A walk around Johannesburg’s Inner City
Old Johannesburg, now known as the inner city, has been changed from urban decay to a vibrant, trendy city yet still keeping its history, by an all-encompassing urban renewal program. Walking around the city is not only very interesting, but is the best way to meet the local population.
Although there are still some pockets in the city awaiting renewal, the city is very safe. All the old landmarks, vibrant street markets and museums remain living together with new restaurants and shops. Many of the buildings are now up-market trendy apartments, giving the city a lively vibe round the clock.
The entry to the city from the north is the Nelson Mandela Bridge. It is a good idea to leave your car in one of two underground parking garages – The Library Gardens (entrance in Market Street, just off the corner of Simmonds Street) or Gandhi Square (entrance in Joubert Street, just off the corner of Fox Street).
An alternative would be to take the Gautrain to Park Station which is at the city end of Braamfontein and then take the BRT (Rea Vaya Bus Rapid Transport) from there to Gandhi Square.
Gandhi Square is a good place to start your exploration of Johannesburg’s inner city. Watched over by a statue of Ghandhi, the square is an icon of how South Africa should be, as visualised by Ghandi and Nelson Mandela – a melting pot of thousands of people passing through the square daily, in racial harmony. There are a good number of high profile companies that have their businesses stationed around the square, and Bram Fischer House, one of Johannesburg’s oldest buildings, forms a majestic edge to the concourse.
Local cafés and restaurants that line the square are a welcome stop, with a wide variety of food on offer. At the weekend, live music livens up the ambiance in the evenings.
Continue from Gandhi Square along the Pedestrian Mall in Main Street which stretches to the Magistrates Court.
Main Street Mall
This beautiful and peaceful walkway has been a deserving beneficiary of urban renewal. If you thought the inner city was a dangerous, dirty, run-down area, then you’d be sorely mistaken, and certainly surprised at how safe and charming this area has become – well worth visiting.
The magnificent buildings of the powerful mining houses, each trying to outdo the other, front the walkway, with mining artefacts, including an old mine shaft and coco pans, completing the scene of the incredible mining heritage of South Africa.
Find out about this rich history from the plaques dotted along the way, between trees, water features and sculptures. Not least of which is the restored Impala Stampede, an impressive arch of 17 jumping impalas created by Herman Wald.
See the replica of the gold Mapungubwe rhino discovered at the Mapungubwe World Heritage Site.
Buildings to look out for are the Anglo American buildings at 44 and 45 Main and the BHP Billiton Building at 6 Hollard Street. Before heading across to the Rand Club, take a break at one of the many coffee shops and restaurants in the mall.
Turn right at the Magistrates Court into Ntemi Piliso Street and then right again into Fox Street. Just after Harrison Street, on the corner of Loveday Street, you will see the historic Rand Club.
Once only the domain of the male social elite, the club now welcomes the whole family, if you are suitably attired, that is. Golf shirts or sports shirts, jeans, tracksuits, bomber jackets, leather jackets, sandals, or any other sports gear are not allowed, so if you fall into that reprobate category, continue on to the Guildhall Pub, the oldest in Johannesburg.
If you pass the dress code, then expect wood panelling, chandeliers, antiques, billiard rooms, library, dining rooms, pubs and possibly the longest bar in Africa.
The attractive structure was built in 1904, on the site of two earlier editions of the club. Mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes played an important role in the location of the club, and a full-length painting of him hangs in the Rhodes Room.
From the Rand Club, walk north along Loveday Street, turn left into Commissioner and right into Harrison Street.
Old Guild Hall Pub
On the Corner of Harrison Street and Market Street, the Old Guild Hall pub and restaurant is worth a visit, just for the history of the place. Probably the oldest pub (established in 1888) in Johannesburg, it oozes early Jozi. Better food can be had elsewhere, but with a cold beer in hand, you won’t find a better ambiance.
This pub was frequented by those scruffier citizens denied access at the Rand Club. Call 011 833 1770: Opening times: Monday to Sunday 11am-close.
Continue along Loveday Street to Market Street.
Johannesburg Public Library
If you turn left, you will come to the Johannesburg Public Library, a heritage building on Simmonds Street, fronted by the library gardens and offering convenient underground parking (especially if you plan to go to Diagonal Street). The 1935 library building has been upgraded to seat 556 persons with full WiFi access and has all the facilities to assist with learning and research.
Collections such as the Africana in the Harold Strange Collection of African Studies; the Michaelis art collection; the performing arts collection; the newspaper and picture collection; and the children’s book collection are on site and provide hours of interest.
Walk back east along Market Street and turn left into Rissik Street where you will reach the City Hall on your left and the Post Office on your right.
Johannesburg City Hall and Rissik Street Post Office
The Johannesburg City Hall is a colonial architectural jewel in the heart of the city. It boasts a beautiful pipe organ which, until a few years ago, was the largest one in the southern hemisphere. The council has refurbished the city hall to accommodate music events and meetings.
Across the road, is the Post Office, a once beautiful building, built in 1887 and recently destroyed by fire, is awaiting rejuvenation.
Optional at this point – if you are feeling tired, re-trace your route back along Rissik Street to Gandhi Square or turn left into Commissioner Street to visit the nearby Carlton Centre and its excellent view of Johannesburg.
Kerk Street Mall
Continue down Rissik Street and turn right into Pritchard Street. On the corner you will see the Kerk Street Mall, a hive of stalls and shops.
Vendors set up to sell all kinds of things under the covered area, where Haircuts are one of the favourites.
There are nice shops, like Kurt Geiger, opening in the area, to go with the street vendors. People come from all over Africa to shop here and this is the exact vibe you would get in Africa without the mix of sophisticated brands.
Turn left into Joubert Street.
Old Anstey’s Building
Look for the Old Anstey’s building, No 59 Joubert, a national monument and the best art-deco building in town, built in 1935 as a department store. It is now mainly newly vamped apartments above, with art-deco decoration in the foyer, and shops below. This building was once the home of Cecil Williams (actor, playwright, and member of Umkhonto we Sizwe). Nelson Mandela was disguised as Cecil Williams’ driver when he was captured on 5 August 1962.
Return to Kerk Street and continue east to Von Brandis Street. You will see the High Court ahead.
The South Gauteng High Court
The South Gauteng High Court is not open as public entertainment, but open for viewing. This 1911 majestic sandstone building with its bronze-dome, mighty columns and grand entrance would be daunting to any criminal about to face the music.
Some of the country’s most prominent cases have been through this court, including that of Jackie Selebi, the former SA National Commissioner of Police, who was found guilty of corruption in 2010.
See the beautiful stained glass window, coat of arms, and brass strips embedded in the floor as the accurate standard measurement of 100 Cape feet. Outside stands the statue of Carl von Brandis, Joburg’s mining commissioner in 1886 and first magistrate.
Turn right into Von Brandis, and continue to Commissioner Street. Turn left in Commissioner Street to the Carlton Centre.
Carlton Panorama, Johannesburg
See Johannesburg and Pretoria from a birds-eye view when you whiz up to the 50th floor of the Carlton Centre to the Top of Africa observation deck. The Carlton Centre is 228 meters tall, making it the tallest skyscraper in Africa and just shy of the world’s top 100 skyscrapers list. Take in the amazing urban vistas, from the disused mine dumps, to the old and new parts of the city.
The viewing deck is linked to the shopping mall below which has a mix of retail outlets. The Carlton Centre is also close to the Smal Street Mall, iconic of an African market style shopping experience. The deck is open Monday to Friday and Public Holidays from 09h00 to 18h00: Saturday from 09h00 to 17h00 and Sunday from 09h00 to 14h00. Carlton Centre is at 150 Commissioner Street.
Return back along Commissioner to Joubert Street and turn left. Continue to Gandhi Square, your starting point.
Other excellent attractions in the Johannesburg CBD
Standard Bank Gallery (South End)
The Standard Bank Gallery is a top class art venue, that opened in 1990, and has become one of the city’s leading fine art attractions, with rotating displays of a wide range of art. From as early as the 18th century painting of Table Bay by Jan de Reyniers, to contemporary works by South Africa’s finest artists, including the historic Irma Stern, Gerard Sekoto and Cyprian Shilakoe or contemporary artists like William Kentridge, Edoardo Villa, Penny Siopis, Noel Hodnett, Allina Ndebele and Karel Nel, this venue displays quality. There is parking at the gallery on the corner of Simmonds and Frederick Streets.
Diagonal Street (West End)
If you have the time, Diagonal Street is a very interesting area with loads of opportunity to take photos of a very interesting mix of architecture, to enjoy the cosmopolitan shops and shopkeepers, or visit the host of African Medicine Shops, with a cure for any ailment. Park at the Library Gardens Parking (entrance in Market Street, just off the corner of Simmonds Street). See a detailed write up on Diagonal Street.
Newtown (West End)
Newtown is a great attraction for anyone with a love of history, culture and music. See how the early migrant workers lived; find out about the Africa before colonisation; taste African cuisine and hear the true beat of African jazz, or take a tour at the SAB World of Beer to learn about brewing in South Africa. Let the kids immerse themselves in the world of science at the Sci Bono Science Museum, or visit the Bensusan Photography Museum, all in one exciting vibey area. See all the Newtown activities at ShowMe Newtown. To visit Newtown, it is best to drive there, taking the Carr Street off-ramp at the Johannesburg end of the Nelson Mandela Bridge. Safe parking is available.
Absa Money Museum (East End)
The Absa Money Museum is the place to get an understanding of how financial transactions in South Africa progressed from the exchange of highly prized goods such as salt, seashells, metal and animals for services rendered over 4500 years ago, to the modern banking we have today.
Jewel City (East End)
Jewel City has over 300 diamond dealers and the Diamond Board all in one place, so if your mission is to look at some cut and polished diamonds, join the over 500 daily visitors to this six block home of diamonds.
Johannesburg Art Gallery (East End)
The Johannesburg Art Gallery based in Joubert Park, is the largest art gallery in Africa, housing an amazing collection of local and international art in 15 exhibition halls and in the sculpture garden. A must see for any art lover. There is safe parking on the premises. Corner of Klein and King George Streets in Joubert Park.
Collectors Treasury (East End)
If you are a book lover, or an intrepid searcher for memorabilia, then the Collectors Treasury is made for you. This very unusual family business houses so many books that reports quote figures of one to two million. In additions to rare books, there are over 300000 vinyls and other vintage paraphernalia like maps, photographs, old engravings and prints, sheet music, periodicals and newspapers. Address: 244 Commissioner Street, close to Phillip Street.
Fashion District (East End)
The Fashion District in the east end of Johannesburg city, stretching from Troye Street to Goud Street along Pritchard and President Streets, must be one of the most underestimated shopping venues in Jozi. The re-furbished district houses more than 300 fashion-related micro-businesses, with seamstresses and tailors from across southern Africa. Here you can find the same high fashion as in the boutiques of Sandton and Rosebank, but the prices look altogether different – better, much better.
Maboneng District (East End)
Maboneng is the heartbeat of the creative energy for Johannesburg’s urban artists. With a mix of art galleries and studios, fashion designers, funky restaurants, the precinct draws the inner-city public, as well as the chic, art-going crowd of the city’s northern suburbs.
|More info on the Johannesburg area|