The Best Place to Live in Johannesburg

I receive lots of messages from people seeking advice on moving to Johannesburg from overseas. The most common question is: “Where is the best place to live in Johannesburg?”

View of the Johannesburg skyline from the Melville Koppies

It’s a tricky question to answer. Johannesburg is a huge, sprawling city with dozens — maybe hundreds — of suburbs. And by “suburb” I don’t mean what you probably think I mean. Unlike in the United States, where a suburb is a commuter town outside of a big city, in South Africa a suburb is a smaller neighbourhood that is beyond the city center but still inside the city limits. Although there are also some more far-flung suburbs that are more like suburbs in the American sense. Confusing, right? Anyway, I digress.

As I said, Joburg is ginormous and the best place to live depends on where you work and what kind of person you are. If you’re a banker or an advertising executive or a Porsche salesman, then your workplace is likely in Sandton and you’ll want to live in the northern suburbs. If you’re a university student or an edgy tattoo artist, then it might make sense for you to live in the CBD (central business district). If you need to live near public transport, Rosebank is your place. If you want a big, brand-new house and don’t mind being out in the sticks, try Midrand.

If you’re a quirky American travel blogger who works at home, naps a lot, likes boxing, and has a boyfriend and a cat, then you should definitely live in Melville.

Private Property, a South African real estate website, asked me to write a post on the best place to rent in Johannesburg. (Actually they asked me to write a post about the best place to rent in Gauteng Province, but I’m limiting myself to Joburg because that’s what I know.) Rather than try to answer this question for everyone, which would be impossible, I’m going to answer it for myself. I’ve lived in Melville since the day I arrived in Joburg and I’ve never considered living elsewhere. Here’s why:

1)  Location

Melville is close (within 10 to 25 minutes’ drive) to the CBD, Braamfontein, Rosebank, Sandton, Soweto, Fordsburg/Mayfair, the M1 and M2 highways, the West Rand, and Joburg’s near-eastern and -southern suburbs. Although we don’t have a Gautrain or Gautrain bus stop (which is a pity), Melville does sit on a Rea Vaya line and provides easy access to taxis and tuk-tuks. Melville is adjacent to both of Joburg’s major universities.

View of the Johannesburg skyline from the Melville KoppiesThe Joburg skyline as seen from the Melville Koppies.

2) Neighborhood

I live 5 to 15 minutes’ walk to dozens of restaurants and bars, dozens of bed-and-breakfasts (perfect for out-of-town visitors), three grocery stores, a shopping mall, a doctor’s office, several banks and hair salons, a hardware store, two petrol stations, bookshops, charity shops, and coffee shops. If you want to live in Joburg without a car, Melville is one of your best bets. Melville also has particularly beautiful, interesting properties and there is a wide range of houses/cottages/flats available for rent.

My house in MelvilleMy Melville house.

3) Natural Beauty

Melville has beautiful, tree-lined streets, large back gardens, and its own nature reserve, the Melville Koppies, which has one of the best Joburg skyline views in town. It’s a great place to walk, run, and cycle. Melville is also a great place for pets, as the Melville Cat can attest.

The Melville Cat with a conehead
The Melville Cat enjoying the beautiful nature in my old back yard (a couple of years ago when the Melville Cat had a cone head).

4) People

It’s nearly impossible for me to walk up the main thoroughfare in Melville without seeing at least three people I know. As a general rule, people who live in Melville are interesting and friendly and a little weird. I felt instantly at home when I arrived here and that feeling has never gone away.

The staff at Bread and Roses Cafe.The staff at Bread & Roses Café, one of my favorite Melville hangouts, on the corner of 7th Street and 4th Avenue.

A final thought: Ever since I moved here in August 2010, I’ve persistently been told by Melville-hating Joburgers that Melville is dangerous, trashy, crime-ridden, or the vague “not what it used to be”. I have one word for these haters: Whatevs. Melville is no more dangerous or trashy or “not what it used to be” than any other place in Joburg. (Although Melville’s 7th Street does get rowdy on Friday and Saturday nights. I recommend living at least two blocks from 7th Street if you want to sleep in peace on weekends.)

Melville is, however, the most vibrant and friendly place in Joburg, as least in my biased opinion. So don’t let the haters sway you: Come check Melville out for yourself.

This post was brought to you by Private Property, which I can personally attest is a great way to search for real estate in South Africa. All opinions expressed are my own.

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  • Reply violetonlineisonline January 5, 2016 at 6:16 pm

    feeling proud that I live in Melville too!

  • Reply Timmee January 5, 2016 at 6:52 pm

    They have good bananas in Melville

    • Reply 2summers January 5, 2016 at 6:53 pm

      Yes. And olloclips grow on the Koppies.

  • Reply autumnashbough January 5, 2016 at 7:49 pm

    Trees! I must live near trees. Melville sounds lovely.

    • Reply 2summers January 5, 2016 at 8:32 pm

      I often say that Joburg is a lot like LA. You’d find it familiar, I think.

      • Reply autumnashbough January 5, 2016 at 8:48 pm

        One of my sisters lived there for a few years and said the same thing. Similar climate and all. I’m run into any number of South Africans here. Of course, in LA you run into any number of anythings.

  • Reply Namz January 5, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    I love coming to Melville and just walking down the street…its quirkiness makes it so interesting!

    • Reply 2summers January 5, 2016 at 8:39 pm

      Let me know they next time you’re here 🙂

      • Reply Namz January 5, 2016 at 8:39 pm

        Will do!!

  • Reply tenney mason January 6, 2016 at 1:35 am

    Love that cone head shot

  • Reply Daniel Sencier January 6, 2016 at 2:38 am

    Oh Melville how I miss you. Moved to Bangkok now which is also very exciting. I miss Nuno’s where I used to watch the football, I miss the thunderstorms and the jacarandas. I miss the people and the buzz and the long evenings of love. I’d like to think I’ll go back one day, but that’s not always a good idea 🙂

  • Reply contrafacta January 6, 2016 at 3:56 am

    I absolutely miss Melville! This post made me cry.

  • Reply Marc Latilla January 6, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    Just celebrated 14 years living in Melville. Wouldn’t live anywhere else…except for one of those old Parktown heritage mansions.

    • Reply 2summers January 6, 2016 at 3:33 pm

      Cool, I’ve read your articles over the years but didn’t know you lived here too!

  • Reply Sophia January 6, 2016 at 4:40 pm

    I couldn’t agree more! I moved to Joburg in Feb 2015 and choosing Melville was one of the best decisions I ever made. It’s just the warmest, most inspiring neighbourhood. And who wouldn’t fall in love with the food, vibe and people of Bread and Roses.

    • Reply 2summers January 6, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      I’m glad you agree, Sophia. Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply Margaret Irene Urban January 10, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    Have recently vowed to spend more time in Melville – especially since I can park at 27 Boxes; having learned to drive in the US in the 60s I’ve never been confident with parallel parking in SA; also have two friends living there whom I want to spend more time with now that I am not working full time. Hope to run into you there or at coffee time!

    • Reply 2summers January 12, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Yes, the parking at 27Boxes is a god-send! I wish more people would use it, rather than illegally parallel parking on both sides of 4th Avenue and making it impossible for traffic to flow normally on that street.

      It was really great meeting you, Margaret. (This is the same Margaret from the last coffee time meeting, right?)

  • Reply Afro April 15, 2018 at 10:15 am

    Bumped into this post. 2018 and the same sentiment still holds true with me. I’ve been living in Melville for over 7 years now. With all the fears of crime, it was hard to choose some place that “people” you call whatevs regard as a used-to-be. As is everywhere, though, there’s common caution against crime. But it hardly happens. You obviously use common wisdom on where you go, the times and the safety amongst people. It is largely safer than most places. There are security patrols, there are alert neighbour’s and police are always there and helpful at night spots.

    I’m black, from another African, country but instantly felt at home. Yet to encounter racism. Ive made lotx of friends across cultures, nationalities and races.The convenience, vicinity to almost everywhere and the party spots is just something you don’t find in many places. I’ve had lots of friends and family visit, ate out and partied hard! All had fun and want to visit again. It is an artsy place so you do find those lots of those fun and amazingly types.

    • Reply 2summers April 15, 2018 at 10:19 am

      I’m so glad you agree. And yes, 100% still the same since I wrote this a few years ago. Thanks for the comment!

  • Reply Keith April 27, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    I can’t wait to get back to this beautiful country from a collapsing U.K

    • Reply 2summers April 27, 2020 at 7:43 pm

      I hope you can come back soon!

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