Downtown Johannesburg was once a gray industrial zone without much appeal to visitors. Today, however, it’s a whole new story. Hip new galleries and colourful murals have transformed two adjacent neighbourhoods into urban art playgrounds that can excite any traveller in search of cultural experiences. Here are some of the highlights of these vibrant, art-filled neighbourhoods to catch on your next stay in Johannesburg.
Museum and galleries
1. iwasshot in Joburg
Part of the Arts on Main complex in Johannesburg’s Maboneng neighbourhood, this gallery partners with a program that teaches children living in shelters to take photographs, and then transforms their images into art as well as book covers, mugs and tote bags.
2. Wits Art Museum
The University of Witwatersrand’s art museum, part of the downtown cultural district, is the home of the biggest and most important collection of African arts in southern Africa. With 10,000 rotating items in its permanent collection ranging from beads and bowls to modern paintings, it’s an immersive look into the continent’s creative history.
3. MOAD (Museum of African Design)
Changing exhibits of African contemporary design fill this airy, converted factory warehouse. You’re likely to see works as diverse as pop art furniture and building plans for futuristic urban spaces—and all of it is unlike anything you’ll find in other African museums.
Special events and activities
4. First Thursdays
Art galleries, museums and cultural attractions in certain neighbourhoods (conveniently near Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza Rosebank) stay open late on the first Thursday of every month with special events and exhibitions. It’s a great opportunity to explore the city on foot for an art walk, when locals fill the streets for a festive evening out.
5. Neighbourgoods Market
Head to Juta and DeBeer streets in Braamfontein every Saturday to see Jo’burg’s cutting edge designers and artists up close. You’ll be able to buy one-of-a-kind designs to bring home while mingling with young artists and craftspeople.
6. Market on Main
The Maboneng equivalent of Neighbourgoods is held on Sunday at Arts on Main, a complex of galleries and shops that fill a former warehouse space. The Sunday market includes artisanal foods as well as art, crafts, and designs.
7. Explore Street Art
Braamfontein and Maboneng are street art paradises. It’s hard to miss the Madiba Shadow Boxer mural, 13-story portrait of Nelson Mandela dressed in boxing gear (painted in just four days after the great statesman died) or “The Purple Shall Govern,” a Mandela mural in the heart of Braamfontein by Shephard Fairey. To get the stories behind them, and see the smaller artworks that also decorate the area, consider a guided street art tour with Past Experiences.
8. The Orbit
To hear the best of contemporary South African jazz, as well as Afrobeat and heritage music, head to this modern club in Braamfontein where a sophisticated bistro menu is also featured.
9. The Bioscope
Film buffs will want to visit this independent cinema that showcases not just African films, but also independent, classic and international movies in a cheerful, renovated 1940s theatre where food and drinks complement what’s on the screen.
The People of Performing Art present indie and avant-garde theatre along with live music and comedy. If you’re looking for completely unique live entertainment, don’t miss this hip performing arts centre in Maboneng.
Johannesburg is truly a burgeoning arts and culture destination. From fine arts to theatre and more, South Africa’s largest city is excellent add to your cultural tourism travels.