Travel journalist Paul Steyn hails from Jozi, or Johannesburg–South Africa’s largest city. After serving as a guide throughout Africa for some years, he went on to edit a prominent travel magazine in Africa. Right now he’s a freelance writer and photographer focused on covering eco-forward destinations around the world, contributing regularly to National Geographic’s News Watch blog and other publications. Here are a few of Paul’s favorite things about his hometown.

Follow Paul’s story on Twitter @paulsteynless and on Instagram @Steynless.

Johannesburg is My City

When someone comes to visit me in my city, the first place I take them to is Sandton—the economic hub of Johannesburg and, by extension, as some economists reckon, the entire African continent! Some locals try to hide the fact that this city is a great big money-making concrete jungle, but I say: let’s celebrate it. The people living and working in Sandton are some of the most interesting and inspiring individuals to meet at the local bars and restaurants.

An art vendor in Soweto, a product of segregationist planning, is now a vibrant urban area. (Photograph by jeer77, Flickr)

An art vendor in Soweto, a product of segregationist planning, is now a vibrant urban area. (Photograph by jeer77, Flickr)

September, our spring, is the best time to visit my city because a fairytale kind of beauty pervades Jo’burg. It’s not too hot and not too cold, ideal for exploring outdoors and meeting the locals.

Jo’burg isn’t known for its grand views, but without a doubt you can see the city best from The Westcliff (soon to be the Four Seasons), a stunning hotel and restaurant overlooking the vast leafy suburbs.

Locals know to skip hanging out in the northern suburbs for too long and check out Newtown for authentic culture and entertainment experiences instead.

Soweto is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs.

In the past, notable people like Nelson Mandela, Charlize Theron, and Desmond Tutu have called my city home.

A Gautrain arriving at the Sandton Station  (Photograph by thesmiths, Flickr)

A Gautrain arriving at the Sandton Station (Photograph by thesmiths, Flickr)

My city’s best museum is the Apartheid Museum, because it’s the clearest reminder of what South Africa has been through to get to the point it is at today. Johannesburg has played an important role in South African history, so I’d recommend visiting this museum in order to properly understand the historical context of our country.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that you should probably rent a car. Because Johannesburg is so spread out, renting a car is often cheaper than relying on taxis–unless you jump on the Gautrain which is very efficient way to get from the airport to Sandton or Pretoria.

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is in the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens. Look out for the black eagles nesting on the cliffs.

My city really knows how to celebrate wealth and economic growth because the economy is the driving force behind its success.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they are friendly and ambitious.

For a fancy night out, I go to the Cube Tasting Kitchen in Parktown North to sample a multi-course tasting menu that pushes the boundaries of food. Menus are sent out a week in advance with suggested wine pairings (it’s BYOB there, as they don’t have a serving license). Otherwise, I’ll go for drinks at Hyde Park Southern Sun or the Sandeck at Sandton Southern Sun for sundowners. There’s also the option of dinner at The Grillhouse followed by cocktails at Katzy’s.

Witpoortjie Falls at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden (Photograph by onlyinsouthafrica, Flickr)

Witpoortjie Falls at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden (Photograph by onlyinsouthafrica, Flickr)

Just outside my city, you can visit the “Cradle of Humankind,” which is said to be the place where human beings began evolving into the advanced primates we are today. While you’re there explore the Sterkfontein Caves and the Maropeng Museum, which, despite having a slight Disney feel to it, is still a fun learning experience.

My city is known for…Let’s be honest. My city doesn’t have the best reputation, locally or internationally. Foreigners see it as dangerous and shrouded in class disparities. And locally it’s viewed as a place where the economic elite go to make lots of money, right beside a poor middle class that’s fighting for a foothold. But it’s really South Africa’s bustling and beautiful economic capital, full of energetic people and world-changing ideas borne of a difficult past.

The best outdoor market in my city is the Neighbourhood Goods market in Braamfontein or the Market on Main in town.

The Green Peppercorn in Morningside, Tashas in Rosebank, or Moemas in Parktown North is my favorite place to grab breakfast, and Andiccio’s is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read flyers, posters, and blogs (Joburg’s Darling is a great one). Jo’burg is big on advertising because there’s lots of money to be spent. Webticket is also a good site to check for information about upcoming events like beer or music festivals.

My city’s biggest sports event is any major football match. Watch it at Soccer City in Soweto for the full local experience. Or, for something completely different, attend a big rugby test match at Ellis Park.

An exhibit displaying the human remains discovered at Sterkfontein, a set of limestone caves now known as the "Cradle of Humankind" (Photograph by merajchhaya, Flickr)

An exhibit displaying the human remains discovered at Sterkfontein, a set of limestone caves now known as the “Cradle of Humankind” (Photograph by merajchhaya, Flickr)

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I canoe around Emmarentia Dam and wander around the adjacent parks.

To escape the crowds, I head out of the city and into the bush seeking wilderness.

If my city were a celebrity it’d be Kanye West because it’s flashy, rich, and slightly arrogant–but also misunderstood, talented, and inspiring.

The dish that represents my city best is a really great braai (barbecue) and pink tequila is my city’s signature drink (try it at The Baron Sandton, The Griffin, The Foundry, Churchills or The Jolly Roger). Or head out to Soweto to find a local shebeen, an informal pub, for some pap, vleis, and a dop (maize, meat, and a drink).

The Nelson Mandela Bridge is my favorite structure in town because it represents new beginnings, change, and growth in a part of the city that was neglected for many years.

The most random thing about my city is the perfect weather. Johannesburg has one of the best climates in the world.

Tanz Café is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Movida, ICON, or the Great Dane if you are heading to town.

Watching a soccer match alongside a bunch of passionate Zulus, Afrikaaners, Englishmen, Indians, and Xhosas could only happen in my city.

The Nelson Mandela Bridge honors the city's anti-apartheid revolutionary hero.  (Photograph by Von_, Flickr

The Nelson Mandela Bridge honors the city’s anti-apartheid revolutionary hero. (Photograph by Von_, Flickr

In the spring you should drive along the roads in the northern suburbs and marvel at all the stunning purple jacaranda trees that line the streets.

In the summer you should enjoy afternoon drinks outside with friends at one of the many cafés and restaurants on the Parkhurst strip. Or have a good old South African braai in someone’s garden.

In the fall you should appreciate the beautiful foliage as the trees change color. Fun fact: Jo’burg has been classified as the biggest man-made forest in the world.

In the winter you should sleep in. The mornings can be freezing cold. But after it warms up a bit, venture out to enjoy the clear, rainless days.

Jacaranda trees in full bloom (Photograph by martie1swart, Flickr)

Jacaranda trees in full bloom (Photograph by martie1swart, Flickr)

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss Gold Reef City or the Johannesburg Zoo.

The best book about my city is Zoo City by Lauren Beukes because it’s a raw and uncensored novel set in Jo’burg.

When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is ”Impi,” by Johnny Clegg.

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my city because Jozi is the City of Gold, the true bustling economic heart of South Africa—alive with energy, history, and new opportunities.

Comments

  1. Shelli Nurcombe-Thorne
    Johannesburg
    May 26, 4:32 am

    A great read!

  2. Meruschka
    Johannesburg
    June 5, 9:23 am

    Good read, but the Neighbourgoods market is in Braamfontein not Newtown.

    • Leslie Trew Magraw
      June 6, 9:58 am

      Thanks, Meruschka! We’ve updated the post to reflect the correct location. Appreciate the help.
      Hope you’ll keep reading!
      Leslie

  3. Laurice Taitz
    Johannesburg
    June 8, 11:23 am

    I enjoyed this – but suggest you update the Westcliff reference. The hotel has been closed for months and will reopen as The Four Seasons around December.