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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