Johannesburg

City Centre

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The Johannesburbg City Centre (or simple 'town' as the locals call it) is often the victim of a poor reputation. This mostly comes from the stories of decay and decline from the 1990s when big business moved out of the city to the new Sandton CBD, leaving behind empty, neglected buildings and increasingly unruly streets. Fast forward to 2018 however and a very different picture shines through. In recent years many big corporations have returned to the area, illegally 'hijacked' buildings have been reclaimed and cleaned up and residential life has grown immensely over the past few years. With its rich history, colourful street life and impressive architecture this area of the city is well worth spending a few hours exploring by day.

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.
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