cinema The Bioscope and POP Art Theatre, an excellent backpackers hostel Curiocity African Design Hostels and a weekly Sunday market, Market On Main (see our Maboneng district guide for more). Neighbouring Maboneng is the Ellis Park Precinct, named for the famous Ellis Park rugby stadium and home to a growing number of artist studios and art galleries.
One of the best ways to discover downtown Joburg's many hidden treasures is on a walking or cycling tour, companies specialising in the downtown area include MainStreetWalks (based in Maboneng) and Past Experiences. While it isn't recommended to walk around the neighbourhoods of Hillbrow, Berea or Yeoville on your own, Dlala Nje offer excellent guided tours of these fascinating areas that also include a visit to the top floor of the iconic Ponte tower, one of Africa's tallest buildings. The hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing Bus tour makes several stops in the Joburg city centre and you can also easily get around the area by public transport using the Gautrain bus (weekdays only) or Rea Vaya bus which both depart from the Park Station Gautrain in Braamfontein.
Ponte City Apartments, entrance off Joe Slovo Dr (turn off at Abel Rd and Lily Ave), Berea
Dlala Nje (meaning 'Just Play' in isiZulu) is an innovative tour company based in Hillbrow’s iconic Ponte building that offers memorable walking and immersion experiences in the infamous inner-city neighbourhoods of Hillbrow and Yeoville. Dlala Nje’s aim
Curiocity Hostels, 302 Fox St, Maboneng, City Centre
Walk along this pedestrianised street from the Carlton Centre to Chancellor House in downtown Joburg to see the covered wagons, stamp presses and old headgear that have been preserved from Joburg’s early gold rush years. There’s extensive signage outl
For a different pace to the malls of the Northern Suburbs, head to Fordsburg's historic Oriental Plaza. Boasting more than 350 stores the plaza today is a thriving bazaar with its fabric shops, spice shops, wide array of street fashion labels, great lugg
Makotis (meaning ‘bride’ or daughter-in-law in Zulu) is one of the largest retailers of African traditional fabric in South Africa and is run by the Wadee family who have been selling traditional fabrics and bespoke garments in downtown Joburg since 1961
Historically known as 'South Africa's Theatre of the Struggle', during apartheid the Market Theatre was one of the few South African cultural institutions to openly challenge racial segregation. Nowadays the theatre focuses on developing and promoting
If gin is your thing then what better place to enjoy it than at a cocktail bar located inside a gin distillery? Headed by star mixologist Gareth Wainwright, in partnership with the Ginologist craft distillery, the bar is located inside a century-old ware
The beautiful heritage building Somerset House on Gandhi Square, now known as the Thunder Walker, is a multi-functional space run by local tour company JoburgPlaces that takes advantage of the historic building’s many period features. The building on Gan