For some reason, South Africa’s biggest metropolis is often seen as a sort of changing post, a place to arrive only to move on from as soon as possible. Sure, it doesn’t have the beaches, the winelands, or the Cape’s famous mountain – but it makes up for it elsewhere. It’s faster, edgier, and more alive. There’s more of, well, the real Africa. There’s witch doctors right down the road, the shebeens where black and white sang freedom songs together, and markets selling tribal masks from the far reaches of the continent.
Johannesburg is a city of surprising beauty, boasting the largest man made forest on earth, perhaps best viewed from the pool deck of the Westcliff, the city’s most elegant large hotel. An icing-sugar-pink collection of villas on a rocky ridge, its mildly colonial air is offset by the majestic setting; you can sip a Citric Flower Martini from the Polo Bar’s new molecular mixology menu and gaze out on miles of explosive purple jacarandas while lions roar in the Johannesburg Zoo below. This is the perfect for those who love grand hotels, fancy restaurants – and the level of service that comes with both.In recent years, the heart of Johannesburg – long considered a no-go zone for tourists, has become appealing and vibrant once again. The old downtown centre, once a widely depressed area, has been revived – making it a wonder to walk around West Street and Diagonal Street. Many old warehouses have been turned into galleries, featuring artists selling everything from clay pots and jewelry to embroidery and traditional Zulu women’s hats.
It’s not just the city centre that has been revived though. Young entrepreneurs are restoring old industrial buildings in what were once run-down areas, turning them into buzzing living spaces, galleries, studios, shops and restaurants. Here, $15 will get you some bubbly and Luderitz Bay oysters, or some vintage camouflage kit – if that’s more of your thing.
When it comes to eating and drinking almost every district now has a selection of charming bars, restaurants and brasseries. For fine, but perhaps a tad bit too formal, David Higgs is the new hot chef at Saxon Hotel’s Five Hundred. The Cube Tasting Kitchen is for serious foodies, whilst The Grillhouse is renowned for serving some of the best steak in the world.