An “Off the Beaten Path” Guide to Joburg

Pictured above: A church service in Alexandra Township.

A couple of months ago I posted about the “Three Days in Johannesburg” travel guide that I wrote for TripAdvisor. I also wrote a “Johannesburg Off the Beaten Path” guide, which I’m going to summarize for you here. (Check out my full Off the Beaten Path guide on TripAdvisor, which includes longer descriptions and tips for each location.)

Writing a guide to off-the-beaten-path spots in Joburg was interesting because in many respects this entire city is off the beaten path. (By the way, I hate that cliché.) In reality it’s the opposite: Joburg is the transportation and financial hub of Southern Africa and the most visited city on the continent. But Joburg is still an underdog from a tourism perspective and many of the city’s best attractions are difficult for first-time visitors to find.

Anyway, for my Off the Beaten Path guide I included a diverse group of places — restaurants, parks, galleries, and shops — that adventurous tourists will enjoy but struggle to discover on their own. I’ve listed all ten off-the-beaten-path destinations below. Where possible I’ve linked to blog posts I’ve written about the destinations. I’ve also mentioned a few other off-the-beaten-path places that didn’t make the TripAdvisor top ten.

1) Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden

Although most Joburgers know about the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, it rarely makes the lists of travel hotspots because it’s far from downtown Joburg and Sandton. But this park is really worth visiting for anyone passionate about nature.

Walter Sisulu clouds

Sunset at Walter Sisulu.

Other large, off-the-beaten-path nature reserves include the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve, the Sandton Field and Study Centre, and the Modderfontein Reserve.

2) Malaudzi Tours

Alexandra Township is centrally located and one of the most historic places in Joburg. However, most tourists (and locals) avoid Alex out of fear.

That fear is unfounded. Please: If you decide to do just one thing on this list, go to Alex and take a bicycle tour with Jeff Malaudzi.

kids at bike office

Kids I met during my cycling tour in Alex.

I also recommend the Soweto cycling tours offered through Lebo’s Soweto Backpackers.

3) Liliesleaf Farm

When tourists arrive in Joburg for the first time, they usually head immediately to the Apartheid Museum. (I did so myself.) For a different perspective on the apartheid resistance, head north to Rivonia and visit Liliesleaf Farm.

Liliesleaf outside

Liliesleaf Farm, birthplace of Umkhonto we Sizwe and site of the raid that led to the historic Rivonia Trial.

The Sophiatown Heritage Centre is my other favorite off-the-beaten-path historic site, especially if you want to learn about forced removals under the apartheid regime.

4) The Troyeville Hotel

I’ve never written a dedicated post about the Troyeville Hotel, but it’s a Joburg institution and one of the best places in town for Portuguese chicken and seafood. The Troyeville Hotel also offers an amazing view of the Joburg skyline. Check out the Troyeville Hotel for Sunday lunch, or go for one of its evening book launch events.

I see that the Troyeville Hotel is now offering a suite on Airbnb, which looks amazing.

01 troyeville hotel

Outside the Troyeville Hotel.

There are many more off-the-beaten-path destinations in and around Troyeville: Read here and here.

5) The Johannesburg Art Gallery

The Joburg Art Gallery (JAG for short) really shouldn’t be considered “off the beaten path”; it’s smack in the middle of downtown Joburg and has a staggering collection of European and African art. The gallery is hard to get to though, because that section of town has the worst traffic on earth (literally) and the neighborhood isn’t necessarily the safest for people who don’t know their way around.

Nonetheless, if you are visiting Joburg and love art, find a trustworthy taxi driver or local guide and go to the JAG.

JAG-graffiti

This photo isn’t the best representation of the JAG but I’ve been looking for an excuse to use it. Last year the JAG put on a graffiti exhibition (which was pretty cool of them) and my boyfriend Ray was one of the exhibiting artists. This is his mural.

6) The Melville Koppies

I’ve written about the Melville Koppies countless times and I’m looking out at them as I type this. This small reserve is one of the best places to experience nature inside the city limits.

Koppies-in-summer

The Melville Koppies.

There are several other beautiful parks near the Joburg city centre. After the Koppies, my next favorite is James and Ethel Gray Park.

7) Fordsburg Square

The flea market on Mint Road in Fordsburg (open Friday through Sunday) is the best place in town to absorb Joburg’s Indian subculture. I never get tired of wandering through this warren of street food stalls, clothing vendors, and Bollywood movie salesmen. Go hungry and prepare to fight for a parking spot.

fordsburg 290

Roasted corn for sale in Fordsburg Square.

The entire Fordsburg suburb is filled with classic off-the-beaten path spots. In addition to the market, try the Oriental Plaza, the Indian sweet shops, and the Turkish restaurants.

8) Collector’s Treasury

The Collector’s Treasury is the largest used bookshop in the Southern Hemisphere — eight storeys stuffed with two million books, records, knick-knacks, and who knows what else. You can get lost in there for days.

Collectors Treasury doll

A glimpse of the Collector’s Treasury.

If you’re into off-the-beaten-path bookshops then Kalahari Books is worth a visit, too.

9) Lindfield House

Lindfield House is too difficult to describe in a couple of sentences. So just click the link above for my original story. Or just go.

2lindfield library

The library at Lindfield House.

10) Radium Beer Hall

I thought I had written about the Radium before, but now I realize I haven’t. I need to fix this, post-haste.

Radium-screenshot

Heresy!

The Radium, located in Orange Grove, is the oldest continuously running pub in Johannesburg. It has a great locals-only vibe, a nice menu (including excellent pizza), and frequent live music gigs.

Radium-inside

A typical afternoon at the Radium.

This post is way longer than expected and has made me realize I need to write an entire book about off-the-beaten-path Joburg (without the cliché). Know any secret places that you think I should try? Hit me up.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Sine July 3, 2015 at 2:07 pm

    Great post! Pretty embarrassed to admit that except Alexandra, I haven’t been to any of these places. You should absolutely write an entire guide about Joburg! Good luck with finding a non-cliche title:-)

  • Reply Sine July 3, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    Oh, and I forgot: I LOVE the picture of the church service!

    • Reply 2summers July 3, 2015 at 2:09 pm

      Thanks Sine. That’s probably one of my favorite photos ever. That service was incredible and I’m so grateful to the congregation for allowing me to take pictures.

  • Reply Andrew Bannister July 5, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Yes that’s a beautiful shot.

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